by Andrew Foote

Chapter 28

Thilo rested his head in his hands and sighed.

"I've heard about those people. They make Al Qaeda look like a bunch of tree huggers.

So, where do we go from here?"

"I think it's safe to assume that the immediate threat to you is at least on hold for now. We cannot guarantee that someone won't try again, but it would have to be a splinter group who aren't completely in the loop and we believe we can contain that. But, as for Al Shabaab? With no one on the ground feeding us intelligence, it's difficult to understand just how much they're aware of what's going on and how they're reacting.

We would like to think that they're not that bothered. They are, after all, sitting in their private enclaves doing what they do best. They know full-well that no one is going to come after them, so why worry about what happened in the past? The only thing that does concern us are the many Somalian refugees scattered around the globe as some of them might be closet Al Shabaab and take it upon themselves to seek the glory of Allah.

God knows, there are enough of them living in Birmingham, and then you have to factor in the largest Somalian presence in the world outside of Africa, and here I'm referring to Minneapolis in the US."

"That hasn't answered my question, Mr Askwith.

Where do we go from here?"

"Stay vigilant. We are doing all we can to infiltrate organisations where we're able. Monitoring vast quantities of phone messages, texts and radio transmissions, - even infecting known sites with malware and infiltration software. But I'm just the messenger here, and not a party to the bigger picture."

Up until now I'd kept my mouth shut. I knew my Attitude wouldn't be welcomed, but now I had something I needed to say.

"Something I'd like to understand if I may? We're due back at school in less than a week, and I was wondering if security there had been beefed up."

"Yes, it has."

"I'm really trying hard here, but you know how short my fuse is, so please could you be rather more specific?"

"I'm sorry. All I can tell you is that there's been plenty of things going on during these last eight weeks, some of which will be obvious, but some are very sensitive bordering on the illegal. As things stand, it is believed that short of banging you up in a safe house, Keswick Priory is the best place for you to be until this all blows over."

"What do you mean by bordering on the illegal?"

"For all sixth form students who manage to achieve an acceptable standard, gun safes will be installed in their rooms where their weapons of choice are easily accessible if the need arises. Some of your number, and here I'm referring to those who were involved in those skirmishes that took place here before you disappeared to Sicily, have already passed the selection process. Ben Forrester, James Cooper-Clarke and Alun Rhys-Jones have already been tooled up with Ben and James being issued with Heckler and Koch G36's and Alun with a Russian version of the McManus 2020 he used when you were raided."

"Why a Russian version?"

"The manufacturer discovered that when used for any length of time, the barrel overheated causing it to go out of true. The Russians managed to overcome the problem, - they even shared the details with McManus so they could modify their design, but so far they haven't had time to sort it out."

"I never realised that manufactures shared information like that?"

"All the time. Look at the AK47 and compare it with the H&K G36. Very little difference including the calibre. Ammunition can be interchanged in the field; sight mounts are exactly the same as are some of the actions. It makes sense if you think about it. We aren't in conflict with the Russians, in fact there's more co-operation between NATO and the Russian Federation than is common knowledge. We have our terrorist problems and they have theirs, so as far as possible, we try to standardise light weaponry."

"Anything else we should know about?"

"Some, but it can wait until you're back at school. Talking of which, you should be getting a letter from them asking all sixth form students to return one day early so you can be briefed, so should you have transport problems, call me and I'll try and sort it out for you."

"Thanks, but we should be okay."

"Good. I think that about wraps things up for now. Thanks for the breakfast; most unexpected, but just remember this. If you have any concerns, don't hesitate to call us directly. This has gone beyond just keeping you out of harm's way to a full-blown anti-terrorist operation. How deep it goes isn't something I fully understand at my level, but safe to say Whitehall are throwing everything they have at it."

The postman delivered the mail at eleven o'clock together with a letter requesting us to get back to Keswick in three days' time.

We decided to charter a flight from Staverton to Newcastle then a taxi down to Keswick so we could avoid the security checks, and all agreed by our Spook.

Thilo called Alun and James suggesting they came to Malvern by car like they had for the holiday, then we could travel together; - safety in numbers and not that their folks would care, it was also cost-efficient given the plane could accommodate six passengers.

The flight took less than an hour; the taxi rather longer due to the amount of traffic trying to get across the River Tyne at rush hour, but we managed to get back to Keswick in time for supper and the briefing.

Mr King, - dressed in casual clothes took to the stage with Mr Amos, our year head, and Mr Collins seated beside him, - also both looking as if they were still on holiday.

"Gentlemen. I'm sorry to ask you back here early but I know you'll be anxious to know what measures have been put in place over the summer recess in order to protect the school from unwanted visitors. The bulk of the detail I intend to cover tomorrow, but for now I need to talk to you about the new dormitory arrangements.

Messer's Roker and Broadhurst? Your arrangement remains as was but with one modification. Your very large room as been reduced by one third to incorporate personal space for Mr Rhys-Jones.

On the next floor down, Alun's room will be for the use of James, next door will be Clifford and next to him will be Ben Forrester.

Below on the second floor where the third-year boys were billeted will be your common room and shower block.

Mr Forrester? Your bar and all its contents had been removed and carefully stored. Once this meeting is over, I'll arrange for it to be brought back up so you can rearrange things accordingly.

Below the common room on the first floor is where all your other rooms are, - all freshly decorated in Mr Broadhurst' favourite hews.

On the ground floor is your muster point in the event of trouble, but more about that tomorrow from Mr Collins I think.

Right. I think that about sums it up for now, so may I suggest that you all get settled in?"

I looked around the room. We were all tired from the journey from where ever we'd travelled from and settling in could be done in the morning.

"Sir? As we're officially still on holiday, would all of you care to join us for drinks in say, half an hour?"

"Thank you, Stephen, that's very kind of you."

He turned to Mr Amos and Mr Collins.

"Well gentlemen? A glass or two to welcome in the new term sounds like a very excellent idea, don't you think?"

Our new common room was much larger than the old one, and it needed more furniture to accommodate us, but that said, we now had space to set out a proper bar instead of an old cupboard with doors hanging on to their hinges for dear life. The walls needed repainting with something to make it feel more comfortable, but at least the carpet was new and not in that horrible insipid green colour I hated, instead it was a burgundy red and dark blue fleck. The fluorescent light had to go in favour of something softer, but all-in-all, it was a significant improvement on what we had last term.

Welcome to sixth form life Keswick style I thought. Tonight, we were all relaxing over drinks and chatting casually with the three most influential teachers in our school, but the day after tomorrow that would change when the new term kicked off, for now though, it was an opportunity to be adults in an adult environment.

Mr Collins broke off from the conversation he was having with Pete and Ben.

"I was very sorry to hear about the problems you had during the holiday, Steve. Word gets around like wildfire on the circuit, and I just hoped all your training held you in good stead."

"We're still here Sir. It was traumatic to say the least, but the lads held their own, - came up with the goods and then some, - especially when they were taken hostage."

"You're perhaps the most cohesive bunch of guys I've ever met outside of the services. I'm not surprised in the slightest that they pulled their weight when it mattered, but there's a way to go yet and I'll be pushing all of you deeper into some solid training over the coming weeks and months."

"Such as?"

"More of the same when it comes to firearms, but more importantly, I want all of you to get a feel for sustained battle conditions. You had a taste of it up in Scotland, but what if you were to be pinned down in that village for two or three days? How might you cope? How might you survive?"

"I don't know, but why should we need to?"

"If the school is targeted, we will need our only fighting capability off the premises sharpish, then depending on circumstances, you might be out there for days until we can get backup. You have to be able to sustain yourselves, think clearly when all you want to do is go to sleep, concentrate on the job in hand right at the point where you can't even remember your own name."

"Do the security services have solid intelligence to suggest that the school is likely to be targeted? If they do, what happens regarding the younger boys?"

"They won't be here. The Trust has taken the lease on Shap Fell Abbey for the duration. Everyone, with the exception of you sixth former's and three senior fifths will be tutored there. We've excused this by telling everyone that the renovation work that was being undertaken over the summer has overrun its schedule and only the senior boys will be in residence."

"Who are the three fifth form boys?"

"Henry Mason, Charlie Spencer-Patterson and Julian Lloyd."

"Can't say I know them."

"That's probably because they're excused Brigade. They're Quakers and refuse to carry arms."

"Pretty strange group to leave here with us if they're not prepared to chip in, aren't they?"

"On the surface maybe, but they're not cowards. Instead of Brigade, they had to occupy themselves doing something else and they chose to do train as field medics. They're up to speed with administering anesthetises, wound dressing, shrapnel injuries, bleeding control and defibrillation techniques."

"Are they aware of this situation Sir?"

"Not yet. We'll hold a briefing tomorrow once they arrive, and if they're not happy about staying, then we'll pack them off to Shap along with the other boys."

"I hope they agree to stay. It'll be comforting to know that there's help out there should we need it. But that still leaves the question of do they have anything solid to suggest that the school is under threat?"

"Not that I'm aware of. My understanding is that the security services have been sifting through all the information Thilo provided, been in contact with some of the players and made it very clear as to the consequences should they make moves on you, but then you probably know that better than I.

One thing I have managed to pick up on though, and that's the attitude of our American friends. By all accounts they managed to get hold of a businessman who is known to be sympathetic to the cause of Al Shabaab and rather than detaining him, they kicked him out of the country with a message for their leaders. The American military have been gagging to drop an MOAB on Mogadishu for years, so the message was 'stay in your hole and do not under any circumstances move outside of Somalia' or they'll do precisely that."


"The American military's Massive Ordnance Air Blast. They call it The Mother of all Bombs, the biggest piece or ordnance outside of their nuclear capability. The Russian's claim to have a Thermobaric bomb four times more powerful, but they've never offered any specific detail, so it's probably just another part of the cat and mouse game they and the West like to play so much."

"I still fail to understand why we have to undergo more extensive training? Surely if the threat has diminished, we should be able to stand down?"

"The first rule of being Special Services Steve. Don't dismiss anything. Don't allow yourself to relax and become complacent. That's a one-way ticket to a disability pension, or worse."

"That isn't a nice thought! I think another drink is called for. It's probably as well to back off on the good stuff after tonight.

What can I get you?"

"Scotch would be good please.

Drinking is fine, so long as you don't go getting hand-carted. A few down your neck won't harm you, but no boozing during nights away training, understood?"

Once Ben had shut the bar and after we'd done a joint op on clearing everything away, we headed to our respective bedrooms.

This time we had Alun with us for company.

"Nice room. Much bigger than my old one, and whilst I'm not in the business of complaining, did anyone tell you why I'm up here?"

"They didn't and I never thought to ask them Al."

Thilo piped up here.

"Actually, I did ask.

This tower is the highest here, and perfectly suited to a sniper's skills.

One other thing Mr King told me? He said that certain modifications had been made and that all will be explained in the morning."

"Okay then. I'm going to hit the hay. The drive up to Malvern was tiring enough, and then a few scoops to round things off? I'll sleep for Wales!

Night guys."

"Night Al. Sleep well."

At eight o'clock the following morning saw all of us tucking into breakfast. There were only fifteen of us and three teachers, so instead of them sitting at the high table, we all mustered at one of the lower ones. I could get to enjoy this informality.

Over coffee or tea Mr King spelt out the day's events.

"Our fifth-formers won't get here much before eleven o'clock, so what I suggest is that we go through all the new security arrangements then Mr Collins will have those of you who aren't up to an acceptable level with your shooting, further schooled in the art. For those of you who are already there, we have something else planned for you, but more about that later.

Dress code.

For now, and until all the students are able to return, no school uniforms are to be worn. Your Brigade fatigues will be the order of the day; no tunics or beret's, just combat trousers, shirts and pullovers. Wear non-parade boots if you go outside and keep your weapons with you at all times.

There will be no formal lessons this week, Mr Collins will be pushing all of you to your limits, but once he's satisfied you're at an acceptable level, then with luck we can get back to something of a routine.

Effective from now, you Stephen are promoted to Warrant Officer First Class, and you Thilo to Staff Sergeant. Alun has been promoted to Srgea nt and will act independently of the group. Other promotions are in the pipeline but awaiting sanction, so for now, get cleared away as there will be a meeting back here at nine-thirty."

We cleared away. We had to as there was no one in the kitchen to do it for us, and on top of that, for at least the next couple of weeks we were going to be self-catering.

I wondered how Dad would feel about this turn of events. He was spending around £11.000 a term for my education, that's £33.000 a year, and I have to cook my own food??

No matter, - no one complained. I think we were passed that point.

We went back to our rooms and got dressed in fatigues and boots then made our way down to the dining room.

It seemed surreal that we could wear our guns openly, - even the sight of our friends wandering around with G36's over their shoulders was weird. The only one of our group who wasn't shouldering a weapon was Al, his was boxed in a lightweight protective case to prevent him from disturbing the sights. He also carried far less ammunition than we did. A total of twenty shells, - calibre, - Special, whatever that was supposed to mean. Even Alun didn't fully understand.

"How's the new gun then?"

"Lighter, and once I have the opportunity to fire it, I'll be better able to comment on its accuracy. Mr Collins wants me out on the range this afternoon after we've done with the bullshit of promotions."

"What bullshit's that? I thought the announcement covered it."

"Some high-flier officer has to present the medals and announce the promotions formally."

"What fucking medals!"

"Search me pal. I just overheard a conversation. All of us who were at your place when those people kidnapped us are to receive an award. It's probably as well to ask Mr Collins."

"I can't understand why they don't just concentrate their efforts into neutralising the people who want us out of the way rather than dishing out awards and promotions like so much confetti."

"Again, I've no idea Steve. The military seem to work in ways that are alien to most of us, but on a practical note, we ought to get a move on or else we'll be late on parade."

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