Thilo

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 25

The 'copter dropped us off at Malvern Park shortly before six in the evening. The tablet retrieved and placed in a steel security box, would be delivered to GCHQ in Cheltenham for decoding and investigation on their way back to London.

Whatever action might be taken was out of our hands now, - we could but hope that it met with success so we could get back to normality but right now, tiredness was overtaking us. We raided the kitchen for ice cold mineral water and went up to our room to get some rest.

Why both Thilo and I felt downbeat was something that took some thinking about. We hoped that our future and even the future of Africa was less uncertain, but still, there was this nagging fear that our situation was very precarious.

We showered then went to the kitchen to get some food inside us, but rather than eating like two hungry teenagers, we picked at it before chucking most of what we'd prepared into the bin. But then our emergency radio sparked up.

"Stephen? Major Harrington. We have a problem, - not immediate, but a problem none the less.

Intelligence indicates there's a distinct possibility that there might be a night raid tonight. Is there somewhere else on your estate that you might go to?"

"Not really. The farm is self-contained…… hang on? There's the old farm about five-hundred yards off Longport Lane. Our shepherds use it for shearing the sheep, - sometimes stay in the house overnight rather than going home when they're busy.

Do you need us to go there?"

"Christ no! We need you to stay put! We think the farm is under surveillance. We want whoever it is to think you're moving out.

Do both of you have clothes you wear regularly, like something that might be readily associated with you?"

"Yeah. We tend to live and die in much the same stuff.

Why?"

"No time to answer questions I'm afraid, but I want you to put those clothes in the hallway, take a couple of old guns from your gun room together with a suitcase and put them outside the front door. Close all curtains in the house and sit tight. The rest we'll handle.

Are you okay with that?"

"Yes, but they're being somewhat careless considering you know about this, aren't they?"

"We think it's deliberate, but I'll tell you more once this is over.

Remember. No lights on in the house. We want it to appear that you're running scared, but keep your wits about you. Shoot first, ask questions later, alright?"

"Whatever you say."

"Good. Thank you.

No time to lose, so if you could get things organised?"


This was getting out of hand, but we did as we were asked and put a couple of old tee shirts and tatty jeans together with two knackered rifles in the hall, then waited none too patiently.

An army Landrover drove around the back of the house; normal practice that time of night, then reappeared moments later, parking by the tractor shed with the occupants walking casually towards the offices and out of sight, then fifteen minutes later, an armoured personnel carrier swooped down the drive pulling to a stop outside the main entrance. Two men exited the vehicle and went inside the house. There was a short wait before four men, two soldiers and two dressed in our clothes both, carrying rifles, stepped back out and shut the front door, pretending to lock it behind them.

Another personnel carrier appeared, swinging around in a broad arc around the first one. This confused matters, as their combined lights made it very difficult to see what happened next, but then one of them turned around, drove back behind the house and out of sight, while the other one took off up the drive at some considerable speed.

It slowed as it approached the first gate to allow the VNPR system to see the vehicle and open itself before resuming its course up the drive.

Thilo grabbed my arm.

"Look up there, up there near the vineyard! There's an intermittent red light flash……"

Whoomph!

A dull yellow glow from the hill, then a God Almighty explosion as an RPG or mortar hit the personnel carrier lifting it clear into the air, sending it tumbling sideways and landing upside down in a culvert, then seconds later, another explosion as its fuel tank ruptured.

I was numbed. Our people had been killed, and all because they had been sent to protect us.

Thilo was shaking; I was fighting to keep myself from screaming, but then the radio came to life.

"No need for concern. That vehicle was a decoy, - radio controlled, a drone if you will. Everyone is safe and well, but still I want you to keep your heads down. There's a mop-up operation in progress, but this time we want the bastards alive enough to answer questions.

No lights on in the house, okay? Have a stiff drink and get some shut-eye. We'll talk in the morning lads."

We acknowledged the transmission before both of us folded into tears. Images of terror, the blood we'd spilt and the lives we'd taken, all came back in a flash. No one of our age should have to deal with this. As much as we felt grown-up, felt the need to assert ourselves, essentially, we were still kids, - young, full of hope and ambitions, but…… but……

Thilo hugged me; probably sensing another meltdown.

"Let's go downstairs and get ourselves a glass of wine, shall we? Alcohol doesn't answer questions, but it does provide for a degree of calm which we won't get if we stay put up here."

I followed him downstairs to the drawing room where he uncorked a bottle of Merlot, then with two glasses placed on the table, lit only by a single candle, we drank to our uncertain future.

And that is how we woke at five in the morning to a rap on the front door.

I answered it to find Johnathan Askwith and Andrew Parker, our friends from MI5 and MI6 standing on the steps.

"Sorry to wake you at this hour, but we need your help with something."

"Come in. I'll get some coffee on the go."

We sat at the kitchen table and listened as they explained the purpose of their visit.

"Last night shone a light on things, but understanding the significance is tricky unless we have insider knowledge of life in Africa.

We had that parcel of land you refer to as The Vineyard under surveillance following intelligence that suggested that an assault might be launched from there. I can't disclose that source of information, but it came from very reliable people who we trust and have our full co-operation.

We apprehended twelve people, all DOC nationals, all of who were arrested and taken into custody to a high security military prison, but here's where we need your help, Mr Roker.

These individuals were strip-searched and their photos taken, - standard procedure, but they all had tribal markings on their body's that we can't decipher.

Take a look at these photos and tell us if you recognise any of the marks and what they might mean."

Thilo studied the photos one by one, then went through them again, pausing to take in every detail.

"It can't be possible. These three are members of the Hutu tribe, but these four are Tutsi. They just don't ever co-exist? They are sworn enemies! But then, the rest of them are either Kenyan or Angolan, and there's no love lost between them either, which makes this collection of people, all who hate each other and have done since the dawn of time, a totally bizarre situation."

"When confronted with a common enemy, many otherwise hostile people come together to thwart it, but it comes down to this. We need you out of the country, get you somewhere that's easier to police."

"Like where?"

"Stephen's parent's villa in Sicily. It's not in the centre of a populated area, and it's small enough to guard efficiently; in short? It's an ideal place for you to stay until the powers that be have had a chance to dictate terms to those regimes that seek to eliminate you.

I need you to be packed and ready to leave in three hours, at which time you'll be collected by a military helicopter and taken to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire. From there, flights leave every ten minutes for destinations within the UK and abroad which will help to further confuse things, but in this instance, you'll be taken to Portsmouth where a Navy destroyer is about to leave for Italy for a goodwill visit calling in via Sicily on the way. She will dock at an Italian Navy base, so no customs to worry about, nor any civilian involvement. From there, Italian Special Forces will take you to the villa where you'll be met by Major Harrington and his team."

"We're due back in school in less than a month. I don't have any objections about going to Sicily; after the last couple of weeks it would be nice to get away from here, but also, I don't want to be late getting back to Keswick."

"Getting you back to Keswick was another option we'd thought about, but there are contractors there as you probably remember from your visit to retrieve the tablet, so being late back for the beginning of term isn't going to happen."

"Thanks.

I take it that my parents know we're coming?"

"Yes. We keep them abreast of everything that happens. They're looking forward to seeing you both."


We travelled light. Our belongings included our laptops, phones, shorts, socks, tee shirts and jeans. A pair of trainers we wore, but then we packed flip-flops along with one smart shirt, a pair of decent trousers and a pair of leather shoes.

We loaded all available ammunition clips then spent the rest of the waiting time cleaning our guns, seeking out Winterton and Hellen so I could explain the situation, and then, on the stroke of midday we were on the helicopter.

No formalities at the airbase, - we were ushered to another waiting 'copter and flown out within the space of fifteen minutes.

The flight crew, all two of them were courteous, but there wasn't any real conversation between us.

Forty minutes later and we were circling above a formidable-looking destroyer that was riding at anchor off the coast of Dorset. We touched down, - the crew immediately strapping the helicopter to the deck before the anchor was raised and we were underway.

We were met by a junior officer who took us down a maze of corridors and into a briefing room where we were greeted by the First Officer.

"Welcome aboard HMS Troubadour, a rather unfortunate name for an old lady of the sea.

My name is Flynn, Paul Flynn and I'm the First Officer. Our Captain is otherwise occupied in the sickbay having succumbed to an over indulgence of fine dining last evening, and sends his apologies, but that said, he hopes to meet you tomorrow.

Now for the rules I would like you to follow whilst you're with us.

If a door or a bulkhead closure says No Unauthorised Personnel, then don't go in there, otherwise you're free to wander around. I will find someone to give you a guided tour just as soon as we clear UK territorial waters. You are welcome on the bridge, but please don't touch anything. The officer's mess is open to you day, or night, as is the gymnasium and games area. There is no internet connection open to you, so if you need to send anything, go to the bridge and ask to speak to the communications officer.

I understand that you're armed.

May I see what you're carrying please?"

We both drew our guns, then ejecting the breech round and removing the clip, placed them on the table.

"Beretta's. Not that I'm a small arms expert, but don't you find them heavy?"

"We're very used to them unfortunately."

"Yes. Article Eighteen Authorised.

Anything else?"

"No, that's it."

"Okay. Reload and put them away please.

It gets very warm below decks, and the nearer we get to the Med, it's also stifling outside, so if you are challenged for wearing them, just say Article Eighteen, or refer whoever asks to myself or Captain Roberts.

Now, let us find the officer's mess and I'll get a senior rating to show you around."


The food served in the mess was surprisingly good and there was plenty of it. The range of drinks available was limited to beer, white or red wine and Port. Spirits were only allowed once the ship had docked, except for rum, which was still handed out to all hands at the end of each watch. Our accommodation was basic if serviceable, but then we were used to being at Keswick Priory, so no issues, right?

Three days saw us docking in Sicily where we were shown off the ship by Captain Roberts.

"Not very exciting for you boys, but it got you here safely which was our only remit.

Maybe we'll meet again under happier circumstances, but for now, just take care of yourselves. You'll be safe here, because despite popular belief that the island is awash with criminals, the Mafia are ruthless when it comes to other people stepping onto their turf, so relax and enjoy your stay."

"They know we're here?"

"Naturally? They know everything that happens here. Now go and get yourselves some down-time."


A beaten-up Fiat got us to the villa. The driver didn't speak a word of English and neither of us spoke Italian, but he was friendly and waved us off with a flurry of words and gestures.

Both Mum and Dad were there to greet us, or maybe interrogate us about everything that had happened.

Mum was worse than Dad, and kept on about us murdering people, and how we should have left it up to the professionals, but finally Dad had enough and fairly barked at her.

"For God's sake Pat? All they were doing was protecting themselves! It isn't as if they went out spraying bullets indiscriminately? They did what they had to do, and I'm very proud, - not only of them, but also Alun and Pete."

"Have it your own way Charlie. Might I suggest that we drop the subject?"

She turned to us.

"We're going back tomorrow, but we're confident you'll be safe here. We've had a visit from a certain gentleman who assured us that you'll be watched over for the duration.

You'll probably get a visit from him yourselves. His name is Marco, - I don't believe I have to spell it out to you, but he's the head of one of the Families on the island, so should you see a dark green Rangerover Discovery coming up the lane, don't go pulling those guns!

Shopping we've done, but it's self-catering for you. Florinda has been persuaded to take some holiday, so if you run short of anything, call home and we'll sort it out.

Now perhaps it's time to take drinks by the pool. I know your father is anxious to hear how harvesting is going."


It was at this point, - drinks by the pool, that I knew Mum was going to bomb me again.

I'm sure I'm not alone with this, most parents wait until your guard is down before asking personal questions, don't they?

"I couldn't help noticing those beautiful rings you're both wearing?"

"Nice, aren't they. We found them in the Jewellery Quarter in Brum."

"I can only imagine that they set you back a bob or two though?"

"Not as much as we feared."

"You're being evasive Stephen."

"And you're waltzing around the question like Torville and Dean, Mum.

We're engaged. We were going to tell you, but recent events got in the way."

"We knew that you were committed to each other, but don't you think you're too young to be taking this step?"

"Under most normal circumstances, I'd agree with you. But Thilo has invested 50% of his assets in my name, and we really do love each other, Mum. Then you have to think about what might happen in the event that we both died? One point two billion US dollars with nowhere to go? We need to make this official just as soon as Thilo turns sixteen then we can make joint wills, - put things in place that will keep everything the way we both want them to be."

"Which is where?"

"Do we have to talk about this today?

We've been shot at, the house staff taken hostage, we've seen people die at our hands, and you want to talk about money?

I'll tell you this much. We were going to ask Dad if he would agree to be a Director with Roker-Broadhurst. He could help us find investment opportunities, figure out means by which we can safeguard the farms in Namibia and at Malvern Park. What we do about the holdings in Roker Mining is something Thilo has to decide, but right now, the only thing that's holding everything together are our wills, whereas marriage would make for better security. Anyway, we both want to get married for all the right reasons."

"Oh my. Tattler will have a field day."

"Screw Tattler. We're not society figures."

"You have a title. Like it or not, Stephen, you are society, so cope with it."

"I apologise. I didn't mean to upset you."

Dad sat his glass down on the table.

"For once, I find myself in agreement with Stephen. Tattler and all their pretentious writings can go to hell.

Yes, we are an old family. Our lineage goes back many centuries, but we've worked hard for what we have. I know that some see us as landed gentry, but would they be prepared to put everything on the line like we've had to do?

Marry with my blessing son; we'll talk about Roker-Broadhurst once all this has blown over."

I leaned over and gave Mum a cuddle.

"I'm sorry.

I'm a disappointment to you, but I am what I am and who I am. I can't change just because it might bring the family name into ridicule?"

"You are NOT a disappointment! You're a very caring young man, and I'm proud to have you as my son. Thilo is a wonderful person; you're right for each other, even I can see that.

I had grave reservations when Dad sent you away to Keswick, but it turns out he made the right choice. Eton, Harrow or Rugby would've put you amongst people who see themselves as the elite, but you can handle yourself…… dear God, have you proved that beyond doubt these last few months!

I'm still in shock, Stephen. Dad said nothing to me about what was going on at home until we were asked if you could come here, only then did he have to explain what had happened.

Yes, I also bless your marriage, so get to it. There should be a bottle of Champagne in the fridge!"

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