“Alpha Leader, this is Bravo Leader, come in please.”
“Alpha Leader here, go ahead.”
“Only one target acquired, name of Alex Winthrop.”
“Understood, Alpha Leader out.” Ted Bundy threw the walkie-talkie on to a nearby table; he had returned Eve to her cell when the call from Bravo Leader had come in. Luckily Ted had been in the hallway away from Eve from he received the mixed news.
The fact that Alex was in custody was the most important thing, and Ted was over the moon. The farm boy was the biggest stumbling block to Ted’s future father in law becoming President, and now that Ted was directly responsible for removing Alex, his marriage into the family was assured. However, Eve’s revelation, about the rebellion knowing of Alex’s heritage, complicated things, and Ted was hoping that this trap would have all the main rebels in his custody.
Rather than killing Alex straight away as he had initially planned, he would now have to get the names of the other rebels who had broken in with Alex before he could remove him. Of course, just killing Alex would make any revelation pointless but he had to make sure that there was no way Diaz could link his death to Ted, or Ted would end up dead himself.
Ted stalked along to where Bravo Leader was locking Alex into another cell. Once Alex was secure he pulled the guard aside.
“What happened?” Ted hissed, trying to keep their conversation private from the other guards milling around after the mission.
“The room was empty apart from Alex when we went in.”
“I don’t know Sir, some secret exit I’d guess.”
“Well, at least we got the ringleader.” Ted slapped the other man on the back. “Well done.”
“Pleasure, Sir.” He gathered his men and moved away from Ted. Ted checked his watch; it was nearly two in the morning. Alex’s interrogation would wait until later.
At the Palace the protestors had dispersed and the night was quiet at last. The huge metal gates had been dented, but the inscription of the five Founding Families coming down the river Thames and settling in the ruins of old London, was still legible. The thick outer walls curved away around the gardens which surrounded the Palace on all sides. At the back of the Palace was a small kitchen garden walled off from the main grounds. An array of herbs and vegetables were arranged in rows, and a small shed abutted the wall.
A casual onlooker would have missed the moment when the shed appeared to move several feet to the left. But a more seasoned observer would have seen six people in brightly coloured dresses stumble out of the gap before the shed moved back, the whole thing lasting less than a minute.
“How did you know about that tunnel?” Tomas, dressed fetchingly in orange, asked Sid.
“It’s an emergency exit for Diaz, should there be a fire, or another emergency.”
“Thank goodness you knew about it, I was sure we were done for.” Rodney said catching his breath after the rush.
“Where is Alex?” Sid asked, counting the protestors, “Everyone else is here. Alex!” Sid’s voice carried through the silent night. He turned to Rodney, “Wasn’t he with you?”
“I thought you grabbed him.”
“Oh shit!” Sid paced, kicking off his high heels. “No, no, no this can’t be happening.” “He’s been arrested, hasn’t he?” Rodney asked quietly.
“How could this have happened?” Sid couldn’t believe he’d allowed Alex to join them on the mission. Why didn’t he realise what danger he would be in?
Rodney put his arm around Sid and gently pushed him towards a small gate in the wall. “It’s not your fault, Sid, they must have been waiting for us. Come on, we need to get out of here.” Sid allowed himself to be led away, vowing to find out who the leak was and to make them pay.
Diaz was nursing a cold beer, watching the news rerun footage of Alex’s new speech, when his phone rang. It was Cyril, “Oh good, you’re up,” Cyril said, once Diaz had answered.
“Sleep seems to evade me at the moment, what’s up?”
“Ted has been up to something.”
Diaz groaned, “What now?”
“He commanded Bravo unit on a secret mission just a few hours ago.”
“Not in public?” Diaz asked. If Ted had sanctioned a guard mission in public the fallout would be huge and the press would start screaming about Palace brutality.
“No, thank goodness. It was something to do with Alex, the leader of the rebellion.”
“I don’t think I like the sound of that. We have to be so careful of the press, they love Alex.”
“I know. I’m not sure exactly what Ted has done. Even my sources only go so far.”
“Well, arrange another emergency meeting for the morning and make sure Ted is in attendance, and we’ll ask him.”
“Ok, try and get some sleep will you; we’ll need you on top form.”
“I’ll do my best, thanks Cyril.” Diaz hung up and took a long pull from his beer. Retirement was looking better and better with every passing hour. He suddenly felt old and too stuck in his ways to cope, but politics was his life and he wouldn’t give up just as the going got tough. Taking Cyril’s advice, Diaz decided to at least try and get some sleep. He turned off the TV and made his way to his bed.
It was morning and Alex was once again waking up in a different room. So far he’d not been able to spend two nights in the same place; he’d had more excitement in three short days than the rest of his twenty six years combined. He fervently hoped that once things finally settled down a prison cell would not be his permanent home. The bed, which was an optimistic name to give the mattress on the floor, had been lumpy and ended at his knees; his feet had spent a marginally more comfortable night on the concrete floor. The cell managed to make Bridgee’s attic bedroom seem palatial, and Alex swore never to moan about anything ever again. The only light in the room was coming from a small barred window set high in the wall. Standing on tiptoes Alex could just make out a small exercise yard beyond, where there were no trees or animal life to be seen. Alex had grown up amongst fields and vast open spaces. The small dismal courtyard seemed like hell on earth in comparison.
Alex tried to pace but quickly found that the walls wouldn’t allow it. A hatch shot back on the heavy metal door that barred his exit. A pair of suspicious brown eyes peered at Alex, and whispered, “I have a message from your sister.”
Alex rushed forward eagerly, “From Bridgee?”
Sergeant Thistle frowned, “No, Eve. You are Alex Winthrop, right?”
“Oh Eve, yes she’s my other sister.” Alex recovered quickly.
“Well, Eve said you are not to worry about her.”
“Is she nearby?”
“Yeah,” Thistle chuckled. “Just a stone’s throw that way,” he said, pointing down to his left. “Funny how life turns out,” Thistle muttered, moving away.
“Wait!” Alex shouted, desperately not wanting his only source of company to leave, but Thistle appeared not to hear him and Alex was left alone again. At least he knew that Eve was OK, Alex reflected, which was some comfort. He sat on the mattress. Sid would rescue him, surely; they’d become friends over the last few days and Sid surely wasn’t the type to run out on his friends, he’d find a way to get him out. Alex wanted to be sure, and to be relieved by this thought, but what if Sid couldn’t, what if Sid got arrested himself, what if ... doubts whirled through his mind. He’d be trapped here forever, Sid couldn’t arrange a jail break, Alex was going to rot in this cell, he just knew it. With his head in his hands Alex’s mind played out the worst scenarios it could come up with as hope seemed futile.
Diaz looked round the table at the sleepy faces of his crisis group. He’d been able to snatch a few hours of sleep last night and felt better than he had in a week. Cyril had been talking to the CCTV operators trying to get footage of last night’s activities, but the hard drive had been wiped and Ted had ordered everyone from the room for over an hour. Diaz and Cyril were sure that Ted was planning something; his posture and mannerisms gave him away every time he tried to hide anything. There was also a devious smile and nervous energy which did not endear him to them.
Ted had not put in an appearance yet and Diaz decided to make the most of his absence. “What does every one think of Ted’s behaviour recently?”
There were a murmur of discontented voices, but none of the assembled wanted to be the first one to say anything. Cyril huffed at their reticence and started the ball rolling. “That little weasel is up to something, you mark my words.”
There was a rush of air as everyone let out a breath they’d been holding. Sarah Lovely was the next to give her opinion. “He gives me the creeps,” she said with a shudder.
Edward Granger, Minister of Justice, was a quiet introspective man, prone to deep thinking and short accurate summations of human nature. When he decided to share his feelings about Ted, everyone stopped to listen. “Ted Bundy has ideas above his station, and believes that the law doesn’t apply to him. I have had a discreet watch placed on him for some time; before this unfortunate situation regarding the heir arose I believe he was planning a coup.”
There was silence for a moment as they digested this. A coup was a big accusation and Edward wouldn’t have made it unless he was sure. “Do you have evidence?” Diaz asked quietly, now afraid that Ted would somehow hear them.
“Excellent.” Before Diaz could say any more, Ted’s voice could be heard approaching and they waited silently for him.
Sid was chairing his own emergency meeting in Rodney’s front room. Rodney, Tomas and the three others who had broken into the Palace the night before were squeezed on to a sofa and several dining room chairs which had been brought in from the other room. Sid had spent the night berating himself for his stupidity, his mind working in circles until he saw a way to remedy the situation. He had dismissed Rodney’s notion of a leak after some thought as he knew that the Palace resources were more than enough to enable them to be trapped like that. Sid had become so consumed about saving Eve that he’d been blind to the risks. For Rodney and the others last night’s close call had been a reality check, and the idea of doing it again, despite Sid’s pleas, was out of the question.
“We will really have to step up the protest tonight,” Sid suddenly announced. He hadn’t taken the news of Rodney and the others backing out well. “You can at least do that.”
“But without Alex...” Rodney began. They were all thinking the same thing: without Alex there wasn’t much of a rebellion anymore.
“I will sort out something...” Sid had a brainwave. “We can hire the Painted Ladies and invite everyone from the Palace to the show.”
“It’s a bit short notice,” Tomas said sceptically.
“They lent us the costumes last night; they are in just as much trouble as we are.” The look on Sid’s face silenced the others’ doubts. Rodney felt sorry for the Painted Ladies. No one said no to Sid when he’d put his mind to something.
Love was a funny thing, Bob mused; acts of great kindness and great atrocity all committed in its name. He could only assume that Helena was the reason he’d taken leave of his senses and was hiding out with the very people he’d incriminated. After their narrow escape from the police the night before, Bob had led Helena and the Professor to the Trade Centre and to his cousin’s shop. It was a huge risk, as the police would be able to link Bob to the stolen book if the Professor and his daughter were found here. Helena’s kiss had, however, promised more to come, a promise which was delivered with enthusiasm once they were safely out of the police’s reach. Bob desperately needed some space to rid himself of her intoxicating effect. As the sun rose and activity returned to the Trade Centre, Bob prepared to sneak away.
Clive Fisher had got up early to purchase the copper wire the Master Technophile had asked him for. Dodging the reporters hanging around looking for a glimpse of Alex, he made his way to the Trade Centre. The Rebellion last night had been so exciting; once Alex had recognised him in the crowd Clive had been inundated with questions, becoming famous by association. He’d never had so much attention and it was amazing, his life was finally looking up. Not only was he the room mate of the famous Leader of the rebellion but he was also part of the group being relied on by the Palace to find the heir. Clive wanted to jump up and down and shout at all his old schoolmates that they were wrong about him. However, he took seriously the vow of silence they had made, and had manfully resisted the urge to tell everyone.
He ducked into a hardware shop on the outskirts of the Trade Plaza. Furtively he glanced around before sidling up to the wire and pretending to browse. He looked around again before picking up a roll of copper wire and heading to the cash desk. The cashier barely glanced at Clive as he placed the wire down beside her.
“Good morning Sir,” she began in a bored monotone. “Did you find everything you needed today?”
Clive was suddenly panicked. Should he have bought something else? “Yes ... I mean no.”
“Oh.” The cashier looked up, startled. In the year or so she’d worked there no one had said no. “What else were you looking for?”
Clive thought frantically, “ermm ... screwdrivers.” He blurted out the first thing remotely hardware related he could think of.
“There are some on the display behind you,” the cashier said with a frown.
Clive spun round and with shaking hands grabbed a pack of five different types of screwdrivers, all the while thinking that he had to get out of here before they could figure him out. Clive had gone from feeling fine to complete paranoia in thirty seconds flat.
“Is that everything?” the cashier asked again. She was rapidly convincing herself that before her stood a brain dead junkie and she secretly pushed the manager call button under her desk.
Clive looked down at the screwdrivers and the wire. To his mind it still looked way too suspicious. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of this before. He nodded his head and mumbled “screws” when out of the corner of his eye he saw a tall man in an ill fitting suit walk over, a badge with ‘manager’ pinned to the jacket. Clive started to back away from the desk, knocking into the customers waiting behind him.
The manager had reached the desk now. “Is everything OK?” he asked his cashier.
“This gentleman,” she began pointing to Clive, “would like some extra help.”
Their gazes pinned Clive to the spot as he desperately wondered if the cashier was speaking in some kind of code. Would the police be here any minute?
“Why don’t I help you, Sir?” the manager said, picking up his items from the cash desk and leading him aside.
“Screws,” Clive mumbled again. “I need some screws,” he repeated, sticking to what was familiar.
“Pardon?” The question derailed Clive’s train of thought.
“What size screws do you need?” The manager laughed at Clive’s blank face. “Are you new to DIY?”
“Yes.” Clive gratefully jumped on this explanation.
“It’s OK.” The manager was still smiling reassuringly. “I know it can seem daunting at first, but DIY can be very rewarding once you get into it.”
Clive had a brainwave, a way out of this abysmal mess. “I’m helping out a friend and he asked for these things.”
“I understand. What I recommend is a selection of different screws.” He led Clive down a nearby aisle and stopped in front of a huge display. “This pack here,” he said, picking up a large pack with many different looking screws in it, “is great for the beginner at is features all of the most common screws on the market.”
“Sounds perfect.” Clive’s relief was palpable.
The manager smiled slightly less reassuringly as he began his sales patch. “As a beginner in DIY you really should have...”
Lady Garland was sitting in her office completing a report on last night activities. Johnstone, she’d got his name from the Duchess, he had a strange affect on her, the brief glimpse had been in her dreams and even now distracted her from her work.
The ringing of her phone brought her back to reality. It was unusual for Lady Garland to be contacted by a client after the initial meeting, in fact she actively discouraged it. So when she answered the phone Julie was shocked to hear Sid’s voice on the other end.
“Please forgive me for calling you, Lady Garland, believe me, nothing other than the greatest emergency would force me to do so.” Julie was convinced by his earnest tone that Sid was telling the truth. Intrigued she bade him continue. “I need your help in breaking the target out of the Palace jail, there are evil forces who would kill him. We may already be too late.”
Julie thought for a minute. The Company was very clear on working within the law as much as possible, and her own conscience wouldn’t allow her to help a criminal escape justice. “What has he been arrested for?” she asked carefully.
Sid considered his answer just as carefully. “Trespass, which was all my fault.”
Julie considered this. “Would he be convicted?”
Sid gave an exasperated sigh. “He’ll be dead before it ever gets to court, that’s what I’ve been trying to say. He won’t be allowed justice.”
“What is so special about this man? I saw his speech last night and he’s hardly a major political opponent for the Palace. There is something more going on, and if I am going to protect Alex I need to know everything.”
There was silence on the phone line for a minute before Sid replied. “Ok, but it’s not safe to talk now. Meet me at the SVTS Hub in an hour and I’ll try and explain.” Sid waited for Julie to agree before hanging up.
Once she could hear only the dial tone Julie put the phone back in its cradle and stared at it as if daring it to ring again. She was beyond intrigued now. Stepping out of her office she called Annie over. “This case we are on is proving to be a once in a lifetime job. You will learn a lot from it if you pay attention.”
“Yes Milady,” Annie replied
“Now fetch my travelling shoes, we are going out.” Annie scurried away to do as she was bid.
An hour after he had entered the shop Clive Fisher left with a hearty goodbye from the Manager on his way out. Clive was one hundred pounds worse off and the proud, all be it unwilling, owner of a complete beginner’s DIY set. He had only just remembered to buy the wire before he left. His arms weighed down by the bags, he attempted to cross the Trade Plaza without knocking into anyone. He was nearly half way across when his bag, swinging as he moved, crashed into the shins of a man going the other way.
Bob Presley had been congratulating himself on a clean getaway when the excruciating pain of a hammer hitting his shins brought him back to his surroundings with a bump. He was about to swear and curse the idiot with the flailing bag when a cold shiver ran through him. It was Fisher.
Clive gaped at the Master Technophile, his already stressed mind trying to remember the protocol for such meetings. The Master Technophile had been explicit about not recognising each other outside meetings.
“Watch where you’re going,” Bob said gruffly, not making eye contact.
“Sorry,” Fisher mumbled as he moved away.
For Bob, however, the holdup had ruined his escape. He felt a hand on his arm and turned to see Helena standing behind him looking hurt and confused.
“You shouldn’t be out in the open,” Bob said, trying to lead her out of the busy crowd.
“Where were you going?”
Bob thought quickly. “To get some breakfast.”
“But your cousin runs a bakery; father and I have already eaten.”
Bob cursed inwardly. He had known that taking them to his cousins was a bad idea. As Helena whined on, Bob felt her allure wane and the lust, which he had convinced himself was love, fade away. He smiled, he was free, and now all he had to do was to move the Professor and his daughter to a place where he couldn’t be connected with them and life could return to normal.
There is a lake, it’s calm, shining in the sunlight, reeds gather around the bank. You are standing on a small island in the middle of the lake; you can hear the gentle lap of the water as is washes over your feet. You peer into the water staring at your reflection, at your dark blonde hair and blue eyes, your name comes to you in a flash, you are Alex Winthrop. On the opposite shore you notice people now waving at you, it’s your family, your mother and father smiling, your sisters run and frolic in the waters, they all look so happy. You start to wade towards them desperate to join their innocent game. The water is cool and refreshing, you watch mesmerised as small fish flit round your legs. Suddenly a shout grabs your attention and a shudder runs through you as you look up. The island that was just a few feet behind you has vanished. You strike out for the shore where your family are waving, urgently now. You take a step only to find that the lake bed has disappeared and you sink beneath the surface. “Patterson’s thank you for not smoking,” rings in your ears. You are falling deeper when a white SVTS train speeds past you and slows to a stop, a carriage door opens and Sid is there reaching for you. Your lungs burning, you try to swim towards him when a shadow passes overhead, there is a boat above you, an arm thrusts down towards you. Looking up through the waves you see Doris and Bridgee. Both Sid and Doris want you, your head pounds as you hang helplessly in the water, the weight crushing you. What do you do?
Alex opened his eyes with a start his heart beating hard in his chest. The image of Doris and Bridgee had been so real, so vivid. Closing his eyes he could still see them, reaching out to him. He looked at the stained ceiling again, mapping the brown water marks with his eyes whilst his mind furiously tried to piece the dream together. Suddenly the answer dropped into his brain as if someone had opened his head and put it there. Bridgee was reminding him to find her. Alex’s eyes glazed over as he made a vow to himself. He had to put Bridgee first, and as such he vowed to quit the rebellion and focus on his sister. It was what Doris wanted. His heart swelled with love when he thought of Doris. Why couldn’t he have seen how much she meant to him? A life with her was all he needed. She hadn’t cared if he was famous or wealthy and after his few days in the city Alex realised how rare that was and how lucky it had made him. Now all he had to do was get out of jail and he’d put everything behind him and concentrate on finding Bridgee so he could get home. But how was he going to get out of jail?
Diaz was worried, which in itself was nothing new; he couldn’t remember a time since Bart’s death that he hadn’t been worried; but today he was in overdrive. News of Alex’s arrest had been kept quiet so far but Diaz doubted the peace would last long. What was Ted Bundy up to? Ideas skittered around his mind. Ted wanted to marry into a Founding Family, Ted wanted the Founding Families to decide on a new President. How did Alex fit into Ted’s plans? With a sigh Diaz rubbed his temples. Around him the hubbub of the crisis team subsided as Ted strolled in, a self satisfied smile on his face.
“How nice of you to join us.” Cyril snapped as Ted took his seat.
“Sorry, I slept like a baby.”
Cyril growled as Diaz brought the meeting to a start. “Firstly, is there anything new from last night?” Diaz looked pointedly at Ted but was ignored.
“The press have been running Alex’s speech all through the night. Public opinion is firmly with the rebellion,” Sarah Lovely reported.
“Have we had any success in finding out more about Alex?” Diaz asked, looking to Cyril.
“Only one other person is registered under the name Winthrop, a young woman called Bridgee, and she’s only been here less than a year herself. I am sending riders to local villages to see if we can find his family.”
“Very good, and bring this Bridgee in for questioning as well.” Cyril nodded and Diaz turned to Ted. “I hear you had an eventful evening.” There was complete silence in the room as the assembled team listened eagerly.
“I, umm ...” Ted shifted uneasily and coughed, “not really.”
“Then you know nothing about Alex sitting in the cells?” Diaz asked quietly.
Sarah gasped at the news. “Why wasn’t I told about this?” she demanded, Ted had at least the decency to look sheepish. “This is a disaster. When the press get wind of it...”
“They won’t.” Ted was confident again.
“You can’t be sure. I was able to find out when I’m guessing you didn’t want me to, what’s to stop a reporter doing the same thing?” Cyril insisted, shaking Ted’s confidence again.
“Ted, I am giving you this opportunity to come clean and be honest,” Diaz began. Cyril snorted derisively but was silenced with a wave of Diaz’s hand. “Tell us what is so important about Alex and why you are trying to cover up what you are doing.”
Ted felt time around him slow as he thought about what to say. His heart was pumping furiously and his palms were sweaty. He had to get Diaz and the others back on side so he was free to continue with his plans. Then he had a light bulb moment, time sped up and he began to weave his story. “Alex and the rebellion pose a great threat to Londinium’s way of life. You spoke the other day about our public duty to protect the city, which was what I was trying to do. I was made aware that the rebel leaders were going to attempt to break into your office and steal secrets, I had to make a snap decision, there was no time for meetings and discussion. I allowed the rebels to get as far as your office then had them arrested for treason. We can make the whole rebellion problem disappear now, and get back to serving Londinium.”
There was silence as everyone digested what Ted had said, Diaz even felt guilty of allowing his personal feelings to cloud his professional judgement. Ted was doing what they all should have been doing, taking action to protect Londinium. Even Cyril was quietened by Ted’s story, cursing himself for not being the one taking the initiative.
Ted basked in the silence, watching the emotions play over Diaz’s face. Hammering the final nail home he added, “I may not have gone about it in the right way but we can’t live in fear of what the press thinks. Today’s news is tomorrow’s compost after all.” He glared at Sarah for a moment before continuing, “I suggest we lock Alex up for treason and throw away the key.”
“We’ll have to give him a trial.” Sarah murmured.
“Why don’t we just send him back from where he came from?” Cyril asked.
“Whatever we decide, the first thing I’m going to do is talk to him.” Diaz said, standing. Cyril went to stand as well but Diaz stopped him, “I think Ted and I can handle this, thanks, Cyril.” Cyril slumped in his chair whilst Ted beamed and followed Diaz out of the room.
Sid was waiting impatiently for Lady Garland to arrive; around him passengers were rushing along the SVTS platforms eager to catch their trains as the lunchtime rush got into full swing. He was just beginning to regret his decision when he saw Lady Garland alight onto a nearby platform with her apprentice tagging along behind her. The small smile that Sid received as they met up and moved into a quiet corner reassured him, she could be trusted. There was an air of competence and confidence about her which, had the circumstances been different, Sid would have found attractive.
“Good, you’re here,” Lady Garland said. “I always tell Annie that there is no excuse for not being punctual.” Annie grimaced behind Julie’s back.
“I know what you mean. Now, about earlier,” Sid said quietly.
“Yes, my curiosity was piqued.”
“I am sure this all seems very cloak and dagger but when you hear what I have to tell you, you’ll understand.” Sid looked around, there were still a lot of commuters around and he needed more privacy. “Can we go for a walk outside the walls?” One of the reasons Sid had requested to meet at the Hub was that it was situated at the City gates and they could quickly be in the country away from all types of prying eyes.
Julie was not surprised at Sid’s request, and agreed with only one stipulation. “You must explain everything to me in detail.”
“Agreed. Let’s go.”
Diaz led the way down to the cells, Sergeant Thistle was sitting at the guard’s desk, feet up after a large lunch. He started at the sight of the ministers heading towards him. Jumping up, he snapped an unconvincing salute and stood to attention.
“We are here to see Alex, Sergeant.” As Thistle got the keys Diaz pulled Ted to one side. “I don’t care what fancy words you use in front of the others, you shouldn’t have gone over my head. I could have you fired for what you did, and I’m not sure why I haven’t, to be honest.” Ted bowed his head, all of his confidence gone. Diaz wasn’t the fool Ted had thought he was. Diaz continued, “During my interview with Alex you will not speak, is that understood?” Ted made to disagree, so Diaz added, “It’s that or you wait out here.”
“Yes Sir,” Ted replied meekly. This had all come as such a shock; the idea that Diaz could fire him hadn’t occurred to Ted.
Satisfied, Diaz turned back to Thistle. “Which cell is he in?” Thistle led the way to Alex’s cell and opened the door, standing back to allow Diaz and Ted to enter the room, before closing the door behind them and moving close to eavesdrop. Fascination about Alex was running fever pitch around the Palace and Thistle couldn’t help himself.
Alex jumped up when they entered the room. The three of them together just about squeezed into the cell. Alex was standing with his back to the window with Diaz in front of him and Ted lurking sulkily by the door.
Diaz, on seeing Alex for the first time in the flesh, was struck by a feeling of familiarity that he couldn’t place. Shaking his head, Diaz introduced himself and Ted. “Now Alex, can I call you Alex?”
“It is nice to finally meet you, you have created quite a stir.”
“I’m sorry about that, it wasn’t really my idea...”
“Well, regardless, you have become someone the public will listen to, someone who makes me nervous. Just what do you intend to do next?”
“I only came to the city to find my sister. I don’t have a plan. I just want to go home.” Alex sighed and buried his head in his hands.
Diaz breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe things could be easily sorted. “I am glad you said that. Staying in the City would be a very bad idea. You are upsetting some dangerous people.”
Alex swallowed nervously. Sid had never mentioned any danger in what they were doing. “I had no idea...”
“I know that, Alex, but some people, well, they blame you.”
“I haven’t done anything really ...”
“Hey, I believe you, and I’ll be doing everything I can to get you out of the city.”
“Can I...?” Ted began, but Diaz turned and glared at him and knocked on the door. “I’ll be back later.” Thistle opened the door and Alex was left alone.
Diaz thanked Thistle and moved swiftly away, but Ted was far from satisfied. “Why didn’t you ask about the rebellion?” Ted shouted after Diaz.
Diaz stopped and turned to face him. “That homesick boy in there,” Diaz pointed back towards Alex’s cell, “he has only been here a few days, he’s nothing more than a figure head and he knows about as much about the rebels’ plans as you do.”
“But ... we can’t just let him go...” Ted pleaded. He had to put an end to Alex or the truth would eventually come out, and the village wouldn’t be far enough away to stop Alex being President.
“What would you have me do? Kill him?”
“Well...” Ted looked hopeful.
“Oh my god, you would, wouldn’t you. What has he done to you that makes his life forfeit?”
“Isn’t it obvious, he’s ...” Ted faltered, he’d almost given the game away.
“I think you do need a break Ted, you’re going off on your own, ignoring protocol. It’s not like you.”
“You can’t force me to take a holiday. Only the President has that power.”
“I might as well be President at the moment; there is no one above me. Take at least a month.” Ted just stood staring dumbly at Diaz. This couldn’t be happening. “Now Ted, go.” Ted turned and walked away, vowing to get his revenge on Diaz if it killed him.
Sid had found it cathartic to tell Lady Garland everything. They had travelled for barely half an hour but the city felt like a foreign country. To think that some people lived their entire lives within the City and would never know the simple beauty of this wooded glade. The furtive conversation of the last hour had given way to silence as Lady Garland contemplated Sid’s revelation. As Sid had promised, his earlier security precautions now seemed completely understandable. Julie had never imagined that it would be her job to protect the heir to the Presidency. She was in no doubt that Sid was telling the truth, and just seeing Alex at last night’s press conference made it obvious once you knew.
Julie’s silence continued as she mulled over her options. For Sid, however, the silence was deafening. Anxiously he asked, “You do believe me, don’t you?”
“Yes. It all makes sense somehow,” Julie said with a smile.
“I know what you mean,” Sid enthused. “He’s just so ... I can’t put it into words.”
Julie nodded. “You haven’t told Alex the truth?”
“Not yet. Obviously he needs to know, but how do you tell someone their whole life has been a lie?”
“You have a point.”
“I can organise a distraction at the Palace, for the rescue I mean.” Sid jumped onto the topic that had been bothering him. “You will get him out, won’t you?”
“Of course. What did you have in mind for a distraction?”
“A Painted Ladies performance in the ballroom, open to the press and the public. I have contacts at the Palace who will think of it as great PR.”
Julie thought for a moment. “Very good, I can work with that.”
“Phew. Can you be ready for tomorrow night, Lady Garland?”
“Yes. It’s important that you don’t contact me again, in case someone’s listening. Just meet me at the back entrance to the garden at eight in the evening.”
With that they went their separate ways, Lady Garland heading straight for the City and Sid taking a detour towards the banks of the Thames.
Alex had been greatly relieved after his talk with Diaz. He didn’t fancy his chances of convincing Sid that he was leaving, but with Diaz helping him, he’d be home before Sid even knew he was gone. After the excitement of the last few days Alex was exhausted, and he stretched out on his bunk hoping to drift off. Unfortunately, the attention which had surrounded him now prevented him from getting peace and quiet even in a jail cell. There was an almost polite sounding knock on the door. “Hello?” Alex said, the hatch in the door opened slightly and Sergeant Thistle peered in.
“Fancy a cup of tea?” the sergeant asked.
Alex smiled widely. “Yes please.” A cup of tea sounded like heaven. There was the sound of clinking china and after a few minutes the door opened, Alex sat up and gratefully took a steaming mug. He’d expected the Sergeant to leave, but instead he brought an old looking wooden chair in and sat in front of the doorway. Alex briefly entertained thoughts of bashing the man over the head with his mug and making a run for it, but quickly realised he had no idea where to run to.
Thistle just sat and stared at Alex. He’d never been this close to a celebrity before. People thought that working at the Palace meant that you got to talk to the President and any famous people he entertained, but the reality was far more depressing. For Thistle the President was always just a speck in the distance, and not many celebrities came through the cells, that was until now.
Alex shifted nervously under his gaze. “Thanks” he said, trying to at least get into a conversation.
“That’s okay, Alex.”
When no more seemed forthcoming Alex tried again, “I’m sorry, I don’t even know your name.”
Thistle blushed bright red. “S...sergeant Thistle,” he stuttered.
“You won’t get into trouble, will you?” Alex asked, nodding to his mug of tea.
“Meeting the leader of the rebellion is worth the risk.” Thistle was surprised when Alex scowled. “I bet it’s great being famous,” he tried again, but Alex’s scowl deepened.
“I don’t want any of this, I never did,” Alex said bitterly.
“But...” Thistle was astounded; almost everyone in the city aspired to celebrity.
“The press follow me round constantly, I’m surprised my eyesight isn’t damaged by all the camera flashes.” Alex took a soothing mouthful of tea.
“But those speeches...”
“That is the weirdest part.” Alex was enjoying finally being able to tell someone just how he felt; he had the feeling that Sid didn’t hear him most of the time. “The words just come from nowhere. I have no idea what I’m going to say before I say it.”
“Oh.” Thistle couldn’t hide his disappointment. “You don’t mean any of it then?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Alex said quickly, aware somehow of the impact he was having on Thistle’s entire life view. “I just don’t see why it matters what I think.” Alex sighed and drank some more tea.
“You don’t know what it has been like here for the last few months, ever since the last President died. We’re not used to having no one to follow, no one to tell us what to do. Londinium needs a leader. Without one the whole stability of the city is lost. There are rumours that the Welsh might invade, because we’re weak.”
“Well, this guy down the pub, his wife is half Welsh and, he says there has been some funny talk from that side of the family.”
“It all just seems so crazy. In my village we have a mayor but he doesn’t really do anything. It’s just one of the farmers who puts on a shiny chain at the harvest festival.”
“And,” Thistle continued without really hearing Alex, “another mate of mine says that you should be President as you’re the only one who seems to care about the city at all.”
Alex choked on a mouthful of tea. “What!” he spluttered, once his coughing died down.
“I know there is talk about one of the Founding Families taking over, but everyone knows they only want to do it for themselves, they don’t care about us ordinary folk who do all the work.”
“I couldn’t possibly...”
“Why not? I reckon you’d do a better job than anyone from a Founding Family,” Thistle said loyally. “I am secretly on the side of the rebellion anyway, these Ministers are all pompous idiots...”
“Is that so?” a cold voice asked from behind the Sergeant’s shoulder.
Thistle gulped and slowly got off the chair and turned round, “Minister Bundy ...” Thistle stepped backwards and knocked the chair over. “Oh dear,” he said quietly.
“I think we’ve heard enough out of you.”
“When I said pompous I didn’t mean you, obviously ...”
“Am I just an idiot then?”
“What? No, absolutely not, I -er- I should go and...” Thistle spluttered edging round Ted towards the door.
“Yes, you should.” Ted was delighted as Thistle squeaked and ran away. “Now, Alex.” Ted turned to face the young man. “Come with me.” Alex was reluctant after Thistle’s reaction, but Ted had no time to waste. He grabbed Alex by the arm and dragged him out of his cell.
Alex was propelled down a network of corridors until they reached a nondescript looking door with a guard outside. As they approached the guard opened the door and Ted pushed Alex into a small interrogation room. Diaz might not have had the guts to ask about the rebellion, but if Ted left the Palace without discovering who knew of Alex’s true identity then he could kiss his marriage goodbye.
Eve was already sat at the table, tied up as she had been before; Alex was pushed down into the chair beside her and secured as well.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Alex quipped, trying to quell his own fear.
“Come here often do you?” Eve joked back.
“Aren’t you two a regular double act,” Ted sniped nastily, and smiled when an uneasy silence settled between them. That was more like it. Ted paced in front of them, allowing the tension to build, then suddenly he slammed his palms down on the table and leaned towards Alex and Eve.
Alex jumped. “Are you taking me back to my village now?” he asked, hoping against hope that that was the case.
“No. I have some very important questions I need answering before you go anywhere.”
“Don’t listen to him, Alex,” Eve butted in. “He’s a loony.”
“Shut up!” Ted shouted at Eve. He walked behind her and grabbed her painfully by the hair. “Don’t make me gag you.”
Eve trembled but said defiantly, “Don’t tell him anything, Alex.” She yelped as Ted pulled harder on her hair.
“You asked for this.” Ted took some tape from his pocket and gagged Eve tightly. She struggled in vain, breathing hard through her nose. “Calm down,” Ted ordered with mock concern. Eve concentrated and her breathing evened out. “Now you see, Alex, what lengths I am prepared to go to. Make sure you tell me what I want to know, or you’ll never see your precious village again. Understand?”
“Yes,” Alex nodded, and meekly stared down at the table top.
“Excellent. Now, tell me who else knows about you in the rebellion?”
“Huh?” His eyes snapped up and stared at Ted, “I don’t know what you mean, everyone in the rebellion knows me, most of the city knows me.”
“Don’t be coy, Alex. Who knows about your real identity?”
“I really have no idea what you are talking about.”
Ted looked closely at Alex and decided that he was telling the truth. He laughed and smiled hugely. “You really don’t know do you?” Alex shook his head. “Eve, how could you not tell Alex, tut ... tut ... tut.” Ted waved and admonishing finger under Eve’s nose, Eve squirmed and mumbled something behind her gag. “Some friend you are.” Ted perched on the edge of the table next to Alex and spoke in a faux friendly manner. “Goes to show, you never can trust people. What Eve and I presume your other so called friends at the rebellion have neglected to tell you is that you are the lost heir to the Presidency.”
“What? No, that’s not possible.”
“It is true, I’m afraid. You remember the DNA sample which was collected when you arrived?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“It proves that Dirk Smudge was your father.”
“No.” Alex shook his head. “No, you’re wrong, my father is called Tom, he’s ...” Alex’s words dried up. Maybe that was why he looked nothing like his sisters? No, he refused to believe it. “You’ve made a mistake.”
“Eve has seen the results,” Ted said.
Alex looked to Eve. “Tell me this isn’t true, Eve, he’s making it up, right?” Eve just stared at Alex, unable to deny his accusations.
“Eve tells me that people in the rebellion know about your lineage...” Ted steered Alex gently towards the information he needed.
“They can’t know. Sid would have said something...” Alex was so consumed by confusion, fear and doubt, that his predicament was all but forgotten.
“You don’t know Sid’s surname, do you?” Ted asked. Eve squeaked urgently but it was like Alex couldn’t hear them at all. He shook his head, his parents would have told him, it can’t be true.
“Never mind, the name Sid is enough to go on for now. Guard!” Ted shouted for the guard who was keeping watch in the corridor.
“Sir?” He saluted.
“Take Alex back to his cell. I’ll deal with the woman.”
“Very good Sir.” The guard untied Alex and led him unprotesting from the room.
Ted turned back to Eve, a sly smile on his face. He grabbed hold of the tape and pulled it away from her lips. She shouted in pain as it came free.
“That was quite an unexpected turn of events,” Ted commented smugly.
“How could you!” Eve shouted. “Do you have no compassion?”
“I should ask you that. Don’t you think he should have been told the truth days ago?” Eve was silent and Ted continued, “I expect it wasn’t your idea to keep quiet.”
“Of course it wasn’t,” Eve blurted out. “Sid...” she flushed; she’d fallen into Ted’s trap.
“Ah yes, this mysterious man, it seems to me that he is just using Alex for his own gain.” Ted tried to get Eve on side but she saw through him.
“Like you are, you mean. You killed over a dozen people when you blew up the LCDD, so don’t try and pretend you’re the good guy.”
Ted growled. “I guess you have outlived your usefulness then.” Eve shuddered but remained resolute. “What a shame.” Ted stood up and walked to the door. Turning out the light he said, “We could have been great allies, Eve, but nobody crosses me and gets away with it.” With that he left her sitting in the dark, wondering about her fate.
After his talk with Lady Garland, Sid had done a lot of thinking about the best way to proceed. He knew that in order for his plan to come to fruition he needed to get in touch with his old boss Cyril Hedge. The minister would have the power to set up the concert, but he might take some persuading, especially since Sid was not in his good books right now. He considered going to Cyril and saying that he was acting on behalf of the Painted Ladies and that they wanted to do something to help ease tensions, but Cyril was sharp, and Sid couldn’t afford to be caught in a lie. Besides, he hadn’t even spoken to Luke yet; but convincing the group to perform was the least of his worries. What if Cyril arrested him for abandoning his duties? But then Sid thought of Alex cooped up in a tiny cell in danger. He had to try. There were secure channels through which undercover operatives could contact the Palace with minimal exposure. Once Sid had returned to the city he went to the central branch of Branson’s bank in the skyscraper district and asked to make a deposit into a special numbered account.
The cashier, a thin equine-looking woman, took the account details and led Sid to a nearby office for the manager to deal with him personally. A few minutes later he was joined by a man in his late forties wearing an expensive suit. Recognising Sid by sight, the manager authorised the transaction on the computer and gave Sid a number that was randomly assigned to him. Sid was then shown into another office and left to use the telephone in private. He left a message on the answer phone and waited to be called back.
Cyril was more than a little surprised to receive Sid’s message from one of his clerks, but there was no doubt it was from him. Sid had been the last person Cyril would have ever imagined going rogue, and now he must have an extremely good reason for contacting him again. Cyril had spotted Sid on the periphery of Alex’s speeches to the press, as a guiding hand leading him away from harm. Thinking about it he would place money on Sid being behind Alex’s sudden rise to fame. It would be interesting to hear what Sid had to say for himself. Cyril picked up his phone and dialled the number the clerk had given him. After a few rings Sid answered.
“Sid?” Cyril was careful to keep his tone neutral; even a secure phone line couldn’t be trusted completely. “What a pleasant surprise.”
“Can we meet?”
“Yes, I think that’s a great idea. Normal place in what, an hour?”
“Yes thanks, see you then.” Sid hung up, Cyril was even more confused now; he had expected Sid to sound at least apologetic, but instead Sid had just sounded impatient and perhaps a touch desperate. It was very strange indeed.
The allotted meeting place was in a small apartment on the outskirts of the skyscraper district. When Cyril arrived Sid was already there, pacing around the small living room. They stared at each other for a moment. Cyril then sat himself on the battered sofa and said, “You have a lot of explaining to do.”
Sid sat on a mismatched armchair and took a deep breath. “Sir, have I ever given you cause to doubt my motives before?”
“No, you have always worked to the highest standard, which is why I am here now and did not send the police to arrest you.”
“I had to go off the grid to prove myself to the rebellion.”
“I suspected as much, Londinium has always been your first love.”
“Exactly. I am just asking you to trust me a little longer. I have discovered something that will solve all the Palace’s problems, but I need time ...”
“Just time?” Cyril interrupted.
“And a favour, something which I would not ask for if it wasn’t vitally important.”
“We have your Alex in custody. You know that, don’t you?”
Sid nodded, “I can’t forgive myself for letting that happen, but I needed information.”
“You should have come to me.”
“I wanted you to have complete deniability if things went tits up.”
“I appreciate that, but you’re here now...”
Sid nodded and was quiet for a moment, trying to think of the best way to convince his boss. “The rebels did not blow up the LCDD,” he said suddenly. Londinium was Cyril’s first love as well.
“We suspect as much.”
“But then that begs the question, who did? Some very important information was destroyed in what could be seen, from the point of view of, say, a Founding Family member, as a very fortunate explosion.”
“That’s what I can’t say just yet,” Sid got up and started to pace again. “I’m convinced that somewhere in the Palace is a spy for the Founding Families, someone who would go to any lengths to ensure they get put into power.”
“That doesn’t sound as farfetched as it would have done this time last week,” Cyril admitted.
“The favour I would ask of you, is for you to arrange a morale boosting performance of the Painted Ladies for tomorrow night in the ballroom, and invite the press and the public alike.” Sid turned to face Cyril.
Cyril was shocked; he hadn’t been expecting that. “Why?”
“I ask that you trust me when I say it’s very important and that as soon as I can explain myself I will.”
“That’s a big ask, Sid. There will be questions.”
“You know me, Sir. I wouldn’t ask unless the very future of Londinium was at stake.”
Cyril thought quickly. He knew he could trust Sid, and arranging the performance was sure to win him brownie points with Diaz as well. He had a feeling that Sid was going to try and spring Alex from jail, but like Sid had said he would have complete deniability should anyone ask him. “OK, I am prepared to arrange a performance, but you have to promise to explain everything afterwards.”
Sid sighed in relief. “You don’t know how much I want to be able to tell you everything.” Sid thought back to his meeting with Lady Garland and added, “Can the performance start at eight thirty?”
“If that’s what you need, then fine.”
“Thank you, Sir. You have just saved Londinium from further chaos.”
As Rodney predicted, the protest that evening was somewhat lacklustre. The assembled press and crowds were getting anxious for a glimpse of Alex. Rodney was also anxious; Sid had yet to put in an appearance. Rodney always felt better when Sid was around to help him make decisions. The protestors had organised themselves into groups and were painting the Palace walls with more slogans in the flickering light of the huge bonfire. The walls looked like a brightly coloured mosaic as layer after layer of paint was added each night. The camp songs had developed a rude and satirical edge tonight; clearly someone was taking time to compose songs during the day. Rodney let all the activity wash over him. The banging on gates seemed to mirror his heartbeat. He knew he should be thrilled; this was bigger than his wildest dreams of just a week ago. He would enjoy his success, he vowed, once Alex was free.
A wide smile came to Rodney’s lips when he saw Sid pushing his way through the crowd towards him. “Sid, thank goodness you’re here,” Rodney greeted him.
“This is all fantastic, Rodney,” Sid said, opening his arms to encompass the crowds.
“I know.” Rodney took Sid to a quiet corner. “Any news on Alex?”
“It will be tomorrow night.”
“Oh, I had hoped he’d be here ...”
“I know, but it takes time to organise things,” Sid said with a slight pout.
“I am sure it does, and I’m very grateful that you have been able to sort something out so quickly,” Rodney placated. “It’s just the press are asking for him.”
“They are going to have to be given something.” Sid looked at Rodney for a long moment.
“Not me.” Rodney back pedalled once he realised what Sid meant.
“This is your movement, Rodney. I’ll tell you what to say, you’ll be fine.”
Rodney looked at the press gathered in front of a small podium that had been set up especially for Alex. He swallowed his panic. “You are right, Sid, I can do this. What are we going to tell them?”
“Just let me think for a minute.”
About half an hour later Rodney stood at the podium, which was bristling with microphones. He gulped nervously; the press were gathered a few feet from him waiting to transmit his words across the city and beyond. Clutched in his sweaty palm was Sid’s hastily compiled speech. Rodney put it on the podium and smoothed it out. He coughed slightly and silence descended in front of the Palace. Inside the Palace Diaz and his crisis team were waiting apprehensively for Rodney’s speech. Was he about to announce to the world that Alex had been arrested? Cyril hoped fervently that Sid would not land them all in it.
“My name is R ... Rodney.” Crickets chirped in the silence, as the reporters waited hungrily, “Our demands have not changed, we want answers about what’s being done to find the heir!” Rodney grew in confidence as he spoke about the key issue that drove him, the thing the rebellion was really all about.
The press, however, weren’t interested in the rebellion as such. They wanted their new celebrity. “Where’s Alex?” one of the assembled journalists asked.
Sweat pricked on Rodney’s brow. He stared at the speech and continued his monologue. “Lower City residents deserve to be told what’s happening, information isn’t just for the elite.”
“We want to speak to Alex.” Several more shouts were heard as the crowd began to murmur in discontent.
“We ... er...” Rodney looked helplessly around to where Sid was standing away from the glare of the cameras. Sid made a winding motion with his hand, encouraging Rodney to move on to the part about Alex. Rodney ran his finger over the speech, no longer trusting his eyes which were watering under the bright lights. “Alex is ... I mean Alex has been asked by Diaz for a meeting tonight to discuss the situation.” Rodney had the full attention of everyone as he stumbled over his words.
“What are they talking about?” a journalist shouted.
“I am sure Alex will explain everything when he’s back,” Rodney said. Finally his torture was coming to an end. “We thank you for your continued support.” He stepped away from the podium, shaking but happy.
Cyril was also happy. Sid would get all the help he could muster after avoiding such a scandal for the Palace. Diaz, however, was confused. “What just happened?” he asked.
“An undercover operative of mine has just saved our bacon, that’s what’s happened,” Cyril said smugly. “Could I have a private word, Diaz?”
“Of course. Meeting adjourned, everyone, see you all in the morning.”
Cyril waited until the door had closed behind everyone before he turned to Diaz. “You remember I said I lost an operative I had on the inside of the rebellion?” Diaz nodded and Cyril continued, “Well, he’s back, and we have him to thank for hiding Ted’s activities from the press.”
Diaz thought for a moment. “Well, it’s about time we had some good luck. I get the feeling there is a price to pay, though.”
“The only thing he asks is that we hold a Painted Ladies concert here tomorrow night for the press and the public alike.”
“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.”
Cyril decided to keep his feelings about a possible jail break to himself. “It will give us any amount of good publicity and boost morale.”
“You’re right. It’s just a strange request.”
“I know, but despite his recent behaviour, he is one of my most trusted agents and he has promised a full explanation afterwards.”
“I can’t see the harm in holding a concert, and if you trust him...”
“Then let’s do it. I am intrigued to see what happens.”
“Me too. I’ll get on to it first thing in the morning.”
With that Cyril left Diaz alone, puzzling over the strange request.