by Andrew Foote

Chapter 20

I watched as Winterton showed our Spooks to the door, then collared him.

"Sorry for keeping you up. Have you had a nightcap?"

"Not whilst I'm on duty Mr Stephen."

"Then might I suggest that you sign off and have a few?

There's a decent Port in Dad's drinks cabinet, or alternatively, help yourself to one of those bottles of Thilo's Muscadet that's in the fridge.

Those guys are coming back at around half-ten in the morning, so have a sleep in."

"Thank you. I might just do that."

I walked down the hall giggling to myself. 'Stock anxious to breed at dawn. I wonder who that might be?'

I found the other guys seated around the kitchen table and wading their way through home-made lasagne and garlic bread.

"Given you up for lost. You'd better pitch in quick, Mark nearly scoffed your share."

"Don't do that? I've got to keep my strength up for the morning."

Thilo burst out laughing.

"That's very true. He's got this intense workout regime he has to go through!

Anyway, who were those visitors, not that it's any of my business?"

"Actually, it is your business. One MI5 agent, and another from MI6. They're coming back tomorrow morning as they want to talk to you."

"Why me?"

"They've managed to discover a link between that machete incident and the one this morning. They know where they're from and who's bank-rolling them, but not the reasons behind it. I know a little, but I didn't think it was my place to say anything."

"I'm not sure I want to talk to them Steve. That information has been a closely guarded secret for years, and my instructions were clear enough. That's the way it should stay."

"I told them it was unlikely you'd tell them much, but times change, and your secret isn't much of a secret if those people know enough to come after you.

Don't misunderstand, I'm not trying to persuade you one way or the other. Just hear what they have to say then make your own judgement."

"I don't suppose there's any harm done in listening to them. Will you be with me?"

"If you want me to be, and all assuming they have no objections, then yes."

"Well, that's the deal. If you're not with me then I won't meet them."

"God! You sound just like I did when I met them! This isn't the English equivalent of Guantanamo Bay? They're not going to Waterboard you or wring information out of you?"

"Yes, I realise that, but ever since you found me at school and most probably saved my life, I've had you to cling to. I needed you then, and I need you now and forever.

No You at the meeting equals no meeting at all, ever!"

"All I can do is put it to them and see what they have to say.

I'm going to sign up to Alcoholics Phenomenal because I need a stiff one."

"Similar to the one that Thilo was begging for this morning perhaps?"

"Fuck off Pete!"

"Sorry. That was uncalled for…… but sound travels further than you think, you know?"


My turn to apologise."

James stood up and stretched himself.

"Mark wants to thrash me at snooker, or at least try, so we're going through to the games room so I can show him the error of his ways."

For the next hour, we sat talking, but the stress of the day's events were starting to take their toll.

"I'm away to my bed. I feel as if the world has fallen on my skull."

Thilo drained his glass and stood up.

"Following you. I'm bushed."

We walked towards the stairs before remembering that Mark and James were playing snooker in the games room.

"Let's see who's winning, shall we?"

The door was ajar, but the room was silent. I poked my head around the door then backed away taking Thilo by the hand and ushering him towards the stairs.

"Anything wrong?"

"No, not wrong exactly, just surprising. I tell you once we're behind closed doors."

"What's the big surprise then?" Weren't they in there?"

"They were in there all right, but snooker got abandoned in favour of some other pastime!"

"Shit Steve? You can be really annoying when you put your mind to it.

What fucking pastime?"

"Try, pastime as in kissing pastime perhaps?"

"They were…… really?"

"Yeah, really."

"I don't believe you! I mean they're like, too macho!"

"So, that makes me a fairy, does it?"

"No, no. I just thought that…… bloody-hell!

Are you going to say anything?"

"Of course I'm not! They're big boys now, and if they're into each other then that's their business."

"I'll never be able to look them in the eye ever again!"

"Yes, you will. It's not like I caught them shagging on the snooker table?"

"No, but even so…… who would've thought it. James and Mark of all people."

"So far as I'm concerned, nothing's changed. They're good friends, and that's it."

"I wonder how long it's been going on?"

"God only knows. Maybe it's been a while, maybe it started tonight. Perhaps it's all pretty innocent, perhaps they're seriously attracted to each other. Who knows."

"But normally you pick up the vibes, don't you? He's gay, or he's straight, like gaydar or whatever. The thing is, never in a million years would I have thought that……"

"Did you pick up vibes from me?"

"You didn't give me a chance. You came right out with it. What was it you said? Oh yeah, right! You said 'You carry on good-looking. My mind is made up.'"

"I said that?!"

"Yep. At the hospital. I threatened to cry if you didn't agree to swap rooms!"

"I do remember that bit!"

"What about me? Pick up on anything?"

Oh yeah! I knew you were gay a couple of hours before we met! I have this gift, you see."


"Yes, okay, it's bollocks. Moses told me."

"The bloody cheek of the man! Just you wait until I see him!"

We were interrupted by a light tap on the door.

"Are you guys in bed yet?"

"No Jimbo. We're just talking. Come on in."

A very nervous James and Mark entered the room then closed the door behind them.

"We need to talk to you about…… damn this is embarrassing!

"I'm guessing Mark had you at snooker then?"

"No, no. Nothing like that. It's just that we…… love each other and……"

"Hold it right there. There's no need to be embarrassed? I sort of guessed there was something going on between you when I saw you kissing this evening. You really should shut the door if you don't want to be disturbed."

"You saw?"

"Look. I thought I would find out who was beating who, but when I saw you together like that, well, I thought it was best if I made a hasty retreat. It's no one's business what you do, how you feel about each other, all very private, right?"

"But you came out to us? Wasn't that private?"

"That was different. I wasn't in a relationship. I knew how I felt, - how I was, and it seemed right to tell my friends, and even if you gave me grief it didn't matter.

The important thing so far as I was concerned, was to get things out in the open."

"We'd seen you together and I suppose we envied you, - being out and everything. We're not sure if we're ready to tell everyone, but we had to start somewhere and the obvious people were you two."

"You honour us, really you do. But I don't think you'll get a hard time from the other's even if you do decide to make a clear break."

"Like I said. Not ready Steve, not just yet.

Promise us you won't go telling anyone?"

"Look at me Jim? Have I ever pissed on your fire? And as for Baby-face over there, he wouldn't breathe a word."

"No, you've not."

"Sorted then, but I'm wide awake now, so does anyone fancy a celebratory glass of Port?"

Thilo stood up and made towards the door.

"Glasses. We need some decent glasses. A vintage Port and tooth mugs is crass given the circumstances."

"So, how long have you two been like…… you know?"

"Thilo? I was attracted to James the moment I set eyes on him. Okay, I was only ten and didn't even know the meaning of the word Gay, I just knew I had to get to know him."

"Likewise me. I saw Mark and he just overwhelmed me."

"Thinking back, we wasted so much time, We'd play games like wrestling in the dorm, offering to wash each other's backs in the shower; anything to lay our hands on each other. All that time I just thought that he liked the attention, never once believing he was doing the same to me for the same reasons."

I giggled.

"The gentle art of seduction I think it's called!"

"Yes, it was, but the crunch came when I popped one during one of those showers and James offered to wash it. I think I lasted for all of about three seconds before experiencing my first ever climax, - dry of course, but then I just grabbed him and kissed him with all the passion and finesse of a drunken whore on acid!"

"How old were you when that happened?"

"Twelve or thirteen? I can't remember exactly."

"So, you've managed to stay under the radar for four or five years? I couldn't have done that, it would've killed me."

"Worried about people's reaction."

"Maybe not this week, maybe not this year, but you'll know when the time is right, and when that time comes, we'll be here for you."

"Thanks. We know you will be, but I think it's sleep time, especially as you're expecting visitors in the morning.

Good night guys."

I woke before Thilo. My head was thumping and I felt sick.

I chased next door to Thilo's old room so I wouldn't disturb him, and threw up down the toilet.

Instant relief. My tummy settled and my head began to clear.

Maybe the stress of yesterday was manifesting itself, - maybe I'd drunk too much, but whatever it was, I promised myself not to kill anyone today, and back off on the booze.

Showered and teeth thoroughly brushed, I went back to our room.

Thilo hadn't moved, - his gentle breathing told me he was still fast asleep, so I dressed and made my way downstairs to the kitchen to brew some tea, mildly surprised to see that no one else was up, even Hellen who's normally up with the lark was missing.

I drank my tea and went to investigate.

No sign of Winterton. His study door was open and today's newspapers were on his desk which meant he'd been into the village to collect them.

I checked the lounge, dining room and drawing room, but the house was like the Marie Celest; all operational, but eerily quiet.

I took to the back stairs. These were the ones that in times past were used by the servants, but now they provided me with the means whereby I could get back to my room unnoticed.

This was freaking me out. I shivered, drew the Beretta from its holster, flipped of the safety and climbed the stairs.

I made my way down the landing, checking each room as I passed them.

Pete's room; unoccupied.

Alun's room; unoccupied.

James's room; the bed hadn't been slept in.

Mark's room; two separate piles of clothes on the floor. Mark and James had obviously spent the night together.

Ben's room; unoccupied, - ditto Tony's.

Finally, I got to my room and cautiously opened the door. Thilo was sitting naked on the end of the bed scrubbing his eyes, but suddenly took notice when he saw the gun in my hand.

"What happening? More trouble?!"

"I don't know, but please get dressed and I'll tell you what I know while you're doing it."

"I need the toilet, but carry on anyway."

"I was up early. Booze or stress had me chucking up down the loo, but feeling better for it, I went downstairs to make some tea. No one around, not even Hellen, so I looked in on Winterton. He'd been into the village to get the papers, but there was no sign of him anywhere.

Next I checked the rooms downstairs. No one there either, so I came back up here and looked to see if any of the lads were up and about. But here's where it gets weird.

Thilo? The house is deserted. There's no one around except us!"

"There has to be a rational explanation. Maybe they've gone for a walk or something."

"That wouldn't explain where Winterton or Hellen are, and anyway, the boys would take guns with them and they're in their rooms.

Something's happened, I can almost smell it."

"Let's not go into a blind panic just yet. I'll get dressed and we can go and find those SAS guys. Maybe they know something we don't."

Unlike the last time I'd been to see them and kept waiting for an eternity, the door was opened almost immediately.

"Come on in. We're trying to decide what to do and how to handle things, and we need your input."

"So, they managed to get past all the security?"

"They got over the top of it. What security is in place wasn't compromised. They parachuted in landing on the roof of the house, - well eight of them did, the ninth miscued it and strangled himself when his lines got caught up.

These are ruthless people. They didn't even bother to try and save one of their own."

"Where are our friends and staff? How did you manage to get them away from the house?"

"That's just it. We didn't. They took them, presumably holding them as hostages."

"Why? If they managed to find them, why didn't they come for us?"

"That's easy to answer. It's common tactics to take hostages to use as bargaining chips. They somehow make contact with you, tell you to hand over whatever it is they've come for, or they'll, one by one, maybe one every hour, start killing them until they get what they want."


Do you know where they're being held?"

"We think so. We've done heat sensing throughout the house, but come up with nothing save from you two. The only place they can be in in the cellars where our sensors can't penetrate.

How many ways can you access them?"

"Two. One from the main body of the house, like a doorway off a corridor that's off the main hall. The other is a back entrance by the waste collection bins."

"Okay, thank you.

One further question. Are there ventilation ducts?"

"Two out the front and tw o at the rear. They look like mushroom vents on a boat to keep out the rain."

"Excellent! In that case, we have a way forward gentlemen."

"May I ask what that is?"

"You may. We pump a mild sedative gas into the cellars. This should put everyone out for the count until we can gain access. Not full proof I admit, but for the moment it's the best we have."

"Are we to be in on this?"

"Yes, you have to be.

We have a mandate to take all necessary action on your land, but not inside the house. There's an Act of Parliament that authorises you to do that with impunity, so I need you inside and out of sight, but near enough to the cellar access to take action should they try to make a run for it. We'll be covering the rear of the property, but no fucking around here. You shoot to kill, understood?"

"Yes, we understand."

"One last thing?

I've had time to check out your backgrounds, and it would appear that two normal schoolboys you are not. Your training in the use of small arms, and by one of the best in the business, then your activities in Scotland tell me that you're very capable, and so I must apologise for my attitude when we first met Viscount."


"Yes, okay. Stephen.

Shall we get to our positions then lads?"

We cautiously entered the house via the back door all the time listening for movement. None came, - the place was silent a grave. Normally at this hour, Hellen would be baking, Jane and Sophie would be putting to rights what we'd disrupted the previous day, somewhere a radio would be tuned to Radio Two, Winterton would be done with reading the newspapers and gently snoring in his office, but not this morning. Instead, a sinister atmosphere hung over the house.

Coming to the hall, we stuck close to the walls.

Why do people do that?

If you're going to be shot, being in front of a wall offers no protection what so ever!

Anyway…… we managed to find two alcoves that partially shielded us from view, but giving us almost line-of-sight down the corridor that led to the cellar door, and it was here that we waited.

Minutes passed that seemed like decades. The only sounds I could make out were Thilo's breathing and the slow, rhythmic tick of the Grandfather Clock in the lounge.

The phone rang, and it sounded like the bells of St Paul's Cathedral were housed in Winterton's office, but then silence once again took centre stage.

Under different circumstances I could have dozed off to sleep, but then we heard the sound of keys in a lock, a door opening and someone being violently sick. Two black men followed by two others came staggering down the passage desperately trying to breath in some fresh air.

Thilo reacted immediately, dropping two with precision shots to their heads. I followed his lead, downing the other two in similar fashion, the tops of their heads sliced off like soft boiled eggs as they dropped like liquid to the floor…… then silence…… followed by a muffled explosion and plenty of shouting.

Seconds later, two soldiers wearing gas masks came up from the cellar, and completely ignoring the corpses, motioned us outside.

"The situation is under control. We're in the process of getting all civilians out of there where they'll be taken to a military hospital for observation. Inhaling unregulated amounts of gaseous diamorphine may cause problems, so best to err on the side of caution."

"Are they okay though?"

"All, barring the four you took care of are."

"What'll happen to the other terrorists?"

"Not my decision. You should ask my boss."

"Can we go and see them? Not the terrorists, but our friends and my staff?"

"Little point. They're all sleeping like babies. Anyway, there are people here who need to talk to you."

"Ah shit! The fucking Spooks! Forgotten all about them?

Where are they?"

"Without a butler to show them in, they're waiting in their car."

I walked outside to a waiting five series BMW with two men sitting inside.

"Do you need to talk to me? I'm Viscount Broadhurst."

"Thank you, and together with a Thilo Peter Roker."

"Then you'd better come inside. You've picked an opportune moment what with my entire staff having been taken hostage along with six of my closest friends, not to mention the fact that Mr Roker and I have killed four people this morning, and we haven't even had breakfast yet?

Walk this way."

I took them through to Dad's study and had them sit down.

"Right. How may I help you gentlemen?"

"Where's Mr Roker?"

"How the bloody-hell should I know? This, unless you've not noticed, is a very large house. He could be anywhere, and as I no longer have the staff to go searching for him……?"

"We do appreciate that these last few days have been stressful Sir, but this is, not only in both your interests, but it's become a matter of national security."

"I'll try to locate him for you.

Wait here please."

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