by Andrew Foote

Chapter 24

Tonight, was going to be a formal occasion. It was what Thilo liked, and there was no way I could deny him. My only requests to Hellen and Winterton was to try to make it as traditional as dinners might've been back in early twentieth Century country houses with the menu and wines served mirroring that era.

They didn't disappoint; not on any level.

Perhaps Thilo was right when he thought that both Winterton and Hellen loved the opportunity to demonstrate their obvious skills, because we mustered in the lounge for pre-evening drinks at seven-thirty, where Winterton, dressed in full Head Butler's uniform, together with three other men wearing the garb of Under-Butlers who I'd never set eyes on before, took our drink requests. Winterton then retired to his duties leaving the Under Butler's standing off to one side like a guard of honour.

I managed to waylay him before he left the room.

"Who are these people, Winterton?"

"We borrowed them from Ragley Hall, Mr Stephen. The Duke and Duchess are away on holiday, so it was an easy matter to persuade them along.

We also borrowed their waiting staff and extra kitchen staff to help Hellen. Tonight, I hope, will be one of the grandest dinners this house has seen in decades."

We were fussed over with our glasses replenished until we refused more. Then, on the stoke of eight o'clock, Winterton reappeared telling me that they were ready to serve dinner upon my signal.

Winterton would've privately bollocked me up hill and down dale had I rushed things, so I took a cool ten minutes before nodding in his direction.

"Gentlemen. Dinner is about to be served if you would be kind enough?"

OH – MY – GOD!

You should have been there!

Honestly, I have never seen anything quite like it in my entire life!

All the electric lights in the dining room had been dimmed. Above the dining table, a chandelier I remember as a young boy, attempting the count the number of candles then giving up at sixty, was burning, together with two six-stemmed candelabras placed on the table.

I think our complete serving of cutlery silverware was laid, - cut crystal glasses ranging in size and use, - Champagne, white wine, red wine, Port, Cognac, all were out in perfect placement.

James; a gifted photographer in his own right, hurried back upstairs to get his camera so he could capture the moment before the start of the meal.

Port and cognac glasses, - placed on the table more for decoration than use, were removed by the waiting staff, - girls dressed in their immaculate livery of black flat shoes, black socks, black trousers, white blouses and burgundy tunics, before the first of four entrées was served.

I am not going to be boring and detail the menu, - in truth, I'm not sure what was served, but the first two courses were served with Champagne, the second two with a crisp white wine.

The two main courses were served together with red wines, and the deserts with a light alcoholic fruit punch, and while we were eating this feast, Winterton stood off to one side of me, an Under Butler to the one side of Thilo with the girls standing three either side of the table behind the lads, one to each guest.

Meal over, Winterton whispered in my ear.

"It's generally accepted that gentlemen retire to the drawing room for port, brandy and cigars."

"None of us smoke, but point taken.

I can't just walk away from this, protocol aside, so could you ask everyone who's made this evening so magical to join us for a moment?"

"Certainly, Mr Stephen. Please wait here and I gather them together."

"I'm having a problem here. I'm not the type normally lost for words, but tonight I find myself completely overwhelmed.

What you did for us tonight was just incredible, amazing and out of this world!

I had asked that my Birthday, and that of Thilo's was marked with a formal dinner, but never, ever did I expect anything like tonight!

Thank you just isn't adequate, mere gratitude doesn't cut it. You are all magnificent!

I know how it works, so I won't keep you hanging around to hear me babbling along.

Enjoy your evening, and may your god walk with you."

I stood and raised my glass, the boys following my lead.

"To the finest staff in the world, we drink to your health and happiness!"

"What did you mean by 'you know how it works?'"

"Over-cater. There were eight of us dining tonight with eight people waiting at table together with who knows how many in the kitchen. They cook for us, - they cook for themselves. They eat once they're done for the day, and there's always open bottles of wine and Champagne kicking about that have to be got shot of.

In the kitchen, as we speak, there's one hell of a party going on!"

"Okay. No more than they deserve, but doesn't Champagne go flat?"

"If you leave it sitting out it does, but if you get a tea spoon, preferably a silver one, although a stainless-steel works well enough, and place it handle down into the neck of the bottle then keep it refrigerated, it'll stay very drinkable for around five hours. That was a little trick taught me by Winterton."

Shortly after midnight, Thilo and I said Goodnight to the others and went upstairs to our room. We had this meeting with the security people at ten the following morning, and we didn't need the excesses to tonight to cloud our thinking.

Thilo was awake at seven, but my first conscious thought was that I was having a wet dream as I crashed headlong into orgasm.

I opened my eyes to see Thilo grinning at me, - a small trickle of my cum coming from the corner of his mouth. I pulled him down on top of me and kissed it away.

"Jesus. What a way to wake in the morning!"

"I thought you might like it!

I had to wake you, that meeting is due in an hour and I need a shower."

"It's already nine o'clock?"

"A quarter past. Time to get our skates on I reckon, and especially as you're as grumpy as fuck without a couple of mugs of tea to kick-start your brain."

"Yes. I suppose that's true enough. You go on and shower while I get dressed and put a light under the kettle. I'll shower later after this meeting's over."

"I hear you had quite an evening yesterday?"

"Let's just say that I've never experienced anything quite like it. It was the sort of occasion that you see in costume dramas on TV, - never in today's world."

"It sounds wonderful, but if I could beg your indulgence and drag us back to the here and now? We have a lot of ground to cover.

Last time we met, you indicated that so long as certain criteria were met, you might be willing to pass on that tablet computer to us.

Are you still of a like-mind?"

I looked to Thilo to answer.

"Yes. Nothing's changed. All this violence has to stop."

"Thank you.

We have arranged for both of you to meet with the Prime Minister, the heads of both MI5, and 6 together with the chief of the National Counter Terrorism Unit. This meeting will take place at Downing Street next Thursday at one o'clock in the afternoon where I hope all your concerns related to how any intelligence gained might be used will be laid to rest.

Understand this though. I'm a field operative, not a decision-maker, so I'm not in a position to answer any detailed questions you might have at this moment."

"I don't think we have any worth asking. We want to get a handle on the way forward, - to understand how this might affect our lives and the safety of those who we associate with in the future. Other than that, we have to rely on those better placed to make decisions."

"Thursday then?"

"I guess, but how will we get there? I'm not happy about taking public transport."

We'll fly you. A helicopter will collect you from here and fly you to a destination yet to be decided."

"Fine. Thank you."

He then turned to me.

"All assuming you're both happy with what's said to you at this meeting on Thursday, how easy will it be to lay your hands on this tablet?"

"Tricky. It's up in Cumbria, and what with the school shut down for the holidays, getting access might prove difficult."

"I'll make some enquiries. We have your head teacher's contact details on file. Again, we'd fly you up there for reasons of safety, but more about that after the meeting."

Minor detail together with questions regarding Thilo's immigration status, and the meeting drew to a close.

Were we happy with how things went?

I guess we were. The two men from the security services were polite and friendly, - gave answers to questions as and when we asked them, and with the promise that they'd be the ones flying to London with us the following week, we shook hands and saw them off the property.

That night we ordered a pizza delivery. Pizza and ice cold beer seemed fitting after the previous night's excesses. Tomorrow, the lads were going home which signalled that it was time for us to help bring in the early harvest.

Under most circumstances, saying good-bye to friends at the end of a holiday is just something you do. Sure, it's an anti-climax and it's sad to see them go, but on this occasion, I found it very difficult to keep my emotions in check.

Upwards of fifteen people had lost their lives since they'd arrived, at least seven of them by our collective hands. But then we'd laughed a lot, partied a lot and dined in magnificent style together. Perhaps it's what they call Team-building, - whatever. It had definitely brought us all closer together.

I thought a lot about that incident where I saw James and Pete kissing in the games room.

There was a part of me that hoped it was just one of those 'Any-hole-will-do' moments that most adolescent boys have, but then I'd see the little things like their interaction, the surreptitious smiles and touching of hands when they thought that no one was going to notice.

This had to be real.

We did what we could, but Peter needed the John Deere which rendered us transportless, - alright already! Without transport! Instead we became the official checkers of the moisture content of grain, tumble drying that which was too high. Yes, really. A hopper feeds the grain into a revolving drum, through which is pumped warm, dry air. As the grain dries, so the moisture in the exhausted air increases, then once it levels off to an ideal, everything monitored by a computer, the grain can be fed into the silos prior to its collection by the millers.

This is critical, because if the moisture content is too high when stored, the grain rots. If it's too low, then there's not much we can do about it except put it to one side and keep it for fodder.

Timing the harvesting is a delicate balance. Too early, and most of it needs drying which is expensive. Some farms use diesel or kerosene burners, whereas we use electric heaters, but the cost is high whichever way you do it, and this hits the profit margins. Leave it too late, and the grain's too dry and the harvest value drops like a brick.

We'd had a good year, and they were still combining the morning the helicopter arrived to take us to London.

We had dressed fit for the occasion. It's not every day you get to meet the Prime Minister after all. Smart casual trousers and shoes, dress shirts; although we drew the line when it came to wearing ties, then a summer weight sports jacket to hide the hardware.

The journey took about fifty minutes, landing at RAF Northolt in Middlesex where an official government car sped us across London to Downing Street and the meeting.

Someone, it seemed, was taking things very seriously. We were introduced, not only to the Prime Minister and the deputy heads of MI5 and MI6, but also to the Home Secretary and Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

Because of my schooling, I normally shied away from using my title, but on this occasion, I let it ride.

"Thank you for agreeing to meet us Viscount, - Mr Roker. I don't believe it's necessary to tell you that this meeting is highly confidential, so perhaps we could make a start.

We are aware of the raids, not only here in the UK, but also at your farming complex in Namibia, Mr Roker. We have also been made aware of certain information that might help explain why you're both being targeted; that of sensitive documentation regarding the civil unrest in Africa some years ago, am I right?"

"Yes, Prime Minister. Africa remains a very fragile place; it wouldn't take too much effort to see much of it boil over into civil war again, and the information we have would provide for such a pinch-point.

I don't understand how it happened, but someone, somewhere got wind of the fact that we are in possession of highly volatile facts, but obviously they aren't sure quite what they are otherwise Africa would already be burning, however they know enough to realise that to possess such information could be used either to undermine the rule of law, perhaps blackmail those responsible for the atrocities carried out in the past, or worst case, turn tribe against tribe, nation against nation in an unstoppable blood bath that would be impossible to contain."

"Powerful words, Mr Roker. Powerful words indeed, but you've put yourselves in a position which means that you're the only people to go after in pursuit of this information, and that is a situation that can't be allowed to continue, so this is what we propose.

Naturally we cannot demand this information from you, but consider this idea.

We study what you have very thoroughly, then drop little hints that we know everything, thus negating the need to pursue you as individuals. We make it very clear that unless attempts on your lives cease forthwith, we will consider taking action against those implicated through the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, or indeed, as crimes against humanity elsewhere."

"That sounds reasonable. We're young, we need to relax and have fun, not all the time worrying about what tomorrow might bring?

You can have everything, but on one proviso. My uncle has to be none the wiser about our involvement. He's hot-headed, - he'd probably start his own mini war if he ever found out."

"No one will know anything. So far as it goes, this is something we unearthed purely by chance.

You are a South African national?"

"Yes. I'm here on a schooling visa."

"Wouldn't dual nationality be better? It would mean that you can stay in the country indefinitely with all the rights of a UK citizen."

"I've been meaning to apply, but events sort of took over!"

"Home Secretary? How quickly can this be expedited?"

"Give me an hour. Mr Roker has already been thoroughly vetted, so it's a rubber stamp job, but we'll need a permanent UK address."

I spoke up.

"When we're not in school, he lives with me.

Our address is Malvern Park, Malvern, Worcestershire WR14 2WW."

"Thank you, Viscount.

Now, could we decide on when it would be convenient to collect the evidence?"

"Sooner rather than later. My parents are holidaying abroad which effectively puts me in charge of harvesting."

"This afternoon?"

"So long as we can have access to our rooms, that would be fine."

"Your head teacher, Mr King, is on the premises."

"Let's do it then."

The Prime Minister lifted a telephone.

"Jason? Call Northolt and tell them to get that helicopter refuelled. A trip to Cumbria then back to Malvern will be happening in about an hour's time."

A little over an hour later and we were in the sky heading north to Keswick.

The meeting had been productive and reassuring. Protection for everyone at Malvern Park would remain in place for the foreseeable future, and we were told to stay vigilant. Thilo's dual nationality had gone through, and he could expect his new passport together with his National Insurance number and tax code within days.

The further north we travelled, the better the weather became, and we landed on the rugby pitch in glorious sunshine to be met by Mrs King.

"I'm sorry boys, but His Nibs is with the restoration people. There's a problem with the bell tower that needs some urgent attention.

The keys to your wing are hanging in the usual place in the porter's office, but if there's anything else you need, I'll be over in the house."

We walked to the porter's office, and finding the keys, headed up to our room.

"Where exactly did you hide it, Steve?"

"Look at the chimney breast and tell me what you see."

"A stone chimney breast. What else is there?"

"Put your hand inside it. Can you feel a draught?"

Thilo did as I said, then shoved his head inside.

"Nothing. It's as if it's been blocked off."

"That's because it has been, but then why is it so cold up here?"

"Search me."

"Take another look at the chimney breast. Look closely and tell me what you see."

"The sides are offset. The left side is wider by about two foot."

"Right! Why would that be?"

"Come on Steve?"

"That draught. I went looking for it one night. If you look closely, there's like a grill on the left side down near to floor level. The wind whistles through it, so that has to mean it's open to the atmosphere somewhere else. I took a look, and at first glance I didn't see anything, but then I borrowed a powerful torch and looked up the chimney.

There's like a door up there, - a small metal door.

I stole a step ladder so I could investigate, and behind that door is what was a priest hole. Somewhere further up must be another grill which is why the air circulates and keeps our room chilly. Your tablet is up there."

"Wow! Anything else up there?"

"A few spiders, otherwise I don't think anyone knows about it."

"Can I go up there?"

"Stand on my shoulders. Give the door a kick and you'll be in."

Ten minutes on, and Thilo was back with me.

"I wouldn't want to spend too much time in there. Cramped doesn't come close."

"Yeah, but if your life's on the line?"

"Fair comment. But I think we should get going."

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