Charlie drove into the car park for the start of a new day at work. Samantha pulled in behind him and they greeted each other. On the way in they chatted about the air disaster at Heathrow. In the office, Charlie picked up the remote control from his desk and turned on the portable television perched on the battered filing cabinet. Flicking through the media channels, he saw they were all covering the crash. Settling for Sky News, they both watched the scene of devastation shown by a news helicopter hovering over of the remains of the German airliner. The film showed a long debris trail spread over the green fields of wreckage, which included one of the jet’s engines, leading to a large lake of water that looked like a reservoir. The camera zoomed in on the seat covers, articles of clothing and slabs of insulation floating on the oil-slicked surface and the large recovery operation in progress.
Charlie remembered the British Airways flight that had crashed on one of the runway’s threshold at Heathrow a few years ago, although the airframe had remained virtually intact and everyone on board had survived, thanks to the skill of the pilot. This one had obviously come apart in the air and no one could have survived the crash. He wondered if it could have been a terrorist bomb, which stirred memories of the horrors of Lockerbie, as it was being reported that the jet had been carrying Martina Lohmann, the German chancellor. He sat down at his desk, turning off the TV and watched as the crash scene faded into oblivion on the small screen.
‘You know what, Sam. There aren’t many accidents these days. Airliners just don’t fall out of the sky anymore.’
‘What are you saying, Charlie. You think it might have been a bomb?’
‘Could have been considering who was on it.’
‘You’re not going to investigate it, are you?’ joked Samantha, rolling her eyes.
‘Nah! The accident investigation guys will soon get to the bottom of it once they find and plug in the black boxes.’
‘The flight data recorders, Sam, only nowadays they’re dayglow orange.’
‘That’s what I thought.’
‘They used . . . don’t worry, let’s get on with some work.’
‘There’s not a lot on this morning, Sam. Why don’t you spend some time on your uncle’s story?’
‘OK boss. I’ll see what I can dig up.’
Samantha opened her notepad and saw the note reminding her to check the newspaper’s archives for any mention of the hit and run accident. Turning on the desktop computer, she opened the archive registry and entered the year 1940. The newspaper’s archives had been digitalised thanks to the foresight of Frank Weller, the editor, who had persuaded the newspaper’s proprietor to agree to the large financial commitment. Samantha breathed a sigh of relief that they were, or she would have had to go down into what the staff called the dungeon, a dingy basement, and wade through the dusty, hardbound copies of newsprint filed away.
Charlie worked on a follow up story on Michael Dodds, the departed deputy prime minister as he still felt sure there was something amiss. Going online, he found there was no new information on the cause of his death and tapped his fingers on the desk’s top in frustration. He suddenly remembered the poor quality phone video he had started to watch before on YouTube, aware that something in his head was urging him to have another look at it. After a fair amount of time spent searching, he found it. The low number of views recorded suggested it had not attracted a lot of interest. Charlie played it again and although the video quality was poor, the clip had good audio and he listened to what Dodds was saying, agreeing with most of it, especially the planned exit from the German dominated European Union.
Charlie knew that both Dodds and Carol Dowding, the new prime minister, were not career politicians and he thought it was a good thing. It had been high time for a change from the greedy politicians who had failed to run the country properly. The same could be said for the newly-elected American president, Donald Trump, who had also been voted into power by a similar thinking electorate, disillusioned with the status quo ante and wanted serious change.
As Dodd’s speech continued among loud heckling, Charlie peered closer to the screen at the poor quality of the video clip, as Dodds seemed to lose it and angrily named an organisation called The Link, before staggering to one side and collapsing on the floor. Charlie paused the clip. It looked as though Dodds had suffered an attack of some sort, but why was he taken all the way to the London mortuary instead of the one in Oxford. Why were MI6 involved who were normally concerned with international matters? What was this mysterious organisation called the Link, which Charlie had never heard of? Charlie leant back in his chair, thinking hard, his mind racing in overdrive, and entered the Link into Google.
At her desk opposite, Samantha was trawling the archive around the date of the court martial for anything on the accident. Back then, the Mercury had been a popular daily newspaper covering the whole Kent. She read with interest stories about Britain’s lone fight against the Nazi aggressors, who occupied most of Europe, and the fears of invasion should the enemy land on the Kentish coast. Speed reading the snippets of local news about petrol rationing, food shortages and the like, she nearly missed it. Below a large advert for PG Tips at the bottom of a page, a small headline caught her eye.
Samantha quickly devoured the contents. A car had hit an officer from RAF Hawkinge on his way back from the nearby Cat and Custard pub, where he had been drinking with fellow officers. Samantha thought about the cosy pub that she had just visited and had a drink with Charlie, Dave, and the friendly volunteers from the museum. She read that a resident living close by had called an ambulance, which had arrived quickly at the scene, but the crew had pronounced the man, a Squadron Leader Dennis Long dead from his injuries.
She took her gran’s diary out of the drawer and checked the name, confirming it was the same as mentioned in the pages. The car in question had failed to stop and a witness was reported to have said it was a Rolls Royce The article ended, stating that the car had been found abandoned in a lay-by close to the main road to Dover. Apparently, it had been reported stolen by the owner, a Lord Thomas Barker. Samantha gave a sharp intake of breath.
Charlie looked across as Samantha gasped.
‘What’s up, Sam?’
‘I’ve found the piece on the hit and run.’
‘You have, what does it say?’
‘Guess what, a Lord Thomas Barker owned the car that was involved and reported it stolen! He must be one of my great aunt’s family. Hang on a sec.’ she said and Googled the name as Charlie waited.
‘Yep, here it is. Sir Thomas William Barker, Chairman of Cinque Ports and politician, a former resident of Westcliffe, Dover.’
‘Well done, Sam. It might be an idea to give your aunt a call later and see if she knows anything about it.’
Charlie continued reading about the Link. He had found the first mention of any society of that name was an independent non-party organisation established in the 1930s to encourage Anglo-German friendship. It had comprised a wealthy membership of Nationalist sympathizers drawn from the British Establishment. Digging deeper, he found it had been a secret society operating under the cover of a cultural organisation founded by Admiral Sir Barry Domvile, although its journal, the Anglo-German Review, had reflected pro-Nazi views. In London, the society had attracted several anti-Semites and pro-Nazis and at its height, just before the war, the membership had numbered over four thousand.
Charlie logged into Wikipedia, entered the name and saw that the Link’s members were opposed to war between Britain and Germany, which had resulted in attracting the support of some British pacifists. However, he read further that this had been a deception in an attempt to throw off government interest in the society’s pro-Nazi support. With the onset of war Admiral Domvile was arrested and interned because MI5 believed he was plotting a fascist coup d’état, supported by aristocratic peace mongers. Following his arrest, the society appeared to have disbanded but other reports stated that it might have gone underground and defied any attempt by British intelligence to find and infiltrate it. Another source suggested the Link’s tentacles even stretched across the Atlantic to America, where it had connected with like-minded sympathisers with well-known names in high places of society. Charlie wondered if this could have been the “elite” in Dodds speech.
Charlie kept checking, entering the society’s name in other search engines and adding the date 1940. He found no further mention of the Link, but came across the Cliveden Set, which had taken its name from the mansion of that name nestling on the bank of the River Thames in Berkshire. He read that this exclusive fraternity included the Duke of Windsor, Edward Wood, the First Earl of Halifax and other appeasement-minded elitists. Before the war, British intelligence had used the Cliveden Set to plant false information that the large, British pro-Nazi and anti-Communist society was preparing to unseat the war mongering Churchill. The Set had duly passed this information on to Germany. It had been a brilliant piece of deception, convincing Rudolph Hess, the deputy fuhrer of Nazi Germany to fly to Scotland on 10 May 1941 to meet Lord Hamilton and negotiate peace with Hitler’s blessings and he had been secretly arrested. Hess’s trip coincided with the worst night of the Blitz on the City of London and afterwards there was a long lull in the Luftwaffe bombing raids. The seed of disinformation planted by MI5 appeared to convince the Nazis that they had an understanding with the British, and consequently turned their attention to Russia.
This was all interesting stuff, thought Charlie, but he must find something newsworthy if he was going to do a follow up story on Dodds. Surely, he thought, the Link must have died out to with the passing of time. On the other hand, why had it been mentioned by the deputy prime minister at Oxford and seconds later he was lying on the floor dead? Charlie could not know that it was still very much alive and had grown into the UK’s most sinister and deadliest secret society.