As the sun shone, through the pink gauze covering the attic window, the next morning a cup of tea was all Alex wanted when he woke up. He groaned and turned over to lie on his back, his feet hanging off the end of the small bed. Bridgee smiled down on him from the photos attached to the sloping ceiling as, for the second morning in a row, Alex struggled to piece together all the events of the last 24 hours.
There was a loud snort from the floor and Alex’s memories fell into place, Sid had insisted on staying with him last night, the quandary had shown on Mrs Rose’s face when they had arrived back in the early hours. Clearly, that was not behaviour tolerated in a respectable house, but Alex’s new found fame won her over after a minute. Alex was confused by Sid’s manner after Eve had checked herself out of the hospital. Sid had argued with Eve and she’d stormed off, apparently Sid had thought she’d be safer in the hospital. Sid had then turned to Alex with such determination in his eyes that there was no way Alex could say no to him.
“Is it morning already?” Sid grumbled from the floor he was wedged between the bed and the door.
“I guess so, I wonder if Mrs Rose has any tea?”
“I’m sure for her famous tenant she might actually go out and buy some.”
Alex laughed, “I’d rather not push my luck thanks.”
“I think I can smell bacon.”
They did their best to look presentable before venturing downstairs in search of bacon. At the back of the house was a tiny kitchen where Mrs Rose was frying up breakfast on a gas stove. Later Alex would learn that whilst the food was good, it was hell on your arteries as the frying pan was the only thing Mrs Rose would cook with.
“I didn’t know if you boys would be up for breakfast but I made extra anyway.”
“Thank you Mrs Rose you are an angel.” Mrs Rose blushed at Alex’s compliment and shooed them into what might optimistically be called a dining room. The room might once have been a decent size but dark wood dressers and a large sideboard meant that there was only just room to squeeze in at the table.
“Mr Finkle, here’s our famous roommate.” Clive was sat beside Mr Finkle and pointed to Alex who sat opposite him. “We saw your speech last night, and we want to join the rebellion too.”
Alex looked to Sid who shrugged and said, “That’s great. Come down to the palace at four.”
“Breakfast is ready.” Mrs Rose came in carrying plates glistening with meat and fat.
Diaz had been up for several hours by the time the 8am press conference began. For some reason the thought of impending career suicide had given him insomnia. The same could not, unfortunately, be said for Ted who waltzed in at 7:55am, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand and a large smile on his face. Diaz was instantly suspicious but was led in front of the cameras by Sarah before he could ask why Ted’s mood had so dramatically changed from last night’s meeting.
Blinded by camera flashes Diaz stumbled his way up onto the small podium erected in front of the English flag. The reporters were already shouting questions and accusations before Sarah called for quiet and read the pre-prepared statement.
“Thank you for all coming so early. We would like to reiterate at this time that news is expected at any hour of the distant Smudge relation and we ask for your continued patience and support.” Hands shot up from the assembled reporters and questions were once again shouted out, it seemed that the Smudge relation was old news and all people were interested in was Alex from the rebellion. Once the noise had died down somewhat Diaz stepped forward and read the statement he’d spent his sleepless night working on.
“Last night we all witnessed a young man reminding us of what it means to live in Londinium. Maybe seeing the city for the first time is a unique opportunity to see how proud we should all be of living here. Our traditions are sacred and to betray them for an easy answer is not something we should take lightly. It takes a brave man to stand in front of you and tell these truths and as such Alex, whoever you are, we here at the Palace thank you.” Diaz smiled as best he could whilst the barrage of cameras flashed again. The old President, Dirk Smudge, always thought that Diaz’s mistrust and dislike of the press was what made him such a good P.A in the first place. All Diaz wanted was to serve his President and his country in a back room away from the limelight, unlike so many of the younger generation who saw the Palace as a way of increasing their own celebrity and wealth.
“So you agree it is time to, and I quote, ‘stop bullying and squabbling’ then?” A reporter shouted.
“Absolutely, we must unite to find the heir.”
“Surely Alex meant for you to tell us what’s going on? He was talking for the rebellion,” the reporter pointed out smugly.
“I am sure that once he has been in the city a little longer and has had a chance to hear our side...”
“So you are asking for his help?”
Diaz could picture the headlines ‘Country boy only hope’, ‘Palace out of touch’. He steadied his nerve before replying. “Not at all. I would like to educate him about his options. No more questions now, thank you.” Diaz and Sarah scurried away to the safety of the formal dining room.
“Well done Sir,” Sarah congratulated him.
“You showed them,” Cyril added happily.
“I wouldn’t worry about Alex if I were you.” Ted said as they all took their places around the table. “I’m sure he’ll disappear just as suddenly as he appeared.”
“I wouldn’t be so cocky if I were you,” Cyril said. “The public love him and I’m sure the leaders of the rebellion will realise what a useful asset they have.”
Ted flushed bright red, “Well I say that he is just a flash in the pan and by this time next week we’ll have forgotten all about him.”
“Care to put some money on that?”
“Done. It will be like taking candy from a baby.”
Diaz put a stop to their bickering, and called the meeting to order. “Now what do we know about Alex?”
“Not much,” Cyril said with a sigh, “the SVTS computers at the gate have an Alex Winthrop getting a temporary pass, the photo matches the video from last night. But with the LCDD being destroyed a DNA search is impossible.”
“Is there any chance of retrieving any data from the LCDD backup drives?”
“I have engineers working round the clock on it and they seem hopeful.”
“They do?” Suddenly Ted was worried
“Yes. They are also conducting an investigation into the cause of the explosion,” Cyril said, enjoying watching Ted squirm slightly. Cyril was determined that Ted wouldn’t get anywhere near the Presidency. Ted, however, was desperately tracing his steps on the night of the explosion. Was there any way it could be tied to him? He would have to run interference with the engineers; he couldn’t afford to add any more names to Johnstone’s list.
Once they had finished breakfast Sid was determined to check on Eve. After her revelation last night, she had a crucial role to play in Sid’s plans.
“We can’t go out this way,” Alex said nervously. He was peering out into the street from the parlour window. Crowded into the narrow road were dozens of cameramen, reporters and fans. News of Alex’s address had spread far and wide.
Mrs Rose preened beside him, “Oh yes you are,” she said firmly, “I’ll be able to name the price of my rent once people see you.”
“But I don’t want any attention, Mrs Rose.”
“Typical man.” She huffed, “Only thinking about himself. Never mind your poor old landlady...”
“Alex sighed. “Alright, alright. Come on Sid, let’s get this over with.”
Mrs Rose smiled triumphantly as she opened the front door and shouted at the crowd to move back and give Alex room. The onlookers erupted into applause as Alex and Sid stepped out of the house. Reporters crowded round shouting questions and thrusting microphones under Alex’s nose. Sensing his unease, Sid threw arm around Alex’s shoulders and pushed him through the crowd shouting “No comment”. Alex breathed a sigh of relief once they had finally got free.
“I just hate all of this fuss.”
“Just a few more days,” Sid begged, “You’re doing so much good here, I can tell.”
“You really think so?” Alex could hardly believe he could be having such an impact in this huge faceless city.
“Oh yes, just you wait and see.”
They descended to the SVTS station. Luckily the morning rush was over and Alex and Sid were able to board a train unnoticed.
“You should mention Bridgee in front of the cameras tonight, that way the whole city can be looking for her,” Sid suggested once they had got seated.
“Bridgee! Oh my god, I can’t believe that I forgot about her.” Alex felt terrible. His only reason for being in Londinium was to find his sister, and here he was so wrapped up in himself he’d got no closer to finding her. Sid’s idea would at least put his new found fame to good use. “I will tell the cameras, thanks.”
Alex found travelling on the SVTS disorientating. Never before had he felt so cut off from the world at large. The train pulled to a silent stop and they got off. All of the platforms were starting to look alike, a vast white space with beeping ticket machines and echoing voices. Ascending the escalator Alex was presented first hand with the destruction of the LCDD. Glass crunched underfoot from where it had been blown out. The roof was mostly missing from the three storey building and its walls were blackened with soot, the acrid smell of smoke still wafted through the air.
“Why are we here?” Alex asked.
“Eve doesn’t live far,” Sid explained.
“It is a miracle she survived.”
“It is,” Sid agreed for more than one reason. They both stared at the wreckage for a moment before Sid pulled Alex away. “There Eve’s building.” Sid led Alex down the street, Alex still thinking about the people who had lost their lives in the explosion.
Eve had a small apartment in an unremarkable tower block, the sun glittering in the windows.
“Uh oh.” Sid had a bad feeling about what might have happened to Eve. The main security door to the building was hanging open, swaying gently in the breeze. The door was dented and the safety glass was cracked.
“I’m sure Eve’s fine.” Alex tried to be positive but neither he nor Sid really believed it. Eve’s apartment was on the second floor and her front door was hanging in the same forlorn manner with a piece of yellow police tape diagonally over the gaping doorway.
“I was afraid of this,” Sid started to pace. “But she wouldn’t listen to me. Damn it.” He smacked his hand on the wall.
A door further down the hall opened and a young woman poked her head out. “Are you the police?” She asked.
Alex was about to deny any police association when Sid nudged him to be quiet and nodded. “Just a few follow up questions, you understand.”
The woman sighed and stepped out into the hallway. “I hope you’ll be paying for all the damage you did, the rent is extortionate as it is.”
“Of course, and we’re sorry to disturb you.” Sid soothed.
“Well at least you are polite unlike those armed brutes earlier. I just can’t believe that Eve is a terrorist, she was always lovely.”
“They think she’s a terrorist?” Alex couldn’t help but ask.
“You should know that.” The neighbour suddenly looked suspicious.
“No charges have been brought yet.” Sid covered quickly. “To be honest her arrest took us by surprise. We are here to question her.”
“Well it was the palace guards who came here about an hour ago.”
“Typical,” Alex mugged. Turning to Sid he added. “Would it kill them to make a phone call?”
Inside Sid laughed. Alex was being very convincing. “Thanks for all your help.” Sid said to the neighbour before leading Alex away.
Needing a place to think, Sid took Alex to the nearest @ Greens coffee shop. Once they had ordered and collected their drinks they sat in a quiet corner on green couches. The green theme continued on the walls and crockery.
“What do we do now?” Alex asked breaking the strained silence. Sid had been unusually quiet and Alex was worried.
“Now? Now we have to get Eve back.”
“Suppose she is a terrorist. She’d be perfectly placed to blow up the LCDD.” Alex voiced a thought which had been troubling him.
“Of course she’s not a terrorist.” Sid knew the idea was ridiculous. “I’m afraid something terrible might happen to her if we don’t do something.”
They sipped their coffee in silence for a moment. Alex was amazed at Sid’s certainty, but he wasn’t the type of person to be certain without a very good reason, Alex was sure. Then Alex had an idea. “Why don’t we see if Rodney and the others can help?”
Sid mulled this over for a moment. “Well, they say two heads are better than one”, he agreed.
“01010100 01000101 01000011 01001000, 01001001 01010011, 01001100 01001001 01000110 01000101,” the technicians chanted over and over as they stood in the gloomy bomb shelter. In the muggy heat from the candles Bob sweated inside his black robe, the hood hid his manic smile from the techs; life was finally starting to look good. Clenched in his palm was the list of special items for his bomb, Bob had been amazed at how many ingredients he already had hiding in the household goods. Fate was paving the way for him, he felt even more certain now than ever that the power he so desperately craved would soon be his. The chanting stopped, Bob had been surprised how, with a bit of mystical set dressing, he’d been able to easily lead these men to break the law for him. They really believed that they had power here and couldn’t see how expertly they’d been manipulated.
“Direct current, alternating current, amp and volts complete our circuit,” Bob intoned. Did the technicians really believe they were invoking some kind of deity? Not one of them had asked what the chants meant. “Welcome technicians, today is an exciting day. I have your assignments.” There was a collective gasp from the hooded technicians. This was the day they had been waiting for.
“Technician Winter, I need you to get gun powder.”
“Gun powder? Hang on, that’s very dangerous and the laws are very strict.”
“Well I wouldn’t have asked if just anyone could do it, but I know you work with fireworks.”
“That is true, it’s a very important job,” Winter puffed his chest out.
“Which is why you are the best person for the job.”
“What can I do, Master Technophile?” Technician Plasterer asked, eager to be important too.
“I need you to get an extremely heavy duty bucket.”
“A bucket?” The disappointment was palpable; there were sniggers from the others.
“Every item is just as important,” the Master Technophile counselled.
“What can I do?” Technician Hammer asked.
“From you I need a pair of digital scales.”
“Scales?” Hammer frowned. “Is that all?”
“I can’t divulge how all these parts fit together; it is safer that you don’t know.”
“We know you are just looking out for us.” Technician Fisher said loyally.
“Thank you Fisher, I need you to get some copper wire.”
“Of course, Master Technophile.”
“Of course, Master Technophile.” Hammer copied snidely.
“A bloody bucket,” Technician Plasterer grumbled. “Where’s the risk, the glory in a bloody bucket?”
“Yes Master, no Master.” Hammer whispered.
“Gun powder is very dangerous,” Winter said smugly.
“Enough of that, all of you,” the Master Technophile shouted and all the bickering stopped. “Remember that the Palace needs us, we will all have our names in the history books. You will be heroes.” The Technicians stared at the floor like naughty children and mumbled apologies. “Ok, I know we are frustrated but soon it will all be over.” In more ways than one, Bob thought grimly; once he was in power his co-conspirators would all come to a sticky end. No one was going to share power with him.
Eve had passed beyond terrified at some point during the last hour. After being snatched from her bed just as the sun was dawning she had been bundled to the palace and led through a maze of hallways and stairwells. Until she was pushed into a small square room and secured on a chair which was sat in front of a table. The lights were then turned out and she’d been left in complete darkness. She tried to concentrate on keeping her breathing calm and level but as soon as her mind wandered hysteria would wash over her and tears would threaten to fall.
Growing up she had heard dozens of stories about what the palace could do to you if you broke the law. The guards would think nothing of torturing you if the President demanded it. Of course there was no President now and if Ted Bundy would blow up a building and kill over a dozen people to keep a secret then who knew what he would do to Eve to stop her from telling anyone? Eve knew that pretending she knew nothing was stupid and pointless, but that was all she wanted to do; it would also keep Alex safe. If she could convince Ted that she had amnesia then she couldn’t know anything about Alex’s true identity.
Eve listened hard. She could hear footsteps, or could she? The darkness was too disorientating to be sure. A few moments later the door was flung open behind her and she frantically wished it had been her imagination. There was a click and an electronic hum as the lights were switched on. Eve screamed and screwed her eyes shut; the light was so bright it hurt.
“Inject the truth serum, quickly.” A voice, which Eve instantly recognised as Ted’s, commanded. She was powerless to stop the syringe from being plunged into her arm and the dose administered. Eve slowly opened her eyes, still squinting but at least able to see now. She felt a drowsy warmth spread from her arm making it difficult for her to think straight. Ted studied her face as the drug took effect. Once he was satisfied he sat across the table from Eve and dismissed the guards.
“Eve, Eve, Eve. I wish I could say it was a pleasure to see you again, but it really isn’t. Oh the work you’ve caused me.” Ted sounded friendly enough but there was a look in his eyes that made Eve shiver.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.” Eve babbled
“What I really need to know is if you told anyone.”
Eve wanted to say ‘about what?’ but what came out of mouth was “About Alex being the heir?” She winced as she saw a look of fury cross Ted’s face.
“Ahh you do remember then? What a pity, now who have you told?”
Inside Eve was screaming ‘no one, I’ve told no one’. But once again she had to speak the truth. “The rebellion knows.”
Now it was Ted’s turn to wince; this had already spread much further than he had hoped. “That is a shame, but you want to help put it right don’t you?”
Eve couldn’t help but shake her head. The last thing she wanted to do was help Ted.
“I thought you might need some convincing. Take a look at this.” Ted slid a piece of paper across the table and Eve leaned forward.
She gasped as she read it. It was her death certificate – dated today. “You can’t do this, I have rights.”
“It’s already done. You are legally dead, which means you have no rights at all. Now the rest of your un-life can be spent rotting in prison, do you want that?”
“No.” Eve said in a small voice.
“Well, you had better do what I say, then.”
Eve nodded. How could this have happened to her? Her family, her friends, Alex and Sid must all think she was dead, no one was coming to save her. She had no choice but to do what Ted wanted. She hated herself for being weak but she couldn’t bear the thought of being in prison forever. She felt like such a coward.
Ted however was ecstatic. Thanks to the truth drug Eve had crumbled quickly. Whilst the news that Eve had told the rebellion was troubling, at least he could now start damage control. First things first: he had to get rid of Alex. Johnstone was hot on Alex’s trail, but maybe Ted could save some money by getting Alex arrested. If he could use Eve as bait then he would end up with them both in custody and from there killing them would be simple. Ted would also have to make sure that Diaz never found out, and then there was the issue of the backup files. Ted scowled; it seemed to be two steps forward, one step back at the moment.
As Sid had led the way to Rodney’s house, via the SVTS, a plan had started to form in his mind. A plan which Sid would need a lot of help putting into action. Adversity had always brought the best out in him, which had made a career in the Under Cover division almost inevitable, as quick thinking could be the difference between life and death. His decision to go rogue and help the rebellion had been made easily once it became clear that firstly, without pressure who knew what would happen and secondly, Rodney couldn’t organise his way out of a paper bag. It seemed like it was his civic duty to be the controlling force behind the rebels and thus ensure the safety of Londinium. And now that Alex’s true identity had been revealed, Sid was glad he’d made the right choice as the farm boy wouldn’t last two seconds without someone watching his back. With this in mind he carefully ensconced Alex in Rodney’s front room, and explained a somewhat edited version of events to Rodney.
“This is just too much.” Rodney was outraged. “The Palace can’t just arrest her because she’s part of the rebellion.” Sid had fudged the truth a little and built Rodney up into an indignant fury. “I don’t see what we can do, Rodney,” Sid prodded helpfully.
“We have to do something. This is an outrage, a travesty. Alex,” Rodney turned to Alex who had been silent thus far. “You have to mention this in your speech tonight. It breaches our basic human rights.”
“I...” Alex started, but Rodney swept on, taking Alex’s consent for granted. The fires of repression burned brightly, Rodney’s cause was even more important now. “The whole world will know of Diaz’s barbaric actions,” he pledged.
“I don’t think that’s enough, Rodney,” Sid prodded again gently. “Without proof who’d believe us?”
“He’s right,” Alex agreed.
“Damn it,” Rodney started to pace across the small room. He, like Sid, lived in the Lower City, where housing was dark and cramped. “We must get some evidence.”
“If only...” Sid started, but stopped shaking his head.
“Go on,” Rodney encouraged.
“It would never work.” Sid looked to Alex.
“Just tell us,” Alex coaxed.
“Well, the Palace computer network will have all the evidence we need.”
“But how could we get access? Could we hack in?” Rodney wondered.
“Not from outside, they use top of the line firewalls.”
There was a moment of silence. “Couldn’t we get into the Palace?” Alex asked. It seemed obvious to him.
Inside Sid smiled. That was just what he wanted to do, but he knew he would have to put it carefully to Rodney as he was not a natural criminal. “We couldn’t, could we?” Sid asked, watching Rodney with his heart in his mouth as Rodney mulled it over.
“I think we don’t have a choice. How long until we are all arrested for protesting? We would never get answers if we are all locked up.”
“We might find stuff about the heir as well.” Alex added.
“It is our civic duty.” Rodney puffed out his chest.
“Well in that case,” Sid said with a smile, beckoning them closer, “I have a plan.”
Bob could feel the weight of the illegal book in his backpack. It was just too incriminating to keep it any longer; now he had taken all the notes he needed, he had to get rid of it. He was alone in the bunker, his technicians long gone, trying to decide the best plan when the police scanner in his backpack came to life with a burst of static.
“U99, come in U99.”
“U99 go ahead dispatch.”
“419 at the university campus, approach with caution.”
“On our way, U99 out.”
Bob punched the air. Of course, Professor Thackeray. Bob knew that a 419 was a suspected terrorist. The police must be on their way to arrest the Professor. Fate was certainly on his side; the university was just on the other side of the park. Grabbing his backpack and turning out the lights Bob ran out of the shelter and towards the university.
Mercifully the lights had been left on when Ted had finished with Eve. She was still tied to the chair but at least she could see, not that there was much to look at. A Palace guard had been left to watch her; he stared straight ahead and looked even more bored than she was. He must have been in his forties. His uniform was faded and creased. That and the lack of wedding band gave Eve an idea.
What’s your name?” The guard’s eyes flickered towards her but then returned to their inspection of the opposite wall. “Oh come on, please tell me your name.” Eve’s voice was sugary and a touch flirtatious.
This time the guard spoke but didn’t look at her. “Sergeant Thistle.”
Eve smiled. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, sergeant. I’m Eve. I would offer to shake hands but ...” She rattled the chains around her wrists.
“Quite alright Miss.”
“Please call me Eve.”
“There, that’s better.” She caught his eye and gave him a warm smile which he returned. “Have you been a guard long?” she asked.
“All my working life,” Thistle said proudly.
“Wow, that’s impressive.” Eve smiled as he flushed happily. “You must have drawn the short straw to be stuck in here with me.”
“Not at all Miss, guarding a terrorist is a feather in my cap and no mistake.”
“Terrorist?” Eve gulped.
“Suspected only, of course,” Sergeant Thistle added quickly.
“That’s not very reassuring. You don’t really think I’m a terrorist, do you?”
The Sergeant paused and looked closely at Eve; she looked harmless and close to tears. Not at all what a terrorist was supposed to look like. “I can’t say I do, Miss.”
Eve sighed and smiled gratefully. “Thank goodness. I couldn’t bear the thought of you thinking I would hurt anybody.”
Sergeant Thistle smiled indulgently and relaxed. “I’ve always been a good judge of character.”
“Oh I can tell you are, Sergeant. It’s a shame Ted Bundy doesn’t agree with you,” Eve said tentatively, trying to gauge the Sergeant’s attitude.
“Well, that’s the problem with Ministers, Miss, they spend too much time in front of their computer screens and don’t have time to study human nature like I do.”
‘Or they have a dastardly ulterior motive,’ Eve thought glumly. “Did he really tell everyone I was dead?”
“Dead? I don’t think so, that’s a wicked thing to tell you.” The Sergeant was appalled. How could the Minister be so cruel to such a helpless woman?
“Thank you Sergeant, you don’t know how you’ve helped me.”
The Sergeant suddenly looked nervous. “You won’t tell the Minister, will you?”
“No, of course not.” Eve sighed dramatically. “I just wish there was a way of getting a message to my brother. I’m all he has since our parents died and I know he’ll be so worried about me.” Eve thought for a second she’d overdone it until Sergeant Thistle leaned forward and whispered.
“Well, I’d hate to think of you fretting in here.” He thought for a moment; if he got a message to her brother she’d be so grateful she couldn’t turn him down if he asked her out. He stared into her blue eyes and decided it was worth the risk. “What’s his name?”
“Alex, Alex Winthrop.” She smiled, “I could just hug you, thank you.”
“I’ll see what I can do, and then once this mess is sorted out ...”
“I could thank you properly.” Eve felt guilty as she batted her eyelashes at the helpless Sergeant, but Alex’s safety was more important than Sergeant Thistle’s feelings.
Bob arrived at the university offices before the police. The building faced the park and was built of solid stone turned black with age. Inside flimsy walls partitioned off more than a dozen offices with just enough room for a desk and an office chair in each. Bob walked casually across to the 1st floor stairwell before ducking and hiding under the stairs. He would have to act quickly. Bob pulled the book from his backpack and clutched it to his chest; luckily for him Professor Thackeray’s office was the one nearest to where he was. Leaving the bag hidden under the stairs he rushed into the Professor’s office and slammed the door behind him. Bob had visited the office once before and was able to navigate by only the dim light entering from a small high window. Rushing to the desk, Bob tried the drawers but found them locked. Outside he could hear the sirens getting closer. He would never have time to pick the lock. He was just about to drop the book on the desk when the door opened and the light was flicked on.
Sid’s plan to get into the Palace relied on Alex being able to convince Luke to lend him the costumes the Painted Ladies used. The Scarlet Siren still seemed otherworldly even in the daylight. Rumour had it that Luke and the others were rehearsing this afternoon.
Nervously Alex stood in front of the side entrance, Sid wasn’t here to give Alex confidence; he had his own errands to run. Screwing up his courage he knocked on the wooden door. The thud of a baseline was audible as the bouncer opened the door. “Hi.” Alex said smiling, “I was with the Ladies the other night.” Alex stepped forward, but the bouncer put his arm across the doorway.
“Is that right?” He was clearly sceptical.
Sid had briefed Alex on what to do in this situation. The trick was to act like you belong and the other guy is a fool for not realising it. With that in mind Alex simply replied “Yep,” and stared at the bouncer.
“Go on then.” The bouncer reluctantly lowered his arm.
Alex walked down the hallway grinning widely. He’d shown no fear and it had worked. If only he’d known before, his life in the village would have been different.
The bass got louder as Alex approached the door at the end of the hallway. He remembered being pushed through this door and into the back stage area on the night he’d performed with the Painted Ladies. That night seemed like a lifetime ago now; he still couldn’t believe he’d actually done it. If he’d had a few minutes to think, he would have chickened out for certain. But he was proud that he’d performed with them, it had set the tone for his new life in the city, completely unexpected and a surprising amount of fun. Alex was about to open the door when it was opened from the other side and Luke barrelled into him.
“Whoa, watch where ...” Luke said as he righted himself, but stopped when he recognised who he’d bumped into. “Alex! The famous Alex of the rebellion.” He pulled Alex into a rough hug.
“Don’t start that.” Alex flushed.
“Looks like we can add modesty to your ever growing number of good traits.”
“Well it’s all your fault anyway, if you hadn’t convinced me to help you guys...”
“Ahh,” Luke butted in, “I seem to remember me advising you not to.”
They both laughed and Luke led Alex into the dressing room and they sat in front of the large makeup mirrors. To Alex’s relief Luke was dressed in jogging bottoms and a t shirt, not in full drag as he had feared. The village boy in Alex would have turned bright red.
“So to what do I owe the pleasure?” Luke asked, reminding Alex that this was not a social call.
“We, that is the rebellion and I, need your help,” Alex said, tripping over his words.
Luke was intrigued. “What could you possibly need from me?”
“We need your dresses.”
Luke laughed. “You what?”
“We need disguises to get into the Palace and rescue Eve.”
“I had a feeling there would be a woman at the heart of this.”
“She’s been wrongfully imprisoned just for being a protestor,” Alex implored. “Please, Luke. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
“How can I resist those puppy dog eyes?” They shared a smile. “It will have to be tonight though; we’re booked the rest of the week.”
“That would be perfect. Luke, thank you.”
“You just like wearing a dress really, don’t you?” Luke laughed mischievously as Alex spluttered. “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”
Bob’s mind whirred furiously as he blinked in the light.
“Who are you?” a petite blonde woman asked, standing in the doorway. She looked young enough to be a student of the Professor’s. Bob pulled himself up straight and set the book down on the desk.
“I could ask you the same question?” Bob said, trying to look indignant rather than guilty.
“I asked first.” The woman pouted, placing a hand on her hip.
Bob could almost hear the police cars drawing up outside. He had to move. “I am Detective Presley and unless you want to be arrested for assisting a terrorist you should come with me.” The girl stared in horror as Bob came forward and escorted her from the room.
“But I don’t ...” she started to protest, but Bob shushed her and took her to his hiding place behind the stairs. At that moment police constables burst through the front door and rushed to Thackeray’s office. They stood either side of the door and counted to three with their guns drawn before bursting through the door.
Bob could feel the girl trembling where she was pressed against him. “What is happening?” She asked watching aghast as the policemen came out of the office carrying evidence bags.
Bob spun her round to face him, “What’s your name, love?” he asked, effortlessly slipping into the role of detective.
“Helena,” she replied breathlessly; it was all such a shock to her.
“Well Helena, it seems like Professor Thackeray has been a naughty boy.”
“You called him a terrorist.”
“Do you know the Professor well?” Helena nodded and Bob continued. “This must come as a shock to you, but he’s been caught stealing a book on bomb making.”
Helena gasped, “But the Professor is a pacifist, I mean he doesn’t even eat meat.”
“I’m sorry you had to be here to see this. Do you know where he is?”
“He’s lecturing upstairs.” She thought for a moment. “Please, you have to help me, I know that he is innocent.”
Bob thought for a moment. The idea of helping Thackeray evade the police delighted his sardonic sense of humour, with a nice sting in the tail for the unhelpful Professor of making him appear even guiltier. However, he didn’t want to appear too eager and he had told Helena that he was a police officer. He didn’t want to be a pushover, but she would find him easily persuaded. He made sure there was no trace of a smile on his face as he said, “I’m sorry, Helena, I can’t do that, I should arrest you for even suggesting it.”
She smiled suddenly, “You could, but you won’t.”
“And why is that?” Bob asked lazily, trying to hide a sudden wave of fear that had washed over him. There was something in her smile that made him uneasy. Did she suspect that he was lying about being a police officer?
“Because I’ll say I saw you planting evidence, Detective.”
“That’s nonsense.” Bob’s voice betrayed him with a squeak of unease.
“Well, why don’t you have your buddies,” she said pointing to the uniformed officers that were hovering outside the Professor’s office, “arrest me, and we’ll see who they believe.”
Once again Bob’s mind was a whir, trying to think of some way to get back in control of the conversation. Helena, however, took his silence to mean that she’d won and pulled him behind her as she ran up the stairs. Resigning himself to the idea which had seemed so funny only a moment ago, he followed her to the top floor. Up here the light was brighter and dust motes danced as they rushed past the windows and into the stuffy lecture hall. Professor Thackeray’s voice stopped its monotone drone as they burst in, and the sleepy students sat up, interested in any entertainment that would end their suffering.
“What is the meaning of this interruption?” Thackeray spluttered.
“Father, we have to hurry,” Helena cried running to him. “The police have raided your office; they are going to arrest you.”
“This is ridiculous!”
“I just saw them, father. Please!”
Professor Thackeray was going to argue but the look on Helena’s face persuaded him that this wasn’t the time. “Very well.”
The Professor was Helena’s father? Bob was shocked, but seeing them together, suddenly the resemblance was obvious. “Why didn’t you say that you are his daughter?” Bob asked pulling her aside whilst Thackeray shoved papers in his bag.
“Does it matter?”
“Yes it does. I’m going to get into so much trouble for this.” Bob started to pace, regretting ever talking to her.
“Detective, please.” She put her hand on Bob’s chest, and stepped so close to him the he could smell her sweet perfume. “You don’t understand what important work my father is doing.” She leaned forward and kissed him gently on the lips. The students, who’d been watching silently, erupted with wolf whistles and cat calls.
“I ... uh ... ahem” Bob blushed and coughed. He turned to the Professor, who had finally got all his belongings in his satchel. “Is there a fire escape?”
“Good thinking,” Thackeray pointed to the grey fire door in the corner of the classroom. Turning to his students he said, “I will fail anyone who talks to the police.” His students made ‘who, us?’ noises and looked innocent as the fire door was pushed open. The wailing of the fire alarm started up immediately, and Bob, Helena and Thackeray rushed down the outside fire escape and into the park before the police could spot them.
The Speedy Cleaning Services always did a brisk trade in times of political turmoil; nothing brought out the worst in people like a power vacuum. Julie had been with the company since she was eighteen. She remembered vividly the laughter when, on her first day, she’d asked whether or not she needed to buy her own dusters and detergents and it was carefully explained that the blood stains would be someone else’s problem. She had started a two year apprenticeship with Lady Mata Hari. That was ten years ago now, and now she was the Lady and a stick thin eighteen year old girl with red hair and freckles was her apprentice. The male employees were kept strictly separate, the very nature of the work discouraging fraternisation. Apart from her tutor, her boss and her apprentice Julie had not met any of her fellow Solution Providing Engineers.
“Lady Garland?” Julie’s freckled apprentice approached her clutching a piece of paper. “A special order for you, milady.” Taking the paper Julie dismissed the girl with a nod before devouring her instructions. They read as follows:
You have been assigned a job of Protection, which directly conflicts an order for assassination received by a male employee. I do not need to remind you that the Ladies’ honour is at stake and I authorise any means necessary to keep the target alive.
Do not disappoint me,
Julie re-read the instructions smiling. Inter-company competition carried high stakes but also high rewards. A successful outcome could one day ensure her promotion to Duchess.
“Annie, come here.” Julie watched as her apprentice put down her book and rushed to her side. “We are taking a trip to the Lower City. Please fetch my coffee coloured cape.”
“Yes, milady.” Annie scurried off
Julie double checked the address on the back of the instructions, before destroying the slip of paper with a lighter. Allowing Annie to help her on with her cape they set off.
They quickly made their way through Londinium, using the SVTS to get to the Lower City. It was unusual for a client to live in the City, although a great deal of targets had. Julie had no problems finding the unremarkable house. Annie rushed forward and knocked on the door before retaking her place behind Julie. When meeting new clients Julie had been trained to expect hesitation, nerves and even denial, but the forthright and businesslike manner with which they were ushered inside was a pleasant surprise. Here was a man who wouldn’t need his hand holding.
Sid appraised the woman standing in front of him. Her poise, elegance and calm manner reassured him that the rave reviews of her services were true.
“Lady Garland.” She introduced herself and held out her hand which Sid took and kissed gently.
“Please be seated.” Sid and Julie settled themselves on opposite sofas, whilst Annie remained standing unobtrusively in the corner. “I appreciate your promptness.”
“I understand you have a somewhat delicate request.” Julie found this a good opening gambit, as every client’s request was delicate to them.
“I believe Londinium’s future rests on your ability to protect someone.”
Julie was intrigued. Her clients normally blustered about why a job should be done, but the cold certainty in Sid’s voice led her to believe him. “You may be frank with me. You are protected by our confidentially clause.”
Sid was tempted for a moment to share the burden of Alex’s heritage. He could certainly rely on her silence. In the end he decided against it; the risk was too great. Instead he passed her a piece of paper. “Here is the name and current location of your target.”
Julie took the paper without a glance. “You may rest assured, the targets safety is my only priority.”
Alex was practically floating with happiness by the time he returned to Rodney’s clutching a bag full of costumes. He didn’t even mind that some reporters had started following him at the Lower City SVTS station. Nothing could take the shine off his success. Rodney welcomed him back with open arms and a pose for the photographers before settling him in his front room again.
“I take it you were successful,” Rodney said, gingerly taking the bag from Alex.
“Yep, Luke was glad to help.”
“You really think this is the best way?” Rodney asked nervously pulling a blue sequined dress from the bag.
“Sid has thought of everything,” Alex reassured him.
“He normally does,” Rodney muttered, delving deeper into the bag.
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing really.” Rodney said looking at Alex. “He’s been a huge help, all told. But there are rumours about him.”
“Well, he’s supposed to have defected from the Palace’s Under Cover Division and he certainly commands respect from the police.”
“That sounds like a good thing,” Alex said, remembering the way Sid got the police to deal with the violent protestors last night.
“Oh it is.” Rodney rushed to reassure Alex. “No one think could think more highly of him than I do, but just don’t let him do your thinking for you, that’s all.”
There was a knock at the door and Rodney jumped guiltily. “That should be Sid now,” he said, getting up. Sid was breathing hard after rushing to Rodney’s; it took him a few minutes to get his breath back. He rummaged through Alex’s bag, congratulating him.
“Fantastic, Alex, this is perfect.” Sid turned to face Alex, “Did you have any problems?”
“It was amazing, Sid, I just walked right in.”
“Atta boy, well done.” Alex blushed happily and Sid turned to Rodney. “Have you found us some volunteers?”
“Yep, they’ll be meeting us at the Palace. Speaking of which, it’s nearly four. We should get moving.”
“Rodney’s right, Alex, let’s get going,” Sid said, quickly repacking the bag. Rodney led them back out onto the street and into the glare of the waiting cameras. The Rebellion was top news tonight.
It was difficult making headway with the press attention, and by the time they reached the Palace gates a huge crowd had gathered, which burst into applause as they pushed their way through. Clive Fisher and Mr Finkle were at the front waving madly at Alex, and much to their delight Alex acknowledged them with a smile, Alex just being glad to see familiar faces in the sea of people surrounding him.
Once again he felt a powerful voice rise up inside him. It was a stronger feeling this time. It brought an image of a great throne room to his mind’s eye, with English flags raised in the high ceiling. In front of him the room was crowded with important looking people, dressed expensively. All of the dignitaries were looking to him for leadership, for direction. Instead of the fear and nerves Alex would normally have felt, he felt calm, confident and in control. He knew exactly what needed to be done.
“We find ourselves beset by problems, enemies who surround us, who want to see Londinium and eventually England itself fail. I will not surrender. I will not lose this amazing city without a fight. And as such I beg of you not to lie down, not to roll over, not to give up. Londinium needs you now more than ever, so stand beside me, hold your head high and do your duty. And know that as I stand with you, I will not stop, I will not rest until you are free, until you have the justice you deserve.”
The vision blurred and Alex was once again aware of the cheering crowd and the flashing of the cameras. Sid and Rodney appeared by his side. “That was amazing.” They said in unison.
“Did I say that out loud?” Alex wondered.
“All that stuff about duty and justice,” Rodney continued
“Alex, you are a hero,” Sid added. “That was a speech worthy of Londinium’s greatest President.”
“It was?” Alex wasn’t sure what had happened, but it made everyone love him.
“You bet it was.” Sid led Alex around the crowd for photos and to meet his adoring public. Alex was finally starting enjoy the attention. Meanwhile, Rodney organised the protestors and gathered his special volunteers. The night was far from over.
Johnstone and Lady Garland had watched Alex’s speech from high above on opposite roof tops. Lady Garland had an advantage for protecting Alex in that she knew the order of the different methods her male opponent would try. As such she had her high powered sniper rifle trained, not on Alex, but on the surrounding buildings that offered the best perches a sniper might choose. She was forbidden from killing another Speedy Cleaning employee but there was plenty of ways to disarm someone without killing them. Also she had the element of surprise on her side.
Johnstone, however, was not as unsuspecting as Lady Garland would have hoped. He’d heard rumours of another Solution Providing Engineer tracking his target and therefore was watching for the glint of sunlight off a sniper scope and instantly fixed on its position when it appeared. What he saw through his scope astounded him.
Lady Garland had sensed the movement opposite her and stared through her scope, what she saw astounded her.
Their eyes were drawn like magnets to each other and it wasn’t until Annie asked Lady Garland a question that they were forced to look away. Annie was pointing to the protest asking if she could see Alex. Lady Garland sighed when she couldn’t.
When Johnstone was freed of her searing gaze he once again checked on his targets position. He grumbled when he realised that Alex was gone.
It seemed for now at least, Alex was safe.
Eve had been moved to a room with a bank of TV monitors. Most of them showed CCTV footage of various views of the Palace, but two screens showed live news feeds which were both reporting on the Rebellion. Ted had appeared beside her as Alex began his speech and scowled at the wild applause from the crowds.
Eve took the opportunity to rub in Alex’s success. “You can’t win, everyone loves him, and listens to him.”
“He’s just a flash in the pan.” Ted didn’t sound as confident as he would have liked.
“But he’s not, is he? He’s the real deal and the whole city can see it. You’ve lost already.” Ted was silent and Eve pushed on. “Let me go, I’ll put in a good word for you with Alex, this can all end happily for everyone.” Eve was hopeful as Ted seemed honestly tempted for a moment, but his face soon hardened and her hope was replaced with a sinking feeling.
“I don’t think so. You’ll both be dead soon, and everything will be as it should be.” Ted rounded on Eve a terrible smile on his face.
Eve gulped, “you’ll never catch him,” she muttered defiantly.
But Ted had an ace up his sleeve, “I will, and I brought you here to watch as I arrest your pathetic wannabe President.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have it on good authority that Alex will be attempting to rescue you tonight, using the rebellion as cover.”
“He wouldn’t...” but even as Eve tried to deny it, she could see him effortlessly cast in the role of white knight rescuing a damsel in distress. She wished now more than ever that she had listened to Sid. If Alex died now it would be all her fault. “But why?” she cried. “Why would you do this?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Ted asked with an evil chuckle. “For power, I am going to marry the new President’s daughter.” Eve gasped and Ted continued, “We had been planning to stage a coup when real life interceded for us. Bart’s death was like a gift from God.”
“It’s not Alex’s fault he is the illegitimate son of Dirk. He doesn’t deserve to be persecuted.” Eve tried to reason with Ted.
“Maybe I’ll erect a small statue to him in the Palace grounds,” Ted laughed hard. “Well what do we have here?” Ted pointed to one of the CCTV screens which showed six flamboyantly dressed women making their way across the great hall. “Is it just me or do they look a bit butch to you?”
Eve then realised that it was Alex and several other protestors dressed in drag as a disguise. “Oh no.” She whispered, unable to watch as they crept along.
Ted picked up a walkie-talkie and spoke into it. “Bravo Leader, this is Alpha Leader, come in.”
“Bravo Leader here.”
“Targets are approaching your position, make sure you wait until they have been in Diaz’s office for a few minutes and then take them out.”
“Roger Alpha Leader, Bravo Leader out.”
Ted smiled and turned to Eve. “All we have to do now is wait and watch. Your beloved country boy is about to steal state secrets, a most heinous crime, like committing treason really, hmmm.” Ted thought for a moment enjoying himself immensely. “I think I will charge him with that as well. Not even Diaz himself will be able to ignore that.”
Eve ignored Ted’s taunting and watched the CCTV monitors with baited breath. ‘Just turn round, please turn round’ she begged. But unsurprisingly they didn’t turn round. Instead they disappeared from view and into Diaz’s office.
The walkie-talkie crackled to life again. “Alpha Leader, this is Bravo Leader. The cat is in the bag, I repeat, the cat is in the bag.”
Eve could see more than a dozen armed Palace guards crowded around the door waiting for the order. “Bravo Leader, this is Alpha Leader. The time is go, repeat go.” On Ted’s command the guards rushed into the room, and Eve began to sob. She had, made a vow to protect Alex, and now because of her Alex was in more danger than ever.