by Andrew Foote

Chapter 21

I didn't have to search for him, he was standing right next to the door of the study.

He literately towed me the short distance to the library and shut the door.

"You really should try and modify your attitude Steve. No wonder you have a reputation at school for being something of a firebrand!"

"What are you talking about!"

"Your temper. Just listen to yourself.

Those men in there. Why are you having a go at them?"

"Their attitude for openers. No niceties, no introductions, just 'we need to talk to you and Thilo Roker'."

"Oh. Right! So, you'd have preferred if they'd shaken you by the hand and said something like 'Hi Viscount? Great to see you! Lovely day, don't you think?' You'd have had a fucking seizure!"

I giggled.

"Most probably!

Okay. I'll try to behave myself."


You go back to the study and tell them I'll be along shortly. I'll go brew some coffee for all of us."

"Sorry to keep you waiting. Thilo will join us as soon as he's finished making some coffee for us, but I owe you an apology. I had no right to rale on you the way I did. These last few months have taken their toll on us for sure, but that's no excuse for being rude and objectionable."

"Forget it ever happened, - in much the same way as we'd like it if you could forget about the events of this morning."

"Yes, well. I have a few questions I need answering regarding this morning."

"I'm sure you do."

I was saved from making some cutting comment by Thilo kicking the door.

"Open the door for me please Steve. This tray is bloody heavy!"

Thilo placed a tray on the desk. Coffee, cream, sugar and biscuits, then took a seat beside me before introducing himself.

"I'm Thilo Roker. And you are?"

"Johnathan Askwith, MI6, and this is my counterpart, Andrew Parker who's with MI5. It's nice to meet you Mr Roker."


I trust Stephen's been behaving himself? Normally we put him back in his cage before visitors arrive, but our schedule got somewhat thrown out of kilter this morning."

"I'm sure he's been the perfect host!"

"Hang on? Did I hear you correctly? I thought you said you were with MI6, not the Diplomatic Corps? Normally Steve studiously avoids Perfect Host."

I couldn't help it. I could picture myself exactly as Thilo described, so I burst out laughing.

"I will admit it's hard work, but I've been nice for at least ten minutes.

Maybe we should get down to business? These guys aren't interested in our game of Insult-Ping-pong."

"Perhaps that's wise, but before we start, I just want to say that I wasn't keen on being interviewed by you. Steve had a chat with me and managed to persuade me to come and at least hear what you had to say, so might I suggest that's how we start the ball rolling? You set out your stall, and then I'll make up my mind whether or not to join in the conversation."

"Very well.

It's quite simple really. Here we have a visitor, South African national, who's family were brutally murdered at their farm in Namibia, the greater majority of their workers, together with their families were also butchered to death in a similar manner, and since arriving in this country, you've been the subject of, not one, but three attempts on your life.

I'm sure you'll agree that this type of occurrence is far from being commonplace here, and the powers that be, aka the Government of the United Kingdom, are getting very nervous to the point where they sanctioned the carrying of personal and concealed weaponry by you. Not only that, they've taken the highly unusual step of authorising Black Operations.

Do either of you know what Black Operations are?"

We both shook our heads.

"Best put? Black Operations are operations that don't officially happen. Virtually no documented records exist and only a very few selected members of the security services are in the loop. The Prime Minister would have to sanction such operations, and in this instance, the Secretary of State for the Home Office together with his counterpart in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office plus one or two highly placed civil servants would also be aware, otherwise no other members of the Government would have any knowledge of them."

"May I ask a question?"

"You most certainly may, Viscount."

"Before I ask, unless you want Thilo to put me back in my cage, please just call me Stephen?"

"As you wish."

"Thank you.

Black Operations. I'm assuming that this is why we don't read reports in the press about deportations?"

"Deportations? What deportations."

"Oh, I see. So, you simply chuck those guys in jail. No trial, no nothing?"

"I don't think you fully understand Stephen.

We make them disappear."

"You murder them?"

"We prefer to use the term, Eliminate."


So, we killed four of them this morning and the rest of them are…… eliminated?"

"They wouldn't have left that cellar alive.

Now, if we could continue? Normally such operations are merely short, sharp ways of overcoming a delicate problem, but in this instance, short and sharp it isn't. It's been going on too long. At some point, the Law of Averages will swing into play. One of you might get killed, maybe one of the attackers manages to escape and starts spouting his mouth off. We can't allow either of those to happen, but how we prevent further attempts on your lives? That's the issue here.

We have to understand why they keep coming at you. Please note I said Have, not Need.

They're becoming ever more resourceful. First, it's knives and machete's, next they're armed with AK47's, buy up a personnel carrier that had been pensioned off in the early 1970's, and now they parachute out of a glider?

Oh, we found the glider. It had crashed somewhere over the Welsh border."

"What about the pilot?"


Do either of you know the reasons behind these attacks?"

I looked at Thilo. Not a Happy Bunny.

I turned to Mr Askwith.

"Could we take break? I think Thilo and I need to talk."


"Thanks. We shouldn't be long."

Thilo followed me into the drawing room and shut the door.

"Look, I know what you're about to say. You think I should hand over the tablet."

"Wrong. What I was going to say was, give him some background. Outline things to him then hear what he has to say. You're under no obligation to hand anything over, but then neither can we carry on looking over our shoulders all the time, - killing people and putting other people's lives at risk.

He's right. This has to stop.

You said yourself that it was your Dad's hope that at some point in the future everything could be brought out into the open? You're not talking to some tin-pot dictator, or a gung-ho Donald Trump who'd happily nuke half of Africa before posting the photos of the carnage on Twitter? You're talking to representatives of the UK Security Services, who in turn advise the government. Our government is known all over the world as one that maintains the moral high ground of diplomacy first, diplomacy second, third and fourth, and only when those attempts fail and there are no other avenues open to them, do they go in using minimal force.

Please will you talk to them?"

"I couldn't refuse you anything after that little monologue.

Let's go, shall we?"

"So, that's the story. Enough dirt to plunge most of Africa into civil war."

"Yes. I now understand why you had grave reservations about talking to us.

Did you say that everything you've spoken about has been documented?"

"Yes. Everything stored electronically in a series of encrypted files."

"Do you know where these files are kept?"

"On a tablet computer."

"And where is this computer?"

"I have absolutely no idea."

"If you don't know where it is, how can you hand it over?"

"I didn't say anything about handing it over. I said I'd explain things to you."

"We can't be expected to advise the Prime Minister on something that might be interpreted as rumour or speculation, and neither can we be expected to be in a position to provide for your protection."

"There's only one possible way that might persuade me to give you access, and that would mean both Stephen and I meeting with the decision-makers, and receiving written, signed guarantees of anonymity."

"That could be arranged, but if you don't know how to lay your hands on that tablet, it's a non-starter."

"You're right. I really don't know how to lay my hands on it, but…… I know a man who does."


"No comment."

"So, you do know!"

"I think I said no comment?"

"Fine! But if we can arrange everything as per your request, I take it that you'll be able to persuade our mystery man to give it to us?"

"No problem. He's like putty in my hands!"

I almost choked on my coffee!

"Dead give-away Stephen! Hoisted by your own petard as they say!"

"I give in. Yes, I know where it is. Very clever tactics, but just you wait until I get you alone, Africa-boy. I'll show you the real meaning of being hoisted!

Putty in your hands, my arse!"

It was a quiet rest of the day and evening. No staff and no friends to talk to, few security concerns to worry us, and nothing of interest on the telly found us in bed by ten o'clock.

Word had it that so long as the medical staff were satisfied that no one was suffering any side effects from the gas, they would be discharged the next day and brought back to the house. My only real concern was if any of our staff felt like they'd had enough, and tendered their resignation. I mean, I could well understand if they did, and especially given the circumstances, but we value all those who work for us, and to lose any of them would be like the end of an era.

We didn't have sex that night, but neither were we in any hurry to turn out the lights. Perhaps a time for quiet contemplation, perhaps reflection, I don't know. What I do know is, I finally grew up that day.

I gave Thilo a little squeeze just to see if he was still awake.

He squeezed me back.

"Not tired then?"

"Not really.


"Just thinking about things."

"Such as what?"

"Today, those people from the MI's, the farm, our staff and friends laying there in hospital thinking we've abandoned them, how we've got the work of five blokes to do in the morning and how very thankful I am that we gave up on dairy!"

"Yes. Otherwise we'd still be out there milking!"

"Uh-huh. Then up again at four in the morning to repeat the performance.

I love you so much, Thilo?"

"I can't think why? I've brought terror to your life, and that of your family and staff. I've endangered the lives of our friends, and now I'm wondering if I'll be allowed to go back to Keswick."

"That's it though. Most people would just say 'Fuck this, I can't be doing with all this shit.' And who could possibly blame them? But then there's me who thinks like, 'Bring it on! I'm nothing without my boyfriend!'

Yes, I'm worried about our staff. No, I'm not worried about our friends. They're survivors, all of them. Keswick might be a shithouse place to spend your formative years, but God! They do teach you how to fight, how to become self-reliant, to become hardened to adversity.

No, they're the least of my problems, and as for you not being allowed back? Forget it! Mr King might try to come across as pious and God-fearing by his insistence that everyone attends chapel, but have you ever seen him there?

No. I'll put money on the fact that you've never seen him near the place once the service starts. It's only another instrument of torture, a way of instilling discipline and resilience. The only boy I know who's religious is Jan Saunders-Singer. He's the son of the founder and CEO of Singer Scientific, a fuck-off massive conglomerate in the world of research.

Jan wants to take Holy Orders, - no one takes the piss? He's a year below us, but he occasionally joins us for drinks, and never once has he tried to convert anyone!"

"Given your attitude towards religion, - given your attitude generally, I can't say I'm surprised he hasn't tried."

"It isn't religion in general I have a problem with. The principals of just about every religious faith speak the same language, that of love and tolerance towards your fellow men. They're standards to live by, good standards which if everyone adhered to, we wouldn't be here gunning people down.

What I can't believe, is how we're supposed to take the teachings of the Bible at face value.

How anyone can expect intelligent folk to buy into the Old Testament and accept everything written therein as irrefutable fact is crazy. God didn't make the world in six days then fuck off down the boozer on Sunday lunchtime? It took many millions of years!"

"What about the New Testament? That's more believable, isn't it?"

"I think it's closer to being believable. I'm prepared to go along with the possibility of the existence of Jesus, but not in the format that the Bible would have us believe.

I read somewhere that the most likely scenario, was that Jesus was probably a freedom fighter battling against the Roman occupation of Judea, and his disciples were his senior officers.

You've heard the expression If you're going to tell a lie, tell a big one and tell it often if you want it believed?"


"So, Jesus gets his PR people to write the Gospels to portray him as a lovable man of peace, the Son of the Creator sent from heaven in order to save mankind from themselves, rally them to the cause, big him up if you will.

If the Bible is to be believed, then why would the Romans devote so much time and energy to giving the Christians an all-round hard time, imprison them, torture them, hunt Jesus down like he was a common criminal if he was as he's described?

That's hardly likely. A guy like that wouldn't represent a danger to the occupying armies of Rome, whereas a freedom fighter, a terrorist able to galvanise the Jews into a coherent fighting force, would definitely be a target worth eliminating.

I'll go along with the message, I'll go along with the doctrine, but the writings are propaganda, pure and simple."

"I hope you've not had a similar conversation with this Jan kid?"

"I would dream of it. Jan has a right to believe what he likes. I think it's good to have people like him around, like a steadying influence in a world slowly going mental."

"How did we get onto this topic!"

"Can't remember!"

"Heavyweight stuff."

"Today's been heavyweight."

"And then some.

Have you set an alarm?"

"Unfortunately, yes. Five o'clock."

"Then I'm going to try and get some sleep."

Checking up on all the livestock, a job that didn't get done yesterday, took us most of the morning, and made more difficult by Dad's insistence that we could only use one vehicle rather than splitting up.

Following lunch, Thilo called the contact number to see how everyone was recovering.

All of them were doing okay-ish. No one had complications other than needing plenty of rest, drink lots of fluid and take a little light exercise, but that meant they wouldn't be discharged for another twenty-four hours.

"What do you fancy for tonight's supper?"

"Why do you ask me that just after I've finished eating lunch, Steve? The short answer to your question has to be Nothing right now!"

"Okay. Beefburgers, eggs and chips then. Easy to cook and we can eat once we feel hungry again."

"Sampling the delightful fare as prepared in the kitchen of an English Country House is truly an uplifting experience!"

"Sorry, but I don't have either the energy or enthusiasm to be creative, in fact, if I was on my own, I'd make do with a packet of crisps, a pickled egg and a bottle of beer."

"You wanna know something? That sounds really good."

"I once went with Dad to one of those farmer's get-togethers at the pub. Half an hour talking farming, then three hours getting shitfaced? That was the first time I ever tried pickled eggs?"

"I can't imagine seeing your Dad pissed!"

"He doesn't do it that often, but get those blokes together in a pub, it's always the same. Dad drives himself to the venue, then ends up having to get a taxi home with Winterton having to pay off the driver, then Dad forgets to reimburse him, so Winterton helps himself to a bottle of something he fancies by way of recompense!"

"Ha-ha! Good system!"

"Dad caught him in the act the one time. Winterton had been down to the cellar and helped himself to a bottle of Brandy. Dad asked him why as he'd only refilled the decanter the previous evening. Winterton just pointed to the bottle and said 'Taxi fare', and Dad was like, 'Oh yeah, sorry. You carry on'. Hilarious!"

"Talking of your Dad? Do you think he's been made aware of what's been going on here?"

"Yeah, I would've thought so."

"Had that been my Father, he'd have been on the next flight home."

"But that would mean he'd have to tell Mum, and she's a worrier. If things get out of hand, then that'd be different, but as things stand, it's better this way.

How do you fancy uncorking one of your bottles of Muscadet and sitting out by the waterfall? It's too nice to stay indoors, and we haven't really had the opportunity for some proper Us time?"

A bottle of wine in a cooler, library books and the radio to alert us in the event of problems, we relaxed away the afternoon.

I love this spot. It was here when I was six years old that Winterton had taught me to ride a bike. He taught me loads of things, like how to tie a bow tie, how to play cribbage, chess, even if the latter was rather unsuccessfull, then onwards to Backgammon, Poker and best of all, how to cheat without getting caught out!

Etiquette was mostly the preserve of my parents, but even so, if I forgot the protocol and tried running into the lounge prior to being announced, Winterton would stop me by grabbing me by the back of my collar together with a 'Now-now Stephen? Have you forgotten already?'

I'm fond of everyone who works for the estate, but Winterton is special. I see him as a friend. And with that thought going through my head, I realised that I was on the verge of a panic attack, but it was too late.

I wasn't in control.

I screamed fit to wake the dead.

How long it went on for, I have no idea, but my next conscious recollection was that of someone hitting me very forcefully across the cheek.

It hurt, - it hurt a lot, but then, through the fog, I saw Thilo nursing his hand.

"Get on your feet. I've got to get you inside."

Mechanically, I obeyed his instructions and staggered to my feet, and with Thilo supporting me, got me as far as the shower block where he told me to sit down, but not before removing my shorts and underpants and turning on the water, - cold water.

"Stay where you are. I'll be back in a minute."

Gradually I became accustomed to the water temperature. My head was beginning to clear, and I felt myself calming down.

Thilo returned carrying a large bath towel and a fleecy robe, then turning off the water, helped me up and started to dry me off.

I made no attempt to stop him.

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