Authors: Michael Knaggs
Copyright Â© 2014 Michael Knaggs
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study,
or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the
publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with
the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries
concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.
This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
9 Priory Business Park
Leicestershire LE8 0RX, UK
Tel: (+44) 116 279 2299
Fax: (+44) 116 279 2277
Email: [email protected]
ISBN 978 1784627 164
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd
Converted to eBook by
âPride goes before destruction
and a haughty spirit before a fall
Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right
but in the end it is the way to death.'
âA week is a long time in politics.'
(Attr. Harold Wilson)
Three months is a lifetime.
Week 1; Monday, 23 Marchâ¦
The detective inspector replaced the desk phone on its cradle and looked across at his sergeant.
“Come in, number three.”
“That's the third one â¦” he checked his watch “â¦ in twenty-two hours who's agreed to come and talk to us. Almost as if they were conferring, don't you think, given their intransigence over the last five weeks?”
“Do we pick him up or is he going to claim fifty quid for a taxi?”
The DI snorted a laugh. “I think we play it softly-softly for the moment. I offered to bring him in â he said he'd make his own way later today.”
“And the other two?”
“Should be here late morning unless they change their mind again. They told me they were coming yesterday afternoon.”
“Should we chase them up, do you think?”
“Not sure. We don't want to seem to be pushing too hard, but the worry is they could easily choose to disappear again. I mean, there's nothing in it for them really, is there?”
“Revenge, I suppose?” offered the sergeant.
“That's true, but revenge usually takes a different form in these cases, doesn't it? I still don't understand why three unconnected people â well, seven, I suppose you'd have to say â would chose to do it this way. Anyway, let's just leave them for now and see what happens over the next couple of days.”
The two men were sitting across the desk from each other in the DI's office, which was small and modern. The beech-finish desk was L-shaped, incorporating a PC work station on the short leg of the âL'. Down one side of the room was a line of matching cabinets and on the wall on the opposite side was a large screen with a back-projection facility for the computer and which doubled as a dry-wipe board.
The senior man clicked a few keys on his keyboard and the screen came to life. He got up from his tilt-and-swivel and stretched, then stepped over to the collage of images and words on the screen. He was of average height and build, and untidily dressed in a grey suit which had seen better days. His thinning grey hair made him look older than his forty-two years.
“So, what have we got so far?”
Two days later
Week 1; Wednesday, 25 Marchâ¦
“Welcome aboard, as they say.”
The large man in the dark blue uniform smiled and extended his hand to each of the two visitors as they walked up the ramp at the rear of the vessel.
“Thank you, Captain â¦”
“Oh, I'm not the captain. Calum Nicholson at your service, Chief Prison Officer at Lochshore. Captain McLeod is on the bridge doing his final checks. I'll take you to see him later.”
The man who had spoken to Calum was tall, in his mid-forties and distinguished-looking, with a mane of steel grey hair. He was well-dressed in a short reefer coat worn over an expensive lounge suit, shirt and tie, and shining black brogues. The other man was much smaller, around average height and in his mid sixties. He wore a thick waterproof coat over a round-necked fisherman's jumper and, with his grey beard and woolly hat, looked much less out of place preparing to enter the bowels of a ship than his companion.
“Lawrence Harding,” the tall man introduced himself, “Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons, and this is Mike Needham, chief designer of Alpha. We are here
to observe and absorb â nothing else. And we're very grateful to you for finding time to show us round.”
Calum checked his watch. “You're very welcome, but I'm afraid we don't have long. We start embarking at seven, so that gives us just thirty-five minutes. Please ask any questions as we go round.”
He turned and they followed him onto the vessel, stopping just inside.
“The ship is a specially-modified passenger ferry,” said Calum, “previously used to take people to some of the most beautiful places imaginable. Back then it was called
Spirit of St Columba
and where we're standing now was the vehicle deck. Now it's known as PTV1 â short for prisoner transfer vessel one.”
In front of them were two walkways. Calum took them along the one on the port side.
“What we have are one hundred and fifty separate, two-metre-square cabins, each with three solid metal walls and one outward-facing wall with steel bars and a sliding door. The cabins are linked together in four lines â two lines of forty back-to-back down the centre of the ship and a line of thirty-five on both this and starboard sides. As you can see, each line sits separately on rail tracks so they can be moved on and off the vessel like a giant flexible cage on a fairground ride. This and the other gangway run the length of the deck between the outer and central line of cabins on either side.”
“Amazing,” said Mike Needham, looking round like a little boy in a toy shop. “I can't wait to see the link-up to the lifting platform, especially how it's done in heavy seas or high winds.”
“Well, speaking personally,” said Calum, smiling, “I hope you
get to see that on this trip â the heavy seas and high winds, I mean.”
Lawrence Harding was peering into one of the cabins. Calum continued.
“Each cabin has a bench along one side, a small swing-out table, like those on passenger airlines, and a TV monitor.” Calum was pointing out the furnishings. “And behind the plastic curtain across the corner there's a chemical toilet and small wash-hand basin. A bit basic and spartan, but it's just for a single one-way trip of twenty or so hours.”
“And the television,” said Lawrence. “What's that for?”
“Not for Sky Movies, I'm afraid. We'll be showing them a training film during the second half of the trip. A thirty-minute programme on a continuous loop, covering aspects of life on Alpha. Not sure myself whether it's a good idea. More likely to scare them than educate them, I reckon.”
“But they've had their training already, haven't they?”
“That's right, but the thinking is that it's all a bit unreal at that stage.”
unreal.” Lawrence raised his eyebrows.
“Well, whatever. At least it's something for them to look at if they want to.”
“Once we've got them installed they'll get trays with coffee, a cereal bar and sandwiches. We slide them under the doors of the cabins.”
“But they'll get other meals?”
“Three today and breakfast tomorrow morning. Although I can't imagine many of them having much of an appetite, can you? Let's go up here.”
He led them up some metal stairs and along to the monitoring centre on the deck above, where they would be able to observe proceedings on the array of CCTV screens. Calum took them over to a map on the wall.
“Here's where we are now.” He pointed to the map. “After we leave Loch Fendort we go round Kerrera into the Firth of Lorne and head north-west through the Sound of Mull. From there we'll cross the Hebridean Sea and skirt the southern tip of the Bishop's Isles, before heading north-west again into the open Atlantic for a further sixty miles. That will take us twenty miles south-west of here.” He pointed to the island group which represented the farthest outpost of the British Isles. “The entire trip is planned to take around twenty-two hours, so we should be there around seven tomorrow morning.”
“Will I need any seasick pills?” asked Mike.
“You'll have to ask the captain,” Calum smiled. “I've been too scared to ask him myself.”
The first fifty yards of the walk passed calmly enough. After all, the young man was in a familiar building where he'd been moved around frequently during the past three weeks. He knew this was different, of course, but it was only when they reached the outer double doors that this awareness surfaced in the form of violent panic.
The doors were open and fastened back. The metal walkway stretched ahead in a straight line. Along and round the quayside the lights shone brightly in the early morning gloom and were reflected in the still waters of the harbour. The ferry, two hundred yards away and looking huge against the flotilla of smaller boats, was facing directly away from them with its rear ramp lowered. The walkway split into two just before it mounted the ramp and disappeared into the stern of the vessel.
He was no more than average height, slim and wiry with long fair hair, wearing a baggy grey jogging suit over a black tee shirt. The two security officers he was handcuffed to were huge men in dark blue uniforms, with hard faces and short cropped hair. As the prisoner stepped through the doorway, the sight of the vessel and the cold morning air hit him at the same moment. He lunged at the man on his right causing him to crash heavily against the rail of the walkway and slump to the floor. He kicked wildly at him, karate-style, with the heel of his foot, the steel bracelets tearing at the skin around his wrists as he tried to pull himself free. The second officer gripped him round his chest from behind, squeezing hard as his colleague scrambled up and grabbed his flailing legs.
“Needle â now!” he yelled as they held him still.
The prisoner screamed at the sudden stab of pain in his thigh as a third man stepped forward and jabbed the syringe hard into the muscle. The guard holding the prisoner's legs turned to the medic.
“Tell Gally to show them all that thing â or the biggest one you've got â and make sure they know you're going to stick in them if they don't behave themselves and walk nicely for us. How long will this take?”
“About four or five minutes; should last for up to six hours. I'll tell Gally, but it's supposed to be a fall-back measure, that's all.”
“Just tell him!”
He turned back to the writhing young man.
“Settle down, son,” his colleague was saying. “Don't make it even rougher on yourself.”
“You're breaking my fucking arms, you fucking bastards!” he spat the words out at them.
“I'll break your fucking neck if you try anything like that again,” the other guard shouted.
They eased him onto the walkway, laying him face down and moving his arms so they could rest naturally at his sides. His rapid breathing slowed as the relaxant did its work. After a few more minutes they helped him to his feet and guided him along the walkway and into the vessel, locking him into his cabin.
It was 7.55 am. The man got out of his chauffer-driven BMW at the Members' Entrance in New Palace Yard and breathed in the fresh March morning air as he gazed up at the ancient walls of Westminster Hall, which still retained some of the original building dating back a thousand years. He waited until the first of the sixteen strokes which counted down the hour sounded in Elizabeth Tower close behind him before pushing his way through to the entrance foyer.
The man was tall and slim, with broad shoulders and an upright military bearing. He was impeccably dressed in an expensive light grey suit, a shirt which matched the colour of his twinkling pale-blue eyes and a navy and yellow striped tie.
“Good morning, sir.”
He beamed down at the prime minister's diminutive, freckled PA.
“Morning, Shirley, you look lovely today, as always.”
“You're in Committee Room 14.”
She escorted him in silence to the meeting room on the first floor. It was exactly eight o'clock.
Committee Room 14 was set out with a table on a dais at one end and three rows of facing benches down each side. Along the outside wall, were a number of leaded windows reaching almost to the ceiling. The room was also known as the Gladstone Room and around the other walls, above the wood panelling, was a series of paintings showing parliamentarians who served during his terms as prime minister.
“Ah, the Home Secretary; at
Andrew Donald was seated on his own at the table on the dais, with the thirty members who represented the top level of his government occupying the seats closest to him. With the exception of the man who had just spoken they all rose to their feet as Tom Brown entered the room.
“And good morning to
, Prime Minister.”
He took his seat on the dais next to Andrew â the signal for the others to sit down â and opened his briefcase to remove a red leather-bound folder, which exactly matched those in front of each person in the room. The thirty-two attendees opened the folders in perfect synchronisation.
“As you know,” said Tom, “we've made remarkable progress against the NJR targets. In fact, we've met them all.”
Andrew brought the meeting to a close one hour later and the members began to close their folders and open their briefcases. Tom rose to his feet to stem the exodus.
“If I may, Prime Minister, whilst we're all together, could I just share a thought as to how we might move on from here?”
The prison doctor stood behind the consultant, looking over the woman's shoulder at the pale, thin figure she was examining. The room had bare white walls and contained four beds lined abreast with a small cabinet at the side of each. Just one of the beds was occupied. After a few minutes they both walked away to the corner of the room. The consultant spoke in a low voice, almost a whisper.
“Very slight deterioration over the last couple of days but significant all the same, I'm afraid. We need to get him weighed again. Not a lot else we can do except make him comfortable. And they can take his name off the door in there â he won't be going back.”
“We'll need to move him from here if that's the case,” said the doctor. “He can't stay indefinitely in the hospital.”
“I'll arrange that,” said the consultant, looking at her watch. “Ten-fifteen. Might even get him in somewhere today if I can catch someone right away.”
“Thank you, but I don't think we can move that quickly at this end. I'll start the ball rolling right away but we'll need approval from on high, given who he is â well,
he is. Although he doesn't look much of a danger to anyone now, does he?”