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Assassins

Assassins

 

Italian mobsters, a Swedish hitman and an ex-trapeze-artist-turned-assassin have all been hired to kill one man: Scotland’s new King, Gavin Brewson, (supposedly a descendent of Robert the Bruce).

 

Following Brexit and then the election of Donald Trump, Scotland breaks away from the UK and crowns an English council parking official ‘King of Scotland’. All hell breaks loose. Scotland’s First Minister wanted a stupid king, one she could boss around and control. Instead she gets a headstrong, idealistic monarch.

 

When Gavin is secretly handed an ancient scroll that empowers him to overrule the politicians, he devises a plan to nationalise just about everything. With their careers potentially finished, should the new King be allowed to enact his new laws, Scotland’s First Minister and the UK Prime Minister hire assassins… with orders to kill the King. But instead of focusing on their target, the assassins get caught up in a jealous spat over which of them is the Number 1 hitman and who will get to assassinate the monarch.

 

With the King about to take the short trip from Holyrood Palace to the Scottish Parliament Building, where the world’s media awaits his pronouncement, D.I Frank Guardo and a squad of armed police descend on Holyrood… only to find a body covered with a sheet in the courtyard. Are they too late…?

 

 

 

 

Author: Ray Timms.

 

 

 

 

 

[email protected] by Ray Timms. All rights reserved.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Some historical events and characters have been adapted purely in the interest of literary enjoyment.

 

Dedicated to:

Massive thanks to Jenni Timms for the painstaking proof reading and to Elly Preston for the excellent cover illustration.

Chapter One

London. 10 Downing Street.

 

‘It’s that bumptious Scottish woman,’ said Charlotte Sweetwater holding her hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone. ‘What shall I tell her Sir Roger?’

‘Tell her I died,’ the Prime Minister said… ‘No, give it here I’ll tell her myself.’ He waggled his hand at her.

The Prime Minister and his PA were the only two people in the tiny discrete office tucked away at the back of Number 10 Downing Street. The PM liked this little room because it gave them some privacy.

‘Good morning Mary, ‘the PM said with little enthusiasm and motioned with his free hand for Charlotte to pour him a stiff one. After this conversation he will need one. He could guess what Scotland’s First Minister was ringing him about. It’s always the same thing.

‘If this is another attempt to try and browbeat me into allowing you another Independence Referendum you are wasting your time Mary because it’s not going to happen. I am not going down that road again and before you bring up Brexit as an excuse it doesn’t change a thing. Now unless there is something important that you wish to discuss with me, I have some things here in my study that I need to attend to.’ Sir Roger swallowed the single malt in one gulp.

So Charlotte could listen in the PM had put the call on speakerphone.

Mary Dewar, the minute she heard his PA, the blonde–skinny bimbo, pick up the phone, Scotland’s First Minister knew what he was busy with.

‘Good morning to you too, Sir Roger.’ Mary said sounding uncharacteristically cheerful.

Sir Roger raised his eyebrows. Gone was the Scottish growl, the menacing bark in her voice that made others sit up. When Charlotte, so she could hear better, leaned over his desk, the PM closed his eyes. He could drown in the scent of her perfume. When Scotland’s First Minister spoke it was like a stone hitting the surface of a pond.

‘Sir Roger, out of courtesy, I thought that you should know the Scottish Government has decided to hold another Scottish Independence Referendum and we shall do this without your permission.’

‘What! But you can’t.’ Sir Roger blustered. ‘Need I remind you Mary, Scotland is still a part of the United Kingdom and as long as I have breath in my body I shall fight to keep the UK together.’

‘As I just explained to you Sir Roger, if you had listened,‘ Mary said coldly. ‘The purpose of this call is to inform you that after the Scottish voters have given me a mandate to make Scotland Independent, which I confidently predict they shall, I am duty bound to make that happen.’

‘Huh!’ The Prime Minister guffawed. ‘Mary, this is utter madness. Not only will you be wasting Scottish taxpayers money, such a thing would be unenforceable and downright illegal.’

The PM motioned with his hand for Charlotte to pour him another drink.

Pouring him a small whisky this time, Charlotte tutted and pointed at her watch face to remind the PM that it was only five past ten in the morning.

‘Prime Minister,’ Mary Dewar said. ‘The Scottish people are justifiably angry at your administration dragging us out of the EU. Immediately after this new Independence Referendum, when the result goes in my favour, as I predict it will, I shall begin holding talks with our EU partners with the intention of having Scotland become a full member of the European Union.’

‘I shan’t allow it.’ Sir Roger bellowed down the phone.

‘You can’t physically stop us Bottomley?’ Mary Dewar stormed back at him. ‘Unless you are planning on invading us.’ She slammed down the phone on him.

 

The Prime Minister was tired, as well he should be. After the Brexit fiasco he had the media and even his own MP’s reminding him that he should never have nailed his colours to the flagship of the Remain campaign. Even Dame Edith, his wife, forever his greatest critic, told him that he was a dullard. Bottomley sighed and ran his pudgy fingers through his thinning grey hair. Eighteen months into his second term in office, Sir Roger’s career had been going swimmingly well. He should never have listened to his so-called bloody experts who had advised him that never in a million years would the British people vote to leave the EU.

After the astounding result, Dame Edith, had told him outright, “Roger, for once in your life do the honourable thing and resign. You know the Tories have no stomach for losers. You must quit now before you make me a laughing stock in my bridge circle.”

‘Bugger that, and bugger you. I am not resigning.’ He’d yelled in her face. ‘In 1942, did Churchill back down to the Nazi aggression? No he did not and I will not run from the fight. I will take on and confound my critics. I will not be hounded out of office.’

‘And how are you going to achieve that,’ Growled Dame Edith, ‘when even your own Cabinet Ministers wont support you?’

The way she said it so smug and so true, got his dander up.

‘Bah to you and your, your skinny, veggie friends.’ Sir Roger snarled. ‘You’ll see. I might be backed into a corner but I shall fight my way out of this.’

 

The whole point of her calling up Sir Roger was not so much to tell him that she planned to hold a second Independence Referendum, but rather it was to annoy him. It amused Mary to think that he had no idea what she was planning. Even her own Ministers will be astonished at the utter brilliance of her new plan that, like most of her utterly brilliant ideas, came to her while she was on the loo.

 

The following morning looking positively gleeful, in Cabinet Room 2, surrounded by her seventeen Ministers, only Angus McFlintock had been excused on the grounds that he had died last Thursday, Mary played them the recording of her phone conversation with Sir Roger.

When a couple of weeks back, using Brexit as a valid excuse, Mary told her Cabinet Ministers that in open defiance of Westminster she was going ahead with a second Independence Referendum, as usual it was only Duncan Cruid, her Internal Affairs Minister that had balked.

Cruid had been planning on retiring in three months time. Now, with all this political upheaval going on that would have to be put on hold. Just watching the way she was grinning told him there was more. He suspected Dewar was about to announce yet another of her utterly brilliant ideas that had come to her whilst she was on the loo. Cruid cast his eyes around the faces at the table. Not one of them had the guts to stand up to her. Sheep, every one of them. Cruid sighed knowing it will be left to him to explain the salient points at which her utterly brilliant plan would come unstuck.

Cruid, at the age of sixty-five, and forty of those years spent in politics had a knack for avoiding the sort of jobs that usually ended up in a painful and public resignation.

After slamming one hand down on the table to silence the murmuring. (She hated murmuring). Mary said.

‘You are not going believe this…’

That was another thing that Cruid hated. Her starting a sentence with the words: “You are not going to believe this…”

‘Last night, while I was in the bathroom…’

Cruid: I knew it!

‘This utterly brilliant idea came to me right out of the blue.’

Cruid: right out of somewhere else I suspect.

‘It occurred to me, ‘ Mary began. ‘Westminster cannot prevent us holding another referendum. Fair enough. Say we get the result we want. Ok, that is all well and good but there would be no point if we then couldn’t enact the result.’

‘Which is precisely what I was about to point out.’ Cruid said interrupting the First Minister.

To shut him up Mary held up a hand.

‘Cruid, if I may be allowed to explain my utterly brilliant plan. After the Scottish voters give me a mandate to break from the UK…’

‘It would be an embarrassing and costly catastrophe.’ Cruid persisted.

‘Ah, that’s where you’d be wrong mister clever clogs,’ Mary chided. ‘The minute the result goes in our favour, which it will, I shall announce a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.’

There was a triumphant smile on Marys face when she sat back in her chair to enjoy the reactions.

‘You are joking?’ Cruid said incredulous at the suggestion. He hadn’t been expecting that.

‘I most certainly am not,’ Mary said. ‘In 1776, the Americans did it. They dumped Great Britain. The Irish declared their independence in 1916 and Rhodesia did the same thing in 1965.’

Oh crikey, Cruid was thinking he had better nip this in the bud before the other Ministers started applauding her. ‘Mary, the circumstances in those other countries were different. We are talking about a time when Great Britain was at war with the Americans who happened to be on the other side of the Atlantic, not like England just down the road from us. The Irish UDI came about after a painful uprising against the English, and Rhodesia was a rogue colony.’

‘None of that makes a jot of difference, Mary snapped and then looked at the faces of her other Ministers who were not at all sure where this was going. ‘Hands up those of you who will back me.’ The threat was not exactly implied but those around the table were left in no doubt they had better back her, or go clear out their desks.

Only Cruid’s hand was slow going up.

Mary sat back in her chair and smiled. ‘Ministers, it is time for Scotland to once more take its place in the world as a free and independent nation. You must remember this is not a unique situation for Scotland. Before we mistakenly agreed to join the United Kingdom back in the seventeen hundreds we had been a respected nation state. This will rectify that mistake.’

Cruid said. ’Have you checked to see if this plan of yours, which I have to admit may have some merit, is legally possible?’

‘No, not yet, but I would argue that as an independent state Scotland would be quite within its rights to pass its own laws.’

Secretly, Cruid, had to admit that this plan of hers might actually prove to be utterly brilliant. ‘Hmm,’ he confessed. ‘It is certainly worth us looking into the possibility of UDI.’

Mary smiled. Cruid, the old cynic, was actually warming to her idea. ‘You have to agree Cruid my idea is utterly brilliant, go on say it.’

He nodded.

‘And you know the best part,’ Mary said excitedly. ‘There is not a thing the English can do to prevent it.’

‘They could invade us.’ Cruid warned.

‘Cruid you old duffer, this isn’t exactly Culloden.’

Although on the surface Mary’s plan looked workable, the devil was in the detail and until he had had a chance to look into the legal aspect of UDI, he was only prepared to give her plan a cautious approval.

In defiance of Westminster and ignoring the apocalyptic warnings, the Scots, this time around in a second Independence Referendum, went ahead and voted to break away from the UK. Mary Dewar had got the result she wanted.

 

South of the border, upon hearing the result, the media now tore into Sir Roger Bottomley accusing him of being feeble and not doing enough to prevent the breakup of the United Kingdom.

This was a catastrophe. The Union Jack’s, world-wide, would all have to be replaced with flags that didn’t have the blue and white flag of Scotland. He was told the Queen was going ballistic.

Chapter Two

 

Six days after the Scots had voted to leave the United Kingdom, Scotland’s First Minster, Mary Dewar, was on her feet and about to address her cheering Scottish MSP’s in the Assembly Hall of the Scottish Parliament Building.

‘The people of Scotland have spoken,’ She announced. ‘Scotland is to leave the UK. As a result of this momentous decision, I hereby publicly announce to the world a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. As of this moment a free and independent Scotland will stand proud among the nations of this world. We shall, as a united people, forge new alliances abroad and take on the responsibility for our own destiny. I can today report that our European friends and allies in Brussels are ready to begin the negotiations that will clear the way for Scotland to become a full member of the EU.

Four weeks after Scotland’s UDI, with both governments making all manner of threats and counter threats it was hard to see how either side could step back from the brink of hostilities.

 

Locked away inside his private study in Number 10, Sir Roger was having his brow mopped by Charlotte Sweetwater. He was thinking how delightful her bosom looked today, but then he had those thoughts most days.

‘Is that better Sir Roger?’ Charlotte cooed.

‘Hmm?’ Sir Roger murmured, at present he was mostly preoccupied with staring at her “mummy bits.”

‘I wish there was more I could do to help ease your burden Sir Roger,‘ Charlotte said frowning and stroking his hair. ‘I hate to see you in such distress, you poor thing. I can always tell you know, when you are down. It’s as if our hearts and minds have this uncanny, almost telepathic connection. Could this be true love?’

Feeling her fingernails running down the back of his neck, making his skin crawl he could think of something that would definitely take his mind off his worries. But then they had this agreement.

‘It’s all the fault of them horrible Scots and those horrible Minister’s of yours belittling you, bad-mouthing you, and stirring up trouble for you. Poor you, having all those awful people getting on to you. My God, I don’t know how you cope? You are such a strong man Sir Roger. And where is Dame Edith while you battle through this? Surely a decent, loyal wife would be at your side. I imagine she is out there, in some sleazy hotel room, with that personal trainer of hers, the one with the tight little bum, Marcel DuPont.’

When Charlotte came and sat down on the edge of his desk and leaned over. Her lovely face–her pink lips–her ample bosom tempting him beyond reason, Sir Roger’s eyes widened.

Charlotte, her voice sounding like melted chocolate said. ‘Just remember Sir Roger, no matter what; I shall always be loyal to you. I shall never turn my back on you, not like all them others.’

Charlotte’s eyes became hooded. Stroking his cheek she said. ‘I am always here for you Sir Roger. And if there is anything that I can do for you, anything at all, my darling all you need do is ask.’

‘Ah, now you mention it…’ Sir Roger said reaching for her.

‘Not that, you naughty man.’ Charlotte said jumping down off his desk, out of range of his groping fingers. Smiling she wagged a finger at him. ’We agreed no touching, did we not?’

Sir Roger sighed.

‘Poor you,‘ Charlotte said and patted his cheek. ‘This is just as hard for me as it is for you.’

He doubted that.

 

Later that day in Cabinet Briefing room B, Prime Minister Sir Roger Bottomley tore into his Ministers and Special Advisers who had assured him that the Scots would never vote to leave the UK. These were the very same idiots who advised him Scotland’s UDI could never happen. Turning on Lord Soper of Bath head of MI5 he said.

‘Right. I need to know what the Scot’s are up to. I need to know what they are planning, and when.’

‘Ahem,’ Lord Soper cleared his throat. ‘I have spies in the Scottish Assembly and I have a few MSP’s on our payroll. I will be kept informed minute by minute. At present my people tell me Mary Dewar hasn’t a clue what she is doing. The people of Scotland are being led by a megalomaniac.’

‘Surely,’ said Sir Roger. ‘There must be people in Dewar’s government opposed to Scotland leaving the UK? Don’t they have a say in the matter?’

‘You’d have thought so,’ agreed Lord Soper, ‘however, with all the celebrations that are going on up there, a lot of flag waving and the awful din of the bagpipes it’s hard to find anyone that hasn’t been caught up in the whole nationalist frenzy, driven, I have to say, by a media hostile to the UK.’

‘So tell me,’ The PM prompted. ‘What do you know of their plans?’

‘The latest I have is Mary Dewar is about to begin talks with Brussels–with the Russian’s, the Chinese, the Indian government, Brazil and even Venezuela…’

‘Venezuela?’

Lord Soper shrugged. ‘Would you like me to have my people to look into the Venezuela angle, see what that’s all about?’

‘No,’ Sir Roger said irritably. ‘Forget South America. It’s the bigger players that I am worried about, the Ruski’s in particular. Bloody hell we must do something.’ Turning to his Chiefs of Defence the PM said.

‘We need a strategy. What ideas have you got?’

General Sir Rufus Warburton-Smyth, the head of the Army, offered a suggestion.

‘We give em a damn good spanking… trousers down… that sort of thing. In Eton that sort of thing always brought the fags into line.’

Sir Roger frowned. ‘I take your point Rufus, but I was rather hoping for suggestions of a more specific nature.’

‘I doubt there is anything more specific than a jolly good rogering with a cricket bat Bottomley. I imagine, at Eton a soft wimp like you would have had a few of them bigger boys sort you out eh?’

The PM took out a hankie and mopped his brow. He would rather the General hadn’t reminded him of those times.

Malcolm Catchpole the Defence Minister was worried.

‘Prime Minister, I am a little concerned the Scots might decide to close their borders. If that were to happen they could conceivably overrun our military bases, seize our military hardware and even nationalise our oil operations.’

Sir Roger Bottomley looked round sharply,

‘They wouldn’t dare… would they?’ He said directing his remark at Lord Soper.

‘PM, you need to understand, we are sailing in uncharted waters,’ the head of MI5 replied. ‘I really can’t say what the Scots might do. If they wished, as a truly independent nation, they could close their borders. ‘ Soper shook his head. ‘As you can imagine, if that were to happen, vast amounts of our military equipment including aircraft, warships and even our nuclear submarines would be trapped behind enemy lines.

This situation would undoubtedly create a split in our armed forces. The Scottish regiments would rally around their own flag and the remainder of the UK regiments would be expelled.’ He warned, ‘Sir Roger, figuratively speaking, in that scenario, your severed head might end up on London Bridge mounted on a spike.’

Even though he was quiet sure that sort of practice had ended with Oliver Cromwell, Sir Roger Bottomley didn’t like the image that just popped into his head. He adjusted his tie and tugged at his shirt collar.

‘My God, we must do something. We can’t have them overrun our bases, steal our military bits and bobs, guns, and warplanes and such. What are to going to do, someone tell me?’

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. If he thought the Brexit result was bad, the Scots leaving the UK was a whole lot worse. He could see his career heading down the Swanee. If there was to be blood on the carpet, he decided, it wasn’t going to be his. What he needed was a foolproof plan, and one that was guaranteed to get him off the hook. He wasn’t going to be kicked out of office, forced to bugger orf to the Fens or somewhere equally dreary to write his memoirs. He studied the faces of his Minsters who were looking to him for leadership.

Starkly aware that any one of them could end up in the firing line none were too keen on showing their head above the parapet.

Which of these, the PM wondered, was Brutus with a dagger concealed in his cloak? Quite possibly all of them! Right now, all he wanted to do was go find the lovely Charlotte and have her cool hands soothe away his worries.

‘If I may make a suggestion, Sir Roger?’ Admiral Sir Stanley Mortimer said. ‘With your permission, I can have my ships take on board every bit of naval equipment on Scottish soil and then have it brought down to England. And in the meantime, I shall have our Trident submarines put to sea and harass the Scottish trawlers.’

‘Excellent plan Mortimer,’ Sir Roger said sufficiently impressed he wanted to take the credit for it. ‘Here’s what we shall do. I want every bit of military hardware and every soldier, airman and navy what-cha-mathingy withdrawn from Scottish soil. I want nothing left behind. I want the Sots thoroughly disarmed and disabled. I want them at my mercy.’

See you can do it… he reminded himself.

Seeking to dig out a little of the Chuchillian spirit that people used to say he exemplified, and taking his Cabinet by surprise, he got to his feet and with two fingers in the air he announced:

‘We shall go on to the end. We shall fight them in France, we shall fight them on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight them on the beaches of Margate and beyond, we shall fight the Scots in the hills, in the fields and in the streets, we shall, do all that and a bit more… we shall never, never surrender.’

There was a time when he could recite Winston Churchill’s famous wartime speech word-for-word. Today, that was the best he could do.

Chapter Three

 

Thinking he ought to check out the legal aspect of Mary’s UDI, Cruid made a call to the Solicitor General.

‘Cruid, I have been looking into it and think we need to meet up.’

‘Why?’ The SG sounded worried. ‘What’s up?’

‘Let’s speak in my office.’

 

The Solicitor General bade Cruid sit down and shook his head.

‘I… I just wished Mary had come to me before she went ahead and announced UDI.’

‘You know Mary,’ Cruid said with a shrug of his bony shoulders. ‘Does she ever seek advice? Now, what’s the problem.’ An hour later he wished he hadn’t asked. With his head in his hands he could weep.

When the SG protested that he had far too much work on to leave his office right now, Cruid wasn’t having any of it.

‘You are coming with me Cruickshank. This is your cockup. You can tell her.’

 

At a knock on her door Mary Dewar called out. ‘Come in.’

Cruid stepped aside so that Cruickshank could be the first to enter the lion’s den. Mary Dewar was seated in her thought pod, a rather odd shaped window seat that poked out the rear wall of the Scottish Parliament Building. Each of the MSP’s offices had one of these quirky window boxes.

Built over five years, at a cost of over four hundred million pounds the parliament building was a bewildering fusion of glass, steel, polished concrete and wood. The entire edifice made you wonder what was going on in the head of the architect when he drew up the plans that must have had the builders tearing their hair out.

Looking at the two men, Cruid was wringing his hat. The smile fell from Dewar’s face.

‘What’s up?’ Mary said warily. ‘You both look worried, should I be worried too?’

‘Mary,’ Cruid said treading on eggshells. ‘We all agree that you did really well announcing the UDI. It was indeed an utterly brilliant plan… unfortunately there is a teeny-weeny problem.’ Cruid, thinking about his career and his pension was about to offload the problem onto the SG.

‘Cruickshank here, has looked into the ramifications of UDI and he thinks that we may have shot ourselves in the foot.’

‘Oh!’ Dewar said narrowing her eyes and stepping down out of her window pod. If these two buffoons were about to give her bad news she wanted to hear it from behind her desk. ‘Go on.’ She said icily.

Not wanting to be the messenger that got shot, Cruid said, ‘the Solicitor General is far better placed than I to explain the problem.’

The SG looked round sharply at Cruid.

‘First Minister,’ the Solicitor General started hesitantly. ‘When Downing Street warned us the Scottish Parliament wouldn’t be able to govern as an independent state they were quite right.’

‘I don’t think I want to hear this,’ Dewar said darkly, ‘but go on.’

Cruickshank said, ‘under existing constitutional rules, bills passed by our parliament can only become law with Royal Assent.’

‘Are you are saying,’ Mary looked about to burst a blood vessel, ‘Scotland cannot pass a single law without the Queen’s signature?’ Mary threw her hands in the air.

‘That’s right. I’m truly sorry First Minister. This must be infuriating for you. But our hands are tied. There is no way around it.’ Then in a vain attempt to lighten the mood Cruickshank joked. ‘Like the Christmas turkey, we are stuffed.’

Mary appealed to her Minister, ‘Cruid!’

‘Sorry Mary,’ Cruid said thinking he was getting far too old for this. ‘The simple fact is we shouldn’t have rushed headlong into UDI without first checking the legal requirements. Sir Roger Bottomley and his cronies in Number 10 will be a laughing like drains right now.’

When Mary Dewar came around her desk her face was like thunder. She snapped. ‘Tell me… this isn’t happening. What am I supposed to do now, Cruid… hmm? Do I tell the world, oh, sorry, Cruid cocked up and now Scotland can’t become an independent nation after all.’

This was what he was afraid of, Mary blaming him when it was entirely her decision to rush headlong into this whole UDI thing.

‘Surely, as an independent sovereign nation,’ Mary said, ‘we shouldn’t need to comply with rules that apply to the UK?’

Cruid shrugged. He had no idea. He was tired. Tired of life almost.

For what was possibly the first time in her political life Mary came up with a half-sensible suggestion.

‘Couldn’t we just bring in a new law, one that ends that stupid Royal Assent rule?’

Cruid thought about that for a minute and then shook his head.

‘That would be indeed be feasible Mary, if we didn’t need Royal Assent to bring in such a law. As things stand even that, would require the Queen’s signature.’

‘How about, ‘Mary said, ‘if we asked the Queen if she wouldn’t mind helping us out, do a little moonlighting, on-the-side, royal assent, cash-in hand stuff?’

Was she joking? Clearly not! Cruid could see no way out of this cul de sac that they had blindly walked into. The Scottish Government was going to be forced into making an embarrassing climb-down.

‘You two had better come up with a way to get me out of this mess because I am not going to back down… think for God’s sake!’ Mary shouted. ‘Independence means Independence, and that means no half measures, no compromises.’

Cruid had a thought. Dare he mention it? It was as if Mary had read his mind.

‘What is it Cruid? You just thought of something didn’t you?’

She wasn’t going to like it, but it might just work.

‘Just thinking aloud here Mary, so don’t bite my head off. I think I might have a solution, but I doubt you’d go for it.’

‘Out with it Cruid.’

‘It occurred to me that if Scotland was to have it’s own monarch, we could get all our bills signed off in-house, so to speak.’ Cruid shrugged. ‘Ok, don’t say it, you don’t like it, fair enough.’

When Mary didn’t jump down his throat but instead stood there staring at him and chewing on her thumb he wondered if she might actually go for it.

Mary was not a fan of monarchies but what Cruid had said made sense. However, if she was to agree to this plan, then this monarch, it could be a king, or a queen, it didn’t matter which, was to be no more than a figurehead, employed just to sign off their bills.

‘Ok,’ Mary said warily, ‘say I was to go along with this. How would it work?’

Not for a minute did Cruid imagine that she would buy his idea. He wasn’t even sure how it would work. Cruid hooked his hands behind his stooped back and paced the room.

Finally Cruid faced Mary Dewar.

‘My idea was: if Scotland had a king…’

‘Or a queen.’ Mary interrupted him.

‘Quite, or a queen,’ Cruid conceded although he could never see Mary Dewar working with another female head of state. If they were to go ahead with this, he wanted a king. He told himself. Slow down, think it through. Up to this point, Cruickshank hadn’t said a word. Encouraged by Cruickshank’s absence of objections Cruid soldiered on.

‘If Scotland had it’s own king, or queen,’ He added, ‘then he, or she, could sign off our bills so that these could then be enacted into laws without the need to trouble the Queen.’

‘Cruid is quite correct Mary,’ the SG chimed in with great enthusiasm, happy now that Cruid may have saved both their careers. ‘The Royal Assent law requires only that parliament’s bills are signed off by the reigning monarch. Nowhere does it specify who that monarch had to be.’

Mary said, ‘we could really do that… I mean get our own monarch and pass our own laws?’

‘Indeed. First Minister,’ the SG was almost gleeful.

Mary spent some time digesting this, looking from one face to the other.

‘Does Scotland have to become a monarchy?’ Mary said, like she was sucking on a wasp. ’Is there no other way?’

‘I’m afraid not Mary.’ Cruid said.

‘And of course Parliament would need to approve it.’ Cruickshank reminded Mary.

‘Parliament will do whatever I tell it to.’ Mary reminded him. Then addressing Cruid she said.

‘Say we put this king in place, would it be possible to have this person change the law so that we no longer need Royal Assent?’

Cruid looked round at Cruickshank who shrugged as if to say he had no idea.

‘He would have to be a pretty stupid king, ‘Cruid said, ‘to sign a bill that would make him redundant? However, that is not to say we couldn’t find a way to trick him into it.’

‘I love it. Mary crowed. ‘Ok. How do we proceed? I want this up and running quickly because at the moment we can’t bring in a single new law, which means I can’t take our EU application forward. If we are going to do this Cruid, it needs to happen… like yesterday.’

The two men watched Mary pacing her office thinking. She then turned on them.

‘Ok, I’ll go along with your idea Cruid but I am not having a king,’ Mary pouted. ‘I hate bossy men.’

Ah, this might explain why she never married? She wasn’t gay. He was pretty sure of that. He’d heard rumours. He didn’t approve of them. Lewd comments that people made to the effect that her neighbour, as in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, when his wife was at work, would hop over the garden fence and tend her garden.

Mary said. ‘Shouldn’t we be giving some thought to gender equality. Have you any idea how many women are in the highest paid jobs in this country?’

‘No Mary?’

‘Oh, neither do I. But you get my point.’

Cruid had no problem with equal opportunities for women. In fact he regards himself as a champion of women’s rights. However, two female monarchs, one on either side of the border, swinging handbags and orbs at each other? That cannot happen. So, he had better come up with a good reason why he wanted a king and not a queen. Making it up as he went along, he argued.

‘Mary, whilst I have absolutely no objections to us having a queen I’m afraid it is going to have to a king, only because, the last Scottish queen… as you will recall it was Mary Queen of Scots, became a bit of a disaster. Must I remind you she was involved in that scandal over her and Rizzio, her secretary, them being lovers, and then she was suspected of having a hand in her first husband’s death. Then there was the matter of her treasonous activities that led to her head being lopped off. Sorry Mary, it will have to be a king.’

‘Ok, but this has to be temporary arrangement.’ Mary warned her two Ministers. ‘We take on the king and then we get him to sign his own death warrant.’ Mary laughed. “What! I was only joking. I wouldn’t actually want him dead.’

Cruid’s face belied his scepticism.

‘Can we move on please?’ Cruid said feeling his skin creep. She could do that to him. ‘We need to give some thought to this person’s credentials. Ideally this person will have proven rights of succession.’

‘What do you mean, proven rights of succession? Blue blood you mean?’ Mary said. ‘Sure, but how do we go about doing that?’

Truthfully, Cruid had no idea how to go about it. Off the top of his head he said.

‘Using DNA sampling, it should be possible to find at least one suitable candidate. Then having located him, we give him some on the-job-training, get him up to speed, and then we’re done.’

‘You saying: we’re done. You mean once we have him in place we can then get our bills signed off?’ Mary looked relieved. ‘Well, I have to admit your plan is pretty good Cruid, but it’s not as utterly brilliant as my UDI idea.’

Thinking, if this all goes pear-shaped she can lay the blame at his door, and then it’ll be him who will have to resign, Mary said. ‘Ok, Cruid–mister, “Kingmaker”, you got the job of finding Scotland a king.’

Cruid groaned inside. The last thing he needed right now, just months off retirement, was to get saddled with a job fraught with political landmines.

Mary could almost see the cogs in her canny Minister’s head whirring. She said.

‘You already have someone in mind don’t you? I can read you like a book you old fart. So, go on tell me, who is he? I have in mind a hunk of a man standing on a mound of granite up in the Highlands, not the least bit bothered by the force-ten gale whipping around his long hair and his red beard. The wind has trapped his kilt between his meaty thighs. His right arm, muscled and scarred holds aloft an ancient sword…’

‘Not quite, Mary,’ Cruid said, interrupting the flow of juicy thoughts in the First Minister’s head. ‘Although I can quite imagine what you was thinking.’

‘I was thinking of a Rob Roy figure.’

‘Yes, I could tell, only,’ Cruid struggled to rein in his impatience. ‘First Minister, Rob Roy was an outlaw. No, this king would have to be a man capable of harnessing the passion of our nation. One that will lead us from the front…’

‘Rob Roy could have done that.’ Mary leapt in. ‘Rob Roy was a leader.’

‘Rob Roy was a leader of a gang of thieves Mary, ‘ Cruid said through gritted teeth.

‘Aw,’ said Mary. ‘I loved the way Mel Gibson played him. With his hairy chest and his big biceps.’

Cruid couldn’t be bothered to explain she was talking about an entirely different film. And why the hell were they even having this discussion about American and Australian actors who if their lives depended on it, couldn’t manage a half decent Scottish accent.

‘Actually,’ Cruid said. ‘I was thinking of Robert The Bruce. If we could find a direct descendent of his that’d be perfect.’ He saw Mary’s eyes widen.

‘Did Robert the Bruce have long flowing hair and thick thighs?’ Mary said running her tongue over her lips.

‘Oh God yes,’ Cruid said, just to shut her up. ‘And he had a huge claymore.’ He saw Mary’s eyes widen. Silly cow.

‘Ok, mister Kingmaker, that sounds good. So, to be clear, you will now go off and find a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce yes?’

‘Yes.’

‘And he will be a Mel Gibson lookalike yes?’

Cruid sighed. ‘If at all possible, First Minister, yes.’ He lied.

‘Ok, just get it done Cruid,’ Mary said. ‘And be sharp about it. We need this person in post.’

‘Mary, I shall clear my diary and make this a priority,’

 

Having promised Mary that he’d find her a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce, never mind one that looked like Mel Gibson, with the fake hair on his chest and a stupid wig, he hadn’t a clue where to start looking. Google he imagined.

 

Later that day, Mary Dewar had her entire Cabinet and her Special Advisers meet with her in Cabinet Briefing Room 2. She made sure the video cameras and the recording equipment had been switched off. What they were about to discuss was top-secret.

The only item on the agenda was how to proceed in making Scotland a monarchy and then finding a suitable king.

The meeting was brief. Mary got the support of her team and Cruid was given the job of hunting down a descendent of Robert The Bruce.

 

Back in his office, tapping away with two fingers on his computer Cruid trawled the Internet. Jesus! He couldn’t believe the number of people claiming to be direct decedents of Scottish kings… one of which lived in Tasmania! About to give up and log off, he came across a post from Strathclyde University. The University’s Archaeology department had recently carried out some DNA tests on the remains of King Robert IV, the grandson of Robert the Bruce. That looked interesting. Cruid picked up the phone and made a call.

 

Chapter Four

 

London.

 

Sir Roger Bottomley hated the fact that Mary Dewar had finally gotten her own way and had forced through Scottish Independence. And what was going on in her head, when he wouldn’t listen to sense when he told her without Royal Assent she couldn’t govern. He even went to the trouble of sending a team of his top legal advisers up to Edinburgh to talk to her, to explain the situation, to try and get her to see sense. What did she do? She sent them back with the message “Stop meddling in Scottish affairs.”

When Sir Roger then tried phoning her he got her secretary telling him the First Minister was too busy to take his calls.

The final nail in the coffin of the United Kingdom came when Mary Dewar withdrew her MSPs from Westminster.

When Sir Roger did finally get to speak to her, Dewar told him bluntly where he could stick his silly government. He persisted in making the point, ‘without Royal assent Mary you wont be able to function as a government.’ When Dewar told him, ‘I shouldn’t worry about that Sir Roger because we have found a workaround to the problem.’ That shut him up. What was she talking about? There was no a way around it… was there? When he pressed her on what she had meant by that, Dewar ended the conversation with a warning, ‘if I were you, I wouldn’t plan on visiting Scotland any time soon.’

 

Alone in his study, Sir Roger was wearing out the carpet pacing and trying to think. With the media and his wife getting on to him, demanding that he resign, what was he to do? In his head he conjured up an image of his hero, Winston Churchill. What might he have done faced with the lowest opinion poll rating of any Prime Minister, ever, and facing an open revolt within his own party? Maggie and Churchill, they had their critics and they survived. It was all right for them, they had a war… Zing! That got him thinking. The PM went behind his desk and buzzed Terry Beaumont. He told him to come straight to his office… alone.

‘Close the door Terry.’

Sir Roger indicated a chair over by the far wall. ‘Bring it over here and sit down. I have something of a sensitive nature that I wish to run by you, see what you think.’

On the way over Terry was thinking the PM was about to tell him that he had decided to resign. That would be a disaster of epic proportions. Special Advisers are appointed by the sitting Prime Minister. By tradition, when the incumbent PM left the SA’s went too. It would be the Job Centre for him. How was he supposed to tell Amanda that he was out of work? If he were to lose his job now, he could kiss goodbye to the five grand deposit that he’d just put down on the dream kitchen that he’d always promised his wife she could have. He could imagine her eczema would flare up again, so too would her irritable bowel syndrome, to say nothing of the depression that she was only just managing to keep on top of with medication.

‘Sir Roger, I don’t think you should resign,’ Terry blurted out. ‘Our country needs a strong leader right now, someone with your Churchillian spirit.’ Mentioning the PM’s absolute hero was always a good thing.

‘What are you blathering about Beaumont? I have no intention of resigning.’

‘Oh!’ Said Terry.

Watching Bottomley looking quite relaxed behind his desk with both hands behind his head and leaning back in his chair making it creak Terry thought the PM was about to say something profound. What the PM said next had him questioning the PM’s tenuous grip on reality.

‘Terry you know of course the Scots are revolting?’

‘With respect Sir Roger,’ Terry said horrified, ‘describing the Scots as revolting sounds somewhat racist. I would advise you to keep those sentiments strictly between the two of us.’

‘What are you blathering on about, you dullard? (His wife, Dame Edith’s much used criticism of him) I was referring to the traitorous behaviour of that… that God-awful woman… what’s her name?’

‘Mary Dewar.’ Terry prompted, now quite relieved to hear that the PM wasn’t going to resign.

‘Tell me Terry,’ the PM said pouring himself a large Scotch, ‘who are we currently at war with?’

Terry frowned. ‘You mean, PM, what countries are we currently in dispute with?’

‘No Terry, I mean what countries, are we physically at war with?’

‘Well none,’ Terry said. ‘Unless of course you include the aircraft that we provide the Yanks, on their bombing missions that no one, not even the Foreign Secretary knows about. Why?’

‘Terry, we are in the poop. And I do mean we.’

‘With respect PM, I was hoping the next Prime Minister would see his way to take me on.’

When the PM glared at him Terry gulped. ‘Sorry Sir Roger I didn’t mean that to sound disloyal but I have Amanda to think…’

‘Terry, don’t be stupid. Special Advisers are by their very nature merely lap dogs of the incumbent Prime Minister. If I were to go, you would go too. ’Swinging his tassel loafer shoes down off his desk Bottomley said. ‘So if you wish to remain in post I suggest that you answer my question: who are we currently bombing or otherwise at war with?’

‘I, I, am not sure PM. None that I am aware of, which makes a change.’ Beaumont’s laugh was brief.

Where was the PM was going with this? Terry didn’t want to be having this discussion, in private or otherwise. War wasn’t his thing. What is it he wondered with these politicians that the minute they get a little power want to flex their military muscles? God, will they never learn?

‘Whist you can absolutely rely on my support Prime Minister,‘ Beaumont said. ‘I really don’t see how us being at war with anyone has any relevance to your… or should I say our, predicament.’

‘Would you like to hear my plan Terry?’

Not really.

‘Does it involve us bombing people?’

‘Absolutely not, and not a shot will be fired,’ Sir Roger said. ‘

Not entirely convinced Terry said, ‘ok, what do you have in mind?’

‘If I am to keep them backstabbing cretins out there,‘ Sir Roger said pointing to the door, referring to his Cabinet Ministers, ‘from closing in for the kill, and one of them stealing my job, I need a war.’

‘You need a war?’ Terry said sitting back in his chair and not quite believing this.

‘You must keep this to yourself Terry, top-secret stuff, but yes, I need a war. Look. It’s not rocket science. When a Prime Minister in the past was faced with absolute ruin, they would arrange a convenient war. Faced with a threat from a foreign power, the public have always rallied round their leader.’ When the PM noticed the look of horror on his SA’s face Sir Roger said. ‘Look. I am not talking about us taking on some big guys with a lot of military muscle, just some little guys that we could easily beat up. I should think that a small war, one that made a lot of noise and lots of threats should take the heat off us. ’

Terry wasn’t quite so sure. He could think of quite a few politicians that did rather badly after dragging the UK into a disastrous conflict, that had nothing to do with us, and was usually on the other side of the globe but Bottomley wouldn’t have wanted to hear that. Terry, watching the PM, could sense that he already had a country in mind, most likely some impoverished tiny nation that had nothing but sticks and stones to defend itself with. So, what had the PM in mind? Was he going to do a Maggie, and send another vastly expensive task force down into the South China Sea or some such place? Terry was now regretting the five grand, down payment that he’d given the builder due to fit Amanda’s new kitchen. The builders had already placed the order for the kitchen units and all the paraphernalia. The dishwasher, granite worktops, dishwasher, washing machine, an Aga cooker with twin ovens, an American style fridge with a chilled water dispenser, and… oh my God, he can’t… he daren’t lose his job now.

‘I can see the point you are making PM,’ Terry said becoming anxious, ‘and I have to admit it has some merit, however, I’m not convinced that us going to war with another nation state, however small, unless it was in support of the Yanks, is politically a sound move. If you need to create a distraction for the media hounds to tear into, Sir Roger, might I suggest that we embark on something a little less risky?

‘Such as.’ Sir Roger said pouring himself another whiskey.

‘Off the top of my head, how about we have MI5 dig up some dirt on a celebrity and then feed it to the media. If this person was a household name, say a highly paid football star, or a chat show host, that might take the heat off you?’

‘But only for about five minutes.’ Sir Roger said. ’Besides, dragging up dirt on people is too risky.’

Maybe the PM was right. Beaumont was thinking back to the number of times that a small sleazy article about some minor celeb, ended up with a Cabinet Minister getting caught with his trousers down.

‘Frankly, that’s a rubbish idea Beaumont,’ The PM said. ’To get the press and my critics off my back I am going to need a far bigger distraction. I want you to listen to my idea. You are going to love it.’

Terry doubted it.

‘I am planning,’ Sir Roger said quite animated, ‘ to start a punch up with a small nation. Not an all-out war as such, just a lot of sabre rattling, lots of threats movement of troops and such.’

‘Ok,‘ Terry said warily,’ It wasn’t hard to figure out the PM had a country in mind. ‘What exactly do you mean by sabre rattling?’

‘You know the drill. We have our armed forces mobilised. We have them carry out military exercises in our parks. Have our tanks rumbling through our High Streets, that sort of thing. Do t you think the air raids warning thingamajigs still work?’

‘You mean the air raid sirens Sir Roger? No, I am pretty sure they were all taken down in the fifties.’ Terry looked back at the door. He thought about making an excuse to leave before an image in his head of Amanda looking pasty and saddened rooted him to his chair. ‘Sir Roger, you mentioned a country: who exactly do you have you in mind?’

‘I’ll give you a clue. See if you can guess.’

Terry sighed. ‘Ok.’

‘This country is an oil producing nation.’

‘Ah,’ said Terry rolling his eyes up and thinking: Kuwait, or perhaps the United Arab Emirates, no it has to be… ‘You mean Qatar?’

‘Nope, try again. I’ll give you another clue: these people have a weird national costume.

‘Erm… Turkey?’ God he hoped not.

‘Uh huh, try thinking up north.’ Sir Roger pointed behind him at the wall, which didn’t help. He was quite enjoying this little game.

North! Oh I get it,’ Terry said convinced he had the answer. ‘You want to revisit the cod war, have a go at Norway again?’

‘Norway! What are you talking about Terry? Why would I want to start a war over a shoal of cod? For Gods sake man, wake up. I am talking about a country that is much closer to home.’

‘You don’t mean…?’ Terry pointed at the same wall, vaguely north.

‘Exactly Terry, Scotland.’

‘Scotland! Beaumont exploded. ‘Sir Roger, just because they voted for independence you can’t start a war with the Scots! Prime Minister this is not Culloden.’

‘If you don’t like my plan Terry, I can very quickly replace you with another of my Special Advisers.’

An image of Amanda looking depressed became lodged in his head. The five grand deposit for the kitchen sharpened his mind. He definitely didn’t want another SA stepping in and taking over his special relationship with the PM. Attack Scotland! For Chrissake! What was he thinking? And what would the Queen say about that? He was thinking he had better come up with another diversion plan… but what? One of his few special skills, and why the PM liked to use Terry was because the SA was good at thinking on his feet He had an idea… and quite a brilliant one, he thought.

‘Prime Minister, that’s an excellent plan, however, bear with me while I run this by you. This plan doesn’t involve anyone going to war. No one get’s hurt, and this will definitely get the media off your back. Would you like to hear it?’

Sir Roger puffed on a cigar, took it out, wet and dribbling and pointed it at his SA. Terry glanced up at the smoke alarm that had been Gaffa-taped over.

‘Go ahead, but I warn you Terry, your idea wont be anywhere near as good as mine.’

Terry looked back at the door to make sure it was shut.

‘Prime Minister, I want to create a pseudo-war.’

‘Of course you do… what’s a pseudo war?’

Terry said, ‘have you heard of wikiLeak?’

‘You mean them damn commies that go around leaking state secrets and putting the west at risk from the Russians? Dashed blighters should be horsewhipped.’

In Sir Rogers opinion there was no shortage of rotters that he’d like to see get a damn good thrashing with a horse crop. He’d start with them commie union officials– then them interfering anti – hunting – longhaired weirdoes – and then his fourth year geography teacher at Eton – not to forget them lazy people sponging off state benefits. ‘What about wikiLeak?’

‘The thing is,’ said Terry feeling his way, ‘leaked emails are not just the domain of spurious sections of society that have an issue with capitalism. Governments around the world have set up entire departments to feed the media with information and misinformation.’ Terry paused for effect. Adopting a conspiratorial manner, Terry said. ’Prime Minister we really can’t allow the Scots to steal our assets in Scotland. Just think about the consequences for our economy if we lost the oil revenues for a start

 

Terry almost ran to the PM who seemed to be having a heart attack.

Sir Roger slammed his hand down on his desk. His empty whiskey glass leapt in the air. ‘Damn and blast their eyes,’ Sir Roger stormed. ‘Terry, we must do something. Call a COBRA meeting. We must get our military mobilised…’

‘Just a second PM,’ Terry said using his hands to placate his blustering boss. ’I was talking hypothetically. As far as I know, no such plans exist, however… what if; say a dissident Scot was to leak an email that exposed the Scottish Government as having those plans? The news would create panic in the media. You could then go to the House and make a statement to announce the UK is now under threat from a foreign state and you have no choice but to take robust action.’

‘Robust eh? I like that. Where did you say the email came from?’

‘It came from a dissident Scot who was unhappy about leaving the UK.’

‘Make a note of his name Beaumont,’ Sir Roger said. ’When this is all over I shall award him a gong.’

‘Prime minister…’ Terry sighed. ‘No such email exists. I will invent one that I shall call “ScottiLeak” and then distribute it to the media, who will react with fury.’

‘Fury eh? I like that. And tell me again, what exactly does this “wonkyleak say?’

Terry sighed again. ‘ScottiLeak, will expose the Scots plans to take over our oil platforms in the North sea, overrun our military bases, throw out our troops and capture our weapons, our warplanes, our navy ships and our nuclear submarines?’

‘My God!’ Sir Roger exploded,’ they wouldn’t dare.’

‘Well of course they wouldn’t.’ Beaumont said gently, ‘the email will be a fake… a forgery, one that I made up. But having said that, who’s to know that it isn’t true?’

‘I will know.’ Said Sir Roger.

‘Yes, of course you will know, because I just told you Sir Roger, but other than just the two of us no one else must know. It will be our secret.’

‘So… let me get this straight,’ Sir Roger said. ‘You will get an email, from some Scottish person, who has got the arse because the Scots have voted to leave the UK.’ Beaumont nodded.

‘And then we go to war with them?’ Sir Roger said speaking past the cigar that was dropping ash down his waistcoat.

Terry Beaumont was beginning to wish he hadn’t mentioned the bloody email. Then he remembered Amanda and her IBS, her depression and the kitchen…

‘Prime Minister… Just… just… please leave it to me. I will create the ScottiLeak email and I will distribute it. You need do nothing other than act shocked when you hear what the Scots are planning.’

‘Right.’ The PM said. ‘Tell me again what they are planning?’

‘Erm, you’ll need to wait until you get the email Sir Roger.’

‘Good man Terry. We finished here?’ Sir Roger said and pulled from his waistcoat pocket the gold hunter watch dangling on an Albert chain. He checked the time. ‘You can go now. Miss Sweetwater and I have some important matters to attend to.’

Closing the door behind him Terry Beaumont leaned against it and blew through his cheeks.

When he turned the corner he almost bumped into Charlotte Sweetwater who flashed him that look that always got him wondering.

 

The following day ScottiLeak was headline news.

Sir Roger summoned Terry Beaumont to his office.

‘My God Terry this is serious. We must have a COBRA meeting right away.

If we were to lose any of our trident submarines the Yanks would go ballistic.’

‘Indeed, Prime Minister.’ Terry said. ‘Which is why this new intelligence has such serious implications.’

It was obvious to Beaumont that Sir Roger had forgotten every word of their conversation on this matter only yesterday. He thought he’d better straighten him out. ‘Remember what we talked about yesterday? I said I was going to make up a fake email, made to look like an official Scottish Government one and then I send it to the media.’

‘You made it up you say?’ Sir Roger looked relieved. ‘Thank God. For a minute there I thought the Scots were about to run off with our military kit, take over our oilrigs. Dash it all Terry, why didn’t you say? What should I do now?’

‘First of all, the House will expect you to make an announcement. You must tell the House how shocked and dismayed you are by the actions of the Scottish administration. You then say that your government will take all necessary steps to protect UK interests.’

‘Right,’ said Sir Roger said a little bewildered. ‘I might have you write that down for me?’

‘You will tell the House, in light of this new and alarming information our armed forces have been put on Red alert.’

‘Red alert eh? The Scots wont be happy.’ Sir Roger said. The red veins in his nose appeared to pulse. ‘It’s their own silly fault thinking they can just pack up their kilts and leave the UK.’ Sir Roger poured himself another whiskey. Raising his glass to Beaumont he said. ‘Good work Beaumont.’

Sir Roger pressed a button on his intercom. Theresa Toffy, his secretary answered.

‘Yes Sir Roger.’

‘Theresa, I want you to set up a COBRA meeting ASAP.

‘Yes Sir Roger.’

Turning to his SA, Bottomley said. ‘You seem to be in possession of vital intelligence on this Scottish plot Beaumont I want you in on all the COBRA meetings. If the Scots were to overrun our oil rigs and pipelines we would be in trouble.’

‘Like me, Sir Roger, you will no doubt be able to recall the miners strike which put this country on a three-day working week. Do you remember the hordes of angry motorists queuing at the petrol stations – how thousands of old people, many of them traditional tory voters, shivered and died from the cold?’

Bottomley had heard enough. ‘Damn and blast their eyes Terry, now we have the bloody miners on strike. We must nip this uprising the bud.’

 

ScottiLeak caused pandemonium in the country. The UK government accused the Scots of sneaky behaviour. The Scottish Government accused Westminster of fabricating the email to deflect the media’s attention from Sir Roger Bottomley’s catastrophic handling of Brexit and the break up of the United Kingdom.

 

Present in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, (COBRA) were: Sir Roger Bottomley, Terry Beaumont, the Heads of the armed forces, the Intelligence Services, the Home Secretary, the Chiefs of police, a handful of Cabinet Ministers, along with a range of top civil Servants. Terry needn’t have worried that the people present were about to challenge the origins of ScottiLeak because, risen to anger by it’s damning revelations all they wanted was for the PM to action.

‘Gentlemen, (there was only one women present), Sir Roger said, casting his eyes around the table. ‘You will all have seen the email leaked to us by a dissident Scot. You will by now have learned the Scottish Government has for months been planning to overrun our Scottish military bases, how they have been secretly planning to confiscate our oil assets. I have convened this meeting to agree on how we move forward. For myself I prefer a robust, unequivocal response, one that sends Mary Dewar’s administration a clear message that the UK government will take all necessary steps to protect its assets.’ Sir Roger lit up a cigar. Two seats to his left, Home Secretary Katie Murrell, began coughing and waving a hand in front of her face.

Slamming the flat of his hand down on the table, making everyone jump, General Sir Rufus-Warburton Smyth, the head of the army, spittle flying off his handlebar moustache roared with indignation, ‘Damn and blast their breeches Bottomley. We cannot stand by and let these people get away with this. With your permission I’ll sort this out. ’

Listening to this Terry Beaumont, chewing on his pencil, slid down in his chair.

‘Would this involve, General,’ the PM asked ‘you sending hordes of your men with bayonets fixed, charging over the border shooting and looting?’

Terry Beaumont raised his hand. If I may make a suggestion Prime Minister?’

The PM nodded.

‘The problem, as I see it, is how do go about rescuing our assets? We could, as the General has suggested, simply invade Scotland. My worry about that is it would upset our American friends. Might I suggest an alternative?’

‘Go head.’ Sir Roger said with a wave of his hand.

‘My idea is this,’ Terry said, feeling uncomfortable at the way he was being scrutinised. ‘The Scots are have announced there is to be a Scottish Independence Day celebration. There will be street parties and the pubs can stay open twenty-four hours. Under the cover of darkness and while the Scots are busy celebrating,‘ Terry pretended to be tipping back a glass, ‘we mobilise our troops and have them withdraw all our military assets.’

‘What about the Scottish regiments, ‘Sir Peregrine Parsonage, Army Chief Of Staff said seeing a flaw in this plan. ‘They are hardly likely to stand idly by while we nick their weapons.’

‘I was just coming to that very point,’ Terry lied, having to make this up as he went along. I rather fancy that they too will be celebrating and hopefully, they’ll not take too much notice. And if they were to become suspicious and asked us what we were playing at, moving so much equipment through the night, we simply say we are carrying out night manoeuvres. Not, as I understand it, an infrequent occurrence.’

With no dissenters, COBRA voted to go along with Beaumont’s plan. The Home Secretary wasn’t quite convinced. Shaking her head she said.

‘I cant believe the Scottish Army would be so distracted as not to notice a mass exodus of our military equipment?’

‘I would expect them to notice,’ Terry said. ‘But I am banking on them being so merry they don’t actually care.’

Sir Roger liked it. ‘Good plan Beaumont.’ Addressing his military Chiefs of Staff, Sir Roger said. ‘Crack on with it.’

Back at their respective HQ’s, First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir, Stanley Mortimer ordered an immediate withdrawal of his ships from Scottish bases. He also sent a small flotilla of warships out into the North Sea to beef up the security around the oilrigs. General Sir Rufus-Warburton Smyth, Army Chief of Staff, sent orders that his army was to be ready to move out at midnight. His armies were to then form a defensive line the length of Hadrian’s Wall. Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Shelley would have his warplanes in the air by daybreak and have them fly really low over the towns and cities, ‘a few sonic bangs rattling their windows ought to shake em up.’

Terry Beaumont was feeling quite pleased with himself. The PM and all these powerful people liking his idea wouldn’t hurt his job prospects at all, not at all.

 

Later that morning, addressing a packed House of Commons Sir Roger waving a printout of ScottiLeak, announced. ‘Not since the Second World War has our country faced such a threat to its security.’

For now at least, newspaper headlines weren’t calling for his resignation.

After leaving the House of Commons Sir Roger went back to Number 10 and met with Terry Beaumont in the PM’s study.

Terry Beaumont was patting himself on the back. His fake email was a masterstroke of political spin. It had worked. It had got the PM off the hook, which meant the work on Amanda’s new kitchen could now go ahead. It was all looking good.

‘Good work Beaumont,’ Sir Roger said raising his glass. ‘I may have to make you a CBE in the New Years Honours list.’

When he leaned back in his chair and hoisted his feet up on his desk there was a satisfied smirk on Sir Roger’s face.

‘I have been thinking dear boy.’

Terry wished he wouldn’t. ‘Have you PM?’

‘Yes, tell me. How much of that wall is still standing?’

Terry was thinking, what wall?

‘Which wall are we talking about PM?’

‘The one the Romans built, the one that keeps them out.’

‘Keeps who out?’

‘Don’t be thick Beaumont. The Scots.’

‘Have you ever visited Scotland Sir Roger?’

‘No, and I have no wish to. I heard the entire country is only just out of the ice age.’

‘I see,’ said Terry. ‘The wall to which you refer, was built almost two thousand years ago by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Most of it is now missing.’

‘Missing!’ Sir Roger sounded alarmed. ‘Stolen was it… by the Scots?’

Actually it was the English that pulled it down. The locals pinched the stones to build houses in the north of England.’

‘In that case I should put it back up again.’

‘Rebuild it?’

‘Every last brick.’

‘It was stone actually,’ Terry said. He had a thought. ‘I suppose a capital project like that, rebuilding the entire wall, would provide useful employment for the bricklayers in the hard-pressed north of England.’

‘Are they hard-pressed, up there?’

‘They claim to be Sir Roger.’

‘Well, don’t just sit around here twiddling your thingamajigs. Get on with it Terry. Get some people on it.’

Terry was thinking that his brother-in-law has a building company. No doubt he’d be glad to take on the work. Then he’d get a decent backhander ‘I do know of someone who could do a good job of rebuilding the wall. He built my neighbours conservatory. I could have a word with him and get you a good a deal. I might be able to swing it so that there is a case of whiskey in it for you?’

‘A case of whiskey you say,’ Sir Roger’s watery eyes lit up. ‘That suits me.’ Bottomley yawned. ‘Beaumont be a good chap. On your way out ask Charlotte Sweetwater to pop in. I want her to take something down?’

There was a wry grin on Terry’s face when he left the PM’s office. All in all, it had been quite a day, fraught, but productive.

‘You are a such a handsome man.’ Charlotte Sweetwater cooed standing behind the PM massaging his shoulders and breathing in his aftershave.

‘Don’t let Edith hear you say that.’ Bottomley said opening his eyes and looking at the door. ‘Is it locked?’

‘Yes, Sir Roger, I made sure of that. Now what would you like me to take down?’

 

Sir Roger needn’t have worried that his wife might have burst in because Dame Edith had gone to their apartment in Knightsbridge. The penthouse suite, according to his expenses claims, was supposed to be rented. The House of Commons Standards Committee when they were asked to look into this irregularity dismissed it as a clerical oversight. While Ms Sweetwater was about to take something down, Sir Roger’s wife was having another of her regular workouts with Marcel DuPont. Marcel’s fees for these frequent services would be reimbursed via the PM’s wife’s own expenses claims.

The breeze messing with his thinning hair, his eyes hollow from lack of sleep and the taste of malt whiskey on his tongue, Sir Roger Bottomley, about to face the world media, stepped outside Number 10. Standing behind the lectern the PM looked grim. He read out the short statement that Beaumont had prepared for him: ‘Following the Scottish government’s illegal declaration of independence and the shocking revelations exposed in the intercepted email that shows the Scots are planning to overrun our military bases and seize our oil assets, last night under the cover of darkness our forces taking with them every piece of our military hardware they could lay their hands on withdrew to South of the border and formed a defensive line just South of the border. The government of the United Kingdom stands resolute in upholding the rule of law. I maintain that both the Scottish Independence Referendum and the subsequent announcement made by First Minister Mary Dewar of a Unilateral Declaration Of Independence are illegal. The Scottish government does not have the moral or the legal right to declare itself independent. For the sake of peace between our two nations I urge the Scottish Government to reverse this foolish, and entirely unworkable declaration.

 

That evening, to report and comment on the unfolding crisis, TV stations across the UK suspended normal viewing.

 

On Scottish Independence Day, at the stroke of midnight the British forces made their move. Throughout the night a steady stream of army vehicles headed south. In Scotland nobody particularly cared. Even the carousing troops in the Scottish Regiments who were quite accustomed to seeing night manoeuvres, paid no heed to the stuff being taken from their barracks. Rivers of trucks and low-loaders blocked the roads for hours and by dawn there wasn’t a scrap of military hardware left north of the border. The soldiers of the Scottish regiments, bleary eyed and hung over, woke to find their hardware, their rifles and even their ammo was gone.

Chapter Five

 

Edinburgh.

It was the doorbell clanging in her alcohol-stupefied head that woke Mary Dewar. The room swam when she rolled over to look at the clock on her bedside cabinet. Mary groaned. Who the hell was waking her at six in the morning for chrissake?

Dressed in her carpet slippers and dressing gown, her hair a mess, Mary opened the front door and groaned.

‘Oh it’s you,’ Mary croaked. ‘Why are you waking me at this god-awful time of day?’

Sandra McCauley the First Minister’s PA edged past her boss into the hallway and closed the door behind her. ‘I have been on the phone for hours trying to call you and you don’t answer. Are you ok?’

‘Oh, I didn’t know it was you. I threw the phone across the room.’ Mary couldn’t remember if she had a man up in her bedroom or not? No, she didn’t think so.

Mary Shuffled through to the kitchen. She filled the kettle, switched it on and found two mugs. Waggling a tea bag in the air she asked Sandra. ‘Tea… coffee?’

‘You look a mess.’

‘Thank you Sandra,’ Mary said being sarcastic. ‘I feel a mess ok? Now, tell me what has happened?’

‘Last night while we were all out getting pissed, the English withdrew all their armed forces. Their troops and their heavy armour are now lined up along our border in a very threatening manner.’

Mary plonked her bottom down on a stool at the breakfast bar and dropped her head in her hands. The noise of the kettle boiling sounded like a jet plane in her ears. ‘Get that Sandra,’ Mary said pointing at the kettle. ‘I’m afraid if I was to move my head might fall off.’

 

Fifteen minutes later, Sandra was keeping right behind her boss, her hands ready to catch her should she fall on the stairs. At the top Sandra could breath again. They turned left on the landing and went into Mary’s b bedroom.

With no sign of a man in her bedroom, leaving Sandra to pick up her clothes, Mary peeked inside the en-suite bathroom. Finding no man in there, Mary relaxed down a little. She was so drunk last night it was quite conceivable that she had brought a man home and had forgotten about him.

‘I couldn’t care less that the English have pulled out,’ Mary said looking at her face in the bathroom mirror and thinking she looked a good deal older that her forty-nine years. She poked her tongue out. ‘Urgh.’ Snatching up her electric toothbrush she proceeded to scrub it raw. ‘Good riddance to them.’ Mary said over her shoulder to her PA who was hanging her clothes in her wardrobe. Her headache was so bad she wondered if it was a brain tumour.

‘Someone must have spiked my drink last night.’ Mary said to Sandra who was now leaning on the doorjamb with her legs crossed and her arms folded. ‘Don’t look at me that way. I was celebrating.’ Mary complained. ‘I’m sure you must get drunk now and again.’

‘I did get drunk… just the once, and then I decided I didn’t like feeling ill, so I never did it again.’

Hearing this Mary shook her head. She shouldn’t have done that! ‘Help me get dressed will you? If I am to be expected to deal with a constitutional crisis I need to be wearing some clothes. ‘And you say the English removed every bit of kit?’

‘Down to the last bullet I heard.’

‘Tanks?’

‘All but a few broken down ones that blocked the roads for hours.’

‘Our ships… aircraft?’

‘Strictly speaking, ‘ Sandra said, ‘we don’t actually own any of it. Anyway its all gone over the border.’

‘Not our nuclear submarines?’ Mary Dewar said slipping her feet into her leopard pattern high-heeled shoes. The English had caught them napping. She had better get over to Holyrood and set up an emergency sitting of parliament.

‘The last report I had, the submarines were last seen off Blackpool.’

‘How’d I look? No don’t say it. I know. I look like I spent the night in a dustbin. Get that idiot Sir Roger Bottomley on the phone. I want to know what that imbecile is playing at.’

Looking at her reflection in the triple mirror on her dressing table Mary applied some lipstick.

 

Sir Roger Bottomley wasn’t taking her calls. His secretary told her. ‘Sorry Mizz Dewar, I’m afraid the PM is unavailable right now. Would you care to leave him a message?’

‘Yes tell him…’ Mary could only think of expletives. ‘Tell him… just tell him to call me.’

Ten, that morning ahead of an emergency sitting of the Scottish Parliament, Mary met with her Cabinet. Solicitor General Samuel Cruickshank got straight to the point.

‘I need to know, First Minister, if there is any truth in this email? Have you ever discussed any plans to overrun UK military bases.’

‘I can assure you Samuel,’ Mary said, ‘ScottiLeak is a fake email and not a very clever one.’

The First Minister hadn’t answered his question. He pressed her. ‘You can categorically state that you have never made any plans to confiscate UK military hardware and take over the oilrigs?’

‘Did you not hear what I just said Cruickshank.’ Mary said feeling hung-over. ‘I just told you the email is a fake. It was put together and circulated by the UK government who are desperate to distract the media from having a go at Sir Roger Bottomley after he made an absolute arse of Brexit and then our Independence.’

‘I will ask you one more time Mary,’ Cruickshank said now convinced that Dewar was lying. ‘Was the confiscation of English assets ever discussed… at any time… at any level?’

Mary emphasised. ‘No. Never at any time did we plan to overrun the UK military bases or the oilrigs… we may… may, I stress, at one time,’ Mary fidgeted in her chair, ‘have loosely mentioned it as just a possibility… a possibility, but nothing more. I don’t actually recall when the meeting took place, or who was there, but yes, someone did mention that should Scotland gain its Independence perhaps we would need to take steps to protect Scottish interests, and that was all. Its no big deal.’

This admission brought out a series of groans from her Ministers.

‘What?’ Mary said spreading her hands. ‘The email is still a fake.’

When Dewar’s Cabinet filed out of the room there was considerable mumbling in the ranks.

 

Later that day in Holyrood, Mary Dewar’s impassioned speech to the Scottish Parliament could hardly be heard above the raised voices of the MSP’s.

‘Sir Roger Bottomley’s government, can make all the threats it likes, but we, the proud people of Scotland will stand resolute in our right for self-determination. Our Independence is set in stone… and as a monument to our Independence I have commissioned a Scottish granite statue to be made of me that will stand in the lobby of this building. The lies perpetrated by Westminster shall not distract us from our destiny.’

Punching the air Mary’s rallying cries: Scotland forever free…. Scotland forever free… Scotland forever free…’ rang through the steel and wood rafters. Then from the throats of the MSP’s this quickly became a chorus of battle cries.

To thunderous applause Mary cried, ‘no longer will these highlands, these lochs, our rivers and our towns be welded to the Union. As of now Scotland is no longer under the heel of the Westminster bullies. From this day forth an Independent Scotland will create a new future for herself. And the world will embrace us.’

Mary Dewar remained standing while the assembled MSP’s clapped and cheered. At her command they fell silent. In a voice now sounding grave the First Minister said.

‘Some of you will by now, have heard that acting like thieves in the night, in a cynical act of retribution, the UK armed forces removed every piece of their military hardware leaving Scotland vulnerable to invasion by their armies that are lined up along our border with their guns trained on our cities. Their planes now terrorise our airspace, and their ships sail menacingly close to our shores. Members of the Scottish Parliament, I believe the UK poses a clear and present danger to our national sovereignty and with that in mind I shall meet with my Cabinet and my security advisers to discuss the possibility of forming an emergency coalition government.

When Mary Dewar asked, for the sake of Scotland, the MSP’s should put aside their party political allegiances and join her in a coalition government she met no opposition.

The Scottish media, reacting to the covert military action by the British armed forces followed up with a series of headlines designed to further inflame the passion of the Scots and drum up a frenzy of Scottish patriotism.

 

Chapter Six

 

Holyrood.

 

All things considered, Cruid thought the Cabinet meeting had gone quite well. He wasn’t however, happy at Mary giving him the title, Kingmaker, a role that had all the hallmarks of a career-ending car crash. His entire career to date had been successful only because he had been savvy in choosing his battles and his friends, and for sure, avoiding the jobs that turned up nasty surprises.

The Scottish government had been effectively straightjacketed by the problem of Royal Assent, which only added to the pressure he was under to find this king.

The cost element worried Cruid. Mary wouldn’t have given a single thought to what all this was going to cost. It’s all very well her saying, ‘oh, lets have a king’, but these things are expensive and Scotland’s deficit was running at 18 billion a year. He decided he wasn’t going ahead with this until the Scottish Chancellor had provided him with a ballpark budget. Armed with a pen and a notepad he made a list of the things he imagined a king would need. After reading down his list he decided to take this straight to the First Minister. He picked up the phone and dialled her number. She picked up first ring.

‘Mary, can I come over and run something by you?’

‘Yes Cruid,’ Mary said. ‘You may as well seeing as I can’t get that idiot Sir Roger Bottomley to take my calls.’

 

The First Minister was behind her desk when Cruid pulled up a chair and sat facing her. He had his list in his hand. He decided he’d just come out with it and have her yell at him. She was going to have to agree anyway.

‘First Minister,’ Cruid said, ‘this king business…’ Cruid stopped talking because Mary began shuffling papers on her desk, apparently looking for something. ‘Shall I come back anther time Mary? I can see you are busy.’

‘No, no, no, you carry on talking. I am listening.’

When Dewar picked up her phone and started a conversation with her PA in the outer office, Cruid irritated by this very nearly got up and walked out.

Mary said down the phone, ‘Carla, do you have the agenda for the 3 o clock meeting with the CSFC? (Cabinet Secretary For Finance and the Constitution) ‘Good,’ Mary said, ‘I want to add: king business, to the agenda.’ Mary then said, ‘no Carla. Put it under, any-other-business.’ Returning her attention to Cruid she said. ‘Sorry, you still here Cruid? What was you saying?’

‘I wanted to talk to you about this king business,’ Cruid said stiffly, annoyed at her rudeness. ‘Have you given any thought to the cost implications? Only I have been compiling a list of things that the king will need.’

‘What costs are you talking about and how have I had the time to do that?’ Mary said testily. ‘Didn’t I delegate that job to you Mr Kingmaker? But as you just heard me tell my PA I shall be raising the matter with the CSFC this afternoon. Did you not hear me just say that?’

Cruid tipped his head back and looked down his hooked nose at the First Minister. He said.

‘In this meeting with the CSFC it would be most helpful if you could squeeze out of him a ballpark figure, one that I can use to budget the coronation.’

The smile Mary gave him was full of cynicism. ’Seriously, Cruid, you want a budget? Ok, how about ten grand? You do realise that due to the falling oil prices, Scotland is almost bankrupt? We simply cannot afford a fancy coronation.’ Mary waved away the list he held out. ’I don’t want to see that. Just read it out and then go, leave me in peace.’

Cruid rolled his shoulders to ease a crick in his neck. He worried about his blood pressure. It was a bit high the last time he had it checked. Mary Dewar, could at times, be a difficult woman. Cruid wasn’t aware of his right foot bouncing at the end of his long bony leg crossed over his knee. Taking a breath he read aloud:

‘Item one: I would suggest the day of the coronation be made a public holiday– Item two: I propose that we call this day, Scotland Independence Day. Item three: Historic Environment Scotland has given us permission to borrow the Honours Of Scotland, including the crown of James I, the sceptre and the sword, and of course the Stone Of Scone, all of which are on permanent display at Edinburgh Castle. Item four: On the matter of succession. I am hoping that the king we find will already be married and have children. It is important that the king has a successor. If not his queen will need to produce at least one boy child to carry on the royal line.’

With Mary Dewar’s head now below her desk while she looked through a pile of papers by her feet, Cruid was finding it difficult to continue. He harrumphed and carried on.

Item five: ceremonial costumes. The king and his queen will need tailor-made outfits for the ceremony and for the ceremonial dinner.’ Cruid looked up from his notepaper to see Mary’s eyes had gone ovoid and her lower jaw was now slack. Cruid was thinking, here we go. When Mary didn’t yell at him he continued down his list. ‘Item six: I am thinking the coronation should be an occasion for street parties.’ Cruid stopped when he saw Dewar shaking her head. ‘Mary,’ he insisted, ‘I do understand the need for budget restraint but I urge you to think of this as an investment. Think for a moment about the revenue that a Scottish royal family would generate from tourism. This really shouldn’t become a cheap sideshow. This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate to the world that Scotland is a nation capable of putting on a great pageant.’

‘Ok, ok, I get it.’ Mary said waggling her hands either side of her head. Getting ratty with him now she said, ‘is there anything else our king is going to need Cruid? A private plane, a helicopter, a summer palace?’ Mary groaned when Cruid added these to his list.

‘Item seven:’ Cruid droned on, ‘the king will need an official car. We can’t have our king arriving at official engagements in a taxi.’

‘Oh and I suppose he’ll need a driver too.’ Mary sneered. ‘My God Cruid this is getting ridiculous. You had better not be thinking of giving him my Rolls?’

‘Well, actually, I was going to run that by you.’

Oh no you don’t. You are not having my Rolls. That is my official car and I am not sharing it with anyone else. Get him a Mondeo from the motor pool, or pick one up off eBay. Is that it? You got any more bad news? No? In that case I bid you good day Mr Kingmaker, go make it happen.’

 

On the walk back to his office Cruid’s bones felt a little stiffer. He thought it might rain later. Cruid, apart from his aching joints, worse in the damp weather, had always enjoyed good health. At six feet two and weighing just over twelve and half stone, he had never smoked in his life and he was totally abstinent these days. That and sticking to a low-fat diet Cruid was hoping to avoid the worst that ageing can throw at him.

Closing his office door behind him Cruid crossed the room and stepped up into his thought pod. Looking east, he loved this panoramic view of Edinburgh, with all its history, mystique and its pageantry. He could never tire of this outlook. Turning his head to face west his eyes took in the winding thoroughfares and bridges crossing Royal Mile. Over at the castle, the ramparts were hidden in Scotch mist. On his right, behind the Cherry trees planted by the Queen, many years ago, he could just make out the roof of Canongate Kirk. This small church, the Queen and her family would visit whenever they were in Edinburgh. This led Cruid to wondering how the Queen must be taking this. It would surely devastate her to see another monarch rule over her beloved Scotland. In his gut, a sense of betrayal burned livid. In another age, such treachery would have cost him his head. Casually, he wondered if it were possible for two regents to rule over one rocky Isle? Perhaps they could occasionally get together for a friendly chat over a cup of tea? Inevitably, there would be some overlap. How would that work? Stepping down from his thought pod warmed by the late afternoon sunshine, he thought that he might go home early and sit in his garden, maybe do some dead–heading, or feed the lawn, or top up the bird feeders.

 

That night Cruid had hardly slept a wink. He told his wife Winifred he couldn’t sleep because he was worried about this king business.

In an Internet search Cruid discovered that the Antiquity Studies Department at Strathclyde University was housed in a building here in Edinburgh, nowhere near Strathclyde. Right after nine, Cruid rang the number on its webpage. Professor Hilary Chambers, who had headed up the DNA studies of King Robert IV, after hearing a little of Cruid’s story cautiously agreed Cruid could come to her office for ten.

 

After getting him to sign his name in the visitors book the front receptionist at Strathclyde University called up Hilary Chambers to say her visitor had arrived.

Stepping out of the lift on the seventh floor, looking to his right, at the end of the corridor the professor was waiting in the open doorway of her office.

‘Thank you for seeing me at such short notice Professor Chambers,’ Cruid said shaking the hand of the Head of Antiquities. ‘As I explained on the telephone, my purpose is one of great national importance and is quite urgent.’

‘Please do take a seat.’ Chambers said going back behind her desk. The Government Minister she recognised from the various times she had seen him on the TV or had seen his photo in the newspapers. He looked nervous fiddling with his hat.

Her office was tidy, kept that way he imagined by a woman with a tidy mind. Over on the wall behind her desk were framed certificates, quite a few of them. He glanced at the glass cases that displayed various fragments of skeleton; some he suspected were human remains. Despite the heat in here he shivered.

‘You said on the telephone that you had read about my study of the remains of King Robert the third, and then you mentioned something about you wanting to make use of the DNA samples we have. Before I can agree to such a request I need to know precisely what you plan to do with it.’

Cruid took his time explaining that the Scottish Government was now planning on becoming a monarchy again and that her DNA samples were to be used to reinstate the Bruce dynasty.’

‘Gosh how exciting, ‘Hilary enthused. ‘To have another King on the throne, oh my, that is wonderful news.’

An hour later, after shaking hands with the Professor, a smiling Cruid left her office with the DNA of King Robert IV, grandson of Robert the Bruce on a tiny memory stick safely tucked away inside his coat pocket.

 

In the staff car park John Brooks was dozing behind the wheel of his Bentley 53 when Cruid woke him by climbing in the car. On the drive back to Edinburgh Cruid made a phone call to the Chief of Police.

‘Good morning Sir Roland,’ Cruid said. ‘Sorry if this is an inconvenience but I need to speak to you urgently. If I call round now can you make yourself available?’

‘This sounds serious, Cruid, ‘Tripp said. ‘What is this about?’

‘I’d rather not say over the phone.’

‘This does sound mysterious Cruid. I assume that you’d rather my secretary didn’t take notes then?’

‘If you don’t mind, besides, that won’t be necessary.’ Cruid added cryptically. ‘Although this concerns our national security, its nature is not one that should unduly concern you, but I can explain more when I get there.’

 

The Chief of Police trusted Cruid, who was regarded as a stalwart of the Scottish Government with considerable clout in some odd places.

‘In that case Cruid, I shall cancel my eleven o clock meeting and I shall look forward to seeing you shortly.’

Cruid ended the call and studied the memory stick in his hand. He shuddered at the though of what it contained. To his mind, to his generation, it was hard to imagine how this tiny piece of twenty-first technology could contain the DNA of a descendant of Robert The Bruce.

 

The buttons of his crisp white shirt, straining over his paunch, led Cruid to thinking Sir Roland had put on a bit of weight. With a shake of his head Duncan Cruid declined the offer of a “swift tipple” from the bottle that Tripp waggled in his face.

Sir Roland, sat behind his desk, held the glass of amber liquid up to the light. As if it were pure nectar he sipped it and then sighed.

‘Now then, you dark horse, what is this all about? I hope you are you not going to ask me to arrange to have some evidence go missing? Have you been caught doing something naughty?’ Cruid looked shocked and offended.

‘I was joking Cruid.’ Sir Roland laughed.

Cruid didn’t think it funny. Keeping a stern face he said. ‘As I mentioned on the telephone, this is a matter of national security. I would like to make use of your criminal records database.’

Now it was Tripp’s turn to be shocked. ‘Are you serious? I can’t sanction that. We could both end up in prison.’

‘I seriously doubt that Sir Roland.’ Cruid said. His bloodless lips turned up, only briefly at each corner. ‘By the way, did you enjoy the holiday that I arranged for you and your good wife last year? Cannes wasn’t it? Four weeks as I recall.’

‘Oh, wow, what a holiday that was. Lady Tripp still talks about the yacht we stayed on.’ Sir Roland inclined his head. ‘I don’t suppose you are still friends with the owner?’ Sir Roland gave Cruid a wink.

‘Indeed I am Sir Roland. Would you like me to arrange something? How about August this year?’

‘That would be fantastic Cruid. Now regarding this national security thing. I can arrange for you to meet with one of my database specialists. I have a name in mind. Someone you can trust to be discrete.’

 

The following day, in his office about as big as a broom cupboard, located in the bowels of St Leonard’s police station, DC Ivor Duggan a DNA analyst, invited Cruid to sit on the chair that he had hurriedly to clear of dust covered box files.

‘I was hoping officer Duggan,’ Cruid said preferring to stand, ‘that you can help me track down a male through your DNA database?’ Cruid handed over the memory stick. ‘It’s on that thing, the DNA.’

’I can try, Mr Cruid sir. Is this sample from someone known to the police?’

‘He is known to everyone,’ Cruid said, ‘but this person has been dead for a few centuries.’

‘Oh,‘ officer Duggan said a little more excited, ‘I love working on cold-cases.’

‘This one is far from being cold.’ Cruid said cryptically

‘We only keep the DNA of people that have been arrested Mr Cruid sir, and even those we are supposed to dispose of after a given time.’

‘And this data disposal, is this something that you do diligently?’ Cruid was hoping not.

Duggan scoffed. ‘Between you and me Mr Cruid and speaking off the record so to speak, we don’t have the time to trawl through tens of thousands of spent crimes. Some of them never get taken down.’

‘I was hoping that might be the case.’ Cruid said. He doubted this was going anywhere. It just seemed like such a long shot. But he couldn’t think of where else to start.

Duggan slotted the memory stick into his computer and tapped a series of keys on his keyboard. Looming over the data analyst’s shoulder Cruid saw a folder icon pop up on the screen.

‘That’s a good start,’ Duggan said. ‘We at least we have a folder. Whether or not it opens is another matter! What I mostly find is, people bring these to me and when I look inside them there’s nothing, or the files are corrupted. People are so crap on computers.’

Cruid was thinking that Duggan was probably one of those computer nerds that after your computer system had gone on the blink he will breeze into your office and then ask you a series of inane questions whilst looking at you as though your are entirely stupid.

When DC Duggan saw the folder had been labelled: “DNA – King Robert IV”, he looked around at Cruid and frowned. ‘Are you serious? Is this really the actual DNA of King Robert the third?’

‘Yes, the grandson of Robert the Bruce,’ Cruid said matter-of-factly. ‘Is this something that you are able to help me with?’

‘Let me be clear on this, Mr Cruid,’ Duggan said jabbing a finger at the folder on his computer screen. ‘You are hoping that I can match the DNA of King Robert the third to a person held on our criminal database?’

Cruid nodded. ‘Precisely.’

Duggan shrugged his shoulders and then looked back at his PC screen. He tapped away at his keyboard. ‘Ok, lets have a look-see.’

Leaning over Duggan’s shoulder Cruid watched the IT man’s fingers flash across the keyboard. Seconds later up popped a bewildering array of barcode images. Duggan was shaking his head.

‘Sorry, no luck I’m afraid.’ Duggan sat back in his chair with his arms folded.

‘Oh well, never mind,’ Cruid said looking back at the door and thinking that was a waste of time. He told officer Duggan he shouldn’t worry, that it was only a long shot anyway.

‘Pity, ‘ Cruid said holding out his hand, ‘I’ll have the memory stick back please. If you had found a match it would have saved me months of work.’

Feeling sorry for the old guy Duggan made a suggestion. ‘I could try expanding the search and look through the arrests that didn’t go to court.’

‘Oh!’ Said Cruid raising his bushy eyebrows. ‘You surprise me. I would have thought that in cases where the charges had been dropped, the DNA sample would have been automatically deleted from the police database.’

‘Ah, but you see, that may not always be the case, not if the person that was arrested doesn’t make a fuss.’

‘Is it worth it? It seems such a long shot?’

Duggan shrugged. ‘It’s your time being wasted sir. I don’t mind running another check, not at all.’

Yes please do that. What we got to lose?’ Cruid watched Duggan get to work and in seconds more barcode images began a frantic scroll down the screen. Then out of the chaos up flashed a section of DNA with a red flag attached.

Cruid leaning over Duggan’s shoulder he pointed. ‘What is that?’

‘The red flag means this case never went to court. Strictly speaking this file should have been deleted.’ Duggan hit a few more keys. ’Let’s see what we got shall we?’

Duggan clicked another key and up popped a name with an address.

‘Gavin David Brewson.’ Cruid read out loud. ‘What’s that?’

Duggan refreshed his screen three times. He backtracked his search and then came to the same conclusion. ‘Jeez!’

‘What?’ Cruid said.

‘We just got a match,’ Duggan sounded astonished. ‘I can hardly believe it.’

‘He has a criminal record then, this Gavin Brewson?’

‘Oh no sir, it says on the file notes, no further action taken. Could have been a simple case of mistaken identity, the wrong man was arrested; it happens a lot, you’d be surprised. The DNA shouldn’t be on here. Should I delete it?’

‘What!’ Cruid said brought down to earth again. ‘God no!’ Do me a printout of his details would you?’

 

Chapter Seven

 

Essex.

 

To make way for Marbury New Town, Essex constructed 1975-1981: several small villages comprising of an insignificant voting population had to be flattened. With direct trains into London and a nearby motorway it wasn’t long before Marbury had tripled in size. The council then went ahead and built a shopping mall. (Very exciting.)

By the mid-eighties, the tory government’s “Right to Buy” housing scheme had enticed many of Marbury council house tenants to purchase their homes. The banks and the building societies queued up to tie people into a lifetime of mortgaged debt. A flood of new money was soon sloshing around in the banking system. Many of these new homeowners splashed out on their first VHS tape recorder, they then bought a trim phone and then a fridge freezer. Then everyone had to own a car. Before long, Marbury New Town had a parking problem.

In due course, Council officials saw car parking fees and fines, as an opportunity to make some money. Parking meters, impervious to the motorist’s frustration of never having the right change began to pop up like mushrooms all over the town. These indefatigable grey sullen creatures spawned the arrival of ubiquitous men in uniforms who trawled the streets, lurking out of sight, armed with sticky bags perfectly suited to attach quite securely to car windscreens.

Soon, double yellow lines snaked their insidious way through the town. It wasn’t long before the revenue from parking fines became a source of core funding. In the Marbury council meetings, whenever a new statue was needed, or the Chief Exec needed a pay rise, it was considered entirely ethical to install more parking machines, and have more workmen sent out to paint more double yellow lines. Then, to raise even more money, the council began hiking up the penalties and increasing the number of parking attendants.

Gavin Brewson, fresh out of the local college with an A level in business management, was one of the new influx of parking wardens. Gavin loved his job, or to be precise, he loved the power and the uniform and the respect that he got, not from the motorists, who had him accurately nailed as a nerdy jobsworth, but from his employers after he had shot to the top of the leader-board for issuing the most PINs (Penalty Infringement Notices.)

It wasn’t long before the additional income flooding into the council offices began to overwhelm the few people who were employed in the Parking Enforcement Department: (DEP). In yet another debate over how to redress the council’s deficit, Council leaders decided it was time they reorganised and modernised the town’s parking scheme. The first thing they did was set up the new: “Department Of Parking Enforcement.”

To advertise this new facility, tens of thousands of flyers were sent out to every address in Marbury. Too late they saw their mistake. The local paper slated them for coming up with the acronym D.O.P.E.

It was then decided that DOPE was going to need, someone creative, tough and organised to head it up. Primarily this person’s role was to increase the council’s income from parking levies and more importantly, from parking fines. Determined not to repeat their previous cockup, the Council advertised this post with the heading: “Required: Head Of Parking Enforcement (HOPE).” In line with Council protocols, the job was advertised both internally, and externally. From the dozens of applicants, the council officers whittled these down to a short list of three. Of these only one candidate stood head and shoulders above the rest. Gavin Brewson, their top parking enforcement officer, who held the record for issuing the most parking tickets in any given month, was given the job.

 

Gavin aged thirty-three, was a pernickety man, tough to deal with and not particularly bothered what other people thought or said about him. With a ruthless attention to detail, his organisational skills soon had HOPE knocked into shape. The only positive attribute people working in the council offices saw in Gavin Brewson, was his thorough, and ruthless approach to his job.

 

There was one person who worked in the same council offices that quite liked him… fancied him even. Fiona Dimples, aged twenty-nine, would flirt with Gavin at the shared photocopy machine on the second floor. Before long they would have lunch together in the staff canteen. When Fi, as he called her, was thirty-one, Gavin asked her to marry him. She smiled broadly– hugged his neck and said, “Yes, of course I will Gav, I thought you was never going to ask.”

After the low-key wedding ceremony that was held in the local registry office, the newlyweds went back to his mother’s house. It made sense for the couple to move in with Iris Brewson, who owned a tidy, three-bedroom semi, on the edge of a council estate. According to his mother, Iris, when Gavin was six months old his lying, cheating father ran off with an Avon rep called Ruth. All Gavin knew of his absent father was that he was Scottish, that he’d been in the navy and that Thomas Brewson was a drinker and a rogue who told lies.

One story in particular, that his mother would sometimes tell him when he was growing up, was that his father would boast he was descended from royalty. But then, his father told people that he had once been an astronaut and that the scars on his leg, were caused by injuries he sustained while on a deadly solo mission in South America working for MI5. (Actually these were as a result of a cycling accident when he was fourteen). His mother had this saying: “Gavin you must never tell lies. Your father was a terrible liar. I would sooner have a radicalised terrorist than a liar.”

Sometimes, Gavin wondered if his mother even knew who his actual father was?

A couple of years after he and Fiona had wed; investigations concluded there was no obvious reason why Fiona wasn’t getting pregnant. Over the years, this painful topic was never spoken of. It was as if they just accepted this as their fate. Gavin covered up his disappointment by telling himself, if he had become a father, it would have stalled his career progression.

Chapter Eight

 

Iris was in the kitchen about to serve up the Thursday lamb hotpot. Fiona was watching Eastenders in the lounge that had a bow-fronted window overlooking the street.

It was dark outside when the Bentley 53 pulled up at the kerb.

At the dining table on his laptop, Gavin was calculating the income from todays parking tickets. Not bad. According to his pie chart there was a vertical trend of 2.4%.

Iris, her brow slick with sweat, stirring the pot on the stove turned down the gas and called out, ‘Gavin, I am dishing up in two minutes, finish what you are doing and clear the table.’

Iris mumbled, ‘I don’t know why Gavin has to bring his blessed work home.’ Iris dipped the wooden stirring spoon in the pot and scooped up a little of the gravy. Holding it to her face she blew on it and waited a couple of seconds before slurping it noisily into her mouth. Happy with the taste she yelled through the open doorway, ‘Gavin, have you cleared the table?’

In the neat but small lounge the smell of the hotpot as it wafted through the serving hatch was making Fiona feel hungry. Fiona wasn’t at all surprised when she saw bad-boy Danny Belcher drive his car straight at Jayne Biggs right outside the Queen Vic pub. With the stricken Jayne lying motionless on the ground two bars of a drum solo brought to a dramatic close tonight’s episode of Eastenders. ‘He only went and did it,’ Fiona shouted through the serving hatch to her mother-in-law, ‘I knew he would kill that poor girl. I saw it coming.’

‘Who did what dear?’

‘Danny Belcher,’ Fiona called out getting up off the sofa and then straightening the cushions, ‘he went and killed that poor girl that he made pregnant.’

‘Dead is she then?’

‘It looks that way. He drove off leaving her lying in the road. We wont know if she’s dead till tomorrow night.’

‘Bad lot is he?’ Iris said not the least bit bothered if the girl was alive or dead. Iris never got to see Eastenders. That time of day she would be in the kitchen cooking the evening meal. Iris never allowed Fiona in the kitchen. The girl made too much mess and she never put enough salt in the greens.

 

When the doorbell chimed halfway through their meal the Brewson’s stopped eating and looked at each other.

‘That’s someone at our door,’ Iris stated the obvious. ‘Who the dickens would be calling at this time of night, when folk are having their dinner?’ Iris popped a forkful of dumpling into her mouth. She wasn’t going.

Gavin was half out of his seat when Fiona laid a hand on his arm.

‘Don’t you get it Gav,’ his wife said. ‘It’s bound to be a cold caller. ‘Stay there. Eat your dinner.’

‘It had better not be,’ Gavin said his hands gripping the arms of his chair. ‘I didn’t fit a “No Callers” notice up, just so’s they can ignore it.’

Fiona got up from her chair. She wasn’t having Gavin go to the door… not after the last time that he had to deal with a cold caller. He’d made such a fuss one of their neighbours had called the police and reported a murder was taking place, ‘You’ve been at work all day. I will get it.’ (Fiona didn’t work. Gavin had this old fashioned idea a woman’s place was in the home.)

 

Fiona paused at the front door to peek through the peephole.

‘Urgh!’ she cried out and leapt back a pace. What she saw was an ice blue watery eyeball!

When he heard his wife gasp Gavin stopped eating and turned his head to look down the narrow hallway with the front door straight ahead past the under-stairs cupboard on the right. He called out.

‘You all right?’

‘Yes I’m fine. You stay there. Eat your dinner.’ When she looked through the peephole a second time, illuminated by the movement sensor light under the tiled porch, she saw the figure of a man wearing a black calf length overcoat and a black floppy rimmed hat. His angular face and hooked nose distorted by the fish-eye lens only added to her immediate thoughts that this could be the grim reaper come to take one of them off. She estimated the stick-thin man to be well over six feet tall. She thought about getting Gavin to come and open the door and then remembered the commotion he made that time the Cable TV salesman called and claimed that he hadn’t seen the “No Callers,” sign.

 

Looking through the stained glass door panels into the lit interior, Cruid could make out the shadowy figure of a portly woman who was obviously worried about opening the door to him. He smiled and nodded at the peephole.

Keeping her face glued to the security hole, Fiona, fascinated by the appearance of the stranger on her porch, without taking her eye off him called back over her shoulder, ‘Gavin, it’s a man.’

In the ten by ten dining room, seated at the Ercol dining table that made it tricky to get to the French doors that led out to the crazy-paving patio, Gavin was examining the piece of gristle that he’d been chewing on with little success for the past minute.

‘Ask him what he wants,’ Gavin called back. ‘Tell him, if he is selling something, I shall come down there and have a stern word with him.’

Keeping her eye on the man the other side of her door, as if she hadn’t heard her husband, Fiona called back up the hall. ‘I’ll ask him what he wants shall I?’

Nervously, Fiona turned the catch and opened the door as far as the security chain would allow.

‘That would be the sensible thing to do.’ Gavin grumbled balancing the fatty piece of lamb on the edge of his plate.

 

John Brooks, watching this from the open window of the classic 1953 R series Bentley parked right outside the house called out.

‘You ok Mister Cruid sir?’

The arrival of the sleek black limo on the quiet street had attracted the attention of the couple living opposite who fascinated by this, were watching through the slatted blinds of their lounge bay window.

The drive down from Edinburgh had been long and tedious with just one comfort stop. With his back screaming for respite, Brooks climbed out of the Bentley and stretched his aching joints. He could do with a pee.

Cruid was about to reply when he heard the door open and then the chain go, “clonk.”

‘Yes?’ Fiona said nervously peering round the edge of the door through a three-inch gap. ‘I hope you are not a salesman. My husband doesn’t like cold callers. Your not one of them are you?’

Cruid softened his voice and even managed a smile when he said, ‘Mrs Brewson?’

‘Yes,’ Fiona said surprised that the man knew her name. ‘Do I know you?’

‘No, Fiona, I am not a sales person,’ Cruid said only slightly offended. ‘My name is Duncan Cruid. I am the Scottish Minister for Internal Affairs. I am here on very some very important Scottish Government business. I have travelled a long way… from Edinburgh in fact. If you wouldn’t mind allowing me in, I would prefer to explain the purpose of my visit in the comfort of your sitting room, perhaps?’

Keeping one hand on the door latch in case she needed to slam the door in his face, Fiona called back down the passageway. ‘Gavin, its a man. He says he is a minister. He says he has come a long way to speak to you about something of great importance… and he wants to know if you are home.’

Of course he was home. She’d already let him know that.

‘Ask him, is he blind?’ Gavin replied, thinking he should have gone to the door. How was he supposed to enjoy his evening meal with all this fuss going on? ‘Ask him, did he not see my no-callers sticker right by the door or can he not read?’

Gavin shook his head and got up off his chair and dropped his knife and fork with a clang on his dinner plate and muttered to his mother.

‘I suppose I had better go and get rid of whoever it is.’ Gavin wiped his mouth on a paper napkin and then threw it down on the dinner plate. Stepping away from the table Gavin said to his mother who was still eating her dinner, ‘don’t throw mine away, I’ll finish it after I get rid of this pest.’

Stepping through the dining room door into the dimly lit hallway Gavin’s heart leapt into his mouth when he encountered a tall stranger dressed all in black. The visitor could have stepped out of the pages of a Charles Dickens novel. Hidden behind him and stretching her neck to see past his angular frame his wife said.

‘This is Mister Cruet Gav.’

‘Jeezus,’ Gavin said to the stranger, clutching at his chest, ‘you nearly gave me a heart attack. Who the hell are you, and how’d you get in my house?’

’I let him in Gavin,’ Fiona said. ‘He said it was vital that he spoke to you. He can’t be a salesman because he knows both our names.’

Having cleared her own plate, and then tucked away the best bits from Gavin and Fiona’s plates, Iris decided there was no point in trying to keep their dinners warm. Now they no longer had a dog, after Rusty died, the rest will go in the bin.

Iris imagined whatever this business was with the stranger, most likely it was going to take up the rest of the evening, so she may as well clear away the dishes and get the washing up done. Carrying the stack of dishes out to the kitchen, Iris muttered, ‘you can’t eat cold lamb for goodness sake.’ Shaking her head and placing the pile of crockery on the kitchen worktop, Iris Muttered, ‘I dunno, in this house, hardly a thing ever goes right.’

This was patently untrue. Gavin ran the household like a railway timetable.

If she wasn’t mistaken the man had a Scottish accent. Iris stopped rattling the plates to listen. His accent reminded her of Gavin’s father–the rat– who within days of her giving birth to his son had taken off. ‘What was Fiona thinking letting a complete stranger into their house, ‘next thing, we’ll all have been murdered.’ Iris muttered. Opening a kitchen drawer Iris took out the marble rolling pin and then hefting it like a club she went out to the hall and lined up behind her son in the narrow hallway that with four people in it was quite crowded. Eyeing the man up and down, it crossed Iris’s mind this tall man dressed in black had to be from the spirit world. Iris has this thing about spirits and ghosts. Any chance she got she would go on Ghost Hunts. She had even joined “Ghost Hunters,” a group that regularly visited supposedly haunted houses, always at night, where the rule was, you were supposed to wander around these places with the lights off.

As a born-again atheist Gavin didn’t approve of his Mother’s involvement with these people, calling them: “freaky, twits.”

‘Mr Cruet says he is a Minister.’ Fiona said to Iris, as if that might spark her interest and stop her from attacking the visitor with the rolling pin.

‘Let’s get one thing straightened out Mr Cruet,‘ Gavin said giving Fiona a look of disapproval. ‘My wife should not have allowed you into my house. And I don’t hold with religion, so, if you wouldn’t mind, the door is right behind you?’

‘The name is Cruid, Mr Brewson,’ The Scottish Minister said with his hand extended. ‘I am the Scottish Minister For Internal Affairs.’

Cruid wasn’t going to conduct his business in this cramped passageway, so shuffling his feet inches at a time, he began pushing the blockage of people back towards a splash of yellow light coming through an open doorway on his right. He could hear the muted sound of a TV in there. In which case that had to be the lounge. The floor covering in the hallway was a poor quality imitation wood veneer. The doglegged stairs were carpeted in a sage green. The wallpaper in the hall and all the way up the staircase that led up to an unlit landing was predominantly green with ridiculously large yellow Peonies.

 

‘I do apologise for this sudden interruption to your evening; Cruid said. ‘Could we go perhaps go into the lounge?’ Cruid nodded to the doorway. ‘In there I shall be happy to explain the importance of my visit.’

‘As long as this isn’t some ploy to try and trick your way into my home.’ Gavin warned.

The stranger’s handshake in the lounge, while Fiona turned the telly off, was business like. Gavin liked that. He considered that people with a firm handshake were of the trustworthy type.

‘When my wife said that you were a minister I was thinking religion,’ Gavin gave a little laugh. ‘Anyway, I am glad that you are not. You say you just came down from Edinburgh? I went to Scotland once and we stayed in Aberdeen–it was June and it rained the whole time. Please take a seat.’

Cruid looked about him and chose to sit in an armchair. The material of the three piece suite was in a shade of green with yellow patches that at one time, had they not become faded from wear, may have been flowers

‘May I call you Gavin?’ Cruid manufactured a smile. Cruid noted the wallpaper wasn’t quite the same green and cream as that out in the hallway, that at least showed some discretion in taste, although, not a lot. The floor in here was carpeted in green. The curtains, pulled across patio doors, were a different hue, but green just the same.

‘I should warn you Mr Cruid,’ Gavin said, ‘if you have tricked your way into my house with the intention of trying to sell me something I shan’t hesitate to use proportional force to evict you. I have a black belt in karate.’

‘You’re never a black belt in karate,’ Fiona laughed. ‘You only went twice.’

‘I went four times,’ Gavin blustered, ‘and, if you recall I only stopped because I broke my wrist. Anyway, if you had been listening, you’d have heard me say that I have a black belt… I never said I was a black belt.’

‘You didn’t break it,’ Fiona reminded him ‘you bruised your wrist flirting with Nancy Tuttle, who used to live next door, showing her how you could break a twig with your bare hand. You went to the A&E and they sent you home again.’

‘A twig!’ Gavin protested. ‘It was a piece of oak… the hardest wood known to man. And it wasn’t a bruise. I broke a bone in two places…. anyway, I never fancied Nancy Tuttle… it was her who had a thing for me.’

Fiona laughed out loud. ‘Gavin,’ She said. ‘Nancy Tuttle never had a thing for you. She thought you was a nerd.’

Red-faced, Gavin changed the subject, ‘that's beside the point. I was merely pointing out to Mr Cruid here that should I need to resort to force, I am ex- Royal Marines and I may not be able to show restraint if forced to use my martial arts skills.'

‘You was never in the Royal Marines Gavin,’ Fiona chided him. ‘It was the Army cadets, you were in.’ A little embarrassed at times by Gavin’s occasional flights of fancy Fiona, felt obliged to bring her husband back down to earth.

‘If you wouldn’t mind not keep interrupting me Fi, I was merely making a point to Mr Cruid here that…’

Cruid, anxious to get down to business, interrupted Brewson. ‘Pardon my interruption Gavin, but I must speak to you about my reason for arriving at your door this late.

Gavin turned to his wife and said, ‘Fi, can you make us all a nice cup of tea.’

‘I’ll do it.’ Iris said pointing the rolling pin at her daughter-in-law who always leaves a mess in her kitchen and throws the spent teabags in the sink leaving it with brown stains.

Cruid hooked one long leg over the other and then popped his fedora on the top of his bony knee. ‘If I may impose further on your hospitality, would one of you pop your head out the front door and ask my driver, John Brooks, who is waiting by my car to come in and perhaps make use of your facilities? He has been driving quite a few hours non-stop.’

‘You mean use the bathroom?’ Fiona said. ‘Well yes of course he can, can’t he Gav?’

Fiona called out to her mother through the serving hatch. ‘Ma, make that another tea and put some biscuits on a plate will you?’

The other side of the serving hatch Iris tutted. ‘I wish she wouldn’t call me Ma. It sounds so American.’

While Fiona Brewson went out to fetch the driver, Cruid cast a critical eye over the décor. A gas fire, orange and black, with fake coal sat in the opening of the chimneybreast that had been wallpapered to make it look as if it was made of York stone.

In the blank screen of the wall-mounted 50-inch TV Cruid could see his own ghostly reflection.

Cruid waited for Mrs Brewson to return with Brooks who hurried up to use the bathroom. After Fiona settled on the sofa alongside her husband and took hold of his hand, Cruid finally got to explain the purpose of his visit.

‘Firstly, I must apologise for the lateness of the hour,’ Cruid said conversationally. ‘The traffic on the M1 was horrendous. How do you people live with the traffic down here?’

‘Ah, Mr Cruid,’ Brewson said about to go off on one. ‘You are in the company of an expert on traffic management.’

Cruid had already worked out that Brewson was one of those insidious individuals who loved talking about his job and was literally capable of boring a man to death. Mercifully his wife stepped in.

Gavin,’ Fiona scowled at her husband. ‘Mr Cruid didn’t come all this way to hear you going on about your job. (She almost said bloody job). There were times, like now, when Fiona could cheerfully strangle her husband… bless him.

 

The tea, when Iris brought it in and placed it on the chrome and black glass coffee table was in bone china cups with matching saucers. Kept in the sideboard, these only ever saw the light of day on special occasions. There was also a plate with a six bourbon biscuits that Cruid had no intention of eating.

 

In the dining room, John Brooks, glad to be out of the chill night air, having taken advantage of the plumbing facilities was content with a cup of tea, a plate of biscuits and an English newspaper.

 

Cruid began: ‘Mr Brewson, I take it you are fully aware of the existing ill feeling between the governments of Scotland and the UK, brought about by Brexit and the Scottish Independence referendum.’

‘I don’t take much interest in politics Mr Cruid.’ Ignoring the fact his visitor was a politician Gavin said. ‘All of them are out to line their own pockets, a bunch of crooks most of them… present company excluded of course.’

Cruid wasn’t offended. Although there was some truth in that public perception, most politicians actually came into the job with, however misguided their views, a sense of public duty. You would expect to find a few rotten apples in the barrel.

‘With respect, Mr Cruid, and I can tell that you are an honest man, I don’t understand how can some of them MP’s justify their vast expenses claims? If I were in charge there’d be a few changes I can tell you. I would shake em up. Oh yes.’

‘Gavin, please,’ Fiona stepped in, ‘I would really like to hear what Mr Cruid has to say?’

Gavin looked around at his wife and said. ‘I was just about to say…’

‘Yes Gav, we know what you was about to say,’ Fiona said nudging him in the ribs with her elbow, ‘can you please be quiet for just a minute so that we can hear what Mr Cruid has to say?’

Cruid was starting to worry that although Brewson had the DNA credentials to be Scotland’s king maybe the man doesn’t have the right temperament? He sensed the man could be trouble. Had this not been so urgent he may have backed off, but having come all this way and after promising Mary Dewar that he’d come back with a king, he had better get on with it. He can worry about knocking him into shape later.

Gavin said, ’Do I have to call you Mr Cruid? Bit of a mouthful, we’re all friends here. Duncan… isn’t it?’

‘It is Duncan, but people call me Cruid, and I’d much prefer that.’

‘Ok. Cruid it is… so what’s this about? Cruid? No more chitchat. You hear me. We need to get to the point.’

Cruid was happy to. ‘Mr Brewson, politicians are quite normal people who have an extraordinary job, quite important jobs, some of them, and whilst it is true some might abuse their position…’ Brewson interrupted him.

‘You don’t need to lecture me on responsibility Cruid… I am head of parking enforcement with a team of…’ What?’ He said when he heard Fiona groan. ‘Ok… I’ll shut up.’

‘Yes please do.’ Fiona insisted.

Gavin had already worked out that Cruid’s visit was connected in some way to the Brexit outcome and the Scottish UDI. Although he had no interest in which way Brexit went Gavin had voted to leave the EU. After telling Fiona that she should do likewise, he stood at her shoulder in the voting booth to make sure that she didn’t tick the wrong box.

Gavin had grown heartily bored hearing about Brexit and UDI. He had had enough of listening to the complainers that used to be “Remainers,” especially that buffoon Prime Minister, Sir Roger Bottomley. As far as he was concerned, if the Scots have voted to leave the UK, then he didn’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to. So, what had all this to do with him? Gavin was now thinking that this was all a mistake, that Cruid had got hold of the wrong Gavin Brewson? There was quite a number of them around, if you Googled the name.

‘Mr Cruid,’ Gavin said. ‘Are you sure you got the right Gavin Brewson?’

‘Let me see,’ Cruid said. ‘You are Gavin Brewson– Head of Parking Enforcement at Marbury borough council, yes? – You are married to Fiona– and your father left your mother, Iris, when you were a baby – and then six years ago, while on holiday in Aberdeen, following an altercation between you and a Sainsbury’s parking attendant, you were subsequently arrested and taken to the local police station where your fingerprints were taken and you provided a DNA sample … does that sound like you?’

‘Hey, just a minute,’ Gavin said shocked to learn that this stranger had known about his arrest. ‘How did you find out that I had been arrested? I was innocent, and I was never charged?’ Gavin protested. ‘I never assaulted that parking warden, it was him that assaulted me.’

‘Please, Mr Brewson, ‘Cruid said. ‘The circumstances of your arrest is of no consequence. You were released without charge because you had done nothing wrong. I am truly sorry that your holiday was spoiled by the indignity of being wrongfully arrested.’

Gavin calmed down but it left him wondering how the hell Cruid could have found out about the arrest? Weren’t these things supposed to be subject to confidentiality laws? Perhaps it was different in Scotland? Fi caught his eye. The look she gave him was as if to say, be careful Gav.

‘For now,’ Gavin said picking over his words, ‘let’s assume that I am the person that you think I am, will you please explain what this has to do with the Scottish UDI business?’

‘Mr Brewson…’

‘Please call me Gavin.’

‘Ok, Gavin,’ Cruid said and carefully placed the cup and saucer down on the glass coffee table. He had only taken a sip. The tea was insipid and tasted of soapsuds.

‘When Scotland voted to leave the UK,’ Cruid started to explain, ‘the event triggered off a series of complex legal difficulties that are connected to you, and to your father.’

That caught Gavin off-guard. Frowning he said.

‘Hang on, you lost me there Cruid. What has Scotland’s independence got to do with my father who I have never seen, and have never spoken to, and not likely to… ever?’

‘Because I would be having this conversation with your father and not you had he not died ten years ago?’ Cruid said.

‘He died!’

Cruid’s jaw dropped. He didn’t know? ‘I am so sorry Gavin. I just assumed…’

‘Yeah, well, you shouldn’t just assume. In any case I don’t care. He never wanted to know me.’ Gavin’s chest heaved. A long time ago he stopped wondering about the father he never knew… Jeez he’s dead? When Fiona reached across the arm of his chair and took hold of his hand he almost cried. He found it difficult getting the next words past the painful lump in his throat.

‘Cruid, you were saying,’ he sounded subdued, ‘something about complex legal difficulties?’

Cruid said. ‘I am truly sorry Gavin. Do you need a moment?’ Cruid took Gavin’s shrug as a sign to carry on.

‘I was about to say,’ Cruid remembered where he had left off, ‘essentially, once Parliament has passed a bill, it then requires Royal Assent in order to become an Act Of Parliament. This is one of the functions that Her Majesty, as part of her official duties has to perform. Normally, this is merely a formality. The last time a monarch refused to sign off a bill was in 1707. Now, Scotland’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence has placed her Majesty in a difficult position. The Independent Scotland is seeking to pass a raft of new laws but under the existing constitutional set-up, it cannot enact a single one without Royal Assent…’

‘And her Majesty is refusing to give that?’ Gavin interrupted.

‘She can’t, is more to the point Gavin. Imagine the public uproar in the rest of the UK is she was to do something to help the Scots break away from the UK. It could conceivable bring down the monarchy.’

Gavin’s face looked blank while he struggled to take this in.

Cruid’s face remained impassive.

‘More Tea?’ Iris said holding a tray of steaming mugs in the doorway.

‘No thank you.’ said Cruid. He couldn’t face another one so weak you could almost see the bottom of the cup!

Gavin shook his head. Fiona grabbed a mug of tea and another wagonwheel biscuit.

‘And your solution is what? The Scottish government plans to employ its own monarch. Get the job done in-house, so to speak? Yeah?’ Cruid nodded. ‘So, explain to me then, the next bit. How do I fit into this?’

Cruid said. ‘A while ago, you got upset when I spoke about the time that you were arrested in Aberdeen and I mentioned you provided the police with a DNA sample.’

Provided! I never had a choice.’ Gavin protested.

Cruid held up one hand, ‘If I may finish Gavin? I managed to track down a DNA sample of one of Scotland’s greatest kings and when I ran this through the police database, quite remarkably your own DNA matched the sample that I had. Gavin, the reason I am here tonight is because you are a direct descendent of Robert The Bruce and we, Scotland that is, would like you to become our king.’

Fiona’s eyes widened. For a change Gavin was lost for words. The cups and saucers on Iris’s tray began to rattle.

Cruid smiled. ‘Of course, your good lady wife would be your queen?’

Even on the green carpet, you could have heard a pin drop. Gavin and Fiona, struck dumb could only stare at each other.

Gavin only began to emerge from his catatonic state when Cruid said.

‘I hate to rush you folks but I need an answer tonight. As you can imagine there will be much to organise. If you agree, I shall get on and arrange your travel up to Edinburgh. I will then sort out your accommodation in Holyrood Palace. I would like the Coronation to take place in four weeks. With a fair wind I should be able to do that. I am expected to report this news back to the Scottish Parliament before the close of sessions tomorrow. What do you say Gavin? If you are happy to proceed I have the necessary contract with me.’ Cruid pulled from his coat pocket a vellum document with a wax seal. ’Sign this and you will become the King of Scotland, and I shall go back to Edinburgh a happy man.’ Cruid spread the document out on the coffee table and offered Gavin a fountain pen. ‘I just need you to sign it–here and here–where I have marked the X’s ‘

Gavin finally found his voice. Fiona had yet to find hers, and Iris had to sit on the arm of the sofa.

’You are being serious aren’t you?’ Gavin said his head waggling from side to side. ‘If I sign it, I will become King Gavin?’

Cruid frowned. He wasn’t thinking, King Gavin, he was thinking more along the lines of: King Robert IV. Cruid skirted the topic when he said, ‘your title and other constitutional considerations will be addressed in due course.’

‘And we… I mean Gav, and me…’ Fiona said her voice a little fractured, ‘will we still live in this house as King and Queen of Scotland?’

Cruid choked off a laugh at the back of his throat. ‘Goodness me I should think not. The three of you will live in the traditional seat of the Scottish monarchy in Holyrood Palace.

‘We get to live in a palace!’ Iris said. ‘You hear that Gavin? Didn’t I always tell you your Dad was something special?’

It crossed Gavin’s mind, more like he drank something special… Special Brew! Until this moment his mother had never had a good word to say about his father. King of Scotland! Wow! That was when the doubts surfaced. Was this one of them TV comedy sketches where some idiot is made to look a right lemon in front of millions of TV viewers? With Cruid offering him the pen, waiting for him to sign, Gavin studied the buttons on Cruid’s coat. He was no expert on these things but he couldn’t see how any of them could be the lens of a hidden camera. Maybe this was the real deal? Besides, what’s he got to lose?

‘Mr Brewson!’ Waving his pen under his nose Cruid got Gavin’s attention.

Gavin cast his eyes over the contract spread out on the coffee table.

‘Sign it.’ Fiona told him. ‘Sign it Gavin.’ Iris said, leaning over his shoulder.

He signed it and then handed back Cruid’s fountain pen.

‘There. I signed it. What happens now?’

‘Now,’ said Cruid. ‘I need to wake my driver who is snoring in your dining room and then he and I shall go and find a hotel for the night. Tomorrow, I shall arrange first class rail travel for all three of you. At Waverly station a driver will meet you and drive you to Holyrood. I will catch up with you some time later in the day. You needn’t pack or take anything other than a weekend bag. I shall arrange for a removal firm to call round here first thing in the morning to pack up your belongings and have these transported to Holyrood Palace.’

‘This is for real then?’ Gavin said and watched Cruid place the contract back in his pocket. Cruid nodded.

‘Yes your Majesty, it is, as you say, for real.’

Fiona’s face had gone ashen.

‘I can hardly believe it Gav,’ Fiona said. ‘You and me, the King and Queen of Scotland!’ Fiona’s expression was that of a child in wonderland. ‘King Gavin, and Queen Fiona, Wow!’

‘In case this doesn’t work out Fi, we won’t sell the house,’ Gavin sensibly said. ‘We can rent it out on a six-month lease.’ Turning to Cruid he said, ‘If we are leaving tomorrow morning I won’t have time to get a letting agent round. Can I leave you to deal with that?’ Turning to Fiona Gavin had a worrying thought. ‘Fi, what am I going to tell Mr Jones?’

Ewan Jones, Gavin’s boss at Marbury County Council, wasn’t going to be very happy when Gavin called him up to tell him over the phone that he was quitting his job and he wouldn’t be working out his notice.

‘You can tell him the truth, ‘Fiona shrugged. ‘Tell him you can’t come into work anymore because you are now the King of Scotland.’

‘And you think he’ll believe that?’

‘Why should you care? He’ll see it on the telly soon enough.’

 

After leaving the Brewson household in a state of shock and confusion Cruid asked his driver to find them a hotel on the outskirts of Marbury.

The two Scotsmen took adjoining ground floor rooms. Cruid thanked his driver and suggested he should get some sleep.

‘We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow John. I shall be up at five; I will meet you in the breakfast room at six.’

Cruid’s mind wasn’t ready to give in to sleep. He rang down to reception and asked for a chicken sandwich and a pot of tea to be brought up to his room. Meanwhile, he got to work on the arrangements to have the Brewson’s relocated to Scotland. A little after two, having asked for a five o’clock alarm call Cruid finally got to fall into a restless sleep.

Cruid woke at five, his mind sharp… alert. After he made a series of phone calls he joined Brooks in the breakfast room. By seven they were on the road again, heading north.

On the M1, using his mobile phone, Cruid called up Holyrood Palace and instructed the staff to prepare the second floor apartment on the rear of the west wing. They were to expect a party of three dignitaries late afternoon.

 

As a rule, the entire third floor of Holyrood Palace would be kept aside for the exclusive use of the Royal Family and their guests. The Queen’s visits to Edinburgh were always part pleasure and part business. There was never a visit where Her Majesty didn’t have to attend to some matters of State. During her visits to Holyrood Palace, a tourist magnet, it would be closed to the public. Just the thought of what they were planning felt traitorous. Cruid hated being part of this conspiracy to install a new monarch in the Queen’s beloved Scotland. He rather suspected this act of betrayal would end any hope he had once of becoming a CBE. The Queen, he imagined must be offended, well, mad as hell even, and then who could blame her? Shoving aside this reverie into guilt, Cruid’s mind began to think about the king’s coronation. He suspected this was going to be a major headache. How was he supposed to put on a spectacle that would catch the attention of the world and harness the passion and jubilation sweeping the nation when Mary Dewar and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were continually objecting to the money it was costing?

Equally worrying was the business of the Kings official title. There was no way he was going to sanction, “King Gavin.” He decided Mary Dewar could sort that out.

 

Chapter Nine

Marbury.

 

It was after nine when Gavin got to shut the door behind the Scottish Minister For Internal Affairs. Leaning back against the front door he blew out his cheeks. Fiona came into his embrace.

‘Am I dreaming this Gav or did we just become King and Queen of Scotland?’

Fiona said.

‘No, it’s for real Fi.’ Gavin said. ‘You saw me sign that document with red wax seal on it. And that made it official. We are now, officially, the King and Queen of Scotland.’

Wrapping his arms around his wife he kissed the top of her head. ‘Exciting isn’t it.’ Looking up the stairs to the unlit landing he was now worried about leaving all their stuff behind for other people to pack up. He had never lived anywhere else so it’ll feel strange, the three of them living in Scotland… not just living in Scotland, they will be living in a palace. Gavin had heard the name Holyrood Palace, he had seen it on the telly a couple of times, when the Queen was up there, but other than that, he knew nothing about the place. Taking hold of Fiona’s hand he said.

‘Come on Fi, we had better get some bags packed and get an early night, there’s a long day ahead of us tomorrow.’

It was ten past eleven when Gavin, not all sleepy, climbed into bed. After ten minutes he gave up trying to read his detective novel and instead sat up in bed to watch Fiona busy doing whatever it is she does before getting into bed. As a man, he could never be bothered with the fussy rituals that women go through morning and night with all those creams and lotions.

The thoughts racing around inside his head were like excited kids with buckets and spades about to set off to the seaside.

Her eyes stretched wide and her mouth oval, patting night cream into her face, Fiona said to her husband via his reflection in her triple dressing table mirror, ‘I can hardly believe it Gav, you and I and Ma, are really going to do this Gavin… I mean you and me… King and Queen of Scotland?’

‘I know,’ Gavin said wryly. ‘Like you, I am struggling to take it all in.’

Gavin sitting upright in bed, his back propped up by pillows and his hands clasped behind his head, was looking up at the ceiling and thinking about the curious sequence of events earlier. He said to Fiona. ’Whatever we find up there we have to see it through. What I can’t quite get my head around is the fact that I am actually a descendent of Robert the Bruce.’

Fiona climbed into bed and warmed her feet on his legs. ‘You and I won’t change, will we Gav?’

‘You and me are rock solid Fi,’ Gavin said. When he put an arm around his wife and pulled her into a hug a tear sprang into his eye.

Fiona felt Gavin’s chest heave. ‘What’s up hun?’

It was as if someone had just knocked the wind out of him. Gavin said, ‘my dad is dead Fi.’

‘Yes hun,’ Fiona said giving his shoulder a rub. ‘It’s a pity that you and your Dad never got the chance to meet up. You should be proud though Gav, what with him being descended from a famous Scottish king.’

Gavin wiped the sleeve of his pyjamas across his eyes. ‘I suppose.’ Gavin sighed.

‘Fi, I need you to be honest with me. Do you think that I have what it takes to be a king, only I am really worried? Being a King isn’t like heading up a department.’

‘You listen to me Gavin Brewson… your highness, ‘Fiona said firmly, sitting up and turning to face him. ‘You are a special human being Gavin with incredible organisational skills. Why, in just three years you trebled the income from parking meters and parking fines, you took over a department that was in a shambles and you turned it into an efficient machine. With modern technology you created a virtually paperless office.‘

Gavin had needed to hear that. Mostly, his soft underbelly of self-doubt was kept hidden beneath a façade of arrogance.

‘Your Majesty,’ Gavin said.

‘Huh?’

‘My title’ Gavin corrected her. ‘Your Highness is reserved for lesser royals. The reigning monarch should always be addressed as, Your Majesty.

‘I am not going to call you Your Majesty,’ Fiona laughed. She wasn’t joking. ‘You’re my Gav, and to me you always will be: my Gav. Your Majestypff, I don’t think so Gav.’

Fiona lay down on her side keeping her back to her husband who slid down behind her and wrapped one arm round her waist. Lying like spoons, Gavin said in the dark. ‘Fi, we mustn’t let this change us.’

Fi wondered about that. People do change when they come into money, or become famous. Lottery winners, they often change, celebrities too, childhood sweethearts… people change.’

They lay like that for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. Normally, within seconds of his head hitting the pillow, Fiona would hear Gavin snoring, not loudly, not like Ma’s snorting that could travel through the brick walls. ‘You still awake?’ Fiona said.

‘Yeah. I can’t sleep… you?

‘Me too,‘ Fiona said. ‘Are you worried?’

‘Yeah, I was just thinking that if this whole business was to go horribly wrong what do we do?’

‘Then Gav, we make a new plan. And as long as we keep hold of this house so we have it to come back to, we’ll be ok.’

‘What If I make a mess of being a king?’

‘You wont Gav,’ Fiona insisted. ‘You did a bloody good job running the parking enforcement department. Just imagine, with your talent, and you’re A level in Business Management, what you could do for Scotland?’

In the dark he nodded. ‘True,’ he said, ‘you always said that one of my strengths was being able to motivate people. The town councillors will miss me.’

(Which was probably true, but the motorists wouldn’t.)

‘Can you imagine it Gav, you being the leader of millions of people? I can see you as an inspirational figure. Do you remember that film Brave heart? That’s you that is.’

Gavin Brewson’s ego had gone into overdrive. His mind now wandered off into the realms of fantasy. He saw himself standing on some balcony or other and addressing His subjects. He’ll pass new laws, popular ones… the kind of laws that politicians are too weak to pass. He will create a Scotland that is fair, strong and proud. He will be a peoples king.

‘Do we still have that DVD,’ Gavin said, to Fi, who was almost asleep, ‘the one with Mel Gibson in it… Brave Heart?’

Sleep was a restless stranger that night. When the doorbell rang at nine the next morning they were packed and ready to leave. Their taxi driver, Ali, arranged by Cruid, was to drive them to the nearest rail station. In the car Ali handed them first class rail tickets to Waverley Station Edinburgh. Fi had packed too much, Iris had forgotten to pack a thing, and Gavin, had a backpack, his laptop, and the Scotland Tourist guide that he bought on that fateful trip to Aberdeen.

Iris, insisting that she needed to stretch out her legs climbed into the front passenger seat.

On the back seat, next to her husband Fiona held out her hand and said. ‘I’ll look after the tickets Gav.’

‘What! You don’t trust me with them?’

‘Well, if you recall,’ Fiona said giving him a motherly look, ‘there was that time that you lost the car park ticket, and we then had to pay for a whole twenty-four hours.’

‘I don’t recall that!’

‘It was two years ago… in Margate.’ Fiona reminded him.

Not for the first time Gavin marvelled at Fi’s capacity to recall at an instant, the date–the time of day– and word–for–word what he had said all the way back to the dawn of time! If he had ever said, or done something wrong, at any time in the past, however trivial, he could rely on Fi to remind him of it. Apparently all women could do this. It was as if women had a filing cabinet in their brain. Gavin handed her the tickets.

 

When the Scottish MSP’s voted to become a monarchy and then elected to find a king to be their head of state the people of Scotland initially thought this had to be a joke… right? Wrong.

In Scotland, voting to become independent was the main thing, no one actually cared that they were to have a king. The media in Scotland loved the idea of Scotland having a king. Even the Scots that voted No to independence thought it might be fun.

Scotland’s First Minister Mary Dewar wasn’t happy about it from the start. Her priority was to get Scotland into the EU and with her cloak-and-dagger negotiations with the Commissioners in Brussels at a delicate stage the last thing the First Minister needed was this king to go around shouting his mouth off. As long as Cruid kept this Essex yob out of her hair and made sure that he signed off their bills she would have to go along with it… for now.

Chapter Ten

 

After checking out of the hotel on the outskirts of Marbury, in the back of the Bentley 53, with John Brooks driving, Cruid punched in the number for Mary Dewar’s office. She picked up on the third ring.

‘Hello Mary, how are you?’

‘What is it Cruid?’ Mary said. ‘Are you ringing to tell me that this king, the one that you found in Essex, is on his way?’

‘Yes, that’s all fine…’ Cruid hesitated. He then thought it was better that he just came out with what he had in mind. The words tumbled out in a rush.

’Mary, the Brewson’s train is due in at Waverley Station at 4.15 – we ought to put on a bit of a reception for them – nothing too grand, we don’t have a lot of time for that – perhaps the two of us could be there to meet them and maybe get the Chief of Police–oh, and perhaps a newspaper reporter and a photographer – and could we use your Rolls to pick them up?’

Cruid held his phone away from his ear.

‘No way,’ Cruid,‘ Mary blazed at him. ‘I do not want this to become a media circus. Let me remind you Cruid, I am the First Minister and that makes me the Head of State. I am not going to be brushed aside by this Essex pleb who isn’t even crowned yet. Besides, you and I agreed, the guy was to be nothing more than a puppet king. Let me remind you that this monarch crap, was only a temporary solution to the Royal Assent issue and once we find a way to get around that, he’s history yeah?’

When Cruid was slow answering, Mary yelled down the phone.

‘We clear on that?’

‘Yes, of course,’ Cruid replied. ‘I’m with you on this, all the way.’

 

Having slept most of the train journey, when he stepped off the train at Waverley station Gavin Brewson encountered the first of several disappointments.

As if they were displaced children, the Brewson’s stood around on the platform waiting for someone, anyone, to come up and greet them. When the platform had emptied of people, Gavin shrugged.

‘I thought Cruid would be here to greet us.’ Gavin said.

‘Disgusting, is what it is,’ Iris said grumpily.’ You wouldn’t expect the King to be treated like this.’

‘Maybe they forgot?’ Gavin said grabbing hold of his Mother’s wheelie suitcase and setting off.

On the crowded concourse, an Asian man holding up a placard that said: “Brewson” stepped forward.

‘Mr Brewson?’ Mo Abdulla said approaching the three people that fitted the description that Cruid had given him.

‘Yes.’ Gavin said, looking around for the gathering of dignitaries, a band of bagpipes, a barrage of reporters and a Rolls Royce.

Instead. Mo took charge of Iris’s suitcase and led then to his cab… a green Ford Mondeo.

‘Where is Cruid?’ Gavin said to the Asian showing little concern how he went about throwing their luggage in the boot of the car. ‘I should have thought that he’d be here?’

‘The tall feller with hook nose you mean, looks like Gandalf?’ Mo said as he slammed shut the lid of the boot.

‘That’s the one.’

‘He said to tell you that he was busy and that he’ll catch up with you later.’

‘Disgusting!’ Iris complained climbing into the front passenger seat.

Gavin was annoyed to think that no one could be bothered to show up and greet him. Surely the Scots could have had the Mayor or maybe the Chief of Police, and perhaps a couple of City Officials to show their faces?

You don’t treat the King of Scotland like this.

This inauspicious start wasn’t the only disappointment.

After the cab had pulled away Gavin had to raise his voice to be heard above the irritating din of a CD playing a Pretenders song, something about a million miles, or something along those lines.

‘You are taking us to Holyrood Palace yeah?’

‘Och aye.’

Already struggling with the Scottish accent, Gavin couldn’t quite get his head around this bearded Asian speaking like a Glaswegian.

‘It’ll feel really strange, the three of us rattling around in a huge palace Gav.’ Said Fiona.

Looking in his mirror at the woman on the back seat. Mo laughed. ’You dinna get the entire palace. You only get a wee apartment on the second floor. Holyrood is a tourist attraction, open seven days a week.’

Feeling exhausted from having so little sleep last night, that, and the arduous train journey, Gavin’s mood wasn’t improved by that admission. It was as if in a matter of minutes his dreams of them living like royalty had been shattered. An apartment!

 

‘Here we are folks,’ Mo said swinging the car into a short driveway. He stopped at a pair of black and gold painted iron gates guarded by two policemen equipped with stubby rifles. ‘Welcome to Holyrood Palace, your new home.’

Slunk down on the back seat, Gavin watched the two coppers approach each side of the cab. The one his side stooped to stare at him. Gavin shifted in his seat. He managed a smile and got nothing back.

‘Who we got here Mo?’ Said the copper who was scrutinising Gavin.

‘This is the King of Scotland.’ Iris said stretching her neck so that she could give the police officer one of her stern looks. ‘And he aint happy.’

‘No, seriously, ‘ Mo said grinning. ‘This is the new king. Cruid told me to drop them off round the back.’

The copper at Fiona’s window studying Gavin looked into the gloomy interior. ‘Are you sure about that Mo, only shouldn’t he be wearing a crown?’ This cop grinned while the other one laughed.

‘Ok Mo,’ the cop at the driver’s window said stepping back and adjusting his grip on his rifle. He gave the new king an overzealous salute and said, ‘have a nice day, Your Majesty.

The cab pulled through the gates and Gavin was able to relax. The experience took him right back to the last time he was in Scotland when he was arrested for an alleged assault on a Sainsbury’s parking attendant who had the gall to ticket him for parking in a disabled bay. It was only after the Custody Sergeant had removed his shoelaces and locked him in a cell that he stopped his ranting. Gavin knew that he really oughtn’t to have tried to stuff the ticket down the warden’s neck. But, it was hardly an assault, the way the cops described it. The Sergeant told him, “you have a choice Mr Brewson, I can either charge you with the offence of an assault on a public official or we can go down the route of Restorative Justice, whereby you will give the person you offended a full and sincere apology. Which is it to be?”

Left with those options Gavin felt he had no choice. It grated on him but he told the grinning parking warden. “I’m sorry…. Ok?”

 

It was exactly how Mo had described it. Holyrood Palace was teeming with tourists.

‘Jeez, how are we expected to live in this menagerie?’ Gavin said to Fiona as the cab, taking it slow, cruised down the winding tarmac road heading over to what looked like the ruins of an old church.

‘This isn’t good,’ Fiona remarked. ‘Once your face is known Gav, when you’re famous that is, we’ll never get any peace round here.’

Mo steered the cab round the back of the Palace and pulled into a staff-only parking bay.

Gavin remained in his seat and waited for Mo to open his door. When instead, he walked right past and went to the back of the car and started offloading their luggage, Gavin had to do it himself. Walking in a tight circle Gavin stretched a crick in his back. Half way round he stopped when he saw Cruid heading his way.

The tall man, with an erect posture, at Cruid’s side, Gavin guessed was in his fifties. The man was wearing tartan trousers and matching waistcoat over a crisp white shirt. Spotting the regimental motif on his tie, Gavin guessed–ex-military. The astonishingly good-looking woman accompanying the two men wasn’t wearing any make-up that he could detect. He thought she must be in her mid-twenties. She had on a black figure-hugging two-piece suit, the hem of which ended just above the knee. Her shoes were good quality black leather with two-inch heels. Her strawberry blonde hair had been imaginatively plaited on top of her head and held in place with a black diamanté comb. When their eyes met her smile was open, friendly.

Cruid stood in front of Gavin and held out his hand.

‘Welcome to your new home, Gavin, Fiona, Iris.’ Cruid said making a point of acknowledging the king first. ‘I do apologise for not being at the station to greet you. Unfortunately things moved so quickly I hadn’t enough time to organise anything.’ Cruid lied smoothly. Changing the subject before Gavin could challenge him, Cruid turned to the Scot at his shoulder. ‘Allow me to introduce Henry Pyke who is the Palace Housman. Henry in addition to supervising the kitchens and being responsible for managing the household maintenance teams will be responsible for your welfare.

‘Welcome to Holyrood Palace.’ Henry said giving each of the ladies a slight bow and a gentle handshake.

‘And this is Penny Braithwaite.’ Cruid said to Gavin.

Pulling his hand free of the Houseman’s vice-like grip, Gavin’s tortured smile couldn’t quite hide the pain. By contrast, Penny’s hand felt soothingly cool.

‘You poor things must be exhausted after such a long journey?’ Penny’s blue eyes look soft, sympathetic.

Gavin smiled. In the presence of her poise and her beauty his edgy frustration vanished.

Seeing the soothing effect that Penny had on the irate Brewson, Cruid was able to relax a little. He said.

‘Penny, is to be your Private Assistant. She will handle all your appointments, your post, your meetings and any other admin duties.’

Cruid tried to sound sympathetic.

‘You must be feeling exhausted after such a long train journey?’

‘It was boring,’ Iris said tugging at her coat that got trapped in the car door when she slammed it shut. ‘And shouldn’t you lot be calling him Your Majesty?’

Over the hairpin bend in his nose Cruid looked down at the woman.

‘Ah, but you see,’ Cruid’s ice-blue eyes bore into the mother of the King’s, ‘until Gavin’s Coronation, probably in a few weeks time, calling him Your Majesty would be premature and highly improper.’

Anxious to shift the conversation away from potentially contentious matters, Cruid said.

‘Henry, has arranged refreshments for you up in your apartment. Would you like to go up and see the lovely rooms that we have set aside for you?’

He was thinking, why am I trying to appease this obnoxious little turd? He should be grateful. How many people get the offer of becoming a king for Christ’s sake? He should think himself lucky. I worked my backside off to get [_ him a three-figure salary, and an eye- watering expenses account, the lucky little shit. _]

Gavin was feeling tired and confrontational. He looked Cruid straight in the eye when he said.

‘On the drive here, Mo told me that the top floor is reserved for royalty. Would you care to explain why we don’t get to live in the third floor apartment?’

Cruid looked to Pyke for the explanation.

Almost caught out by Cruid dropping him in it, hiding his displeasure, the Houseman said.

‘Ah, well you see, for many years, and before my time here at the Palace,’ Henry said, ‘the third floor has been Her Majesty’s permanent Edinburgh home. I’m sure you can appreciate how inconvenient and inappropriate it would be to take over those rooms that are full of her personal effects.’

‘Sure, I can appreciate that.’ Gavin said turning to Cruid. ‘So how about you give her six months notice to quit.’

Cruid looked shocked.

Making him wince Gavin punched the old guys shoulder. ‘I was only joking, Cruid.’ Gavin grinned widely.

‘Oh.’ Cruid looked relieved.

‘Give her twelve months notice.’ Gavin grinned mischievously.

Moving the conversation swiftly along, Cruid said.’ If you care to follow me, we’ll go find your rooms.’

‘Where is the First Minister?’ Gavin said keeping up with Cruid’s long strides. ‘I would have thought the head of the Scottish Parliament would have been here to welcome her new king?’

‘Ah, I can explain,’ Cruid said. ‘Mary Dewar has asked me to pass on her sincerest apologies. She had planned to be here but then urgent affairs of government meant she had to change her plans.’

He lied and Gavin knew that he had. ‘I see, in that case will you be sure to pass on my best wishes to Mary and tell how much I am looking forward to me having a hands-on–working relationship with her. In this situation, the Scottish people need strong governance and great leadership.’

Cruid stopped the entourage in their tracks and looked round at Gavin. He hoped his arched eyebrows hadn’t given anything away.

‘I will of course do that,’ the next lie slid easily off his silky tongue. ‘I am sure Mary will be delighted to hear that you plan to have a hands-on approach to your position. I imagine the two of you will get along like a house on fire. Go up in flames more likely! He mused. ‘Now. This way if you please.’

Headed for a door at the far end, Cruid led the entourage through the ruins of Holyrood Abbey that in the mid-eighteenth century collapsed in on itself. ‘It is only a short walk. I have arranged for your bags to be taken to your rooms. I think you are going to love your apartment.’

 

Gavin looked up at the skeletal ruins overhead. The arched roof beams reminded him of the rib bones of the fossilised remains of Tyrannosaurus Rex in London’s Natural History Museum.

Walking stiffly, Cruid was still angry with Mary. It was embarrassing, the Brewson’s finding just Mo, the cabbie, there to greet them at the station. Ok, so she doesn’t like the idea of Scotland becoming a monarchy, but for goodness sake, it’s only a temporary arrangement. The minute they can trick Gavin into ending the need for Royal Assent, they can get rid of him. Worst-case scenario it might take a couple of years.

They passed through an oak door set in an arched opening. The other side of this was a flagstone passage. The limestone walls had recently been given a fresh coat of white paint. At the end of this corridor, they passed through a locked door that Henry Pyke had a key to. A shorter corridor led them to a flight of stone stairs. The steps, in the centre were bowed from centuries of wear.

‘Bloody stairs,’ Iris complained, halfway up the second flight. Puffing with the exertion, Iris sighed when they came to a carpeted landing. ’This aint doing my poor old knees any good.’

‘Nearly there,’ Cruid said picking up the pace, anxious to dump them off. ‘For future reference, to save your knees, there is a staff lift at the far end. Henry will show you.’

‘Oh, now you tell me.’ Iris complained.

‘Here we are.’ Cruid said when they reached a conventional front door with a Yale lock.

‘I’m afraid I have to rush off,’ Cruid said the moment Henry had the door open, ‘only I am expected to attend an urgent briefing. Henry and Penny will show you round your apartment and make sure you are comfortable. I shall endeavour to come and visit you when work permits.’

Hurrying down the back stairs, Cruid was cursing Mary Dewar. ‘Why does that bloody woman always have to over-complicate my life? That bloody man, (Gavin) is going to cause trouble. I can sense it.

 

Penny was showing Gavin round the rooms that surprised and delighted him.

He was looking out a window when Penny casually said. ‘Have you been to Scotland before Gavin?’

Gavin looked away. Her innocent intrusion took him right back to that time he was arrested. Looking everywhere, but into her searching blue eyes, Gavin said.

‘A few years ago, Fiona and I visited Aberdeen, but we had to cut short our holiday.’

Innocently, Penny enquired. ‘Oh, that’s such a shame. Why was that?’

‘Yeah, well, it didn’t quite work out as we hoped, it rained most of the time… and … and then I caught a chill.’

Sensing that Gavin wasn’t happy with this topic, sensibly Penny dropped the subject.

 

The apartment’s furnishings were a little old fashioned for his taste, but some of the furniture was of excellent quality, with many antiques and paintings in gilded frames. Several antique Chinese rugs lay on the burnished oak floorboards helped subdue the creaking.

After inspecting the en-suite bathrooms and the kitchen Fiona and Iris came back smiling.

 

For the next three days, Cruid avoided the Brewson’s. Time enough, he hoped for Gavin to stop complaining about him being cooped up and not being allowed to leave the confines of the Palace grounds. It was at Mary’s insistence that Gavin in particular, didn’t get to leave the apartment. Her spies had been telling her what a big mouth he had.

It was a matter of inconvenience, and too late to change anything, that the Brewson’s were living just across the road from the Parliament Building, close enough for Gavin Brewson, if he was minded to just step across the road and walk right in on the seat of the Scottish Government.

Because it was a shorter walk Cruid left the Parliament Building via the public entrance and crossed Horse Wynd. At the Palace gates the staff checking the tourist’s tickets, waved the well-known politician through.

 

Penny, Gavin and Fiona, chatting amiably in one of parlours, looked up when Cruid walked in. Iris wasn’t there. She was taking a nap.

Sensing an air of calm in the apartment, people sitting around chatting, and drinking tea, Cruid relaxed a little. The women were never going to cause him any trouble. It was Gavin he needed to worry about.

 

After three days stuck inside the Palace, going stir-crazy, Gavin had run out of patience. He wasn’t allowed to do this–or do that–or go here–or go there– and he wasn’t to say a word to anyone without Penny’s say- so. It was all starting to get to him. When Cruid walked into the room, Gavin tossed aside the book on stress management that he had been struggling with and confronted the Minister.

‘Ah-ha, look who’s decided to show his face?’ Gavin said aloud. ‘It’s about time you paid us a visit Cruid. Where have you been? Did you not get any of my messages, telling you that I wanted to talk to you? Hello! Am I not the King around here?’

‘Good afternoon, ladies,’ Cruid said amiably to the two women. He wasn’t about to reward the behaviour of a man that was acting like a petulant two-year old. ‘You seem quite content.’ Cruid added playfully. ‘All tickety-boo, then I trust?’

Putting an arm around Gavin, Cruid led him over to the window and speaking as one might to a toddler he said.

‘Have you seen the views from these windows? They are quite spectacular… if it isn’t raining.’ He laughed’

‘Our apartment is lovely Cruid. ‘ Fiona said sending her husband a look that said don’t start!

‘Our apartment is not the issue here Cruid,‘ Gavin said blanking out Fiona’s glare. ‘I don’t appreciate us being detained like common criminals. I am not Mary Queen of Scots who was imprisoned in those tiny rooms up there?’ Gavin pointed up at the celling, referring to the decapitated Queen’s garret rooms. ‘The police and the security guards tell me they are only following your orders. Would you mind telling me why, when I signed that contract none of this was explained to me? This is not good enough Cruid. Need I remind you that I am the King? I am seriously beginning to question whether any of you people know what you are doing. I will be honest with you Cruid this whole operation seems farcical. I mean, where are all the dignitaries, the banquets? I don’t have a crown or a throne, let alone an official car. When I was head of parking enforcement, no way would I have tolerated this level of ineptitude.’

Cruid sucked air in through his teeth. Only Mary Dewar could ever get away with speaking to him that way. He bit down on the remark on the tip of his tongue and instead said.

‘I understand your frustration Gavin, but due to complications regarding protocol issues, to say nothing of security measures needed to keep you all safe, I have had to impose certain restrictions. The press are clamouring for interviews with you. With little experience of handling the media, I am afraid these animals will eat you up. Before we even get the crown upon your head, they will tear into you. Once we have the Coronation out the way we can then put in place the protocols needed to establish a satisfactory relationship with the press. Let’s just get the Coronation out the way, and then you’ll see, things will improve. In the meantime, might I suggest that the three of you go away for a week or so? The Highlands at this time of year can be quite spectacular.’

‘Us go away!’ Gavin said, surprised. ‘I am not leaving now. Cruid, I need to be doing something. Before I came up here I was the head of a busy department. I am not used to sitting on my hands and doing nothing. Could I not sign off these bills that said you said was an important function of my Kingship?’

Cruid paused to think about that. Gavin had given him an idea.

‘Gavin, I had been thinking along those same lines. Using the office facilities that you have here in the apartment, I can get you started on that.’

‘Sounds great,’ Gavin said spreading his arms. ‘When do I start?’

 

Cruid was thinking, Mary had been getting on to him about the number of unsigned Parliamentary Bills that were now overflowing on her desk. If he were to cut a few corners, get the Coronation done and out the way, say in the next few days, it would save an awful lot of money and at the same time allow him to expedite his plans. Then with Gavin now King Robert IV, all he had to do was slip under his nose an overly worded document, one that he may not be bothered to read through, and have hidden in the small print a paragraph that would annul the Royal Assent law. In effect Gavin would be signing his own death warrant, figuratively speaking.

If Gavin was complaining about being fed up, then he was doubly so, having to babysit the stroppy individual.

‘So, when do I start signing these Bills of yours, whatever they are?’

‘The minute your Coronation is out of the way.’

‘But you said that would be weeks off!’

‘True.’

‘Could you not bring it forward?’

Cruid’s face remained inscrutable. Gavin was making this easy for him.

‘Well, I suppose…hmm. That if we didn’t make it quite so lavish – and if we, thinking off the top of my head, didn’t invite the other World leaders, and given, the hostile attitude of the English media, just have the Scottish press cover it, then we could hold it this coming Tuesday.’

‘Tuesday! But it’s only Friday.’

‘Would you rather I went back to my original itinerary?’

‘No, Gavin said emphatically. ‘Let’s do it on Tuesday.’ As an afterthought he said. ‘Do I still get to sit on a throne and wear a crown?’

‘Of course, ‘ Cruid said pleased with how this was going. Mary would be happy to hear this. ‘It would hardly be a coronation without a crown. You may however, have to wear an outfit borrowed from the museum, only there wont be time to have one made to measure.’

Gavin looked round at Fiona. She shrugged.

‘It’s up to you Gav, you do what you think is best.’

Gavin studied the Minister, not quite trusting him. ‘Ok, we do it on Tuesday. Can we help?’

‘N… n. no… thank you.’ Cruid leapt in. ‘There really is no shortage of people that I can call upon to help.’

Cruid headed over to the door. ‘I shall now head off and get this up and running. There is no time to lose.’

 

‘That’s it!’ Gavin said, to Fiona the minute Cruid had left. ‘This time next week I shall be the King of Scotland and you will be Queen Fiona.’

‘Exciting innit?’ Fiona said. ‘I don’t mind at all if the Coronation is a small do Gav. I don’t think it’s right to spend all that money on a grand banquet. I heard they sometimes roast a swan and then stuff the insides with lots of other birds. Can’t see the point really, I mean having a goldfinch, in the middle.’

‘What do you think Penny?’ Gavin said turning to his PA and noting how her normal cheerful eyes looked saddened. Misreading her mind he said. ‘I do understand your concern about us rushing the Coronation through, and it will mean a heck of a lot of work for you, but I can help. Fi would help too.’

Penny managed to smile.

 

The following morning, Iris sought Gavin out.

‘The porridge they serve up is horrible,’ She complained. ‘I swear they are putting salt in it.’

Gavin sighed. ‘That’s ok, Mother because, in a week from now, and Cruid and Mary Dewar don’t know this yet, but I plan to make some changes around here. It’ll be like running my own department again.’

Fiona was worried. ‘What if this doesn’t work out Gav, what do we do then?’

Gavin shrugged. ‘Then we pack our bags and we go back to Marbury to our old life. The house, we still own, we would just need to get the tenants out. And the last I heard the agents weren’t getting any interest in it. They said we ought to lower the rent. I told them no way,’

‘There’s not even a co-op nearby,’ Iris complained. ‘And when are the people round here going to start calling you your Highness.’

‘It’s Your Majesty, Ma,’ Fiona explained. ‘The term for a King is Your Majesty.’

‘Ok, Fiona said glad that something was being done at long last. ‘We only have a few more days to the coronation, we can sit it out.’

‘And I don’t like all them tourists in our back garden,’ Iris said looking out the window and seeing people two floors below waving and taking photos of her.

 

Tuesday came. Cruid’s foreshortened plans for the coronation paid off. The proceedings went without a hitch. By the evening the fabulous Scottish Honours, the, sword the crown and the sceptre, borrowed from Edinburgh Castle, were safely back in their display cases.

The televised proceedings watched by millions, showed King Robert and Queen Fiona, dancing till midnight at which point they said goodbye to everybody and then headed back to their four-poster bed to celebrate. Mary Dewar was the only absentee. She sent her apologies, saying she had a tummy bug!

Chapter Eleven

 

Whitehall London.

 

In yet another COBRA meeting, Sir Roger Bottomley gathered about him his military Chiefs of Staff, the Defence Minister – Malcolm Catchpole – Peter Dent, the Minister for Transport – Home Secretary, Katie Murrell, and some of his top Civil Servants. Also present was his Special Adviser, Terry Beaumont, the author and distributor of the fake ScottiLeak email.

The painkillers the Prime Minister had taken half an hour ago hadn’t touched his headache. Under discussion was the on-going threat that Scotland posed to UK assets.

Only the PM and Terry Beaumont knew that ScottiLeak was a fake and Sir Roger wasn’t entirely certain of that. There were a couple of people seated round the table that had their doubts of its authenticity. General Sir Rufus Warburton-Smyth, head of the army was one of them.

‘Do we know for sure that this ScottiLeak, email isn’t a hoax?’

‘I can assure you General the email is genuine,’ Sir Roger said authoritatively. ‘I had MI5, and MI6, check it out and they are able to confirm that on May 10th last year, in a meeting chaired by Mary Dewar, the First Minister outlined plans to overrun British military bases and to confiscate UK assets including our oil. Someone who was present in that meeting, and clearly unhappy with the direction that Scotland was headed, then passed that information on to our intelligence people.’

Terry Beaumont’s eyebrows arched. He had to suppress a smile. If this was true, and this meeting had taken place, and the Scots had discussed plans to confiscate English owned assets, then by pure luck, his fake email had actually hit on the truth. Who’d have guessed it?

General Sir Rufus Warburton-Smyth twiddled his handlebar moustache. He didn’t trust these people with their shiny backsides who’d never been to war, never had a bullet whizz past their ear, nor had to stand in a muddy trench up to your whatsits while waiting for the signal to go. (Neither had he). He wasn’t alone in recalling the so called: “good intelligence”, that took the UK into the disastrous Iraq war. Bloody politicians. He had a suggestion, a damn good one.

‘Prime Minister, I propose that we make a surgical strike, one that’ll take out their top brass. In my experience, once the head of your enemy has been lopped orf, the troops will quickly throw down their arms.’

‘I take your point General,’ Sir Roger said, thinking he wasn’t stupid enough to order his armies into battle. Army brass with nothing better to do, would simply love to get involved in another disastrous war just so that they could use whatever new bits of kit they bought recently. ’However, just this morning, I was handed another intercepted email from the same dissident anonymous Scot. Tell em Beaumont.’ The PM said turning to his SA.

Terry tugged at the neck of his shirt. It felt hot in here. He was now thinking that perhaps sending out the second email might have been a bit rash. He did try to get the PM to understand that this new one was also a fake but the silly old fool couldn’t have been listening. If he now owned up to being the author of this new email, it wouldn’t be long before the sceptics worked he must have written the original ScottiLeak email. He cleared his throat. The first few words came out in a sort of strangled squeak. He coughed and tried to stop his hand from shaking when he read from a piece of paper.

‘Ahem, Ministers,’ Terry said, gaining everyone’s attention. ‘I have here a second ScottiLeak email dated December 16th last year, three months before the Scots declared UDI.’ Terry couldn’t bring himself to look up at their faces all staring at him. ‘I have been reliably informed that this email came out of the office of Scotland’s First Minister. It was signed by Mary Dewar and distributed to her Cabinet. I will read it out: ”Further to our meeting of May 10th, in which it was agreed that immediately after UDI we would then confiscate all English assets on Scottish soil, including any property occupied, or otherwise, owned of the Royal Family, I want to press on with this as a matter of urgency. Can people make sure that they have their works calendars up to date and have agreed any holiday arrangements with me.” Terry liked that last paragraph. He thought it added a sense of genuineness to the falsehood.

Terry hastily stuffed the email in his trouser pocket.

The cheeks of the general, usually florid, were even more inflamed. Blowing spittle through his handlebar moustache he blustered. ‘Dammit, I never did trust them blighters. We had better get our men mobilised before we get caught with our trousers down.’

Sir Roger said, ‘I was just about to suggest that. (He wasn’t) ‘However, it wouldn’t do if se were to invade Scotland without having… erm! What’s the phrase Beaumont?’

‘Having–exhausted–every–available–diplomatic–means.’ Terry prompted.

‘That’s the one,’ Bottomley said. ‘So, while I go talk to that bloody awful woman in charge of the Scottish Government and make out that I am trying to be reasonable, you, General, will move your troops and your big… no your biggest guns, into place. We cannot discount the possibility of a war between our two nations. If we don’t act decisively we could lose all our military and commercial assets.’

‘And perhaps a few English owned stately homes, Prime Minister.’ Home Secretary, Katie Murrell reminded Bottomley.

The Home Secretary, a stalking horse in Sir Roger’s Cabinet was secretly planning to take his place as the PM. Her tentative enquiries about who might back her in a leadership challenge faltered when a Cabinet colleague, surprised her by suggesting quite erroneously, that in times of war the death penalty for traitors was still an option. With a very real possibility that hostilities could at any moment break out between Scotland and the UK, she was keeping quiet about such ambitions. To her mind it was a little too convenient both these emails popping up just when Sir Roger was backed into a corner and everyone baying for his head to roll. Katie Murrell would not have been at all surprised if Terry Beaumont, the PM’s lapdog had written them. Katie couldn’t imagine the English and the Scots ever being at war with each other. Not after over three hundred years of relative harmony. To her mind the English and the Scots were a bit like an old married couple. Going to war with Scotland! This was getting ridiculous. Sensibly, Murrell decided that with all these men rattling their sabres, beating on their chests and blowing spittle out their mouths, she had best keep her powder dry.

Closing the meeting, Sir Roger Bottomley only needed a big fat cigar to complete the Winston Churchill pose. General Sir Rufus Warburton-Smyth and the Navy Minister, Admiral Sir, Stanley Mortimer, along with the Head of the Air Force Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Shelley, went off in separate cars. As a matter of urgency they needed to chair a series of military briefings with the military objective of disarming and disabling the Scottish regiments that were certain to stand behind their own flag.

*

In Edinburgh, Mary Dewar feeling exultant after UDI announced that Scotland was to have it’s own Independence Day. It was to be similar to the ones that the Americans celebrated on the 4th July. The pubs were to remain open for twenty-four hours and every community was to hold street parties organised and paid for by the local authorities.

When the Heads of the UK Armed Forces heard that the men in the Scottish regiments were determined to join in these celebrations, the Whitehall military strategists who had predicted this scenario were entirely confident that everything would go to plan.

*

 

While the Scottish armed forces were happily getting drunk and carousing the streets of Scotland, on the stroke of midnight, the other UK regiments began their massed retreat.

The troops were given orders to pack up every bit of military kit and then load it onto fleets of trucks. These were then to be driven across the Scottish border where a defensive line of men and steel was to be set up along the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall.

The Scottish soldiers, quite used to seeing the English regiments holding night exercises, took little notice of the amount of men and equipment being moved. Even when this included the kit out of their own bases they seemed not to care.

Sunrise, when the Scottish troops began to sober up they found their barracks had been ransacked and they no longer had any weapons.

The UK armed forces were now entrenched south of the Scottish border.

In addition to this aggressive stance taken by the UK Government, an armada of naval vessels were deployed to beef up the security around the North Sea oilrigs. As if they were encircling sharks, Trident submarines could be seen patrolling the waters off the Scottish coastline. The sonic booms of British fighter planes screaming overhead rattled the windows of the townsfolk. It would take just one mistake, one trigger-happy soldier to fire off one round, and the whole thing could kick off. (Except Scotland had nothing to kick off with).

Chapter Twelve

 

The retreat of the UK armed forces didn’t quite go to plan.

At two in the morning, the first of two unfortunate incidents very nearly dragged the nations into a full-scale conflict.

 

For the best part of half an hour, now totally lost south of Inverness on a dark and narrow winding B road, Sapper Danny Buxton, driving an articulated low-loader hauling a Challenger MK II tank had been hoping to see a sign indicating which way to the motorway. He figured some miles back he must have missed the sign. He thought about waking Humpy–Paul Humphries, who was snoring on the passenger seat with the map crumpled in his lap.

The past couple of months, Danny had been thinking of quitting the Royal Engineers. Having been ordered to drive a low-loader all the way up to Scotland just to haul this big bugger back to Sunderland, on his bloody rest day, was the last straw. One of the things the twenty-one year old sapper hated about the army was the hours, and the fact that just about anyone with a rank above corporal could screw up his life. Trundling along, keeping the speed down to around twenty, he was praying for a sign to the motorway, before these bloody silly roads got any narrower.

A couple of miles on, his headlights picked out a sign that said: “Welcome to the historic town of Bonnie.” Had someone told him the town was named after Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Gavin, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, he would have shrugged. So what!

He was now driving through the edge of town, rumbling past unlit houses where the low-loader was ratting the windows. Folk stirred in their sleep.

Up ahead, in his headlights Danny saw they were now approaching a market square with a stone cross dead centre. Hmm, Danny wasn’t at all sure that he could swing his low-loader around the obstacle. He thought about reversing back up the High Street, and then what? He didn’t see that he had a choice. They were going to have to go round the bloody thing.

‘Humpy… Humpy, wake up,’ Danny slapped his co-driver on the head. ‘We got a problem.’

‘What!’ Humphries rubbed his knuckles in his eye sockets and then looked about him. Totally confused as to where they were. ‘Where are we?’ He said.

‘Some town called Bonnie.

‘Oh.’ Disinterested, Humpy curled up on his seat and closed his eyes again.

‘Humpy!’ Danny slapped his head, harder this time.

‘Ow… what! Stop hitting me Danny.’

‘See that up ahead,’ Danny pointed through the windshield at the stone cross set on a plinth in the middle of the road. ’I don’t know that I am going to be able to steer this bloody thing round that. So’s I don’t damage the bloody thing, make yourself useful, keep an eye out on your side.’

Danny eased the truck forwards teasing the clutch. The brakes were a little too jerky causing the tank secured with chains on the low-loader to buck to and fro.

‘Humpy, we clear on your side?’ Danny said, ‘Watch out for the cross. Talk to me Humpy.’

’Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re good to go.’ Humpy had his head out the window looking behind them. ‘For Chrissake Danny get a move on will you? I could drive a circus round that little old cross.’

Awoken by the noise of the truck rumbling through their quiet town, emerging from their houses, dressed in their nightwear and looking like a scene out of a zombie movie, the townsfolk began slowly making their way towards the low-loader hauling a tank.

‘We got company Danny.’ Humpy said looking back up the road out the passenger window.

Danny checked his rear view mirror. ‘Jesus! What the hell is that? It looks like something out of Sean of the Dead.’

Distracted by the ghoulish scene developing behind him, it only took one second of distraction for Danny’s truck to mount the plinth. As a result, the turret of the tank, that Humpy was supposed have secured with chains, swung about causing the gun barrel to flatten the cross.

‘Shit, Danny.’ Now you’ve gone and done it.’ Humpy said leaning out the window looking down at the cross that was now in four pieces. A shout made him look back up the road.

The townsfolk, having seen the tank flatten their ancient landmark suddenly became animated. A few men ran back home to fetch their shotguns, while some of the others armed themselves with spades, pitchforks, and a couple of men had swords.

Seeing this baying mob of red-bearded men in pyjamas and carpet slippers, waving all manner of weapons and cursing him in a dialect that he didn’t recognise, Danny wasn’t about to wait around to say: “really sorry… it was an accident.” Shoving the truck into first gear, he slammed his foot down on the accelerator. The low-loader lurched forwards causing the wheels to reduce what was left of the Celtic cross, that had stood unmolested on that site for almost a thousand years, to a heap of rubble.

Looking back up the road at the red-bearded mob now just thirty yards away, fearing for his life, Humpy shouted. ‘Danny, if them crazies get their hands on us we are dead and I do not want to end up as a zombie, so get us the hell out of here.’

 

A brick smacking the side of his truck was all the encouragement that Danny needed to get moving. Straight on seemed a sensible idea.

‘You were supposed to be watching that side of the truck you plank.’ Danny barked at his co-driver.

Reversing the lorry back a couple of yards so that he could straighten up the wheels he pulled a face at the sound of crunching stone.

Humpy snapped back, ‘I was watching my side. It was you who steered into the bloody thing. Now get moving will you?’

‘Oh God!’ Danny had seen someone back there point a shotgun at them. Next instant, there was a bang and Danny saw his wing mirror disappear.

‘Shit!’ Humpy yelled, when a missile thrown by one of the baying mob landed on the roof of the cab making them shrink their heads back into their shoulders like turtles.

‘Move!’ Humpy said pointing straight ahead.

In straightening up the articulated lorry the gun turret swing about so that it now faced front again.

Danny stamped on the accelerator and the low-loader shot off. They were now racing down the High Street, reaching 40 MPH in a 20 MPH zone. Rattling over the speed bumps and ignoring the flashing speed cameras, Danny saw in his mirror that the mob was falling back. When they went round a bend in the road and he could no longer see the mob, he settled back in his seat and sighed. He turned his head and faced front again.

‘Shiiit!’

When Danny slammed on the brakes, Humpy, flew off his seat as if he was a human cannonball, and hit the windscreen.

‘Daneeeee!’ Humpy cried out from the floor of the cab. ‘Why the hell did you stop? Jeez, I think you just broke my neck.’

Danny had more to worry about than Humpy’s exaggerated complaints. He pointed through the windscreen. ‘Jesus. We are in dead trouble Humpy.’

‘Wassup now?’

‘Look.’

Rubbing his sore head and wincing at a pain in his neck, Sapper Humphries looked to where Danny was pointing. They were on an unlit country lane and straight ahead of them; illuminated in the headlights he could see an old hump-backed bridge.

‘What’s that sign say?’ Danny said pointing out the window Humpy’s side.

Humpy wound down his window. ‘There are two signs. Which one?’

‘Both of them.’ Danny snapped.

‘Erm, one says: “Fragile Bridge: Weight limit 12 tonnes.”

‘Great, we are carrying close on a hundred tonnes! What does the other one say, the brown one?’

‘Erm that one says,’ Humpy had to squint his eyes to read the smaller print. “Bonnie Bridge. Historic monument. This was the site where Bonnie Prince Charlie addressed his troops before he led them into the battle of Culloden.”

‘Terrific, ‘Danny said. We just smashed to smithereens the town’s stone cross and now we’re stuck. We can’t turn around and we can’t go forwards.’ Looking round at Humpy rubbing his sore head. Danny said.’ Sorry Humpy, looks like we are both about to be eaten alive!’

‘No way, Danny,’ Humpy pleaded. ‘Drive on, just… just drive over the bloody bridge.’

‘It won’t take our weight Humpy, we are done for.’

‘Look. ‘Humpy said above the sound of another brick landing on the cab’s roof. ‘If you take a run at it, get up to speed, it’s only about thirty feet wide, that river, we can leap across it. Then the minute the front wheels touch down you hit the gas and bobs you uncle, we’ll be away.’

When the glass window right behind their head exploded showering them with glass fragments, Danny decided that right now wasn’t the time to point out the illogical physics of Humpy’s suggestion.

‘Jeezus! Get going you Wally. ‘Humpy cried dropping down into the well of the cab.

‘We don’t have a choice Danny. We have to go over that bridge. It’s that, or we get eaten alive. You want that?’

Danny shook his head. Gritting his teeth he slammed the gearstick into first and then stamped on the gas pedal. With the gun turret swinging about as if it was seeking a target to demolish, the truck shot off.

Humpy kept his head in his hands when the truck bore down on the ancient bridge that these days, was rarely crossed by anything mechanical.

Ten yards from the bridge, with the engine screaming and the wheels burning rubber, now nudging seventy miles per hour, too late to do anything about it, Danny, saw the sign on his side of the road that said: ”FORD. To be used by all motorized vehicles.”

All Danny could do was shut his eyes and pray.

Curled up on the cab floor Humpy heard Danny yell out.

Geronimo.’

When the truck hit the bridge and took out the side walls, for a moment there, Danny thought that Humpy’s suggestion might actually pay off. For a fleeting second, moments before gravity intervened, the tank and its transporter were airborne. Could they actually fly across this shallow river? Such ambitions were quickly dispelled when the whole kit and caboodle, the tank, the low loader and two helpless Sappers dropped like a stone into the river and landed squarely amidst the ruins of the ancient bridge

With the low-loader and the tank, now settled on the riverbed, standing in a foot of water that was being turned to steam by the heat of the engine, Danny agreed with Humpy that they should abandon the tank and make a run for it.

 

When the armed menfolk of the town came around the bend they came to a halt at the slope that led down to the ford, that had Danny seen in time he could have used and got away, they saw in the river, among the demolished remains of their famous bridge, the low-loader with the tank’s gun pointing menacingly back at the village.

A shout went up. Fingers pointed out two fleeing soldiers, lit in the moonlight, being chased across a field by a herd of bullocks.

Chapter Thirteen

 

That same night, out in the North Sea a second unfortunate incident, arose out of the UK’s rush to defend its resources.

A short time after the events in the town of Bonnie, just before dawn, HMS Primrose, a type 42 destroyer that should have been scrapped ten years ago, had just arrived at an area in the North Sea where there were a number of oil platforms. Captain David Wenham-Cox had been given orders to be on the lookout for any Scottish vessels that might pose a threat to the UK oil facilities.

Daybreak came and the ship’s radar pinged on a vessel set on a course for one of the BP installations.

When the vessel failed to respond to the radio operator’s demands that the boat must alter course, Captain Wenham-Cox ordered his men to battle stations. With growing unease the Captain, up on the bridge watched the trawler “The Merry Boson” flying the Scottish ensign closing in on the oilrig.

‘It could be a floating bomb.’ His Number-Two suggested.

‘I had already thought of that Parsons.’

Turning to his radio operator Wenham-Cox said, ‘is there still no reply from the Merry Boson?’

No sir.’

‘What the hell! Are they all dead on that boat? Keep trying.’

Watching the progress of the fishing boat Wenham-Cox knew that HMS Primrose hadn’t the speed to intercept the trawler before it struck the oil platform.

‘The Merry Boson is not responding sir.’ The radio operator called out.

Captain Wenham-Cox could do without this. What the hell was the skipper of the trawler playing at defying a British warship? Two weeks off his retirement and with his wife Rebecca planning to use his retirement money to buy a holiday home in Cornwall he didn’t need this. Wenham-Cox also didn’t need to be on this rust bucket that ought to have been decommissioned years ago.

Wenham-Cox turned to his radio operator. ‘Are you sure that the radio is working? Are you certain you fixed it?’

‘Sir, you know what it’s like, it’s very temperamental, one minute it works, the next minute…’

‘Just keep trying.’ Wenham-Cox snapped focusing his binoculars on the trawler that was now too close for comfort and had to be a floating bomb. The captain yelled into the ship’s intercom.

‘Gunner Bloosharp, on my order you are to fire a shot across the bow of that trawler. But for Christ’s sake don’t you touch a thing until I tell you to. I do not want a repeat of the bloody time you almost sank that American aircraft carrier.’

‘No sir.’ Bloosharp yelled down the mouthpiece. He was keeping his hands well

away from the temperamental fire button. Two months ago while on NATO exercises out in the Med, this very gun had shot a hole in the US carrier Roosevelt.

Wearing his white flash protection outfit, gunner Bloosharp kept the sights of the 4.5-inch gun with 55-calibre barrel aimed way over to the left of the bow of the trawler that was on course to hit the oil platform. Through his headphones he heard the Captain say.

‘Stand by Bloosharp and don’t touch the bloody firing button until I give the order.’

‘Sir, I’m telling you, the gun bloody gun fired on its own accord.’

For eighteen months now, Wenham-Cox had been complaining to the admiral that his guns were a liability.

‘Just be careful Bloosharp,’ The captain said.’

‘Aye aye sir…’

The next instant the gun fired off a shell.

‘Sir,’ the gunner cried into his microphone. ‘I swear, I never touched the fire button. The bloody thing has a mind of it’s own.’

 

Below decks on the Merry Boson, its skipper and the crew of five, having spent the last eight hours celebrating Scotland’s Independence were comatose in their bunks and blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding up on deck. In the deep ocean swell empty whiskey bottles rolling around the floor were banging against the metal hull. A few minutes ago Willy Taggart thought that he heard a loudhailer ordering them to heave-to. He shook his head. That wasn’t a good idea. He groaned and with his head rested on the belly of ship’s cook Tam Wallace, he closed his eyes. Moments later a massive bang followed by the boat rocking violently sobered up the crew. Before they could get out of their bunks the trawler keeled to one side spilling the crew onto the floor that was very quickly filling up with seawater.

‘What the hell was that?’ Taggart yelled getting to his feet and finding he was knee-deep in icy seawater.

‘Tam,’ Taggart called out just as the lights went out. ’Did you see any weather reports of icebergs being out here?’

Concluding the Merry Boson was headed for Davy Jones Locker, the Scottish fishermen slammed into each other in the rush to climb the stairs.

Standing in four feet of water the crew was now sobered up.

‘Skipper, what are you going to do? You going down with your ship?’ Tam yelled above the roar of water filling the boat, now listing at forty-five degrees.

Hamish McAllister had no intention of doing any such thing. He said, ‘put on your life jacket Tam, looks like we are going for a swim.’

With all his men safely bobbing about in the North Sea, Hamish watched the Merry Boson slide under the water making a gurgling sound that he was to later describe as a death rattle. Just before it disappeared he noticed the blackened, twelve inches hole in the hull. A shout from a loudhailer made him swing about. A hundred yards away a British destroyer had launched its lifeboats. Choking on seawater Hamish shouted out to his crew… ‘The buggers… They sank us. Why’d they do that?’

 

On the bridge, the dismayed Wenham–Cox watched as his men pulled the five fishermen out of the water. Having just heard on the Scottish news what had happened in the town of Bonnie, this second disaster was sure to be reported as another attack on Scotland, which meant, in all likelihood he would be scapegoated. He would be forced to take early retirement with his Naval pension taking a massive hit. The upshot of that would mean he and Alice couldn’t buy that Cornish cottage. Damn and blast! And it wasn’t even his fault.

 

Wenham-Cox had gunner Bloosharp brought to his cabin.

‘Bloosharp, what the hell happened, you were only meant to fire across its bow.’

The way the captain said it reminded the gunner of the film the Italian Job and the scene where Michael Caine said. “You were only meant to blow the bloody doors off.”

 

An hour after the inflatable dinghy from HMS Primrose dropped off the frozen fishermen on the Aberdeen quayside, Wenham–Cox received an urgent message from the Admiralty in London.

With immediate effect, you are to sail HMS Primrose into Portsmouth harbour and then report straight to Admiralty House”.

 

After paying the cabbie that dropped him right outside Admiralty House, Wenham-Cox straightened his tie and brushed down his uniform. At the doors he muttered. ‘Oh well let’s get it over with.’ He had already decided that he was going to lay the blame for the destruction of the trawler at the door of the MOD who should have scrapped HMS Primrose years ago.

 

Standing to attention and facing the disciplinary panel that consisted of mostly top Naval brass, Wenham -Cox noted the two men who were not wearing a uniform. These men he guessed had to be top civil servants here to present the case for the Government. One had a face like a weasel and the other one, oddly, that of a Giraffe.

Listening to the alleged offences being read out, Wenham –Cox became aware of his fists clenching up. The slit mouth of the weasely one seemed to be smirking. Only a few of the key words got through the rage boiling up inside him. Words such as: “Dereliction of duty – failure to follow orders – acting impulsively – reckless decisions.“ What really stuck like a fishbone in his throat was the charge, “creating an international incident that potentially could lead to a war!”

 

After the panel had had their say, damning him to hell as it were, it was Admiral Hardcastle who having summed up the charges concluded.

‘Before the panel retires to agree on your punishment is there anything you wish to say in your defence?’

On an impulse, Wenham-Cox wondered, if he could split the panel, say, get his Naval bosses pitted against the Civil Servants he may yet get off this?

‘For the past ten years I have been requesting a refit for HMS Primrose. That information is on my record. Successive Governments, with muddle-headed thinking have consistently cut the defence budget, leaving the Navy in particular short of money.’

‘It is not the Government that is on trial here today.’ Interjected William Miller, the head of Naval Procurement. ‘I don’t think we need to hear anymore gentlemen.’ Miller said getting ready to rise up from his chair.

‘I think Captain Wenham-Cox has a valid argument,’ Admiral Hughes said looking daggers at Miller. ‘It is disgraceful how this Government in particular has treated the Navy. We have aircraft carriers with no bloody planes, We have ships that hardly hold water and guns that couldn’t hit a barn door.’ The Admiral was up on his soapbox now. ‘I insist that we hear the Captain out.’

 

Wenham-Cox tore into the Civil Servants and soon got the Naval brass backing up his complaints. After that, it was all plain sailing. (Excuse the pun). All the charges against Wenham-Cox were dismissed and his Naval record left unblemished. And to cap it all, Gunner Bloosharp was exonerated too.

 

There was a smile on his face when outside Admiralty Arch he rang his wife Alice to give her the good news his pension was intact.

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

Edinburgh.

 

By the break of dawn, Scottish news programmes were reporting on the story of how a convoy of British tanks had attacked and destroyed the historic town of Bonnie.

One of the first newsmen on the scene, with a camera crew, was Kelvin Boyd, a reporter with Scotland One TV.

Boyd had the town’s mayor wearing his mayoral chain stand on the rubble of the stone cross. Kelvin then told his camera operator.

‘Make sure you get a few weeping women and children in the shot.’

Facing the camera, immaculately dressed for seven in the morning, having been woken at five, Kelvin spoke to the camera.

‘This is a sad day for Scotland. Last night under cover of darkness, with the UK forces pulling out of Scotland, in a vengeful attack on a this sleepy village, a convoy of British tanks wreaked havoc on this helpless community that witnessed the destruction of two of its famous landmarks.’ The camera swung about to show the rubble that was once an ancient Celtic cross. A few women and children that had been recruited to pose were laying flowers at the scene. The camera moved back to Kelvin Boyd who now held up a picture postcard. ‘This is how the town centre once looked. The ancient Celtic stone cross that was destroyed last night by English tanks had stood on this spot for over nine hundred years.’ At a nod from Boyd, the cameraman zoomed in on the newsman’s grim expression. ‘I have with me Angus McClusky, the mayor of Bonnie who witnessed this barbaric attack.’ Shoving a microphone under the mayor’s bushy red beard Boyd said. ‘Mayor McClusky, tell the viewers in your own words what you saw.’

‘Around two in the morning,’ the mayor said looking shifty, ‘the town was woken by the sound of rumbling.’

‘And this was the tanks rumbling into town?’ Kelvin interrupted the mayor.

‘Indeed it was. There had to be at least a dozen of them English tanks firing their guns terrifying the women and the children. It’s a miracle that no one was killed.’

Facing the camera again Boyd pointed down the road. ‘Just around that bend, just a few hours ago, stood the bridge made famous by Bonnie Prince Charlie, the town’s namesake. Upon that bridge on April twelfth, seventeen forty-six, the Prince addressed his troops before leading them into the Battle of Culloden. Last night,’ Boyd said, his face grim.’ Those same English tanks set about its destruction.’ Turning back to the mayor, Kelvin Boyd said. ‘I understand the townsfolk, with little more than, hoes and pitchforks drove off the attackers and captured one of their tanks, can you tell us where the crew of that tank is now?’ Kelvin shoved the microphone back in the mayor’s bushy beard

‘Och, aye, at least five English soldiers escaped. They think they can outrun our dogs, but, we’ll catch em, then they will face good old-fashioned Scottish Justice.’

‘What do you mean by that Mayor McClusky? Should you not hand them over to the authorities?’

‘Och aye, and we will, but not before they spend a little time in the town’s stocks. The villagers need to see the faces of the men who did this to our lovely town. Did you know that Bonnie has won the Prettiest Village in Scotland competition three years in a row?’

Kelvin said. ‘I wasn’t aware of that, no, but congratulations on that. Can I ask you Mayor McClusky, how many villagers, last night, were actually killed and injured in this battle?’’

Boyd thrust the microphone back into the mayor’s beard.

‘It is too early to say,’ McClusky said with a sad shake of his head. ‘The town Doctor, Thomas Knapp, who would usually tend the wounded, is up in the hills having to sort out a sheep with a breech birth. I did hear that Mrs Paisley, who is eighty-one years old, and only two weeks ago had a hip replacement operation, collapsed at the news. I also heard that Kenneth Mulchie, who is on tablets for a urine infection took a turn for the worse.’

‘So, did anyone actually die, or get seriously injured?’ Kelvin Boyd persisted.

‘As I said Mr Boyd, it’s a little too early to say.’

 

Kelvin Boyd, the wind whipping his fair hair around moved off down the road. The cameraman, and soundman were walking backwards when Kelvin said, ‘I will now show you what is left of the famous Bonnie Bridge.’

They came around a bend in the road and the cameraman zoomed in on the destruction of the bridge. Boyd imagined that many of the millions of TV Scottish TV viewers listening to this shocking report would have gasped and some might even be weeping at the sight. Boyd turned to face the camera.

‘I have with me, Professor Lars Gustav of Glasgow University who is an expert on historical structural renovation… Professor…’ The cameraman found Gustav.

‘Professor Gustav, is it possible these historic Scottish landmarks could ever be repaired?’

‘Not a cat in hells chance,’ Lars Gustav said with a shake of his head. ‘This is sacrilege Mr Boyd… I say, this is sacrilege… wanton destruction. I could weep.’

The camera on him again, Kelvin said solemnly. ‘There you have it… the Professor has expressed the sadness that we all feel… as he said: “we could weep.”

The camera then swung about to take in the scene of four tractors, belching fumes, dragging the British tank up Bonnie’s High Street. Hurrying, Boyd caught up with one of the tractor drivers and shouted up at him.

‘Can you tell the viewers where you are taking this tank?’

Farmer, Seamus McGivney, five generations owner of Stone Cross farm where the town’s GP was at present enjoying a very large fried breakfast, cooked by Seamus’s wife, in gratitude for saving the lives of a Ewe and its lamb during the night, yelled down from his cab.

‘We are keeping it in case the English should try and attack us again.’

Turning back to the camera, Kelvin Boyd held one finger to his earpiece. His face expressed the news that just came in.

‘I have just heard. There has been another English atrocity. Out in the North Sea a British Destroyer attacked and sank a Scottish fishing trawler. The number of dead and injured in that attack are not yet known. The names of the victims will be withheld until their next of kin has been informed.’

Putting on a sad clown face, the famous news reporter said. ‘This is Kelvin Boyd – in the town of Bonnie – on a sad day for Scotland – signing off.’

 

Off-camera after checking his microphone was switched off Boyd turned to his cameraman and said. ‘What a load of cobblers.’

 

A little after ten that morning, in the Scottish Parliament Building, Scottish MSP’s and members of the public, packed in like sardines, were waiting for Scotland’s First Minister to stand up and announce the government’s response to these English atrocities. Mary Dewar had her IT techies; rig up huge TV screens in the Assembly Chamber so that in silent rage, her audience could watch Kelvin Boyd’s report. The first video clip showed a shot of a heap of rubble strewn with flowers and single stemmed thistles.

Someone in Bonnie must have thought it a good idea to have the local Am-dram group show up with a handful of children to act like weeping townsfolk, who on cue started sobbing on their knees over the rubble of the cross. When asked by the TV reporter to describe what happened they appeared to be too distressed to talk. Inflamed local men, more vocal than the women, many with red beards, swore revenge on the invaders. The next news clip showed the captured Centurion tank that was parked up outside Bonnie’s Town Hall. Atop its turret a group of young men were shown waving the Scottish flag. Finally, on the TV screens, the audience saw five wet and bedraggled fishermen, wrapped in foil blankets, being led to a fleet of ambulances. A chorus of gasps echoed round the chamber when the TV screens went black.

In condemning the actions of the English the Scottish First Minister said.

‘These unprovoked attacks by the retreating English forces shall not go unpunished. This act of war can only serve to inflame the hearts and minds of the Scottish Nation. The English must expect reprisals.’

 

Later that morning in a hastily assembled meeting of the Scottish Cabinet, it was agreed that Mary Dewar should call Sir Roger Bottomley on the telephone and insist that he explained the actions of his troops, pay substantial recompense to the people of Bonnie, pay to have the bridge and the Celtic cross reinstated and he must also pay for a new trawler and pay the boat’s owners compensation and then make a full and frank public apology.

 

When the call came through to, Sir Roger Bottomley Terry Beaumont was sitting in his office.

‘Whatever you do, don’t admit to anything,’ his SA insisted. ‘You tell her that you are not prepared to make any comment until a full and frank enquiry has looked into the facts… can you manage that?’

‘I am not entirely stupid Beaumont.’

With the speakerphone on Terry listened in.

‘Sir Roger Bottomley,’ Mary barked down the phone, ‘you bumbling fool. This time you have gone too far. You can expect swift reprisals for these cowardly attacks on the Scottish people.’

‘Good morning First Minister,’ the PM said cheerily giving Terry the thumbs up sign. ‘Sorry Mary, but I haven’t a clue what you are on about! What attacks?’ The Prime Minister winked at Beaumont’s grin.

‘Are you serious?’ Mary fumed. ‘It’s all over the news, and don’t even think about denying your complicity in these barbaric attacks. We have all the evidence we need to prove it was your troops that almost destroyed the town of Bonnie. We also have proof it was your navy, acting on your orders, that sunk a Scottish trawler.’

‘We did no such thing.’ Bottomley said and gave Beaumont another wink. Terry nodded his approval. ‘This is a scam Mary, a set –up, that is intended to inflame the situation just to get the Scots to back your stupid UDI nonsense, that is never going to work. I am no fool Mary. You staged this entire thing just to defame and embarrass me.’

Defame you…’ Mary said exasperated. ‘Bottomley, you don’t need my help in that department. You are a walking embarrassment. It is hardly surprising your own MP’s want you gone. Now, enough of this waffle, this is what, you will do: You will replace the trawler that your Destroyer sank and recompense the trawlermen… furthermore, you will pay to have the bridge and the Celtic cross repaired and pay substantial compensation to the townsfolk of Bonnie… and then before you interrupt me, you will go on the TV and you will make a full and unequivocal apology.’

Bottomley looked round at Beaumont who shook his head.

‘Mary, as I said, until the full facts have been examined by a public enquiry, I am unable to make any comment other than to insist we didn’t do it.’

‘Right.’ Mary snarled. ‘In that case Bottomley, you can expect Scotland to carry out swift and decisive counter-strikes.’

Oh,’ said the PM, sitting bolt upright in his chair, ‘are you threatening to wage war against us, because if you are, you might like to reflect on the fact that Scotland has nothing to wage a war with, because we took all your weapons… how do you like them lemons Dewar?’

In Mary’s office, surrounded by her Minsters, the conversation was played out on the intercom. Enraged and exasperated by Bottomley’s attitude, Mary slammed her hand down on the table. She growled.

‘I know what this is about Bottomley,’ Dewar fumed. ‘You can’t fool me. This is a ploy to distract the media from the mess that you made of Brexit and our Independence. Well, like it or not, Scotland is now free of you and your snobbish yobs in Westminster and there is not a thing you can do about it… how do you like them onions, Bottomley?’

‘Them onions are just find Mary,’ Bottomley sneered.’ Because I happen to know you cannot govern Scotland… you cannot pass a single law, not without the Queen signing off your bills, and I can categorically assure you she will never do that. How do you like them potatoes Mary?’

Mary hadn’t intended showing her hand quite yet. She hadn’t planned on telling Bottomley that she had a workaround to the problem of Royal Assent but he got her so mad… ‘Well, let me tell you, you big fat slob. Scotland now has a King. Which means he will sign off our bills… how do you like them bananas Bottomley?’

Sir Roger stared at the phone in his hand now gone dead. ‘She hung up on me Beaumont.’

Terry was looking worried… deeply worried.

‘What is it Beaumont?’ Sir Roger said.

‘Did you not hear what she just said? She said Scotland has a King!’

With a wave of his hand Bottomley dismissed Terry’s concern. ‘Take no notice dear boy. It’s all waffle. More of her claptrap.’

‘Sir Roger,’ Beaumont said sternly, ‘If Scotland has indeed become a monarchy and has got itself a King we are in dead trouble. He will be able to sign off their laws and there is not a thing we can do about it.’

‘Really, it’s that’s serious Beaumont?’ Sir Roger said.

Terry was just thinking that at least the PM was taking the matter seriously when he then said.

‘What did she mean, how do I like them bananas? Has she gone mad?’

Beaumont shook his head. He had better go talk to the people in the legal department. In the doorway, Beaumont paused to look back at Bottomley. ‘Mary, mad! Quiet possibly, Sir Roger.’

After ending the call, Mary Dewar, addressing her Ministers barked.

‘Right. I want all of you out. I have some important business to attend to. In due course I will get back to you individually with a plan of action.’

 

Alone in her office, after locking her door, Mary picked up the phone and made a call.

 

When the phone in Thomas Stickly’s new and empty office rang, he and his staff in Scotland’s newly acquired, Ministry of Defence HQ, were busy unpacking boxes, removing the wrapping from new tables and chairs and setting up their computers.

The newly appointed wet-behind the ears Scottish Defence Minister had only just worked out where the tea bags were being kept and the shortest route to the toilets when he rushed into his office and standing by the window took the call.

‘Thomas,’ Mary said. ‘As my new Defence Minister, I am making you responsible for ensuring Scotland is protected from further attacks by the UK armed forces. What ideas do you have?’

Stickly motioned with his hand that his secretary should listen in on the speakerphone.

‘With respect First Minister,‘ Stickly said. ‘I have only been in post three days and I haven’t had time to catch my breath, what with me having to help unpack boxes…’

‘Stickly, I didn’t make you Defence Minister just so you could play at being happy families.’ Mary shut him up. ‘If you can’t come up with a plan, fine, I will give you one: You are to seize, by force if necessary, a building, or some landmark that the English prize. We will use that as a hostage. When they demand that we give it back we tell them ok, but only if you return the weapons that you stole from us.’

‘First Minister…’

‘Do it Stickly or I will have you replaced.’

Click. The line went dead. Stickly stared at his secretary.

‘Good luck with that.’ Mrs Fotheringay said with a grin.

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Balmoral Castle.

 

For the past twenty-seven years John Brown has been in charge of the day-to-day running of Balmoral Castle the Queens favourite Scottish home. In all that time he has never had the slightest problem with the locals, which wasn’t that surprising seeing as most of them were employed at the Castle.

It was a matter of misfortune and inconvenience that the Queen happened to be in residence when two rather noisy, smoke billowing, Centurion Mk11 tanks, relics of WWII, flying the flag of Scotland on their radio aerials blocked the north and the South entrances to Balmoral Castle.

From an upstairs window, housemaid Candace Ogilvy, when she saw the two tanks roll into position and then aim their guns at the Castle, gasped and then ran down the stairs.

‘Mister Brown… Mister Brown!’

Coming out of the dining hall to see what all the fuss was about, he bumped into the young housemaid.

‘Now then, now then.’ John Brown said, glowering down at the young girl. ‘What is all this fuss about Candace? You know I’ll not have all this shouting and running in the castle.’

Gulping in air, Candace curtsied to him. ‘Yessir, Mister Brown… Sorry, Mister Brown.’ Brown’s beard bristled. This calmed the young woman. ‘Now, what drama have you brought me this time? I do wish you wouldn’t spend quite so much time watching all that rubbish on the television. Downton Abbey is not real you know.’

‘If you’ll excuse me Mr Brown, I thought that you should know there are a couple of tanks blocking both the Castle roads. And a young man wearing a kilt and waving a white flag is walking down the driveway heading towards the house.’

 

From a third floor balcony, John Brown could see Candace Ogilvy hadn’t imagined it – a couple of ancient tanks were indeed blockading both roads that led off the estate. When he recognised the young man struggling down the South Road carrying aloft a white flag attached to a stick John Brown growled. The Master of the house hurried down the stairs and before the young man could ring the doorbell he was standing on the front porch, feet apart and with his arms folded across his barrel chest.

‘What do you want Fergal McLeish?’ Growled John Brown who was known to take his hands to unwanted visitors.

Keeping a safe distance from the gruff Houseman, Fergal, feeling sweaty in his battle fatigues and with his lungs wheezing from the long trek said.

‘I am very sorry to bother you Mr Brown, but the Colonel has instructed me to offer you our terms of surrender.’

John Brown’s bushy eyebrows formed an arch. He glared at the young infantryman.

‘Before I listen to your terms of surrender, young Fergal, perhaps you’d be kind enough to inform me what exactly it is, that I am expected to surrender?’

Private McLeish cleared his throat and read from the piece of paper that was in his shaking hand: “Ahem, Balmoral Castle, being on Scottish soil, is hereby declared to be the rightful property of the Scottish Crown. Notice is hereby given to the occupants of the castle and its estates. You are to leave without delay and should we meet any kind of resistance… any kind at all, even bad mouthing us, we will not be responsible for the consequences.” Fergal looked back up the hill, He could see the tank in the distance. He looked back at the Houseman and then took a step back.

When John Brown lifted his chin it doubled the effect of his beard bristling trick. In a stiff breeze, his heavy kilt swung between his hairy thighs.

‘And should I decide not to accept your terms of surrender, young Fergal, does it say on that piece of paper what the consequences are?’

Fergal turned the paper over.’ Oh,’ he read: “Should John Brown give us any trouble, any sort at all, we reserve the right to use proportional force.”

‘Goodness Fergal, did you pen that?’

‘Gosh no, Mr Brown, it was the Colonel who wrote it.’

‘And which colonel would that be, if it’s not a military secret Fergal?’

‘Oh er, Colonel Appleby sir.’

‘And would that be Jamie Appleby?’ John Brown enquired. ‘Who only last week was lance corporal Appleby?’

‘Yes sir,’ Fergal said glancing back up the long driveway and not looking forward to the long trek back. ‘Jamie was promoted. He is now a Colonel, Mr Brown.’

‘In that case, would you pass on my congratulations to young Jamie Appleby and be sure to tell him that that you have spoken to John Brown and that Balmoral Castle will not be surrendering. Also, can you tell the Colonel that if he doesn’t move those thundering heaps of scrap iron off the estate immediately, I shall come up there and box his ears. Can you manage that Fergal?’

 

Like many things in life, the siege of Balmoral followed a string of consequential happenings, occurrences if you will. It all started with Mary Dewar’s idea that her new Scottish Defence Minister should pay a bedside visit to the Aberdeen hospital where the crew of the Merry Boson were being kept in for observation.

After a staged photo-shoot, Thomas Stickly hurried from the hospital and found his driver Brenda Stewart waiting by his government car.

‘Thank you Brenda,’ Stickly said to his driver who was holding the rear door open as he climbed in the back of the car.

Once out on the open road, Brenda called back over her shoulder.

‘Where to, boss?’

‘I am starving. Can we go someplace quiet, maybe a village pub? I believe you know this area, so I’ll let you choose.’

The driver thought about that for a moment and then said.

‘ I have somewhere in mind. It’s very quiet and the food is to die for. Have you ever been to the town Baldinnet?’

‘Erm, no,’ Stickly said. ‘The name rings a bell. Isn’t it famous for something?’

‘Baldinnet is the nearest town to Balmoral Castle,’ Brenda said pulling away from a set of traffic lights. ‘The shops provide much of the produce used at the Castle, you’ll see the Royal coat of arms above some of the family run stores.’

For Stickly, this was like a lightbulb moment. He recalled Mary Dewar’s words. “You are to seize, by force if necessary, a building, or some landmark prized by the English.”

 

Over dinner and after a knocking off a bottle of wine, Stickly, a little tiddly now, looked about him before he leaned across the table and in a conspiratorial manner said.

‘Brenda, you must promise me that you’ll not breathe a word of what I am about to tell you.’

Thinking that Thomas was about to complain that his wife doesn’t understand him, (hasn’t she heard that one a few times?) Brenda smiled and made a zipping motion across her lips. ‘Mums the word.’

 

To her credit, like most chauffer’s, Brenda could be relied upon to keep quiet about the things she saw and heard, however, when her boss told her what he was planning, she wished he hadn’t confided in her.

After they’d eaten, the Defence Minister told Brenda he wanted to check out Balmoral Castle. It would certainly make a suitable target. It was an iconic building and much prized by the English tourists. After a little discrete digging Stickly discovered that for the next few weeks the Castle would be closed to visitors… perfect, he thought.

With Brenda’s help and making good use of her local contacts, Stickly learned that Baldinnet had a small, but active, Scottish Civil Defence unit… a bit like a Dad’s Army type of thing. Then things got really exciting when he learned in a lock-up in the town there were two World War II tanks that the British Army had left behind, presumably abandoned because they were so clapped out they would never have made it as far as the border. Stickly could hardly believe his luck!

Stickly’s meeting with the ragbag, part-time soldiers took place in the local car repair workshop where they showed him the tanks, being kept under tarpaulins. After explaining that he was the new Scottish Defence Minister, he had them line up as if they were on a parade ground. Walking along the line he inspected their uniforms, a collection of army bits and bobs. Stopping at Jamie Appleby the Defence Minister said.

‘You look like a bright young man. What’s you name?’

Lance Corporal, Jamie Appleby, reporting for duty, sir.

‘Well, Lance Corporal Appleby, how would you like to become a Colonel?’

Appleby looked around at his mates who were trying not to laugh.

‘I would like that very much sir.’

‘You see, Appleby, I am looking for a man of courage to handle a secret mission,’ Stickly placed a hand on Appleby’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. ’I need a man with leadership skills, someone courageous who would be prepared to lay his life on the line for Scotland. What do you say, Colonel Appleby?’

‘Sure, I’m up for that. What do I have to do… in this secret mission?’

‘Your mission is to seize Balmoral Castle.’

‘What!’ The whole platoon chorused, shocked.

‘Are you saying you want me to seize Balmoral Castle?’ Jamie said, shrinking back. ‘I’m not sure I can do that Mr Stickly, sir.’

‘Colonel Appleby, are you refusing to carry out a direct order?’

No sir.’ Appleby shouted and squared his shoulders.

‘Good. I am ordering you to use both of those tanks to block the roads. You will then demand that the occupants the Castle vacate it immediately and hand the keys over to you. You are then to secure the roads and the perimeter. You will make the Castle your command post. Is that clear, Colonel?’

‘Yes sir… only… John Brown, the Master of the house, he can be a cussed old fool and he might refuse to leave.’

Stickly, glowered at the young man. ‘In that situation, Colonel, you are authorised by your national government to use proportional force to achieve your military objectives.’

After the Minister had left and now feeling quite excited about his mission, Jamie Appleby was thinking, this’ll show old misery guts John Brown that I’m not the village idiot.

A year ago the Houseman had sacked Jamie after finding the kitchen porter asleep in Her Majesty’s four-poster bed. What was bad, worse actually, mortally embarrassing actually, was that John Brown boxed his ears in front of the assembled staff. The experience still burned in Jamie’s gut. He was looking forward to seeing the big man walk out the castle with nowhere else to live.

 

The last time that Jamie Appleby’s Centurion tanks saw any action was in 1944. Jamie, the self-appointed, battalion commander, split his men into two platoons as he called them. In his own tank that was blockading the North Road he had, Gunner, Fergal McLeish, who when he wasn’t playing at being a soldier, worked on the fish counter in Morrisons. The Radio operator was Donald (Ginger) Bantywise who was currently unemployed. The tank driver was eighty-two years old Callum Bannister. Callum ran the village car repair workshop. And it was his mechanical wizardry that got the decrepit old tanks working again… to a degree!

The crew of the tank that Jamie had despatched to the other side of the Castle with orders to blockade the South Road, consisted of Fred Goodfellow – Radio Operator and the town’s butcher. The Gunner was the town’s postmaster, Walter Perch. Marje Parsonage, who was the dinner lady at the local primary school and a bell-ringer at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, was ably assisting Ben Carpenter, the tank driver. Marge was only in the tank because she had a thing about Ben who was discontented in his marriage to Gwen, who couldn’t care less, that he was seeing someone else.

In terms of weaponry, Jamie’s men were in possession of two, 1913– bolt action Lee –Enfield rifles with no ammo. In his tank there were four flares that were now decomposed and petty unstable. He himself had a Webley Officers Revolver Mk II with a broken trigger.

In the turret of the Command Tank, wearing an aviator’s flying hat with earflaps and a pair of fogged goggles strung round his neck, thinking he looked the part of a proper Tank Commander, Jamie was scouting the Castle that lay nestled in a valley beneath two wooded hillsides. Earlier he had discovered in a well beneath the drivers seat a single, rusty-looking 17-pounder shell. With great care he pulled it out and left it to one side. He had no intention of firing the thing. He wasn’t that stupid.

With some difficulty he managed to partially focus his rusted binoculars on Fergal who was trudging back up the steep driveway. Jamie imagined John Brown must be terrified.

 

‘And you told John Brown what I would do if he didn’t leave?’ Jamie said to Fergal.

‘Jamie, I read out, word for word, your surrender terms. And I told him if he didn’t leave right away you would use proportional force to evict him and take over the Castle.’

‘And what did he say to that?’

‘He said I was to tell you, “if you don’t remove those thundering filthy tanks from my grounds I shall use proportional force on your backside. And had you forgotten the time I boxed your ears?’

‘He said that!’ Jamie said, embarrassed at the memory and feeling his cheeks heat up.

‘Well John Brown doesn’t scare me,’ Jamie fumed. ‘I have orders to take the castle and that’s exactly what I intend to do… Fergal, load that shell into the breech.’

Fergal went bug-eyed. ‘Jamie, you’re not thinking of firing the bloody thing?’

‘I am going to fire a warning shot over the roof of the Castle. When John Brown sees a shell go whizzing over his head, he’ll come out quick enough. I can’t wait to see that old fool come running out of his precious Castle with his hands in the air.’

Fergal was worried.

‘I… I really think Jamie, sorry, Colonel, that you should first check with General McFlaggen. Why don’t you get him on the tank radio?’

*

Now nursing grave doubts about the idiot that he’d put in charge of seizing Balmoral Castle, Thomas Stickly was worried that if this all blew up in his face Mary Dewar was sure to publicly string him up. He was now thinking of having a high-ranking military figure take charge. That way if it all went pear-shaped he could offload the blame.

He had a name in mind. Someone he once met at a military briefing session.

 

General McFlaggen, Commander of the Ninth Highlanders, wasn’t happy when he received a message to say he was to go to the new Defence Minister’s office right away.

Ignoring the sullen attitude of the man standing the other side of his desk, Stickly told the General about his plan to take over Balmoral Castle.

‘And you are being serious?’ McFlaggen said, appalled and at the same time hardly able to believe the man’s stupidity.

Stung by this Stickly snapped. ‘I have my own orders General and now I am giving you yours. When the assault takes place you are to make yourself available to my commander via a field telephone and advise as necessary.’

The General just able to conceal the hideous contempt he felt for the politician kept his voice low. ‘With respect Minister, the plan is crap and even if it wasn’t, I’m afraid I shall be out of the country.’

‘Really! I haven’t yet told you when it is going to happen.’

The General with a shrug smiled. ‘With due respect sir, you can take this ridiculous plan of yours and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.’

‘General, must I remind you I am the Minister for Defence,’ Stickily snapped. ‘I am giving you a direct order. If you refuse to do this I shall have you Court Marshalled.

 

After he slammed the door on his way out, McFlaggen muttered to himself, ‘Sod that! When this farce kicks off I’ll make sure I am out of the country.’

 

Jamie had managed to put out of his mind, the time that John Brown had humiliated him. Now, having calmed down a bit he was thinking straight. Maybe Fergal had a point? Before I authorise lethal force it’s probably advisable to get the General’s approval.

’Ginger,’ Jamie yelled down the hole. ‘Get me the General on the radio?’

‘I can try Jamie, but mostly all I seem to get is BBC Radio -Two.’

Jamie dropped down inside the Challenger and watched Ginger wearing a pair of battered old headphones twiddle the dials. After a good deal of tutting Ginger offered the Colonel his headgear. ‘I think that’s him?’

Placing the headphones on his head Appleby said into the microphone. ‘General, we have a prob…’ Snatching the headphones off his head, the Colonel threw them at the radio operator. ‘What the hell Ginger! I was listening to the bloody Archers.’

‘Sorry Colonel,’ Ginger said, ‘I can’t seem to find the right frequency.’

After a wasted half hour trying to raise the General on the field telephone and with the engine of the tank sounding as if at any minute it was going to conk out, Jamie Appleby needed to make a decision. Addressing his gunner, he said.

‘Private McLeish, do you have the gun loaded and ready to fire?’

‘Well, no Jamie,’ Fergal said, scared. ‘We really shouldn’t chance firing it.’

‘It’s Colonel, to you, Private McLeish. You will do as I say or I will have you put on a charge. Get the shell in the hole.

Afraid the shell was going to explode in his face, Jamie carefully slid the 17-pounder into the breech and then somewhat relieved slammed the door. He then had to double-check which of the buttons on the console was the fire button. Fergal was thinking, surely Jamie wasn’t stupid enough to actually give him the order to fire?

 

Appleby now peering down the barrel of the gun, was trying to work out a trajectory that should the shell actually fly out the barrel would see it sail harmlessly over the roof of the Castle. According to the bug-eaten manual that he’d found in the toolbox – the big gun – the one that was poking out the front of the tank, had a range of three miles. Worst-case scenario, the shell might make a direct hit on the tank on the other side of the Castle. He doubted anything that bad was going to happen. Taking a bearing on a flag that was flapping on a post attached to one of the chimneystacks he gave Fergal the order.

‘Forty degrees vertical–15 degrees east.’

Fergal stared at the dials and handles. He hadn’t a clue what any of these did so he took a punt and fiddled with a couple of the knobs and dials. Peering through the letterbox slit in the armoured steel, he thought the barrel of the gun looked about right.

‘Armed and ready to fire.’ He called up to Jamie who was sitting on the rim of the hole with his legs dangling and getting in the way. Gunner McLeish, with his thumb hovering over the red fire button was holding his breath and thinking that even if he did press the fire button there was a good chance that nothing would actually happen. Worst-case scenario, and much more likely, was the shell would get jammed in the rusty barrel, explode and then kill them all.

Jamie peering through the fuzzy aviator goggles with the cracked lens was thinking along similar lines. He too didn’t actually believe the gun would fire. And that suited him. He would then call up the Defence Minister and tell him the mission had failed and that he no longer wanted to be a Colonel.

‘See that flag on the chimney Fergal, we are going to shoot that down. That’ll flush em out.’ Jamie grinned. After this was over, he and the lads would share a beer in the White Hart and then laugh about how their mission had fizzled out.

 

Fergal couldn’t see the flag that Jamie was going on about and did it matter anyway? The gun was never going to fire, and even if it did, they were all going to die in this stinking sardine can. With his thumb rested on the Fire button, and with his heart in his mouth he waited for the order.

‘Ready – aim…’

Fergal had his eyes squeezed shut.

‘Fire.’ Jamie yelled.

When Fergal punched the fire button the bang almost stopped his heart. The front of the tank reared up and the inside of the cockpit filled up with a cloud of eye-stinging smoke.

Choking on the fumes, Fergal climbed up out of the cockpit and sucked in a lungful of diesel stinking air. His ears were ringing but above that he could hear someone moaning. He looked over the back of the tank and saw Jamie, rolling in the dirt and complaining that his back was hurting.

When Colonel Appleby was able to get to his feet he limped round to the front of the tank fully expecting to see the gun barrel was split open like a banana skin.

‘Wha…’ He gasped staring at the smoke coming out the gun barrel. ’Where’d that shell go?’

‘Jamie look.’ Fergal shouted.

Painfully Colonel Appleby turned on his heels to see where his gunner was pointing. ‘Holy shit! Did we do that?’

‘No, Jamie, you did that.’ Fergal complained. ‘It was you who made me shoot a hole in the Castle roof and I am not going to be around when John Brown sees what you just did.’

 

The Queen’s standard that only a couple of minutes ago was flapping in the breeze above the Castle roof, was now hanging limply at half-mast. Through a hole in the roof a spiral of black smoke rose up into a cloudless sky.

While the others high-five’d each other, Jamie and Fergal looked at each other. This was not good.

Below stairs in the Castle kitchens, John Brown was eating his lunch, when he looked up at what sounded like a bomb going off. Before he could get up off his chair the windows in the house shook. Something had slammed into the building. His first thoughts were for safety of the Queen and the Duke who were taking a nap in their third floor bedroom. He sprinted up the stairs and came around the landing. He was almost felled by the chunk of ceiling that had been brought down by the flood of water up in the roof space.

Bypassing protocol, Brown burst into the Royal Bedroom and looked up at a hole in the ornate plaster celling through which a waterfall was falling on the top of the Queens four-poster bed.

‘What the bloody Hell… Brown.’ The Duke cried, slipping his legs out the bed and grabbing hold of his trousers. ‘Do something man before the wife drowns.‘

‘Right away, Your Highness,’ Brown said not sure of the protocol in this situation.

‘Has the tank in the roof burst?’ The Duke enquired looking down at his trousers that he’d put on back to front.

‘No your Highness,’ Brown said, trying to remain calm. ‘I believe someone fired a tank shell through the roof.’

‘Oh,’ remarked the Queen, spitting out plaster dust. ‘Well, can’t be helped.’ Her Majesty said stoically. ‘We saw a lot of that sort of thing during the war, didn’t we Pip?’

The Duke looked round at his wife who was sitting up in bed with her hair plastered to her head and her face chalky white. ‘You ok darkling? You look a little pasty.’

‘Don’t fuss Pip.’ The Queen said.’

The satin canopy over the bed was now bowing under the constant deluge of water. The Duke was hopping on one foot still trying to pull on his trousers and John Brown, looking at the uprights of the four-poster bed saw they were now bowing inwards. He mentioned. ‘I think it advisable that your Majesty get out of the bed before the canopy comes down on you.’

 

Her Majesty looks up. ‘Oh, I see. Thank you Brown, now would you mind?’ The Queen pointed at the door. ‘My robe is hanging on the back of the door. Would you fetch it please? I shouldn’t worry about my slippers. I can see that they are sodden.’

Considering the unusual situation, Her Majesty, always an icon of propriety, sitting up in her bed and covered in plaster dust with water dripping on her head was looking remarkably composed.

*

In the House of Commons, the British Prime Minister was facing another motion of no confidence. God, I could really do with some help here. Then as if his prayers had been answered one of his aides handed him a slip of paper. Reading this his hand began to shake.

‘Mister Speaker!’ Sir Roger yelled above the jeering and the laughter.

It took the Speaker of the House a few minutes to silence the heckling MP’s’

‘The Prime Minister has the floor.’

‘Thank you Mister Speaker,’ Sir Roger said waving the piece of paper the aide had passed him. In a voice cracked with emotion, he announced.

‘I have just received news of an attack on our Queen. An hour ago, while Her Majesty and the Duke were at Balmoral Castle, a squadron of Scottish tanks laid siege to Balmoral Castle and when the Queen and the Duke refused to surrender the Castle to these traitors they shelled the building.’ Sir Roger waited for the gasps and mutterings to cease. ‘Fortunately, the Queen and her husband were not harmed. Members of the House,’ Sir Roger intoned. ‘I believe this cowardly attempt to assassinate our Queen was the work of this usurper, this, vile man that the Scots, in defiance of international law, claim to be their King. Members of the House, rest assured this cowardly attack on her Majesty while she was taking an afternoon nap, shall not go unpunished. All other parliamentary business is suspended. I shall straightaway, meet with COBRA. I can assure the house, I shall, use every means at my disposal to bring the Scots to heel.’

Incensed by the Scot’s audacious attack on their monarch, COBRA agreed on a series of punitive measures designed to punish the Scots for the attack and for having the audacity to leave the UK. A blockade of Scottish seaports would disrupt their fishing industry. In addition to this, tariffs were to be imposed on all imports to the UK. The UK will forthwith cancel all grants and loans and all current and impending government contracts were to be cancelled. Then, should these not work a number of other sanctions would be put in place.

Sir Roger, having got these measures agreed, said.

‘Whilst these sanctions will undoubtedly hurt the Scottish economy I firmly believe this situation cannot possibly be contained until we have dealt with this usurper king.’

When the meeting had finished, walking back to his office, Sir Roger rolled his eyes heavenwards and said. ‘Thank you God.’

*

Ten past four that afternoon, alone in his apartment library, Gavin looked up from his book when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps.

‘What’s happened Cruid?’ Gavin said laying the book aside. The man looked grey with worry.

‘I’m afraid I have some rather shocking news. Earlier today two tanks that were crewed by Scottish troops mounted an assault on Balmoral Castle and in that attack a shell went through the roof of Balmoral Castle. Fortunately, Her Majesty and the Duke, who were in residence at the time, were unharmed.’

‘Oh my word! Are you serious?’ Gavin said alarmed. ‘That is dreadful. And you say it was the Scots who did this? That can’t be right. The Scots love the Queen. You must have got that wrong Cruid?’

‘I’m afraid there can be no doubt who did it. The Castle staff recognised the perpetrators as local people who had formed some sort of local militia.’

‘And you say the shell came from a tank?’ Gavin said. ‘But I thought we didn’t have any weapons.’

‘The Houseman at Balmoral Castle thinks the tanks were very old World War Two tanks abandoned by the British army.’

‘Ok, say it was the Scots who did it, which makes no sense at all. They would have been acting on someone’s orders? I want know who sanctioned it.’

Cruid was thinking that Mary was behind it but he wasn’t prepared to say that.

Chapter Sixteen

 

Following his rather low-key, slightly disappointing Coronation, King Robert IV, was rather hoping that he could now roll up his sleeves, metaphorically speaking, and get stuck in and help his newly adopted country withstand the punitive sanctions imposed by Westminster that was putting tens of thousands out of work. When he reminded Mary Dewar that he was the Head of Parking Enforcement in Marbury and was in charge of a staff of almost a hundred people and that she should make use of his experience, she had him go plant a few trees and open a few garden fetes.

After a few weeks of this and growing impatient he demanded that he be given something useful to do.

Upon hearing this Mary Dewar smiled. ‘He is playing right into our hands Cruid. Time to put our plan into action. Starting right away, get him signing off bills, overload him with them.’

 

‘Oh ok,’ Gavin said to Cruid who had just dumped a stack of folders on his desk. ‘So this is what you mean by Royal Assent eh? And all I have to do is sign them off? Ok, show me where I need to sign.’

Cruid opened up one of the Parliamentary Bills and tapping his curved fingernail on the dotted line next to the wax seal he said. ‘You sign just here.’

Flicking through the pages Gavin said. ‘What exactly is this law that I am supposed to sanction? I don’t understand a word of this legal mumbo-jumbo.’

‘Quite,’ Cruid said about to leave Gavin with it. ‘Me neither but the legal people do. All you need do is sign it.’

‘Leave them with me Cruid,’ Gavin said going to the first page of the topmost folder. ‘I expect I shall soon learn how to translate them.’

Cruid paused at the door. ‘If I were you I wouldn’t bother reading them through. I’m sure the Queen doesn’t.’

‘Ah but she has any number of advisers to help her and all I have is you.’ Gavin said, pointing his pen at the Minister.

Stung by this and with his hand on the door handle Cruid said. ‘As I said I wouldn’t bother reading them. You’ll spend all day at it and still not understand a word of it.’

‘I can’t do that Cruid,’ Gavin called out as the door closed. ‘I shall have to read them.’

Out in the corridor, Cruid shook his head and muttered. ‘Shit!’

 

After a week of signing off the Parliamentary Bills Gavin was starting to think that Cruid was right, they made no sense to him. He was now frustrated at the apparent lack of urgency and the ineptitude of Mary Dewar who should be in Scotland working hard to save the Scottish economy rather than spend much of her time in Brussels trying to convince the EU Commissioners to let Scotland join them via a back-door deal.

Frustrated that the Bills were making no sense at all, he began signing them off willy-nilly.

When Cruid relayed this to Mary Dewar she rubbed her hands. ‘Time to set the trap.’ She said gleefully. ‘Do you have the Bill prepared?’

‘This is it.’ Cruid said laying on her desk another unremarkable looking folder. ‘Pages of waffle and then buried at the back is the clause that will end the need for Royal Assent.’ Cruid looked relieved. Mary looked delighted.

‘Give it to him today and place it at the bottom of a pile of other pointless ones. By tonight he will have signed his own death warrant.’

At his desk, alone in his study, Gavin stared hard at the pile of bills that Cruid had just dropped in. Cruid had left with hardly a word. He gave Gavin a: “Good morning” and a “Goodbye,” and that were all! That was unusual. Gavin counted the spines of the folders. There were twenty-four in all, about the average. Taking the top one he flicked to the back page and added his signature alongside his title: King Robert IV Of Scotland. He needed to remind himself that this was important Royal Assent stuff that only a monarch had the authority to do.

When he got to the last folder, having heard enough of the voice in his head telling him, read it, you are getting very sloppy… and lazy. One page at a time he started reading it. ‘Waffle’, he decided. ‘Thank God it’s the last one.’

 

Fiona was watching TV when her husband hurried into the lounge carrying one of the brown folders that she always leaves him to deal with, he’s good at that sort of thing. ‘What wrong honey?’ She said seeing the look on his face.

‘Take a look at this,’ Gavin said sitting down beside her on the sofa and hitting the off button on the TV remote. Gavin pointed out the relevant paragraph. He trusted Fiona’s sharp mind.

She read it twice. She looked up at Gavin, her eyes wide.

‘Is this saying what I think it does?’

Gavin nodded. ‘Cruid and Mary Dewar have been planning this all along. They kept feeding me with these until I got bored of reading them and then slipped this one in at the bottom of the pile.’

‘What would have happened if you had signed it?’ Fiona said.

‘I would have annulled the law that required all Parliamentary Bills to have Royal Assent and as a consequence Scotland would no longer need a king.’

Fiona felt her blood chill. ‘The rats!’

‘Exactly, but luckily they didn’t get away with it.’

‘What are you going to do now Gav. It’s clear they got us up here under false pretences. They only ever wanted a king to kill off the Royal Assent clause. I feel gutted and bloody angry actually.’

‘Me too.’

‘We could just pack up and go home and leave them in a mess and that would serve them right.’

‘Yes we could, if that’s what you really want, but I am thinking about the Scottish people who have taken us to their hearts. Having fought for their Independence they don’t deserve this. I really don’t think that I can abandon the Scottish people at this time. Sir Roger Bottomley announced yesterday that he was imposing further sanctions against us. With millions now out of work and thousands made homeless by the heartless actions of the banks, how could I leave.’

‘But if we stay, I don’t see what you can do to help. You are a King but you don’t have any real power. We have to face the facts Gav; you are a king in name only.’

‘I know that but I want to fight back Fi. Will you support me?’

Fiona pulled her husband into a hug and kissed him firmly on the lips. ‘You know I will Gav. I love your courage but we must be careful. I don’t trust Mary Dewar or Cruid.’

‘Then we will stay and see this through.’ Gavin said smiling. ‘And if at any time you decide that this isn’t working for you and you want to go back to Marbury, you only need say.’

Fiona gave Gavin a high-five. ‘Ok. That’s a deal.’

Gavin nodded, His face became grave. ‘Fi, we are going to need a plan and we shall need allies. I want you to do me a favour.’

‘Of course,’ Fiona said quite excited now. ‘What do you want me to do?’

‘Do you get a sense that both, Penny and Henry, don’t care much for Cruid and Mary Dewar? I think they are unhappy at the way the pair of them carry on.’

‘Yeah, I do actually. I look at Henry whenever Mary Dewar’s name comes up and he looks as if he is growling.’

‘If we had them both on our side, I would feel a lot happier.’

‘So, you want me to come right out and ask them?’

‘Start with Penny,’ Gavin said. ‘Maybe take her out shopping, do some girlie stuff to get her talking. Sound her out. Find out her views. And then casually ask her about Henry’s loyalties.’

*

The next day when Cruid arrived at the Palace apartment to collect the pile of bills that he’d left for him to sign, Gavin sensed there was an air of frostiness in his manner. Seeing as Cruid was expecting to collect the one bill that would end the monarchy, his demeanour was not so surprising. The Minister seemed anxious to get away.

‘All done then?‘ Cruid said nodding at the neat stack of uniform brown folders on Gavin’s desk. ’All signed off?’

‘Uh uh.’ Gavin said keeping his arms folded.

‘I’ll just get them out of your way then shall I?’ Cruid gathered the pile up in his arms. ‘I imagine you must be bored signing these off? I know I would.‘ Cruid made a sound that could have been a laugh. ‘All this legal, stuff, frankly, leaves me cold. Still, it has to be done and I am sure the people of Scotland appreciate your valuable contributions.’ Cruid headed over to the door. ‘Well, I had better dash off. I have a lot on today. I’ll get these over to Mary.’ Cruid dipped his head. ‘Why don’t you take a day off? You and Fiona should do some sightseeing. I don’t think you both get out enough.’

‘See you around Cruid.’ Gavin said, waving the Minister away.

Outside in the corridor Cruid reflected on the way Gavin had said that. It was as if he knew something!

 

After leaving the Palace, Cruid went straight over to Mary’s office. When he dropped the pile of government bills on Mary’s desk he was actually grinning.

‘It worked then?’ Mary said getting up off her chair and looking down on the heap of identical folders.

‘He handed them over with hardly a word.’ Cruid said, looking gleeful. ‘We did it Mary. We can now get rid of the King and we can now sign off our own laws.’

‘Which one is it?’ Mary said spreading the folders out on her desk.

‘It’s this one,’ Cruid said pointing out one from the heap of anonymous looking brown folders. ‘See, I put a spot of red ink on the top corner.’

‘Brilliant Cruid,’ Mary said, snatching it up. ‘Let’s see where he signed it.’ Mary opened the folder, licked her finger and then flicked through the pages till she got to the page the King had to sign.

When he saw Dewar’s face go dark with rage the smile fell from Cruid’s lips.

‘What’s up Mary?’ Cruid had to crane his long neck to see where Mary was stabbing her finger. ‘Oh, no!’ Cruid groaned. ’I don’t believe it.’

Mary thrust the papers into Cruid’s chest. ‘See what he did? He wrote: ‘Good try folks. I am not leaving.”

Mary straightened up and glared Cruid. ‘He’s on to us.’

Cruid nodded. ‘I don’t understand it. For weeks now, just as we planned, he has been signing them off without checking them. Now that he knows what we were up to he is never going to sign that bill and he is not going to abdicate. So what ideas you got now? ’

‘Ok, so that didn’t work. We don’t panic. Now we go to plan B.’

‘Do we have a plan B?

‘I do, but you won’t like it.’

 

Gavin, his head full of conspiracy theories, was pacing his office. Now that he thinks about it, the way Mary Dewar has been acting towards him, hardly able to speak to him, it all fits. She had never wanted a monarch. She had Cruid track him down only because without his signature on her Parliamentary Bills they would be useless. Not only had she fooled him, she had also fooled her own party and the Scottish people. For a moment he wonders if he should go public with what he knows. Then he thinks, what exactly do I know? I know that Dewar tried to get me to sign a bill… then isn’t that what I do? How does that prove anything? On reflection, other than bide his time, play his cards close to his chest, there isn’t a lot he can do. He then thinks, there is one thing I can do. It won’t make much difference but it will make me feel a little better.

Gavin crossed the road in front of the Queen’s Gallery with its huge oak doors and arched stonework picked out in gold, and entered the Scottish Parliament Building by way of the public entrance. Following the hype of his Coronation, admittedly, not the grand affair, he’d been expecting, he was now getting recognised when he went out and about. The armed policeman just inside the entrance nodded in recognition. Gavin smiled and nodded back. Ok, so he doesn’t need a security pass to get inside the building. To get into the staff areas he was going to need a pas and he couldn’t see Mary Dewar permitting that. It must have been his lucky day because as he crossed the coolly lit entrance lobby with its curved polished concrete celling embossed with the cross of St David, a young female tour guide came running over.

‘Your Majesty, gosh!’ She said, her smile beaming. ‘Can I help you?’

Marie, the name on her blouse badge, was from Idaho. She was studying European History at Edinburgh University.

‘Thank you Marie,’ Gavin said smiling. ‘I do believe you can. You see without a security pass I’m not able to get up inside the building, and to be truthful I haven’t had time to arrange one. Would you be good enough to get me one?’

‘Oh, wow. No problem Your Majesty. You just come right on through to the back office and I will take a quick photo of you and then get it done. It’s that simple.’

Five minutes later, after chatting amiably to the back office staff, Gavin left with his security pass attached to a special lanyard with the royal yellow lion embroidered on it.

 

It was a Tuesday, which meant Parliament was in recess. The MSP’s would all be back in their constituencies. The only people about were a handful of tourists, a couple of tour guides, the security people and the folk who worked in the café and the shops. When Gavin tried out his new pass in the lift. It worked!

 

When he was told the First Minister and the Minister for Internal Affairs was not expected in today, for now, Gavin was satisfied that he could now make his way around the Parliament Building.

Gavin left via a staff exit that took him out onto Cannongate. Turning left he carried on past Cannongate Kirk, the church where the Queen and her family worshipped on their Edinburgh visits. To keep people from recognising him he kept the peak of his baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes.

A couple of hundred yards on, he crossed the junction with Jeffrey Street. On his right was St Mary’s Street. This part of town was always packed with tourists. Up ahead he could see the towering heights of Edinburgh Castle. When he reached North Bridge where it crossed the High Street, the tourists and the street buskers were clogging up the pavements. A Japanese tourist’s selfie-stick almost took his eye out. Wanting to get away from the crowds he ducked into a side alley and stopped just inside the entrance. What had attracted his attention was the faded sign painted in white on the brickwork: Old Fishmarket Close.

The narrow sloping foot-worn passage was deep in shadows. His skin under his clothes feels damp. He looks up at the towering tenement buildings on either side of him. They feel as if they were about to fall in on him. He could imagine the cold stones beneath his feet had never have seen daylight in five hundred years. His guidebook told him, in Tudor times, deep beneath his feet and below the bustling shops, families of twenty or more people along with their cattle and fowl would lived in stinking dark hovels. He shuddered recalling how the Black Plague carried on the fleas of rats had decimated the population of Scotland. In part, it was the plague that drove the Scottish King, James the First of Scotland from Holyrood Palace.

On 5th April 1603, following the death of Queen Elizabeth King James became King James VI of England. He then moved the Royal Court down to London promising the Scottish people that he would return every three years, a promise he never he kept. Despite the dereliction of these ancient buildings it was still a wonder to Gavin how the property developers hadn’t moved into the area. He hoped they never would.

At the far end of Old Fishmarket Close, Gavin was glad to step out into sunlight. After a hundred yards and making a couple of wrong turns, he found himself on Cowgate. Thirsty, now and feeling hungry, he found a café that wasn’t too crowded. He took his latte and a cheese croissant outside and sat at a vacant table. A couple of tables down from his own, a young man and woman, were tapping on their mobile phones. He was glad the wind was taking their cigarette smoke the other way.

Lost in his thoughts, the sound of the traffic and the hubbub of people talking became background noise. Thinking about what little clout the King of Scotland had was depressing. He wondered if there were MSP’s, perhaps those who were not in Mary Dewar’s political party, who might be prepared to support him in a move to challenge Dewar’s authority? He dismissed the idea as a non-starter. People tell him that Dewar has Parliament sewn up. People would not dare cause her any trouble. Gavin found her obsession with getting Scotland into the EU, seemingly at any price, frustrating. To his mind she should be doing something about the UK naval blockade of the Scottish fishing ports. She should be doing something about the English owned banks undoubtedly bowing to the wishes of Number 10, needlessly calling in loans, bankrupting small businesses and throwing people out on the street for missing a single mortgage repayment. It seemed nobody in the Scottish Government had the courage to stand up for the ordinary people being thrown out of work or being forced to accept zero hours contracts? And what was Mary Dewar doing while all this was going on? Traipsing around the Capitals of Europe wooing the EU commissioners who treated her like some irritating child.

Upset for the plight of the Scottish people and angered by the actions of the UK Government, Gavin could feel something stir deep inside him. It was as if the souls of his Scottish ancestors were rising up and demanding that he do something.

After paying the bill, he left a tip and made his way back to the Palace. Opening the door to his apartment Gavin wondered if Fiona had managed to wheedle anything out of Penny? He really needed some allies. He liked Henry and Penny. He could really do with their allegiance. They are familiar with the physical and the political landscape. They also know many people who might be useful to him.

The following morning, 8.45, in a determined mood and making good use of his new security pass Gavin made his way over to Mary Dewar’s office.

Gavin didn’t bother knocking. He walked straight in on her and Cruid.

Poring over the Bill, that Gavin should have signed and was wondering if there was any way the document could be doctored to make it work, Mary looked up when her door flew open. When she saw it was Brewson she quickly shut the folder and then dropped it on the floor down by her feet. She smiled at him.

‘Your Majesty…’ Mary began.

He cut her short. ‘Don’t bother with all that Your Majesty crap. I found you out didn’t I? You two had been planning on a scam to get rid of me. Don’t try denying it. I know that you planned to trick me into signing the bill that would end the need for Royal Assent. What I don’t understand is why you just didn’t come out and say this was what you wanted. You never know, I might have gone along with it?’

Mary shrugged. There was no point in denying it.

‘Ok, so you found us out. So what,’ Mary said, with a sly smile on her face. ‘It changes nothing. I still need that bill signed and I still need you gone. So, lets’ cut the crap. How much?’

‘Huh?’

‘Don’t be dim Brewson, how much is it going to cost me to buy you off? How about we strike a deal. You sign off the bill and then you publicly abdicate, do us all a favour. And in return I pay you, what? Say, ten grand… cash? Call it severance pay? What do you say? We got a deal?’

Gavin scoffed. ‘So it’s Brewson now is it? No more Your Majesty, Dewar? We got the gloves off eh?’

Mary shrugged. Her eyes look mean. ‘Lets just agree no more games eh? You came up here looking for a free lunch and a little power and glory didn’t you? Be honest with me?’

Gavin shook his head. He looked round at Cruid who was studying his shoes.

‘Dewar, you really are a piece of work,’ Gavin scoffed. ‘I am not having this conversation with you. You can’t buy me off!’

‘Ok, call it fifteen grand, plus first class rail tickets to take the lot of you back to the back-street dump you crawled out of.’

Gavin was shaking his head. ‘You just don’t get it Dewar. Unlike you, I am not corruptible. I am staying… you got that? You can’t buy me off. And let me tell you. I shall find the means to bring you both down.’

Mary laughed out loud. ‘You know what Brewson? You are a joke. So what are you going to do? Are you planning on staying here like some kind of fraudster, just so you can act like a king, when you can’t even scratch your arse without my say-so? Trust me Brewson; you wont like the way I play. Take the ten K and leave.’

‘I thought it was fifteen?’

‘It was till you pissed me off. You got one week, then it goes down to five grand.’

Mary waved a hand at the door.’ Close the door on your way out… Your Majesty.’ She sneered.

Gavin let the door swing shut behind him.

Mary turned to Cruid and said.

‘You heard that? He has to go.’

‘I agree Mary but, you heard him, he says he isn’t going to abdicate.’

‘Then we must apply a little pressure. Force him out.

‘Great, but how do we do that?’

‘I have a couple of ideas.’

Shaking his hands either side of his head Cruid pleaded. ’Please, Mary, I don’t want to hear this.’

‘Then you had better leave old man because I need to make a phone call.’

 

After Cruid had gone, Mary took out her mobile phone and found the number she wanted in her contacts list.

After two rings, he picked up.

‘Hello, Marcus speaking – Funerals –Twenty– Four – Seven.’

‘Marcus, It’s Mary Dewar.’

‘Mary!’ Marcus said, a little surprised. He hadn’t heard from Dewar in over a year. Although he disliked the woman intensely she was good for his business. ‘It’s so nice to hear from you. How are you?’

Marcus Lansbury ran an agency that was fronted by a Funeral parlour. He provides a discrete service to rich and powerful people who wish to be rid of a problem, a people problem. His business uses the strap line: “We can take the load off your shoulders.”

The only load on Mary Dewar’s shoulders was the obstinate Gavin Brewson. She wanted him gone and she could rely on Marcus to do it, it was just a matter of them agreeing terms.

‘What can I do for you?’ Dewar said. Mary only ever called him when she needed someone taken care of. He’d done this a couple of times. You don’t get to be the leader of a government without having to step on a few people on the way up.

‘I am having a problem with our new king.’

‘Oh,’ Marcus said, his eyebrows arch. He could hear “kerching” the sound of money. ‘What kind of a problem?’

‘He’s breathing!’ Mary said, only half-joking.

‘I see,’ Marcus said, dragging out the word. ‘Regicide, you need to understand, requires the skills of a very expensive specialist. Are you sure you can you afford it?’

‘Well that depends on how much it’ll cost.’

‘Ball park figure, you are looking at a hundred and fifty K.’

‘A hundred and fifty k!’ Mary exclaimed. ‘That is extortionate Marcus.’

‘It is also a very risky occupation Mary. ‘

‘But you have someone on your books who can do it… like yesterday?’ Mary said, thinking that this sounds really expensive and maybe she should go for her plan B?

‘Yeah, I have three people on my books who available right now. You want me to set it up?’

‘Only if you can get your fees down to fifty thousand pounds?’

Marcus guffaws. ‘Mary get real. The minimum I could do it for would be, one-twenty – plus expenses. Take it or leave it.’

‘Forget that,’ Mary said. ‘How much for a straightforward kidnapping?’

Disappointed, Marcus said. ‘That depends on the person you want us to lift? Who are we talking about? Another politician, a lover, a business rival?’

‘The mother of the King.’

‘Oh ho,’ Marcus said, cheered up. ‘The King’s mother eh? We are still talking about royalty Mary. And inevitably that has added risks, which will push up the costs. However, as a valued regular customer, I am prepared to give you a one-off special rate of seventy K, plus another ten for my expenses.’ Marcus waited. He pictures Mary thinking about it. ‘I’ll tell you what Mary, seeing as it’s you, I will do it for, say, sixty-five K.’

‘Fifty, and we got a deal?’

‘Ok, I’ll do it for fifty G, but the deal is we don’t hurt the old lady yeah, we let her go yeah?’

‘Ok we got a deal. I will text you over the details.’

‘Don’t forget I shall need a ten per cent deposit.’

Mary shrugged. She hadn’t forgotten. She could squeeze the money out of the Defence budget. No one would miss it. The accounts were already in a mess.

Chapter Seventeen

 

Edinburgh.

 

Now back in his apartment Gavin turned on the TV. On his mind was the frank exchange of views he just had with Mary Dewar. He was wondering how far she would go, what laws she was prepared to break to get her own way? Entirely on her own she was perfectly capable of exacerbating the volatile situation between Scotland and the UK. After five minutes watching the news on TV, now heartily fed up seeing Sir Roger Bottomley and Mary Dewar postulating and sabre-rattling, Gavin had heard enough. He turned off the TV and headed out to the kitchen and filled the kettle. He then put a heaped teaspoon of instant coffee in a mug. Before the water had time to boil the phone out in the hall rang.

‘Hello.’ Gavin said absent-mindedly still thinking about Mary Dewar’s blatant admission that she had set out to trick him.

‘Am I speaking to King Robert?’

Gavin frowned. He’d forgotten he was King Robert.

‘Yes, this is King Robert. Who is that?’

‘Your Majesty I am Kelvin Boyd, from Channel One, Scotland News.’

‘Oh,’ said Gavin. ‘I was just watching your news report on the TV.’

‘And did you like it?’ Kelvin said referring to his performance.

‘I thought is was disgusting.’

You thought I was disgusting?’

‘I wasn’t talking about you,’ Gavin said. ‘No, I thought you were great. I was referring to those two idiots, Bottomley and Dewar, both acting like twentieth century despots.’

‘Yeah, I get where you are coming from,’ Kelvin said. ‘But I am calling to see if Your Majesty would be kind enough to grant me an audience?’

An audience! Bit old fashioned. Gavin hesitated. He wasn’t supposed to talk to the media without Penny Braithwaite sanctioning whom he met with and agreed what he would say. Thinking that having already made enough waves he’d best play this by the rules he said.

’That may be possible Kelvin, but I’m afraid you will have to run your request through my press office. They handle this sort of thing.’

‘Oh, of course your Majesty,’ Kelvin said playing along. He knew full well the King didn’t have a press office. ‘I do understand and I apologise for making this direct approach. If my business with you wasn’t of great national importance and a matter of great urgency I would have done so, but in this case…’

‘Let me stop you there, Kelvin,’ Gavin said now thinking that this guy was the top Scottish newscaster. If there was anyone who knew what was going on with Mary Dewar this was the man he needed to talk to.

‘You mentioned national importance?’ Gavin said. ‘I am now thinking that given the tensions that exist between the Scottish and the UK governments, I could forego the usual protocols.’ Sensing the hint of nervousness in Kelvin’s voice Gavin asked.

‘Where and when were you thinking of?’

What Boyd said next set Gavin back on his heels.

‘Are you being followed?’

Gavin was shocked at the suggestion. Am I being followed? He wouldn’t put it past Cruid and Dewar to spy on him. Jeez! Is this apartment bugged?

‘I don’t know, leastways I don’t think I am. Until you just mentioned it I never gave it a thought.’

‘Your Majesty,’ Kelvin said. ‘I don’t think we should be having this discussion on the phone. Let’s meet up someplace where there are lots of people. Then should we need to escape we can melt into the crowds.’

‘Ok,’ Gavin agreed, feeling a little apprehensive. He’d been in Edinburgh less than two months and he wasn’t at all sure whom he could trust. Kelvin Boyd just asking him if he was being followed wasn’t helping.

‘Where do you have in mind?’

‘Do you know Deacon Brodies Tavern, on Lawnmarket, just off the Royal Mile?’ Kelvin said.

‘No, but I don’t imagine it would be difficult to find.’

‘Good. Meet me there in one hour. Go upstairs and wait at a table by the window. Let me have your mobile number in case I get delayed?’

Gavin gave him his number and they said goodbye.

Before leaving the apartment Gavin left Fiona a note: “Fi, I have had to go out. I have my Mobile with me. Love you. Gav X”

Gavin pulled on a Redsox baseball cap and then locked the front door behind him.

 

Striding up Royal Mile, Gavin was now beginning to take notice of the people around him. Was he being followed? He guessed not. When he reached Lawnmarket, the thoroughfare was packed with people, mostly tourists. If someone were tailing him, he wouldn’t have spotted him… or her! He suddenly thought.

Looking as quaint as any of Dickens Inns, Deacon Brodie’s Tavern on the corner of Lawnmarket and Bank Street, with its twin red phone boxes, stood out from the line of souvenir shops. At the top of the stairs he looked across the crowded room. He couldn’t see any vacant tables let alone one by the window. That was when he saw an arm waving him over. Twisting his way through the packed bar, it wasn’t till he got closer that he recognised the semi-disguised Boyd, wearing a beanie hat and a pair of glasses with thick black frames.

Boyd didn’t get up when Gavin sat down. They shook hands across the table. There were two pints of beer on beer mats.

‘I got you a beer. Is that ok?’ Kelvin Boyd said.

Wanting to keep a clear head Gavin would have preferred something non-alcoholic. He said thanks and took a swig from his glass and then wiped froth off his top lip with the back of his hand. Placing his glass down on a beer mat Gavin looked about him and in a voice just above a whisper he said.

‘Why all the cloak and dagger stuff Kelvin?’

‘Gavin… can I call you Gavin? I hate all that “Your Majesty” crap?’

‘Gavin will be fine.’

Kelvin leaned across the table and in a hushed voice said, ‘I wanted us to meet up because I am worried.’

‘About the threat of invasion?’ Gavin said. ‘Yeah me too.’

Kelvin shook his head. ‘I am not so worried about that. I don’t think an invasion is likely however, I am worried for you.’

‘Me! Why are you worried about me?’

Kelvin looked about him before speaking just above a whisper. ‘I recently came into possession of a document that should it became known about would undoubtedly put both our lives at risk.’

It was Gavin’s turn to look about him. When he looked back at Kelvin, the newsman flicked opens his coat. Gavin saw what looked like a very old cardboard cylinder.

Boyd’s hand slid inside his coat and then quickly disappeared under the table. Gavin felt something jab into his leg.

The surface of the cylinder felt rough, like leather. Without saying a word Gavin slid it inside his coat and tucked it under his arm.

‘Only three people know of it’s existence. Kelvin said. ‘That is myself, you, and a solicitor by the name of Nathaniel Gough who works in the Solicitor General’s office. Gough after he deciphered it, scared of what it represented took it straight to his boss who then ordered Gough to burn it. However, Gough couldn’t bring himself to destroy such an important historical document so knowing the SG couldn’t read Celtic script he was able to destroy one that looked just like it.’

Gavin shook his head. ‘Ok, I get it. You make it sound like it’s one of the Dead Sea scrolls? The scroll is important, historically, but I don’t see what its existence has to do with me?

‘Gavin, I suspect the scroll in your hands is more powerful than any ancient Hebrew script.’

Gavin could feel the tube pressed against his ribcage.

‘Should its existence and its potency became known,’ Kelvin said anxious to impress on the King the risks he faced, ‘anyone in possession of the scroll will be in grave danger. I hate to do this Gavin, I really do, but the minute I walk out of here I will deny all knowledge of it.’

Leaning across the table Gavin hissed. ‘Thanks’ Kelvin, you tell me that my life is in danger and then you clear off.’

‘Gavin,’ Kelvin said. ‘As the King of Scotland, surely you have security people guarding you? If not, that’s something that you need to sort out, pretty quickly. And if you ever get around to implementing some of those dangerous plans in your head, you for sure will need to beef it up.’

‘Ok, say I believe what you say. Say it is as dangerous as you say it is. Why is that?’

‘Because, the scroll is the proof that as the King of Scotland, you possess some awesome and frightening powers.’

‘Pfft! What powers,’ Gavin mocked. ‘I don’t have any powers. I am little more than a scribe. I am a puppet king. Haven’t you noticed that I don’t get out much.’ Gavin said. ‘I don’t think you understand my position here Kelvin. I may be the King but I have no influence. All I ever do is sign a bunch of meaningless documents and then, whoop de whoop, if I’m lucky I get to pop a few trees in the ground and then smile at the cameras.’

Gavin reached across the table and grabbed hold of Boyd’s arm. ‘Tell me about the scroll.’

‘Shush! Keep your voice down for Chrissake,’ Kelvin hissed looking about him. ‘I’ll explain: Scotland hasn’t had a King in over three hundred years. The scroll Gough found is almost a thousand years old. It is a thirteenth century charter drawn up after an agreement was reached between King Alexander the second of Scotland and the major Scottish nobles. The charter is called: “The Rights OF Kings”. In return for unfettered powers to rule over the whole of Scotland, the Scottish Barons were given huge tracts of land. Nathaniel Gough found the scroll, written in Celtic dialect, in the vaults beneath Holyrood Palace. Able to decipher it, he discovered that in the hands of a legitimate monarch, you for instance, it would give you the power to overrule the Scottish Parliament and impose your own laws.

Gavin sat back in his seat. ‘Sorry Kelvin, this sounds preposterous. I can’t believe a thousand-year old document still possesses that kind of clout?’

Kelvin paused to take a sip of his beer. ‘Let’s go back to the time of the last truly Scottish King, James the first of Scotland who in 1603, in the Union of the Crowns Act, became James sixth of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. When King James, in a mad rush to escape the plague that was ravaging Edinburgh moved his court to London where all the action was, unfortunately in the panic, his legal advisers hadn’t sufficient time to tidy up the legal stuff. The scroll, is the “The Rights of Kings Charter”. What is pertinent is that it got overlooked. It would have taken an act of parliament to annul the law and thereby end the power of any future Scottish King. Because that never happened, and because only a Scottish King can sign it’s annulment, it remains in force.’ The charter is all the authority any Scottish King needs to rule the country in whatever way he sees fit. He could, sack parliament and even issue dictates that under the existing constitutional arrangement would have to be enforced by the authorities, such as the police and the judicial system. Simply put Gavin, without referring to Parliament or to anyone else, as the King of Scotland, you are free to pass new laws, change existing laws, suspend parliament, remove people from office, and maybe have one or two executed. In effect, you already possess despotic powers.

‘Tell me you are joking Kelvin.’

‘I am being deadly serious.’

Gavin’s head was full of questions. ‘This person in the SG’s office…’

‘Nathaniel Gough.’ Boyd reminded the King.

‘This Nathaniel Gough,’ Gavin said. ‘Can you arrange for us to meet up. I must speak to him.’

‘You can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because when he joined the Solicitor General’s Office, he signed the Official Secrets act. He could go to prison. He told me that he was going away, maybe abroad.’

Gavin was now thinking the first thing he needed to do was have the scroll checked out. It then occurred to him that he might not be the only one in grave danger. So too would Fiona and his Mother. The more people who knew about the scroll, the greater the risks. Gavin probed Boyd.

‘Who else knows about the scroll?’

‘Just the three of us, me, and you, and Gough,’ Kelvin said. ‘His boss thinks it was destroyed, although he may conceivably have told Mary Dewar? She would have been the only other person he might have told about it, and possibly, her Minster for Internal Affairs?’

‘Cruid?’ Gavin said, almost scowling.

‘That’s the one.’ Kelvin said.

‘So, what do you imagine she might do, if she knew about it, Mary Dewar I mean?’

Kelvin drained his beer glass. ‘My guess is she now knows about it. The SG would have told her. If I were her, I would want to talk to you and insist that you sign a bill to rescind those powers.’

‘She doesn’t know about it.’ Gavin said flatly.

Now it was Kelvin’s turn to act shocked. ‘What! How do you know that?’

‘Because earlier today, she and Cruid admitted they tried to trick me into signing a bill that would have ended the need for Royal assent. She told me that as soon as they could, they always planned to get rid of me. When I told her that I was not going to sign the bill, she then offered me a great deal of money to abdicate. I don’t think she’d have done that had she been told about the scroll?’

‘Really! She offered you cash to go? So, what you going to do? Are you taking the money? You going to abdicate?’

‘God no!’ Gavin said shocked at the suggestion.

‘You should you know. Get the hell away. Burn the damn thing before it gets someone killed.’

 

Gavin sat back in his chair and studied the News Reporter. ‘And what if I told her to go take a running jump?’

Kelvin’s eyes widened. ‘Then that would put your life in grave danger.’ Gravely he said.

‘You should agree to repeal this law and then abdicate. There’s no shame in you taking the money.’

With unseeing eyes Gavin was looking out the window. ‘I cant do that Kelvin. That’d be like taking the coward’s way out. When I came up here I genuinely wanted do some really valuable work. Then when I found out that all they wanted me to do was to sign off endless bills and perhaps get out to open a few fetes, I was starting to think that I had made a big mistake becoming Scotland’s king. And now… if this scroll checks out, I am thinking that perhaps I should stay and help the people of Scotland pull through these dangerous times.’

Kelvin leaned forward and fixed Gavin with a cold stare. ‘Gavin, you don’t want to make an enemy of Mary Dewar.’ The warning was stark.

‘Kelvin, I take on board what you say but you need to listen to me. I have been up here almost two months now and almost every day, I have had to witness the damage the British government is doing to the Scottish economy. Left in the hands of Mary Dewar, I can see things only getting worse.’ Gavin was getting mad now. ‘I shall not turn my back on the people of Scotland. Do you think my ancestor, Robert the Bruce, would have sold the Scottish throne for money?’

‘Ok, ok, I hear what you are saying Gavin.’ Kelvin held up his hands. ‘Let’s say you did stay up here, and let’s say you started to exercise your powers, what would you hope to achieve?’

‘You really want to know?’

‘Yes, I want to know,’ Kelvin said.

Gavin smiled. ‘I have a list.’

You have a list!’ Kelvin said shocked. ‘Why am I surprised? So, go on tell me.’

‘I would start by nationalising the banks and then the railways and then the utility companies. I would close down the payday loan companies. I would make government loans available at one per cent over base interest rates, I would take into public ownership the land that property developers are sitting on to force up land prices and then…’

‘Whoah!’ Kelvin said. ’Listen to yourself. Can you imagine what the shareholders– the fat cats that run these massive companies might do to prevent that happening? Can you not see how these grand ideas of yours would put your life in danger?’

‘Yes, I can see that, but if I do have these… these… powers, I feel duty-bound to use them. If this means that I need have to take on people like Mary Dewar, then so be it. .’ Gavin paused. ‘Kelvin, you need to understand, I have come to love Scotland and its people. I feel in my blood it is in my destiny to stay. Did you ever see the film Braveheart?’

‘Braveheart! Oh God! Gavin, what are you thinking,’ Kelvin can hardly believe the man was contemplating using these powers. ‘Gavin, this is not a movie. There are no stunt doubles taking the risks. It’ll be you in the firing line.’

‘Kelvin, I have a question,’ Gavin said ignoring the newsman’s warnings. ‘Suppose for example that I wanted to implement some of the laws that I just spoke of? Say that I wanted to draft a law that brought the banks into line. How would I go about that?’

Kelvin could see he was wasting his breath trying to talk Gavin into abdicating. The man is mule-headed.

‘First off, you will need to have the scroll verified.’

‘I figured that. And how do I go about doing that?’

‘That wont be a problem. The Antiquities Department of Strathclyde University, the same people who helped trace you through your DNA, will be able to attest to its authenticity. The scroll is undoubtedly genuine.’

‘Ok,’ Gavin said. ‘That’s in Glasgow yeah?’ The question was rhetorical. ‘That’s my first port of call then. Say, I do that, and the scroll turns out to be genuine. Then what?’

Kelvin shrugged. ‘To pass a law would simply require you to announce it as a dictate. And then once it is recorded, you then sign it and that’s it… it becomes law.’

‘And how does it get enforced, or should I say, who would be responsible for enforcing it?’

‘That would be the same people that enforce the existing laws.’ Kelvin said: ‘the Police, the Procurator Fiscal Officers and the Solicitor General. All of these public bodies would have no choice but to enforce any dictates you made.’

‘Jeez! And I could really do that?’

‘Yes, but before you run off with the idea of becoming a dictator you need to realise that some very powerful people, not just those in Scotland but in the UK and overseas too, will either force you to abdicate, or they will coerce you into passing a law that will end the Scottish Monarch’s powers. If you attempted to do any of those things on your list… well I am labouring the point here, but, you would be placing your life in grave danger.’

Gavin, chewing his bottom lip was deep in thought. ‘This is… difficult to take in Kelvin.’

‘I know, and if the Scottish government hadn’t been in such a hurry to proclaim UDI they might have first checked the Royal Assent law. Gavin, you need to understand, a monarch, either dies while on the throne, or they abdicate. You now face that stark choice. Which is it to be?’

‘Well I am not planning on dying or abdicating.’ Gavin stated bluntly thereby making the discovery that he was staying, which was news to him! If that is the case, and you do plan on staying on, he was thinking, you had better get your head on straight because this is no longer about you having fanciful ideas of becoming a folk hero, fighting for the cause of the common-man… this is serious stuff. If you do want to bring in these populist laws you had better do it right.

‘You are sure of your facts Kelvin?’

‘Yes I’m sure of my facts,’ Kelvin said. ‘You can do all of those things on your bucket list but for goodness sake, you need to think seriously about the consequences. These changes that you talk about might be popular among the masses, but think for a minute about the people that you would unseat… take down. These people are ruthless Gavin. Which why, if you take my advice, you will destroy the scroll, take Dewar’s money and abdicate. Go home Gavin. Have a chat with your wife. Then go back to Marbury. Back to the safe, predictable life you once had.’

Gavin went quiet, carried on looking out the window but staying with the thoughts racing around inside his head. The whole point of him coming up to Scotland was to be a King in the fullest sense. He wanted to make a difference. (Fiona hates him using that trainer-speak terminology) He was thinking. So, what do I do? Do I stay on as King Robert and ruffle a few feathers, or do we pack up and go back to Essex? From someplace at the back of his mind surfaced memories of him being bullied at school. Around the age of twelve, he became a bit overweight, he was hopeless at football… all sports in fact and was considered by his peers as a bit of a nerd. This got him singled out. How was this situation any different? As a kid he never fought back. Well he’s no longer that snivelling schoolboy, he is the King of Scotland and anyone tries to give him a Chinese burn had better watch out. Gavin felt his chest swell. A sense of omnipotence overwhelms him. Screw them. I’m staying. I might even approach Her Majesty for a bit of advice? In any case, we can’t go back to Marbury. My job has gone and the house will have been rented out on a six-months lease.

‘I’ll get us another beer.’ Gavin said suddenly getting to his feet.

‘No, let me get them.’ Kelvin said.

Grabbing up the empties Gavin said. ‘Same again, I take it?’

Threading his way through the tables Gavin headed over to the bar where he squeezed into a tight space between people queuing to be served. The young girl who pulled his pints had gone to a great deal of trouble to disfigure her face with metal studs. On her forehead was a tattoo of a skull and the words “Brain Dead”. Her hair was purple and green and shaved on one side. Gavin was alert now to anyone nearby. Suddenly everyone, even the Oriental tourists were a threat. He paid for the beers, thanked the girl and made his way back to their table. Kelvin had gone, really gone, not to the toilets or to a quieter table the guy had gone. Feeling the scroll tucked under his arm, Gavin put the two glasses of beer down on the table and then left the pub.

 

Rattled by Boyd’s sudden vanishing act, and being jostled by the crowds on Lawnmarket, Gavin wanted to go someplace where he could take a peek inside the tube hidden inside his coat. Nervous now, after Kelvin’s dire warnings about the danger anyone in possession of the scroll would be in, he looked about him to see if he was being followed. He ducked inside a souvenir shop and on the pretence of looking at a rack picture postcards, Gavin was checking out the street through the window. When he saw no one of particular interest, he concluded he wasn’t being followed. He gave it a few minutes and then left the shop. Hurrying now, Gavin made his way across South Bridge and through the gates of Princes Park. A light drizzle that judging by the brooding sky, threated to become a storm any minute, had emptied the park of other people. He sat on a vacant bench and after making sure no one could see him, in the shelter of a Yew tree, he pulled off the stiff leather cap and then using one finger and a thumb he teased out a velum scroll. Tied around it was a faded crimson ribbon. He guessed that in order to read it Gough must have unrolled it, so, as carefully as he could he unrolled it on his thighs. Its suppleness surprised him. The Celtic script written with a quill pen had been expertly done. Not so, the column of blobby signatures on the right hand side, twelve in all, he counted, that continued down to the red sealing wax that had the imprint of the seated King Alexander II, holding an orb and a sword.

The script made no sense to him. He hopes the experts in Strathclyde University could help out in that regard. Gavin retied the ribbon and then slid the scroll back inside the tube and then tucked it back inside his jacket. With his head full of ideas all of which by association carried a variety of escalating risks, he headed back to Holyrood.

Back at the Palace, passing through the staff entrance, Gavin acknowledged the nod from one of the armed cops. He then made his way down the staff-only gravel path that ran behind the Abbey Ruins. Looking back over his shoulder and seeing no one, Gavin slipped inside the back door that led down to the basement where Henry Pyke occupied three small rooms. He couldn’t imagine someone like Henry Pyke, ending his days in a few basement rooms. Gavin assumed that Henry must have somewhere else that he owned. Possibly a smart terraced house over on the much sought after streets around Circus Lane.

Gavin, having been down here a couple of times knew his way around a little. Henry had explained to him how in the 1600’s, when James I of Scotland lived in Edinburgh, these empty rooms off of a warren of dark corridors were once storerooms used by the Palace Kitchen staff. That was when Holyrood house used to be a working palace. He was looking for somewhere to hide the scroll. He checked out half a dozen rooms all unsuited to his purpose. In a room where unhelpfully the light bulb didn’t work, he waited until his eyes became accustomed to the dark. Out of the gloom, over in the far corner he saw what looked like a room within a room. On closer inspection, getting excited now, he saw that it was a walk-in safe. It was a good ten feet by ten feet cube of solid steel with two brass key escutcheons and a brass wheel and a nameplate that said it was made in London. The first surprise was when the wheel spun easily in a counter-clockwise direction. The second surprise was when he leaned back pulling on the door and it opened. Being left unlocked, it didn’t surprise him to learn that it no longer housed the Palace silver. Stepping inside the safe he inspected the row of dust-covered shelves on the left hand wall. Thirty or more, steel pigeonhole boxes about a foot square mainly occupied the right hand wall. Each of these had a key in the lock. Some of the doors were ajar. Starting with the boxes nearest to him, he looked inside each one and found nothing but dust and dead flies. In the last box, the one nearest the steel ceiling, he got another surprise. Reaching in, he took out a pair of steel keys that were on an iron ring. The size and complexity of the keys could mean only one thing. They had to be the keys to the safe door… he hoped! Gavin went back outside and tried them. He sighed when the tumblers in the lock turned effortlessly. Going back inside the safe, he placed the scroll in the box where he had found the key and then locked the little door. Stepping out of the safe he locked the door behind him and put the keys in his trouser pocket. Brushing his hands down his clothes and then dusting off his hands he was grinning when he went back upstairs.

 

Back inside his apartment there was no one home. Fiona, he imagined was still out shopping with Penny. His mother, who had really immersed herself in the stories of ghosts up, here, which he didn’t approve of, but it kept her from complaining, was probably on a ghost hunt. He made himself a coffee and then carried it through to his study to wait for his computer to boot up. He Googled Strathclyde University Archaeology Department and then clicked on the web page for the Antiquities Department. He was pleasantly surprised to learn that Strathclyde Archaeology Department was housed in an annexe right here in Edinburgh. The woman in charge was Professor Hilary Chambers. He called up her direct line number.

Hilary, when she learned that the caller was none other than the King that she helped put on the Scottish throne was astonished. This surprise was nothing compared to him telling her about the scroll, its existence she had long suspected. She made the King promise that he would stay where he was, at the Palace, and he was to keep the scroll safe until she could come over to the Palace and inspect it.

 

‘I want you to take it off my hands,’ Gavin told her down in the basement, while Hilary inspected the scroll under the yellow fluorescent lights. ‘I want it verified and then I want it published. Can you do that?’

Professor Chambers, immediately saw the problem. With this scroll, this man had the power to challenge Scottish democracy. He could if he wished dismiss the government and then impose his own rule. However, it wasn’t her concern what the King chose to do, her immediate concern was to have other academics verify her own findings. Of greater concern was the news that it was supposed to have been burned. Such a thing would have been a tragic loss of Scotland’s historic past. She promised him that she’d get back to him with confirmation of the scrolls authenticity within hours. She would then have the scroll duplicated and have the original locked away, somewhere secret and somewhere safe.

They shook hands in the car park. Hilary patted her briefcase that held the scroll.

‘I’ll keep it safe,’ she promised. ‘This is truly remarkable. I hope you use your powers wisely.’

Watching her drive away, the scroll now in safe hands, he hoped, Gavin was able to relax… a little.

Chapter Eighteen

 

Holyrood.

 

The bugs that Cruid had his agents plant in the smoke detectors and in the phone in the apartment had proved useful. He scowled when he learned that Gavin was to meet up with Kelvin Boyd. He immediately ordered two of his agents to follow the King and find out whet he was up to and then report back to him. His mood wasn’t improved when he heard they lost sight of the King on Cowgate. This wasn’t the only event to darken his day. When his agents played him the conversation that one of them recorded while sitting a few tables from the King’s he felt his blood run cold. He had never heard of this scroll. Scarily he now knew of its potency. It would have to be destroyed of course. Cruid couldn’t understand why the Solicitor General the moment he realised what it was, didn’t bring it straight to him. He could then have made certain that it was destroyed. Now the cat was really among the pigeons. This was really bad news. He listened to listen to the recorded conversation twice and at no time did either of them mention who had the scroll or where it was. Did Boyd have it? He heard the newsman tell the King that Gough had handed it to him but there was no mention of what Boyd then did with it. The only thing Cruid heard Boyd say was he that he wanted nothing more to do with it. Did he pass the scroll over to the King? His agents when he questioned them said they didn’t see anything change hands. His agents did at least get one thing right. They arrested Boyd who was now locked up in a police cell on trumped up charges of intent to supply “Class A” drugs.

Boyd’s bosses at the TV station, as soon as they were given the news that their top newsreader had been arrested and may face drugs charges, did a deal with the police. Boyd was offered the choice, he could stay here and hope to convince a jury that the cops had planted the drugs on him, or he could go to Syria and cover the war over there. But, he had to fly out today. He flew out the same day.

 

Cruid was physical shaken by what he heard. He was in trouble… so too was Mary Dewar. Cruid was thinking that Gavin, the King of melodrama, was certain to let this go to his head. It didn’t bear thinking about what he might do with these powers! Two things he needed to do: first of all, he would go and break the news to Mary who would go ballistic. He couldn’t help that. Secondly: they needed to find and destroy the scroll before it went into the public domain. Shit!

 

On the telephone, at his insistence, sounding like he was about to have a heart attack, Mary agreed to cancel her eleven o’ clock video conference call to the European Commissioner and see Cruid and the SG in her office.

 

Before taking news of the scroll to the First Minister, Cruid wanted to have a talk with the Solicitor General who was the cause of all this. Simon Cruickshank should have had the bloody thing destroyed. Now he can have the job of explaining to Dewar why he didn’t.

 

Cruid watched Cruickshank’s face drain of colour when he played him the recording of the discussion in the Deacon Brodie.

‘When were you planning on telling me about the scroll?’ Cruid raged.

‘I… I … I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I was thinking, all the while that it remained a secret I didn’t see the need to cause alarm.’

Cause alarm!’ Cruid snapped. ‘One of your team finds a scroll that could put the lot of us out of work, dismantle Scottish democracy, and put unfettered power in the hands of a megalomaniac, idiot, and all you could think of was you didn’t want to alarm people!’

‘Cruid, Gough tricked me,’ Cruickshank pleaded. ‘I was convinced that he had burned it. What he destroyed looked identical to the one he found. How could he be so stupid as to hand it over to the media? What was he thinking? The man had signed the Official Secrets Act. Leave this with me. I will see to it that he is prosecuted. I will make sure that he goes to prison.’

‘Don’t be stupid man,’ Cruid snapped. ‘You will do no such thing. We don’t want knowledge of the scroll to get out. If we can find it and destroy it before others find out about it we may just save our necks, although I rather suspect yours is already on the chopping block.’

The little colour left in the SG’s pallid face fell away like water gurgling down a plughole.

‘We need to find Gough and have him silenced but only after we get out of him what he did with the scroll.’ Cruid said.

‘I’ve been trying to call him on his mobile and on his home phone,’ Cruickshank bleated. ‘He never showed up for work this morning. I even called round to his flat but he wasn’t there. He appears to have gone missing.’

Chapter Nineteen

Holyrood Palace.

 

Before faced Mary Dewar to explain his part in the debacle over the missing scroll, Cruid thought it might be worth tackling Brewson to see if he was stupid enough to tell him where it was. On the way over to Gavin’s Palace apartment, Cruid wasn’t holding out much hope of the King being in any way compliant, not after he had confronted him and Mary over their plan to trick him into signing the bill to end the need for Royal Assent.

After ringing the doorbell to the King’s apartment five times, Cruid let himself in using the key that he wasn’t supposed to have. Going from room to room he checked the smoke alarms that he had bugged shortly after the Brewson’s moved in. They looked fine, no sign of any disturbance. Coming out of the dining room he was confronted by the King who glared at him.

‘How’d you get in here Cruid? You must have a key. Give it here.’ Gavin waggled his outstretched hand.

‘I had this key Sire,’ Cruid said, not fussed about losing this key, ‘because ultimately, I am responsible for your wellbeing and your safety. I was merely checking on the housekeeping, making sure that the cleaners are doing their job.’

‘Really?’ Gavin said bluntly, ‘two things: One I don’t believe you, and secondly, I don’t appreciate you or anyone else invading our privacy. Have I made myself clear?’

‘Abundantly.’ Said Cruid, a rare blush forming on his velum-skin face.

‘So, explain why I find you skulking about in my apartment Cruid?’

‘Sire, I hate to remind you but I thought that we’d agreed if you went out, anywhere at all, you would be driven there, and you would always have an escort.’

‘That was your idea Cruid. I don’t recall me agreeing to it. I will not be kept like a caged rabbit.’

‘But you are the King Sire.’

‘I am not your King Cruid and I am not Mary Dewar’s King. I am the King of the people.’ Gavin hadn’t intended that to sound so pious. It was just the way the words came out. Good job Fi, hadn’t heard him.

It was like the two of them were playing a cat and mouse game.

Gavin began probing Cruid, trying to find out what he knew about Boyd’s disappearance and if he had known about the scroll, while Cruid was quizzing Gavin to see if he knew where Gough was hiding out, and did he know the whereabouts of the Charter.

Finally Gavin had had enough. Facing the Minister he made his position clear.

‘Let me tell you how I see things Cruid,’ Gavin said squaring up to the man who even with his stooped back and his drooping neck stood a good six inches taller than he. ‘You turn up, late at night on my doorstep in Marbury with a proposition. You say to me, would I like to become King of Scotland… yeah? Let me finish… You said that I could be the leader of a proud nation. And stupidly, I believed you. What you hadn’t told me was the only reason you needed a king was to sign off a single bill that would end your reliance on the need for Royal Assent. All the while that was in place you were stuffed. The British Government had you over a barrel after you went ahead with UDI. Be truthful for once Cruid and stop treating me like I am an idiot.’

Cruid shrugged. His brilliant plan was all starting to unravel. As much as the thought scared him he was going to have to take this to Mary to sort out. She was after all, if you didn’t count King Robert, Scotland’s head of state. He then decided this was Cruickshank’s cock up. He can tell her. First off he needed to get out of the King’s apartment.

‘Your Majesty, might I be excused? I am due to address parliament in fifteen minutes.’ He lied.

Slamming the front door on the retreating Minister, Gavin was left with his frustrations and a very confused picture of what was going on.

Gavin felt certain Cruid had known about him and Boyd meeting up. In which case he must have had him followed. Then, if that were true, did it matter? Not really, not unless, by some means of trickery he had somehow managed to overhear what they had spoken about. Thinking back to the brief exchange of words with Cruid was there anything the Minister had said… done, that hinted he had known about the scroll and more importantly, the King’s Charter? Gavin was getting angry again… and worried now, for Boyd. Why had he left so suddenly?

Gavin went into the lounge and flopped down on the sofa. He dug his mobile phone out of his pocket and speed-dialled his wife.

‘Hi Gav.’

Fiona sounding cheerful worried him.

‘Fi, is Penny with you?’

‘Yes. Did you want to speak to her? She is in the fitting room trying on some clothes.’

Gavin now worried about listening devices hesitated. He took the phone from his ear and studied it. Faintly he could hear Fiona yelling down her phone. ‘Gav you still there?’

Gavin was thinking, he did know! Cruid must have their apartment bugged. He looked about him. Where would he have put a bug? He looked up. There, that smoke detector. There was one in each room.

‘Gav?’ Fiona sounded worried. ‘You there?’

He inspected the casing of his mobile phone looking for any indication that it had been tampered with and saw nothing untoward.

‘I’m here honey,’ Gavin said trying to sound normal for the benefit of anyone listening in. ‘Sorry I lost you for a second.’

‘I could hear you breathing hard Gav, you sure you’re ok?’

‘I’m fine. Never better. I just wanted to chat with you about that thing we talked about earlier.’ He was hoping that Fiona picked up the need for secrecy. ‘Did you ask Penny?’

‘Huh?’

‘What we spoke about?’

Hesitation. ‘Oh that. Yeah, She’s absolutely fine with it. So is her friend.’

What Fiona was telling him, as if they shared the same brain, like many married couples do, was Penny and Henry were both on their side. Good. He was going to need them both for his next plan of action.

‘Oh, that’s great,’ Gavin said cheerfully. ‘Ask Penny if we can meet up in Henry’s apartment, say around five ‘ish?’

Cagily Fiona replied. ‘Ok, Gav, ‘I will arrange something. See you soon. Love you.’

‘Love you too.’ Gavin ended the call and then as if it were toxic, he dropped the phone down on the sofa.

 

The very next thing he did was to pull up a table beneath the smoke detector in the lounge. He climbed up and unclipped the cover and there it was, a tiny receiver tucked inside a gap in the wiring. He knew that it had to be a bug because it wasn’t connected in any way to the circuitry of the smoke alarm. He removed it and dropped it in his pocket.

Moving the table from room to room he removed eight bugs. He couldn’t be certain there were no others. He would need a bug sweeper, like the one that James Bond had to find anymore. Going into the bathroom he dropped the bugs into the washbasin filled with water and then watched with interest as they made a fizzing sound and then went quiet. Cruid would soon know that Gavin had found his listening devices. That no longer mattered. The gloves were off now.

Chapter Twenty

 

Holyrood apartment.

 

Gavin, Henry, Penny, Fiona, and Iris met up in the Houseman’s basement office. In case it was bugged, Gavin had left his mobile phone back in their apartment. He planned to get a new one. And being extra cautious, should his clothes be bugged, he had changed his clothes, his shoe too. They were drinking coffee when Gavin asked Henry.

‘These empty rooms down here Henry, could I turn them into offices?’

Henry shrugged. ‘Yeah sure, that’s not a problem. They haven’t been used in years. Offices, you say, what sort of offices?’

Gavin explained. ‘I want to bring in my own team of lawyers and legal secretaries and perhaps one or two specialists in Scottish law. I am planning on a programme of legislation.’ Gavin smiled at the looks of confusion on their faces.

Gavin then told them about the trick that Dewar and Cruid had tried to pull on him. He told them about his meeting with Kelvin Boyd. He then explained about the scroll and the Rights Of Kings Charter that gave him supreme powers to rule over Scotland. He told them how Hilary Chambers had excitedly called him up to tell him that the scroll was absolutely genuine. He went on to say how this changed things. He saw a different future for Scotland. One in which he could use these powers to benefit the ordinary people of Scotland. He stressed that such a venture carried risks and that the powerful people might employ any means to stop him. When Gavin offered each of them the option to walk away from this risky venture they each in turn expressed great excitement. So, it came about that, Fiona, Henry Pyke, Penny Braithwaite and his mother agreed to join him in this quest.

Fiona patted his knee. ‘I am proud of you Gav.’

Iris said. ‘Gavin, you must do whatever you think is best. Your father never ran away from anything,’ Iris had quite forgotten that Gavin’s father the minute he found out that she was carrying his child ran for the hills. ‘Your Father would have stayed. He’d have sorted these people out.’

There was no dissent… no hesitation… no question they were up for the fight.

Putting their heads together they formulated a plan.

 

Meanwhile over at the Parliament Building, Cruid, with a reluctant Cruickshank in tow, without knocking, crashed through the door of Mary Dewar’s office.

From behind her desk Mary studied the look of miserable fear on both their faces. Evidently something had happened.

Addressing Cruid she said. ‘Whatever it is Cruid doesn’t excuse you from knocking on my door.

‘Sorry First Minister,’ Cruid said wringing his hat in his hands. ‘This is a matter of great urgency.’

‘I will be the judge of that, ‘ Mary said coldly. ‘Anyway, what is this all about?’

Cruid went back and shut the door that Cruickshank hadn’t bothered to close. With his crumpled fedora he indicated one of the guest chairs.

‘May I?’

Dewar shut down her laptop and then sat back.

‘I was hoping this wasn’t going to take more than thirty seconds Cruid.’

As if they were naughty schoolchildren been sent to the Head teacher’s office, both men seated by side, faced Dewar’s desk. Cruid cleared his throat.

‘Ahem, this concerns the King,’ Cruid began. He flinched when Mary slammed the palms of her hands down on her desk.

‘I knew it… I knew it, the minute the two of you walked through that door I knew that bloody King was making trouble for me. What’s he done now?’

‘If I may be permitted to continue Mary?’

‘Get on with it Cruid. I hate the way that you pussyfoot around.’

Never a fan of the monarchy, her venomous dislike of Gavin Brewson had become undiluted hatred. ‘What’s that nasty little man been complaining about now?’ She sneered. ‘Is his bed not soft enough, are the nasty Scot’s putting salt in his porridge? I’d like to poison his bloody porridge. And if I didn’t need him to sign that bloody Royal Assent bill I might already have done so.’

‘You don’t mean that Mary.’ Cruid said not entirely convinced that she wasn’t capable of murder.

Mary was eyeing up the SG. She didn’t entirely trust him so she had to be careful what she said. ‘Don’t worry, he wont be around too long now. I have a marvellous plan that will force him to sign that bill and then abdicate. He has to go before he causes me any more trouble.’

Cruid looked round at the SG to give him a nod as if to say get on with it. Cruid saw his face had gone white. It was clear Cruickshank wasn’t going to mention the bloody scroll. He was going to have to do it.

‘You know what sticks in my throat?’ Mary said like she had a bad taste in her mouth. ‘It’s a pity the English hadn’t the guts to do what the French did back in the seventeen hundreds, lop off the heads of all their aristocracy.’ Mary sighed. ‘So, go on then, tell me, what’s this great urgency about?’

Cruid started hesitantly, the words that he had rehearsed on his way over here were now jumbled up inside his head. ‘Let me start at the beginning…’

‘Just get on with it Cruid, ‘Mary said, sighing. ‘Spare me for God’s sake the, “once upon a time,”’ crap.’

Ignoring the interruption, Cruid continued. ‘Recently the King has been complaining about the very small role that we have allocated him. He has been saying that he wanted to have more involvement in the governance of Scotland. He feels that he should be doing more to help his subjects.’

Mary’s mouth went ovoid. Her eyes widened.

‘And he actually used the word, subjects? My God! This really has gone to his head Cruid. Didn’t I warn you it would?’

‘If I may be allowed to get to the point Mary…’

‘I wish you would Cruid.’

‘I was worried that in his present state of agitation he may cause trouble so I took the precaution of having him watched. I also had some listening devices fitted in their apartment and a tap on his mobile phone.’

‘You sly old dog Cruid, Mary laughed. ‘You do know that commissioning the use of an illegal wiretap could have you sent to prison?’ Seeing Cruid didn’t appreciate the joke and there was something they weren’t telling her, Mary studied the men through slitted eyes.

‘I don’t want hear this do I?’

‘That may well be the case Mary,’ Cruid said and took a breath. ‘The men that I assigned to keep an eye on the King, followed him to Deacon Brodies Tavern where he met with Kelvin Boyd…’

‘What!’ Mary could hardly contain her rage. ‘How did you allow that to happen? I told you he wasn’t to go anywhere near the media. Especially letting him near that bloody, shit stirring, commie, Kelvin Boyd! That interfering, popinjay would love to dig up something to tarnish my reputation.’ Mary then added hurriedly for the benefit of the SG. ‘Not that there is any scandal for him to dig up!’

‘You needn’t worry about Boyd.’ Cruid said cryptically. ‘I have had him dealt with.’

Mary’s eyebrows arched. ‘He’s dead! You had him taken out?’ Mary was shaking her head. ‘First you authorise an illegal wiretap, and now you tell me you have had killed Scotland’s foremost celebrity newsman! My God Cruid, you really have gone up in my estimation.’

Cruid was quick to clarify that he had done no such thing.

‘I didn’t have him killed Simon,’ Cruid said turning to Cruickshank. It wouldn’t do at all for the head of Scotland’s judiciary to think Cruid was a murderer.

Cruid explained. ‘I may have my faults Mary but never in a million years would I hire an assassin. I merely arranged for Boyd to take an overseas posting. He flew out to Syria today. He is to cover the ISIS involvement in the Middle East war.’

Mary’s eyebrows arch. ‘Oh, lets hope he gets killed out there.’

‘Indeed,’ Cruid said, wondering how to broach the subject of the scroll. Out the corner of his eye he saw Cruickshank fidgeting on his chair. ‘

‘Mary, whilst Kelvin Boyd, is no longer the problem, the King however is.’

‘Were you not listening Cruid? I just told you that I have a plan that will force him to sign that bill?’

Cruid took a deep breath. Mary was going to explode. ‘If I may be permitted to explain Mary,’ Cruid said. ‘I have in my possession a recording of Boyd and the King’s conversation.’

‘Yeees,’ Mary said, warily, studying both their faces. ‘And what were they discussing?’

Cruid looked round at Cruickshank. He looked about to fall off his chair. He dug an elbow in the SG’s the ribs. ’You tell her Simon. This is your bloody balls up.’

Placing the flat of her hands down on her desk Dewar looked about to get up off her chair and spring over her desk and throttle them.

‘For God’s sake tell me.’ Mary raged.

Finally, Cruickshank managed to find his voice. ‘After King Robert’s Coronation,’ Cruickshank began, ‘knowing that Scotland hadn’t had a king for hundreds of years, I thought it prudent to have the legal precedents reviewed. I assigned one of my most able solicitors to carry out the task.’ Cruickshank paused to look round at Cruid who had taken on a despatched attitude.

Cruickshank gulped and then soldiered on. ‘I asked Nathaniel Gough, a junior solicitor in my office who I knew to be quite fluent in ancient Celtic dialogue to go down to the crypts beneath Holyrood Palace and have a dig around in several boxes of very old documents, and when I say, old, I mean ancient, some of them a thousand years old…’

‘Get to the point Cruickshank.’ Mary said testily.

‘Very well.’ The SG said wiping a handkerchief over his brow. ‘In a box of parchment scrolls Gough found one that had particular pertinence to our present predicament.’

Mary could throttle the man. ‘Will you stop waffling and tell me what he found.’

Cruickshank was a barrister and he knew the importance of carefully weighing every word. He was not going to be hurried by Dewar.

‘If I may be allowed to elaborate First Minister?’ The SG intoned. ‘Nathaniel Gough, when he brought a scroll to me, was in a state of great perturbation. He was flustered… yes… quite flustered.’

‘No more than I am!’ Mary snapped. ‘What did he find?’

‘He had found a thirteenth century scroll that he was able to decipher as the: “The Rights Of Kings Charter.”

Mary felt the hairs on the back of her neck bristle. ‘So, tell me. Why is this Rights Of Kings Charter important? Surely, if it’s that old, I don’t see how it can be relevant today?’

‘Let me explain,’ Cruickshank said. ‘On the 23rd May, in the year 1218, at a meeting that took place in Edinburgh Castle, King Alexander the Second in a gathering of the Scottish Lairds, struck a deal. To end the continual fighting among the Scottish tribes, in exchange for vast tracts of the King’s land and several castles, the King and his descendants, would forevermore hold supreme power over the judicial, religious and governance of Scotland.’

‘Yes but you are talking about almost a thousand year ago for Christ’s sake Cruikshank! How is that relevant today?’

As if he hadn’t been interrupted, the SG drawled. ‘Four hundred years after this historic arrangement, in 1604, in the Union of the Crowns Act, King James the First of Scotland became James sixth of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. He then abandoned Holyrood Palace and moved the Royal Court down to London. He and his courtiers hastened their departure needing to escape the plague that was decimating the population of Edinburgh. In their rush to tidy things up, King James and his legal team, left a few loose ends.’

‘Loose ends?’ Mary said narrowing her eyes, expecting this was more bad news. ‘What kind of loose ends?’

Cruickshank hurried on. ‘The Rights Of Kings Charter that I mentioned should have been annulled. Instead, the scroll had been mislaid and forgotten about, among the many hundreds of old documents that were left behind to gather dust in the vaults of Holyrood Palace. It is a matter of inconvenience that Gough proved to be so diligent in his task. We now face a predicament.’

‘What predicament?’

Ignoring another of Mary’s interruptions, Cruickshank drawled on. ‘Had the scroll not been brought to my attention, had it lain undisturbed for another thousand years we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but, sadly, here we are.’

Mary came around her desk with an athleticism that took both men by surprise. Cruickshank almost tipped back off his chair when the First Minister took hold of him by his coat lapels. Her eyes were like that of a wolf when she snarled into the SG’s face.

‘In no more than two sentences, ‘Mary snarled, ‘you will tell me the relevance of this scroll, or I will tear your head off.’

Cruickshank gulped hard. He needed to think on that. Brevity was not one of his virtues.

‘The scroll,’ Cruickshank managed to articulate, ‘is a decree; a charter that empowers whomsoever is on the Scottish throne the right to bring in his own laws. King Robert, in effect, should he so wish, bypass parliament and even sack parliament.’

Mary let go of his lapels. She spun full circle with her fingers knotted in her hair she and screamed. ‘Nooooo!’

Bent at the waist, her eyes burning like a demented beast Mary glared into the faces of her Ministers.

‘Where is this scroll?’ She demanded. ‘If we can destroy it before it becomes known about, we can head off this disaster.’

‘I… I,’ the SG stuttered. ‘I had Gough in my office and I reminded him that he had signed the Official Secrets Act and that if a word of this was to get out I would make sure that he went to prison. I had him bring the document to my office and I watched him set light to it. I saw it reduced to ashes…’

‘So it’s gone then?’ Mary said irritated to think that after all this kerfuffle and drama the problem had gone. ‘Why then, are we having this conversation?’

‘Because,’ the SG said, hesitantly, ‘the scroll that I saw destroyed wasn’t the Rights Of Kings Charter. Gough tricked me.’ Cruickshank was near to tears. ‘I wasn’t to know. I can’t read ancient Celtic script. The document that Gough brought to my room, looked identical. It was of the same velum paper, it had the same wax seal.’

‘Where is he now? I want him brought to my office.’ Mary said, scowling.

Cruickshank confessed. ‘I haven’t seen him since that day. He hasn’t been into work and I tried ringing his home number, his mobile is switched off. It seems he has gone into hiding and the scroll must still be in his possession.’

‘And, you think that the King, must by now know of this charter and therefore he will know of these powers? Tell me this isn’t happening.’

Mary could see by the look of utter dismay on Cruid’s face that there was more. She groaned.

‘What is it Cruid? What is it you haven’t told me? What news could possibly be worse than me hearing the King has the power to overrule the Scottish Parliament? What exactly did he say on that recording?’ Mary demanded.

Thinking that she might as well hear all the bad news Cruid said.

‘The King was talking about nationalising the banks, the railways, and many of our bigger corporate industries.’

Mary threw her hands in the air. Turning on the two men she said. ‘We have to find Nathaniel Gough and hope that he still has the scroll.’

Mary wanted them both out of her sight. She would deal with this… her way.

Pointing her finger at the door she snapped.

‘Get out. Leave this to me. God you ever need to get a job done you have to do it your bloody self.’

 

After her two Ministers had sloped off, Mary picked up her mobile phone and called up someone she had used before.

Carl Watkins was ex S.A.S who earned a living as a mercenary and an occasional extortionist. He picked up after two rings. He knew it was Dewar because he kept her name in his contacts list and his caller I.D flagged her up.

‘Mary, what can I do for you?’

An hour later Mary Dewar had agreed terms with Watkins who was to find Nathaniel Gough and then use his blunt interrogation skills to find out what he’d done with the Rights of King’s scroll.

Watkins left Dewar’s office with a photo of Gough and the names and addresses of the solicitor’s family and friends.

Chapter Twenty-one

 

After a night of strange dreams, one of which featured him as Thor, sitting on a throne atop a thundercloud sending down lightning bolts on the heads of an indefinable enemy. Six o’ clock, Gavin sat up in bed with his future laid out as clear as day.

 

Waking Fiona he excitedly told her what he had in mind.

Fiona thrilled, told him she was coming with him.

After a breakfast of eggs and bacon, Gavin put on a suit, a shirt and a tie.

Standing in front of her husband feeling proud of him, Fiona having put on a smart black, two-piece suit, straightened his tie.

Holding hands, Gavin and Fiona were crossing the Palace courtyard when they were approached by a couple of Japanese tourists who politely asked if the King and Queen would pose in a photo with them. After crossing Horse Wynd, the couple entered the Parliament Building via the public entrance. Gavin acknowledged the salute from the smiling armed cop on checkpoint duty.

With the parliamentary debates focused entirely on talk of war and retribution, Gavin noted how the public viewing area was packed.

A security guard who recognised the King and Queen stepped smartly forwards and escorted them down the stairs where they thanked him as they sat in a couple of vacant MSP desks.

Mary Dewar and Cruid seated at the front looked round. Mary glared at the King who gave her a smile. Mary dug Cruid in the ribs. ‘What the hell is he doing here?’

‘How should I know?’ Cruid said.

Gavin gave it a few minutes before he set off down the steps to arrive at the podium upon which sat the Presiding Officer, Alastair McQueery and two his aides. They entire assembly watched the King with bated breath. McQueery got up from his seat and offered it to the King who nodded in appreciation.

Gavin facing his audience that looked to be struck dumb raised a hand as if in salute.

Mary leaned across and snarled in Cruid’s ear.

‘Did I not tell you to arrange for him to go up into the Highlands and hopefully die in a shooting accident?

‘He refused to go.’ Cruid lied. He hadn’t suggested it to the King.

 

The quietness in the Assembly Hall felt like the muted effect you get the morning after a heavy fall of snow.

Gavin looked up at the media gallery. The world’s press were here. His speech was sure to shock many people It would make him many friends and inevitably more than a few enemies. He took a breath. When he spoke his voice reverberated among the wood and steel roof structures.

‘First Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Members of the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland,’ Gavin intoned. ’As your King, I can no longer stand idly by and watch the unnecessary suffering endured by my subjects. I feel your pain and your anger at the injustices being heaped upon you. I feel duty-bound to do what I can to help. Only yesterday, I learned of a charter that empowers me to intervene on your behalf. The Rights Of Kings Charter permits me to take whatever steps are necessary to protect and help the ordinary people of this great and proud nation. I say this to the enemies of Scotland. We shall not bow to the arrogant and intolerant attitude of Westminster. The people of Scotland voted to become independent and your Government made that happen. To the Tory administration in Westminster and in particular to Sir Roger Bottomley, I say beware. Should you step on the toes of this great nation, you shall reap the consequences of your folly. In recent weeks, I have watched with growing dismay the ineptitude of the present Scottish administration that I believe has failed you. Showing leadership and being prepared to take bold action your Government could have done more to help those of you who are suffering because of the sanctions and the actions of the English owned banks and the corporate giants who wish to crush the Independence you have earned. Let me say this to Scotland’s enemies. No more! Using the powers granted me in the Rights Of Kings Charter, In a few weeks I shall bring in a raft of new laws that will deal with the threat from the English armed forces and free the Scots from the tyranny of the Westminster Government. Under my Kingship, for the time being, so that we can focus on homeland issues, all further talks with the EU Commissioners regarding Scotland’s membership are to be deferred. I shall instead, invite the nations of the world to join us in partnership trading. In addition, I plan to nationalise the banks and the public transport systems and the utility companies. I will outlaw payday loans, end the practice of zero-hour contracts and I will make it illegal to clamp cars. People that mistreat children, older folk and animals will face a mandatory five-year prison sentence. I plan to treble the money spent on our hospitals and schools. I will make poverty in Scotland history. And to the older generation I say this. You who have paid into the tax coffers all your lives will have your pension doubled…’

‘With respect… Mister Presiding Officer,’ Mary shouted getting to her feet. ‘I insist that you make this charlatan stand down. His ideas are nonsense and he hasn’t got the right…’

Her next words were drowned out by the shouts of derision from the people in the viewing area who were now on their feet and cheering.

Leant over to speak into his microphone, McQueery said fiercely. ‘First Minister, you will sit back down. His Majesty has the right to speak.’

The rebuke sat Mary back down. This brought on more cheers.

Gavin nodded his thanks to the Presiding Officer. He continued. ‘Scotland will embark on the biggest roads, schools and hospitals building programme in its history. Scotland will rebuild its military might from the increased tariffs that I shall impose on the oil barons who for far too long have robbed Scotland of its precious oil reserves.

Gavin paused to allow his words to sink in. Continuing he said.

‘To Sir Roger Bottomley and his Government, I have this to say: When you stole our weapons you thought that would leave us defenceless, but we are not weakened. I shall forthwith, begin talks with countries who would be prepared to provide us with modern weapons, surface-to-air missiles, new warships and fighter planes.’

Gavin studied the sea of faces that had gone quiet. Had his plans to beef up Scotland’s defences scared his audience? It was as if he had started a Mexican wave that no one else joined in. It was Fiona who started the clapping. This quickly led to a ripple of applause that became a riotous standing ovation.

Gavin smiled broadly. The only two people that remained seated and did not applaud his inaugural speech were Mary Dewar, whose eyes burned livid with hatred. Cruid looked terrified.

With a wave, and taking hold of Fiona’s hand, Gavin, exited via a staff exit.

Within minutes, millions of people around the world caught their first glimpse of King Robert, as he wanted to be seen.

While the Presiding Officer was calling for order, Mary Dewar leant across and whispered in Cruid’s ear. ‘That does it. He has to go.’

 

Back behind her desk and alone, Mary Dewar cursed Gough. Evidently he had somehow managed to get the scroll to the King. Having him found and tortured was now an unnecessary and futile expense. Taking out her mobile phone she hoped it wasn’t too late to cancel Carl Watkins mission. She texted: “Regarding your assignment. You are to take no further action. Get back to me ASAP to confirm that you have stood down. M.D.”

Thirty seconds later Watkins texted back: ”Sorry. Too late. I waterboarded him. He confessed to handing the scroll over to Kelvin Boyd. See attachment. C.W.” The message ended with a smile face.

Mary clicked on the attachment. It was a newspaper story. Beneath a photograph of Nathaniel Gough, the Glasgow Globe reported: “The body of Nathaniel Gough, a solicitor in the Solicitor General’s Office was today recovered from the river Clyde. The Police state they are treating his death as a murder enquiry.”

Mary later learned from Watkins that the Solicitor had drowned when he was being waterboarded.

‘Dammit.’ Mary cursed. ‘Oh well, with Gough out the way, that is one less for me to worry about.

 

After he and Fiona left the Scottish Parliament Building, with Fiona hanging on his arm, Gavin was making his way back to the Palace when had a sudden change of mind.

Fiona giggled when Gavin gripping her arm suddenly veered across Horse.

‘Where you taking me Gav?’ Fiona said, laughing.

‘You’ll see.’

Hurrying to keep up with her husband who seemed in a hurry and clearly had a destination in mind. They passed the Royal Commonwealth Pools and a couple of Labradors splashing about in the water. Now on the grassy foothills of Arthur’s Seat the path they were on grew steeper and narrower. By the time they reached the summit Gavin and Fiona were breathing hard.

There was not a soul in sight when Gavin pulled her down on the grass. They lay side by side gazing up at cloudless blue sky. A single buzzard circled lazily on the thermal currents.

Gavin rolled onto his side and propped up on one elbow said to Fiona.

‘Fi, I love you to bits.’

Gavin kissed her on the lips and then on the tip of her nose. He still loved the way her nose wrinkled when she smiled. He recalled how that was what had attracted her to him when they would flirt at the Xerox machine all those years ago. He was now thinking about the times before they got married. How they would talk about how many children they would have. He said he wanted two, Fiona said she didn’t mind having lots. Gavin sighed. Life doesn’t owe you a thing. Lots of couples can’t have kids.

On her back with her auburn hair splayed out on the grass, Fiona smiled up at Gavin. She said. ‘Gavin Brewson, Your Majesty,’ Fiona grinned wickedly. ‘ You didn’t drag me all the way up this hill for no reason. What you got on your mind? I do hope, whatever it is, I am going to enjoy it?’ Fiona plucked up a dandelion stalk and blew the gossamer seeds into his face. She smiled when like liberated tiny fairies; they floated up into the sky.

Gavin looked about him and then rolling over he kissed her with a passion that took her by surprise.

Fiona wrapped her arms around him and pulled him on top of her. Gavin’s hands questioned her, and her hands answered. There was a time, way back, soon after they met, when they would joke about making love out in the open. That was all bravado. They could never see them actually doing such a thing… until now.

 

A short time later, holding hands and giggling, the couple made their way back down the hill. Fiona said.

‘Wow, Gav did we actually just make love on Arthurs seat?

Gavin laughed. ‘Yeah and I suppose if you was to get pregnant we would have to call him Prince Arthur!’

Fiona, felt tears prick her eyes.

*

Back at the Palace, while Fiona went looking for Iris, Gavin headed down to the basement to find Henry.

When the King came into his office, Henry rose out of his chair and gave him a rib-crushing hug.

Gavin smiled. ‘You heard about my little speech then?’

‘Heard it! I was yelling at the TV, “go for it.”

Gavin sat down on a spare chair and said.

‘Earlier on, when I was talking to you about me assembling a team of legal experts down here I was wondering if we can get started on that?’

‘Sure, that’s not a problem. I supervise a great team of building experts and I can get them on it right away. I can have the electrics, the heating and the air conditioning sorted out and have the rooms decorated and fitted out in… oh, I should say a week?’

‘Perfect,’ Gavin said.

‘How about I find you some legal people? I have some contacts. It wont be a problem,’ Henry said, delighted to be of help.

‘That would be great Henry.’

Henry said. ‘Then I had better get on the phone then. Let’s get some people working down here.’

Chapter Twenty-two

 

10 Downing Street.

 

In yet another COBRA meeting, the PM and his Cabinet were discussing what was now dubbed: “The Scottish Problem.”

Sir Roger was about to hear an updated report on the effects of the latest sanctions imposed on the Scot’s. Showing no compassion, Sir William Barminster, Financial adviser to the treasury announced.

‘Prime Minister, with regards to the forty per cent tax hike on low-earners and the sixty per cent cut in welfare payments I can report there has been a significant rise in Scottish homelessness. The banks are being cooperative in applying our new lending rules. This has led to a seventy per cent increase in bankruptcies among small to medium businesses and a twice-fold increase in house repossessions. Unemployment in Scotland has risen by a further twenty per cent. In addition, the Scottish manufacturing industry has been hit hard by the twenty per cent increase on energy costs imposed by the Chancellor last week. Unemployment is at an all-time high. I confidently predict that within two weeks the Scots will have had enough of Mary Dewar. I imagine before the end of the month she will have retracted her UDI and resigned.’

Heads turned around when the door flew open.

Looking flushed, the Home Secretary Katie Murrell and the Attorney General Sir Alec Chumleigh-Sloane hurried in and took their seats.

‘Sir Roger,’ Katie Murrell said, sounding worried. ’Have you heard the news?’

‘What news? No. How could I have heard anything? I have been stuck in this blathering meeting for the past hour? Why? What’s happened?’

The Home Secretary couldn’t keep the tremor from her voice. ‘I was just now watching King Robert making a speech up in Edinburgh and he says he is going to take over our banks in Scotland.’

It took a moment before this news took hold. The PM roared. ‘He can’t do that!’

The Home Secretary, looking grim said. ‘That’s what I thought until Sir Alec and his team of legal advisers looked into King Robert’s claim to have discovered a Royal Charter that gives the Scottish King and his successors for perpetuity, the power to rule Scotland and to pass whatever laws he chooses.’

‘Alec!’ The PM said, appealing to the UK’s top legal expert. ‘Tell me this isn’t happening.’

‘I am sorry Prime Minister. There is no doubting the existence of the charter and my people in Scotland have spoken to experts who have verified the veracity of the scroll. It would appear that in the 1603 Union of the Crowns Act, King James legal people had forgotten to annul the “Rights of Kings Charter” in force since the 13th century. And only the King can sign a bill to end that arrangement. Clearly, King Robert has no intention of doing so. In effect King Robert can do what the hell he likes and there is not a damn thing that we in Westminster, nor The Scottish Government can do about it.’

Terry Beaumont listening to this was thinking the Essex boy wasn’t as dumb as people liked to believe. His plan to nationalise the banks would undoubtedly gain him much popularity among the ordinary Scottish people. Doesn’t everyone hate the banks? He had to admire the man’s courage. It was a risky but smart move. In his opinion it was a pity the politicians hadn’t got the guts to do it.

‘What are we going to do… anybody’? The PM said casting his eyes round the table and seeing a sea of blank faces.

‘The only way that I can see us getting out of this impasse,’ Home Secretary Katie Murrell said, ‘is to get the Scottish Government around the negotiating table.’

‘Are you mad?’ Sir Roger blustered. ‘Do you really think that the Scots will want to talk to us after we sank one of their fishing boats, flattened the town of Bonnie and crippled their economy?’ ‘They will never agree to it.’ Looking at his team of hapless Ministers he cried. ‘This is monumentally serious.’

‘Nothing else to done dear boy,’ said General Sir Rufus Warburton-Smyth, head of the army, ‘we must invade them. I can have my soldiers overrun it in twenty-four hours. We lock up all the politicians and then declare martial rule. We capture that damn King and have the blighter hauled through the courts, have the bugger tried for treason. Throw the damn fellow in the Tower.’

‘We daren’t do that I’m afraid Rufus, ‘Sir Roger said wishing that he could. ‘We are already being accused by other world leaders of behaving like Colonial bullies. President Trump is upset with us too. Apparently a couple of tanks in the retreat of our armed forces the other night took a short cut across his bloody golf course. He is demanding that we pay him millions in compensation. Can anyone here tell what is going on in the heads of the stupid voters in this country? First they defy all logic and vote for Brexit and then the Scots went ahead and voted for independence! I don’t think I shall ever take any notice of opinion polls! What’s next to look forward to: Ed Balls wins Strictly Come Dancing? The Isle Of Mann demands independence, Croydon wants devolution, the Cornish people want their own currency, or God forbid, that Labour chap, elderly, rides a bike, could do with a shave, gets to be the PM? ’ I don’t think Joe Public knows its elbow from its arse.’

‘Getting back to what action we should take regarding the Scottish Problem, Sir Roger,’ the Home Secretary said, just about containing her impatience with the man. ‘Can I make a suggestion?’ The Home Secretary wasn’t waiting for the PM to agree. ‘I can ask my PA, Eliza Nutter to come up with some ideas. Eliza is very good at that sort of thing.’

The PM’s face registered his distrust. He regarded this Nutter woman as far too bossy and self-opinionated. He was about to dismiss the suggestion out of hand when he thought that he might as well hear what Nutter had to say. After all he doesn’t have any other ideas. And he had to admit she was bloody excellent at what she did. What the hell!

‘Ok, do that Katie, but I need her to get on with it. We don’t have a lot of time.’

‘I will get her on it right away Sir Roger. In the meantime, have you given any thought to us offering a bribe to King Robert? Give him a financial incentive to abdicate?’

The PM said brightly. ‘That’s not a bad idea Murrell. Ten grand ought to see the blighter orf.’

‘With respect sir,’ the Home Secretary replied patiently, which was the only way to play the PM when he was being particularly curmudgeonly. ‘It would have to be tens of millions of pounds I’m afraid. You can’t buy off a King with a few measly thousands!’

‘Tens of millions!’ Roared the PM. ‘Bugger that. We must find another way to bring the blighter to heel.’ Turning to Beaumont Sir Roger pointed a fat finger in his face. ’This is your fault Terry. I want to see you in my office right away… no, make it this afternoon. I can’t do it right away. I have matters of greater importance to attend to.’ On his feet now Sir Roger announced. ‘Gentlemen, the meeting is adjourned.’

‘And Ladies!’ Katie Murrell needed to remind the PM.

‘Of course, and them too.’

 

After the COBRA meeting broke up, Sir Roger had Charlotte Sweetwater come to his private study.

The attractive, thirty-two years old, unmarried Private Assistant stepped inside the PM’s private study and then closed and then locked the door behind her. The PM, looking thoroughly miserable was behind his desk and slumped down in his chair.

Charlotte, her eyes misted over, approached his desk from the side.

‘Aw you poor lamb.’ She cooed squeezing her wasp-like figure past him in the tight space between his chair and the wall.

When he felt her clothes brush against his shoulder and her then her scent waft over him, Sir Roger emitted a small grunting noise, particular to that of a contented badger. With her bosom enveloping his pudgy neck Charlotte, with long sensuous movements of her slender fingers began to massage his shoulders. Her brow creased in consternation and speaking as one would to a child Charlotte said.

‘Have them awful people been speaking bad to you again Sir Roger?’

‘Ummm.’ Sir Roger purred keeping his eyes closed.

‘Poor you,’ Charlotte said swatting away one of his hands that had reached back to grope for her buttocks. Kneading his neck she purred. ‘Let Kittikins massage all them stresses away eh?’ When Sir Roger’s hand shot up and cupped her breast Charlotte leapt out of his reach and went and sat at a chair facing his desk.

‘Aw Kittikins.’ Sir Roger complained.

‘I rather think, Sir Roger that you were getting a little too excited and that’s not good for you.’

Charlotte straightened her skirt and with her legs crossed at the knee and her hands folded in her lap she announced. ‘I am going to sing to you Sir Roger.’

Inwardly Sir Roger groaned. He closed his eyes and pulled a face in agonised readiness. Charlotte had sung to him before.

With her head tipped at an angle and her eyes drifting off, swaying her torso, Charlotte began to sing. “Somewhere over the rainbow…”

By the second verse, hearing what sounded like a cat being drawn through a mangle, the PM was fast losing the will to live. He didn’t see any point in asking her for sex again. This is how it always went: Charlotte would go all doe-eyed and pout her luscious lips and then tell him: “Oh, Sir Roger, I can’t possibly. Yet you know how much I ache for you to touch me in that way. If only you weren’t married.” She would then emit a sigh that sounded like the tide going out.

Sir Roger Bottomley was the baby that Charlotte had always yearned for. Another of her yearnings was to finally give her self to the man she loved, (currently, Sir Roger!) Charlotte can get so angry thinking about his lying-cheating-bitch of a wife, Dame-Edith Van-Dross. The way she carries on with that French rogue Marcel DuPont, the woman doesn’t deserve to be married to such a great man as Sir Roger. Now, if she and Sir Roger were married, that would be different. Sadly for Charlotte, and more so for Sir Roger, until he and Dame Edith are divorced, her strict religious notions can never permit her to consummate their relationship.

When mercifully, Charlotte ended the song on a long drawn out note that the PM thought would never end, Charlotte looked round at the PM and saw that he was doubled over with his forehead on his desk. She was thinking the two of them, alone inside this locked room; she could go to him now and in the name of love, abandon her virginity to him. That was when the familiar voice inside her head piped up, Charlotte. Shame on you having these wicked carnal thoughts. Charlotte sighed deeply, but not as deeply as Sir Roger who when she left his office with her sad eyes on show, and the top button of her blouse undone, was positively distraught.

*

Lord Soper, Chief of Intelligence Services, having just had his spies report further disturbing news from Scotland, hurried into the second COBRA meeting in twenty-four hours.

‘Prime Minister,‘ the head of MI5 said, sounding breathless. ‘King Robert of Scotland is to have talks with Sheik -Ali-bin-Lina, the Crown Prince of Bahwait.’

‘Never heard of him.’

‘The Sheik is a senior Royal in Bahwait.’

‘So, never heard of the place.’

‘Bahwait is on the Arabian Peninsula nestled between two much bigger Middle East countries. The place is so tiny you could carpet the whole place. The Crown Prince has so much money he doesn’t know what to do with it. He already owns four Premier Division Football Clubs and half of Knightsbridge, and a Garden Centre in Crewe.’

‘That’s a bit peculiar isn’t it?’

‘Hmm,’ mused Lord Soper his finger on his chin and looking skywards. ‘I was thinking that. Why would he want a garden centre in Crewe?’

‘What are you blathering about Soper? I was talking about this damn King having talks with this Prince whatever his name is in blah-blah land or some such place.’

‘Oh I see, yes, the talks,’ Soper said, getting back to the whole point of bringing the issue up. ’The King and the Crown Prince are to have arms talks Prime Minister,’ Soper said matter-of-factly. ‘King Robert is hoping to strike an oil-for-arms deal with the Crown Prince. Apparently the Bahwait’ian’s, for a tiny country, have far more weapons than they will ever need and they have run out of oil.’

‘Damn and blast em!’ roared General Sir Rufus Warburton-Smyth, Head of the army who liked to emphasise his pompous importance by slamming his hand down on the table. The noise woke the Chancellor of the Exchequer who had had a bad night at the Casino.

‘We must invade Scotland before they get the chance to rearm. What weapons are we talking about?’ The General enquired of Lord Soper, ‘a few beat up old tanks, some rusty rifles, a couple of clapped out patrol boats, eh?’

‘Oh no,’ Soper warned. ‘The Sheik can provide Scotland with the most advanced weapons known to man.’

‘Then that settles it,’ the General said as if he was about to get up and leave. ‘We must invade Scotland without delay. We’ll give them haggis-eating defectors a jolly good rogering with a cricket bat.’

It hadn’t escaped the attention of those seated around the table that of late, the General was inordinately interested in rogering bottoms.

‘We can’t invade Scotland.’ The PM said shaking his head. ‘The Queen would be most upset.’

‘Yes, but, surely getting rid of this upstart would be doing her a favour?’ Suggested the Home Secretary.

Sir Roger was nodding but not really listening to her. His mind was otherwise occupied with her decent pair of knockers. Not that he’d actually seen them, nor had he had any hands-on experience with them.

‘Sir Roger…?’ Katie said, frowning at the PM, and trying to get his attention after he seemed to have drifted off into another world.

She certainly got his attention when she leant forwards to see if was taken ill.

‘Hmm, nice,’ Sir Roger muttered, now having lost the thread of the discussion.

‘Sir Roger, you were saying that the Queen would be most upset,’ Katie reminded him, ‘if we were to invade Scotland?’

‘Oh yes, the Queen. Do keep up Murrell,’ Sir Roger said irritably. ‘I have spoken with Her Majesty and she is insisting that we begin peace talks with the Scots. I did try to get her to understand that until the Scot’s reversed their UDI it wasn’t possible to open talks. But she wasn’t having any of it. I plan to keep her in the dark about what we do.’

Listening to this and feeling guilty, the author of ScottiLeak, the fictitious email that brought the UK and Scotland to the brink of war, Terry Beaumont suggested.

‘How about we offer the Scots greater devolution.’

The PM looked around at his SA and considered the idea.

‘Like what? I don’t see what else we can offer them. They virtually run the show up there anyway.’ Then after a little more thought he said.

‘I suppose we could give them control of them elderly chaps, the ones with the silly lollipop signs that are used to beat on the roofs of the cars that fail to stop.’

‘I’m not sure that’s what they do with those Sir Roger,’ Interjected Chief of the Civil Service, Sir William Barminster. ‘Besides, the Scot’s already manage those people.’

‘Do they by God!’ Sir Roger said taken by surprise. (Being taken by surprise was now a fairly common occurrence.) Having exhausted himself by having two thoughts in one morning, the Prime Minster enquired of Lord Soper.

‘Please tell me you have spies inside Holyrood Palace keeping an eye on this Essex upstart.’

‘Indeed we do,’ said, Lord Soper. ‘I have people inside the Palace and inside the Scottish Government. The Scots can’t sneeze without me hearing about it.’

‘Good.’ Sir Roger nodded, happy with that. The PM looked at his watch. They’d been at it now for fourteen minutes. ‘That’s enough for now he said getting up from his chair.’ He was wondering if Kittikins was busy? He guessed that she wouldn’t be. He didn’t employ her to be busy.

*

 

Eliza Nutter, Personal Assistant to Katie Murrell the Home Secretary, had been looking everywhere for Sir Roger Bottomley. She guessed the PM was trying to avoid her. Finally, after her persistent knocking on the door to his private study, Charlotte Sweetwater, looking a little flushed unlocked the door and stepped aside to let her in.

‘What is it Eliza? The PM said, gruffly, moving the bottle of whiskey off his desk and placing it down on the floor out of her sight.

Eliza watched Charlotte retreat to a chair in the corner of the room. With her legs crossed at the knees, having magically conjured up a writing pad and a pen, the way that her skirt was pulled up to show off her thighs she could never pass off as a proper secretary. The woman was a flirt and a hussy. Eliza was a proper, PA. Turning to the PM she said.

‘The Home Secretary has asked me to come and speak with you regarding the Scottish Problem. I have a few suggestions that will greatly reduce the current tensions between the UK and the Scottish Governments.’

Oh God! Sir Roger was thinking.

‘First off, you need to ask the Queen to begin conciliatory talks with King Robert. The talks should focus on convincing the King to abdicate.’

‘That wont work, Eliza,’ the PM said tiredly, ready to debunk any of her suggestions before he’d even heard them. ‘Her Majesty is not a happy bunny right now. I think she may be suffering from PMT, or some such?’

Eliza’s eyes widened. ‘Sir Roger, you cant say that, PMT! Surely you mean PTSD? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?’

Sir Roger shrugged. ‘I was referring to the thing that some people get where they become a bit morose. Go off their food so to speak. Can’t blame the old girl. My God what must that have been like, one minute she was nestled up to the Duke having an afternoon nap and the next thing she knows a damn great shell brings the celling down on her head. She blames me of course. She says it’s entirely my fault that the Scots are upset. And she doesn’t see why she should she have to pay to get her roof fixed. I told her not to worry, that it wont cost her a penny because Mary Dewar will pay for the repairs. I mean dash it all, Eliza, it was her bloody troops that shot a damn great hole in the roof.’

‘Quite, but the attack was with our tanks.’ Eliza, sniffily reminded the PM. ‘I still think that we should request an audience with her Majesty. I don’t mind doing the talking. I am thinking that maybe speaking woman to woman, I can get her to agree to assist in the setting up of reconciliation talks?’

Sir Roger regarded Eliza Nutter as one of those infuriating people who when she wanted to drive home her point of view she was like a dog with a bone. Dammit he was not going to talk to the Scots. They started it. Declaring Independence was outrageous and downright illegal and he was not going to start talks with that odious, Mary Dewar, who needed putting in her place.

‘I will of course consider your suggestions Mizz Nutter, but would you please leave us now because I already have a plan and it is one that doesn’t involve bothering Her Majesty. Charlotte and I … I mean Mizz Sweetwater and I, have certain matters that require our urgent attention. Good day Eliza.’

As if there was a bad smell under her nose Eliza cast her eyes up and down Charlotte. Eliza Nutter’s almost imperceptible lips, more of a thin gash beneath her pointed nose, turned down at the corners. The office tramp smiled back, all perfect white teeth.

In a pointed reminder, one that was certain to further antagonise the PM, Eliza said.

‘I certainly hope your plan is a little more practical than your scheme to erect two hundred wind turbines on a council estate in Clapham that were subsequently stolen by scrap metal thieves.’

‘You done?’ The PM said flatly.

‘No. I am worried about King Robert who I have recently learned is putting together a team of legal experts to help him draft a series of new laws designed to wrench power out of our hands. I hear he has converted the basement of Holyrood Palace into a suite of offices, and if that isn’t enough, the King is now having talks with the Russians about a possible arms deal.’

Sir Roger’s florid face went crimson, and then blue before settling down to a chalky white.

‘The blighter!’ Sir Roger stormed reaching for his cigar box and clamping a thick Havana between his teeth.

‘Please refrain from lighting that disgusting thing in my presence.’ Eliza Nutter said icily.

It was like being married to her, all that nagging. It was like being in the same room as Dame Edith. His wife was an insufferable anti-smoking, teetotal, women’s rights activist and a member of a bloody interfering anti- foxhunting rabble. It suited him that his wife spent most of time with her Spanish keep- fit trainer, Jose, or whatever the blasted foreigner’s name was!

‘Then you had better leave, ‘Sir Roger said stiffly.’ Because I need to smoke.’

‘I haven’t quite finished,’ Eliza snapped. ‘I would like to know what checks have been made to ascertain that King Robert is who he say he is. The man could be a fraud?’

‘I am not entirely stupid Eliza. I had his credentials checked out. His DNA was analysed by the top genealogists in Strathclyde University. My sources assure me there is no question the man is a direct descendent of Robert The Bruce. I have also had our finest legal brains look at a facsimile of the scroll. They have studied the smallest print in the ancient statutes, and there is absolutely no doubt the man has a right to claim the throne and that the Charter in his possession legally entitles him to pass whatever laws he chooses.’

‘In that case, ‘Eliza said, ‘you had better stop your foolish dallying with that strumpet you claim to be your PA and come up with a plan to end this madness.’

Sir Roger lit the cigar. He waited for Eliza to cough and then storm out.

‘And close the door behind you.’ He yelled to her retreating figure.

 

*

It was the following day. Upon hearing the faint tap on the door to his private study, in no mood for visitors, Sir Roger closed the lid on his red despatch box. His lips formed a smile when he saw that it was Charlotte.

‘Charlotte, do come in.’ Sir Roger enthused.

Charlotte placed a tray down on his desk. It had a pot of tea an Eccles cake. Today she had on a blousy yellow top and a black pencil skirt that ended just above the knee. Around her neck on a gold chain hung a jade and amethyst pendant. When she leant over his desk she saw where his eyes settled.

‘Are you admiring my necklace Sir Roger,’ she said, with a wicked grin, ‘or are you having those naughty thoughts again?’

He was having those naughty thoughts again.

With her long blonde hair and her alluring blue eyes you would have thought by the age of thirty-seven Charlotte Sweetwater, vivacious, attractive, would be happily married, or at the very least, settled into a long-term relationship. Over the years she’d had many male admirers and had been on countless dates. However, these brief but intense love affairs inevitably ended abruptly when her suitors, one by one, were driven away by her insatiable need to mother them.

‘Ah, poor you,’ Charlotte said placing one hand to his cheek. When the PM’s hand shot out, Charlotte’s back arched leaving his groping hand clutching at thin air.

‘Uh uh,’ Charlotte admonished the PM. ‘Darling we agreed there was to be no touching.’ Charlotte sat on the edge of his desk and sighed deeply. ‘Sweet thing, you know how desperately I hunger for you to take me. But we must both be resolute my angel. We can take comfort from knowing how much sweeter our lovemaking will be when we are free to do it within the sanctity of marriage.’

That was the other reason why her male admirers didn’t hang around too long.

 

It was Sir Roger’s turn to sigh deeply. Right now, Sir Roger was thinking how much sweeter it would be if she didn’t keep swatting at his hand. It’d be nice if they ever got to actually make love before he actually died. She was a good thirty years younger than him and as for marriage! That was out of the question. Edith would never agree to a divorce. My God what would her friends in the W.I say?’

He watched Charlotte’s bosom heave and her tongue moisten her lips.

Charlotte was thinking: The poor man, why, he can hardly keep his hands from tearing off my clothes, laying me back on his desk and having his wicked way with me. If only I wasn’t so chaste, if only I could bring myself to… Be strong! Her inner voice demanded. He is a mere man and a slave to his urges. You are not that weak!

Charlotte could get so angry thinking about how Dame Edith neglected the basic needs of this poor man. She’d seen Marcel DuPont, Dame Edith’s greasy personal trainer drive off with her on the back of his powerful motorcycle… him wearing those tight-fitting leather pants… him showing off his tight butt, and his muscly thighs… and his rippling chest… and his… his… She couldn’t understand what Dame Edith saw in him? Dashing from her mind images of the Frenchman, Charlotte said, wistfully.

‘If I was your wife Sir Roger.’ ‘Why, I would cook for you every day. I would darn your socks, I would iron your underpants, I would have your slippers warming by the hearth, I would have your pipe ready and I would put on a little makeup and brush my hair minutes before you came home from work. Just imagine how sweet that would be.’

Sir Roger said. ‘You forgot to mention sex!’

‘Let’s talk about something else,’ Charlotte said, hurriedly, waggling her hands in front of her face. ‘Tell me about your day.’

Chapter Twenty-three

 

IRIS

 

Iris Brewson’s obsession with anything to do with ghosts and the supernatural was about to get into serious trouble.

Her son had told her that she wasn’t to leave the Palace without an armed police guard. Which in her view was ridiculous. He had banned her from attending her regular Ghost Hunters meetings saying, it wasn’t something that the mother of the King should be doing. But then he was never a fan of the supernatural.

When the maid, Flora Butters came across the King’s mother slipping out the back door about to get into a cab. She asked her what she was doing going out on her own.

Iris held a finger to her lips. ‘I’m going to one of my Ghost Hunters’ meetings, Iris said, ‘don’t ell my son. I shan’t be gone long.’

The Ghost Hunters Group met weekly at lunchtimes in a room above the Kings Head pub. There were usually around thirty or so Ghost Hunters, present.

At the end of the meeting, Iris was helping herself to a cup of tea when a man, quite tall, and well built, wearing a long black coat came over to introduce himself. He had quite an accent.

‘Please’a madam, I am Mario Pantanello, da foremost ghost hunter in Milano?’

‘Oh,’ Iris said, smiling coyly and having to arch her neck to look up at the man. ‘Yes, I do believe I have heard of you.’ She lied.

Mario leant and whispered in her ear. ‘All of’a dese’a people in here,’ Mario said, casting his eyes round the other people busy chatting and drinking tea or coffee, ‘are amateurs. But straightaway, I could’a tell’a dat you have been blessed with da ability to make’a contact’a with da other side.’

‘Oh,’ Iris blushed. ‘I don’t like to boast about it.’

‘I can’a see dat Iris.’ Mario said, and leant in closer. ‘How would’a you like to go from here to a place, just around the corner, where a famous ghost’a lives? I happen’a to know he would love to encounter a person with’a your exquisite’a abilities.’

Iris’s eyes widened. ‘A famous ghost you say?’ Then crestfallen, she said. ‘I couldn’t possibly; you see I am the mother of the King and I am not even supposed to be here. I sneaked out.’

‘It is just around’a da corner.’ Mario said with a motion of his hand. ‘I am talking about’a the ghost of Deacon Brodie, who escaped’a death by hanging, when da steel collar that he invented, concealed under his shirt saved his life. Did you know da authorities finally caught up with him and this time he did’a not escape’a da hang’a mans noose.’

The thrill of her having an encounter with the ghost of Deacon Brodie, the notorious public dignitary, part-time cabinetmaker and burglar was too much of a temptation.

*

It was now after two in the afternoon and Gavin hadn’t seen his Mother since breakfast. He had already had everyone search the palace and the grounds looking for her. She wasn’t supposed to leave the Palace without an armed guard but where else could she be? She must have slipped out. His fears were to become even more real when he quizzed Flora Butters who admitted that she had seen his Mother climbing into a taxi. Flora confessed that she knew his mother had been sneaking out regularly to attend her ghost hunters meetings.

Gavin knew where these meetings took place. He called Henry on his mobile. The Houseman was still searching the Palace grounds.

‘My Mother took a taxi to the King’s Head pub,’ Gavin explained. ‘The Ghost Hunters meet there but she should have left shortly after one o’ clock. Maybe I am being a little overprotective but I sense something is wrong. Can you go to the pub and see if you can find her there? And in case she comes home I will stay here.’

 

Looking out of the lounge facing west Gavin had an unobstructed view of the Palace gates. Every time he saw a taxi pull up outside he would hold his breath and pray his mother would climb out. When she got home he was going to have a stern word with her. This time he wasn’t hearing any arguments from her, she was to have a mobile phone.

He spun around when he heard the house phone ring. Hoping it was his Mother Gavin raced out to the hall and snatched up the receiver.

 

‘Hello?’ He said.

A heavily accented male voice on the other end said.

‘I have’a kidnapped’a your mudder. She’s a’gonna speak’a to you. You ever wanna see her alive again you will do exactly as I say.’

Before he could reply Gavin heard his Mother speak.

‘Gavin. I’m so sorry. I have been a silly old woman. Please don’t shout at me. This horrible man says he will kill me if you don’t do as he says, but don’t you take any notice of him. You tell him…’

The man came back on the phone.

‘At six o’ clock you will go into da parliament’a building and announce’a your abdication’a. When I see this on da TV, I will release’a your mudder unharmed. And if you call’a da police, you will regret it. You comprende?’

Stunned by the call, Gavin wasn’t going to argue. He would do exactly what the man said. His Mother’s life was at stake here so him staying on, as King no longer mattered. He would gladly hand back the crown to have his Mother back safe and well.

‘Please, I will do everything that you ask,’ Gavin pleaded. ‘Six ‘clock I promise I will abdicate and you needn’t worry because after this we will leave Scotland. Just please, don’t hurt her.’

Click the line went dead.

 

Glaring at the phone, Gavin was pretty sure who was behind this. Who was it that tried to trick him into signing the annulment of the Royal Assent law? Who was it tried to bribe him into abdicating? If anything happened to his mother he would take Mary Dewar by the throat and wring the truth out of her. Worrying him was, should he tell someone? Who? Fiona, Henry? Penny – quite possibly? Then why take the risk? No. He was going to do exactly what the kidnapper demanded. There would no police involvement and he would sign that damn Royal Assent bill and then announce his abdication. They would then pack their bags and move back to Marbury. The only regret he had was Mary Dewar was getting away it. That thought burned in his gut like acid. But the fight had gone from him. Feeling cheated and deflated, Gavin sensed his extraordinary Scottish adventure was about to come to an abrupt end.

*

Mario, Strangler, Pantanello, had grown tired of the old woman yelling and banging on the door. If his agent, Leplume, hadn’t insisted that she was to be kept alive, he’d have gone back inside the room and shut her up… permanently.

‘If’a you don’t’a fargin’ shaddup,’ he yelled through the wall. ‘I’m’a gonna come in there and throttle you.’

Mario wasn’t worried about anyone outside hearing her yells. They were two levels down in a basement beneath the shops on Royal Mile. He had her safely locked up in a tiny room with not a stick of furniture and not a bit of food or water. He was in an adjoining room off a set of twisted stairs. Worryingly, scaffolding held up the walls and celling. He hated the rats down here. They made him itch and someone once told him that rat fleas carried the bubonic plague.

‘My son could have you hanged for this you know,’ Iris yelled above the sound of her tiny fists hammering on the door. ‘He’s the king of Scotland.

‘Shudda uppa your mouth you old bag, less’a you wanna me to come in there and strangle you.’

‘You wouldn’t dare. You’ll be sorry when my son catches hold you. He’ll give you what for.’

‘I’m off out.’ Mario shouted through the door. ‘Don’t’a waste’a your breath shouting for help cos no one except the rats will hear you, and I should’a warn you the rats down here are as big as cats.’ That seemed to shut her up.

Mario needed some air. These deserted slums stank of disease.

Six o’clock, the minute he heard the King say that he had abdicated he was getting out of Scotland. As far as he was concerned that couldn’t happen fast enough. He would then call up his agent and arrange for his fee to be paid into his Swiss bank account. That done he was on the next flight out of Edinburgh to New York. The old woman had seen his face so she had to die. He couldn’t have been happier with where he had incarcerated her. No one had been inside those unsafe slums for many years, probably centuries. Maybe in another hundred years they will come across her bones that had been gnawed clean by the rats.

Iris had gone quiet.

Mario rattled the door to make sure it was locked.

‘Hey, you in there,’ he called out, with his ear against the rough oak door. ‘I am going to get some’a food’a.’ He lied. ‘If you are good while I am away, I will let you eat eh?’

 

Just off Castle Street the Italian restaurant called Caesars Palace was anything but a palace. Mario had chosen to sit a table in the gloomiest part of the restaurant. He was making a mess of eating his spaghetti Bolognese. Bits of pasta and sauce were stuck to the white cotton napkin that he had tucked into the collar of his shirt and other bits were on the tablecloth. Glad that he no longer had to listen to the constant bitching of the old woman, Mario was enjoying his food. He glanced up when he heard the door open. He recognised the guy who just walked in. They had crossed paths in Switzerland, a few years back. Maybe eight years ago? Mario had just heaped a forkful of food into his mouth when the man came and sat down across from him.

 

Among the fraternity of Professional Assassins, Bartholomew Gent was a respected killer and highly regarded in his craft. He was currently seeded Number 2 in the world and his fees reflected that fact. Three days ago an MI5 controller called him up and said they had a little job needed done. This one was in Edinburgh. He flew in that morning and called in at the local MI5 office where he picked up his assignment instructions and the necessary kit, which comprised of three handguns and boxes of ammo, along with three different passports and a handful of credit cards in various names. His orders, he was told by his handler, Q, came from the very top. He took that to mean the PM was in on it. His assignment was classified as urgent. He was to take out King Robert IV before he could implement his new plans that were scheduled to come into force Friday week. That was ten days from now.

 

When Gent recognised Mario Pantanello as he emerged from an alley on Castle Hill, what other conclusion could he come to? Pantanello had to be Edinburgh to kill the King! Someone had double-booked the job. Two hitmen after the same mark was unworkable, one of then would have to step aside.

There exists in the culture of Hitmen, a gentleman’s agreement that states, in the event of a double booking, the first hitman to arrive at the location had priority. Which was a fair arrangement given the amount of preparation work that needed to be done ahead of a standard hit. Regarding this particular assignment, the assassination of royalty, the risks were that much higher. This was reflected in the amount of money involved. With this one hit, Gent stood to earn enough money to buy a luxury yacht and then retire to the Caribbean.

Gent followed the New York mobster to a restaurant on Castle Hill.

 

‘Why’a you no go sit over there?’ Mario said pointing his spaghetti-laden fork at the tables over by the door. Splashes of sauce flew off and speckled his napkin.

Gent watched the Italian’s tongue slide over his lips picking up bits of blood-red food. A piece of stringy pasta hung defiantly from the lower of his two chins.

Bartholomew Gent smiled and said.

‘Mario, how are you?’

‘Do I know you?’

‘Yes we met before.’ Gent said looking relaxed.

‘Yeah I remember,’ Mario said, and pointed his fork at the man. More Bolognese sauce spattered the tablecloth. ‘You was at da Swiss chalet, when I took out the Russian oil guy yeah? Gent, that’s a your name yeah? British Intelligence? Yeah, I remember you.’

‘That’s right Mario. Small world eh?’

‘Wadda you want?’ Mario said forking in more food.

‘That time, back at the chalet Mario, you will recall, I stepped back and I let you take the shot. Which was cool, because you were there ahead of me and that is how we do business. As a matter of professional etiquette I agreed to give way.’

‘Wadda you saying?’

‘I am saying, Mario, that you arrived in Edinburgh two days ago, and I got here three days ago, one day ahead of you, therefore, I respectfully ask that you back off.’

Mario held up his empty glass and slammed the butt of his knife down on the table. The waiter looked up from tapping on his iPhone and then sauntered over with a bottle of Pinot Nero.

‘Ciao.’ Mario said raising his glass to his competitor. Mario took a swig, put his glass back down on the table. He resumed shovelling food into his mouth, sucking up loose strands of the stuff.

‘So, ‘said Gent, ‘Are we agreed? You will now leave Edinburgh and allow me to get on with my job?’

The Italian mobster’s eyes bore into Gent’s. Mario thumped his chest with a spaghetti-laden fork said. ‘In my country a contract is a matter of honour. When’a someone pays’a you to do a job, then you gotta do’a da job.’ Mario shrugged, ‘capisce? Now, why’a don’t’a you order some of dis nice’a bolognese’a pasta and go sidda over dere?’ ’

‘No thanks,‘ Gent said, ‘I’ve eaten.

‘Then get outa my fargin face?’ The Italian said waving Gent away with his fork that flicked pasta on the agent’s jacket.

Gent got up slowly from his chair and looking down on the Italian he made a gun of his fist and pointed it at the mobster. He said. ‘I saw that in a James Bond movie. See you around Mario.’

‘You wanna see a movie,’ Mario called out to Gent’s back as the man walked over to the door, ‘you should go watcha da Godfather and‘a learn something about Italian honour.’

After the MI5 man had left Mario muttered, ‘fargin, icehole.’

*

A hundred feet beneath Castle Hill, in her dank and gloomy cell, Iris was beginning to give up hope of ever getting out of this room alive. She also suspected her body would never be found. She knew the Italian had lied. Why would he let her see his face if he intended to set her free? She wondered which, starvation, or thirst would kill her first? The latter she imagined. Moving round the room, Iris was tapping her knuckles on the walls hoping to hear the hollow sound of weakness. If she was to dig her way out of here, she needed to do so before she became too weak to do anything. An hour ago she gave up hammering at the door. Her hands were raw and bleeding from her attempts to break it down. Her voice had gone and her throat was sore from crying out and from thirst. She needed to conserve her energy. The only light in here was from a crack of sunlight spilling through a filthy window ten floors up inside what looked like an elevator shaft. Sticking out the walls at regular intervals were rotted stumps of wood, old floor joists. Soon the crack of light on the dusty floor would climb the wall and by sundown she will be in total darkness. Already she could see the red beady eyes of the rats that sat beneath the floorboards waiting patiently for thirst to weaken her. Was this how she was to die” Too weak to fight off the rats? She hefted her handbag. She would kill as many of them as she could before they overtook her. My handbag, she suddenly thought. Dropping to her knees Iris emptied out the contents on the floor. ‘Ahah!’ She cried, snatching up a crochet hook. She’d seen Detective Colombo pick the lock of a door with one of these on the telly.

Iris got to work on the lock.

*

After leaving the Italian restaurant, Mario went straight back to his hotel room. Five o’clock he was sitting on his hotel bed and watching the news channel on TV while waiting to see the King’s abdication broadcast. The TV commenters could only guess the purpose of King Robert’s extraordinary announcement scheduled for six o’ clock. Mario smiled. That would be his abdication speech. Mario, propped up against the pillows on his bed, dialled up room service.

’Send’a up, a bottle of red wine and a bucket of French fries.’

Twenty minutes later when he heard a knock at his door, thinking this had to be his food order, he called out.

‘Come in it aint locked.’ When the door swung in, Mario saw Bartholomew Gent standing in the doorway. The MI5 agent had a silenced gun aimed at his head.

‘Hello again, Mario,’ said Gent. ‘Sorry about this.’

Mario’s hand as fast as lightning, brought up the gun that he kept hidden under his pillow.

The noise made by the two muffled shots could have been someone shutting doors.

The only person able to say where Iris Brewson was being kept prisoner was now dead.

*

Gavin wasn’t taking any chances. When Fiona and Henry and Penny demanded that he explain his sudden decision to abdicate he felt he had better lie. He told them he was tired and he had had enough of Scotland.

They didn’t believe a word of it.

’Don’t keep asking me why, because I can’t tell you,’ Gavin protested. He was angry with himself for not realising the threat that Dewar and Cruid posed. ‘Please, can you not just trust me on this. I know what I am doing. Tomorrow, after I have abdicated, all being well, I should be able to give you a better explanation.’

The others left Gavin alone so that he could write his abdication speech. Hurriedly penned on a scrap of paper he gave no hint of why he was quitting. His address was due to go worldwide at six o’clock. He would then sign Dewar’s Royal Assent bill and the formal document that sealed his abdication. He and his family were leaving Scotland forever.

 

When Gent called up Q, his Edinburgh handler to ask him if he knew who had hired Mario Pantanello to kill the King, he was taken aback by what he heard. Q said.

‘What makes you think he was in Edinburgh to kill the King? The Italian gentleman wasn’t here to take the King out, his assignment, orchestrated by someone high up in the Scottish Government, was to kidnap the King’s Mother in some poorly thought out plot to force the King to abdicate. As I understand it the woman escaped, and then the next I heard you walked in on him and shot him dead. I cannot believe that you did this because you felt sorry for the old woman so I guess you had some other reason. Would you care to share that with me?’

Gavin hesitated and then said. ‘No. Bye Q.’

Even if he had known that Mario, strictly speaking, wasn’t after the same target as he, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. The simple fact of the matter was the Italian should have acknowledged the Hitman’s Code of Conduct.

Taking out Pantanello, had been a precautionary requirement that was proportional to the threat his interference posed to Gent’s professional reputation. Ranked the Number 2 Hitman in the world, second only to Sven Johannson, the “Swiss meatball,” Gent knows should he fail on this mission he could expect his ranking take a serious knock.

Chapter Twenty-four

 

Holyrood.

 

Well before the King’s expected arrival, the Scottish Parliament Building was packed with MSP’s and the media circus. Speculation was rife. No one, however, could have imagined that Scotland’s new King was about to hand back his crown.

Only Mary Dewar and Cruid knew why the King had recalled Parliament. Dewar was overjoyed at the way her brilliant idea was panning out. In her briefcase she had the two documents ready for the King to sign. The first of these was the bill that would end the ridiculous need for Royal Assent. The second document was the document that ended his Kingship, which in turn terminated Scotland’s brief return to a monarchical system.

Mary had tried several times to speak to the kidnapper. He wasn’t answering his mobile phone. She wanted to tell him he that would get paid the minute Brewson signed the abdication document and had left the building. In anticipation of this agreeable outcome and feeling magnanimous in victory, she had asked Cruid to purchase the Brewson’s First class rail tickets back to Essex.

Cruid had never seen Dewar looking this happy.

‘Congratulations Mary, ‘Cruid said. ‘You pulled it off.’

‘Yes I did. With no help from you.’

 

It was now five o’ clock. In one hour Gavin was due over at the Parliament Building where he would deliver his speech. Taking a risk, Gavin felt it was time to trust Fiona, Henry and Penny not to call the police. Taking them aside he told them about the kidnapping. He explained how he had no choice. In return for his Mother’s safe return he had to agree to abdicate after which he planned to leave Scotland.

‘Could you not,’ Penny suggested, her voice nearly choking, ‘announce your abdication and then when your Mother is back home say that you have changed your mind and you are staying on?’

‘The people behind this, and I think we all know who they are, wont release her until I have signed the declaration. My signature sets it in stone and my enemies know that. So, sadly, there will be no going back.’

‘Then as much as it grieves me to say this,’ Henry said gripping hold of Gavin’s hand. ‘You must do what you think is best. Saving your mother is far more important than your throne.’ Henry sighed. ‘We shall be sorry to see you go…hell, Scotland will be sorry to lose you.’

Gavin saw Penny’s eyes well up. Fiona went to her and pulled her into a hug.

 

After the tourists had left for the day, King Robert had gather about him his loyal team of solicitors and legal secretaries. They met at the fountain in the Palace Courtyard. Keeping hold of Fiona’s hand he saw reflected in her eyes his own utter sadness. Thinking about his Mother it was hard to remain composed.

‘I have asked you all to meet me here because I feel it is only fair that you should hear it from me first. At six o’ clock, I shall go across to the Scottish Parliament Building where I shall announce my abdication.’

Seeing the looks of shock and dismay on the faces of his hardworking team, Gavin nearly choked. ‘Right now, I am not able to say why I need to do this. Maybe sometime in the future this may well come out? I just want to thank you so much for all for your hard work and the dedication you have showed me over the past weeks. Like you, I feel sad that the mission that we set out to accomplish has to end.’

Words failed him. Gavin shook his head. He had to walk away.

Henry and Penny caught up with Gavin and Fiona and together they set off for the Scottish Parliament Building. What was most upsetting for Gavin was not so much about him losing his crown. That really didn’t matter. What mattered was the people of Scotland would not now get the justice they deserved. They would not get to see the difference to their ordinary lives that his new laws would have brought about. The other thing that stuck like a fishbone in his throat, was the thought that Mary Dewar had got away with her plan to dethrone him. Feeling as if he might explode with rage, Gavin lengthened his stride across the Palace courtyard. Holding his head high and with his sight set on the modern Parliament Building just across the way, Gavin reached the gates where two lines of armed cops were waiting to escort him safely across the road.

 

‘Are you ok Gavin?’ Henry said at his side.

Gavin nodded. Fiona gave his hand a squeeze.

They had just reached the gates when a taxicab slewed to a halt blocking his path. His eyes widened when he saw his mother climb out of the taxi. He looked on as she reached in and paid the cabbie.

Iris was covered in dust and uncharacteristically, her clothes and her hair looked a mess. Turning to face her son, Iris said sternly.

‘Now don’t you go yelling at me Gavin. I know it was foolish thing to do, me going out on my own… stupid old woman…’ When Gavin embraced her it almost took the wind out of her.

‘Mother! Oh my God. I am so glad to see you. Are you ok?’ He said leaning back to examine her. ‘What’s happened to your hands? They have blood on them. You’re hurt! Where is the man who did this? I am going to kill him.’

‘He’s gone,’ Iris said. ‘The bugger left me locked in a rat-infested room. If it hadn’t have been for the crochet hook I always keep in my handbag I would have died. I knew he had no intention of coming back to set me free, else he wouldn’t have let me see his face. He’ll be pig sick when he does come back and find me gone.’ Iris held up the crochet hook. ‘I picked the lock Gavin. I saw Columbo do that on the telly.’ Iris said proudly.

Gavin pulled his mother to him and very nearly broke down.

After a few moments Henry placed a hand on the King’s shoulder. ‘It is five to six Gavin. What are you going to do? Are you still going to abdicate?’

‘What! Iris spluttered. She turned on her son. ‘What’s Henry saying? You are not abdicating just because some stupid old woman hadn’t the good sense to keep herself safe. I wont hear of it Gavin Brewson,’ Iris said fiercely. ‘You go over there, ‘Iris pointed to the Parliament Building, ‘and you tell them that nothing’s changed. For God’s sake Gavin, you are the King and a descendent of Robert the Bruce. No,’ Iris demanded, ‘you are not abdicating.’

‘Ok, Mother, I hear you,’ Gavin said trying to calm his mother down. Turning to Henry he said.

‘Can you take my Mother back to our apartment and have a doctor check her over.’ Turning to Penny, Gavin said. ‘Can you go talk to the Chief of Police and tell him I want the people behind my Mother’s abduction caught and I want our police protection doubled.’ Penny nodded and walked off.

Gavin walked back over to the fountain where his team were even more confused about what was going on. He clapped his hands. ‘Come on you people. Heads up! Change of plan. I am not going to abdicate and you need to get back to your desks. There is a lot of work to do.’

 

The Chief of Police wasn’t taking any chances. Six armed officers escorted the King across the road and saw him safely through the staff entrance of the Scottish Parliament Building.

 

Checking her watch for the fourth time, Mary noted that Brewson was now thirty-five minutes late. Cruid was fidgeting on his seat.

Dewar nudged Cruid when she saw the King walk in. She was grinning as he approached the Presiding Officer’s dais.

Cruid’s face was creased with lines when he studied the King’s demeanour. He wasn’t at all sure Gavin bore the expression of someone dejected and beaten. He was also worried that Mary might not keep her promise to have Iris released. Then why wouldn’t she?

‘Here we go,’ Mary said gleefully rubbing her hands and nodding her head at the King who now faced the rising tiers of MSP desks that were arranged in a semi-circle before him. Speaking out the side of her mouth Mary said, ‘at last, we are going to be shot of him.’

Cruid saw Gavin say something to the Presiding officer who smiled. A feeling of foreboding overtook him. He sensed trouble.

‘I shall make this brief, ‘Gavin said. His voice sounding resolute carried all the way up to those sitting on the edge of their seats in the Public Viewing Area.

‘I need to report that today my Mother was kidnapped. I was told in exchange for her safe return I was to abdicate. Fortunately, that plot failed. My Mother managed to escape from the room that she was being held in. I am sure that everyone in Scotland and abroad will join me in condemning those who did this.’ Gavin shot a penetrating look at Dewar who glared back at him.

Gavin continued, ‘I say this to those responsible, the police will hunt to you down and you will face Scottish justice. This vile attempt to halt my plans to overhaul the Scottish industries and prevent me bringing in new laws that favour the poor over the greed of the rich will go ahead with renewed vigour. In ten days time I shall nationalise our banks, our oil and our transports systems and I shall outlaw many of the unjust activities of those who use their power and their influence to feather their own nest. Before I get back to that important work, I have this message for the enemies of change in Scotland and for the British Prime Minister: Do not try and stand in my way.’

Gavin turned and thanked the Presiding Officer. Then with a wave he fell in step with two armed coppers and headed for the exit.

 

Back in their apartment, Gavin had this to say to Fiona and Iris.

‘This kidnapping business is a clear enough warning that my presence in Scotland is making us many enemies. From now on, none of us are to go anywhere without police protection.’

*

The Brewson family were gathered in one of the three sitting rooms in their apartment watching the ten o‘clock news when Iris suddenly leapt from her chair and pointed at the TV.

‘That’s him… that’s my kidnapper.’ Iris shouted out.

Displaying a passport photo of the dead man, the newsreader spoke of a man that was found shot dead in an Edinburgh hotel room.

‘My word,’ Iris gasped. That’s him. That’s my kidnapper and he’s been shot dead! Good God!’

*

Mary couldn’t believe her luck. Leplume’s kidnapper being found shot dead, meant there was no chance of the botched kidnapping being traced back to her.

Having failed in her attempt to get the King to abdicate immediately after he had left the Parliament building Dewar went up to her office and phoned Leplume.

‘Good evening Mary,’ the boss of the Hitman agency said, cagily. ‘I guess you are calling to complain about the Italian that I sent to do the kidnapping. So tragic him getting killed that way. I have had Mario’s family calling me up from New York. They are most upset and vowing revenge on who did this…’

‘Never mind that,’ Mary snapped. ‘The game has changed. I now need him dead.’

‘You want the King dead?’

‘Yes. And I want no more dodgy, cheap Italians. You got that? I want the best hitman you can find. Who can you get me?’

‘If you want the best it’s going to cost you Mary.’

Dewar was prepared for that. She plans to cream whatever it costs off the Scottish National Health budget, which was already overspent by billions. What’s it matter if the hospitals get a few million quid less for patient care?

‘Who you got in mind?’

‘The best in the world is Sven Johannson. The Swedish Meatball they call him. He is ranked Number 1 in the League of Honorary Hitman. But he doesn’t come cheap.’

‘Yeah, well I don’t do cheap. Get him. And this time I want to meet him. I don’t trust you Leplume.’

 

It was the morning after the kidnapping when Gavin, his face like thunder, burst in on Scotland’s First Minister.

When the door flew open Cruid clutched at his heart and Mary slammed down the lid of her laptop. Her face paled when she saw the King looking as mad as hell. She then found her voice.

‘Your majesty,’ Mary said, putting on a sad face. ‘I can’t begin to tell you how shocked I was to hear what happened to your poor Mother. I do hope that she is recovered and not too distraught. My God, I find it hard to believe that someone would want to do such a wicked thing. I hear the police, thank God, found the man in a hotel room shot dead. That at least has put an end to it.’

Brewson was shaking his head.

‘I know what you must be thinking Gavin,’ Mary said, ‘and whilst Cruid and I did suggest that solely in your own interests it was best that you abdicated, my God, in no way would we ever contemplate such a vile act.’ Mary was quick to add. ‘I must say I was very moved by your speech yesterday. You are indeed a very brave man, incautious too I might add, but I do assure you Scotland’s elected Government, will support you in this bold course of action… tell me when do you plan to implement these new laws… I heard ten days. I have to say that sounds a little rushed. Why don’t you delay it for say, a few months, perhaps six months? Give yourself a little leeway.’

‘Nice speech Dewar,’ Gavin sneered. ‘I may not have any proof of your involvement in my Mother’s kidnapping but I know it was you who hired the Italian. I also suspect that it was it you who then had him killed after he botched the job.’ Even for her, the look of dismay on Dewar’s face seemed genuine. ‘I promise you this Dewar; I will see to it that you and Cruid both pay for what you did to my Mother. Do you know that Kidnapping carries a maximum life sentence?’ When Gavin looked round at Cruid he saw his Adam’s Apple bob. ‘I am no quitter,’ Gavin said flatly. ‘I am the King of Scotland and as such I intend to carry out my plans to reform Scotland and you two had better keep out of my way.’

After Brewson had left, when Cruid turned to face Mary Dewar his eyes were brimming.

‘I can’t handle this Mary. We are both going to end up in prison.’

‘Relax Cruid,’ Mary said. ‘Stop panicking. I have it all in hand. I am switching to plan B.’

‘Do we have a plan B?’ Cruid said. The First Minister was smiling. ‘Mary, I sincerely hope that this plan B of yours doesn’t involve this Leplume and his squad of inept assassins. If so, I want no part of it.’

‘You are a part of it you old fool, ‘Mary snapped. ‘If I go down over this, I promise you Cruid you are going down with me. And at your age you wont get to leave prison alive. Just to ease your mind I can tell that I have arranged for us to meet up with the best hitman in the world. We are going to end this farce.’

‘And that is supposed to ease my mind?’ Cruid said, his face ashen.

Chapter Twenty-five.

 

Edinburgh.

 

In the basement of Holyrood Palace, Gavin’s legal team were forging ahead with his controversial Scottish reform plans. Gavin now had a team of twenty people working on his new laws that will shake up not just Scotland but the UK too. They now had just six days to get the work finished.

Gavin and his family now had round the clock armed police guards. These days the Brewson’s were rarely seen outside Palace.

 

*

London was being kept fully briefed on King Robert’s activities. Sir Roger was now being attacked by the media, the opposition parties and even by his own party who were accusing him of ineptitude. The rich and powerful owners of the companies with huge business interests up in Scotland had been watching their share prices fall as the day approached when they would have their businesses taken over with minimal compensation. These industrialists were now threatening there would be no more money paid into the Tory party until the Prime Minister ended this chaos.

 

Alone in his office the PM picked up his phone.

‘Beaumont, I want you to come to my private study right away. We need to talk.’

‘Yes Prime Minister.’ The P.M’s Special Adviser and the author of ScottiLeak said, weakly. Terry hung up the phone and then slumped back in his chair, He wished he had never dreamt up the stupid email plot.

*

Faring no better in the popularity stakes, Mary Dewar lambasted Cruid.

‘This is entirely your fault Cruid.’ the First Minister roared in the face of her Minister. ‘You were supposed to find me a king that I could manipulate.’

Cruid wasn’t having this. How come all of a sudden it’s his fault?

‘You instructed me to locate a man with a direct DNA link to one of our ancestral kings,’ Cruid snapped. ‘And that is exactly what I did. How was I to know the man would turn out to be a megalomaniac?’

‘We have just days now before he enacts these laws’ Dewar warned. ‘The public and even my own bloody MSP’s adore him. Even the press lap up every word he says. I have even heard it said he is the Second Coming, can you believe that?’

Cruid could well believe that.

‘Can we please not go down the regicide route Mary,’ Cruid pleaded. ‘Think about what happened to the Regicides who had signed the death warrant for Charles the First’s execution. Every one of then was eventually hunted down and then hung drawn and quartered in public!’

‘Stop being a wimp,’ Mary snapped. ‘Gavin Brewson is not the resurrection of Jesus Christ nor is he Charles the First. He is an Essex upstart. And the quicker we have him done away with the better.’ ‘

Cruid didn’t want to hear that. He was shaking his head. ‘Mary, is there no other way?’

‘No is the short answer,’ Mary said abruptly. ‘So you toddle off. Leave me to sort it out. God, I have to do every bloody thing.’

Chapter Twenty-six.

 

London

 

Terry Beaumont was in Sir Roger Bottomley’s study wishing he were somewhere else, such as at home supervising his new kitchen installation. Also present was the Head of MI5, Lord Soper. They were discussing the Scottish Problem, or to be more precise, the Scottish King problem.

Sir Roger was blistering mad. All morning he had been getting calls from Tory party donors threatening all manner of dire consequences if the Scottish King was allowed to go ahead with his nationalisation plans. The Chancellor of the Exchequer among other financial luminaries, including, Mike Chambly, the Governor of the Bank Of England were warning the PM that the UK financial markets were on the verge of a recession the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the thirties. Foreign investment in the UK was now at an all-time low and several car manufacturers based in the North of England were now threatening to move their car production plants across to France.

‘Why the hell hasn’t this King been dealt with Soper? What’s the delay? Your agent was supposed to see to it that he was no longer a problem. I’d have thought the exorbitant fee we are paying him he’d have had it sorted by now?’

‘I spoke to his handler in Edinburgh only this morning PM, ‘ Soper said trying to remain patient. ‘Apparently our agent was delayed by a little local difficulty that needed ironing out.’

‘I take it this local difficulty was the kidnapping of the Kings Mother?’ Beaumont remarked. ’I sincerely hope that none of our departments were involved.’

‘We had nothing to do with it,’ Soper said, raising his hands. ‘My sources in Holyrood tell me that someone high up in the Scottish Government arranged it. Apparently, the kidnapping was meant to twist the King’s arm, force him into abdicating.’

‘That’s a bloody half-arsed way of going about things,’ Sir Roger blustered pouring himself out a single malt whiskey and not offering any to the others. ‘It’s a pity the Scots hadn’t the guts to go for a permanent solution.’

‘Which is precisely what agent Gent will accomplish.’ Soper said, authoritatively. ‘I should add though, the kidnapping hasn’t helped our man at all. There is now a siege mentality in Holyrood. The King has tripled his armed police guard and neither he nor his family are going out in public.’

‘Are you saying that our man can’t get at the King?’ Sir Roger said, gnawing on his cigar butt.

‘Sir Roger, let’s not panic,’ Lord Soper said, soothingly. ‘My man assures me that the King will be dead before the deadline.’

‘Which is when?’ Terry asked.

‘Six days,’ Soper said. ‘Next Friday King Robert is due to make his scheduled announcement, only it wont happen because he will be deceased.

‘Perhaps, ‘Terry suggested, ’it would be sensible to send another hitman up to Edinburgh, to act as a backup?’

The Head of MI5 shot Terry a look. ‘There really is no need to…’

‘Good point Beaumont.’ Bottomley said interrupting the boss of MI5. ‘Arrange that Soper.’

‘Certainly, Sir Roger,’ Lord Soper said, trying to think who might be free. Most of them were already on assignments. ‘I will see who is available. And you are happy to provide the money Sir Roger?’

 

‘Yes, yes, yes, dammit,’ Sir Roger said irritably. ‘The money can come out of the Education budget. Just get it done.’

Soper caught Beaumont’s eye and nodded at the door.

Terry got to his feet ahead of Soper. ‘Prime Minister, please excuse us, only we need to crack on with this.’

‘Go. Both of you.’ Bottomley said waving his glass at them. ‘And send Mizz Sweetwater in will you?’

‘I’ll see if she is busy.’ Terry said, provocatively.’

‘I don’t employ her to be busy.’ The PM said, his face purpling up.

Outside the PM’s office, taking Beaumont aside, the Head of MI5 angrily said, ‘why the hell did you say that?’

‘Say What?’

‘Say that we should send another hitman up to Edinburgh.’

Pulling his arm free of Soper’s grip, Terry replied testily.

‘We now have just six days to get this done Soper. If we don’t assassinate the King before the deadline all our careers will go down the Swanee. The PM will have to go and so will we.’ Such an eventuality for Beaumont would necessarily entail the curtailment of the work on their half-demolished kitchen that right now was little more than a pile of kitchen units yet to be installed and a host of unpacked appliances. There was no plumbing and only one working wall socket. He shuddered at the thought of having to tell Amanda that having lost his job, there was no way he could pay the builders to get the work finished. He knew how his wife would react. The news would resurrect her IBS and her eczema, to say nothing of her athlete’s foot and her recurring cystitis.

‘Do you have someone in mind Soper?’ Terry said, wanting to make it clear there was to be no further discussion on the matter.

Soper had to think about that. All his operatives were currently out on assignments.

‘I can find someone.‘ Lord Soper said.

‘Just as long as this person is more on the ball than your man in Edinburgh, who seems to be having a nice little holiday up there on our money.’

Stung by that remark. The Head of MI5 snapped. ‘I can assure you Terry; the situation in Edinburgh is far from being a holiday for anyone. My agent has had to cope with some extraordinary difficulties and he will not be happy if he were to find out that we had hired a back-up hitman. These hitmen are a funny lot. They like to have total control of the Theatre of Operation. And two assassins on the same job is a complication that neither of them will be happy about.’

‘Then don’t tell either of them.’ Terry replied, as if it were that simple.

Soper pulled a face, nodded and then walked off.

*

In his office in Thames House, the Headquarters of MI5, Lord Soper was watching the backup hitman sipping her tea. They had agreed on her fee. Soper wasn’t going to tell her that he had already assigned the job to another Hitman.

Miranda Belladonna, stick-thin, her hands calloused from twenty years working as a trapeze artist had retired from that dangerous profession two years ago. Miranda’s abilities to scale walls, creep into secured buildings, squeeze through the tightest of spaces to steal money, gems, and information and on the odd occasion, like right now, to bump someone off, are in high demand by her exclusive clients.

‘You are quiet clear on your mission?’ The boss of MI5 said studying the thin woman on the other side of his desk.

‘Yes,’ Belladonna replied, curtly. ‘Tonight I will fly into Edinburgh airport and I need to assassinate the King of Scotland within five days.’

‘That’s correct,’ Soper said. And once you have completed your assignment you will get paid the fifty K.’

‘And you say the King has now confined himself to Holyrood Palace.’

‘Two days ago, someone tried to kidnap the King’s Mother. Since then the family have gone into lock-down.

‘In that case I shall need to break into his apartment at night, and then kill him in his sleep.’ Miranda then had a thought. ‘Does he sleep alone?’

Lord Soper didn’t know, so he lied.

‘I believe the King and the Queen sleep in separate rooms.’

Miranda shrugged. It didn’t matter to her either way. ‘I expect to have it done inside forty-eight hours. The first twenty-four hours I will be scoping the Palace.’

Soper came around his desk and held out his hand. The woman’s calloused hand closed around his like a vice. He shuddered at the thought of those bony hands closing round the Kings throat and throttling the life out of Scotland’s celebrated monarch.

Chapter Twenty-seven

 

Edinburgh.

 

Gent was in his hotel room sitting on the bed with his back against the headboard and watching TV when his mobile phone began chirping. He picked it up off the bedside table and checked the caller ID. It was his Edinburgh handler, Q

‘What do you want Q? Gent said flatly.

‘I thought that you should know an Italian male with a New York accent is in town making enquires about your whereabouts.’

‘When was this?’ gent asked.

‘A couple of hours ago,’ Q said. ‘Don’t you think it odd another Italian showing up so soon after you killed the other one?’

The way he said it, “killed the other one,” sounded like criticism.

‘Ok, you told me. You done?’ Gent said, abruptly.

‘Gent, let’s be clear here,’ Q said testily. ’You are assigned to take out the King and not become involved in a personal vendetta with your competitors. If you continue to go around randomly shooting people you are likely to draw attention to yourself and that will jeopardise your mission.’

‘I’m on the job,’ Gent said curtly, stung by the remark. ‘That’s all you need to know. Thanks for the tipoff. But when I need a pen-pusher to tell me how to do my job, you will be the first person I’ll call up.’

‘Fine, it’s your funeral. Just be sure to keep an eye out for this other Italian,’ Q said.

‘Like I said, I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job. Bye Q.’ Gent ended the call.

Sitting up on his bed, Gent was pondering on the conversation with Q and wondering why this other Italian was asking around about him when he got the answer. With a bang his door flew open. Someone kicked his door in.

‘Freeze Icehole.’

Jeeezus, Gent thought, not another bloody Italian who can’t pronounce, arsehole? Gent’s eyes locked on to the Beretta fitted with a silencer. The black hole of the muzzle was pointed at a point between his eyes. Under his breath he cursed. His own gun was in its leather holster hanging on the bedpost down by his feet. This had to be the Italian that Q had just warned him about.

His build, the way he was dressed, the way he spoke, all but the moustache that hid his upper lip, the guy looked a lot like Mario Pantanello. He even wore the same big-shouldered, long black overcoat and a wide-brimmed black fedora hat, and to complete the verisimilitude, at a distance of ten feet, he even stank of garlic. The two men could have been brothers. Shit! It suddenly occurred to Gent. This guy had to be a relative of Mario’s. Two Italian mobsters in his face in less than a week! It can’t be a coincidence. Was this some kind of mafia family revenge thing?

Calculating he had just seconds to live Gent’s mind was fully focused. He calculated the odds of him reaching his gun before the Italian could pull the trigger of his own gun were in the minus range. His best bet was to play for time, stall the guy, try and confuse him. All the time he was still talking he wasn’t dead! There was some logic in that. Spreading his arms wide, Gent tried out his fake Italian accent.

‘Hey Dony!’ Gent said, banking on the guy being a Tony. Aren’t most of them? ’Hey man,’ Gent said, faking a frown. ‘Wize you pointing a gun at me?’ Thumping his fist against his chest the way he’d seen Mario do, he said. ‘Hey, Dony, doncher remember me? I’m Geno, Aldo’s second cousin; we met at my Godfathers funeral. How ya doin’? Longa time’a no see eh?’

For a second there, Gent had the guy confused.

The mobster then said. ‘You fargin icehole, you shot dead my cousin Mario, so now you’s gonna get whacked.’

Gent faked surprise. ‘Wocher tokkin about Mario is dead? No way man,’ holding his fingers and thumbs together the way he’d seen the Italians do in the movies, he waggled his hands and said. ‘Mario dead!’ Gent crossed his heart and then kissed his fingers. He’d seen this in the movies too. He was sweating and stalling for time, waiting for that one break. ‘Hey man, I cannot believe it. What the hell happened?’

Gent got lucky. The man’s name was, Tony. Gent saw him hesitate.

Tony Bentocelli was Pantanello’s brother-in-law. When Mario married Tony’s sister Maria, first cousin to Aldo Caesaro, the brother-in-law of Bruno Mancini who just happened to be the main man in the Bronx mafia, Tony became family. It didn’t matter that Mario was a fargin dipshit; taking out his killer was a matter of Family Honour. The Family put out a contract on the Englishman. He was to get whacked.

‘Don’t take dis poysonal,’ Tony said straightening his gun arm.

This was it? This was how he was to die? Shot by some New York mobster that didn’t want him to take it poysonal? With his life expectancy now reduced to a fraction of a second, Gent tried one more time. ‘Hey man, don’t you do dis – you got da wrong guy – I swear on my mudder’s life – it wasn’t me who whacked Mario – don’t you remember me? You came to my wedding – five years ago – in da Bronx – Mario, he was my best man. Why would I want to shoot the Godfather to my daughter, Carlotta?’

Tony’s brow furrowed. He had gone to a wedding in the Bronx, around five years ago. And the name… Carlotta? That rang a bell. With the barrel of his gun, Tony pushed up the brim of his fedora hat.

 

Chapter Twenty-eight

 

Holyrood.

 

Leplume called up Dewar to tell her he was having trouble getting hold of the Swedish Meatball. However, there was another Italian available and this one was cheaper.

‘I don’t want someone cheaper,’ Mary raged. ‘I am not settling for another two-bit-New York-hubcap thief.’

‘Ok, Mary calm down.’ Leplume said. ‘Give me a couple of days and I will try and get you the Swedish Meatball.’

‘You have one day Leplume and then the deal is off.’

Mary slammed down the phone.

 

Pacing her office with just five days before the King was going to enact his nationalisation plans Mary Dewar was starting to panic. Following the botched kidnapping the King had now gone into hiding. It was going to take a very special assassin to get to him. She needed Leplume too get hold of the Meatball, the best Hitman in the world? It was while Mary was cogitating on this that another of her brilliant ideas came to her. This one was not quite as brilliant as the UDI one, but then she hadn’t been on the loo when this thought had struck her.

She called up her Defence Minister.

‘Stickly. I want you in my office, now.

‘Yes First Minister,’ the Defence Minister said half expecting this call. He closed his eyes and dropped his head in his hands. This was it; this was to be the end of his very short ministerial career. He was about to be made a scapegoat for the Balmoral Incident. Oh well, he was thinking, better go and face the music. In a way it might be a blessing. Waiting to get sacked was keeping him awake at night. The stress was awful. On his way over to Dewar’s office, Stickly had decided he didn’t want to be the Scottish Defence Minister any more.

Standing in front of Dewar’s desk with his hands behind his back, waiting to get fired, Stickly was thinking it just wasn’t fair. It was hardly his fault the stupid gunner shot a damn great hole in the castle roof right above the Queens bed.

Taking him by surprise the conversation went in an entirely different direction.

‘Stickly, I need to speak with the man you put in charge of those tank crews.’

‘Sorry?’

‘You heard me,’ Mary said irritably. ‘I need to talk with that chap, Colonel Appleby, wasn’t it?’

Stickly would rather she told him told him he was sacked. Thomas would rather she didn’t talk to Appleby who would very likely give a different account to his own of the Balmoral Incident. ‘Sorry Mary I can’t possibly…’

Mary slammed her hands down on her desk. ’I don’t want to hear: “can’t possibly” Stickly.’ Pointing at her door, she raged. ‘Get out. Go find him and tell him to meet me at The Hole In the Wall pub, on Duke Street at four o’clock.’

‘Mary, sorry, I want to resign.’

‘I accept your resignation. Now get out. Go set up that meeting.’

*

Jamie Appleby hadn’t forgiven the Defence Minister for letting him take the blame for the Balmoral Incident and then demoting him to Private, so, when Stickly rang him on his mobile he was about to hang up when he heard.

‘Colonel Appleby, I feel I owe you an apology. I was wrong to blame you and I shouldn’t have demoted you. I have now reversed that regrettable decision. So I have reinstated your rank of Colonel. I called you up because I feel I would like to make amends?’

‘I was only following your orders Mister Stickly.’

‘Of course you were and you carried out your duties admirably. Now, the reason I am calling you up is Scotland’s First Minister has asked me to arrange a meeting between you both so that she can thank you personally.’

‘Oh!’

‘Mary Dewar has asked if you wouldn’t mind meeting her at the Hole in the Wall pub. Do you know the one? It’s on Duke Street.’

‘Yes, I know it,’ Jamie said, guardedly. ‘When?’

‘Four o’ clock today.’

*

When she walked into the gloomy interior of The Hole in the Wall pub Mary spotted the young man sitting at a table over by the window. His nervous demeanour told her this had to be Appleby. The young man got up from his chair and tentatively shook Mary’s hand.

‘Jamie isn’t it?’ Mary said, smiling at him. It was like a Cobra eyeing up a mouse. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you Private Appleby.’

‘I’m now a Colonel again,’ Jamie said, glancing sideways at a man seated at a nearby table that seemed to be taking no apparent notice of them as he carried on reading a newspaper. He was drinking coffee, not alcohol, he could be one of her bodyguards.’

‘Thank you for agreeing to meet me at such short notice,’ Mary said, and then lowering her voice she added. ‘Colonel, what I need to speak to you about is of the utmost urgency. As a member of the armed forces, especially a high-ranking officer, you are sworn to uphold the oath of secrecy. You understand? ’

‘Oh! Yes of course.’

Mary glanced over at the same man that Jamie had noticed. She then leant across the table and with her voice now just above a whisper she hissed.

‘I have a mission for you. One that will make you a national hero?’

Jamie’s eyes widened. He then had a worrying thought. ‘I don’t have to attack Balmoral Castle again?’

‘Goodness me, no, forget Balmoral, we’re over that. Mistakes happen and it was Stickly’s fault. I sacked him you know?’

‘Oh!’ Said Jamie.

Speaking conspiratorially, Mary said, ‘Jamie, there are spies among us.’

Jamie’s eyes shot over to the table where the man had been sitting. He had gone. ‘Spies! In here?’

‘No. Not in here.’ Mary said, showing her impatience. ‘I am talking about the spies that have infiltrated Holyrood Palace.’

‘Crikey!’ Said Jamie. ‘Does the King know about this? Is he in danger?’

‘Absolutely, but we daren’t warn him for fear of them going into hiding. I plan to strike at the very heart of their network and I absolutely need your help.’

‘My help?’

Mary shook her head. Her face became grave. ‘These spies… these snakes in the grass, are planning to strike down our beloved King.’

‘Gosh!’ Jamie said. He loved King Robert who was going to help the working people of Scotland. ‘That’s terrible.’

‘Exactly. Now, Colonel, can I rely on your help?’

‘Well, yes. Of course you can.’

‘Good. That’s settled it then. With one swoop we shall take them all out.’

‘In one swoop!’ Jamie said. ‘How are we going to achieve that? It would mean them being in the same place and at the same time.’

‘Exactly, and tomorrow evening, at six o’clock, these evil conspirators will be meeting up, right here in Holyrood. My intelligence people tell me these spies are planning to overthrow the Government and they plan to strike at midnight tomorrow. This Coup de grace, as one would expect, will first take out the heads of state and then crush the population into submission. The King will be their first target. Ahead of this revolution these terrorist spies will be gathered in the Café in Holyrood Palace. If we can take them all out in one hit we can prevent them dispersing and then activating their terrorist cells.

‘Gosh!’

‘Jamie, I need a man of obstinate courage, a man who loves his country and someone prepared to die for his King. Are you that man Colonel?’

‘Weeel…’

‘Think about it Jamie, ‘Marie said giving Jamie a penetrating look. ‘The revolutionaries will first execute the King and then they will round up the senior army officers who will be lined up against the wall and then shot. These terrorist spies know that without leaders the people of Scotland will quickly capitulate.’

Jamie gulped. ‘When you say, execute all the senior army officers, would that include Colonels?’

‘Oh,’ Mary said as if there was no question, ‘Colonels would be the first up against the wall. But, if you were to be successful, you will not only save your own life, you will become a national hero. The King will be sure to knight you.’

Jamie wasn’t sure he should trust Scotland’s First Minister? He hadn’t forgotten how Stickly had stitched him up.

‘What would I have to do?’ Jamie said, warily.

‘Those tanks,’ Mary said. ‘Do you still have them?’

Appleby’s eyes widened. He looked about him and then lowering his voice he said. ‘Between you and me I can lay my hands on three of them. Why?’

‘Do the guns on them work?’

‘Oh yeah,’ Jamie said rather proudly. ‘I had them all fixed up. The tanks have had new camo paint jobs. The brakes are a bit iffy but they kind of work. I even had the gun sights fixed too. We can’t have any more shells going astray eh?’ Jamie gave a wry laugh.

Mary gripped hold of Jamie’s shoulder. She shook her head as if in admiration.

‘I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear you say that,’ Mary enthused. ‘I am proud to call you a true Scot.’

Mary was running out of time and running out of patience with the King. Her schemes to be rid of him have become more desperate and increasingly bizarre. His bloody stupid reckless plans will be the death of him. How was it her fault? Mary had grown impatient with Leplume who still hadn’t got back to her to say that he had got hold of the Swedish Meatball. Getting Appleby to kill the King was perfect and cheap. Plus he was so dumb he could never implicate her. The problem of how to get at the King who since the kidnapping had increased his security, went away when she heard about the team meeting the King was going to hold in the Café in the Palace conveniently situated beneath the ancient volcanic hill known as Arthurs Seat.

Her plan was to get Appleby’s squadron of tanks to shell the Café thereby removing all of her enemies in one go. And who would take the blame? The same man that had shelled Balmoral Castle!

’What about shells?’ Mary asked. ‘Do you have any shells that you can shoot stuff with?’

‘Shells! Oh yeah, we found some in a box hidden under the drivers seat.’

‘Brilliant,’ Mary said, a little too enthusiastically. She leant across the table and became foreboding. ‘We live in dangerous times Jamie. We can’t be too careful. Only you and I can know about my plan.’

‘I’m confused First Minister,’ Jamie said, still cautious of trusting a politician. ‘If I am the only person to know of your plan, I can’t see how just me on my own can possibly capture a whole nest of spies?’

‘Ah,’ said Mary. ‘At five forty-five tomorrow evening, you will position your tanks on the hill overlooking the Café. At six o’clock all of the spies will have gathered there ahead of their final move to take over the country. Your tanks will then shell the building and reduce it to dust. No one is to escape. Have you got that?’ Mary’s tone was now strident.

Jamie’s head was nodding but a voice in his head was telling him to walk away. He couldn’t. What about the King? It was his simmering anger over the way he had been scapegoated over the Balmoral Incident that finally convinced him to do it. This would be a chance to redress the humility that had been heaped upon him. He was going to show these politicians that he could be trusted.

‘If I were to go along with this, it would only because I really love our new King and I could never forgive myself if something bad happened to him.’

‘Jamie, you have my word the King will be safe. When the shelling starts I have arranged for King Robert to be with me over at the Parliament Building.’

Had Jamie been entirely honest with himself he hadn’t gotten over the thrill of that time at Balmoral, when that big old gun went off and the tank rocked back on its tracks. Just to hear that ear-splitting bang once again, feel the taste of cordite in his mouth, was enough to cloud his judgement. He found himself saying, ‘Ok, I’ll do it.’

 

The following day, at a quarter to six, in the evening, Jamie had his three tanks lined up on the hilltop with their guns pointed at the café. Jamie checked his watch. In fifteen minutes he would give the order to open fire. Any worries that he might have had he put aside. The soldier in him took over. He will follow his orders.

 

Inside the Café in the Palace after all the tourists had all left and the gates were now locked, Gavin’s team building session was about to start. His legal team were drinking tea and coffee and had yet to settle in their seats. Had anyone, at that moment thought to look out the window and up at the hilltop, they’d have seen three tanks with their guns trained down on the Café.

 

Sitting with his head poking out of the Command tank sat in the middle of the three vehicles, Jamie had insisted that only his tank would fire the live shells. The others would fire the rusted blanks that were found under a blanket in the back of one of the tanks. Colonel Appleby had on his head his WWII flying hat. His frog-eyed goggles, with one cracked lens, were slung around his neck. He yelled down the hole.

‘Fergal, have you got the Café in your sights?’

Shaking his head Fergal fiddled with the controls. He was convinced this was going to be another Balmoral balls-up. He just hoped the Colonel knew what the hell he was doing.

Angus McPhee, put in charge of tank number two, with just his head poking out of the cockpit called across to Jamie, ‘what kind of spies are we talking about Colonel?’

Jamie shrugged. ‘Russian ones I imagine. Why?’

‘I was just thinking, if I was a Russian spy, I wouldn’t hold a meeting of my fellow Russian spies in such a public space as the Café in the Palace?’

‘You know your problem McPhee?’ Jamie said. ‘You think too much. When I drop my arm you are to open fire.’

Jamie’s arm was raised when Angus McPhee interrupted him, ‘Colonel, seeing as you are the only one with a shell, what exactly are we supposed to fire?’

Irritated by the interruption Jamie forgot about his raised arm. He dropped it so that he could remonstrate with McPhee when Callum Bludden, the gunner in tank number two, who was fairly new to the squad, took this as the signal to fire his gun. A sound not too dissimilar to a wet fart accompanied by a puff of black smoke escaped from the muzzle of the big gun. The gunner in tank number three, thinking that he must have missed the signal then followed suit.

‘I said you was to wait for me to drop my arm,’ Jamie yelled, exasperated at his men who with their heads poking out the tanks looked like a bunch of wary Meerkats.

‘Jamie. I mean Colonel,’ Callum argued. ‘I saw your arm drop.’

The gunner in number-three tank, nodded in solidarity.

‘Look,’ Jamie said forthrightly, ‘it’s quite simple. I will have my arm raised like this.’ Jamie demonstrated. ‘Then when I drop my arm in this manner,’ Jamie demonstrated this and yelled, ‘wait for it!’ He saw them all nod. It was as if they understood. ‘That is when you hit the fire buttons. Not before. Are we all clear on that?’

With his men watching for the signal, Jamie once again raised his arm. With his mind focused on destroying the enemies of Scotland he whipped his arm down and yelled. ‘Fire.’

This time, all three gunners hit their fire buttons. A minute later Jamie ordered an immediate retreat.

 

The huge bang that came from somewhere up in the hills woke Iris who was not the least bit interested in taking part in Gavin’s Team building exercises. The others, startled by the noise, cautiously moved outside and looked up at Arthurs seat.

The tanks had gone.

A few of them pointed out the column of black smoke spiralling up into a pink evening sky.

 

When Jamie’s gunner hit his own fire button, at first nothing happened. On the third attempt, the shell got jammed in the barrel where it exploded making a very loud bang and a lot of smoke. When the tank crew, shaken and blackened with soot, emerged from the command tank, they saw that the gun barrel had split open like a banana skin.

In frustration, Jamie threw his hat and goggles on the ground. Worried the bang will have alerted the spies in the Café Jamie shoved his fogged binoculars into his eye sockets. When he focused in on the crowd emerging from the café he cursed.

‘Shit!’

‘What’s up Jamie?’ McPhee, the commander of tank number two said appearing at the Colonel’s hip.

‘Take a look.’ Jamie said pushing the binoculars into McPhee’s chest.

‘Jeezus!’ McPhee said. ‘That’s our King down there!’

Grim-faced Jamie nodded. ‘That bloody woman!’ Jamie growled. ‘She almost tricked me into killing our new King.’

‘What bloody woman?’ McPhee wanted to know.

‘It’s best you don’t know Angus,’ Jamie said through gritted teeth as he climbed back into his tank. Circling his arm in the air, he yelled. ‘Quick, turn about. We have to get out of here.’

*

It was dusk. Under a starry sky, trundling over the hills, with Jamie’s tank in the middle of the convoy, Colonel Appleby was taking the shortest route back to the village where he planned to keep the tanks hidden. Archie Wilson, driver of the lead tank, sounded worried when he radioed the command tank.

‘Colonel, I don’t think we should risk driving these tanks down the hill that lies up ahead. The brakes aren’t that good.’

‘Would you rather risk being arrested for the attempted murder of the King and spend your last days in prison?’

‘We could find another route?’

Jamie looked up at the sliver of moon peeking out from behind a curtain of clouds. It was growing dark but he daren’t risk using the tanks headlights. Out here in the hills they would be too easily spotted

‘There’s no time for that.’ Jamie yelled into his radio mic. We have to go on. Just take it slow.’

 

Archie Wilson, when he tipped the front of the Challenger II tank over the brow of the hill was thinking, what was the worst that could happen? If the brakes were to fail they would slew down the hill and then come to a stop at the bottom. He felt his stomach turn when the front of the tank slammed down on the stone-strewn steeply sloping hill. Holding the tank in check as it picked up speed hurtling down the hillside was like trying to hold onto a bull with the scent of heifers in its nostrils.

‘Whoah!’ He cried out when the tank shot down the slope. Halfway down the hill he heard a loud crack. Suddenly, as if it had slammed into a wall, the seventy tonne monster came to an immediate stop bundling the tank crew into an untidy heap of men on the floor. The drive shaft of the tank had snapped. Sliding down the hill immediately behind the lead tank, Jamie Appleby’s driver could do nothing to prevent the disaster about to befall them. Suspecting his life was about to end abruptly, Jamie shut his eyes and cursed. With a sickening thunk his tank slammed into the back end of the lead tank. When he heard the shouted warning Jamie looked behind him. Like a runaway express train, with a sickening crunch the rear tank slammed into his one. The three tanks, now a crumpled heap of twisted metal that was pouring out smoke and steam and indistinguishable one from the other could have been some sort of scrap yard challenge participant.

Jumping down from his tank to inspect the damage, Jamie saw the rusted structures had concertinaed to the point where it was hard to imagine the carnage of steel and iron had once been three tanks. When he saw flames licking out from beneath his own tank he suddenly remembered the half a dozen live shells sitting in a wooden box down by the drivers seat. Turning tail and running for the trees he yelled back to the others.

‘Run for your lives! There are live shells in there!’

 

The eight men dressed in army fatigues, running for their lives managed to get a hundred yards into the dense Pine forest when a massive explosion behind them threw them off their feet. Landing in a soft bed of pine needles all they could do was hold their hands over their heads and pray that the chunks of steel now crashing down through the trees would somehow miss them. The explosion lit up the night sky. The sound of the exploding shells could be heard back in Edinburgh. It was a miracle no one got injured by the falling pieces of shrapnel and chunks of iron. With their ears ringing the tank crews cautiously crept out from the forest. Their ride home had gone. They stood gawking into a black hole where only a few moments ago had stood three Challenger Mk2 tanks.

Looking up at an overhanging branch Jamie saw his frog-eyed goggles swinging to and fro. The cracked lens was missing.

 

*

By the time news of the attempted assassination of the King got out, creating further tension between the Scots and the English, Mary Dewar had had Jamie and his men rounded up and put on a boat and then dropped them off at a far-flung Island in the Outer Hebrides. With no physical evidence linking her to the attack, Mary Dewar was quick to put the blame on Sir Roger Bottomley’s Government.

*

‘Mary Dewar is deranged,’ Sir Roger roared, on his feet at the despatch box in the Houses Of Parliament. ‘The UK Government had nothing to do with the attack on their King.’

It had got to the point where just the mention of the name of Scotland’s traitorous First Minister’s would incite such outrage among the MP’s they would shout and boo, and wave bits of paper.

‘The British Government may not see eye to eye with King Robert on a number of contentious issues,’ Sir Roger yelled above the din. ‘But neither myself nor anyone in my Government would ever try to harm him.’

*

‘The assassination attempt on our beloved King,’ Mary Dewar said, addressing the Scottish Parliament and the world’s media, ‘was undoubtedly the work of Sir Roger Bottomley and his Government who cannot accept the fact that Scotland is now free of their Colonial rule. I say this to them: “Scotland shall never submit to your threats or your attacks on our freedom.”’

Holding aloft a clenched fist, Mary cried. ‘God save the King.’

‘God save the King.’ Echoed round the packed Debating Chamber.

Chapter Twenty-nine

 

10 Downing Street.

 

The economic sanctions the UK Government had imposed on the Scots intended to bring them to their knees had only hardened the Scot’s steadfast determination to defy Westminster. With King Robert’s populist laws due to come into force in a just four days time, those with the most to lose, the big industrialists and the bankers were demanding that Sir Roger step aside and make way for a Prime Minister showing more backbone, a PM that was prepared to invade Scotland and impose martial law. Tipped to take his place was the darling of the women voters, the suave, floppy haired 38 years old, Bedfellow, who at present occupied the post of Minister for the Arts.

So much was hanging on the assassination skills of this one man Gent. Roger’s only hope of hanging onto his job was to have the King done away with before he enacts his new nationalisation laws that it is predicted will send the UK economy into meltdown. Should that happen, Sir Roger would have to fall on his sword. What was even worse, that popinjay, Huw Bedfellow, was tipped to get his job. ‘Bloody Brexit, bloody Scots.’ Sir Roger muttered picking up the phone in his private study.

 

Sat behind her desk, Charlotte Sweetwater looked over at the red pulsing light on her phone. It was Sir Roger. She sighed. Now that she loved Huw Bedfellow, what was she to do about the poor man? Charlotte sighed. With his career and his reputation in tatters, Sir Roger Bottomley, now looked somehow old. Whereas, Huw Bedfellow, with his charm and his wit and the looks to go with it and tipped to become the next PM was an all-together different kettle of fish. Charlotte is now in love with Huw. Yes, he is married. But it is to a Hollywood actress and these never last long. If she were to finally abandon her virginity, she could so easily to him.

‘Hello Sir Roger, what can I do for you?’ Charlotte said applying another coat of varnish to her fingernails.

‘What are you doing right now? Only I need you to come to my private study right away.’ The PM was thinking she sounded a little offish with him. Lately he was worried about the amount of attention Huw Bedfellow was paying his Private Assistant. He might have to get rid of the man in the next Cabinet reshuffle?

It was while she was still trying to come up with an excuse not to go to the PM’s office that her door swung open. Charlotte caught her breath and her hand went to her throat.

‘Hello sexy,’ said Huw Bedfellow who wandered over and sat on the edge of her desk. He angled his long legs so that his left one brushed against her thigh. When he leant over and pressed his mouth against her ear she went all of a quiver.

Is that the PM?’ Huw whispered holding one finger to her lips. When he nibbled her ear lobe she almost passed out.

‘Charlotte!’ Sir Roger bellowed down the phone. ‘Are you still there? You got

someone with you?’

‘I will catch you later gorgeous,’ Huw said blowing her a kiss at the door.

He left her office door ajar so that she could watch his narrow hips and his tight bottom swagger off down the corridor.

Fanning a piece of paper in front of her face Charlotte found her voice.

‘Sorry – Sir Roger – I am here. I– I had someone in the office – I couldn’t talk. You were saying?’

‘Who the bloody hell you got in your office? I don’t employ you to have someone in your office… unless it’s me. It had better not be that bloody Bedfellow, the, damn Judas?’

‘Gosh Sir Roger, no.’ Charlotte said, unable to get from her mind the lingering memory of Bedfellow’s hot breath on her neck. ‘It’s just, I am a little busy right now Sir Roger…’

‘Right away I said,’ Sir Roger bellowed, cutting her short. ’I don’t employ you to be busy.’

 

Sir Roger decided he had had it with Charlotte and the way she flirted with him and her holding back all the time. Either the woman wants it or she doesn’t. He was going to tell her straight, either we have sex right now, in this office, or our relationship is over. He cleared the top of his desk in readiness. Sir Roger knew his wife, wasn’t likely to interrupt them because Dame Edith would be in a hotel somewhere with her damn French keep-fit trainer, Marcel Du Pont whose fees and the hotel bills came out of the PM’s expenses account. Most days Monsieur Du Pont would keep his wife occupied for an entire day.

 

Charlotte needed to go to the ladies room to calm down and spray a little perfume. She looked somewhat flushed when she closed Sir Roger’s door behind her. She was still trying to regulate her breathing.

Sir Roger noted there was something different about the way she approached his desk. She wasn’t fluttering her eyelashes at him, she wasn’t pouting and her sexy hip-sway had gone.

Sir Roger had noticed her bosom was heaving. That was a good sign.

Needing a distraction from where her mind was at, Charlotte enquired. ‘How did the vote of no confidence go? Was it really horrible?’

‘I scraped through,’ Sir Roger said, studying his private PA, who seemed to be acting uncharacteristically cool towards him. Bottomley’s resolve to have his way with her, had along with a vital part of his anatomy softened. He was now thinking that maybe she wasn’t in the mood? He sighed and took from his desk drawer a half empty bottle of brandy and a tumbler.

Charlotte saw the PM’s desk had been cleared of its usual clutter. Her eyes widened. Oh my, She gasped. Sir Roger was hoping that we would do it, on his desk! Charlotte took a step back. Her fingers began twiddling with strand of her long blonde hair. She was thinking that she really ought to come out with it and tell Sir Roger that she was in love with someone else. She daren’t tell him it was Huw Bedfellow though. Gosh no! There would be pistols at dawn. She decided not to say anything after watching the PM swallow a very large brandy.

‘What was it you wanted to see me about Sir Roger.’

About! I never want to see you about anything Charlotte; I just like your company. I was hoping that you would give me a bit of a massage.’

‘I think you want more than that Sir Roger, and we both know what that is.’

‘Kitten,’ said Sir Roger patting the top of his desk, ‘why don’t you come closer, come sit on my desk. I just need you nearer.’

‘Ok,’ Charlotte said, warily. ‘But only if you promise not to do any of that naughty touching thing.’

Going over to his desk she sat on the very edge ready to leap off at the first hint of impropriety on his part.

Sir Roger couldn’t remove his stare from her bosom that had yet to stop heaving. His right hand shot out.

‘Uh huh,’ Charlotte said and leapt off his desk. She smoothed down her skirt. Frowning like a schoolteacher she admonished him. ‘We agreed, had we not Sir Roger, there was to be no naughty-touchy-touchy.’

There were tears in Sir Roger’s eyes when he nodded.

Chapter Thirty

 

Edinburgh.

 

When Gent saw the mobster hesitate and then with the barrel of his gun push up the brim of his hat, the MI5 agent threw himself down the length of the bed. Grabbing hold of the butt of his gun that was still holstered he swung it up and hurriedly squeezed off a shot.

With a dull thud Gent landed on his back on the floor.

In the doorway, the Italian looked somewhat surprised. He should have been, given there was now a neat hole between his eyes.

Gent was lucky: the mobster’s bullet gouged a furrow through his scalp before it smacked into the headboard.

Up on his knees now, Gent looked over the edge of the bed and saw Tony topple face down on the floor.

 

After carefully wiping his fingerprints from everything in the room he might have touched, Gent packed his bag and then threw it out the fourth floor window. He then made good his escape by shinning down the rainwater pipe.

Hurrying away he was thinking this was getting ridiculous. He really must stop shooting people in hotel rooms.

 

Gent was thinking things in Edinburgh were becoming a little complicated. First, there was Mario Pantanello, who he now knows wasn’t here to kill the King at all, next thing, one of Mario’s relatives shows up with a contract out to kill him. Only a few minutes ago he heard on the TV news that someone with access to three tanks had just tried to kill the King! All of a sudden it was as if it was open season on King Robert! The upshot of all this murderous activity has caused the King to go into hiding. Hitmen, it seemed were crawling out of the woodwork and he didn’t like it. Not one bit. On a secure mobile network, Gent called up his handler.

‘Q, what the hell is going on?’ Gent snapped. ‘I got hitmen all over the place up here.’

‘Yes I know. The King has made himself a number of enemies,’ Q said. ‘Our people want him eliminated. The Scots want him dead, and a little while ago I heard that a bunch of very wealthy industrialists are seeking to hire a specialist too.’

‘Great,’ Gent said, sarcastically.’ And what about my fee if someone else was to take him out? I have invested a lot of time on this job and already I have had to eliminate three people.’

‘Your contract is quite specific Gent. If you don’t make the hit, then you don’t get paid.’

Gent was getting angry. Not only would he not get paid if someone else made the hit, his World Number 2 Hitman ranking was sure to plummet. He could find himself below the Number 12, the Ethiopian Abdullah Mukwamba, or God forbid, below Number15, Miranda Belladonna, the skinny ex-trapeze artist.

 

Needing a change of weapon, Gent called in at MI5’s Edinburgh office and signed out two handguns and a McMillan .300 Win Mag snipers rifle fitted with a nightscope and a few boxes of ammo.

Using another of his false identities Gent checked into another hotel, his third in as many days. He took a room at the very top of the Norfolk Arms Hotel on George IV Street. He had chosen this hotel and this room specifically because from the window he could see over the walls of Holyrood Palace.

After eating out that evening Gent went back to his hotel room and keeping the lights turned off he pulled a chest of drawers over to the window. He then set the Mag snipers rifle up on its tripod. He skilfully checked the night vision scope and then swung the rifle about checking its horizontal range. He was happy he could swing the gun through 180 degrees. From this vantage point he could see right into the King’s bedroom. And the King, rather conveniently, never kept the curtains drawn. Pulling over a chair he sat down to wait. Gent muttered, ‘just because you are not coming out into the open, Your Majesty, doesn’t mean you are safe from the worlds number two Hitman.’

It still irritated Gent to think the Swedish Meatball occupied the top spot. Gent was thinking, taking out the King of Scotland, would surely force the ranking committee to put him at the top?

[* Chapter Thirty- one *]

 

Holyrood Palace.

 

Gent, waiting for the King to go up to bed, thought he must be seeing things when just after midnight he saw something as black as a shadow move stealthily through the branches of the gigantic tree that towered over the Palace.

*

Around midnight, feeling dog tired Gavin crossed the hall and opened their bedroom door. Fiona had gone to bed an hour ago. He couldn’t tell in the dark if she was awake or not. Not wanting to disturb her he didn’t turn the light on. Closing the door behind him he undressed in the moonlight spilled on the carpet through the window. That was when he thought he saw something move in the top of the huge Douglas Fir tree that dominated the gardens outside. Fiona always complained that he should keep the curtains drawn but he didn’t see the point, besides he loved to have the sun wake him in the morning. Standing to one side of the window Gavin narrowed his eyes and stared up into the distant branches and saw nothing.

‘Gav, come away from the window.’

He glanced back and in the gloom under the fringe of the four-poster canopy he saw his wife stir and throw back the covers his side of the bed.

‘Come and get into bed will you.’ Fiona said sleepily. ‘What you doing looking out the window?’ I wish you would pull the curtains, people can see right in.’

Craning his neck for one last look and satisfied it must have been an owl that he saw, Gavin shrugged and went over to the bed and slid in beside his wife. With her arms wrapped around him, he was asleep within seconds.

 

Gent cursed. For a second there, he had the King in the crosshairs of his rifle sights. He was about to squeeze off his shot when the King moved back out of sight.

The assassin wasn’t too worried. Come daylight and with no curtains in the bedroom window the King would get out of bed and then step into his line of fire.

 

*

Virtually invisible in her black cat suit and perched high in the top of the Douglas Fir tree, wearing night vision goggles, Miranda Belladonna was perfectly positioned to make her assault on the King’s bedroom. She planned to give it an hour and when she was sure the King was asleep she will enter his bedroom via the window and then garrotte him

At 1.10 am. The ex- trapeze artist pulled from her belt a spring-loaded cylinder. Aiming the tool at the stone parapet immediately above the King’s bedroom, Miranda pressed the trigger. She watched the scaling hook attached to a nylon line shoot across the thirty-foot gap and with the faintest clatter drop behind the castellated roof structure. Miranda gave the line a tug and felt the hook grip the stonework. She then tied her end around a stout tree branch and then tested her weight on it. Satisfied the line was safe, the killer hooked a zip wire over the line and then launched herself off. Belladonna landed feet first against the wall just above the King’s bedroom.

*

When he saw a black shadowy figure zip-wire across the gap between the tall tree and the King’s bedroom Gent cursed. There was no doubt in his mind that the slim person clinging like a starfish to the wall and using a tool to cut a hole in the King’s bedroom window was Miranda Belladonna, listed Number 12 in the Honourable League of Hitmen. Focusing the rifle sight on the back of the woman’s head he was about to pull the trigger when he had a better idea. He decided that leaving another gunshot victim lying around would have the police go looking for the shooter. He swivelled the rifle a little to the left.

 

Clinging like a limpet to the wall, having removed her night vision goggles and using the glasscutter she had removed from her belted toolkit, Belladonna cut a circle of glass from the window and dropped this into the bushes at the foot of the wall. Her skinny but wiry fingers found a notch in the brickwork. With her face pressed to the brickwork she began to crab to her left. At that moment the brick just inches from her face exploded sending stinging pieces of stone and cement dust into her eyes. Acting instinctively, Belladonna’s hand came off the wall and shot up to protect her eyes. She lost her grip on the wall.

 

Watching the woman fall, in the darkness of his hotel room, almost a quarter of a mile away, Gent smiled. Another five seconds and she would have got into the King’s bedroom. It was genius the way it worked out. His bullet had smacked into the stonework right by her face causing her to be blinded and fall. He angled the rifle down and focused the sights on her still form lying on the concrete yard. Gent could tell from the angle of her neck and the way that her dead eyes seemed to leap out at him that she was dead.

Belladonna was a goner.

Chapter Thirty-two.

 

Holyrood.

 

Mary Dewar was relieved to hear there no bodies were found in the wreckage of the English tanks. No bodies meant the event could not be traced back to her. She had had Appleby and his men rounded up and put on a boat to the Outer Hebrides.

Right now she had the King standing in front of her accusing her of being behind the plot.

‘Your Majesty, I had nothing to do with it. I don’t know how you can even think that. I assure you the matter is being thoroughly investigated. Initial reports suggest: a small platoon of men – carrying out military exercises in the hills above Holyrood – got into some difficulties – there was a fire that led to an explosion. Fortunately no one was hurt. It was nothing for you to be concerned about.’

Gavin looked over at Cruid whose face remained enigmatic. His ice-blue eyes seemed dead. Gavin imagined the man could catch flies with his tongue. ‘What’s your take on this Cruid? What have you to say for yourself? How can you sit there and say you played not part in this?’

Moving slowly like a Heron, its feet seeking secure footing in a muddy river, Cruid got up from his chair and faced Gavin.

‘You want my honest opinion? In the vain hope that you will take it, I will offer you this piece of advice. You should abdicate forthwith and then you and your family should go back to Marbury, back to your old way of life.’ Cruid added. ‘However, before you abdicate, would you be kind enough to sign the bill that will rescind the Royal Assent law. Both Mary and I along with the Scottish People would be most appreciative.’

‘I bet you would, ‘Gavin snapped. ’I bet you would rather I didn’t nationalise the railways, and I didn’t bring about a shakeup of the Scottish banking industry, and scrap bankers bonuses, and bring in my programme to build tens of thousands of council homes, and I bet you would rather I didn’t outlaw zero hours contracts, make payday loans illegal, scrap hospital parking charges, to say nothing of the introduction of free school milk and the law reducing the alcohol content in beers wines and spirits. Would you rather none of that happened?’

Mary smiled. ‘Yes, I have to admit, if you could see your way to give up on those very worthy but unworkable ideas that would be much appreciated.’

Gavin got up to leave. Turning on them at the door he said, ‘I am not abdicating and in in four days time those laws will come into force.’

Mary Dewar physically jumped when Gavin slammed the door behind him. Turning to Cruid Mary said. ‘This is serious Cruid. Has Sven Johannson landed yet?’

Cruid peered over the bend in his nose at her.

‘I heard he flew into Edinburgh this morning.’

‘Good. Get him in here and lets get this wrapped up.’

 

The two Scottish Government officials knew nothing of the man they were to collect. At the airport they loaded Sven Johannson’s heavy bags into the boot of the government car that was parked right alongside his plane and then drove him unchallenged out through the staff gates.

So far, Sven was quite happy with the Scot’s preparations. The video negotiations had gone well and once he had the Scottish First Minister’s signature on his contract, he would get on with the job.

Confidant the King would be dead within twenty-four hours, the Swedish world Number1 hitman had already booked his flight out of Edinburgh for the following day.

 

The Scottish agents drove Johannson to his hotel on Princes Street and dropped him and his bags off on the steps.

What made Sven the number one hitman was not just the cool manner in which he despatched his victims, his excellent backup crew and research team kept him informed of the smallest detail regarding his assignments. It was his back-office crew that let him know the British agent Bartholomew Gent was in Edinburgh and that he had been here for the past four days. That wasn’t good news for the Swede. In the Honorary League of Hitmen Code of conduct it states: “Whomsoever is the first on the scene of the hit takes precedent over all other assassins. Any Hitman or Hitwoman found to be in breach of this rule will be incur a five point demotion.” The Ranking Committee of the Honorary League of Hitmen, a shadowy band of people whose names are kept secret met bi-annually where they would pontificate on the recent activities of their paid up members. Points for an assassination are awarded based on a number of pertinent factors: e.g.: the celebrity status of the person eliminated, the degree of difficulty of the hit and on artistic merit. Each Hitman or Hitwoman is ranked according to the points earned between one and one hundred. For the past eight years the Ranking Committee have placed Sven Johannson Number 1 and Gent Number 2.

Although the Swedish Meatball was perfectly aware of rule 7b, he has no intention of leaving. There is far too much money involved. Also the target is a King and regicide is worth a whole ten points, added to which: Sven hated the Brit who was forever accusing the ranking Committee of taking bribes from the Swede. The fact that this happened to be true was immaterial. The man was a nuisance and had to be taken out.

 

Chapter Thirty-three

 

Edinburgh.

 

Francesco (Frank) Guardo had been looking forward to a rare weekend off. He had planned to do some of the jobs around the garden. Yesterday, he noticed that blackfly were decimating his runner beans. Instead of which he was in the city morgue with Doctor Liam Tong a forensic pathologist with the Edinburgh police authority. Tong, dressed in green coveralls, white gloves and his apron spattered with gore was poking around in the chest cavity of a cadaver.

Keeping his distance, not wanting to get splashed, DI Francesco Guardo, redirected his eyes to the blood-covered bullet lying in the stainless steel dish. Seeing the specialist tools reminded him of his Grandfather’s workshop. Grandpapa Luigi had a clock repair business in Sorrento. Then in 1937 following Mussolini’s rise to power which led to the widespread persecution of leftist sympathisers he and his family fled Italy for Britain.

‘Yesterday I had three bodies in here and today I got a fourth.’ Tong said with a sweep of his hand, indicating the four gurneys loaded up with cadavers.

‘What the hell is going on?’ Frank said with a shake of his head.

‘That’s your department Frank,‘ Tong said. ‘I just cut em open and then tell you what they died of and what they had for lunch.’

‘Making an educated guess,’ Frank said, ‘I assume all three males had died from gunshot wounds and the lady died from falling off a high building.’

The pathologist laughed. ‘Sounds like I’m redundant Frank. I‘ll get my coat shall I?’

Frank managed a wry grin. Somehow being in a morgue always dampened his sense of humour.

Guessing Frank was not in the mood for another of his jokes, Liam Tong said.

‘All three males were shot with the same point-thirty-eight. The female died from a broken neck and severe head injuries. You want to know what they last ate?’

‘No,’ said Frank with a firm shake of his head. ‘Spare me the details Liam. What else can you tell me?’

‘Victim number 1: Mario Pantanello,’ the forensic scientist said, moving across to one trolley, ‘took a clean shot between the eyes. His last meal was spaghetti Bolognese.’ Liam moved to another of the cadavers. ‘Number two here: Antonio Bentocelli. He also took a bullet between the eyes. Interestingly, I found traces of leather in the bullet entry hole. If I were to make a guess, I would say he was shot through a leather gun holster.’

‘Hmm, ‘mused, Guardo who was now sniffing the hand of Bentocelli. ‘Gunshot residue.’ He commented

‘I was just about to say that.’ Tong said, his accent part Scottish and part Chinese.

Gent filled him in on what he’d learned at the crime scene.

‘Victim number two was found lying across the threshold of the room. A handgun found by the body had his prints on it. A bullet recovered from the bedstead matched the gun. At the moment I am assuming victim number one was an assassination, whilst victim number two, died in a shootout.’ Guardo nodded his head at the dead waiter. ‘I wouldn’t mind betting he was killed with the same gun as the two Italians.’

‘Spot on Frank,’ Liam said. ‘Same point-38 handgun.’

‘Then I better go find him before you get any more gunshot victims in here.’

 

Pacing the car park outside the morgue, DI Guardo jammed his Grandpapa’s hand-carved Olivewood pipe between his teeth. He had never smoked it but it helped him think.

Chewing on the gnawed, ivory tip he reflected on the situation until an idea formed in his head. He popped the pipe back in his coat pocket and unlocked the door of his 1973 Alfa Romeo Spider sports car. Squeezing into the Spider’s tiny interior he fired up the engine and set off for the MIT (Major Investigation Team) HQ.

When he walked into the Detectives room Frank heard his boss, DS Angela Foster, telling her detectives.

‘I will not have this city become a shooting gallery. I want every one of you out there.’ She pointed at a wall. ‘Get out there and find this shooter. I want him apprehended.’

When she saw her DI walk in, Angela Foster nodded over to her office.

‘Take a seat Frank.’ Angela said going behind her desk and sitting down.

‘Thanks boss,’ D.I Guardo said, taking a seat.

‘Did you get anything useful out of the autopsy?’

‘Not a lot, Frank said. ‘The same gun was used in the shooting of all three males and as we thought, the woman died as a result of a fall from the Palace wall whilst attempting to gain entry to the King’s bedroom.’

‘A burglar?’

‘No,’ Frank said firmly. ’I believe she was a hired assassin called Miranda Belladonna. She had zip wired from a nearby tree across to the wall outside the King’s bedroom. About her person we found a steel garrotte. At the moment I am thinking that she had lost her grip on the wall and fell to her death.’

‘Bloody hell Frank,’ the DS said, ‘we had better double the King’s security.’

‘I have already tripled the number of armed police guarding the Palace.’

‘Good what else can we do?’

‘I spoke to the King and said until we have apprehended the killer he should close the Palace to the public.’

‘Very sensible Frank.’

‘Yes, but he won’t hear of it.’

‘What! Is he mad?’

No, I don’t think so. Just very brave.’

DS Angela Foster was worried about her DI’s safety. She said.

‘Frank I know how much you hate carrying a firearm but I am going to insist that you sign out a handgun. I want you armed. You hear me?’

 

Frank was sat behind his desk absent-mindedly playing with his Grandpapa’s pipe and going back over the facts. The first shooting looked like a gangland hit. The dead Polish waiter Thomaz Krakov, poor guy, was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. The facts supported the assumption the killer had led the waiter down to the cupboard– shot him – and then closed the door on him. The murder scene surrounding victim number two was almost the reverse. According to Caprice Lewis, the Crime Scene Manager who had her team painstakingly recreate the crime scene, the shooter had been on the bed when he or she, shot victim number two who was standing in the doorway. The only blood found at the scene was the victim’s, so Frank concluded the killer wasn’t hurt. Which meant there was no point in him sending men out to the A&E departments looking for a guy reporting a gunshot injury.

What Frank couldn’t work out was why both the deceased were Italians and had both flown in from New York within four days of each other? Could there be a mob feud going on in his city? Then, if that were true, his theory the King was the real target was wide of the mark.

Chapter Thirty-four

 

Holyrood.

 

Ten in the morning, DI Guardo having been told he couldn’t talk to the First Minister because Parliament was in session was leaving the Parliament Building.

He had wanted a word with her about the tanks incident. Frank couldn’t get out of his head the notion that people high up in the Scottish Administration knew more than they were letting on.

 

Ten fifty, carrying the cheese and onion toastie and a polystyrene cup of black coffee that he bought in the cafe on the ground floor of the Parliament Building, Frank went outside and chose a table bathed in spring sunshine. Nibbling the edge of his toastie, because it was very hot, Frank was worried he was not going to catch the killer. Assassinations like these ones were notoriously difficult to solve. Most times the killer would have gone abroad possibly before the body was even found. If, as he suspected, the King was the real target then there was a very real possibility the killer was still in town. That being the case, Frank was not only chasing shadows, he was also playing catch-up with a very determined individual and running out of time. Frank needed to walk.

He jammed his thinking pipe between his teeth and got up from the table and set off. After two hundred yards Grandpapa’s luck pipe did the trick.

 

D.I Guardo had arrested Jimmy Ross on many occasions but not for a couple of years. Frank heard the petty thief had finally given up crime and settled down. Which was good because he quite liked the guy. Maybe it was because they both grew up in London. The only difference was, Jimmy was raised on the rough streets of the Elephant and Castle in the nineties and Frank grew up in the relative peaceful suburb of Kingston upon Thames in the seventies.

It had been a while since Frank needed to call in on Jimmy who has since moved out of his mums flat and now lived on the notorious Warrender Park estate.

Rather than risk having his car broken into or have his hubcaps stolen, Frank parked his Alpha Romeo Spider a few streets off the sprawling barrack-style council estate with its bleak rendered walls and the magnolia paint peeling and yellowed.

It was a five minutes walk to 17 Berlinie Close. The knee-high weeds, the half buried couple of kids bikes, the rusted Citroen Cleo and the broken washing machine in the front garden, testified Jimmy’s landscaping classes had been a waste of prison resources and a waste of public money.

Looking up at the house, Frank saw that all the curtains were drawn. Frank pressed the doorbell and when he didn’t hear any chimes he opened the letterbox and peered through the narrow opening. He could see a pram in the hall. The stairs had a baby gate. Last time he met up Jimmy Ross he didn’t have any kids. So what were the pram and the stairs gate all about? Could it be, Jimmy Ross, the ex-London, cockney wide-boy, had found someone to rein in his bad ways? That would explain why Frank, hadn’t had Jimmy in his cells for a couple of years.

Although Jimmy was a thief, Frank considered him an honest one, if that was logical?

Frank took a few steps back up the garden path and looked up at the windows. He saw a curtain move. Shouting through the letterbox Frank called up the stairs.

‘Jimmy, you’re not in any trouble. I just need a word. Come on down. I want to buy you breakfast.’

 

No joking, the cafe on the corner of Marsh Road was called: “The Greasy Spoon.” Frank followed Jimmy to a table by the window. The only other diners in here were half a dozen binmen wearing hi-viz jackets. Frank had spotted the refuse collection wagon parked on the zigzags of a Zebra crossing. A few years back he’d have nicked the driver. That wasn’t what he did these days.

Jimmy ordered the: ”Monster English.” Frank having checked out the menu, chips with everything, settled for a coffee.

Looking at Jimmy stuffing baked beans and black pudding into his mouth, Frank saw the man hadn’t shaved or had a haircut in months. He looked better the day Frank paid the habitual thief a visit in HMP Edinburgh, better known as Saughton Prison. Then of course, Jimmy would have had nothing better to do than work out in the gym or do squats in his cell.

Speaking past a mouthful of sausage, Jimmy was keeping his voice down.

‘Thanks for the brekkie Frank, but this isn’t a social call and I swear to God I had nothing to do with it.’

‘You had nothing to do with what Jimmy?’

‘Whatever it was you think I did. I swear to God, on my muvvers life I don’t do that stuff anymore. I got a lady now, and two saucepan lids.’

Frank had to smile at the way the guy still talked like he was living on the council estate in the Elephant Castle. Jimmy had once told Frank: “I only left London because some geezers wanted to shoot me in the legs.” Jimmy had said, “Those geezers don’t forgive or forget Frank. If I were to ever show my face on my old manor again, I swear I’d be brown bread within a week.”

Frank doubted that still held true. Jimmy was talking about twenty years ago. All those gangsters, the people that he once feared would be long gone retired to Margate, most likely.

Frank‘s mother was Scottish and his father was second generation Italian. Frank was born and raised in London and aged twenty-one Frank joined the Met. As a wet-behind-the ears young copper he wanted to clean up the streets of his beat in Soho. In the same way that Jimmy was never going back to live in England, Frank too had his roots in Edinburgh. Over coffee, Jimmy became nostalgic, talking about London as if it was somewhere he yearned to go back to, then a lot of people did that but you can retrace your footsteps but you cannot roll back time.

‘It wouldn’t be the same you know?’ Frank said, with his thumb examining the familiar grooves carved by his Grandpapa in the olivewood pipe. ‘What’s in the past stays in the past.’

Jimmy nodded as if in agreement and then said.

‘You still got that old pipe then Frank?’ Jimmy was making a rollie, mostly dust. ‘It was your dad’s wasn’t it?’

‘My Grandpapa’s.’ Frank corrected him. ‘All them pubs, the snooker halls, the dog tracks have all gone Jimmy, all them old boozers are now trendy wine bars serving Gastro-pub food on slabs of wood at prices that’ll make your eyeballs spin.’ Frank was looking out the steamed-up window when he said, ‘Jimmy, how old were you when you left London? My guess is you were in your twenties?’

Jimmy said, ‘I was twenty-two. Did I ever tell you I grew up in a Boys home? I ever tell you that?’

He had.

Frank said. ‘Yeah you told me the staff there used to beat you up. You had a shit childhood Jimmy.’

When Jimmy laughed Frank didn’t hear any mirth in it.

‘You and me, we had some times eh Frank?’

‘Yeah Jimmy, we had some times.’ Guardo said, thinking about some of those times. ‘You know how many times I nicked you Jimmy? Eighteen. I nicked you eighteen times! Can you believe that? And you know what was the best one?’

Jimmy grinned. He said, ‘It had to be the time I burgled the bungalow on the Cadogan estate.’

Frank laughed and then finished what Jimmy Ross was about to say, ‘you stole the old woman’s savings and when you read in the paper the money was to pay for her husbands funeral you broke back in and put the money back, only you left your prints all over the notes.’

Jimmy gave a wry grin and then said, ‘when I broke in the first time, I never knew the old lady lived there alone. You know me Frank, I only ever stole off them that could afford it.’

 

Although Jimmy liked to talk about the good-old days, growing up in London and naming the boozers that he would hang out in and name-dropping the villains who usually ended up doing life in Wandsworth, or Belmarsh prison, Jimmy was now happily settled in Scotland. Of course his regular all-inclusive holidays in Saughton Prison, hadn’t given him a lot of scope to move around.

 

When Frank heard Jimmy say his long-term partner was Sheryl Barnes and that she was the mother of his two kids, he recalled that like Jimmy Ross, she had had a similar abusive upbringing. Her childhood was spent rattling around the Childrens Services merry-go-round of Foster Carers and Children’s Homes. Frank was a regular Sergeant when he first met Sheryl. A concerned neighbour on the Craigh Council Estate dialled in the 999 call. When Frank and his partner got to the address he saw Sheryl had been badly beaten up by her partner, big ol’ local bruiser, Carl Davis who was a thug with a history of violence towards women…. never men. Frank had told his partner, ‘you take Sheryl outside and get her in the car and wait for the ambulance. I need to have a quiet word with Carl.’ Frank’s partner saw him wink.

In Carl’s arrest report it stated Davis’s injuries came about after he had attacked Sergeant Guardo who used proportional force to apprehend the abuser. Carl spent a couple of days in hospital and then several weeks on crutches, before he was handed a three months spell in Saughton.

‘How is Sheryl? You had better be taking good care of her.’ Frank said, feeling obliged to say that, although he knows Jimmy Ross could never hurt a fly.

‘She’s good you know.’ Jimmy said, stirring five spoons of sugar in his tea. ‘Sheryl’s the best thing that ever happened to me. She keeps me on the straight and narrow.’ Jimmy said. ‘She hasn’t forgotten how you helped her out that time. She always tells me, “Jimmy you ever get into that thieving malarkey again I will go straight to DI Guardo. And she would too.’

Frank nodded and got to the point. ‘Jimmy, I need a favour.’

Jimmy sat back in his chair and looked about him. Outside the street was quiet. The binmen had left. Danielle, behind the counter, was playing Pokémon on her phone. Jimmy, sounding worried said, ‘Frank, you know I aint no grass.’

‘That’s ok Jimmy, ‘Frank said, ‘I don’t need you to snitch on anyone. What I need is a pair of sharp eyes. Now, do you own a mobile phone?’

When Jimmy took his iPhone out of his pocket he saw the look on Frank’s face. ‘What? It’s kosher Frank. It’s a rented phone. I don’t touch anything that’s iffy these days. Not since I got…’

‘I know, since you got a lady and a couple of saucepan lids.’ Frank interrupted him. ‘That’s good Jimmy. I’m happy for you. But listen, I need you to do a little snooping around for me. I will pay you twenty a day.’

‘What kind of snooping around?’ Jimmy said, worried.

‘I take it you heard about the hotel shootings?’

‘Yeah,’ Jimmy said slowly. ‘A couple of eyeties got shot. What about em?’

‘I believe the shooter is still in Edinburgh and possibly staying in a hotel. I want you to hang around a few hotels and be on the lookout for anyone that stands out.’

‘Stands out in what way?’

Guardo shook his head. ‘I can’t say Jimmy, but I reckon if anyone can spot a dodgy character it’s you.’

‘Thanks for the compliment Frank, but a score a day for tailing a killer! You’re aving a larf. It’s got to be worth forty a day.’

Frank nodded. ‘Ok, it’s a deal, but if I catch you skiving off, you don’t get a bean. Understood?’

‘Plus expenses,’ Jimmy said draining the tea from his chipped mug. ‘I am going to need a new whistle.’

Frank eyed up Jimmy’s clothes, baggy jeans frayed at the hems, a faded Tee shirt and a grey hoodie.

‘Don’t worry about this clobber,’ Jimmy said with an easy grin, ’I’m not daft enough to dress like this in an ‘otel. You give me, say, sixty quid, and I’ll nip into the British Heart Charity shop on Brent Street and get meself suited and booted.’

Guardo took out his wallet, pulled out two twenties and laid them on the table. ‘That’s for a suit, a shirt and tie and a pair of shoes.’

‘Huh!’ Jimmy scoffed. ‘You’re kidding me right?’

‘You said a charity shop.’

Picking up the notes, Jimmy shrugged, ‘Ok, what about me expenses? I reckon forty a day is fair.’

‘What expenses?

‘Frank, use your noddle. How long do you think I would last hanging around hotel bars not buying a drink or getting a bite to eat? I’d be out on me ear-ole in two shakes of a lambs tail.’

‘Thirty a day.’ Frank said, taking out his wallet again.

‘Done deal,’ Jimmy said, thinking this is a nice little tickle and eyeing up the wedge of notes tucked inside Guardo’s wallet. ‘I want one weeks pay in advance and for that I promise you Frankie boy, if the geezer is on our manor I will find him… guaranteed.’

Frank was thinking it was a good job he thought to stop off at a cash machine. He peeled out the notes and before Jimmy’s eyes fell out of their sockets he put his wallet away.

Stern now. Frank said, ‘Jimmy, the guy I am looking for is dangerous. You don’t take any chances ok? Frank took out his business card with the Edinburgh Police logo. He dug out his pen and wrote on the back: [_ “Jimmy Ross, £40 a day- plus £30 a day expenses- paid - one week in advance.” _] The DI laid the card flat on the table next to the bottle of HP brown sauce ‘If you think that you have seen him I want no heroics Jimmy. You don’t approach him. You call me on my works mobile number, straight away, day or night.’

Jimmy nodded. ‘Sure thing Frankie.’

‘And one other thing,’ Guardo said sounding pissed off, ‘don’t ever call me Frankie. Only my wife is allowed to do that. To you I’m DI Guardo or just Frank. You got that?’

Feeling reprimanded Jimmy said, ‘whoa, easy there, Columbo. Keep your Alan Whicker’s on.’

‘I don’t wear knickers,’ Frank said, feeling weird having to once again interpret cockney rhyming slang. ‘You help me get this man and you get an extra one-fifty, but most of that goes to Sheryl, right?’

‘She gets most of my dosh anyway,’ Jimmy said with a shrug. ‘’Who’d have thought it eh, Jimmy Ross, working for the old bill?’

 

When he got back to his car, Frank was relieved to find it hadn’t been vandalised and all his hubcaps where still there.

 

Even though the two heavily armed coppers at the Palace gates recognised him, Frank was expected to show them his ID. Holyrood Palace was in lockdown.

When Frank found him in his suite of offices, for someone with one foot in the grave King Robert looked quite relaxed.

‘Good morning Your Majesty,‘ Frank said. ‘Could I have a word with you about your security?’

‘Please. Call me Gavin,’ the King said. ‘Look around you Inspector. There are armed police everywhere. I feel quite safe thank you.’

‘Let’s not be complacent Gavin,‘ Frank said, perhaps a little to sternly. ‘Edinburgh at the moment is like a wild–west movie. Let me tell you where I am coming from. Following your Mother’s abduction, her kidnapper was found shot dead in a hotel bedroom… ’

‘I hope you don’t think I had anything to do with that?’ Gavin said, alarmed.

‘Absolutely not,’ Frank said, seeking to reassure the King, ‘because whoever killed him also shot dead another Italian and a hotel waiter. When you then factor in the witnesses that state three British tanks had their guns trained on the Café where you were conducting a staff meeting, it is clear to me that someone, possibly more than one person with a lot of clout seems determined the new laws that you plan to bring into force this coming Friday don’t happen. And if this doesn’t convince you of the dangers you are in, you should reflect on the fact only this morning the body of the woman was found beneath your bedroom window. There is no doubt in my mind she fell whilst in the process of trying to get into your bedroom. I believe she planned to kill you whilst you slept.’

Gavin reflected on this for a moment and then said.

‘Whilst I fully understand your concerns Inspector and please believe me when I say I am truly grateful to the Edinburgh police for the work you guys do, I am not quitting. I am not running out on the Scottish people who have entrusted me with the job of reforming the Scottish economy. Right now Inspector, I don’t know who my enemies are.’ Fixing a steady glare on the DI, Gavin said. ‘You could be one and I wouldn’t know.’

Guardo was stung by that remark. He came back. ‘I don’t take sides Gavin and I am not the least bit interested in politics. I don’t give a toss about Scottish Independence, or Brexit. My job is to try and keep the streets of Edinburgh safe.’ Guardo stopped talking when he saw Penny Braithwaite come in the door.

‘Gavin, Sheik Ali-bin-Lina is waiting for you in the throne room.’

‘Thanks Penny.’ Gavin said. ‘Tell the Sheik I’ll be right there.’

Coming round from behind his desk Gavin shook Guardo’s hand.

Frank was surprised at its firm grip.

‘Sorry detective, I didn’t mean that to sound as if I don’t trust you, because I do.’ Gavin looked at the door. ‘I have to go. The sheik and I are in the middle of a possible arms deal.’

‘Yes, I heard,’ Frank said. ’It’s not exactly a well kept secret, however, you may like to reflect on the fact, this controversial deal is likely make you more enemies. Would you not consider suspending these talks and maybe slow down the pace of the changes you are proposing?’

Gavin paused at the door. The King eyed the policeman with suspicion.

‘Frank, I am disappointed in you. Like the others, you are waiting for me to buckle under pressure and deny my destiny. I wish you goodbye detective.’

 

Then he was gone, heading off down the corridor for his meeting with the Sheik. Heading back to his car Frank was thinking, the guy is either very brave or he is a mule-headed fool. Hey, it’s not your problem. There are plenty of other people around employed to keep him out of trouble. You got the hotel murders to work on. Even so…

 

Walking back up Royal Mile, Frank was wondering how Jimmy Ross was getting on. He was thinking: I must be mad trusting the petty thief to do any work? He could have taken my money with no intention of checking out the hotels. Even more worrying, Jimmy could get hurt… killed even! He’d rather not have to explain that to Sheryl?

Chapter Thirty-five

 

Edinburgh.

 

Under the name of Mark Lawson and using one of his false passports, Gent booked into the Grand hotel on Waterloo Place. He chose a room with a window that overlooked the busy Princes road. He approved of the fact thirty paces from his door there was a set of stairs next to the lift that led down to a fire exit that opened out onto Calton Road. Out of the tall Georgian window Gent watched the build up of morning traffic. Under normal circumstances Gent was a patient man, given his profession he needed to be. However, Number 10 and his handler were on his back expecting results within 48 hours. With the King having gone into virtual hiding he could only hope that the people guarding the King would slip up. In the meantime, should he need them, Gent went shopping for a few disguises.

Gent bought a couple of check shirts, a pair of walking boots, two pairs of cargo pants and a Safari hat. Next stop was in a hardware shop where he bought a yellow hard hat, a hi-vis jacket, a pair of surveyor’s boots, and a measuring tape– the kind that you wind in on a reel. Coming across a catering supplier, Gent purchased a chef’s outfit and a waiter’s uniform. On the way back to his hotel he stopped off at a gift shop and picked up a couple of wigs and a phone selfie stick.

 

On the steps leading up to the hotel’s revolving doors, carrying his bags of shopping, Gent nodded to the doorman in the green and gold uniform of the Grand Hotel. Inside the lobby Gent instinctively checked his surroundings. There was a noisy gaggle of Japanese tourists waiting for a tour bus to take them on a tour of the city. A busboy with a trolley loaded up with suitcases was waiting for a lift. A waiter was serving food to four people seated in the lobby. He figured they were Americans. Only the Yanks would sit in a five star hotel in the kind of attire you would find at a rodeo.

Seven years ago the Grand had completed a major refurbishment that sought to recreate the Victoriana splendour of yesteryear. The designer went for leather chairs and sofas and mahogany tables. Etched mirrors and brass fittings were at the heart of the refit. Gent, casting his eyes round the lobby, was on the lookout for anyone that looked out of place. A cop he would spot a mile off. Over at the check-in desk an elderly Japanese tourist was trying to make the desk clerk understand that he wanted a wake-up call. A woman at his side, presumably, his wife was keeping an eye on their suitcases. A bellboy hovering nearby was hoping to earn a tip for hauling their luggage up to their room. Queuing behind the Japanese man and waiting to check-in was a family of four Germans. The husband and the wife he guessed were in their mid to late forties, the boy with them, presumably their son, was aged around ten. The daughter, if that’s what she was, had to be around six. The wife was studying one of those freebie maps that highlighted the tourist hotspots. The Hitman was thinking that at some time in the future he might come back himself and do the tourist stuff. Over to his right, behind a scattering of coffee tables and leather chairs the floor to ceiling windows framed by heavy brocade drapes overlooked Princes Street. A man, he could have been a salesman rinsing his expenses account, was sitting by the window and reading the Times newspaper. At another table, a waiter was talking to some Americans who had a problem with their bill. Gent studied the skinny guy sitting on his own over by the far wall. The suit he was wearing could have been his dead father’s. The Council might have cut his hair. He’d seen a few of these characters before, hotel thieves, hoping to snatch a bag or a laptop. As if he was trying to make it last all morning the guy was sipping a Scotch and water and pretending to be reading the Daily Mail.

 

Staking out his third hotel in two days, the minute he saw the stranger come through the revolving doors carrying three carrier bags with store names on them, Jimmy Ross was thinking that this could be the man that DI Guardo had asked him to look out for. Frank said he had the ability to spot someone who looked out of place and this guy did. Why would someone dressed as if he was on holiday go out in Scotland’s capital city and buy builders equipment? The guy looked like someone who’d never been on a building site, let alone worked on one, nor for that matter did he look like a chef, so why the bag of catering clothes? Keeping his eyes averted, Jimmy sipped his Scotch and water and carried on pretending to read his newspaper. Ross knew instantly the man had clocked him. He thought about calling Frank’s mobile and then changed his mind. What if this wasn’t the guy? Making a scene in a famous hotel could blow his bonus. It was while Jimmy was ruminating on this that he saw the guy step inside one of the two lifts. Jimmy had to lean forward to see the lift lights glow amber and then stop on the fourth floor.

 

Gent stepped out the lift on the fourth floor. Room 413 was located at the far end of the corridor. With each step, the original varnished oak flooring creaked under his weight. Once inside his room, Gent tipped the contents of his bags out on the bed and then tried on the outfits. He checked his appearance in the mirror. He was mostly happy with his outfits but the cheap wigs would need a hat.

 

Hotel Busboy, “Hammy”, Hamish McCoy, growled under his breath when he saw Jimmy Ross sitting in the lobby and trying to look like he fitted in. The last time he’d seen his old cellmate had been two years ago when they both stood in the dock having pleaded not guilty to charges of burglary. Jimmy got to spend eighteen months in Saughton gaol and he got twelve. At one time they were mates and would hang out together. Then Hamish wised up and worked out that it was only when he went out with Jimmy Ross that he got into trouble. Jimmy, hanging about in this hotel meant he was thieving. Once a thief always a thief, his mum would tell him, warning him about the bad influence that the ex-cockney had on him. Christ he’d only had this job four weeks and ex-cons don’t get too many breaks.

‘Jimmy!’ Hamish snarled out the side of his mouth, sidling up to him, whilst looking back at the reception desk hoping his boss wasn’t watching him. ‘What the hell are you doing in here? Get out before you get me fired. I know you Jimmy Ross. You are hanging about in here looking to nick stuff.’

Genuinely surprised to see McCoy working in a hotel, Jimmy Ross was stung by that remark.

‘Bloody hell, Hammy! It’s nice to see you too. Talk about give a bloke a chance! First of all, I am not here nicking stuff. If you must know I happen to be working. Not that you could be bothered to ask.’

Now Hamish felt bad. ‘Sorry Jimmy, but you know how hard it is for us ex-cons to find work. I can’t afford to lose this job. Anyway, what’s this work you say you are doing?’ Hamish sounded sceptical.

‘I don’t want to tell you too much cos I don’t want you to get involved. You could get hurt.’ Jimmy said, with his eyes scanning the movement of people. ‘Anyway, what’s with the green and gold monkey suit? You wearing it for a bet?’

‘Why do you think I’m wearing it, dopey. It aint cos it’s the in-thing in Edinburgh.’ Hamish said, sarcastically having decided that all that talk about him looking for the hotel shooter was another of Jimmy Ross’s bullshit stories. ‘I happen to be a waiter here.’ (This was an exaggeration; his actual job title was Busboy.) ‘The money’s crap but if I get enough in tips I can pay the rent on the hovel that I live in. Not that you’d know about actual work!

‘Hammy, that hurts, me hearing you say things like that, accusing me of chawing. I promise you, I’ve changed. I don’t do all that thieving any more…’ Jimmy took hold of Hamish’s tie and pulled his head down.

‘Ow! Jimmy let go.’

Jimmy wasn’t listening. He had one eye fixed on the lift lobby. He lowered his voice. ‘You wont believe this Hammy but I am working for the Old Bill.’

Hamish’s face registered incredulity. He extracted his tie from Jimmy’s fist and straightened up. ‘Yeah right… you really think I am going to believe that?’

Jimmy shrugged. ‘Like I care what you choose to Adam and Eve? It happens to be true.’ Jimmy then had a thought. ‘Hamish, how’d you like to earn a swift twenty quid?’

‘Doing what?’ Hamish said, not trusting his old mate. ‘If it means us breaking the law you can go to hell.’

‘On me muvvers life Hammy, this is kosher police business. Look.’ Jimmy gave McCoy the business card that Frank had given him.

‘My God Rossy,’ Hamish said after he turned the card over and read what DI Guardo had written on the back. ‘Jeez, if someone had told me that Jimmy Ross was working for the coppers I would never have believed it.’

The look on Jimmy’s face was grave. ‘Yeah, well I may yet regret it.’

Jimmy, still watching the lifts in case his man came back down, said. ‘Sit down, cos I don’t want anyone listening in.’

‘Jeez Jimmy. I’m on duty. I can’t sit down.’ Hamish said, looking over at the front desk. He couldn’t see his boss, Mr Turner, who was most likely in the back office. ‘Just tell me what you want me to do.’

‘Do you have one of them door passes that gets you in any of the bedrooms?’

‘Yeah why?’ Jimmy said warily.

‘There is a guy staying here,’ Jimmy said not taking his eyes off the lifts, ‘who’s well built, looks like he works out, dark hair, got a ring on his right pinkie. I think he has a room on the fourth floor. I need you to get me into his room.’

‘Jeezus. I knew it. Jimmy. You can’t help yourself can you?’ Hamish said about to walk away. ‘You think I am stupid Jimmy? If I was to let you into his room you’d nick his laptop, his wallet and anything else that wasn’t screwed down.’

When Hamish went to walk away Jimmy grabbed hold of his tie again and bent him double so that he could whisper in his ear.

‘No Hammy,’ Jimmy said in earnest. ‘I swear to God, this is kosher. I am working under cover. I just need to get in his room so that I can check him out, that’s all. I swear to you. I just need to make sure that he’s the guy.’ ’

‘What guy?’

‘The guy that he is looking for.’

‘Who’s he?’

‘The he is DI Frank Guardo, the man who is paying me to look for the guy.’

‘You aint said who this guy is and why it has to be you that has to find him. I aint doing this blind Jimmy. I need you to tell me what you are up to.’

‘If I tell you, don’t freak out yeah?’

‘Why should I freak out Jimmy?’ Hamish said, frowning. ‘I aint gonna freak out.’

‘Cause I am looking for the man who was on the news a couple of days ago and is suspected of shooting dead the two Italians.’

‘Jeez you idiot.’

‘I thought you said you wasn’t going to freak out?’

‘I aint, but Jeezus, Ross, you can’t seriously expect me and you to hunt down a killer?’

‘Not us Hammy, just me.’ Jimmy said, grimly. ‘I want you to stay out of it, but I can’t do this without your help Hammy.’

Hamish tried to look away from that pleading look on his face that always got him hooked. Shit!

Taking in Jimmy‘s clothes Hammy said. ‘That’s not a good look Jimmy. Where the hell did you get that suit?’

‘I shoplifted it from the British Heart Foundation charity shop. While an old lady volunteer wasn’t looking I slipped the suit on in the changing room and walked right out the door.’

Hamish tutted and shook his head in disgust.

‘Don’t give me that look,’ Jimmy complained. ‘When I am finished with it I am going to hand it back and tell them it’s a donation. Now are you in, or am I forced to do this alone? Oh, and if the worst was to happen… you know?’ Jimmy made a gun out of his hand and pointed it at his head and then said, ’Boom – splat!’ He pretended the back of his head was blown off. He gave Hamish the doe-eyed look that always drew him in to his scams. ‘Be sure to tell Sheryl I died a hero.’

Hamish groaned.

 

 

Earlier that morning, suited and booted Jimmy had been about to leave the house when Sheryl quizzed him: ‘Why you wearing a suit and a shirt and tie?’ He told her: ‘an old mate offered me cash for a little light security work.’ It wasn’t too far off the truth.

Sheryl had planted a kiss on his cheek and then handed him a packed lunch.

 

The guy that Jimmy had spotted earlier, crossing the lobby, who took a room on the fourth floor was only a possible suspect. Jimmy was going to need to get inside his room and rummage through his belongings to know for sure if this was the guy that Frank was looking for. If the guy checked out as just another punter, Jimmy would move on. There were another three hotels on his list.

 

Hamish was not happy about what Jimmy had said: “Tell Sheryl I died a hero.” That got to him. What if he refused and then Jimmy was to get killed? Could he live with himself? How was he going to tell Sheryl? This was different though. This wasn’t like a Launderette break-in or a bag snatch at the airport, this was the two of them, tracking down a killer! Jimmy could be obstinate. To get out of this Hamish thought he’d try a different tack.

‘Why don’t we meet up after I finish work and then talk about it? ‘We could go get a few bevvies and maybe score with a couple of chicks?’

‘If you want to chicken out Hammy, just say so. I wont hold a grudge. Being scared is nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘Who said I’m scared?’ Hamish fumed.

‘Well you are, aren’t you?’

‘No!’

‘Yeah you are.’

‘Ok. I’m in. Satisfied?’

‘Hey, Hammy,’ Jimmy said putting an arm around his friend.’ No pressure eh? You don’t have to do this.’

‘No, I wanna do it.’ Hamish said, straightening his back. ‘What do I have to do?’

‘You don’t even have to come up to his room. You lend me your door pass – I will slip into his room – and in two seconds, I will root through his gear and then once I know who he is I am out of there having left everything as I found it. The geezer won’t even know I was in there – then I come right back down and hand you back your pass.

‘And this is just so you can find out who he is?’ Hamish said, frowning.

‘Yeah. I told you. I need to check the guy out.’

‘For Chrissake Rossy, if all you need is the man’s name, I can get that from the register. We just need to wait until no one is at the front desk.’

Jimmy shook his head. ‘Hammy, you are such plonker, you know that? If this guy is the shooter he’s hardly likely to have booked under his real name. In our partnership, I do the thinking yeah?’

‘Yeah, like in the past when it was your thinking that always got us nicked.’ Hamish reminded him. ‘If I were to agree to do this, I want thirty quid and for you swear that you wont nick anything from his room.’

‘Cross my heart.’ Jimmy said, with a pained look. ‘Okay, give me your door pass. When I come back down I will hand it back and weigh you out a pony. We got a deal?’

‘Thirty quid, that’s a pony yeah?’

‘Yeah, a pony.’ Jimmy lied. (It was twenty-five pounds.) We just have to wait for the geezer to leave the hotel.’

Hamish could see a problem. ‘What if he walks back in while you was up there?’

It was a fair point. As if he had already thought of that, Jimmy said, ‘I already thought of that. I need you to wait here in the lobby and watch the front entrance. If he does come back you go straight over to the staff phone on the wall, and you ring his room number.’

‘I don’t have his room number!’

‘Not yet you don’t, dummy, that’s your next job.’ Nodding with his head Jimmy said. ‘There’s no one at the desk. Go take a peek in the register and find out his room number. He was the last man to check in and I know he took a room on the fourth floor because I watched the lift lights stop on that floor.’

 

Trying to look inconspicuous, Jimmy watched Hammy sidle up to the unmanned reception desk and then glance down at the open register.

Hammy noted the room number and then went straight over to Jimmy.

‘He’s booked in room 413 under the name of Mark Lawson,’ Hammy said. ‘When you come out the lift you turn right and it’s at the end of the corridor on the left.’

 

Jimmy was quite happy hanging about in a posh hotel. Especially with Hammy serving him up free drinks and free nosh. If this was a proper job, bring it on. Taking the job seriously, pretending to be reading the Times newspaper Jimmy was watching for the guy to step out the lift.

 

A little after two that afternoon, having slept for an hour, Gent thinking he would go do a little reconnoitring, stuffed his Berretta M9 inside his waistband, checked the bathroom, and then stepped out of his room into the deserted corridor. He closed the door behind him. Next he plucked a strand of hair from his head and with a little spit he stuck it across the doorjamb. He could have used any number of hi-tech spying devices but this worked and it only took him two seconds to set up.

Descending in the lift, Gent was thinking about the skinny hotel thief he’d seen earlier. He wondered if the guy had had any luck.

 

Had he not been paying attention, Jimmy might easily have missed the man from room 413 who stepped out the lift dressed like a regular tourist with a camera slung around his neck and a guidebook in his hand. The guy had miraculously grown a full moustache. His hair, beneath a NY baseball cap was now ginger.

Hidden from view behind his newspaper Jimmy grinned. He waited ten minutes and then caught Hamish’s eye. Throwing aside his newspaper, Jimmy got up from his chair and headed for the lift lobby. On the way, he brushed against Hammy and took the passkey out of his hand.

 

Hamish wasn’t taking his eyes off the revolving doors entrance. Anxiously, he kept glancing over to the wall phone. What if someone decided to use it the minute the man walked back in? Hamish was thinking. Stop worrying; the man had only been gone five minutes. Jimmy will be in and out of his room inside fifteen, what’s there to worry about?

After stepping out of the lift, Gent turned right. Walking across the lobby looking noticeably calm Gent first looked for the thief and then saw him in the same chair over by the far wall still hiding behind his newspaper. Clearly, he’d had no luck stealing someone’s bag.

Out on Waterloo Place, occasionally checking his map for effect, sidestepping tourists blocking the footpath, Gent made his way along Princes Street. Five minutes after he left the Grand Hotel, outside Waverley rail station, he stopped dead in his tracks and looked back. He was thinking about the hotel thief. Then he thought about the Busboy who seemed to have been paying the thief a little too much attention. Was the scruffy guy an undercover cop? Using his elbow he felt the reassuring lump of his gun in his waistband. He turned full circle pawing at his chin. Then as if he just came out of the starting blocks, brushing people aside, Gent hurried back the way he just came.

 

Inside room 413, Jimmy Ross wasn’t interested in the new clothes lain out on the bed. He first checked out the wardrobe, then the bedside cabinets and the chest of drawers and the finally the bathroom. He found nothing. He returned to the bedroom and turned full circle scratching his head. The guy had checked in with nothing? Who checks into a hotel with nothing? Not even a bleedin’ wash bag! He turned his attention to the labelled bits laid out on the bed. There were a couple of check shirts, two pairs of casual trousers, a pair of walking boots and a zip front fleece coat. In another bag on the floor he found a set of chef’s whites, and what appeared to be a waiter’s outfit. In another bag he found a pair of surveyor’s boots, a tape measure and a hard hat. The guy for sure, wasn’t a chef, a waiter or a building surveyor. Scratching his two-day chin stubble, Jimmy suddenly wondered, was he was one of those male strippers? All this stuff could be his props. He had the athletic build and the rugged chiselled looks to pull it off. In his mind Jimmy tried to envisage the man dressed up as a builder, entertaining a bunch of raucous drunken women baying for him to get naked. It didn’t stack up. What male stripper would dance around semi-naked in a chef’s outfit? Returning to the bathroom, Jimmy examined the towels. They hadn’t been used and neither had the orderly line of freebie toiletries on the washstand. The guy could be staying just the one night? Nothing wrong with that… lots of people make an overnight stay in a hotel, especially someone only here to do a one-off stripper gig. Then why the orange wig? Jimmy couldn’t answer that. Thinking about it, maybe, the guy was bald and he wore an Irish.

 

When Gent hurried back into the hotel lobby the first thing he noticed was the hotel thief was nowhere to be seen. He immediately became more suspicious when the hotel Busboy that he’d seen earlier talking to the thief head, over to the wall phone. Thinking he wouldn’t wait for a lift, he hurried over to the doors that led out to the stairs. He had gone up a few steps when he heard the ping of the lift. Racing back around the corner he squeezed past the gaggle of elderly women still trying to exit the lift while he was forcing his way in.

Stepping out of the lift on the fourth floor he found the corridor empty. Gent took out his Beretta and fitted the silencer. Moving quickly along the passageway he could do nothing about the floorboards squeaking underfoot.

 

It was while he was pondering on how he could establish who the guy was that Jimmy heard the whine of the approaching lift. He held his breath. He prayed it carried on to the floors above. He froze when he heard the clonk of the lift stop at his floor. This was followed immediately by the whoosh of the doors opening. Jimmy looked over at the phone on the bedside cabinet. If this were the guy, surely Jimmy would have called him… wouldn’t he? Shit! He could hear footsteps, sounded like they were trying to remain quiet on the creaking floorboards. When the sound of the footsteps, amplified by his fears stopped right outside his door Jimmy cursed Hammy.

 

Down in the lobby Hamish had the wall phone pressed to his ear and was praying for Jimmy to pick up. It’d been ringing for the past two minutes now. Hamish couldn’t understand why Jimmy hadn’t picked up, unless… the guy had already found him in his room? McCoy looked back at the lifts. Any minute now, he imagined the man was going to rush into the lobby screaming about finding a burglar in his room and demanding that someone call the cops. And that would be the end of his job. He would then be arrested and charged with conspiracy to rob. The last judge he had stood before had told him straight, “the next time you’ll go down for five years.” Shit!

 

The seagull that had landed on the windowsill of room 413, with a sense of purpose that was beyond the understanding of the human mind, began earnestly pecking at the dried putty that held the window glass in place. The sound of the bird’s beak hacking at the rock hard putty carried through to the corridor where Bartholomew Gent bared his teeth into a snarl. He could see that the hair that he had stuck across the doorjamb was now on the floor. Judging by the noise he imagined the intruder was trying to get into toilet cistern void where he had concealed his bag that contained his other guns, spare ammo, fake passports and credit cards.

Gent straightened up and adjusted his feet to a shooters stance. Keeping the gun pointed at the door he planned to shoot first and ask questions later, except for the hotel thief there would be no later. He slid his door key in the card reader until he saw the light glow green. He imagined the faint clonk of the lock disengaging would be drowned out by the tapping noise going on inside his room. Gent shook his head. Stupid thief, making all this racket.

With his gun held at chest level, Gent threw the door inwards until it slammed back against the wall. He fired off two silenced shots. With glass fragments glistening in its plumage, emitting a loud shriek the bird flew off.

 

When he heard the approaching footsteps stop right outside the door of room 413, Jimmy, desperate and scared had looked around him for someplace to hide. The bloody bird pecking at the window wasn’t helping him think. When he heard the faint click of the door lock he dropped to the floor and a spilt second before the door flew in, Jimmy managed to squeeze his skinny frame under the bed. He heard two muffled gunshots, the sound of breaking glass and the bird shriek. With his chest up against the underside of the bed he could just about turn his head. Hammy, was now likely to get him killed.

 

Gent realised what he’d heard was a gull pecking at the window. Keeping his gun extended, Gent did a quick tour of the two rooms. Everything was as it should be. He saw no sign of anyone having gotten in here. He figured the hair he had stuck across the doorjamb was not foolproof. It could’ve simply fallen off. He needed to calm down, stop shooting at everything that moved. The pressure he was under was getting to him, making him make dumb mistakes. He needed to get a grip of his nerves, start thinking rationally.

 

Hamish had been watching the revolving entrance doors when he saw the guy with the orange hair hurry in with his face looking grim… murderous! The guy hadn’t been gone more than ten minutes. He watched him go over to the lift lobby, think about taking the stairs and then change his mind when he heard the ping of a lift door opening. Before the lift door had even closed Hamish was dialling up room 413. He waited and then waited some more. He was whispering, ‘pick up… pick up Jimmy, for Chrissake pick up will you.’ For two minutes he let the phone ring.

By now the man would have caught Jimmy. Why the hell didn’t he answer the phone? ‘Jeez,’ Hamish muttered. Pressing his hands to his temples he was at a loss what to do next? ‘What if the guy actually was the hotel killer?’

 

Under the bed Jimmy needed a wee and the dust and dead human skin cells under the bed was going to make him sneeze. He knew for sure that this was the killer. What a way to find out!

Jimmy screwed up his nose and bit on his lip. Not a man taken to any religion, right now he was prepared to pray to anyone’s God for his salvation. All he could move was his head. At the moment his eyes were fixated on the guy’s boots at a forty-five degree stance rooted across the door threshold. When the man stepped inside the room and slammed the door shut, Jimmy’s heart almost stopped.

 

The first thing Gent did was to go into the bathroom. The laminate shelf over the toilet cistern looked to be undisturbed. He lifted it off and hoisted out his bag. Taking this into the bedroom, he dropped the bag on the bed and then sat down alongside it.

 

When the base of the bed came down on his chest Jimmy’s eyes bulged. He fought to get air into his crushed lungs. He fought the rising panic. If the big man was to sit any further back on the bed, or God forbid, he was to lie down, he would surely die of asphyxiation.

 

Sitting on the edge of his bed, always the consummate professional, Gent decided to refill the magazine of his Beretta M9A1 Compact. He ejected the clip and dug out the box of bullets that lay hidden in the bottom of his bag. He took out two bullets. He clipped the first one in and when he went to slip the second one into the rack it slipped from his sweaty fingers. Gent cursed himself for making such a basic mistake. He cursed again when he saw the bullet roll under the bed. He was going to have to retrieve it. His fingerprints were on it.

 

Jimmy’s eyes widened when he saw the bullet hit the floor and then roll through the dust and then stop right up against his nose. He was done for.

 

Gent dropped to his knees and peered as far as he could into the dark space under the bed. He couldn’t see the bullet. He cursed and with his face pressed up against the edge of the bed his fingers blindly searched the dust and fluff. In a minute he’ll just have to tip the bed over.

 

The sweat was stinging Jimmy’s bulging eyes when the guy’s groping hand crawled ever closer to his face.

 

Down in the lobby, Hamish was trying not to panic. He was also trying to not imagine the guy in room 413 shooting Jimmy dead. Maybe the guy wasn’t the killer, maybe this was just another of Jimmy’s bloody scams that was going to get them both in trouble. Suddenly he had a thought. Hamish’s blood ran cold. Shit! I could be next.

 

In room 413, hiding under the bed, Jimmy tried blowing on the bullet hoping to move it into the path of the groping hand. When the bullet stubbornly remained right up against his nose, desperate to get the bloody thing to move he tried to push it away using just his nose. With apparent belligerence each time he got it to roll away, it rolled back again. The hand was getting closer.

Finally, employing a combination of minute movements with his nose, his chin and his tongue, he managed to roll the bullet into the path of the killer’s grasping hand.

 

After grabbing hold of the bullet, Gent stood up and then sat back down on the bed heavily.

He thought he heard someone gasp. He looked around for the source and noted the curtains were being blown around by the draft from the two bullet holes in the window. He shrugged and then blew the fluff off the bullet before clipping it in the ammo slot. He slammed the magazine back in the heel of the gun and got to his feet. He unscrewed the silencer and dropped this in his trouser pocket. Making sure that his shirt hid it, he tucked the gun in his waistband.

Taking the bag back into the bathroom, he dropped it into cistern void and then replaced the cover. Satisfied, he went back into the bedroom, looked around him and then left the room. This time after he had closed the door, he attached two hairs across the doorjamb and then made sure that they were well stuck to the woodwork.

He had his eyes closed and was praying for the man to hurry up and leave when with a loud bang the door slammed shut. Jimmy thought he’d been shot.

 

Pacing the hotel lobby, Hamish McCoy, turned his back on the man from room 413 who had just stepped out of the lift. In the mirror on the wall he watched the killer walk out the hotel. But where was Jimmy? He hurried over to the phone on the wall and tried ringing the killers room number. He almost died of shock when a hand gripped hold of his shoulder. Only this time it wasn’t a copper telling him he was nicked. It was Jimmy whose face was as white as a sheet.

‘Hammy, you plonker,’ Jimmy said. ‘You was supposed to ring the room like we agreed. You nearly got me killed.’

‘Jimmy I swear to God…’

‘Chill Hammy, it wasn’t your fault,’ Jimmy said. ‘I checked the phone just after he left and the bloody ringer was turned off. Did you see him leave?’ Jimmy said, looking about him.

‘Jesus Jimmy what you got us into? I saw him go out a couple of minutes ago. He turned left. Was he the guy, you know, the guy, the hotel killer?’

Oh yes,’ Jimmy said grimly. ‘When I heard his footsteps outside in the corridor I slipped under the bed. You are not going to believe this Hammy but he came right in and shot two holes in the fecking window.’

‘What!’ Hamish exclaimed.’ Why’d he do that?’

‘There was a bloody seagull pecking at the window and he must have thought that it was me making the noise. I tell you Hammy, I was bricking it.’

‘Ok, we walk away from this Jimmy,’ Hamish said, scared he and his old cellmate were way out of their depth. This was playing with the big boys. Hammy shuddered. ‘This is something else man. We don’t do shooters and stuff. You could have been killed. I take it, you will now hand it over to that cop, the one who hired you?’

‘You bet.’ Jimmy said, still shaking inside. ‘I need to get out of here. I need some fresh air. I will call Frank right away and tell him that I have found his man. Mate, I tell that was scary man.’

Hamish nodded and held out his hand.

‘What?’ Jimmy said.

‘Me passkey Jimmy,’ Hammy said waggling his open palm. His doubted his old cellmate will have changed that much, ‘and you owe me the thirty quid for lending you the passkey.’ Hamish frowned. ‘You didn’t nick anything from his room did you?’ Hamish groaned when he saw a stupid grin creep across Jimmy’s face.

‘Hey! Where’s the trust man? I promised you didn’t I?’ Ross said, sounding aggrieved.

Hamish McCoy was shaking his head when he said.

‘Don’t you go giving me that innocent look Jimmy Ross because I can tell by that stupid grin you took something…. Jeesuz Jimmy, we agreed you wouldn’t steal anything… so come on, own up, what did you steal?’

Jimmy pulled from his pocket a small bottle of shampoo. He saw the look on Hammy’s face. ‘What’s the big deal? It’s a freebie man. The guy never paid for it, so it aint stealing.’

*

Mingling with the tourists around Holyrood Palace, Gent was disheartened by the extra security thrown around the King who hasn’t been seen in public since Monday and today it was Wednesday. In two days, at noon on Friday, the King was due to make his announcement. If he didn’t take him out before that deadline, he could forget his fee and kiss goodbye to being the Number 2 Hitman. He was going to need a new plan and more than a bit of luck.

 

Gent made his way back to his hotel. The lobby had quietened down. There was no sign of the hotel thief or the Busboy. When he inspected the hairs that he’d carefully stuck across the doorjamb they were still there but he could see they were only attached to the door. He swung the door open and saw they stayed put. Someone could have gotten in? Gent decided it was time to start using a more sophisticated means of checking for intruders. Inside the hotel room it all looked exactly as he had left it. Even the wind had stopped blowing through the bullet holes he’d put in the window. Gent lay back on his bed with his hands behind his head thinking. This business in Edinburgh was proving to be a tough assignment, more tricky even than the time that he had to assassinate the President of Gandania. He needed to take a shower. He was undressing by the bed when he first noticed the smell. Now that the draught from the window had dissipated the smell of cordite, he could smell stale cigarettes and body odour!

‘The hotel thief.’ He muttered. His lips curled into a snarl. Wearing only his underpants he rushed into the bathroom and lifted the lid that concealed the toilet cistern. He reached into the void and pulled out his bag. He was about to put the bag down on the shelf alongside the washbasin when he spotted the gap in the orderly line of toiletries. Someone had taken the shampoo. Hurrying now, he carried the bag into the bedroom and tipped the contents out on the bed. It was all there: his other handgun, spare ammo, a couple of passports under different names, a hefty amount of paper money in a variety of denominations, and his collection of credit cards also in different names. In his head Gent began re-enacting his movements. Half an hour ago, he came into this room thinking that someone was in here. He then shot at the seagull that was on the windowsill. Maybe, he began exploring other possibilities, when I shot at the bird thinking that the gull was the intruder, all the while someone had been in here, but where? He’d looked inside the wardrobe. He’d looked in the bathroom. Where else could he have been hiding? Gent turned full-circle. Facing the bed, his eyes fell to floor and then settled on the dark space beneath the bed. He sucked air in through his teeth. Taking out his mobile phone he turned on the torch function and shone it under the bed. No question the fluff and dust had been disturbed. Then he saw it. Reaching under the bed his hand grabbed hold of the small rectangle card. Getting back to his feet Gent read the name on the card: Detective Inspector Francis Guardo – Edinburgh Police. When he turned the card over he read: [_ “Jimmy Ross, £40 a day- plus £30 a day expenses- paid - one week in advance.” _]

Gent snarled. ‘The three of them, the cop, the thief and the Busboy were all in on it. The Busboy must have let the thief into his room. The hotel thief, had to be the Jimmy Ross that was written on the cops business card and he was probably a petty crook hired by the cop to spy on him. What he wondered did they have on him? Gent needed to eliminate them. He needed the address of the thief and he had a good idea who he could extract that information from. He would pay the Busboy a visit.

Back down in the lobby, smiling broadly, Gent approached the girl behind the reception desk. He noted her name badge.

‘Rachel, could I ask you a favour? The Busboy, who was here earlier, ‘Gent said smiling, ‘he was kind enough to return my very expensive gold watch that I had lost.’ Gent showed her his Rolex. ‘I would very much like to reward his honesty, so rarely seen these days. Would it be against the rules for you to let me have his address? I would like to send him a thank you card with a fifty pound note?’

Rachel was thinking, that was nice and Hamish would appreciate the extra money. She wrote the Busboy’s address on a compliments slip and handed it over to the appreciative customer.

Gent thanked her and walked away. He shrugged. What’s it matter if a few more stiffs were to end up in the local morgue? He’d be gone in two days.

Chapter Thirty-six

 

Edinburgh.

 

With his muscular build and his angular jaw, Sven Johannson, the “Swedish Meatball” – World’s Number 1 Hitman, resembled Arnold Schwarzenegger before he went soft on politics. An hour ago he was informed by his backroom team in Oslo the English assassin Bartholomew Gent had been in Edinburgh the past four days. Upon hearing this, he at first became angry and then on reflection he thought it might be a good opportunity to do something about the man who over the past few years has been complaining to others in the community of assassins how he was a much better hitman than he was. Gent was also putting it about that he was a closet gay. The Swede decided it was time to finally shut him up and at the same time get rid of a competitor.

 

When their paths crossed in the lobby of the Grand, Gent going out and Sven just about to check in, they instantly recognised each other but made no show of it.

 

Outside the hotel Gent was seething with anger when he called up his handler.

‘What the hell is going on Q? I just saw the Swedish Meatball checking into my bloody hotel.’

Q gave a short laugh, ‘yes, funny that. I heard that Sven was in town. Fancy that. The two of you checking into the same hotel.’

‘It’s hardly amusing Q, it’s damn inconvenient to say the least.’

You want my advice?’

‘No.’

‘Go find another hotel and make the hit today, before the Meatball beats you to it.’

 

Sven took a room on the second floor of the Grand near the fire escape. In preparation for his meeting with Scotland’s First Minister at five he took a shower. Twenty to five, two men in a government car called to collect him. Four minutes to five, without knocking, the Swedish Meatball walked into Mary Dewar’s office.

Mary looked up in alarm. She’d never encountered a meaner looking man. Cruid got up out of his chair and backed off three paces.

Sven didn’t wait to be offered a chair. He sat in Cruid’s.

‘It is very kind of you to come at such short notice Mr Johannson, or do I call you Mr Meatball?’

Sven a man of few words, principally because he had few, shrugged.

‘Its just Meatball.’

‘Huh?’

‘I said, its just Meatball.’

Not wishing to further provoke his irascible mood, Mary said.

‘Just Meatball, I have heard it said you are the best, and the most expensive. Hitman in the world.’

Coldly, Sven said. ‘My name: it is, “Meatball”, you can forget the just bit.’

‘Great… that’s just great, ‘Mary said, at a loss how to deal with the man. ‘That makes it so much simpler and I can see that you are a simple man… I mean, you are a man of action and few words. I like that. Can we talk rates?’

The look on Johannson’s face scared her. He reminded her of a Rottweiler. There seemed to be an inordinate number of teeth crammed into his broad mouth when he snarled.

‘Why do I need to talk rates with you when I already have your signature on a contract?’ Johannson said, giving Dewar a penetrating look. ‘I can get very, very angry with clients who try and cheat me, and you really don’t want to make me angry.’

‘Sorry Meatball,’ Mary said, backing off. ‘I hadn’t meant to. It’s just five million quid… sorry… US dollars is a lot of money and I was hoping there might be some wriggle room in your fees?’

‘I don’t care to wriggle,’ Sven said, clenching his huge fists. ‘Have you not read the contract?’

‘I confess I only had time to skim over it Meatball.’ Mary hesitated. ‘Now, please don’t overreact but does the contract mention anything about a seven-day cooling off period?’

Sven brought his massive shoulders up to their fullest height. His head rolled back so that he could look down on her. ‘Would you talking about an opt out clause?’

‘Ah, yes an opt-out clause… that would be good,’ Mary said, thinking, Meatball seemed to be cool with the notion. ‘But only if that doesn’t cause you a problem.’ Mary managed a smile.

‘There is an opt-out clause,’ Sven began. ‘It states: should a client be in breach of the contract– the people wanting to opt out,’ Sven looked round at Cruid who flinched. ‘Will be terminated.’

‘Sorry!’ Mary said and leant forward to hear him better. He had quite an accent. ‘Did I just hear you say: the contract will be terminated?’

‘You did not. I said: you both will be terminated. Read the small print.’ Sven said flatly.

Mary gulped. ‘N, n, no Meatball. It’s really not a problem. We can manage five million, can’t we Cruid?’ Mary said, and flashed a look at her Minister who looked like he had just aged ten years.

‘What… oh yes. The money? It shouldn’t be a problem… no, not at all, Mr Meatball,’ Cruid said, having found his voice. ‘Getting the job done is the priority here.’

‘Ok, Meatball, lets be clear on this,’ Mary said. ‘You are to assassinate the King before noon this Friday. If you that don’t happen, I am sorry but whole deal is off and you don’t get a bean. Is that understood?’

When his hand shot out, the speed of it taking hold of hers was more of a shock than the painful crushing handshake.

‘As stated in the contract, I look forward to seeing the down payment of one million US dollars showing up in my Cayman Islands Bank account later this morning. Now are we done? I need to set my people to work.’

‘We’re done.’ Mary said.

Sven got up from his chair and then walked out the room.

The minute Johannson left the room, Cruid turned to face Mary. He was about to say something when Meatball poked his head round the door.

‘Which way is out?’

Mary arranged for security to collect the big oaf and escort him out the building. When she looked over at Cruid he looked about to have a heart attack.

‘Will you stop worrying Cruid, by the end of the week it’ll all be over and Scotland will be free of the clutches of that megalomaniac.’

‘I’m really sorry Mary.’ Cruid said, wringing his hands.

‘Don’t be. So you slipped up on the contract. We all make mistakes.’

‘I’m saying sorry, Mary, because we don’t have the money.’

Mary shot him a look. ‘ What do you mean we don’t have the money? Of course we have the money, you arranged for it to come out of the defence budget… didn’t you?’

‘I did. The money was supposed to be transferred to your bank account first thing this morning and then transferred across to Meatball’s Cayman Islands bank account by midday. I then learned that the banks, scared of the King’s nationalisation plans, have imposed a cap of ten thousand pounds on any one transaction.’

Mary eyes bulged and her face grew crimson. Cruid thought that she might self-combust. Perhaps that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

‘Big deal,’ Mary said, finally with a shrug. ‘By Friday afternoon he will have killed the King and I will immediately notify the authorities who did it. What’s he going to do shoot us?’

Having left the Scottish Parliament building it took the Swede a while to get his bearings. He wandered across the road and stood in the Place courtyard watching the tourists queuing to buy tickets. He looked about him, his brain making mental sketches of the layout of the Palace and the positioning of the armed police. Looking beyond the walls he noted there were a few buildings tall enough to allow him a shot over the walls. His people in Oslo tell him the King hasn’t been seen in days.

 

In his blonde wig with a matching beard and moustache, Gent thought he was well disguised as he watched the huge Swede step out of the Grand hotel.

Keeping out of sight behind others climbing the Royal Mile, Gent kept the big man in sight. As they reached the High Street and headed up towards Edinburgh Castle, Gent reached inside his fleece coat and adjusted the gun tucked inside his waistband. Gent was planning to walk right up behind the Swede and – then, “pop-pop,” put two bullets in his back. People would scream when the big oaf went down and in the confusion Gent would simply melt away.

 

He was trying to find his way back to the Grand Hotel. Sven, checking his map, was looking for a street name or a landmark that would tell him where he was. He’d been climbing all the way so the hotel had to be downhill. Sven stopped to look in a shop window. He wasn’t interested in the tourist crap. He used the window as a mirror to get a look at the blonde haired man on the other side of the road. The guy had been tailing him since he stepped out of the Grand. Sven’s lips curled into a snarl, Gent!

Walking on, acting like he was interested in the architecture, he came to an alleyway. The, narrow, twisting steeply descending gap between two ancient crumbling buildings seemed like an ideal place to ambush the Englishman. Halfway down he found what he needed. There was an opening, roughly four feet deep. Back in the shadows the door had been boarded up for centuries. As Meatball stepped into the shadows he took out his 9mm-Glock 43-Semi-automatic and fitted it with a silencer. After waiting half a minute Sven heard approaching footsteps. They sounded, light, as if the person was in a hurry. Maybe, trying to catch up with him. Sven grinned.

 

Gent had been keeping the Swede in sight from the other side of the High Street. From over the heads of the crowd watching a fire- eating act he saw him slip into the alley called Old Fisherman's Close.

Having lost sight of the Swede who had stepped into an alley, Gent was thinking, if he set off now he could still catch up with him and finish him off.

When a tour bus came trundling up the hill he used this as cover to dash across the road. He hesitated at the alley entrance. In the gloom he could see nothing. He figured Johannson must have gone out the far end.

 

As he waited in the shadows of the doorway with his Glock held in both hands, Sven heard approaching footsteps. The person was in a hurry, light on his feet. When the figure hurried past, Sven stepped out and in one fluid movement pumped two shots into the back of the victim who fall face down on the ground. Sven ran over to the man and flipped him over. He cursed in Swedish. The dead man didn’t have a blonde wig and beard. Sven shrugged and then stuffed his gun inside his shoulder holster. At the end of the alley he came out on Princes Gardens. Over to his right, two blocks away he saw the Grand Hotel.

 

As he hesitated at the end of Old Fishmarket Close, Gent heard the unmistakable thud of two silenced gunshots. Taking out his Berretta M9, Gent sprinted into the alley and almost fell over the dead body of a man. Gent didn’t hesitate. Turning on his heels he ran back up the alley and melted into the thronging tourists on the High Street. Walking calmly now he was thinking he had better change hotels. And he still needed to deal with the Busboy, the thief and the cop. And if that wasn’t enough, he still had the Meatball to worry about.

Sven, having put aside, for now, his determination to kill Gent, went in search of a cashpoint machine. Outside the Santander bank on Castle Hill, he slid his card in the slot and then punched in his pin number. He then tapped on – account services and located his Cayman Island bank account. He stared at the screen for some time and then slammed his fist against the glass causing it to shatter. ‘Those double-dealing, lying Scot’s!’ The Swede snarled in his native tongue.

 

Cruid, in his office about to close down his computer was seriously reviewing his position. He was tired, tired of politics, tired of public life, tired–tire–tired. Winnie was right. He should get out of politics. If he retired now he and his wife could go buy that house in Cornwall, keep a hive of bees, and grow plums. Cruid loves plums. On the drive home, in his head, Cruid was composing his resignation letter.

He steered his Ford Mondeo car onto the driveway of his modest detached house located on the quiet Broadway Estate. Before he had time to turn off the engine, the passenger door flew open.

‘Drive!’ That was all Sven said as he climbed into the passenger seat and rammed a gun in the Minster’s ribs.

Cruid wasn’t going to argue. He guessed the Swede had discovered his money hadn’t been paid into his bank account. Cruid wasn’t surprised the man was upset… really upset. This was all Mary Dewar’s fault and now because of her, l will most likely end up being shot dead.

‘Ok, please don’t shoot.’ Cruid pleaded, reversing the car out of his driveway. Winifred watching from the bow window saw the huge man climb into the passenger seat and then saw her husband back the car out. She was worried.

‘It wasn’t my idea,’ Cruid lied, happy for Dewar to take all the blame. Which was fair enough seeing as it was her idea to hire someone they could never afford. ‘Mary didn’t have the money in the first place.’

Pointing his Glock out the windscreen, Sven snarled. ‘Drive.’

‘It wasn’t my idea,’ Cruid almost cried.

‘You are both in breach of our contract, now take me to where that conniving bitch lives.’

‘How about I drop you off at the end of her road and tell you her house number?’

‘Uh huh, the two of you will pay my fee or you both die. It’s that simple.’

It didn’t sound at all simple to Cruid.

The drive to Mary Dewar’s house took twenty minutes. Cruid was sweating buckets as he pulled up outside her house on Circus Lane.

‘Out.’ Sven barked, keeping the gun aimed at Cruid’s head.

Cruid didn’t argue.

‘I want you to go to the door and ring the bell,’ the Swede said, stepping to one side of the doorway, keeping out of sight the spyhole in the door. ‘I want her to see that its you.’

Cruid rang the doorbell. They waited. ‘She’s not at home.’ Cruid lied. Sven dug the gun in his ribs making him yelp. Cruid pressed the doorbell again. ‘I told you, she’s not at home.’ Cruid said, hoping the Swede was so stupid he wouldn’t have spotted her car on the driveway.

‘Ring it again.’ Meatball demanded.

Not wanting Sven to give him another dig in the ribs with the gun, Cruid kept his finger on the doorbell until he thought he heard movement inside the house.

 

To Mary’s mind, men are mostly weak, feeble-minded creatures, operating on a pretty basic- sex-driven agenda. Marriage was never something she would ever contemplate. Occasionally, she had been out on dates with men but couldn’t see the point in all that small talk crap, when all that they both wanted was to get laid. It was so much more convenient to have her neighbour, Tommy Castro, who was also her occasional gardener come round when Tommy’s wife Betty was at work. Betty, a nurse at the local A&E had warned her husband many times. ‘I don’t want you ever going over to Mary Dewar's house while I am at work. I don’t trust her. I've seen the way she looks at you.”

Tommy always laughed at the suggestion.

‘I promise you Tommy, I ever catch the two of you at it,’ Betty, would warn her husband. ‘You will never see your children again.’ Betty was a bit like that, comes at you all guns blazing, taking no prisoners.

 

Irritated at the intrusion, in her dressing gown, Mary cracked the door open as far as the security chain allowed.

‘Cruid! What the hell are you doing here?’ Mary said smoothing her hair back. ‘It is not convenient right now. Go home. Come and see me in the morning.’

One minute Mary was telling Cruid to go away, the next moment she was flat on her back in her hallway with her Minister For Internal Affairs lying on top of her. So much for security chains that are only effective if they are properly secured.

Cruid wasn’t sure which was the more embarrassing, him lying full length on top of Scotland’s First Minister, or him looking down on her naked body after her housecoat had flopped open?

Dewar was about to scream for Cruid to get off her, and demand that he tell her what the hell he was doing, molesting her, when Sven grabbed hold of her arm and hauled her to her feet. She found herself slammed her up against the wall with the Swede’s huge hand choking her.

When Cruid, still shocked, managed to get to his feet he saw that Sven had his gun under Marys chin. Her head was forced back at a painful angle. He winced. The sight had wrested his eyes from her nakedness.

Sven then explained what was going to happen: ‘you will do exactly as I say. The price just went up. You now owe me ten million US dollars and you will have this money wired to my Cayman Island account and so you don’t try to stop the transfer, we will sit quietly and wait while the money to goes through.’

‘It wasn’t my fault you didn’t get paid.’ Mary said. ‘It was Cruid who screwed you over.’

Cruid looked round at her shocked, but then he shouldn’t have been.

Sven allowed Mary to tie her dressing gown across her body.

‘Where is your computer?’ Sven said flatly.

‘It’s in the dining room, through there.’ Mary pointed to a doorway that led into the kitchen that was far too big and pretentious for a house of such modest proportions and having just one occupant.

‘Lead the way.’ Sven said waving the gun at them both.

Mary was worried. She’d good cause to be. She had no means of paying the money.

‘Smart kitchen, but not as good as Ikea,’ Sven said checking out the double sink, the water softener system and the central island with both a gas and a ceramic hob. Above the hob was a stainless steel rack with a collection of heavy copper-bottomed pans. Mary only ever cooked in a microwave oven so the twin Aga’s never got used.

Sven shoved his gun into Cruid’s back and said, ‘keep moving old-timer.’

The far end of the kitchen there was a pair of glazed French doors that opened out onto a square dining room that had a circular glass and chrome dining table and four leather straight back chairs.

Pointing to the laptop on the table, Sven, keeping his back to the kitchen doors, said to Mary. ‘Open the laptop.’ When Dewar hesitated, with the barrel of his gun, he gave her a shove in the back. ‘If the money doesn’t show up in my bank account in the next five minutes I will shoot you both in the head.’

Mary was thinking there was no way she could access that kind of money. And in five minutes he was going to lose patience with them.

 

Stood at the top of the stairs in just his underpants and socks, Tommy Castro was listening to this conversation. He was caught in two minds. The rest of his clothes along with Mary’s dress and underwear, were in the lounge, which was at the back of the house. He and Mary, in a frantic sexual rush to get naked, had left their attire on the floor, before rushing up to the bedroom. He quickly discounted option one which entailed him rushing out the house semi-naked. This meant running the risk of him being spotted by one of his nosey neighbours who would undoubtedly pass this information onto Betty. On top of which Tommy felt obliged to do what he could to save his lover’s life. Which only left option two: This involved him sneaking downstairs and disarming the man, a man he had yet to clap eyes on. With any luck he could be a little chap, easily overpowered?

Tommy was soon to discover the man with the gun, who had just forced his way into the house, was about as big as an ox and was built like one.

 

Sven checked the time on his watch. Dewar and Cruid had been messing about on the laptop for over five minutes now. He’d had enough of their excuses, her saying the server was down… and how the Internet connection wasn’t good round here… and then her telling him that the computer wanted her to change her password.

‘How annoying is that Meatball,’ Mary said, smoothing her errant hair out from her face. ‘The damn website doesn’t recognise my password. It wants me to come up with a new one. How are we supposed to get anything done?’

‘Enough! Sven yelled slamming his hand down on the glass table making Mary jump and causing Cruid to nearly have a coronary. Extending his arm and steadying his aim he pointed his gun at Dewar’s head. He decided he would shoot the woman first and then the old man.

 

Sven saw Dewar’s eyes widen and stare at something that was supposed to be coming up behind him. He wasn’t being fooled by that old trick. The minute he turned around he knew they planned to jump him.

‘I aint falling for that old trick Dewar,’ Sven said, his face contorted into a murderous grin. ‘Your time’s up.’

As he said those words his ears picked up the whoosh of movement behind him. He spun around and his face took the full brunt of the blow from a heavy copper-bottomed frying pan. “Clang!”

Mary’s hands shot to cover her eyes. After a second she peered through two spread fingers. Cruid was clutching at his heart.

Still upright, but wobbling, the pain in his face was just building momentum. Sven shook his head. This only added to his disorientation and the galaxy of stars he was now seeing.

Tommy was thinking how could the guy still be standing after taking a whack in the face like that? Employing a little more force this time Tommy swung the pan in a wide arc. ‘Clang!’

Sven’s head snapped back. He rocked on his heels. His face was a bloody mess but he remained upright. He didn’t recognise the man holding the frying pan. Sven spat out blood and a few teeth. He raised his gun about to shoot his assailant.

Grunting with the effort, Tommy now put every ounce of strength he had into the next swing of the frying pan. “Clang!”

It was like watching a felled oak, the way Sven went down.

Mary blinked. There in his underpants and socks stood her lover. In his right hand he held an expensive and badly dented, Jamie Oliver, copper-bottomed frying pan. Mary blinked again and came out of her catatonic state.

‘Tommy, get his gun.’ Mary snapped.

‘Uh huh,’ Tommy said, shaking his head. ‘You get it. I don’t like guns.’

‘Would you rather he came to and shot you?’ Mary shrieked.

Keeping the frying pan in readiness, should the giant wake up, Tommy bent and plucked the gun out of the man’s hand.

‘Now shoot him.’ Mary Dewar screamed.

‘What!’ Tommy said, his eyes now wide. ‘Have you gone mad?’ I am not, going to shoot him.’ Tommy offered her the gun. ‘You want him dead, you shoot him.’

‘God, you men are so feeble,’ Mary said, snatching the gun out of Tommy’s hand. ‘I suppose I will have to do it, unless…’ Mary looked round at Cruid.

Cruid began backing off shaking his head. ‘No. Mary, we can’t do this. We can’t shoot the man in cold blood. We have to call the police.’

‘Are you crazy?’ Mary stormed. ‘Have you forgotten already that it was you who hired this thug to kill the King… And you never heard me say that!’ Mary said, turning to Castro, with a look of disgust, ‘and put your trousers on Tommy. A man in white Y fronts and grey socks is not a good look.’ Turning to face Cruid, Mary said. ‘We can’t involve the cops. We’d both end up in prison. And whilst I will eventually be released an old fart like you will die in your cell.’

Cruid had to concede the point. ‘Ok, then. You shoot him before he comes round.’

While the two of them continued to argue which of them was going to shoot the Swede, Tommy Castro was leant over the Swede listening to the man’s chest.

‘He’s dead.’ Tommy said flatly, looking up at them both whilst holding two fingers against Sven’s neck feeling for a pulse.

‘What!’ Mary gasped. ’Are you sure?’

‘I used to be a paramedic with the St Johns Ambulance Brigade,’ Tommy said, failing to mention it was twenty years ago and he only did a two-day, basic first aid course. ‘I know a corpse when I see one.’

‘That’s it,’ Cruid said. ‘We now have a dead man. We don’t have a choice. We must call the police and we tell then it was Tommy who killed him.’

Tommy leapt to his feet hefting the frying pan. He glared at Cruid.

‘What! I just saved your miserable life you ungrateful old bugger.’

Looking round at Mary, Tommy was waiting to hear her back him up.

‘Cruid has a point Tommy,’ Mary said stepping behind her Minister. ‘Whilst of course, we will be forever grateful to you for saving us, we never actually asked you to kill him.’

‘I see, ‘Tommy snarled, nodding. ’So that’s how it is? Then let me remind you, I haven’t forgotten what you said about how it was you who hired this man to kill the King of Scotland. And how you were going to embezzle his fees out of the Defence budget.’ Catching Mary unawares, Tommy stepped forward and snatched the gun from her hand. He said. ‘I don’t trust you Mary.’

‘People, lets not do this.’ Cruid said, holding up the palms of his hands. ‘The way I see it, we are all in this together. Now, can we just stop arguing and agree what we need to do.’

After a half a minute of silence, Mary said.

‘I have an idea. Only the three of us know the Swede came here. We should wait till its dark and then bury him in the back garden.’

Cruid was worried about his wife, Winnie, who had seen him pull up on the driveway and then drive off with a strange man in his car. She will be worried. He just wanted to go home and pretend none of this happened. ‘I agree but why wait till it’s dark? If we are going to bury him, I say we should do it now.’

‘No,’ Mary snapped. ‘Are you entirely stupid Cruid? My neighbours looking out their top windows, seeing us dragging a corpse down my garden would be straight on the phone to the police.’

‘I have a suggestion,’ Tommy said to Mary. ‘Using my arc light and my mini-digger we wait till it’s dark, in an hour or so, and then using my machine we bury him under them big shrubs at the back of your garden.’

‘Oh, great idea, ‘said Cruid being sarcastic. ‘And what do imagine the neighbours will think when their evening TV viewing is ruined by the glare of a floodlight and the noise of a digger out the back of their houses?’

‘Ah, but you see,’ Mary said, sounding jubilant. ‘On one side of me is Tommy’s house, and his wife is working a night shift. The ones on the other side of me are on holiday in Corfu, and they don’t get back till Saturday.’

And that was what they did. Soon after it got dark, Tommy got to work on digging a shallow grave while Cruid and Mary struggled to get Sven into an old duvet cover.

It didn’t take long for Tommy’s machine to dig a shallow grave. That done he made his way back to the house crossing the lawn ruined by the tracks of his digger. Going through the garden doors he left muddy footprints on the shiny white tiles. He found Cruid and Mary struggling to drag the Swede out the dining room. Being stronger than either of them Tommy took hold of the head end while Mary and Cruid took a leg each. Puffing under the dead weight, the three of them carried the Swede across the patio, over the lawn and up to the edge of the hole.

‘The hole isn’t very deep.’ Cruid remarked.

‘It’s deep enough,’ Mary said bending to heave Meatball into the hole. Getting to her feet she brushed her hands. ‘Well done guys.’ Mary’s back was aching. ‘Tommy, you backfill the hole and Cruid you make a start on cleaning up the house. I need to go and wash my hands. Then I want the pair of you gone.’

 

As if last night hadn’t happened and she didn’t actually bury a man in her back garden, by nine o’clock the following morning Mary Dewar was back behind her desk acting as if there was nothing on her mind… only there was! She had one very urgent thing on her mind: the Swede was no longer a problem but the job he was hired to do still needed to get done. Less than forty-eight hours from now King Robert was going to shatter her world order and most likely, the minute he took on ruling Scotland, he would have her arrested and tried for his attempted murder and she couldn’t rely on Cruid not to buckle under interrogation. She picked up the sealed envelope on her desk and tore it open. She read Cruid’s resignation letter and then screwed it up and threw it in the wastepaper bin. Dewar wasn’t letting him off the hook. He’d helped her bury the man, and now he was just going to walk away, leave her with it? Not on your life!

The King had been lucky… too lucky and whatever God it was smiling down on him had to slip up soon.

 

While Mary was at her desk thinking up increasingly imaginative ways to kill the King, a very large man, spitting out busted teeth, blood and dirt, was climbing out of a shallow grave beneath a Magnolia tree. Sven might have been in great pain and his face an odd shape but that wasn’t going to detract him from his determination to extract terrible retribution on Mary Dewar and her Minister and then her neighbour.

 

Chapter Thirty-seven

 

Holyrood Palace.

 

Gavin’s legal team, beavering away in the basement of Holyrood Palace was adding the finishing touches to the edicts he planned to implement this coming Friday afternoon.

He’d heard The Russians weren’t happy with him favouring an arms deal with Sheik Ali-bin-Lina. On Saturday he was due to sign a loan agreement with the Sheik worth fourteen billion US dollars repayable at one point below the exchange rate–over twenty-five years. Scotland would then take ownership of: twenty helicopter gunships, two second-hand battle Cruisers, six new F11 fighter planes, a ground-to-air missile defence system, a satellite surveillance system, and a range of ballistic missiles. Scotland would no longer be defenceless.

In other talks, Gavin was making real progress with Scotland’s application to join the EU. As soon as the application was approved Gavin planned to replace the Scottish pound with the Euro. All over Scotland as people began to accept UDI, they spontaneously replaced the Union Jack with the blue and white flag of St Andrew.

 

Palace Houseman Henry Pyke, seeing the King working far too many hours was now becoming worried about his health.

‘Gavin, I think you should ease up a bit. The bulk of your work is done. On Friday you will stand before the Scottish Parliament and announce to the world that Scotland is to embrace a modern democracy that other countries, other world leaders, will want to model. Can you not take a break?’

‘ I can’t let up now Henry,’ Gavin said running a hand through his hair that was getting a little long now. ‘I am so close to achieving what I set out to do.’

‘It is not just you that I am worried about,’ Henry said gently. ‘Fiona is struggling. You owe it to her to take a couple of days off work.’

Gavin looked round sharply. What Henry said shocked him. ‘You’re right. I have been so engrossed in what I set out to achieve that I had quite forgotten the people who back me up… oh by the way,’ Gavin said. ‘Did I tell that I have filed a claim against the UK administration for punitive damages pertaining to the wilful destruction of the town of Bonnie… and I have passed the matter on to the International Court of Human Rights. I have formally requested that Sir Roger Bottomley be arrested and charged with war crimes.’

Henry was left speechless.

Chapter Thirty-eight

 

10 Downing Street.

 

In his office Sir Roger Bottomley was in a meeting with Terry Beaumont and the Head of MI5. His florid cheeks and the thread veins in his noise were livid when he waved a letter in the air. He stormed. ‘I cant believe it, this morning I was served with a summons, a summons, can you believe it, demanding that I attend The Hague Court of Human Rights to answer charges of war crimes?’ Looking directly at the Head of MI5 Sir Roger barked. ‘I thought you were supposed to do something about this blithering Essex pleb.’

Should either of them want to read it, Sir Roger threw the letter on the table.

Neither of them did.

‘What exactly are you doing to stop this bugger destroying the United Kingdom?’ Sir Roger bellowed at Lord Soper. ‘You promised me that you would have him neutralised, that’s the word you used, before he could do any real damage. I am seriously thinking of having you replaced Soper.’

Lord Soper was sick of these tirades from Bottomley who he regarded as the architect of his own misfortune. He tried to explain. ‘Prime Minister, after the Scot’s botched attempt to kill him using three beat up old tanks, King Robert has understandably trebled his security. He hasn’t been seen in days.’

‘So where does that leave us?’ The PM demanded. ‘Up the creek without a blessed paddle, that’s where we are.’

‘All is not lost, Prime Minister.’ Lord Soper said. ‘Only an hour ago I received word from my Edinburgh office to say my agent is planning to take out the King on Friday. My agent has asked us would we please stop sending hitmen up there because the town is beginning to look like Dodge City.’ Lord Soper wasn’t at all sure who was hiring all these hitmen. ‘I have every faith in my agent, who despite a number of unfortunate distractions, that he dealt with in an exemplary fashion, is still on course to complete his mission.’

‘Never mind the blasted UK economy, what about my backers who stand to lose their trousers.’

‘I think you meant to say, they would lose their shirts, Sir Roger.’ Terry Beaumont interjected.

‘Shut up Beaumont, ‘Sir Roger blasted, feeling a bilious attack coming on. ‘When I want your opinion, I will whistle. Wasn’t it you who started all this trouble with that blasted email business?’

‘No Sir Roger,’ Terry lied, confident that the PM was too muddled to remember. ‘If you recall, we intercepted the email that showed the Scots were planning to overrun UK interests in Scotland. Had you not taken decisive action, they’d have pulled it off.’

‘I did eh?’

‘Most certainly.’

‘Decisive eh? Write that down. I may use that in my next speech.’

Terry Beaumont was thinking, let’s hope it’s your resignation speech.

*

In his Edinburgh hotel room, Gent was going back over his plan. Tomorrow, sometime before three o’ clock, the King was due to cross the road to the Parliament building and announce his new laws. Drawn out of his bunker the King will be a sitting duck.

 

In the Scottish Parliament Building, the world’s media, the Scottish Parliament and the UK Government waited with bated breath for the arrival of King Robert IV.

 

The speech was never going to happen because the King would be dead. With time to spare, Gent planned to head over to the Busboy’s address first and then before he killed him he would extract from him the thief’s location.

The Swedish Meatball, who Gent thought was going to be a major hindrance, hadn’t been seen since he shot the wrong man in the alleyway. Gent guessed the Swede had done a runner and by now was already back in Oslo.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

 

Edinburgh.

 

‘Frankie,’ Beth Guardo called out through the kitchen window, ‘dinners ready.’

Out in their garden, now looking lovely thanks to his wife’s hard work and her green fingers, DI Frank Guardo pulled off his gardening gloves and returned them along with the ball of string and his secateurs to the shed. After closing the shed door he set off down the path. The smell of food wafting through the open kitchen window was making his tummy rumble. These days his culinary expectations were somewhat dampened by the prospect of having to eat another of James White’s slimming but tasteless recipes. Three months ago, Frank had agreed with Beth that they could lose a few pounds. It was her friend Tina Bullman that got her into buying the James White series of ‘Eat yourself Skinny” range of books that included a workout DVD, that Beth decided to put on the telly just when Match Of The Day was about start. After James White did a series of one-arm press-ups he then paraded his rippling stomach muscles. In his blue and yellow Lycra outfit Frank commented, ‘he looks like a bearded parakeet… and he’s in his twenties,’ Frank complained pointing at the telly. ‘Of course he’s got a flat stomach. Plus the guy lives on a diet of bamboo shoots and lives in a tree house!’

Beth teased her husband ‘Aw, you’re just jealous Frankie. You don’t like the fact women buy his books and that he is handsome.’

Frank guffawed, ‘I think not. Why would I be jealous of someone who resembles a Barbary ape? Besides, it’s bad enough that I have to endure the diet of a guinea pig, must I now endure his tree-swinging antics and miss the footie just so you can tell Tina Bullman that you watched his “cure for insomnia” DVD?’

 

When the oven timer dinged, using the striped oven mitts that Frankie bought her last Christmas, Beth lifted the casserole dish from the oven and carried it over to the trivet on the dining table. Beth stepped back and admired her creation. She looked round at the sound of Frankie scraping his boots on the back door mat.

‘Frankie, take off those muddy shoes.’ Beth said, looking down at his garden boots. ‘I don’t want you tracking mud through the house.’

Watching Beth ladling a featureless green broth onto his plate, Frank did his best not to show his look of dismay.

‘Well, what do you think?’ Beth said standing by the dining table and looking down at her husband.

Sitting with his knife and fork in his fists, thinking soupspoons would be more practical; Frank looked up at her beaming smile and saw the sweat glistening on her brow. He smiled and then looked down at his plate. He gulped.

‘It’s a James White recipe from his book “Fifteen minutes diet makeover,” Beth said proudly. He recommends it for people of our age.’

Does he now? I know what I would recommend you do with it. ‘Wow Beth,’ Frank said, rubbing his hands together with fake eagerness. He cast his nose over the plate of steaming food. ‘I expect it will taste as good as it looks.’

Frank was never able to tell his wife that her cooking was bland, which explains why after twenty-six years of Beth doing the majority of the cooking it never improved.

As a result of James White’s interference in their lives, Frank is no longer allowed to eat bread, or chips, and as for biscuits, they are a sin worthy of eternal damnation. Cakes! He hasn’t seen a cake in the house in weeks, milk… well they no longer have cows milk. They put almond flavoured water in their tea. And as for wine… don’t bother.

Thankfully, in his line of work Frank gets the chance to get out the house and eat whatever he wants. He just needs to deal with the guilt. One day he knows he is going to have to own up to Beth and tell her he has been cheating on their diet.

Pushing his dinner around his plate and thinking about Kentucky Fried Chicken, Frank looked up at the sound of his mobile phone chirping. He took the call out in the hallway.

‘It’s work. There’s been another shooting.’

‘Aw, Frankie,’ Beth said. ‘You haven’t finished the lovely meal that I cooked for you. And I have a pudding. It’s jelly.’

‘Jelly with what… fruit?’

‘No Frankie you can’t eat fruit because of the sugar content. It’s just raspberry jelly.’

‘Keep it warm for me.’ Frank joked slipping on his shoulder holster and then his coat.

‘I don’t like the thought of you having to carry a gun Frankie.’ Beth said giving her husband a hug and feeling the lump under his jacket.

‘Me too honey,’ Fank said, giving her a peck on the lips. ‘But until we catch the hotel shooter, it’s an operational requirement.’

‘Be careful out there.’ She called out from under the porch. Her brow was lined with worry as she watched her husband slip behind the wheel of his Alpha Romeo Spider parked on their driveway.

Pulling off the drive, Frank waved back.

Beth watching her husband wave goodbye, clutched at a gnawing ache in her stomach. She hadn’t had that in a while.

 

At the end of his road, Frank suddenly remembered he’d left his pipe in the garden. He thought about turning around, go back for it? He decided Beth seeing him come back for his Grandfathers lucky pipe that he had never once smoked, was sure to set her nerves on edge.

 

Old Fishmarket Close, and the area around it had been taped off. Frank nodded at the two uniforms standing guard and ducked under the Police Do Not Cross tape.

Crime Scene Manager Emil Khan dressed in blue coveralls was bent over a corpse lying face down in the alley. He looked up when he heard DI Frank Guardo say.

‘What we got Emil?’

‘Another fatal shooting Frank,’ Khan said, straightening up and looking round at the DI. ‘He took two bullets in the back. We found the victim’s driving licence in his wallet. He is Alfonse Dmitri – a French national who was working here as a tour guide.’

‘Poor soul,’ Frank murmured and then an image of Jimmy Ross leapt into his mind. He hadn’t heard from Jimmy in days. He now regretted getting him involved. What if he was to get shot dead? He didn’t want to think about that. It didn’t matter if Jimmy didn’t spend five minutes on the job, as long as this vile killer didn’t catch him.

*

Having decided that Frank wasn’t paying him enough to get shot, Jimmy Ross wasn’t going near any more hotels. He was going to call Frank right now and tell him where to find the killer. Looking about him Princes Park was pretty quiet. He sat on a bench and took out his mobile phone. His search through his pockets for the business card that Frank had given him became frantic. Shit! Where the hell is that? He knew it was no good him ringing the nick because the cops would never hand out police mobile number. Remembering that his name was written on the back of the card, Jimmy started to panic. He was trying to recall the last time he saw it. He remembered showing it to Hammy in the Grand Hotel lobby minutes before he went up to room 413. Shit! Jimmy’s blood ran cold. What if it fell out of my pocket while I was under the bed? Nah, it couldn’t have… could it? He had to find out, but that meant him going back inside that room. Shit! If the shooter had found it, he would have my name. How long’s it gonna take him to track me down?

The rest of the day he couldn’t get out of his head an image of the business card lying under the bed in room 413. Six, that evening, he knew what he had to do.

Chapter Forty

 

Edinburgh.

 

Hamish was renting a bedsit on the fourth floor of 42 Tower Street. Going home, crossing North Bridge, he almost died of shock when a hand clamped down on his shoulder.

‘Christ!’ Hamish said, spinning about. He groaned, seeing the grinning face of Jimmy Ross, who was the last person on earth he needed to see. ‘You scared the bejesus out of me. Will you go away please? I was doing all right till you showed up.’

Keeping pace with Hamish, Jimmy, cool as you like said.’ I need to borrow your passkey again.’

Hamish stopped dead in his tracks and faced his old cellmate. ‘No way Jimmy.’ Hamish said, shaking his head. ‘Christ, you nearly lost me my job.’

Hamish heard these words come out of his mouth but he knew that he could never deny Jimmy. It was like the guy could hypnotise him. Only this time it wasn’t going to happen. He was going to say no. ‘Why would you want to go back in his room? Are you mad?’

‘I just need to get into his room for two minutes. You remember the business card I showed you?

‘The cop’s’ calling card?’

‘Yeah. I think I may have left it under the bed in room 413.’

Hamish’s eyes searched Jimmy’s face for any sign of deception. ‘What!’ He exploded as the enormity of what that meant dawned on him. ‘Then the killer could already have your name and the proof that you was in his room. Jeez Jimmy.’

‘I don’t think he would have found it. Who looks under the bed in a hotel? Two minutes… Hammy… please?’ He begged.

‘And you wont chaw nothing?’

‘Cross my heart and hope to die.’ Jimmy said criss-crossing his chest.

 

The two men walked back to the Grand Hotel. The plan was Jimmy would keep out of sight behind the trash bins in the delivery yard and wait for Hamish to come back and tell him the guy in room 413 had gone out.

After twenty tense minutes, Hammy came back and handed Jimmy his passkey. He stressed. ‘Don’t lose it, and I want it back.’

 

Hamish had bitten down all his nails waiting for Jimmy. It was eighteen minutes before he saw Ross come back into the yard. His usual London swagger had gone. Jimmy looked worried

‘The card wasn’t under the bed.’

‘Then maybe you lost it someplace else?’

‘Uh-huh. When I didn’t find it under the bed, I checked in the bedside cabinet drawer and there it was.’

‘Christ!’ Hamish exploded. ‘He had found it then? McCoy suddenly froze. ‘You didn’t take it did you Jimmy? Tell me you didn’t take it.’

‘Course I did.’ Jimmy said waving the business card in front of Hamish’s nose. ‘I wasn’t going to leave it there with my name on it. I doubt he will remember what was written on it.’

*

Returning to the Grand Hotel after carrying out another reconnaissance of Holyrood Palace, Gent snarled when he found the hairs that he had stuck across the doorjamb were now on the floor. Taking out his gun he burst in his room. Whoever it was that got in here had gone. The first thing he did was to check that his bag hidden in the WC cistern void was still there. Gent was now thinking, cops… bugs. From his bag he took out a bug sweeper and found nothing.

Gent turned full circle looking for anything out of place. Nothing had been taken… unless. Moving swiftly to the bedside cabinet he pulled out the drawer. It was gone… the business card was gone. The thief had been back. He was going to have to change hotels.

He was also going to have to eliminate the only three people who now knew of his existence and possibly his mission. They will have to die.

He had half a day or more before he could implement his plan to assassinate the King, time enough for him to track down and kill the Busboy and the hotel thief. The cop can wait.

*

‘Jimmy! Where the hell you been?’ Frank said, on his mobile phone relieved to hear Jimmy Ross’s voice. I’ve been looking all over for you.’

‘I lost your card Frank, and then I found it again. Listen, you were right. The killer was staying in a hotel and I spotted him in the Grand, and considering I nearly died sussing him out, I reckon you owe me another two hundred smackers.’

‘Good work Jimmy,’ Frank said. ‘Now tell me what you know.’

‘Under the name Mark Lawson, he booked into room 413, at the Grand Hotel on Waterloo Place. Oh, and be careful Frank, I saw him shoot at a seagull.’

‘A seagull!’

‘It’s a long story Frank. You need to pick this guy up a bit sharpish before he kills anyone else. When this is over, you can buy me a beer and I will tell you all about it.’

‘Good work Jimmy,’ Frank said, satisfied he was telling the truth. ‘You will get your money. Now pay attention… you are to walk away from this. This man is a very dangerous individual and I don’t want you getting hurt.’

Jimmy said, ‘No worries, I am not going anywhere near the guy.’

*

After checking out of the Grand hotel, Gent hauled his heavy bag across town and booked into the Alhambra Hotel on Princes Street. As usual he insisted on a room that overlooked the road, preferably on the top floor. He was given room 49, which was near the lift lobby. The Alhambra wasn’t his usual 5* but it would meet his immediate needs. Going into the bathroom Gent had to use a screwdriver to remove the cover over the WC cistern. It was a tight fit but with a bit of effort he managed to cram his heavy bag into the void. Sitting at a small table, to make room for the street map of Edinburgh, Gent had to move aside the tea and coffee making facilities. He stabbed his finger on the street the Busboy lived on. After checking the action on the Sig Sauer P320 that he'd picked up at the local MI5 office, he slipped it into the waistband of his trousers. Looking in the mirror he checked his appearance and then left the room remembering to stick a hair across the doorjamb.

*

The line of tenement buildings on Tower Street, built in the mid- eighteen hundred’s was a beehive of dank single rooms rented out to anyone not fazed by the rats, the bed bugs or the fleas.

Gent counted fifteen bell pushes on the doorframe. Because most of the tenants didn’t want visitors, very few names were written in the narrow boxes. The lock on the front door offered little resistance to his boot.

 

On the winding stairs, Gent bumped into a man and woman who he guessed was of African origin. From the description he gave them, they told him the Busboy rented room 12.

With his silencer fitted to the Sig, he knocked three times before he kicked the door open. To his annoyance, the Busboy wasn’t home. Although the furniture was shabby, the Busboy kept his room clean and tidy.

Gent closed the door and noted the uniform hanging on the hook. He concluded the Busboy was off duty. That was good. Moving an armchair around so that it faced the door, Gent sat down to wait.

 

Chapter Forty-one

 

Edinburgh.

 

Jimmy’s tipoff was good. When Frank ran the face captured on the Grand’s CCTV cameras through FSRS, (The police face-software-recognition-system.) It came up with a name. Unbelievably, Bartholomew Gent, on three separate occasions had been arrested on suspicion of Murder. On all three occasions the charges were dropped. It was as if the killer had powerful friends in some very high places. He was now worried that even if he nailed the killer he could still escape justice.

Guardo passed the images over to the live video suite monitoring the cameras in central Edinburgh. Almost immediately he got a result. Not half an hour ago, the man was walking over North Bridge. On another camera he was seen looking up at the windows of a tenement block on Tower Street.

Telling his team that no one was to go inside the building until he got there, Frank despatched two armed response units to the address.

 

Hearing the squeal of tyres and the slamming of car doors down in the street, Gent crossed to the window and looked out. Down below he saw a half a dozen armed police officers, use hand signals to form an assault group. He smiled when he saw the small sports car screech to a stop behind the cop cars. The cop that took charge was on his kill list. When they entered the building Gent lost sight of them.

 

With no idea why the killer was here, or what room he’d gone in, Guardo and his team were just going to have to search the rooms one at a time starting at the bottom.

 

In room 12, Gent moved quickly. The hitman shoved aside the coffee table and threw back the rug. With his clasp knife he eased up a floorboard and then dropped his gun into the void. He had just enough time to replace the floorboard, put the rug and the coffee table back in place and sit looking relaxed in the armchair when the door flew in.

‘Hello Frank.’ Gent said genially keeping his hands above his head.

The DI puffing and sweating after trying to keep up with the younger, fitter officers and wearing a bulletproof vest, stepped into the now crowded room.

While he was being handcuffed, Frank read him his rights.

‘Would you mind telling me why I am being arrested?’ Gent said, being handcuffed behind his back and getting searched.

‘Would you mind telling me what you are doing here?’ Frank said looking about him and thinking surely the guy wasn’t staying here.

‘No comment Frankie.’ Gent said, smiling.

Guardo got the feeling the guy by calling him, “Frankie,” was hoping to provoke him.

*

Back at the nick, under caution and being interviewed, Gent was ‘no commenting” everything.

When Frank showed him the gun and the silencer found under the floorboards his face showed no emotion.

Gent hadn’t expected to get any prints off them. He’d have wiped them clean. The gun hadn’t been fired and the serial number showed the gun was last registered to a man in Colombia. Given the lack of evidence Frank knew he could only hold him for twenty-four hours. When Gent demanded his statutory phone call, Frank stood close enough to hear every word. What Frank heard was: “This is Asset, B reporting. I am being detained by the Police in Edinburgh.”

And that was it… nothing else. He then hung up the phone.

Frank and the Custody Sergeant then led Gent back to his cell.

‘You are to appear in court in the morning’ Frank said ‘I am asking for a denial of bail, which given the nature of the charges you face, was never going to happen.’

‘I’ll say goodbye now, then Frankie.’

Frowning at the way he used his first name, Guardo slammed the cell door in his grinning face. Walking away from the cell he heard Gent call out, ‘say hi to the Beth, for me. How’s Chloe and Samantha getting on in Uni?’

Hearing the thug talking about his family that way, Frank wanted to go back in his cell and beat the crap out of him.

 

It was Thursday, evening around ten, when Frank got back home. He couldn’t shake from his mind the way that Gent had spoken about his family. Frank had never in his life, experienced the rage that threatened to overcome his hatred of police brutality. Yet, if Gent, so much as harmed a hair on the head of his girls, he would happily kill him.

Stepping inside the hall he imagined the smell of steak. He wryly dismissed this as wishful thinking. Most likely it was Quorn. Beth was in his arms before he got his coat off.

‘I love you Frankie,’ Beth said and kissed him. ‘Did you have a good day?’ Beth always said that when he got home.

‘Yes, I got to chase some bad guys.’ Frank said, his stock reply.

‘I made you a nice dinner.’ Beth said, skipping over to the kitchen door.

‘Hmm,’ Frank said moving down the hall and savouring the smell. ‘Whatever James White has in store for me tonight sure smells better than what I’ve been getting lately.’

Beth helped him out of his coat and said.

‘Go on through to the dining room. Dinner will be in two minutes.’

Seated at the head of the dining table, Frank wasn’t looking forward to another three hundred calorie plated dinner of animal feed designed by some hairy kid who became a millionaire selling yet another faddy diet to another generation of weight obsessed people who just needed to shop wiser. Frank had already dismissed Gent from his mind when Beth came into the dining room la-la-ing a tune. The smell hit him first. He looked down on the plate that Beth laid in front of him. His tongue slid across his lips as he surveyed the steak and chips with mushrooms. There was even a glass of chilled beer. Frank looked at her with rounded eyes.

‘Go on, get stuck in,’ Beth said tackling her own meat with a steak knife. ‘Don’t let it get cold.’

‘What happened to the James White diet?’ Frank said, shoving a mushroom in his mouth and savouring the butter that it had been cooked in.

*

That night, with Gent playing on his mind, Frank didn’t sleep too well. Six o’ clock he was up and out the house and on his way to the nick. Going through to the Custody Sergeants Office a sense of dread spread through him.

When he booked Gent in last night Bernie Wallace was the duty Custody Sergeant. He was still on duty.

‘Couldn’t sleep Frank?’ Wallace said.

‘No, I thought I would come in early to check the court papers for prisoner Gent were in order. I don’t want any slipups that would see him walk.’

‘I was just about to say, he’s gone.’

‘Who’s gone? What! How?’

‘I had no choice but to release him.’ The sergeant said whilst trying to get a Romanian illegal immigrant to understand via a telephone interpreter that he was under arrest.

‘You did what?’ The DI said sharply.

‘We had a visitor, two o clock in the morning; some big name flew up from London. I did all I could to hold him Frank, but I had a call from the Chief, who sounded upset that I was stalling. Sorry Frank but I was given a direct order to release him.’

Frank was thinking about Gent, a killer on the loose who knew about his wife and daughters. ‘What was the name of this big shot who came up from London?’

Reading from the night incident register, the Custody Sergeant said. ‘It was, Attorney General, Sir Alec Chumleigh-Sloane. They don’t get any bigger than that.’

 

Back at his desk, Frank called home.

Beth said, ‘I’m fine Frankie. You sound worried.’

‘I want you to call up the girls and have them go straight to your mum’s in Hartlepool. Tell them it is a surprise holiday and that you will see them there. You got that?’

‘Yes Frankie but… ‘

‘No but’s please, Beth, you have to trust me on this.’

‘This is about the hotel shooter isn’t it?’ Beth guessed.

There was no point in lying to her. ‘Yes, we had him in the cells last night and he told me your names. This morning he was gone. Someone high up in the government had him released.’

‘Ok Frankie’ Beth said, her voice had a slight tremor. ‘You just make sure that you stay safe.’

‘By the way,’ Frank said.’ The steak and chips that you cooked last night was

awesome.’

‘Aw Frankie, that’s nice, hearing you say that about my cooking which I know is rubbish.’

Frank felt guilty. He vowed that after today, even if Beth insisted they go back to the James White recipes that contained mostly air suspended in dishwater, he was going to say nice things about her cooking. Not every woman can cook like his mother. ‘We going back on the diet?’

Beth said. ‘Frankie, to be honest, I had been hoping for a while now that you would tell me the food was rubbish so I could stop using James White recipes. But if you want us to carry on using them, you know I will.’

Frank said. ‘I know you would honey but listen, you know that bin by the back door?’

‘The rubbish bin?’

‘I want you to take all the James White books along with his DVD and drop them in the bin. Will you do that for me?’

‘Aw, of course I will Frankie. I do love you. Mwah–mwah.’ Beth blew him kisses down the phone.

‘Mwah–mwah coming back athcher.’ Frank said, looking round at the two smirking detectives.

*

Friday, a little after nine in the morning, Gent was mulling over in his mind his plan to take out the King.

At two o’ clock the King was scheduled to make his historic announcement to Parliament.

Earlier, his handler had called to remind Gent that if he failed to take out the King before his fateful speech he could expect no further work.

Rethinking his priorities, the thief and the busboy would have to wait. The cop, if he doesn’t get in his way, might yet escape getting killed.

12.30, Gent called in at the local MI5 office and had one of the techie geeks, extend a mobile phone selfie-stick and then convert the end of it to hold a hypodermic needle. In the lab, he collected a vial of fast acting poison. He was advised that Sarin poison was tasteless, colourless and it had no smell, and the victim would be dead within minutes. Happy with his adaptions and wearing a disguise, Gent set off for the Palace.

Half-hour later, wearing a black itchy wig and a false moustache, Gent immersed himself in the crowd waiting to see the King when he emerged from the Palace.

 

*

Friday, just after one o clock, in the King’s apartment, the police and his security team were horrified to hear the King say he planned to spend some time in the courtyard meeting and shaking hands with his subjects before he got in his car to make the short drive over to the Scottish Parliament Building.

The Chief of Police, in charge of security, now had to hurriedly move his people around. His carefully laid out plans to get the King safely over to the Parliament Building was in bits. Henry couldn’t get the King to change his mind.

‘Do you think Robert the Bruce would have hidden from his enemies?’ Gavin said, waving away a makeup girl. ‘No, and nor shall I. Besides, it is only right and proper that my subjects are able to shake my hand and perhaps have me sign a tee shirt.’

One-fifty, with his security people nervously watching on, Gavin stepped out into the courtyard. Almost immediately he was lost in the swarm of people that surrounded him. When he found he was corralled in, Gavin got worried. Tourists were now pulling him into their personalised photos. Selfie sticks with cameras attached waving above the heads of people were like so many flags. Gavin looked around for his security people and couldn’t see them for the number of people throwing themselves into the melee. ‘Henry!’ Gavin called out searching for the Houseman in the faces in the crowd.

 

One man in the swollen crowd, holding aloft a converted mobile phone selfie stick, had no interest in being photographed with the King of Scotland. Sweating in his wig and fiddling with the droopy moustache that was beginning to lose its adhesion, Gent was closing in on his target. This close to the King, Gent was finding it almost impossible to move. Through the heads and shoulders of the crowd he could see King Robert had his back to him. Elbowing his way closer, Gent stepped on the toes of Mrs Shayaki, a Japanese tourist. The woman cried out in pain and then retaliated by slamming her elbow into his ribs. He pushed her out of his way and was immediately confronted by her husband Mr Shayaki, who understood enough English to know what he had just called his wife. Gent was trying to get the man out of his face so he could see where the King was.

Like a shoal of fish, with the King somewhere in the middle of it, the crowd was being moved along by the police towards the King’s Official car that was parked up by the gates and waiting to transport King Robert to the Parliament Building.

 

Not wanting to accidentally prick anyone else with the poison-tipped selfie stick, Gent, was keeping it high above the heads of the crowd. Tired of the man berating him in Japanese, Gent roughly shoved aside Mr Shayaki. He could now see the King was just ten feet away. Mr, Shayaki, a black belt in Karate, incensed by rudeness of the man who had just assaulted his wife, delivered Gent a vicious chop to the side of his neck. Surprised by the attack, Gent cried out and felt his knees wobble. Himself, a black belt in King Fu, Gent landed a foot in the Japanese tourist’s groin. The elderly Japanese curled up and then emitting a groan collapsed onto his knees. Angry now, Gent began throwing people aside. A grin lit his face when he saw the back of the King’s exposed neck.

 

Increasingly worried for his own safety, Gavin was now wishing he had listened to Henry, who he could hear shouting at the police officers to do something about the people mobbing the King. The stupid selfie sticks being thrust at him threatened to poke out an eye.

 

This hit hadn’t been easy or straightforward. Already, he had had to kill a hotel waiter and two Italian mobsters, whose family may yet seek revenge. He had survived an attempt on his life by the Swedish Meatball and to cap it all, last night he was arrested by a stupid cop. None of that now mattered now because all he had to do was to reach the selfie-stick over the heads of the tourists and plunge the needle into the King’s exposed neck and then watch him fall down dead. Then while everyone was engrossed in the welfare of the King he would calmly walk away.

 

*

Over in the Assembly Hall of the Parliament Building, Mary Dewar, sat at her special desk, allocated to the First Minister, was thinking the King’s scheduled appearance was already half an hour late. She was hoping the delay meant the King had changed his mind about bringing in his new laws. Then perhaps Scotland’s bizarre experiment with having a monarch again will have failed and things can go back to as they were.

Cruid, sitting right alongside Dewar, looking ten years older than his seventy years looked down and saw there were spots of blood on his shoes.

‘We blew it.’ Cruid said, leaning over, keeping his voice down.

The two of them had been arguing all morning over whose fault it was the Swedish Meatball had died.

‘No, it was you who blew it, Cruid, it was you who drew up his contract.’ Mary hissed.

‘It wasn’t me that had their lover beat the man to death.’ Cruid retorted.

Checking that her microphone was switched off, Mary said. ‘It’s no longer important because it looks as if both of us are in the shit.’

Before Cruid could come back at her, Mary’s mobile phone chirped. She checked the caller ID. It was a withheld number.

‘Yes?’ Mary said, cautiously.

‘Mrs Dewar, my name is Q. I thought you might like to know that you can dispense with the services of the Swede because we have the matter in hand. We really don’t need the complication of having two people wanting to kill the same person.’

‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’

‘Tut-tut, Mrs Dewar,’ Q said, tiredly. ‘We both know that you are desperate to remove the King and you have already made some very poor judgements regarding that enterprise. However, time is short, so I will say what I need to say and then I am sure you will then appreciate me calling you. In a few minutes the person we both wish to have eliminated will no longer cause either of us any trouble, so would you mind awfully, calling off your Swedish Rottweiler so that our man can get on with his job without further infringement?’

‘He’s gone.’

‘The Swede?’

‘That’s what I said. He’s gone.’

‘You have dispensed with him then?’ Q wanted to be certain.

‘Dispensed… disposed, whatever, but rest assured he is no longer working for me.’

‘That’s good to hear.’ Q was about to end the call when Dewar said.

‘I take it, you have someone poised to remove the person we are talking about?’

‘That’s correct Mizz Dewar. Soon all your troubles and the King will be history… Goodbye.’

 

Mary, staring in amazement at her phone and keeping her voice to just above a whisper said to Cruid. ‘That was someone called Q. He just told me there is an assassin in the Palace grounds poised to take out the King.’

‘Our King?’

‘Of course our King, you dummy.’ Mary hissed.’ Bloody hell, that’s a relief.’

 

*

The minute Frank Guardo found out the killer had been freed; he immediately put out a BOLO (be on the lookout) for his arrest.

Unimpressed by the fact it was Scotland’s Chief Of Police that had sprung Gent: at nine o’ clock that morning, just hours before the King was due to attend the Scottish Parliament, DI Guardo called up Sir Roland Tripp and challenged him on his decision to release the suspected killer.

Sir Roland said. ‘Frank, I had no choice but to let him go. I had the Attorney General, no less, up at my house banging on my door in the early hours of the morning demanding that I release him.’

Are you kidding me?’ Frank raged. ‘Have you forgotten that Scotland is now an independent nation? The English Attorney General has no business being up here, let alone interfering in our judicial system.’

Sir Roland said. ‘Frank, try and see it from my perspective. This independence fiasco might yet fail and I have to think about what friends I will have left. It’s tough on me having to take sides like this.’

Frank shocked at his shallow reaction warned him. ‘The man that you turned loose, I have CCTV footage of him at the scene of each of these murders and I have a witness that saw him in a hotel with a gun.’

The Chief said. ‘Well it’s done now. I have been assured he will leave Scotland, so we can relax. The man is history.’

Frank didn’t share Sir Roland’s optimism the killer had left the country. Seeing no point in pursuing his complaint, Frank said goodbye and ended the call. The English Attorney General coming all the way up here to free Gent confirmed Frank’s suspicion MI5 was behind this. Regarding Gent’s target, it was clear, some very powerful people were prepared to pay to have the King eliminated. Having already survived a number of assassination attempts on his life, Frank thought the King had been lucky. Frank was worried Gavin’s luck was about to run out.

 

Leaning on the roof of his car, chewing on the butt of Grandpappa’s pipe, Frank needed to find this killer before he could get to the King. If he were in the killer’s shoes where would he make the hit? The King would be most at risk when he left the safety of the Palace just before he made the short journey over to the Parliament Building.

There was an hour or so before the King was due to make that journey.

His mobile went off. It was a text message and a video clip from the CCTV team. Frank watched Gent hauling a heavy bag going inside the Alhambra hotel. The time on the video showed it was taken just over an hour ago. Checking his watch, D.I Guardo called up his team and ordered everyone over to the Alhambra. Even if he was gone when they got there, he may have left behind a clue about what he was planning.

 

When Frank burst into Gent’s Alhambra Hotel room he wasn’t surprised to find him gone. When he had the manager show him the CCTV footage from cameras in the lobby, not half an hour ago, Gent had left the hotel wearing a black wig and moustache. He also had in his hand a rather long mobile phone selfie stick. Up in Gents room, Frank heard a shout from the bathroom. A sharp-eyed copper had noticed that the cabinet that concealed the plumbing had been disturbed. The DI lifted out an overnight bag and two further carrier bags that contained disguises. Wearing latex gloves Frank turned the contents out on the bed. Frank inspected the .38 S&W– a pile of banknotes–two passports with different names – a British Airways ticket to Madrid and an unopened bag of Haribo Jellies. Frank scratched his head and then shoved his old pipe in his mouth. HIs initial thoughts were, who in his right mind would leave behind a bag of Haribo’s? His blood ran cold when he spotted the empty glass phial with the words: ‘Sarin. Deadly poisonous.” His pipe nearly fell out of his mouth.

 

Chapter Forty-two

 

10 Downing Street.

 

In his private study, PM, Sir Roger Bottomley, Lord Soper and a reluctant Terry Beaumont, were glued to the TV showing the inside of the Scottish Parliament Building and the packed Assembly Hall full of people awaiting the arrival of King Robert who was due to make his historic announcement. The cameras switched to the scene outside Holyrood Palace and the door through which King Robert would emerge into the Courtyard. The people in the huge crowd were becoming restless as the time for his appearance neared. Then a cheer went up as the cameras showed him step out into the sunlight, his eyes blinking. Knowing that their killer was in that crowd and about to carry out a televised assassination, Terry had to look away. The PM did the same.

‘Let me know the minute he’s dead.’ Sir Roger said, to Lord Soper who wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to watch one of his experts at work.

*

With their sirens wailing, Frank’s Alpha Romeo led the police cars in a frantic dash across town.

The Spider slewed to a halt outside the Palace gates. Climbing out of his car, Frank first noted that some of the people being ushered away by the police were crying. There was no air of jubilation. The atmosphere was one of foreboding. Frank could see that he was too late. Fifty feet away, someone had placed a sheet over a body lying on the ground. Poking out the end were the shoes and the ankles of a man. Frank swore.

*

Gent had been poised to plunge the poison needle into the King’s neck when Mrs Shayaki, furious at this rude man who had just kicked her husband in the balls began cursing him in Japanese. When he ignored her tirade, she swung her handbag at his head.

‘Ow!’ Whatever it was she had in her handbag had hurt him… a lot. Of greater consternation to Gent was the blow had dislodged the nylon wig, which was now over his eyes. The second blow from the handbag of Mrs Shayaki caused Gent to gasp. The sudden intake of air acted like a vacuum cleaner. The moustache, that had been troubling him all morning now shot inside his mouth and had become stuck in his windpipe. Gent began choking.

With the wig now covering his eyes and with his lungs feeling as if they were on fire, Gent felt himself blacking out. His face had gone blue. He fell to his knees among the legs of the crowd. With his brain shutting down he rolled over onto his back. His body convulsed. He coughed one more time and out shot the nylon moustache. He gasped several times as his lungs gratefully gulped in air. He got to his knees and then looked round at the man who just spoke to him.

‘Are you ok? Should I call you an ambulance?’ Gavin said bending over the stricken man.

Gent picked up the selfie stick that was down by his feet and then gave the King a maniacal smile. Still a little concussed he was all set to stab the King when, Mrs Shayaki, who was clearly not quite finished with him gave him another clout over the head with her handbag. When her bag came down this time, Gent instinctively warded off the blow with the selfie stick that then snapped in two. In a heart stopping, sickening moment, he felt something stab into his thigh. When he looked down at his leg the hypodermic needle that had punctured his trousers was sticking out in a very alarming manner.

 

The man writhing on the floor and foaming at the mouth created alarm and panic among the crowd that very quickly backed off.

Gavin felt strong hands grab hold of him. The next thing, he was bodily lifted off the ground and carried at shoulder height back to the Palace.

 

Safely back inside the Palace, shaken but glad to be alive, Gavin looking shamefaced now faced the wrath of his wife. He had never seen her so angry.

‘That’s it Gav,’ Fiona raged, jabbing a shaking finger in his face. ‘There is to be no more of this… this, nonsense. You are not a bloody King. You are my Gav, and you are going to listen to me, and you are going to do exactly as I say.’

 

Gavin’s address to the Scottish Parliament went ahead two hours later than scheduled.

Standing on the Presiding Officer’s dais, Gavin had in one hand an imitation ermine robe and in the other, down by his side was the brass crown with the glass beads that he had bought off eBay and had been intending to wear. That had all changed.

Gavin cleared his throat and addressed the hushed audience and the world’s media. This wasn’t the speech he had planned.

‘People of Scotland,’ He said, trying to keep the quiver from his voice. ‘This isn’t the speech that I had prepared. I don’t have a prepared speech. I shall be speaking to you from the heart. You all know about my dream to shape Scotland into a modern nation where inequalities and unfairness would be a thing of the past. My plans to tackle the greed and corruption of individuals content only to line their own pockets are put on hold. My time here in Scotland as your King has to end. In truth, I now realise that I am no more than a jumped-up parking attendant born and raised in Essex. It is my wife that I have to thank for reminding me of what is important. Families are what are important. Not Crowns and Ermine robes.’

Gavin held up his hands to show the world how fake his life had become.

‘I had a dream… one in which I saw Scotland as a nation that the entire world would embrace as a sovereign nation in its own right. As your King I had planned to drive forwards a raft of new laws that would meet the needs of the common man as opposed to the privileged few. I haven’t let go of that dream, but I must now hand that job over to others. I came to Scotland filled with hope and ambition… that in the end I now see was more about my own ambitions than Scotland’s. In taking on the mantle of your King I asked too much of my family.’ Gavin smiled when Fi, at his side slipped her arm around his waist and hugged him. ‘The laws that I had planned to implement today have been shelved. If these changes ever got onto the statute books it will be because a democratic government and not a monarch chose this. In closing, I want to thank not just the people I have been working with, but also the people of this great nation that has taken me to their hearts.’ Holding hands with FI, Gavin said. ‘As of this minute, I am abdicating as your King. Fiona and I must move on with our lives. I truly wish Scotland good fortune. This truly wonderful nation, quite frankly doesn’t need a king, nor for that matter, if you want my advice, does it need the EU.’

Holding aloft his fake crown, Gavin acknowledged the standing ovation and then left the building. On his way out he caught sight of Mary Dewar who was clapping enthusiastically.

 

Having smiled all the way through King Robert IV’s abdication speech, Mary Dewar was thinking how well she had done, and with so little bloodshed.

On the drive home, Mary Dewar was thinking about her lawn and wondering if Tommy’s digger had ruined it?

After closing the front door behind her and slipping across the security chain that she insisted Tommy fix before he went home last night, Mary walked through to the kitchen and put the kettle on. Looking out the kitchen window the lawn didn’t look too bad. There was a little more mud on the path than she remembered and the earth under the rhododendron bushes where they buried the Swedish Meatball wasn’t as flat as she remembered, but then it was really late by the time the three of them came back inside the house and cleaned up the Swede’s blood that had splashed onto the white floor tiles.

Mary lifted from the sink the heavy copper-bottomed frying pan, the one Tommy that had used to finish off the Swede. It had been washed and left to dry. Examining the dents in the base, Mary could actually see Meatball’s face in relief.

When Mary went over to the back door she found it wasn’t locked. She shrugged. With all that had gone on last night, her almost getting killed, it was not surprising she forgot to lock it.

Looking down at the floor, Scotland’s First Minister frowned at the muddy footprints. Lifting her eyes she tracked the muddy prints and the bits of twigs…. rhododendron twigs out through the kitchen and across the hall where the dirt carried on up the stairs.

Hesitantly, Mary looked up to the landing. Gripping hold of the handrail Mary was halfway up the stairs when a premonition overtook her. In a panic she turned and ran back through the kitchen and then out through the back door into the garden. As she raced across the lawn her heart was hammering in her chest. Mary gasped when she skidded to terrifying halt at the edge of the empty grave. With her fingers locked into her hair and her eyes wild with fear, Mary spun on her heels and looked back at the house.

Up at her bedroom widow, Sven, with his face looking oddly lacking in contours smiled down at her through his busted teeth.

When his face turned away, Mary, in her mind could see him running out the room heading for the stairs. He was coming after her! She looked round at the garden fences and knew she wouldn’t be able to shin over them in time. Turning full circle, she saw it was a mistake running into the garden. Going back inside the house was not an option. Her eyes fell on the side gate. Hearing Sven roar like an injured animal, Mary sprinted for the gate. Crying now, Mary couldn’t slide back the rusted bolt. Finally she got the gate open and ran down the side of the house.

With one of his eyeballs knocked out of kilter, leaving his vision a little skewed, Sven anticipated Dewar’s escape plan. At the bottom of the stairs he headed for the front door. He planned to grab her when she came round the corner of the house.

He almost did!

 

Mary, in full flight, screamed when lunged at her.

In his tattered, muddied trousers and wearing no top, Sven looked like an Icelandic version of the Incredible Hulk.

It was a long time since Mary competed at the Highland games where the best she ever did was in the 100 meters hurdles, picking up a bronze medal. How she managed to swerve from his bloodied groping fingers and leap over the front gate she had no idea. Her heart felt about to explode from the amount of adrenalin that was pumping through her veins. Landing the far side of the gate she almost stumbled.

Sven didn’t bother jumping the gate, he ran through it.

Mary screamed again when his fingers curled with murderous intent tried to gab her.

As she rushed out into the road she hadn’t seen the lorry.

 

When a woman shot into the path of his truck, the lorry driver slammed on his brakes. Above the sound of squealing tires he heard a sickening thump.

Chapter Forty-three.

 

London.

 

After losing the vote on Brexit, and then failing to prevent the Scots from declaring independence Sir Roger Bottomley’s position as Prime Minister was untenable. His attempts to convince the public that Scotland posed a threat to the UK, failed at every level. Last night, in a meeting of the 1922 committee, the group of Tory MP’s who decided these things, told the Prime Minister he had to go.

 

In his private office at Number 10, Sir Roger Bottomley feeling depressed told his staff he wasn’t to be disturbed.

The Prime Minister pulled out a desk drawer and removed a half bottle of brandy and a gun. Sir Roger was thinking about Adolf Hitler and his final days in the bunker in Berlin. He put the big cigar that he had been saving for just such an occasion between his quivering lips and pointed the gun at his mouth. With no regrets, he pulled the trigger.

*

Truck driver, Stan Cheesley, could do nothing to prevent the collision. Suitably shocked the driver climbed down from his cab went round to the front.

‘Oh God!’ He gasped seeing the woman that he thought he had hit climbing out of a ditch. Pulling a face, Cheesley took another look at the mangled body under his cab. What he had hit was a man!

Chapter Forty-four

 

Edinburgh.

 

D.I Guardo, taking charge of the operation to deal with the body, began barking out orders. Because he was dealing with possibly the most dangerous poison know to man he ordered a mile-wide exclusion zone around Holyrood. The DI, over the years had seen a lot of corpses but none as horrific as this. Bending to examine, but not touching the broken selfie-stick lying beside the corpse, Frank saw the attachment that had held the hypodermic needle.

 

Holyrood now on lockdown, Gavin, Fiona and Iris were moved into the Clarridge hotel situated on the outskirts of Edinburgh. From their suite of rooms they had great views over the acres of rolling hills and the Botanic Gardens.

Two days after the attempted assassination, Mary got in touch with Gavin and insisted that she and Cruid met him at the hotel he was staying in.

The minute they stepped into the hotel lobby, two armed cops stopped and searched Mary Dewar and Cruid.

Without offering to shake either of their hands Gavin indicated the two padded chairs. Fiona, who wasn’t letting Gavin out of her sight, joined her husband on the sofa.

Mary wasn’t happy about the Detective Inspector sitting in on their meeting.

‘You don’t need to sit in on this Inspector,’ Mary said, dismissively. ‘Gavin is quite safe and you must have a million other things you should be getting on with?’

‘Why are you here Mizz Dewar? ’Frank, said coldly. ‘I thought I made it clear to you both, that Gavin and his family were to be left alone.’

Angered by that, Mary did her best not to show it. ‘I absolutely respect their need for privacy Inspector. And the poor things have been through so much, however, we have brought news I fear Gavin might find distressing.’

‘Get on with it Dewar,’ Gavin snapped, tired of her games. He thought she looked frazzled. As if she had had a fall, there were grazes on her knuckles. He then saw some of her fingernails were broken.

‘Mary I don’t trust you, and Cruid, I don’t actually trust you either.’

Cruid sighed. ‘I don’t blame you Gavin. In terms of your protection we didn’t exactly cover ourselves in glory, but all’s well that ends well eh?’

Gavin shrugged. ‘If you two had done your homework before you made me King, you’d have known that Gavin Brewson, ancestor of Robert the Bruce, was never going to be a pushover.’

‘Ah…’ Cruid said, ‘that brings me to point of this meeting.’

‘Oh,’ Gavin said his eyebrows rising. ‘This is not just about the Royal Assent bill then?’

‘I needed to speak to you about your ancestry.’

‘What about my ancestry?’ Gavin said, suspicious of the sly old man.

‘Yesterday, I met up with a group of genealogy people. You know how it is Gavin,’ Cruid fidgeted on his chair. ‘When people in authority, such as ourselves, make an important pronouncement, one that creates controversy, there will always be people, screaming, conspiracy…’

‘You are talking about the doubters, the people that have always said the DNA tests were flawed?’

‘Precisely.’

‘But you had them double-checked… didn’t you? That’s what you told me?’

‘Ah, yes, I did tell you that and I did intend to have the tests re-evaluated. I just never got around to it.’

‘Get to the point Cruid.’ Gavin snapped.

‘The tests were flawed.’ Mary leaped in gleefully. ‘You are no more an ancestor of

Robert the Bruce than I am.’

It came as a surprise, this news, but it didn’t floor him. In fact if he was honest with himself, Gavin was a relieved. When he looked round at Fiona she looked positively delighted by the news.

‘So, will you now look for another monarch?’ Gavin asked conversationally.

‘No,’ Mary Dewar said flatly, ‘the circumstances that required us to become a monarchy have changed. After the resignation of that idiot Sir Roger Bottomley, there has been a series of behind-the-scenes negotiations and the Scottish Government has resolved many of the difficulties that existed between our two nations. In exchange for greater devolution the Scottish government has agreed to defer their plans for independence. Scotland has no further use for a king.’

‘Oh,’ Gavin said a little surprised. ‘What about the Queen, is she happy with that outcome?’

‘I imagine so,’ Mary said sniffily. ‘Seeing as she was the one who handled all the negotiations.’

‘I bet she’s pretty miffed at me?’

‘I don’t think Her Majesty is thinking of having you thrown in the tower Gavin.’ Cruid said, and actually smiled.

Cruid put on his hat and got up to leave. He said. ‘What about your plans Gavin? Will you go back to Essex, back to your old job?’

Gavin felt Fiona squeeze his hand. He remembered that she had said not to give anything away.

‘What our plans are is none of your concern.’

Cruid shrugged. He couldn’t blame Gavin for not trusting him.

*

Once Dewar, Cruid and Frank had left, Fiona turned to Gavin and planted a kiss on his lips. ‘Even if you’re not of royal descent, I still love you Gavin Brewster.’ Fiona said, and patted her husband’s knee. ‘King Gavin!’ She laughed. What on earth were we thinking?’

 

*

In his private office at Number 10 Downing Street, puffing on the cigar he’d lit with the gun-shaped cigarette lighter, Sir Roger deleted the email he had just read.

“Sorry to have to inform you, agent Gent failed in his mission. He fell victim to his own poisoned needle. You could say he came to a “stickie” end. Pun intended. Should save us some money: –)

 

After lunch, Sir Roger had Charlotte Sweetwater and Terry Beaumont come to his private study. The Prime Minister wanted their help compile the Prime Minster’s Resignation Honours list. The way these things worked, Sir Roger was expected to move out of Number 10 the same day. In a belligerent mood and angered by the people who had stabbed him in the back, (metaphorically speaking), he decided the usual suspects would get nothing. The names that Sir Roger insisted that Charlotte take down were deliberately provocative and controversial. The list included: Phoebe Miller, the woman who cleaned the Number 10 toilets who was to get a CBE. His hairdresser, Pedro Sanchez, was to get an OBE, and for keeping his tax down to zero, a MBE was to go to his tax adviser Simon Killarney. Similarly, his Hedge fund adviser was to get a knighthood, and his neighbour, Ted something-or-other was to be made a Lord. Malcolm his brother-in law was to get a CBE for being a decent chap. The other name on his list sure to be controversial was, Gavin Brewson, who in recognition of his sterling work disrupting the illegal ambitions of the Scots, was to become Lord Gavin of Marbury Essex.

 

Sir Roger was supervising the packing of his personal possessions when he took a call from his wife. Dame Edith who explained: ‘I am calling to say that Marcel and I are moving to St Tropez, and that I am suing for a divorce.’ She added: ‘I am telling you this over the phone because I know how much you hate people doing this in an email.’

Sir Roger wasn’t the least bit bothered. He’d always suspected that Edith and Marcel were having an affair. He was now thinking that this might work out rather well for him. Charlotte had always insisted: “Sir Roger, I could never have hanky-panky with a married man.” Now, she had no reason to deny him.

Exhilarated at the prospect of telling Charlotte the good news that his wife had left him, thus paving the way for the two of them to finally consummate their relationship, Sir Roger went in search of his PA. Now that he was no longer to be the Prime Minister, the two of them could go off and do what they had always dreamed of, which was retire to the country and have hens, a goat and make love at least once a month… providing that level of frequency wasn’t too taxing? Then, he supposed, she could do the humpy-bumpy bit.

Sir Roger, found Charlotte in the office of Huw Bedfellow, the floppy-haired, suntanned successor to his premiership. She was sitting on the edge of his desk the way she would on his. Charlotte coloured up. Huw Bedfellow merely grinned.

‘Sir Roger, do come in,’ Huw said with a wave of his hand. ‘I never heard your knock!’

‘That’s because I didn’t,’ Bottomley said, turning the corners of his mouth down at this incestuous scene. ‘Let me remind you I am still the PM and I don’t knock on anyone’s door.’

‘You are indeed still the PM, Huw conceded. ‘Until you move out…’ Huw grinned wickedly. ‘How is the packing going?’

Sir Roger could feel his blood pressure rise. He turned on his PA who was keeping her eyes on the floor and swinging one leg.

‘Charlotte, can I see you for a moment … in private?’

Charlotte sighed. She allowed her eyes to linger on Huw’s as she slid off his desk. She drew her fingernails lazily across the leather inlay of his desk. Her voice became darkly sensuous. ‘Please excuse me for a moment Huw.’

Sir Roger saw her flutter her eyelashes at his usurper the way she would do with him.

Out in the corridor, twice, having to move out of the way of the removal people, and keeping his voice down, Sir Roger said. ‘Charlotte, good news, Edith has left me. She has run off with Marcel what’s-his-name and she is suing for a divorce. Kittikins, at long last we can be together.’

‘ Sir Roger,’ Charlotte said, hesitantly. ‘Please… I don’t know how to say this, but I now love Huw.’ Her eyes were huge and misty. It is written in the stars that Huw and I should be as one.’

‘Bollocks.’

‘There you are,’ Charlotte said hoisting her chin. ‘That is the difference between you and Huw. You are a coarse man Sir Roger, whilst dear Huw is a gentleman and so dynamic, always wanting me for this and for that. I swear, he has my head in a spin.’

‘I bet he does.’ Bottomley said childishly, feeling everyone he once trusted had deserted him. ‘Charlotte did you not hear what I said? I said my wife has left me.’

‘You should go after her,’ Charlotte said, adopting a cool manner. ‘You should try and woo her back.’

‘Well, you’ve changed your tune.’ Sir Roger snapped. ‘How many times have you begged me to leave Edith, saying our love was written in the stars, and that, when Edith was out the way we would set up home together, that I could do that thing with you?’

Charlotte giggled. ‘What can I say Sir Roger? Who in this world can say what goes in the beating heart of a woman as it flutters like the wings of a dove?’

‘Clearly not you, you, hussy.’ Sir Roger barked and then stormed off.

 

*

In the Clarence hotel, out in the corridor, Frank Guardo caught up with Mary Dewar and Cruid.

‘Mizz Dewar, I would like a word with you regarding the alleged attack in your home.’

‘Inspector Guardo,’ Mary said turning on the D.I. ‘I resent your use of the word alleged. And, I really have no wish to go over it again. As you can imagine, the experience was very distressing.’

‘I do appreciate that Mizz Dewar but as a detective I am compelled to follow the evidence. Now, you and I can do this here, right now, or we can do this down at the station, which is it to be?’

Mary looked about her. ‘I am not speaking to you in a bloody hotel corridor Guardo.’

‘Then let’s go and find a table in the hotel lobby.’ Guardo said, indicating with his hand for the two of them to lead the way.

Mary could see the Detective was determined to do this. ‘Very well.’ She said.

In the lift, Cruid and Mary exchanged looks.

Frank Guardo chose a table in quiet corner of the piano lounge. ‘We’ll sit here.’

‘Then I shall need a drink,’ Mary said waving her arm, attracting the attention of a waiter. Mary ordered a margarita, Cruid a pot of tea. ‘Are you not drinking Inspector Guardo?’

Frank shook his head. ‘No, thank you, I am on duty.’

Guardo waited for the drinks to arrive and then he took a document from his coat pocket.

‘I have here your sworn statement Mizz Dewar, and I confess parts of this doesn’t fit the facts. I should like to go over these with you and perhaps I can make sense of what actually occurred the night you say a man attacked you in your home. Do let me know if there is anything in your statement that you now wish to change.’

Mary glared at the cop. ‘You have twenty minutes Guardo, and then I am out of here, you got that?’

Frank nodded. If he had to arrest the pair of them he was going to get to the bottom of this mystery.

‘Mizz Dewar, ‘Frank began, ‘you said in your statement that when you arrived home from work, you entered your house and the first thing you noticed was dirt and twigs on the carpet, in the hall, and up the stairs. In your statement, you also say you went through to the kitchen and then out into the garden to check to see if the dirt and twigs indicated someone had been inside your house. You then found the back door, the one that led out to the garden was unlocked.’ Frank looked up from reading the document. ‘So far, do you stand by what you said?’

‘Yes, get on with it Guardo.’

‘Very well, ‘Frank said. ‘Now, we get to the parts of your statement that are at odds with the facts. ‘You claim, the tracks I saw in your lawn were caused by the heavy lawnmower your gardener used to mow the lawn. To my mind, the grass didn’t look as if it had been cut and the tracks resembled that of a heavy machine, the type that was most likely used to dig the hole I saw beneath the bushes at the back of your garden. When I asked you about that hole, you seemed confused. Having had time to reflect on that, can you explain that hole?’

Sipping her margarita gave her time to think of a reply. She said. ‘My gardener’s small lawnmower was broken, so he had to use an industrial one. The hole in the ground was in preparation for some trees he planned to plant.’

‘And these trees that you speak of, were to be planted beneath an established rhododendron bush?’

‘Why not?’

‘Moving on,’ Frank said. ‘Your gardener, Tommy Castro, who conveniently happens to be your next door neighbour, dug the hole yes?’

‘Yes, I just said that.’ Mary said testily, looking at her watch, ‘you got another five minutes.’

‘When I visited your home that evening, following the truck driver’s 999 call, I took a statement from the driver to the effect: “I thought it was the woman that I hit but when I looked under my lorry I saw this huge man under there. He had to be dead.” Interestingly, Frank added, the lorry driver couldn’t understand why the man was covered in “dirt and twigs.”’

‘There you are then,’ Mary snapped, ‘Get over it Columbo. The truck driver confirmed what I already told you. I was attacked in my own home.’

Ignoring the interruption, Frank said, ’the truck driver went on to say that after he had helped you out of the ditch he then returned to his lorry but when he checked underneath it, the man had disappeared. Mizz Dewar in your statement you make no mention of why that man may have wanted to attack you or where he disappeared to after he was struck down by the lorry.’

‘You’re the cop Columbo, you tell me,’ Mary said, checking her watch. She sighed. ‘Times up.’ Mary got up from her chair and picked up her handbag. ‘I am leaving.’

The detective made a motion with his hand for her to sit back down.

She did.

‘I almost believe you when you say you were the subject of an attack. However, I don’t accept your story that it was a lawnmower that made those tracks. I also don’t believe your explanation, the grave-shaped hole at the back of your garden, beneath an established tree, was for the purpose of planting another tree. I put it to you Mizz Dewar, this man came to your house that night because he had some sort of grievance with you both.’ Frank looked at Cruid whose face remained implacable. ‘I believe he visited your home to have that matter resolved and during that discourse, you and Cruid, with the assistance of Tommy Castro, attacked this man and then thinking he was dead you both put him in the duvet cover that I found covered in mud and grass in your dirty washing bin. You then dragged him across the lawn and then buried him in the hole that Tommy Castro had dug with his excavator, only… he wasn’t dead… was he Mizz Dewar? Because the next day, when you came home from work, this man that you had thought was dead was lying in wait for you. The problem I have Mizz Dewar, is where is your alleged assailant now? I have had my men check every A&E department for a man that fits the truck driver’s description and he has not showed up at any hospital. Are you not concerned Mizz Dewar that he may still be alive?’

Frank saw Dewar shudder. He then said. ‘If this man is still alive Mizz Dewar, you may well be in grave danger. When we investigated the grass verges outside your home we found a gun. Ballistic checks on this firearm confirmed two days before your encounter with this man this gun was used in the murder of an innocent tour guide in the city centre.’

Frank sat back and folded his arms. ‘I take it you are able to see why I believe you are in grave danger. Mizz Dewar, I can only protect you if you tell me everything you know. Because, if he is still alive, which is entirely possible, he is very likely even more angry with you and he may come after you again.’

Getting to her feet, Mary drained her third margarita and said, ‘Guardo that is a load of rubbish. Goodbye.’

 

After narrowly escaping death by being crushed under the wheels of the lorry, Sven then managed to haul his cut and broken body for several miles across fields before collapsing. Taking out his mobile phone and feeling very unwell, Sven called his backup team. An hour later, a helicopter equipped with a team of paramedics landed alongside him. Two minutes later Sven was being flown to a private hospital. The only words he spoke were:

I’ll be back.’

Chapter Forty-five

 

Edinburgh.

 

The front garden was still a mess when Frank called round Jimmy Ross and Sheryl’s council house. He rang the bell. In the doorway, Frank got a hug from Sheryl.

‘It’s so good to see you again Frank,’ Sheryl said. ‘Come in. Can I get you a cuppa?’

‘That sounds nice, thank you Sheryl.’

Frank found Jimmy watching TV in the small but clean sitting room. Jimmy got up and shook Frank’s hand.

‘Park yourself down here, Frank,’ Jimmy said, sitting back down and patting the cushion of the brown corduroy corner suite next to him.

Frank sat down and waited while Jimmy found the TV remote and switched off the TV. Just then two fair-haired girls ran into the room and stood shyly smiling up at him.

‘Say hello to daddy’s friend girls.’

Frank shook hands with two-year-old Louisa and four-year old Charmaine and then listened as Sheryl give an account of their number and their alphabet skills.

‘Jimmy does all the teaching with them,’ Sheryl said looking on proudly as the girls recited the alphabet. Frank remembered that Beth’s had shone like Sheryl’s when their girls were small. Frank now wished that he’d spent more time with his two daughters at this age.

Jimmy knew Frank wouldn’t forget. ‘You called round to give me my dosh Frank?’

Sheryl looked round at Jimmy. ‘You never said it was Frank who hired you for the security work, Jimmy?’ Sheryl said, surprised. The only time Sheryl got to meet up with Frank was when Jimmy was in trouble. ‘Aw that’s so nice of you Frank. You should have said Jimmy.’

Frank, pulling an envelope out of his coat pocket caught Jimmy’s wink. He wondered how much he’d told Sheryl. Very little he imagined.

‘It’s Charmaine’s birthday in two weeks and we plan to use some of that money to buy her a dolls house.’ Jimmy said proudly.

When Jimmy handed the money over to Sheryl Frank smiled. ‘There’s a grand in there.’ Sheryl’s eyes boggled as she counted off the fifties.

‘I don’t understand,’ Jimmy said, looking at Frank. ‘I know you said I might get a bonus but that’s too much… are you sure?’

Handing Jimmy another package, Frank said. ’In there is a letter of commendation from the new Chief of Police and a medal for you. There is also a cheque for another grand. That money comes out of the Proceeds of Crime Fund. It’s given to individuals who in heroic ways help the police. I am very proud of you Jimmy.’

Watching Jimmy and Sheryl embrace on the sofa, there were tears in Frank’s eyes.

‘I had better be off,’ Frank said getting to his feet. He placed a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. ‘Don’t get up. I can see myself out.’

Jimmy couldn’t look up at Frank, not with tears in his eyes. He nodded and patted Frank’s hand.

Frank closed the front door. Seeing the hubcaps were still on his car, he had to smile.

 

 

Almost Six months have passed and while he was in London on work business, Frank thought that he’d call in on Gavin and Fiona just see if they have settled into their posh house in Wimbledon they’d bought out of the money that Gavin got as severance pay and compensation.

 

‘Frank! ‘Gavin said opening the door to the unexpected but very welcome visitor at seven in the evening. ‘Come in. It’s so good to see you. How are you, how’s Beth and the girls. You look slimmer! You back on that diet again?’

‘Yup.’ Frank said rolling his eyes. ‘You look in good shape Gavin. How’s it working out for you, Lord Gavin of Marbury? Frank grinned.

He followed Gavin through the lavish hallway and into the lounge. Frank couldn’t help raising his eyebrows when Fiona got up off the sofa and ran into his arms.

‘Frank! My word. It’s so good to see you again… what?’ Fiona said seeing his eyes staring at her bump. ‘Yeah, I’m a little over six months gone.’

‘My word, so it was conceived in Scotland then?’ Frank said, looking round at Gavin and Fiona who both looked a little embarrassed. ‘What?’ He said.

‘I don’t want you to arrest us Frank, but Fiona and I went up to the top of Arthurs Seat one day… and it was sunny… and things happened…’

Frank’s eyes went wide. ‘You didn’t?’

‘It’s a boy,’ Fiona said, her eyes shining and hanging onto Gavin’s arm. ‘We plan to call him Arthur.’

Frank laughed out loud. ‘Yes… he should be named: ‘Prince Arthur.”’

 

THE END.

 

Assassins

 

After the shock Brexit vote, Westminster was further rocked by news Scotland had voted to leave the UK.

 

The UK Government was further enraged when a leaked email purported to show that Scotland’s First Minster was planning to overrun UK military bases and its oil platforms.

 

When Scotland made English Parking Official, Gavin Brewson their King, the headstrong idealist took it upon himself to announce plans to nationalise the banks and other big corporates.

Powerful people now queue up to have him stopped. The world’s top assassins with instructions to kill the King were sent up to Edinburgh.

When the hitmen become involved in a jealous spat over which of them is to kill the King, they begin shooting at each other.

 

237


Assassins

Italian mobsters, a Swedish hitman and an ex-trapeze-artist-turned-assassin have all been hired to kill one man: Scotland’s new King, Gavin Brewson, (supposedly a descendent of Robert the Bruce). Following Brexit and then the election of Donald Trump, Scotland breaks away from the UK and crowns an English council parking official ‘King of Scotland’. All hell breaks loose. Scotland’s First Minister wanted a stupid king, one she could boss around and control. Instead she gets a headstrong, idealistic monarch. When Gavin is secretly handed an ancient scroll that empowers him to overrule the politicians, he devises a plan to nationalise just about everything. With their careers potentially finished, should the new King be allowed to enact his new laws, Scotland’s First Minister and the UK Prime Minister hire assassins… with orders to kill the King. But instead of focusing on their target, the assassins get caught up in a jealous spat over which of them is the Number 1 hitman and who will get to assassinate the monarch. With the King about to take the short trip from Holyrood Palace to the Scottish Parliament Building, where the world’s media awaits his pronouncement, D.I Frank Guardo and a squad of armed police descend on Holyrood… only to find a body covered with a sheet in the courtyard. Are they too late…?

  • ISBN: 9781370721924
  • Author: Ray Timms
  • Published: 2017-02-07 00:50:23
  • Words: 111213
Assassins Assassins