Murder at the Royal Wedding

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The Royal Mews

Buckingham Palace

Wedding Day

The Coach Master adjusted Inspector Bullingham’s scarlet livery tunic, hooking up the gold-braided eyelets. Guy Royce, sent by Commissioner Chambers as arming officer, set the trigger of a Heckler & Koch MP5K to burst mode. He checked the safety, handing it to Bullingham who ignored him and checked it again.

The Inspector fitted it into a tailored shelf in the coach box. The snub-nosed submachine gun could fire 900 rounds a minute, accurate to 25 metres, but it was set to fire a grouping of three rounds with each pull. This was New Scotland Yard policy. Bullingham adjusted his earpiece then tested it with the Operations Room at the Yard.

Guy admired the claret and gold State Landau, ornate with its red and gilded gold wheels, the polished glass lanterns sparking in the morning sun. It was upholstered in crimson satin. He knew its history. Built in 1902 for Edward V11’s coronation, it had been used for the wedding of Charles to Diana and the Duke of York to Sarah Ferguson. Now it stood in the centre of the inner courtyard, its coachwork impervious to rain or sun under twenty layers of shining varnish. He also knew that one madman with a bomb could reduce it to matchwood in seconds.

Four Windsor Greys were shackled into the main shafts, each horse’s brasses on leathers, clanking like wind chimes as they ran through the Royal Buckle, part of the State Harness. Plumes of condensed breath billowed from their flaring nostrils in the April morning air as the grooms fitted the cold bits into their mouths. The Queen herself named all the royal horses, after places she had visited. Lahore, Sydney, Melbourne and Vienna.

A tap dance of steel-plated hooves on the cobbles echoed from the old walls of the stable blocks. Another foursome of Windsor Greys were already harnessed, held in waiting. A Corporal of Horse and six Troopers of the Household Cavalry stood guard as the Greys were backed into the Scottish State Coach for the Queen’s return from the Abbey. With accomplished expertise they were shackled into it.

Having taken their vows William and Kate would travel in the Landau, their first official trip as husband and wife and the coal-black escort horses of the Household Cavalry were keen to be off, stamping and sparking on the stones, reined in by the Troopers.

Inspector Bullingham hauled himself onto the rear box of the Landau, helping up the second liveried Coach Attendant who would sit by him. They both pulled on peaked riding caps. He felt to locate the concealed submachine gun then waited patiently for the signal the wedding ceremony was finishing. The journey to the Abbey with the empty Landau would take 15 minutes.

*

Guy Royce had been on the royal route since 7.00 a.m. and he missed his sweet morning Spanish coffee, laced with brandy. He walked to join Megan Stone on Horse Guards Parade. She was supervising the security checks at a barrier entrance, her uniform cape fitting her perfectly.

The Foot Guards lined the streets, bayonets fixed. Their black bearskin caps, made from dyed Canadian brown bear hides, were unaffected by wind nor rain. The Guards stood stiffly to attention in disciplined ranks.

Guy asked her.

“Commander, what if Sergeant Ward was right? What if it’s a bomb? How would you do it, if you were Thorne?”

“Relax,” she replied.

“No vehicles can get onto the route. He’d have to carry it himself. Bags are searched at the checkpoints.”

“What if he came and planted it days ago? Today he arrives clean, then picks it up once he’s inside the cordon?”

She waved his question away.

“We’ve thought of that. The entire area has been dog scanned. Unless it’s up a tree he’s got no chance. If we see someone climbing an oak we’d be on him. The area’s littered with security cameras. It’s not just us watching the crowd, Royce.”

“Where’s Jeremy Chambers?”

She wiped a strand of hair from her face.

“In the Ops Room at the Yard. He likes to be there on these occasions. Says it gives him the bigger picture.”

She arched her eyebrows and sighed, for the first time taking her eyes off the crowd, looking him in the eye.

“I wish we had a sighting.”

“You have Thorne’s picture.”

“That CRO picture’s three years old. Pauline Thorne hasn’t seen him for years. Prisons don’t photograph inmates. Infringes on their civil rights.”

She pursed her lips in disgust, listening briefly to her earpiece.

“Yes, Commissioner. Royce’s with me here. We’re in Horse Guards Section Two. I intend to move around a lot. There’s a big crowd. I could have done without the numbers, to be frank, sir. I’m guessing up to a million folk out here, but they’re well behaved so far. It’s more like a party down here. Stone out.”

They were deafened when the crowd roared in unison. They turned to the huge screen set up in the park. Fifteen feet high figures of William, in his scarlet Colonel of the Irish Guards uniform and Kate, stunning in a Sarah Burton designed ivory and lace wedding gown, stood at the altar. The Archbishop intoned;

“Catherine Elizabeth, Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together according to God’s law, in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?”

To the crowd’s delight she replied quietly.

“I will”

The deep organ strains of ‘Love Divine all Love’s Excelling’ swelled over the park with the lusty voices of the congregation fighting to compete.

Royal Mews

Inspector Bullingham jerked forward, holding the grab rail for support. The four Windsor Greys took up the slack. The timbers of the State Landau creaked and the hooped wheels beside him flexed to roll on. On the lead Windsor Grey the liveried rider dug his heels, calling.

“Heyo. Stand.”

The Windsor Greys halted obediently, letting the empty Scottish State Coach trundle first through the Doric arched exit to the Royal Mews. He flicked his heels.

“Walk on. Walk on.”

The Greys drawing the State Landau followed the Scottish State Coach in which the Queen would return from the Abbey to Buckingham Palace. They joined the rear of the procession, moving slowly onto The Mall to the beat of the drums. A troop of mounted horses of the Household Cavalry converged with a disjointed clatter of hooves and steel to surround the empty coaches, jingling along beside them as they linked with the rear of the Foot Guards for the journey to the Abbey.

The flanks of the Cavalrymen’s horses steamed around their girth straps. The gathering clouds above them reflected in their silver breastplates and helmets, the red plumes hanging, jerking in the wind with each step their mounts made but the sun shone through.

Bullingham spoke loudly into his comms unit over the cracking of iron on stones as the coach progressed the route.

“Bullingham here. The Principal’s Landau is moving. Out.”

*

Commander Stone turned to Royce.

“They’ll be in the open carriages soon. I wish I knew where Thorne was. I’ve got the whole of S.O. Nineteen up on those rooftops. All on over-time. They’re very happy bunnies, I can tell you. We’ve filled the rest with Special Forces.”

She stiffened. The Commissioner’s voice was insistent in her ear once more.

“Megan! He’s on the move. Thorne’s Volvo has just popped up on the ANPR cameras.”

“Where, Commissioner? Heading our way?”

“Can’t tell yet. The car’s just been seen by a camera in Camberwell, heading west.”

“Will you intercept?”

“No. Let’s see where he’s going. I don’t have any firepower near him. I’m sending an ARV Unit to get alongside, if I can find one. Seems to me you’ve got them all.”

“Sorry, boss. We’ve a lot to cover over here. But you’re going to stop him?”

“Yes, of course, Commander. Haven’t been sitting at a desk that long, you know.”

Guy laughed, listening in on his earpiece. “Yes, you have, Jerry. I’m surprised you can find your way home at night.”

“Who’s that? Identify!”

He chuckled. “It’s Guy. Don’t lose Thorne now, Jeremy. We’re relying on you.”

Chambers grumbled in their earpieces like a bear with heartburn.

“Yes, well, it’s all right for you…”

She broke in. “Thank you, Commissioner. I’m sure you’ll tell us how it goes. Stone out.”

*

Across the park the fanfare from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force pierced the hum of the crowds, soaring higher in a triumph of harmonies. A billion eyes watched as the procession of the bride and groom formed up at the head of the aisle. Watching the huge screen Megan Stone took a breath.

“Guy, in fifteen minutes Camilla will be out here. I hope to God, Kenneth Thorne’s in that Volvo.”

The stirring strains of William Walton’s Crown Imperial stirred the blood of the throng of watchers who stood in their thousands to see the bride and groom progress the scarlet carpet, Kate’s sister, Pippa Middleton, stunning also in clinging, plain white, bearing the bridal train immaculately. Catherine curtsied obeisance to the Queen and her new husband bowed. Then the procession flowed to the door to be greeted by the waiting thousands outside the ancient Abbey.

The cacophony of church bells was deafening. All across the city and from every loudspeaker in the royal parks the sound of the pealing bells rolled across the sky, filling the air with a joyous salute to the newlyweds.

Horse Guards Parade

12.15pm

Henrietta Fox crouched at a galvanised steel barrier, resting her Nikon on it with its heavy long lens. She had been in prime position since dawn, listening to the chatter and singing of the street crowds till it hurt. She now wore her woollen bobble hat down over her ears.

She was positioned off the corner of Horse Guards, expecting to get a good picture of William and Catherine as the State Landau turned into the square. She heard the band strike up in the distance and checked her lens once more for smears. Then the bells erupted.

She constantly looked about her. Any offbeat scene might make her some money. A royal day like this one could sometimes produce a great shot she could sell to magazines and newspapers for years. She might even sell it on as a postcard for London around the world.

In her pocket she carried a photograph of Matt Milton. On the streets today she hoped to meet Guy Royce, the Protection Officer from SO14. She had carefully searched her library of old roll film. There was Milton, shining eyed, in the crowd when the Princess of Wales attended an Aids Centre. She was eighteen when first on the streets as a paparazzi and didn’t remember taking it.

Six months after she did take it the Princess was dead and she had moved on to celebrities. Matt Milton was in the corner of a frame with the Princess of Wales in London. He was dressed head to toe in red, white and blue and wore a baseball cap like a jockey, covered in royal badges. His eyes were hardly visible under its peak but she knew it was definitely the man she remembered they called ‘Cat Strangler One.’

If she saw Guy Royce today she would keep her end of their bargain, struck when he returned her miniature Lumix camera in the saloon bar of the Sherlock Holmes. The picture she had taken of the Middleton family at the Goring Hotel was still on it and she was grateful he had not deleted it. It would make her good money when the time was right.

She wondered why Guy Royce needed a picture of Milton so badly. Today, if she got the chance, she would pay him back the favour.

*

Guy Royce heard the first strains of ‘The National Anthem’ as the Grenadier Guards Band swung onto Whitehall from Westminster Abbey, the deep tubas punctuated by a bass drummer setting the beat. Ahead of them marched a liveried bandmaster, immaculate in a gold and red uniform with snow-white leggings, his gold staff swinging. Once the trombones had picked up the melody the crowds in their hundreds of thousands surged against the barriers. They were swathed in flags, holding bunting and placards of good wishes.

Behind them, Guy saw the Foot Guards forming up to precede the procession back to Buckingham Palace, their boots synchronised to the beat of the bass drum. Their arms swung in unison to follow the band. Megan Stone spoke into her comms mike.

“Stone here. All units. On guard please, team. Eyes up. Stone out.”

Commander Stone nodded brief greetings to her squad as she passed on their way down Horse Guards. Then she froze, the Commissioner´s voice once more in her ear.

“Commander? Chambers here.”

“Yes, Commissioner, I’m here.”

“We have a Eurocopter tailing the Volvo now. It’s heading out towards the M1 motorway. It’s not coming towards you.”

She paused.

“Boss, you don’t think Thorne´s running, do you?”

Guy broke in.

“That would mean he’s planted something.”

The Commissioner came back.

“That you, Guy? Then it could be a bomb?”

Megan Stone was impatient.

“Sir, there’s nothing here! We’ve checked everything near the route. If it’s a device it will have to be brought in. We have the area locked down.”

“I hope you’re right, Megan. Chambers out.”

She stamped at the pavement, her lips compressed savagely.

“Of course I’m damn well right. When was he last on the streets!”

Guy smiled.

“That would be with me about seven years ago. Don’t be too hard on the old boy.”

She shrugged him off and her eyes blazed.

“What does he think we’re doing out here? Having a tea party?”

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