Fiction stories and articles written by members.
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Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2022 8:21 pm

Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Nine – A Patsy?

It was Monday morning and Sophie was at the dentist. She’d missed two previous urgent appointments and couldn’t let this third one go. The hours spent at the dentist were expected to be unpleasant and she wasn’t wrong in that. There was a delay waiting, a mix-up right before the procedure to remove a tooth, a painful extraction and then a lot of hurt afterwards where the numbness faded too fast.

She swore never to go back there, ever.

A message on her phone was waiting for her once she was done. Holding a hand to the side of her face, in what she knew was a useless gesture but one that was still made, she read it on the way out of the dentist. Louise for her office was urging her to call without delay.

“What’s up, Louise?”

There was a chuckle on the other end of the connection then: “Say that again for me, Sophie, will you?”

“I asked what’s going on.”

“You,” Louise spoke cheerfully, “are incomprehensible. What have they done to you there? Anyway, Parkinson’s called an election. A short campaign too: four and a bit weeks. That means…”

Sophie interrupted her: “We need to hurry things along.”

“I presume you’re telling me that this messes with everything timescale-wise. I’ll just message you, it’ll be easier than trying to understand you. I guarantee that they’ll want you in, that you’ll want to come in too, so so much for your day off!”

Frustrated with Louise being unable to understand her, Sophie was fast to reach the nearest Underground stop. She headed for the Victoria Line for the Vauxhall stop, making haste. The stabbing ache in her jaw refused to subside despite the painkillers she swallowed while travelling. As to what her colleague had said, of course her day off was cancelled. The prime minister had called for a general election, two months earlier than anyone had projected, and that meant that the matter with Manningtree was going to be negatively effected by such a decision.

Before lunch, Sophie was in the office belonging to the Security Secretary himself. He was a politician not to her liking – most of them weren’t to be fair – yet she did everything to keep that opinion to herself. The Chief of NISS was there along with Sophie’s immediate superior as well. The impact of the election being called was the subject of their discussion. Prime Minister Parkinson had consulted the Security Secretary along with other Cabinet members though it had been ultimately his decision to go ahead with having the King dissolve Parliament. There was apparently favourable polling data suggesting that while Parkinson would be booted from office by the voters, the outcome wouldn’t be that bad for his party overall. Naturally, the politics weren’t up for discussion at this meeting, just what it meant for Manningtree.

Sophie and her team needed more time. Interrogations of the detained former prime minister had gotten nowhere. She explained this and then had to repeat herself: just like Louise on the phone, those with her in this meeting had difficultly understanding her. It was a process of wearing her down, so Sophie told them, and in the end, she would crack. Then the necessary debrief would begin. There was still so much unknown about her treason to be uncovered, information that could only come from her. More traitors, those who had helped her when she was spying for Russia, were hidden from exposure at the current time.

The Crown Prosecution Service hadn’t announced a timetable for when Manningtree’s trial would begin. Despite nothing official, it was well known when that would begin: once the election was over and done with. Debriefing Manningtree wouldn’t be done by NISS for the benefit of the CPS’s case. In fact, once the Crown began, their activities would instead only hinder the process of getting Manningtree to finally cooperate with NISS.

The Security Secretary couldn’t interfere.

His hands were tied. His successor would certainly not seek to delay things either. Moreover, if any politicians would have influence there, it would be the current and incoming Justice Secretaries. Again, neither would want to cause what would be a scandal by doing so. The decision was in the hands of the non-political head of the CPS.

All that aside, Sophie reminded those with her, all people senior to her too, that ensuring the protection of the integrity of the general election was going to take away NISS assets. There were hostile actors already in-play, more certain to make their move to interfere in Britain’s democratic process. Forestalling all of that would mean manpower and attention redeployed, even if that was only for a month or so. All at this critical time too.

“We’re looking hard at Stephen Quinn at the moment.”

As she said the name of a former Downing Street aide to Manningtree, she saw the Chief write that down on the notepad for the Security Secretary to see. They were still struggling to understand what she was saying.

“Is the plan to have him arrested any time soon?” That her boss asked of Sophie.

She shook her head. “We’re not at that stage.” They weren’t even close. Even with all of the additional powers on espionage investigation that NISS had, all thanks to post-Manningtree legislation, there was nowhere near enough evidence, or viable suspicion of that, to have the young man detained. “If we could, I would have already.”

“I see.” The Security Secretary appeared utterly unauthentic in his answer: Sophie didn’t think he’d properly heard what she had said at all.

All that was said afterwards was forgettable, meaningless nonsense. Sophie sat through a three-way conversation between the others in the room where it was all pointless. The election was going ahead, Manningtree’s trial would start earlier than projected and Sophie’s investigation handicapped by those events beyond her control. Of all the days to have trouble speaking – well… being understood – it had to be today!

The meeting was breaking up just as the pain started to subside in her jaw, as finally those pills were taking effect, before there was a knock on the door and Louise entered with haste.

“I’m sorry,” she looked utterly flustered, “but this is really important and couldn’t wait.” Louise stood beside Sophie though spoke to their department head. “John Randolph has been found dead. He’s been killed in his home and it looks like the Met. might have a suspect already: one Caitlin Green.”

The pain in her jaw was gone. There was new agony for Sophie, now in her belly.

John, dead!?


Caitlin was at New Scotland Yard, inside a police interrogation room. She hadn’t been arrested yet was being interviewed under caution in the presence of her solicitor. He was Drunk Phil, someone on-call from her employer for when their journalists got into trouble. That usually meant police harassment… this was entirely different. Sober he might have been this evening, but he was still an alcoholic. Surprisingly, Drunk Phil wasn’t of his depth.

“I did not murder him.”

There were two NISS officers standing beside the furthest wall from where Caitlin sat. A pair of male police detectives were between those spooks and her yet Caitlin’s attention was on the women behind after she gave that answer to an allegation made by the older of the two detectives.

“What did you say? Yes, you, with the droopy face.”

Drunk Phil tried to hush her, for her to pay attention to the questions that the police had. However, the woman with the funny looking face had been mocking her, of that she was sure.

The spook didn’t answer. Instead, it was one of the detectives, the junior one in fact, who paraphrased what had been said over there at the back.

“She was doing an impression from the film I, Robot. There was a humanoid robot, name of Sunny – I think it was with a U, not an O –, who gave the same answer as you.”

Caitlin continued to stare at the two spooks. She couldn’t resist addressing them again: “These two here are asking me if I bloody well murdered your colleague and you’re both cracking jokes. What is wrong with you?”

The woman in green looked down at her shoes; the other, in a blue pant suit, fixed a vicious stare against Caitlin.

There was some huffing and puffing from the first of the detectives. “Can we move on, please? Caitlin, can you explain what you were doing at John Randolph’s house last night.”

“We’ve been through this already, haven’t we?” Drunk Phil knew his job.

“I just want the answer on the record again.”

“Fine.” Caitlin, sitting with her chin in her fists, raised her eyes to the detective with the questions. “I’m only telling you this because he’s dead. John was a source for a story I am working on to do with Alicia Manningtree. He’s been so for a while. We’re friendly and…”

The younger detective interjected: “How friendly?”

“Pals, not lovers.” She rolled her eyes at him. “He invited me over to his house in Clapham, where I’ve been before, and we talked for a while before I left. He was fine when I left and I certainly didn’t kill him.”

“What time did you leave?”

“Sometime just after ten.”

“Your phone data,” the younger detective corrected her, “says it was at ten forty-three. That’s almost eleven.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Okay…”

“A simple mistake in the timing, nothing more.” Drunk Phil was still on the ball.

“Initial indications from a pathologist state that he died between ten p.m. and two a.m.”

The older detective added to that: “You were there when he died, weren’t you?”

Caitlin could only repeat herself in reply. “I did not murder him.”

Neither Sophie nor Louise beside her had made such a joke. She didn’t even know of the film which Detective Sergeant Wood was speaking of, only the book. Clearly, that was a part of his interrogation technique.

Making jokes at a time like this she certainly wasn’t going to be.

She and John had known each other for some years. They’d once had a thing, a one-night thing that had turned into a three-week-thing, but it hadn’t ended badly. He’d been a colleague then and, until last night when someone had killed him, John had been a trusted subordinate working on the security of Manningtree while that woman was held in prison.

To be told he was dead, murdered in fact, had been gut wrenching.

Added to that was the trauma of the claim – which she didn’t doubt one bit despite only this journalist’s word for it – that he had been feeding the media information.

That wasn’t the John that she knew…

…however, how much she really know John?

The detectives continued to ask Caitlin questions. They enquired about what she did after leaving John’s flat. The journalist said she got on the Overground up to New Cross and went home. That was something which Sophie knew to be true: her phone had been hacked and all the information taken off it to confirm such a trip. There were questions about her activities before going to Clapham as well, including a recent trip made to Ireland. Caitlin only spoke of another source, refusing to give a name.

Listening, Sophie got madder and madder.

Who was this interloper, this woman who had been meeting with John?

How bloody dare she had turned him into her source of information that shouldn’t have been gotten out?

And just what had John been thinking too?

“You have yet to say how my client is supposed to have killed Mister Randolph.”

“We’re hoping,” the younger one replied, “that Caitlin can explain that.”

Still noticing the foulest of looks being given to her by the spook by the wall, who had a face looking as if it was carrying an injury of some sort, Caitlin was having none of that. “I told you, when I left, John was alive. He was doing fine. He walked me to the door and closed it behind me.”

“So, you didn’t push him over the bannister from the landing, breaking his neck in the process?” This came from the other one, the detective inspector whose name Caitlin had forgotten.

“Is that what you think happened to Mister Randolph?” Drunk Phil asked that question before Caitlin could.

Caitlin’s mind filled with an image of him on the carpeted ground floor of his suburban house, down there below the stairs and the upstairs landing. Like a stick man, she saw him pictured, with his head almost at a right angle to his shoulders.

It was a troubling image.

“As I said, I’d like Caitlin to explain what occurred. Now, if there was an accident, if there was a dispute and maybe he fell and Caitlin panicked… maybe this might be the best time to talk about that.”

“Inspector, can you tell me, roughly, how tall this man was? What did he weight too?”

The policemen looked at each other. The younger one spoke up. “He was six foot. Also, maybe fourteen stone.”

“Have you seen the size of my client?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “It’s impossible.”

As to Caitlin, she was sitting back as she had been before: leaning forward, elbows on the table, her chin in her fists. Caitlin suppressed a yawn, fought off her irritation too. She’d heard what her solicitor said, noted his point, and then told them once again of her innocence.

“He was fine when I left him. I liked John, we were friends. I did nothing to harm him. I’m sad that he’s dead.”

Saying what she was thinking, rather than trying to frame it into something more softer to go with a man’s death, Caitlin was being honest. She hadn’t killed him, nor hurt him in anyway. For anyone to think that she would have hurt John was just exceptionally crazy for have to hear.

They were friends!

“Why,” so asked Drunk Phil, “is murder that first thing that comes to your mind. The way you describe how he was found, and even you used the word ‘accident’, Inspector seems to me to be as if a jump is being made.

Actually, I’ll rephrase that: you appear to be leaping with your eyes wide open to a conclusion with my client at the heart of that.”

Remembering all the unkind office gossip about Drunk Phil, even his sobriquet in the place of his last name which she couldn’t even recall, Caitlin silently admonished herself. He was doing good. She was damn glad that it was he here at her side.

“I didn’t kill him.” That she told the detectives, and those rotten spooks too.

D.S. Wood frowned. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t think she did it.”

“You’re wrong, Patrick.

She was there. She lied about when she left. She got all in a rage when you asked if they were lovers. Look at her lack of empathy, the missing sadness at the death of someone she said she considered a friend. Perhaps we don’t have a motive, but I think there is one there. And that was our killer.” D.I. Glover sounded extremely confident.

“Is that what we’re really thinking? That this is some kind of lover’s tiff?” Louise broke into the two detective’s conversation.

“This girl did it. Again, just look at how she is acting. Her who demeanour screams guilty, from the moment we picked her up until we just had to let her go because of that damn whip smart brief of hers. The ‘why’ is important, and we’ll need that, but she killed him.”

Louise remained unconvinced: “No, I don’t think she. Look, I don’t like her, nor what she was doing, but that wasn’t a killer in there. That was the media and they’re awkward to deal with.”

“I stick by what I’ve said.”

Sophie spent another portion of her day just listening and saying nothing. She touched her face when remembering the pain from earlier that had now gone. She wanted a mirror to see how her jaw looked but dismissed that idea. This really wasn’t the time.

As to who was right and who was wrong, Sophie had no idea. The D.S., the D.I. and her colleague Louise all had different opinions. Sophie had been unable to read Caitlin. She couldn’t see if that woman was a killer or just someone caught up in the whole shock of being told someone was dead and then dragged to New Scotland Yard in the middle of the day under the threat of arrest for murder if she didn’t comply. Maybe, there was something else up with her that was making her look guilty in the eyes of the Met.

Caitlin was gone now, off with her solicitor. After watching her walk away, Sophie had told herself that she had judged the journalist not on what was known about John’s death, but her own instant hostility to Caitlin.

She hadn’t liked what there had been between Caitlin and John when hearing of that. Sophie had too believed that there had been more than friendship there.

Had that clouded her judgement?

Moreover, she had to concede that the Met. detectives didn’t really have much. Caitlin could easily be innocent, maybe even framed as some sort of patsy.

If that was the case, something which Sophie had to admit as she thought it was just speculation, along the lines of what the Met. had done too, then what was going on here?

Who had killed John, the NISS officer who was in regular close contact with the imprisoned Manningtree?

Why had they done so? Was it something he knew?

“We’re going to speak to Caitlin alone, no cops this time.” Sophie told Louise that as they took the short walk to Westminster Station in the rain.

“I agree.” Louise was finally able to understand her.

“First, we find out everything about what she’s been up to recently so we have a better idea of what we’re walking into. Then, she’s ours to pick apart.”

Louise had a question: “And then we go see Manningtree too?”

“Damn right.” Sophie wanted to do that indeed. “She’s behind all of this and we’ll get her for this.”

Caitlin was soon outside of New Scotland Yard under her umbrella.

She was going over them as Drunk Phil – she intended to buy him a drink; for him, not for herself after having too much last night – hailed a taxi on The Embankment. They were heading back to the National’s office in Paddington. There would be a meeting with her editor and members of the newspaper’s board.

“I’d say let’s do this again sometime, but…”

He smiled at her attempt of humour: “Jeez, what’s wrong with those coppers? To think that you of all people could be capable of doing something like that!”

“I’m not that little!”

Back inside, Caitlin hadn’t been amused at the suggestion that because she was short and thin, she was helpless.

“No,” he shook his head, “that’s not what I meant. You’re just not that kind of person.” His eyes moved off her. “Oh, there’s a taxi!”

They jumped in. As it rode them away, Caitlin’s mind had remarkably similar thoughts to that of the senior NISS officer left behind in that building. The one thing that she did know was that she was innocent and had done nothing wrong.
Posts: 152
Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2022 8:21 pm

Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Ten – Useful Titbit

Sophie waited until Thursday afternoon before she went to see Caitlin. There was a lot to discover about the journalist first, much more than the Met. had looked into. They didn’t have the resources that NISS had, even when conducting a murder investigation. D.I. Glover was still insistent that Caitlin was a killer, even an accidental one, but Sophie remained to be convinced. She had Louise with her when they went down to New Cross, to the side-street close to the train station where the flat could be found, and Sophie’s colleague still firmly believed that the journalist was innocent of that alleged crime. Louise was holding her own coffee cup, brought from a shop on the main road and so rang the bell; Sophie had no free hands, not with two coffees to hold herself.


Sophie leaned forward to the speaker below the buzzer: “Caitlin, it’s Sophie Flynn. We met the other night at New Scotland Yard. Can I come in, please?”

“Are you the head spook? The one with the swollen face too?” There was hostility there.

“That I am.”

“Is,” Caitlin asked, “just you, or have you got some coppers with you?”

“Me and a colleague, no policemen.”

“What happens if I don’t let you in?” The hostility was still present.

“Let’s not go down that route, shall we? C’mon, open up: I got you a coffee.”

The outside door to the block opened. Sophie and Louise went inside and up to the second floor where Caitlin opened her flat’s door.

“I only let you in because you brought me a coffee.” There was the briefest of false smiles. “Take your shoes off on your way in, will you?”

Caitlin led them into the living room, a space shared with a kitchen area.

Sophie took it all in. She was impressed at the neatness, the décor and the comforts on hand yet was unnerved by how small it all was. She and Louise sat on the sofa while Caitlin pulled over a kitchen chair. She drank her coffee after thanking Sophie for it, all while staring at the two spooks in her flat. There was a brief conversation at Caitlin’s direction as to whether she should call her solicitor down here. Sophie recommended against that before Louise told Caitlin that to do so would mean a trip elsewhere, to a NISS facility where no solicitors were allowed: it was best to chat here.

“Can I nip to your loo?” Louise asked the favour that she had Sophie had discussed her doing on the way here.

Caitlin arched an eyebrow: “To be honest, you should just tell the truth. You want to have a quick nosey around. The bathroom is the first door you’ll see, my bedroom is the second. Try not to break anything, will you?”

Louise acted as if none of that was said. She left the room as Caitlin took Sophie’s empty cup, plus hers, and dropped them in the bin. Standing over by the kitchen counter, she asked Sophie why she was here.

“I came to talk about John Randolph.”

“And I didn’t murder him, as I said the other night.”

“The Met. think you did.”

“That copper with the greasy hair,” she could only have meant Glover, “had it in for me on sight. You missed that but I tell you now, it was real. I wasn’t feeling great when he turned up in my newspaper’s offices and I think, though I’ll admit I don’t know, how I was acting didn’t sit right with him. Yeah, I know, it sounds odd. But my job is to meet people, to talk to people. I know when someone doesn’t like me. He didn’t and made the jump that I must be some sort of killer.”

“I see.” Sophie was unsure what to make of such remarks and so fell back on a non-committal answer. “Tell me about John.”

Louise came back into the living room and sat down after her quick snooping about as Caitlin began.

“That other detective was asking if John and I were an item. No, we weren’t. We were friends. We just got on from our first meeting, a mirror image of what occurred with that Detective Inspector. We liked each other. We had a laugh and that’s just it.

He was funny with his dead pan dad jokes.

It was the day after Manningtree’s court appearance near the Elephant & Castle. John approached me outside my offices. I’d seen him at court the day beforehand and Manningtree’s barrister had pointed him out as one of you people from N.I.S.S. I didn’t even have time to think about what was happening when he asked me to sit down and told me he wanted to tell me something about the investigation against her, one he said was still ongoing.

That copper asked me how many times we’d met. I told him half a dozen but it might have been twice that, thinking on it now. We swapped information. Not much, not much at all to be fair, but it was enough for me. A source like him is a goldmine even if what is given isn’t much on each asking.”

When a policewoman, Sophie had talked with liars. She’d spoken to fraudsters, thieves, child abusers, drunk drivers, rapists, the mad, the bad and the truly scary. Once with NISS, she’d met traitors, terrorists and some right idiots too… the latter mostly people in politics. Back to liars: she’d spoken with them plenty.

Caitlin was not coming across as a liar.

“You’re on leave from the National, yes?”

Her posture tightened. “They’ve taken a big steaming one on me from a great height.” Rage flashed across her face. “They’ve asked me to stay at home for the time being. There is some girl in the office, she isn’t even a proper journalist – Isabel is nothing but a bubble-head –, who has taken over my brief.

I get falsely accused of killing someone but not arrested nor charged, just interviewed. Then comes this ‘gardening leave’ rubbish. They wouldn’t even let me cover something else, like the election.

It’s a mess and I’m as mad as hell about it.”

Sophie knew all about that, more than Caitlin did in fact. The journalist’s communications, along with her colleague’s and those of her bosses too, had been thoroughly compromised in the past couple of days. Everything that was going on with the unofficial suspension of Caitlin from her place of work was something that Sophie was fully up to speed on.

“And, so, we were talking about John…”

“You’re the one,” there was a finger pointed at Sophie, “that went off on a tangent, not me. Ask away.”

“Was he being paid for what he was giving you?”


“Why not?”

“Because it would have been illegal.” Caitlin explained that as if she was talking to a child sitting where Sophie was. “Who do you think would have paid him anyway? My ‘paper? Forget about it: it would be a cold day in hell before that happens. Me? Look at where I live: do you think I have my own money to pay sources?

He didn’t ask for money. It never came up.

If he had, I wouldn’t have had it to give him, nor done so either. It’s part of my job to know about N.I.S.S and also the penalties for giving financial inducements to employees for information. I don’t fancy the five years inside alongside Manningtree, ta very much.”

“You spoke to him though.” Louise interjected. “He shared with you confidential and secret information that he shouldn’t have. He was committing a crime doing that but so too were you by talking with him and not going to the proper authorities.”

Caitlin came back over to her chair. “Yeah, I’m buggered there, aren’t I? You all knew that when you had those coppers arrest me. I couldn’t deny it when they confronted me with that information. So, I’m in trouble for that because I got caught red handed there.”

With such a fatalistic answer, Caitlin leaned backwards. Sophie remained studying her. All she could see was someone telling the truth. That wasn’t to say that she liked her, because she didn’t, but she still didn’t believe she had a liar in front of her.

“You went to Cork didn’t you? Tell me about that?”

Sophie asked that when Caitlin returned from a brief trip to the bathroom. Louise had with great haste – it was amazing to observe the speed employed – gone through all of the draws & cupboards in sight, finding nothing of interest though.

“John didn’t send me there.”

“Who did?”

“I cannot tell you.” Caitlin crossed her arms, now striking a defiant pose, as she made that clear. “I won’t tell you. That’s another source and to get me to talk about them, it’ll have to be more than a meeting in my flat to get me to reveal all.”

Sophie moved on; she’d find out the ‘who’ at a latter point. “I know why you went though. You saw Pishvanov, didn’t you?

You’re looking for that infamous videotape.”

“That guy…”

Caitlin left that comment unfinished. Her eyes had gone to the ceiling briefly before they returned to meet Sophie’s.

“I’ve heard from others who have had interactions with him. He – or Kolya as he pretends to be – infuriates all those who meet him.”

“Did you get anything useful from him?” Louise asked that question.

“Nothing but hot air and a stupid story.”

Louise had gotten up and walked to the window. She stood looking out at the rear gardens, railway lines & dark ominous clouds over London when she asked another question. Sophie’s protege had rehearsed so much of this undeclared debriefing.

“Did Gemma Brookslane send you to Ireland?” Louise asked that while she fingered one of the trinkets on the window sill – the flat was full of them, pictures too, plus books including a well-thumbed copy of The Lord of the Rings on the coffee table – though Sophie saw how she ever so carefully put back down the Orc figurine when Caitlin glared at her.

“Square Peg?” Caitlin shook her head empathically. “Nope, she didn’t.”

“But,” Sophie took back over the questioning, “you’ve spoken with her a great deal, yes?”

“Of course. She is Manningtree’s barrister and a solid supporter of hers, even if she won’t admit that aloud. I haven’t done anything wrong by talking to her, even if most of it hasn’t been fruitful in any way.

And, so, back to John…” Caitlin dragged them back to that.

“What was John telling you about Manningtree?” Louise had that question.

“Why,” Sophie hit her with a second question, “was he talking to you, risking everything to do so?”

“He approached me and explained his motives.”

“Which were?” Sophie asked that, still trying to figure out why John had done what he had.

Caitlin took a deep breath and moved uneasily in her chair. “He thought Manningtree was eventually going to get off. John told me that he wanted to see that she didn’t and the way to do that was to get out into the press more details of her treason than were already known.”

That wasn’t the John that Sophie knew.

He had said he didn’t like the media.

He’d told Sophie before that they, and the Crown Prosecution Service too, had plentiful evidence to lock the former prime minister up for the rest of her life.

Once again, there was no lie in Caitlin that Sophie could see. All that there was was truthfulness…

…one which Sophie didn’t want to believe.

“I knew John well. We were friends, longer than you say you were. The John you describe isn’t the one that I knew.”

Caitlin got up and stood behind her chair. Her arms rested on its back and she leaned forwards. “Look, I’m telling you how it was. That was what John said to me. He wanted her locked up for good and was determined to make it happen. He fed me details not in the public domain with the intention of seeing me put that into print.”

“Tell me what he gave you then.”

Sophie sat listening as Caitlin went through what John had told her. It wasn’t much. She, and Louise too, queried several issues. Caitlin spoke of things that John said he didn’t know, ones that Sophie knew that he would have: Louise appeared to be of the same opinion. If John was trying to bury Manningtree for good using this journalist, he hadn’t been doing the best of that.

The only thing of interest was a little titbit about an ex Downing Street employee.

“So it wasn’t him who told you about Pishvanov?” Sophie took back control of the conversation.

“No.” Caitlin was sitting back down again now as she replied there. “By the way, that’s two people you have asked me about, whether they were the one. I’m not going to keep playing this guessing game.”

“But it wasn’t John?”

“I told you it wasn’t.”

“The thing is,” Louise said, “you’re telling us something that we cannot believe. You’re lying to us, aren’t you?”

“No,” she shook her head, “I am not.”

There was just truth written all over her that Sophie gleamed from it all.

There was another pause before Louise asked Caitlin details of each meeting with John: location and times were written down. Sophie waited until that was finished with and then moved on to what she had next for the debrief.

“Who killed John, Caitlin?”

“I didn’t.” Indignation off her now.

“I didn’t ask that.” Sophie clarified. “I asked if you knew who killed him. Do you know who did?”

“No, I don’t. I didn’t know he was dead until those police detectives arrived at my work. I have no idea who killed him. Moreover, as my solicitor said in that rather unfriendly interview, those coppers were talking about murder without anything to support that.

Let me ask you a question: was he killed or was it an accident?”

“That’s still undetermined, hence why you’re still free from the clutches of the Met.” Louise answered instead.

Sophie wasn’t giving up: “Was it the Russians who did it, Caitlin? Crazed supporters of Manningtree maybe? What was it you called them in that article I read? Oh, yes: Manningtree Stans.”

“I don’t know.” She held open the palms of her hands, crossing her legs as she spoke.

Frustration gripped Sophie. She’d come here for answers. The ones she had gotten, she hadn’t liked. As to others, they hadn’t been forthcoming.

“People don’t just fall over the bannister from the first floor of their house and land on the open ground floor, breaking their neck in the process. I’ve been inside his house. The angles don’t work for me with that. You know something, don’t you?”

“No. I. Do. Not. Know. Anything.” Caitlin slowly said each word there.

They left after that. It started to rain moments after they left the block of flats. Louise was first with her umbrella, Sophie struggling to catch up. Her mind was elsewhere rather than on the weather.

The train station wasn’t far away but Sophie stopped her colleague before they reached there.

“How many Watchers on her, Louise?”

“There’s a rotating team of six. Two on during the day, three at night. There’s a drone up at nighttime too. She’s covered entirely.

You know that I still don’t believe she killed John, don’t you?”

“Yes.” Sophie looked down at her shoes. She’d stepped in a puddle somewhere. “Sitting there talking to her, I don’t too, but…”

“But what?”

“The whole thing isn’t right.” Sophie tried to explain. “I still don’t know what we are missing. I asked about the Watchers because I’m concerned about her safety.”

“So am I.”

“I thought after that police interview Monday night that someone might be setting her up as a patsy. She’s ripe for that, I think.”

“Do you want to see her taken somewhere safe?”

Sophie grimaced at the idea of such a thing. “She’d kick up a stink but she’d probably go. Yet, let’s not do that. The Watchers are observing her and I want to find out if I’m wrong. If I am, and she’s up to no good, and that would mean she’s the best liar that I’ve ever encountered, then there’s a very good chance we catch her at that.”

“Maybe.” Louise sounded very dismissive but then perked up noticeably. “Did you catch the useful titbit about Stephen Quinn in there?”

“You know I did.” Sophie didn’t miss things like that, not when debriefing someone and they happen to mention who their dead NISS source was talking about during their last conversation.

“We’re all over him next, yes? I thought Harriet’s team was looking into him. Our journalist back there got his name from John though. Which means…” Louise hesitated briefly before finishing what she was saying. “…that John was doing his own investigation, doesn’t it?”

Sophie started walking towards the train station again, reflecting on Louise’s summary.

“That appears to be the case. What he was thinking of, I just don’t know. However, Mister Quinn will be coming in for questioning tonight.”

There was no need for her to go into what that meant. Louise would fully understand that the former Downing Street employee, someone cleared by MI-5 in the immediate aftermath of Manningtree’s public exposure, was in for an indefinite period of detention where he would be answering questions in a vastly different setting to how Caitlin Green had.
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Re: Debrief

Post by jemhouston »

Too bad firing everyone and starting over from scratch isn't an option.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Blowing it all up is what many want to do.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Eleven – Follow The Money

The raid took place at four in the morning. At that time, it was long before the sky even started to get light, ahead of dawn breaking too. Most people, the sensible ones anyway, were not just asleep in bed, but within a deep sleep. They would be dreaming and if awoken suddenly, which it would take something forceful to do, their reaction times would be slow.

The perfect time for a raid.

Essex Police provided assistance. They had their own Authorised Firearms Officers and Special Branch too. NISS mostly worked with the Met. Police yet Essex Police was sufficiently capable and professional for assistance. The raid took place on their ground too, in Brentwood. That was a commuter town just beyond London’s suburbs, hosting the penultimate terminus station on the busy Elizabeth Line into the country’s capital too. Working From Home had changed the character of the town and its pre-pandemic commuter rush, especially on the Friday morning when the raid came, yet at that time of the morning, those changes didn’t mean anything.

Everyone was asleep… apart from those taking part in the raid.

While the police officers quickly set up a perimeter – to keep the gawkers away –, four black vans rushed into one of the many suburban cul-de-sacs. They had been finely tuned to be silent and of their approach, no one noticed. Greased side doors slid open as the vans came to a halt and half a dozen men and women poured out of each. They wore black overalls covered with armoured plates, ski masks and ballistic helmets. Velcro badges were weren’t attached for this raid, ones which would have stated that they were police: on other missions, those would be present just to make things less complicated. Most of those involved were former police officers but they were working for NISS now. They carried guns with them on the raid. Short carbine semi-automatic assault rifles and pistols were their weapons.

Towards a smart detached house the raiders went. The front door was approached by those from one van while another went through the side gate and round the back, that team pre-warned of the dog too. A third team had the mission of going in through the large bay window to the left of the door with the fourth team tasked to wait on the front lawn to support the others if necessary.

Simultaneously, three entrances were made. Into the house the raiders went. The doors had been opened rather than smashed in while a good portion of glass had been taken with care out of the window first. Through the house they moved, clearing rooms downstairs and going to the first floor with haste. The team that had come in through the front door were fast into the master bedroom. Their torches illuminated their target as he lay in bed. He was awoken, so to his husband, with shouts and bright lights in his eyes from raiders carrying guns.

Dragged out of bed, he was manhandled into a paper over-suit before a hood was secured over his head alongside sound-deafening headphones. The raiders carried him outside and into one of the vans which drove off with him soon enough.

Stephen Quinn was in NISS detention.

Residents in nearby properties came awake. There was a commotion at one of their neighbour’s houses with a man in his dressing gown outside on the lawn, his dog barking too, shouting at police officers. Essex Police had moved in to assist after Quinn was gone and they attempted to calm the outraged householder. He would have none of that. He was a solicitor, didn’t they know? He demanded to know who had arrested his husband, his client, and when he could have access to him. As to those people inside his house, just who were they?

An NISS search team was tearing the house apart. They moved slowly and carefully, searching for anything well hidden. All electronic devices were seized at the outset. That ranged from phones and laptops to a games console and a smart music playing platform. Cupboards and draws were emptied with contents examined before the frames themselves were searched. Rugs and carpets came up where the floor was checked for hallowed out spaces beneath. It was the same with the walls: the searchers looked for compartments were items would be secreted somewhere in hidden spots. The loft might have looked unused, but it was a rabbit warren of potential hidden spaces to hide something small. The same treatment was given to the garage and the garden shed were they were pulled apart. A tent was erected over the grass at both the front and the rear of the house. The ground was dug up in plentiful amounts. There were two cars parked in the driveway with each of them given a thorough search which included taking them apart too.

This went on for hours. The searchers found nothing. They looked really hard, in every conceivable place. Quinn’s house revealed no evidence of the treason he was suspected in being engaged in though. It would be a week before his husband could get back into the house. He came with a colleague, someone to hold a video camera and thus record the state of the house and grounds following the departure of the NISS team. The hope was to get that online and show the whole world the intrusive nature of Britain’s surveillance state. Doing so was something he found impossible though: NISS blocked his attempts, using the legislative-mandated cooperation of the traditional media & social media companies to keep their activities out of the public eye.

All of that searching yielded zero. But it didn’t matter.

Quinn was taken on that first morning to a NISS facility in Hounslow. He was held incommunicado with no access to legal representation. Denials were made at first during interviews that he had ever been engaged in treason: not recently, nor when he had worked at Downing Street for the then prime minister. Yet, it only took a day before he cracked and started telling the truth.

The confession came thick and fast. Quinn admitted that Manningtree had enlisted him in helping her commit treason. Information from Downing Street was sent to Russian intelligence operatives from their SVR. He had pre-packaged secret information at her direction for Manningtree to then enlist several of her close aides – one after the other; two of them losing their lives as part of that – to hand over to Russian contacts. It was Manningtree who had told him what she wanted and he had been involved only in the technical side of things.

Why had he done so? Quinn had been paid. It wasn’t Manningtree who had given him money but instead those behind secretive financial transfers; he recalled details of those to the delight of NISS investigators. There was a money trail for them to follow.

Did he know of anyone else involved? No, he did not.

Was he going to cooperate with the Crown in its case against the former prime minister? Yes, he would.

Debriefed several times, titbits of additional information was squeezed out of Quinn. His overall story remained the same though. Once there was nothing more to get out of him, Quinn was then taken to meet CPS lawyers. He spoke with them for several hours before NISS then took him to a safe house in the Gloucestershire countryside. From there he was allowed contact with his husband via a web link that NISS controlled but he wasn’t going home. Quinn was kept isolated, not knowing himself exactly where he was, all for his own safety plus that of the court case against Manningtree. No public revelation was made of his detention nor cooperation. What he had to say was something to be dealt with in good time.

While in isolation, Quinn knew nothing of what was happening across the country during the ongoing general election campaign. The political think tank where he worked, an organisation who had no clue as to his whereabouts, had a role to play in that. However, their clever schemes to persuade voters to cast their ballots a certain way a few weeks hence fell silently into the oblivion as the country was rocked by political violence and scandal on a shocking, unprecedented scale.


Zafar Ali was assassinated during the second week of the election campaign. He was a British-born Pakistani, a young political campaigner who defied convention in his community and refused to listen to his elders. Ali was an inspirational figure for many of those young like him infused with progressive politics. Followers of his transcended ethnic lines because he had the gift of making people believe in him. The timing of the election had come as a surprise to Ali as it did to everyone else. He wasn’t a member of any political party yet had ambitions: the foremost of those was to be elected to Parliament. In haste, Ali had registered as an independent candidate to contest his local constituency. Walthamstow was in London’s East End. It was gentrified community though with large areas of poverty still. Among both those struggling and those on their way up, Ali had their support. His main opponent for election to the Commons would be the existing MP, from the Opposition that was looking to form the next government, and so he had a real challenge on his hands. Nonetheless, Ali was doing well. That all changed with his death.

When speaking outdoors to a crowd of his activists near the Underground station, a man approached Ali through the crowd. He came from the side, raising a pistol at the very last moment. Two shots were fired. The first struck a campaign volunteer in the chest and the second hit the parliamentary candidate in the head. Both victims would die instantly. The assassin was pounced on by members of the crowd. Many had fled, but not a dozen or so who tackled the shooter, disarmed him, beat him and held him until the police took him away.

Social media footage of the shooting went viral with the predicable rush. There was grief and outrage. Supporters and opponents of Ali condemned his killing. Tributes were paid from senior politicians. As to his murderer, he was another young man from Britain’s large ethnic communities. However, the assassin was a British Hindu with an Indian background. He’d killed Ali out of ethnic and religious hatred. There was a video he’d filmed of himself before the shooting, one time delayed to be released after the fact. It too went viral.

Across various parts of London – north, south, east & west – there would be unrest the night and into the following day. Communities would attack each other in response to Ali’s death, a stark contrast to his living wishes of intra-faith harmony. There would be rioting, violence against the police, looting and assaults against the innocent. It wouldn’t just be confided to the capital city either. In Birmingham, Bradford, Glasgow, Leeds, and Luton, media coverage would capture images of extreme disorder in British cities where Muslim and Hindu mobs fought each other, the police and also right-wing groups who came looking for trouble on the streets too. None of that would compare to the scenes in Leicester though where that small Midlands city was torn apart. Images of the violence there went global for their intensity. Four people would lose their lives with many more lucky to survive injuries inflicted during the worst civil unrest seen in the UK since the violence of 2011. Politicians condemned it all though some used it for their own ends because there was an election on after all.

The Security Secretary was a ‘man of passions’: such had been one description in a newspaper pre-election. Another publication had been a bit more open and called him ‘philanderer’. Martin Hardy had quite the reputation when it came to his behaviour with women other than his wife, one that had failed to dent his career in any meaningful way. His government role might have been certain to come to an end soon enough but he was still seeking to remain an MP. Hardy was fighting for his political life down in Surrey when facing a real strong challenge there to kick him out of Parliament. When his leading opponent there was slipped some information about Hardy, she opted not to use it because, considering the voters in the constituency, it was likely to win him votes rather than lose them!

The details of Hardy’s latest affair were broadcast online instead. It was splashed all over the internet that the Security Secretary was bedding Imogen Gainsborough. She was the sister of Britain’s prime minister, a Cabinet colleague of Hardy. It wasn’t just an allegation. There were hacked messages of a lurid nature and even pictures. A video to really wet the appetite of the public wasn’t there yet there was enough scandal to do the job. Newspapers and the broadcast media at first skirted away from the story. There’d been a briefing given to journalists via ‘lobby rules’ from the Home Secretary claiming that the story was a Russian-orchestrated political hit job. Moscow was taking another swipe at the UK’s democracy, they were told, and the worst thing to do would be to play along with that.

The silence from the media lasted for two days. That was until Gainsborough’s husband, a celebrity chef who had quite the public following, made public comment. Such remarks were enough for the media to opt to go against their initial hesitation and splash the story across their front-pages and lead headlines. It was just too good of a story to no longer ignore, not with the personalities involved. Comment was made that there were Russian fingerprints over the leak as editors and producers covered their backsides but that was in the detail of the story. Public attention was on the red meat, not the fine print.

The whole country was quickly talking about such a scandal that had all the hallmarks of a juicy soap opera plot, though this one was very real.

There were arson attacks on the campaign offices of two election candidates, a brick through the window at the home of another. Death threats were issued to various candidates with the police taking most of those very seriously indeed considering what had happened in Walthamstow. A hand grenade was thrown at members attending a political rally in Sheffield. It failed to detonate though if it had, there would likely have been dozens of casualties. Jenny Potts, MP for Mansfield, was targeted by a would-be killer just as Ali had been. She was a hard-right firebrand, someone with a national profile. The man who set out to shoot her was a disturbed individual angry at the world and focused that on her. Nottinghamshire Police were alerted to his motives ahead of time and NISS became involved. There was a pre-dawn raid on the man’s house by one of their black-clad teams – this time they wore the Velcro ‘Police’ badges – who then handed him, and his weapon, over to the country constabulary.

Potts weaponised that planned assassination for her benefit and that of her party despite being told not to. Extremists were out of control and they needed to be stopped… apparently at the ballot box.

She had once been Manningtree’s Cabinet though not close to her but rather instead an ally of Lisa Payne. The latter was officially friendless in current political circles where she was heading up the campaign to free the former prime minister. Figures such as Potts had avoided any sign of public allegiance to such a disgraced character though there were ties behind the scenes from those who believed Manningtree was guilty yet were using her fight for their own dubious ends regardless.

Payne went ahead with her Lincoln rally. The calling of the general election had thrown her campaign off the front pages and there was no election platform to run on with regard to Manningtree’s imprisonment. That didn’t mean she wanted to be out of the headlines though. The event went ahead with a police presence and also the unseen attendance of NISS operatives keeping an eye on it all.

Amanda Cunningham – still using the alias Mandy Kirby – had burrowed herself deep into that campaign’s day-to-day operations. As anticipated, all sorts of discoveries were made about the financial backers of those seeking to free the worst traitor that Britain had ever had. By following the money, NISS came upon those involved who were expected and unexpected too.

British nationals donating to the campaign’s costs had Russian ties, even if they didn’t fully grasp that. There were exiles from the current and former regimes in Moscow who were sending money through intermediaries to keep it all going. They were supposed to be opponents of Russia but were working for its aim of destabilising British democracy at such a testing time. For years they’d been doing it, engaging in ‘lawfare’ against who dared print such allegations, using lawyers in it for themselves, often the ones who would refuse to take cases they deemed immoral (those against climate activists and such like), who had no qualms against taking Russian money.

For a long time, that had all been theory. Now there was evidence to so it was fact. Amanda uncovered a whole web of financial transfers. That was all reported back to her superiors whose task at such a difficult time was defending British democracy in action. NISS officers waited for their political masters to act.

And they waited some more too.
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Re: Debrief

Post by jemhouston »

Fiddle Rome Burn
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Twelve – Gold Pin

It was just going to be one of those days.

Sophie had a gut feeling before coming in today and was, unfortunately, proved correct. She started early, so did the trouble.

A call from her superior alerted to her to the latest Angleton issue. That was a website for leaks with a primary focus on the United States’ Intelligence Community yet there had been matters concerning Britain all over it before: the public exposure of Manningtree for a start. The website remained up on the dark web. Long ago, Sophie had been sure that the Americans would take it down for good not matter what tricks were tried by those behind it to keep Angleton up and live. There had been reported outages for several days where the archives of that site had vanished from view. It would have made perfect sense for the Americans to do that. It acted as a platform for some of the biggest secrets of the CIA, the NSA and also military intelligence agencies to have broadcast to the world. Of course they’d want to see it gotten rid of. Nonetheless, it was still active. Its hosting moved around the world, so she’d been told, but it was always up with bi-weekly main stories and a host of smaller ones which had increasingly turned to Five Eyes countries as well.

Mike had had an explanation for Angleton remaining live: her colleague was certain that it was being left alone by the Intelligence Community so that the Americans could catch people attempting to send secrets there. That made some sense to her but at the same time, Sophie saw how new things went up, meaning that those behind the sting weren’t doing the best of jobs. There had been a counter from Mike though, someone who loved his rabbit hole wanderings and the halls of mirrors (she’d read The Company too): how much of that was true though and not faked so as to keep potential leakers in the cross-hairs? Her own previous reply had been whether the Intelligence Community – quite the beast, something that NISS for all of its faults could never hope to compete with on that level – had really wanted those secrets out. Would the CIA have wanted failed spy operations in Beijing exposed? Or would the NSA have been happy to have the world know of its latest communications hacking of hundreds of millions of phones?

Whatever the truth there, and Sophie didn’t believe that the Americans wanted it exposing all of their secrets, Angleton was still live. Its secrets spilled today concerned Britain. The website was doing something it didn’t usually do though where it made public an ongoing Russian intelligence operation taking place in the UK. This wasn’t an historic exposé, as was usually the case, but something different indeed. Angleton was depicting this as something that NISS hadn’t caught and it was alerting Britain’s spooks to… as well as the rest of the world.

Sitting at her desk, Sophie read it.

“Oh, damn.” She shook her head. “And there goes Harriet.”

Her other colleague would be on the Underground at the minute, heading here to Vauxhall Cross blissfully unaware that she was going to be deep in the sticky stuff. Sophie had been assigned Harriet after the other woman’s fantastic achievements last year in bringing down a whole Russian spy ring where they had agents under long-term deep cover posing as Britons. The Morris’, and compatriots, had been caught and then swapped for Manningtree and two others. All sorts of discoveries had been made when taking down that spy ring but something big had been missed. That was Roberta Stokes.

Everything that Sophie read, she just knew was true. She had seen the NISS summaries beforehand about Angleton which clearly stated that nothing that had ever gone up on the site had proved been false. The sources for those leaks were first-rate. Everyone knew that was the website had would be true. This would be too. There was an important spy working for the Morris’ spy ring that Harriet had missed. Stokes was on the staff of the Leader of the Opposition, a man in perfect position to become the next prime minister in a few weeks. Angleton had all this evidence of her passing secrets to the Russians, before and after the Morris’, all without NISS knowing anything about it.

Sophie mentally counted off the three things that were about to happen.

Firstly, there would be serious political drama over the matter where it concerned the Leader of the Opposition, even if he wasn’t directly tied to the whole thing. It would be worse than the recent revelation of the Security Secretary’s affair.

Second would be that Stoke’s spying career would be over and that would cause a big stink as it was investigated. NISS would want to know how long she’d been doing what she had, all of the gory details too.

Thirdly, Sophie would lose Harriet. There would have to be an internal NISS investigation. One of Sophie’s key people on the never ending Manningtree matter was going to unavailable for some time. Of course, it wouldn’t sink her, but Harriet wasn’t going to have any fun and be out of active field work.

“Who bloody did this?”

Sophie asked aloud as to who was behind the exposé, unsure if she wanted to know the answer.

But it was obvious, wasn’t it? It was the Russians again doing damage to the UK.

A couple of hours later, Jasmine came into her office. “I like your hair,” Sophie told her after glancing at her weave, “it suits you.”

“I found a new place up in Tottenham.” Jasmine touched her head. “Anyway… I’ve got something you aren’t going to like.”

Sophie sighed. Jasmine, who’d so thoroughly debriefed Debbie Smith, doing an excellent job of that, was someone she had much time for. She had trust in her too, such was why she had put her as point woman investigating John’s death.

“Hit me with it: this day cannot get any worse.”

Or could it?

“There’s a woman John met with the Sunday he died. They had an eighty seconds face-to-face outside of Clapham North Station. She stopped him and spoke with him before they went their separate ways. As you know, Sophie, I’ve been going back through all available camera footage from every source you can imagine,” Sophie knew Jasmine had been busy with that where she had more resources than the Met. Police did, “and I found this.”

It was dash-cam footage. There was a car stationary at a set of traffic lights and it had the recording which Jasmine had playing on her tablet for Sophie to see. Sophie was well aware that Jasmine’s search took her everyone possible in the hunt for a complete picture of John’s activities in the two weeks before his untimely death. This would have come from the databanks of an insurance company, handed over without hesitation when asked for by one of those companies complying with national security legislation.

“She’s pretty.” The woman really was. “She how she used what she’s got to get his attention?”

Sophie hated her on sight, jealous of her looks and how she had used them on John. The woman in the footage must have had a push-up bra on to go with that low cut top but also had quite the face & hair too.

A wink came from Jasmine. “Oh, I did indeed. See her bag?” Sophie nodded at her before Jasmine continued. “A Batgirl bag for someone who…”

“…loves Batman.” The handbag that the woman was carrying was fashioned in the shape of a Bat-wing wing silhouette. All over John’s house, where she’d been herself alone and then with members of her team, Jasmine included, after his death, there had been Batman memorabilia.

“A clever ploy indeed. You know that got his attention more than just her boobs almost spilling out of that top did.”

Sophie shook her head, tutting at the gall on the woman in the video, hating her even more. “So... who is she?”

Jasmine grimaced: “That’s the problem.”

Alena Ivanovna Zvereva was someone that Sophie knew nothing about. NISS had an e-file on her though, one which Jasmine went through with her. There was a Belorussian government-in-exile currently residing in Warsaw, just over the border from their home under Russian occupation. Britain was one of several countries which recognised that organisation as the legitimate government despite Russian bayonets propping up a wholly different regime in Minsk. As to Zvereva, she worked for the London-based representative office of the government-in-exile as one of the many Belorussians who had fled their homeland. Her position at the Kensington office was that of a translator where she dealt not just with Belorussian refugees in the country but also when the de facto ambassador was dealing with with Foreign Office officials too. What NISS had gathered in the past, as they did with all members of that delegation, was a detailed work up on her. There was nothing to suggest that Zvereva was anything but anti-Russian with no hint of anything untoward in her background nor current activities.

John Randolph had been conducting his own unofficial investigation into Manningtree without Sophie’s knowledge while he was tasked to ensure her security while she was in prison awaiting trail. That was what she believed had gotten him murdered: there had been something he’d found, or it was thought he had, which had been the reason for his death. Sophie couldn’t prove that but it was her working theory. As to his killer, Caitlin Green looked more and more like someone being framed as a patsy every day. Here in this footage he was talking to Zvereva. It could have been innocent, it could have been something else.

“She’s got a Gold Pin in her file from Counter Intelligence, Sophie. That’s what makes her the problem.”

“Why them? Why not us?”

NISS was full of different departments.

Sophie and her team were with National Security. More departments with active field officers held the brief of Anti-Terrorism, Democracy Protection and International Operations too. Then there was Counter Intelligence. While others worked together with inter-changeable staff, Counter Intelligence was more and more becoming its own thing. There was a fiefdom that its head held to herself with others unwelcome. The Gold Pin next to the name Zvereva meant that she was listed as a high-level asset. That didn’t make sense to Sophie. For NISS to have someone working for them among the Belorussians was entirely reasonable, yes. There had to be people that the Russians had their hooks into among them, as they had done with Ukrainians who’d years beforehand fled the war in their homeland, and NISS was on the watch for them. National Security would be dealing with them though, not Counter Intelligence.

“I don’t know.” Jasmine shrugged her shoulders. “But if we want to talk to her, we’ll have to go through them. That will be a nightmare.”

“It bloody will be.”

Sophie picked up her phone and started making some calls. She wanted to know the truth about Zvereva and John but it wasn’t going to be easy at all.

In the evening, while waiting on that outcome, Mike came to see her.

“Why aren’t we moving on the exile money?”

“Politics.” Her answer was only one word because it was as simple as that.

“They cannot just let this go on!” He sounded exasperated.

“Yes, they can. They have been shutting their eyes to this for years. Just because we’ve finally proved it, it doesn’t mean that they want to act. Maybe after the election, maybe then.”

Mike’s reply was that of several swear words, the alliteration impressing Sophie.

When he was done with that, being mad at politicians for being politicians, she asked him about Manningtree.

“I’m all over her. No one is coming near her without my explicit say so. Amber and Harriet have been in again recently, trying yet again to get her to talk, presenting what we got from busting Quinn to her, but she just won’t talk to them about any of that.

Instead, she gave them a speech about the ongoing election. Manningtree was talking about the racial riots and the scandals, echoing what that awful Payne woman said about cancelling the election and putting troops on the streets.”

“That’s never going to happen.”

Lisa Payne could make all the impotent demands that she wanted yet the government wasn’t going to cancel the general election to make things easier for her, nor declare martial law either. Never. Sophie pondered for a moment over the issue of why Manningtree was backing that idea but gave up quick enough. It just wasn’t worth her time considering such a thing.

John was already talking before she gave him her full attention “...which is something that we cannot stop with her being the subject of a legal case rather than just a N.I.S.S investigation.”

Sophie realised he was talking about the former prime minister having access to the news. She was entitled to that while in prison; it would have been different if she was in a secret NISS holding facility somewhere underground and in the dark silence. Moments from a reply, she was interrupted by a knock on her office door and then it opening. It was Jasmine again.

“Sophie, Mike.” Smiles all round. “We’ve got some more footage of Zvereva that I’ll know you’ll want to see. She was on his street that night too.”

“I’ll leave you to it. I’m talking another trip back to Bronzefield Prison tonight.” Mike left with that.

“On his street?”

“Oh, yes.” Jasmine was beaming. “We’ve just got it from a doorbell camera download. It was just after nine that night.”

Sophie recalled the details of the Met. investigation: “They said he died between ten and two the next morning.”

“They’ve got to let us talk to her now, haven’t they?”

Sophie could only hope so. There was no way that Counter Intelligence, who certainly had a significant use for Zvereva in whatever form that was, could say no to her want to pull the Belorussian woman in.

She picked up her phone again, mentally urging her supposed colleagues to give her the go ahead. After all, Sophie was chasing someone who’d killed a NISS officer.
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Re: Debrief

Post by jemhouston »

In the grand scheme of things, does that matter to the power that be?
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

jemhouston wrote: Tue Mar 12, 2024 12:54 am In the grand scheme of things, does that matter to the power that be?
Yes, it will in the end. Like a lot of things, they will not want to believe it until it slaps them in the face though.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Thirteen – Balaclava Woman

Sophie went along when the Counter Intelligence handler assigned to Zvereva picked her up. There was no armed police team, no hood thrown over her head where afterwards the Belorussian exile would be taken to an underground interrogation room. Sophie would have liked to have seen that happen.

That approach got results for all of its faults.

Instead, in a friendly but firm manner, Zvereva was approached on the street after she left work and escorted to the black Range Rover with tinted windows that Hugh Connelly had his driver pull up just ahead of her. Connelly, one of the most confident and charming people she’d ever met, someone with quite the reputation inside NISS, got in the car after his agent once Zvereva was in there too. Turning her head briefly to look at the woman from the front seat, Sophie saw nothing in the woman’s face that she could read. However, it was more than likely that on hers, the Belorussian she though likely had murdered John would see only hatred.

Whatever Connelly had said to Zvereva in Kensington was enough. She was cooperative and didn’t question anything. Throughout the drive to Canary Wharf, cutting through London traffic at rush hour, Zvereva answered some basic questions that Connelly and his partner – who sat the other side of the woman between them – had to ask. Sophie listened as as explained her recent activities on behalf of the Belorussian government-in-exile. That included talking briefly with one of the supporters of that organisation here in London who she said was an operative secretly working on behalf of the SVR.

It had all been explained to Sophie when she finally gotten Counter Intelligence to act. Zvereva wasn’t an agent for National Security, as there were others among Belorussian (and Ukrainian too) exiles within Britain, but instead was working against Russian espionage efforts being undertaken in the country using those people forced from their homelands. The SVR had a few willing cooperators, maybe even a couple of deep cover officers who were actually Russians themselves, but mostly they had coerced & compromised people doing their bidding. She’d been pushed towards several ones identified as suspected SVR operatives to help monitor and break up their activities.

Connelly had been full of praise for Zvereva. He’d told Sophie that the young woman was a patriot who loved her distant country and was working to see it free. She was doing that by supporting NISS as it sought to do damage to Russian nefarious actions anywhere possible. Zvereva had been a brave volunteer. There was no evidence that she was anything but faithful to the cause. As to the idea that she had killed or helped kill a NISS officer, that was preposterous! Because Sophie had raised such a stink, he would sort everything out. Zvereva would be asked some questions in his company because she was his agent, but Sophie could ask whatever she wanted and make as many allegations as she could. It would all be cleared up to everyone’s satisfaction with a chat with the Belorussian. There would be a reasonable explanation for it all.

She had his complete trust.

“You… you… you…” Connelly struggled to string a sentence together. “You did what?”

His eyes seemed to bulge. Connelly’s forehead went up as his chin came forward. Then, like a cartoon character, so Sophie saw, his jaw fell open. If it had been long enough, his tongue would have crashed onto the table between him and Sophie.

Seated beside the man going though quite the physical reaction, Zvereva was confessing everything. Sophie took no satisfaction in hearing it all considering the subject at hand. Connelly was having his whole world shattered, and that would at any other time been pleasing to see, but not with the details of her confession.

That was because this woman had been part of John’s murder.

“They made me do it. I had no choice.”

“When I was a little girl,” Sophie told her, “and I did something wrong, and I tried to blame someone else for making me doing it, you know what my Dad would say to me?” She didn’t wait for Zvereva to guess. “He’s say ‘no one can make you do anything’.”

Zvereva shook her head. “Your father said stupid things to you. Tell me, did anyone ever put a gun to your father’s head?” She refused to wait for an answer herself. “They did that to mine. I’ve seen the video footage.”

“You’re father is dead. We know that!” Connelly blurted that out, still sounding to Sophie as if he didn’t believe anything happening here.

“I thought he was. I saw his body… a body I thought was his. But it wasn’t him. The Russians have him, alive, and they’re using him.”

“You’ve been working for them all along, haven’t you? What have you been doing for them?”

Now Connelly was believing it.

Now he was getting mad.

“Can we discuss that later? I know it’s important, but this is more so.”

“How could anything other than this…” Connelly didn’t finish his objection. He looked at Sophie, nodded and then stood up. Zvereva’s handler left his position beside her and leaned against the wall behind, nodding again at Sophie to take this where she was going.

“Alena, what happened?”

A sigh first, then she put both palms face down on the table. Zvereva looked up at Connelly, shook her head and then back at Sophie.

“They made me do it. I didn’t have a choice.

I got the instruction to go to Clapham. Hugh already knew I was looking to move house and they knew that too. I was told to wander around the neighbourhood, studying the general area to get a feel for it. They told me also when and where John Randolph would be: they must have been watching him. I missed him the first time I tried to bump into him because he crossed the road and to follow him doing that would have looked wrong. They were mad, they said I did that on purpose.

I tried again the next day, on the Sunday. They gave me the bag and briefed me on his Batman fixation. The clothes I had on they made me change so I was wearing something else to get his attention. I did as I was told: I made contact with him. It wasn’t too hard. We talked – briefly – and he went on his way.

That night, I went to his house.”

“Did a woman leave first? A slim blonde in a red coat?” Sophie was checking on Caitlin Green. “Did she have anything to do with it all?”

“No.” The absurdity of such a suggestion was all over Zvereva’s face. “That’s her. I was told to wait for her to leave and then go and knock on his front door. As he opened it, he was talking to me as if I was that journalist – he called me Caitlin – and going on about her always forgetting to ask another question. He saw it was me, then I told him the lie.

I said that I was in trouble and I needed help. There was a man who wanted to hurt me. John had questions, ones such as how did I know where he lived. I told him I had followed him earlier because I knew he could help me. He was suspicious, I had to plead with him to get inside the doorway. But he had that hero thing, the one that all men have when a woman says she is in danger and needs their help. They told me he would try to help me even if he was on his guard.”

“That was John.” Sophie believed every word of it. Such a clever ploy would have worked with someone like her deceased colleague, someone who had always been a damn good guy. “And then what happened? Did you kill him, Alena?”

“No: no I did not.

I was in the kitchen. I had gotten him to take me there when asking for a glass of water. He was still suspicious, asking how I had managed to follow him. He wanted to know about the man I said was after me, asking pointed questions. He watched me unlock and open the back door, and went to close it again even when I said I needed air. I think he knew at that point that it was all a lie and there was danger coming.

They came in the door before he could open it. Three of them, two men and one woman, and all Russians wearing balaclavas. Balaclava Woman told me to get down and cover my eyes. John fought them, he knocked one of them down. The others were on him though. Whatever happened next, it was fast. John was on the floor. They told me to leave and I did.

I’m sorry I did that but I had no choice.”

“That’s all you know? There aren’t many details there I can work with, Alena: just you letting three killers into my friend’s house, witnessing them kill him and then leaving. I need more than just that; I want more.”

“They asked him for a list of names. One of them, Balaclava Woman who told me to cover my eyes, the one who showed me three days beforehand the video of my father, she demanded that of John.”

“What exactly did she say?” This was all horrifying to Sophie. Her colleague, her friend, her ex had been killed and she was listening to someone tell her of his murder. What mattered where the details though.

“Balaclava Woman said ‘she gave you names’ and that John had to ‘give them the list’.”

“What names, what list? Who was the ‘she’ who the Russian woman was talking about?”

Zvereva rubbed her eyes. “I don’t know.” She shuffled in the chair. “That was all I heard.” She swallowed loudly. “I don’t know any more than that.” Zvereva looked at Louise, sitting quietly beside Sophie, for the first time. “They wanted names from him but I was told to leave and I did.”

“Alena,” Connelly spoke up, “do you understand what you’ve done?”

“I knew you were going to catch me in the end and I’ve been waiting for this, but as I said, I had no choice!” Her protestation was to him before she looked back at Sophie. “These people are beyond evil.

They’ll do anything, they’ll use anyone they can to get you to do what they want. I don’t know where they are now but wherever they are, I’m sure someone else is coming face to face with evil like I did.”

Then Zvereva started crying, wailing with her head on the table.

“Hugh,” Sophie asked, “how does this happen with your agent when you’re supposed to be handling her?”

“You’re going to save my father, right?” Alena had urgency in her, turning around to look at Connelly as she spoke. “You promised that if I told the truth, you’d help me.”

Her handler didn’t reply. Louise started asking Zvereva questions about the Russians, Balaclava Woman especially, but the Belorussian exile was shouting at Connelly. She’d done what he said and told the truth. Now he had to help her!

Though she heard it, Sophie’s mind was elsewhere. She was thinking about Manningtree and a list of names that John was thought to have gotten off her. Also, she pondered over those trio of Russians and what they were up to right now.


The Russians were in the South London suburb of Streatham that night. They had a boat to catch in the morning, though a job to finish beforehand.

Mike came home for dinner. He had two hours before he needed to go back out again but plenty of time in that gap to eat and spend a little quality time with his wife. He’d texted Nicola to say he was on his way home and her reply had been that she was waiting expectantly for him. That had been a bit odd, but he hadn’t put any real thought into what she written to him.

He should have.

Coming in the front door, through the hallway, Mike thought there was something wrong. What it was, he didn’t know. He had an unshakable bad feeling though, a real strange one.


“In here, Mike.” She called out to him from the kitchen. He smelt dinner yet thought that there was something strange in her voice.

He saw why when he entered the kitchen.

Nicola was sat at the table. Her hands were cuffed in front of her while tears were streaming down her face. Beside her sat a woman wearing a balaclava – he couldn’t see her face nor hair though her chest gave that away – with a pistol placed against Nicola’s temple.

He froze.

Mike wanted to do something, do anything at all, but he just couldn’t move. No words came to him either.

“Don’t you move or she’s dead.”

A man in another black balaclava was over by the kitchen counter. He didn’t issue that warning: instead it came from someone behind him. Mike did as instructed, not moving when it felt like a gun barrel was pushed into his lower back.

“We’ll kill her if you do anything stupid.” Now it was Balaclava Woman issuing the threats. “Come and sit down here, nice and slowly.”

Mike’s legs momentarily refused to work. The gun barrel dug into the soft spot at the bottom of his spine. Finally, he did as instructed.

Nicola continued to cry silently though Mike’s attention was on the woman holding a gun to his wife’s head. He stared at her as he ever-so-carefully sat down opposite them.

“Whatever you’re thinking of having me do, I cannot do it for you because…”

Balaclava Woman cut him off. “Shut up. Just listen and Nicola lives through this.”

The man from behind placed his gun against Mike again, this time next to his ear, prodding him with it as he did so.

“You’re going to do something tonight and you have no choice in the matter.

If you don’t do it, or if you try and save Nicola here by calling someone, then she’s dead.

We won’t shoot her though. My two friends here will do the most horrible things imaginable to her. They’ll use knives. They’ll take pliers to her, and a drill. They’ll use a hammer and nails. She’ll die eventually, though the pain of it will be something quite remarkable. I’ll film it, like one of those Mexican videos, and I’ll send it to you.

Do you believe me in what I’m saying that we’re prepared to do to Nicola?”

Mike nodded. He did believe her. The way that she spoke, so dispassionately, told him that she wasn’t lying.

Balaclava Woman had an Italian accent while the man behind him sounded like he was from the Balkans; Mike hadn’t heard the third of them speak, the one over the other side of them room. When she had said ‘hammer and nails’, Balaclava Woman had let that accent slip. She was Russian. All three of them were, he’d known that when he’d walked in here. Their poor efforts at disguising themselves – balaclavas aside – were easy to see through.

What was also readily apparent was that these people were killers. They’d murder Nicola if he didn’t do what they wanted.

“I want an answer.”

“Yes,” Mike told her, “I do.”

“Good, now listen to me.” She paused for a second, talking a deep breath, as Mike stole a glance at Nicola as she continued to cry without making a sound. “It’s not something easy and I know you’re going to at once think of a whole load of reasons why you cannot do it. That doesn’t matter.

You’re going to do it.

I don’t care if you get caught: I expect that you will. Someone might try and stop you with all that they can muster but you are going to do as I tell you to do. Nicola’s life, the last moments of them being heinous if you fail, depend on you Mike. You have to do what I tell you.”

Whatever it was she wanted, Balaclava Woman was dragging it out.

“You’re going to Bronzefield Prison tonight, aren’t you?”

“Yes…” What could Balaclava Woman want him to do there?

“Mike,” and here it came, “you’re going to go there and murder Alicia Manningtree.

Use a weapon, use your hands: do whatever you have to. Make it look like an accident if you can, even a suicide, but, whatever you have to do, do it. She must die or Nicola does.

“Kill Manningtree?”

“Yes, go there and kill her. Don’t attempt to rescue Nicola by calling someone or trying to come back here yourself: we’ll be gone anyway, taking Nicola as insurance. She lives when you do as I want you to do, that you can be sure of. I can see you thinking there about the trouble you’ll get in – yeah, that’s an understatement – but none of that matters to me. It will mean that Nicola lives though.

Mike, are you understanding all of this?”

“You want me to kill Manningtree tonight and if I do, Nicola lives?”

Balaclava Woman nodded. “You do it and she lives. You don’t and she dies.

Whatever it takes, go and kill that woman. You have no choice, Mike, no choice at all. Kill Manningtree tonight or your wife dies the most wicked of deaths.”

Mike left his house for his car moments later. His thoughts were on keeping Nicola alive. He worried about nothing else because she was all that was important to him.
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Re: Debrief

Post by jemhouston »

Leander wrote: Sun Mar 17, 2024 8:50 pm
jemhouston wrote: Tue Mar 12, 2024 12:54 am In the grand scheme of things, does that matter to the power that be?
Yes, it will in the end. Like a lot of things, they will not want to believe it until it slaps them in the face though.
When they get slapped, please have the slapper wear sap gloves. Depending on the model, they have powered lead in palm side or the back of hand side. It's like getting slug with a sap. Excuse me, they use steel shot now or a hard surface.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Fourteen – #Epsteined

MacDonald had insisted that Caitlin download the Panda messaging app. She knew what it was and didn’t want it on her phone. Her source, the former MI-6 officer, had said that there was no other secure method of communication that he would use if it wasn’t that. Agreeing in the end, Caitlin had told him that she’d delete it, get a new phone even, once the two of them were done. The app had been in her phone since before she made that trip to Cork and before the Met. Police had accused her of murder too.

Panda came from Hong Kong. A company in that Chinese territory had developed and marketed what they claimed was a secure messaging service free from electronic eavesdropping. They’d aimed to sell it to Westerners. There was a series of cartoon adds where they had cute, cuddly pandas chewing on bamboo sticks and messaging each other. No matter what its creators claimed, Panda was an outsourced organ of the Chinese state though. Various countries, America foremost, had banned it. The app wasn’t even used in China because it was tailor-made to be used elsewhere. Britain was on the cusp of seeing it banned too though the app, which hadn’t made its creators much money, was still active.

Caitlin didn’t want it on her phone because she considered it a spy platform for the Chinese. MacDonald had said he agreed, and he understood that the Chinese would be reading what messages were exchanged between them, but he had claimed that that didn’t matter. Moreover, it was something that the NSA and GCHQ had so far been unable to crack…thus another reason why governments in her country and America wanted it banned.

Against her better judgement, Caitlin had gone along with what he wanted.

It was just after four in the morning, when Caitlin was happily dreaming, probably not of pandas, when her phone beeped. Loudly too.

She reached down onto the floor with one arm to grab it, her eyes opening and using the other arm to turn on the beside lamp. “What the hell?”

Picking up the phone, she saw a Panda notification. Caitlin opened it and saw it was an unknown number. She didn’t have a number for MacDonald, though he had hers and had been using various throwaway phones to contact her in one-way non-conversations, which had annoyed her because she couldn’t ask him questions! It could only be from him despite those eleven anonymous digits.

Manningtree dead at HMP Bronzefield
NISS officer Michael Caulfield in custody
He killed her!!!! reason unknown

Several times, Caitlin read that message.

She got out of bed. “Oh, My God,” Caitlin said as she opened her laptop, “this cannot be true.”

On the homepage of her newspaper, the National, and that of the BBC where she also checked, there was nothing to support what MacDonald had sent her. She didn’t doubt his word though, despite what she had said aloud. Caitlin reasoned that they didn’t yet have the news.

She called her news-desk: her ‘paper had daily print editions but the constantly updated online coverage was what was always there and was also what made the money. The deputy night editor was a friend and Caitlin asked for her.

“Tash-Bash, it’s Caitlin.”

“Are you coming back from your gardening leave yet, pal?”

“Do you know what’s happened with Manningtree?” Caitlin opted to get straight to the point.

“No idea what you’re on about. Why? What’s up?”

She could have told her then. It could be argued that Caitlin should have told her then. She was still an employee of the National after all, even if they’d been treating her so shabbily, and was sitting on a story that her ‘paper would surely want to scoop everyone else with. But, she chose not to. It was still unconfirmed after all.

“If I pop down,” Caitlin again didn’t answer her friend’s questions, “can you let me in to the news-desk?”

“Pop down?” There was incredulity there from Tasha. “You’re not exactly around the corner are you?” There was a snort directed at her. “Whatever you’ve got, I need to know.”

“I’ll be there as fast as I can: you know I can get in quick. Will you let me in?”

Resignation came: “I will, but you’ve got to tell me first.”

“When I get there I will.”

Caitlin hung up. That was a promise she couldn’t guarantee she’d keep, but she would try.

In record time, Caitlin was up and out of the flat. She’d done this before: charging around like a maniac in the early hours of the morning to get into work. The usual things needing to be done before leaving were put off. There was a really early train, one for those crazy to be going into work when all sensible people were still sleeping, and Caitlin rushed to get it.

Leaving her flat and tearing towards the nearby station, she had no idea that the NISS team assigned to watch her, who had overheard her conversation with Tasha but not read what MacDonald had sent her, were following and also reporting in on her movements to already flustered higher-ups.

The journey was fast. One stop up New Cross was London Bridge. Caitlin got on the Jubilee Line at that interchange station, somewhere busy even at such an hour. The Underground took her to Baker Street where she switched to the Bakerloo Line. There were commuters everywhere, people on their way to work long before rush hour. Soon enough, she was off the Tube at Paddington and on foot heading for the office. A black taxi was something she considered leaving Paddington – it had been an idea at London Bridge too – but she was in her trainers and could cover the distance quick enough. Looking at her phone while she walked, nearly getting smashed into by some damn fool of a cyclist, wishing him a painful accident to come, Caitlin checked that the news hadn’t broken yet about Manningtree. There was nothing on social media sites too, no hot gossip there that the mainstream media was fearful to run with without some form of confirmation.

She knew and no one else did.

Tasha sent one of her staffers to let Caitlin onto the news-desk floor. It wasn’t somewhere that anyone could just wander into even if they worked here. There was an unanswered question by that young guy about what Caitlin had. She saved what she had for Tasha, telling her the news after deciding to keep her promise.

“No!” Tasha put a hand to her mouth.

“Oh, yes.”

“You got this from where? And you couldn’t call it in when you rang like… what, an hour ago?”

It was more like an hour and a half since Caitlin had called. As to whom she had been told, she was only prepared to give Tasha very little.

“A source.”

“We,” Tasha’s boss had come over when Caitlin had walked in, “need to know who that source is. You know I’m not doing anything without that.”

“We’ll get scooped.” Caitlin issued the warning.

“Then we get scooped.” The night editor wasn’t someone to trifle with. He was a fussy little man, no friend to Caitlin in the best of circumstances, especially not now. “That’s just how it is. I’m not going to put something like that out there, unconfirmed as it is, and see us with egg all over our faces should it turn out to be some idiot’s idea of an early April Fool’s joke.

And, you,” he jabbed a finger at her, “are saying that you’ve been told that a M.I.Five man did this. Aren’t you on suspension because they say you killed another one of those spooks from Five?”

Tasha corrected him: “They call it N.I.S.S now, not M.I.Five any more.”

“They might call it the Secret Society of Dog Poop Scoopers next week for all I care. The next government will break this new thing up and start again too.”

Caitlin scowled at the night editor. She then lifted the receiver to the phone on Tasha’s desk: “Call Bates then: go on, call him. He knows about my source. It’ll be up to him to run with this story anyway.”

Bates was the editor-in-chief. He was the one who had journalists sometimes sitting on his lap – Caitlin would have one of his eyes out if he tried that with her – and who she had told about MacDonald previously. He’d sent her to Ireland on the word of Caitlin’s source. He’d also suspended her from her post as security correspondent (gardening leave so he said) but she was aware that that wasn’t really up to him: the newspaper’s board had made that decision when they had a journalist having fingers pointed at her by Met. Police murder detectives.

The night editor made the call to Bates.

Fifteen minutes later, while Bates was in a taxi speeding to the National’s offices, the editor-in-chief gave the verbal okay for the ‘paper to flash a breaking news story across its online edition. It was six in the morning and the story was out. Caitlin had her name on the piece and it wasn’t one full of many details.

The important thing there though was that the country’s former prime minister, its single-most worst traitor ever, was dead in her prison cell.

Another three hours passed.

Other media outlets were running with the story that the National had broke. Social media near exploded. Shock struck faced glued to phone screens. The television and radio news delivered few details to stunned viewers and listeners over their breakfast and morning commute.

Prime Minister Parkinson made the briefest of brief statements from inside Downing Street at nine o’clock. Manningtree’s death was confirmed, condolences were offered to her family, her two children especially, and an ongoing investigation was announced. There was a general election campaign ongoing and the impact of what the prime minister had to say had almost the same effect as a nuclear bomb going off.

Nowhere in any coverage was there mention of the detainment of a NISS officer. Caitlin had his name and a clear head start on everyone else in trying to get out to the public what exactly had happened.

Tasha hadn’t gone home, even when the day staff on the news-desk had come in. She got Caitlin a coffee, telling her she looked like she needed one.

“Oh, thanks, Tash Bash.” That wasn’t a sincere remark for the hot drink but instead a curt acknowledgement of the unwelcome comment on her appearance.

“I hate that silly name, Caitlin. So who is this spook who killed Manningtree then? You’re going to find out why he did it, aren’t you?”

Caitlin nodded her head: “You know I am.” She hoped to anyway. That was the current plan.

Back on her phone she looked to see that trending across social media was the imaginative #Epsteined (not everyone was spelling that right too). It was an explanation for what people were thinking was the ‘truth’ of what had happened overnight at that Surrey prison.

The British state had killed her to silence her: such was the thinking of so much of those who were of the Always Online inclination.

Caitlin had to ponder over whether there could be any truth in that despite the easy doubts.
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Re: Debrief

Post by jemhouston »

One way to seal off a problem, only to create a geyser more.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

jemhouston wrote: Sat Mar 23, 2024 12:04 am One way to seal off a problem, only to create a geyser more.
It's a hasty move indeed.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »


An elderly Canadian couple, the Hendersons, were bumped by Air Canada for a flight from London to Toronto. They hadn’t yet boarded though had been checked in. The airline had a representative at Heathrow make them an offer: C$1000 in travel vouchers (for future Air Canada flights), a hotel room tonight with a lift there & back, and also an upgrade to business class seats when they flew the next day. Mr Henderson wanted first class seats and before Mrs Henderson could cut him off less their good fortune disappear – the travel vouchers would pay for their flights for next year’s holiday to the Far East –, the polite young man agreed.

“Stick with me, Dear,” Mr Henderson told his wife of forty years, affecting his booming voice with as much mock gallantry as he could muster “and you’ll go far. We’re going to fly home in style!”

Mrs Henderson rolled her eyes at him, smiling at the young man who reminded her of her favourite grandson: “Thank you.”

Two late-arriving passengers took the seats vacated by the Hendersons. One of them was a spook with the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service, a man detailed to the High Commission in London. A Russian woman carrying a new Canadian passport was seated beside him for the flight over the North Atlantic. It was the High Commission which paid for the Henderson’s inconvenience though they’d be getting refunded for that from the UK’s Ministry of Security.

The female passenger was Svetlana Danilova.

She flew to Canada as part of a long-standing agreement that the intelligence services of the two countries had with one another, something that was an extension of a wider network of agreements between each of the Five Eyes nations. The UK, the United States, Canada, Australia & New Zealand all assisted their allies in countless ways throughout the intelligence field including relocation for specific individuals. It wasn’t done often, but when it was, it was done well. Those being sent overseas by Britain to be hidden from those wishing to cause them harm often went to Australia or America. The truth be told, Britain’s allies rarely sent anyone to the UK but the option had been used beforehand on a handful of occasions.

As to this instance with the former Russian spy Svetlana being sent to Canada, it had been arranged some time ago. There was a relocation on-hold for her to take place after she had given evidence – subject to security measures – in the Crown’s case against Manningtree once that reached the trial stage. That was all now moot but NISS regarded Svetlana’s life as being in danger. The Russians had tried repeatedly to kill her during the first time she had fled to the UK, brazenly kidnapped her and then expelled her after a period of harsh imprisonment. Some might have thought that they were done with her after they’d let Britain have her in an exchange of spies yet the death of Manningtree proved that the Russians couldn’t be expected to leave someone like her alone.

An emergency call had been made and from Ottawa, where CSIS was headquartered, the go-ahead had been given to get Svetlana on a flight. The Canadians would hurry about to get her hidden, somewhere safe and secure so she could begin the process of starting a new life, all while banking the favour that they were doing for NISS. They’d want something in exchange down the line, probably of more value, yet would get that because they helped out when the need was urgent.

Svetlana slept as the flight left UK airspace for its trans-Atlantic run. The CSIS spook seated beside her kept his eyes open, looking around carefully. He was armed (that had been declared) despite the probability of no danger here. He’d be happier once they got the Russian to Alberta by way of Toronto. Out there, she really could be hidden.

Earlier that day, before the Air Canada flight departed, NISS officers were busy elsewhere in West London. They raided the office building in Uxbridge where the political campaign to free Manningtree had its headquarters on the capital’s outskirts. There were media crews already there with journalists and camera teams seeking comment from if not Payne then someone else within that building. The media presence meant that NISS couldn’t do what it liked to do when making an entrance with a bang. Met. Police cars were out front of a convoy of black-windowed vehicles loaded with spooks. It was uniformed officers who then moved the media aside and helped facilitate entry all in the full glare of unwelcome publicity for the NISS people who went inside.

Amanda was there to open the doors past the main public entrance. She had a key card swiped from Hazelnut. Her undercover work at Uxbridge had been fruitful though she hadn’t expected anything like this to occur anytime soon. Circumstances had changed though: Manningtree’s death meant that was unlikely before was now happening. She led the spooks to where the physical incriminating files were located and had already locked down access to the computers to everyone but herself in case of a purge attempt. More NISS specialists started accessing them once she gave them the password.

When doing so, Amanda missed sight of Hazelnut and Sullivan being arrested. Chief Nut and Little Nut, so she had called them behind their backs since her arrival, were taken away in handcuffs on charges of treason. Those were unlikely to stick, to make it to a court of law, though there was a court of public opinion that would have its say first. Payne wasn’t there. Amanda had made that clear before the raid took place. Her office was still entered though where she opened the door for colleagues of hers to go in. She asked after the former Cabinet member, the woman who headed up the campaign, and was told that she’d been detained in her car while on the M-25 motorway. There’d been a rolling roadblock used to stop her vehicle: Amanda was told footage would likely be on the news later today.

There were other questions that Amanda had, ones directed to Louise who’d been sent to Uxbridge by Sophie to oversee the closing down of the place. She asked what was known about Manningtree’s death yet that was unanswered for now. Also, the woman who’d worked here as Mandy Kirby gathering intelligence wanted to know what had changed with regard to the previous hands-off approach that had come from the government. The security secretary had gone ballistic, she was told, and this raid was just the start of it. A whole load of Russians whose existence in the UK had been for many years tolerated, where the pros & cons of leaving them active had been weighed up, were going to be for it.

“Do we know,” she finally asked, “if it was the Russians who killed Manningtree? It has to have been them, right? Geez, why would they do such a thing?”

Finally, Louise had something to say to Amanda, if only to shut her up. “Of course it was them: who else would it be? That’s why they sent her back here after all.”

“You think?”

“Yep, had to be. Why else did they do it?”

“And Mike Caulfield was their man?” Amanda had been told that earlier yet was still processing it.

This time Louise had no words: she just nodded sadly.

In Streatham, the body of Nicola Caulfield was removed from the house she and her husband had shared. It had remained in situ for several hours, longer than would usually be the case after being discovered and officially declared that life had expired, so that a forensics team with NISS could do a lot of work. A coroner’s van took it away though the white-suited experts in the house remained at their tasks.

Jasmine was with Amber at Mike’s house. They watched the body being taken away and Amber went through the paperwork with all of that. Jasmine stood where she was in the kitchen, the room in which Mike’s wife had been found. She had nothing to say, nothing to do. Instead, she was trying to make sense of it all. She had been told what was likely to have happened, had relayed to her what Mike was saying too, though by herself pictured the whole thing.

Three people had come in here before Mike had gotten home from work. Nicola had either invited one or all of them in, or they had coerced her into letting them inside. They’d waited for Mike to come home. Nicola had been threatened in front of him before Mike had then driven off to Surrey. Not long afterwards, his wife, whose life he said he was trying to save by doing what had been demanded of him, had been shot dead. A gun had been fired at likely point-blank range into the back of Nicola’s head while she was seated and she’d fallen forward afterwards. The trio had then left, leaving no trace yet to be found of them here.

Nicola’s time of death had been between an hour or two after Mike had left, long before he had done what he had at HMP Bronzefield.

“He was inside the prison when they killed her: you know that, right?”

Amber had come back in, breaking up Jasmine’s concentration.

She nodded at her.

“They told him to kill Manningtree or his wife would die. But they killed her anyway, before he did what they told him to. How does that make any sense, Jasmine?”

This time Jasmine shook her head.

“Why here too? Didn’t Mike say that they told him they were taking her somewhere else? He also said they promised to do it gruesome, not like this.”

Jasmine looked at the blood splatter on the kitchen table, the floor and the nearby wall. That was pretty gruesome.

“Mike,” Amber continued to talk, fiddling with her nose ring momentarily, “was Sophie’s guy. She brought him in on this, put him in on John’s role too. Sophie is going to be for it, isn’t she? They’ll put all of the blame her.”

Still, Jasmine had nothing to say.

She left the kitchen and went into the garden. There she threw up.

This was the worst day of her life.

“Amber,” she spoke to the younger spook who had come out after her, looking terribly concerned, “I don’t want to do this any more. I’m going to quit.”
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Re: Debrief

Post by jemhouston »

Leander wrote: Wed Mar 27, 2024 7:29 pm
jemhouston wrote: Sat Mar 23, 2024 12:04 am One way to seal off a problem, only to create a geyser more.
It's a hasty move indeed.
Hasty moves are more likely to be stupid ones.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Sixteen – Hands

Sophie sat beside Mike. She’d move soon enough, to be opposite him across the table, but that was when it came to the formal bit of her being here. She had a few moments before that began and so she plonked her behind down next to her close colleague, someone she considered almost a friend.

“Water is okay, isn’t it, Mike?”

“Of course.”

He had the plastic cup in his hands where Sophie had placed it. Carefully, he lifted it upwards to take a sip of the tap water before bringing it back down again.

Mike did that while his hands were cuffed together with old-fashioned steel handcuffs: Sophie was struck by the memory of them being called ‘bracelets’ in a forgotten American cop show.

“I’m so sorry it’s come to this.” She really was too. “If there was anything that I could do to change things, then…”

“What has happened,” Mike cut her off, “has happened. It’s not your fault, Sophie.”

Silence came after that. Sophie’s eyes went back to Mike’s hands.

She studied them, aware that he knew she was doing just that too.

On the right hand, the webbing between the thumb and index finger was dark red and purple. It was the same with the colouring of all of the knuckles on that hand too. Over on the left hand, not all of which she could see, there were more bruises forming around most of the knuckles there. On the thumb nail of that hand, there was a horrid black colour under the nail. Another nail looked painfully torn.

At first glance, it all looked as if Mike might have been in a fistfight. The deep scratches on the back of the left hand, long ones which had bled, gave lie to that though. No, something else had occurred with these hands recently.

Looking back up at Mike, she saw that he was looking down at just what she had been too.

“It was my belt. I used my belt, one Nicola had got me, to do it.”

“Okay.” Sophie didn’t want to say anything more than that.

“She fought, but you know that.” He let out a deep breath. “And it was all for nothing, wasn’t it? They killed Nicola, didn’t they? Tell me because no one else will."

What was Sophie supposed to say to that?

She was sitting her next to a fellow NISS officer. Many hours ago now, back during the night, he’d gone to the prison where Manningtree was held, someone supposed to be under his protection while she was in custody, taken off his belt, and used that to strangle her to death. Mike had done it because he’d been forced to, made to kill Manningtree less his wife be killed, but she was that point already dead.

No one had told him that Nicola was dead. He suspected as much, that she knew before coming in here, but he was asking her to confirm it.

Standing up, Sophie gave him a non-answer: “Mike, let’s just get started with this debrief, shall we? You know how these things go and that they’re important.” Sophie reached the chair on the other side of the table in the interrogation room.

“I’m not saying anything else,” firm but calmly Mike spoke, “until you tell me whether Nicola is alive or not.”

Sophie wanted to look away, look down even. She willed herself to meet his sad, watering eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mike, but Nicola was killed.”

The debrief then began.

It was over with rather quickly.

Sophie had Mike go through everything: from the moment he had left Vauxhall Cross the evening before up until right now. What he had said when Ahmed had raced to HMP Bronzefield during the night, plus his comments made to the armed Met. Police officers on-scene and the prison staff too, was gone over too. Nothing was left out.

Mike’s arrival home was covered where there had been that trio of armed people in his house was discussed carefully. So too his thinking when he left there about what would happen to his wife if he didn’t do what was demanded of him. There were then his actions at the prison. Mike had entered as he usually did, going through all of the checks and talking to the necessary people. He’d then gone into the special cell holding the former prime minister, struck her several times, taken off his belt, placed it around her heck, held her down with one arm & a knee too, before choking the life out of her while she fought with all that she had – that she really did too – in a doomed effort to try and keep it.

What he had been done had been observed on camera (there were two in Manningtree’s cell) and the guards had rushed in. Mike described being pinned down himself, a gun barrel soon at his forehead as well, while desperate efforts were made try and revive the prisoner. Even the transfer here and the wait for the debrief at this NISS underground facility were covered.

As said, nothing had been left out.

It was over with. Ahmed, who’d joined them when it started, was standing up. Sophie stayed where she was though, across from Mike. There was something more that he wanted to say, of that she was sure. She put a hand on Ahmed’s arm and her colleague sat back down again.


“I loved her. I won her when others were chasing her too.” He would have been talking about Nicola, not the woman he’d killed. “She was my everything. You know that without Nicola, I’m nothing, right?”

He was already on suicide watch. Comments like that would ensure it would be a long time before that precaution came to an end. Sophie also caught on to how Mike was talking about Nicola in the past tense: he had accepted her death.

“I’m so sorry.”

The words which fell out of Sophie’s mouth sounded pathetic.

“They must have known that too: that’s why they did it. They used what I felt for Nicola and turned it for their own advantage. Balaclava Woman was… well… you could see she enjoyed saying what she did to me, knowing that it would work.”

“We’ll get her, Mike. We’ll get her.”

She had no faith in her own promise there. The woman behind John’s death, who had forced Alena into helping aid that, then gone and made Mike do what he had, was almost certainly long gone. NISS would throw everything that it had at finding that Russian operative, yet Sophie knew inside that she wasn’t going to be found.

“Why did they want Manningtree dead? They didn’t tell me. Do you know?”

Sophie had a very good idea why.

It wasn’t confirmed – though that was being worked on – but the likelihood was one of two possibilities. They’d either sent her back to Britain to be killed at the most opportune moment for them, to cause political chaos in the UK, or, as it was looking more like, that was just a coincidence for them. That was because the second working theory, one which Sophie believed but not everyone else subscribed to, was that Manningtree had been talking about things that she shouldn’t have rather than keeping her mouth shut ahead of her trial. John had possibly gotten some names out of her, ones that the Russians didn’t want her to reveal.

However, saying any of that to Mike wasn’t what she was going to do, no matter how bad she felt about what had happened to him and Nicola.

“We don’t know.”

It wasn’t a lie but that wasn’t the truth either.

“Without her doing what she did, her treason,” Mike was no longer silently crying and there was just rage there instead, “none of this would have happened. Nicola would still be alive. She and me would still be together.

Alicia Manningtree can damn well rot in hell.”

That was the end of their talk here today. They’d spoke under video and audio surveillance (separate recording systems for redundancy) and so Mike’s final words there would be damning to him if the recordings were ever used against him in a court of law despite the circumstances. However, it Sophie knew that that was never going to happen. The future with Mike was unknown but she couldn’t imagine anything like what had been planned for Manningtree before her demise, a public trial where there would be a defence mounted, taking place with Mike.

That was not how something like this ended. What had ended though was their last time together: Sophie didn’t expect to ever see him again.

An hour or so after Mike had been taken away, his bruised hands still in cuffs, Matthew Walsh showed up. Sophie was expecting if not him then someone like him.

“Good afternoon, Sophie.”

He was always so polite… despite being an absolute snake.

“Well, Matthew, it’s certainly something.”

He appeared to take no note of her negative attitude. Matthew was still cheerful. “They need you back at Vauxhall Cross. I’m going to be taking over here.”


And that was that. Sophie knew that her career was done for. It was never going to survive being in charge when something like this happened.

“Good luck!”

The parting shot came from the administrator from Canary Wharf whom she never thought would make a good spook. Sophie didn’t look at him. She started heading back towards London, anticipating the axe falling on her exposed, bare neck once she arrived.
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Re: Debrief

Post by jemhouston »

Ass covering is the order of the day.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

jemhouston wrote: Wed Apr 03, 2024 8:00 pm Ass covering is the order of the day.
But it will be too late. The damage is done.
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Re: Debrief

Post by Leander »

Seventeen – An Act Of War

Caitlin was back at her job having officially returned from gardening leave to fulfil the role of the security correspondent for the National. Like everyone else at her newspaper, she was busy, busy, busy throughout the final two weeks of the election campaign.

There was more political violence to cover, so too unexpected scandal. There was national chaos as well, all ahead of polling day and the outcome of how the voters cast their ballots to be determined.

The #Epsteined uproar refused to die down. An ever increasing number of Britons believed that Manningtree had been killed in her prison cell to silence her – like the eponymous, dead American – by the UK Government. There was no convincing them that that was the case no matter how much the government tried to. Her ‘paper played a major role in that. She became more and more uncomfortable as time went on with it all. In none of her stories, no matter how hard her editor tried to make her, would Caitlin drag that allegation in. She told Bates that she didn’t believe it and couldn’t commit herself to such a position. Pseudo journalists like lap-sitting Isabel were more than happy to turn in such copy yet Caitlin a few others just weren’t doing it. Her sources, those not cutting her off because of what the National was doing, made it clear that it was all a Russian plot to destabilise the country during a dangerous time. Others whom she worked with heard the same thing. Nonetheless, the message was the same from above: keep running with that line. When pushing back against the tide, Caitlin feared for her job. She stuck firm though, because a job was a job at the end of the day: her pride, her sense of decency, were another matter.

The online conspiracy theories didn’t just swirl about Manningtree. There were still teams from the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the ground in Pakistan after the shocking event there the previous year, something that still gave Caitlin the shudders. Rumours ran across the internet that those global bodies had ‘found evidence’ that it was India behind the nuclear blast that had destroyed a Pakistani military strategic weapons stockpile. Such a thing was an utter lie and even the National, its editorial line acting despicable on other matters, didn’t dare repeat them. Caitlin and her employer were involved in covering the story where it effected the UK though. There was unrest in Leicester once again, that city torn apart beforehand by inter-ethnic strife between Hindu and Muslim troublemakers.

Street violence turned to another attempted assassination of an MP. The Hindu member for Leicester South, Parveen Wadia, had armed police officers protecting her. A gunman failed to get her and was shot in the leg in the attempt yet managed to drag her husband away. There was a rapid response effort to try and free the parliamentarian’s spouse from a hostage situation but Davit Wadia, well-known in Leicester for his support of Indian nationalism, was murdered soon after his unplanned abduction. Police firearms officers killed the young Muslim behind the whole thing in a further loss of life. Campaigning in that constituency, then Leicester afterwards, would be cancelled and polling day postponed for the city’s three seats due to the additional rioting which followed. Caitlin was sent to Leicester in the immediate aftermath. She and other journalists faced a wave of hostility from locals which ranged from spitting and open threats of violence to as far as bricks being thrown at their cars. She didn’t drive and was getting a lift across the outskirts of the city from a BBC journalist when a mob smashed the car’s rear windscreen and set about trying to get them both out of the vehicle. Considering herself lucky to have survived, only saved from something terrible when the vehicle lurched forward, Caitlin had returned to London without the permission of her news desk.

An illegal march through the centre of London took place the day afterwards where opposing Hindu and Muslim protesters clashed with each other, the police and then small grounds of far-right racists too. Major disruption occurred to commercial activities and transport links with the police overstretched. Everyday life was being upended for many people. Caitlin had been out on Whitehall where the various sides clashed with each other and seen bloodied passer-bys caught up in all of that. When later that evening back in her office, watching what the latest was coming out of Leicester, where there’d been even worse trouble with automatic gunfire that had killed a pair of police officers, she was left wholly unsurprised to hear that the government had activated the emergency Operation THOROUGHBRED.

In years past, elements of the British Army had been deployed in duties as part of military aid to the civil power. That had involved soldiers taking up security tasks around government & royal facilities and embassies, even nuclear power plants, while police forces who were usually stationed at them assisted other police operations. That was Operation TEMPERER and it had been seen in the aftermath of deadly Islamic terrorism attacks. Caitlin had one of her few sources – those who hadn’t walked away from her – give her a confidential heads-up on THOROUGHBRED a couple of days beforehand. The government was prepared to send soldiers onto the streets of Leicester directly. It would be Northern Ireland all over again, she’d been told. When the announcement was made, Caitlin acted as surprised as everyone else. She’d told no one what she’d had an exclusive on it, keeping that to herself. That decision had been taken because she didn’t trust her ‘paper to be responsible ahead of time.

Why soldiers were sent into Leicester, carrying their rifles and wearing full combat gear, was because the situation on the ground there had gotten completely out of control. Anarchy and murder had come to that city on an immense scale. Mosques and temples had been firebombed. Roadblocks had been set up and people of the wrong ethnic background dragged from their cars when trying to enter no-go areas. Automatic rifles had been used against the police resulting in the further loss of officers. Civilians streamed out of the city, some of them with their houses on fire behind them. Caitlin watched from the National’s offices images of Leicester burning, gunmen running about with military-grade weaponry and then soldiers rolling into there to put a stop to it all. Terry, one of Bates’ sycophants, someone whom given the opportunity would sit in their editor’s lap as well, so Caitlin thought anyway, asked about those guns. How did that happen? Her retort to him was to ask if he’d read her filed pieces the year beforehand? No, he hadn’t? Well, he should have done since he supposedly was the National’s terrorism correspondent! There’d been raids by the security services and guns recovered from radicals with more spoken of as possibly out there. Now those were being seen and put to use all while idiots who called themselves journalists stirred the pot.

Talking with other colleagues, Caitlin had been convinced that was what being done wasn’t just to gain scoops, get clicks and thus advertising revenue. No, instead of what was expected from any media outlet in the modern cut-throat age of journalism that demanded instant news, the board of the National were actively seeking to make trouble. They were trying to inflate the selling price for those bidders still lining up to buy it. Her and her fellow journalists were pawns in that scheme: the British people victims of it all too. Tasha told her a secret that made Caitlin certain of that. The deputy editor for the night news desk described overhearing her boss, the fussy little man who’d tried to stop Caitlin getting the story out before anyone else about Manningtree’s death, openly accusing the executive editor of that. There had been no denials made and instead talk of making the ‘paper more valuable. Tasha’s boss had quit though his non-disclosure agreement made sure that he hadn’t talked to anyone else. That was enough for Caitlin to realise that she needed to be out of this job soon enough.

Bates wanted her to talk to MacDonald again, to get more secrets from him, but Caitlin lied to him when saying that MacDonald had gone silent on her. He hadn’t: she just didn’t want to go where her editor wanted her to and add fuel to on the ongoing inferno.

She was working late one night when there was an anonymous drop made to the National’s online whistle-blowing feature. Stories had come in through there before, ones which Caitlin herself had followed. Rival media outlets such as the Guardian had long ago pioneered such a feature to gain stories. The drop was made of two video recordings with the source of them entirely unknown… at least officially anyway. Caitlin had a good idea where they came from. She believed that that was another Russian intelligence operation, just like their leaking of MP’s private emails that was ongoing at that current time, causing a whole load of drama everywhere. She watched the two videos, one which had she so long wanted to see and the other she hadn’t been sure even existed. They were both of Manningtree. The first was the infamous Amsterdam Tape, the one recorded when the former prime minister was a young student and had accidentally killed an American boy. The Russians had used that to blackmail her into treason. Caitlin had failed to secure the tape through her own efforts yet it had been sent to her ‘paper. The second was Manningtree’s own murder, recorded in her prison cell.

Caitlin had an objection to the newspaper running those snuff films and made that clear. She wasn’t the only one in the newsroom who openly stated that to do so would benefit whatever latest scheme had been cooked up in the Kremlin to cause unrest in Britain. The choice wasn’t hers to make though, that she was told. In the end it wasn’t one that anyone at the National made either. She was in the canteen getting a coffee when a NISS team turned up. A whole load of spooks, with an armed police team in assistance, descended upon the newsroom. They seized computers and gained access to the secure cloud storage. Fellow journalists, even ones who had been on-side with her against the direction being taken editorially, reacted with fury. There were efforts made to stop ‘Parkinson’s Gestapo storm-troopers’ – Tasha’s words – though Caitlin stayed out of the way of all of that.

She heard later that the same thing had been done at the Guardian and two smaller ‘new media’ outlets as well: opinion websites offering a far-left view rather than traditional news. The videos went online through non-media websites in the end. When Caitlin went searching for them, after being alerted by an American ex-colleague that they were on the internet, she couldn’t find them despite being given various addresses for where they were. Even using a VPN, Caitlin was unable to see them. NISS had geo-located her computer and blocked her, just as they did to every single Briton who heard about the pair of snuff films. There was another scandal there and Caitlin turned in an article as required of her though one which she had then to face the ignominy of seeing edited to make it more sensational. That came from the board and so, as was her right via her contract, her name was removed from the story before it was published.

The Sheffield grenade thrower was killed by armed police. Twice he’d attempt to kill and maim dozens of people at political events in that city though each time, his deployed weapon had failed to go off. There was something wrong with those grenades, Caitlin was told, something that didn’t make them go BANG. She watched footage taken days after THOROUGHBRED began down in Leicester of the terrorist’s body being removed from a Sheffield house and saw a mob of people gathering. They were fellow skinhead racists, shouting that the police had murdered him. Bates got off the phone from a call with board members and directed a headline to go up on the webpage. It was inflammatory in the form of giving those accusations a hearing, something that Caitlin was glad to have nothing to do with. There was pushback in the newsroom and two members of staff got their belongings and went home.

There was more fallout from that among staff at the National though she missed it because Caitlin was told that Dan Carter was dead.

She knew him from when he had worked at the Telegraph. Dan had briefly dated a friend of a friend too, a political staffer. It was her, Vikki, who called Caitlin to tell her that Dan had been murdered. He’d been found in the boot of a burnt-out stolen car parked on the edge of a West London industrial state. Vikki had details that Caitlin wished that she could unhear: primarily that it was likely he’d been alive when the car went up in flames. Having been fired from that newspaper a few years ago for a reason which neither she nor Vikki knew, Dan had remained a journalist. He’d gone independent and started a podcast which, despite many negative expectations of success, had done well indeed. He covered the same field as Caitlin and she’d listened to it many times. Dan was a paranoid obsessive and modern Russia was the biggest evil in the world to him. Yet, just because he was paranoid, it didn’t mean what he said often wasn’t true. He had put the name of the NISS officer who’d killed Manningtree out there when Caitlin hadn’t. The true story, the one which so many people refused to believe, about Mike Caulfield and his wife being held hostage, had been broken by that podcast. Whether he’d died because of that, she didn’t know: Dan was all over Russian intelligence operations in the UK in a big way. Caitlin was just glad that she had taken a step back with the fear that if she hadn’t, it could have been her instead.

Leicester’s events dominated the news, pushing Manningtree’s demise to the side. Soldiers on the streets there continued to garb all of the attention even as the final days of election campaigning arrived. Caitlin was still showing up for work, still arguing with Bates over the ‘paper’s editorial line and general all-round inflammatory & irresponsible behaviour when a lot of people across the country had a frustrating then scary day.

Services from two major high street banks crashed completely. It affected purchases, payments and cash withdrawals for millions. A third bank lost its services for close to an hour but everything came back online soon enough there. A power cut hit Wales and then another across the East Midlands. The shutdown was widespread and affected a huge number of people in their homes, at work and on their commute. Caitlin got a tip from a source, one she opted not to take to the news desk with the worry over what they’d do with it. Once again, so she was told, that was all deliberate. NISS was looking at it all and their initial inquires were pointing to the crashes and blackouts being traced back to suspected ‘kill switches’ long sitting unused within electronic systems. That was until they were remotely flipped that was.

National air traffic control went down the same night. That system was supposed to be fireproof, guarded against any attack. Another kill switch was thrown though and screens went dark. A journalist in the office had a flight tracking website up on his computer – he suggested that someone at air traffic control would be best advised to use it too – with Caitlin and others watching the skies full of planes. None of them smeared themselves into the ground as all airspace was soon closed with them landing at airports. It was only later that news broke that the Royal Air Force had been on standby to take over in such an emergency and get planes safety down. Bates prodded Caitlin to talk to a source and she was able to confirm that early rumour. The National ran with a headline saluting the armed forces and she was comfortable to be part of that story. Her whole unease with everything else refused to go away though, especially when the words of Louis Jackson were giving top billing.

Jackson was a waste of space, a rotten charlatan of a politician. Caitlin despised the cretin though she often was alone in that, especially in her newsroom. The National liked him because he generated news. That MP openly accused Russia of being behind the crashing of air traffic control and the chaos which had come earlier that same day with banking services and power cuts. He called it ‘an act of war’ too. Caitlin cringed when Jackson demanded that the police, NISS and even soldiers be sent to the Russian Embassy to ‘take on’ those Russians that could be found there. They’d fired the first salvo, he said to her ‘paper and its readers, but Briton needed to end the fight for good. One of Caitlin’s colleagues openly speculated in the newsroom over whether Jackson had thought what that would mean for British soldiers stationed in Estonia. They were there and would be on the frontlines of the war that the MP wanted to see fought. Caitlin had told her that she didn’t think would Jackson care.

The Kremlin was behind it all: Caitlin could agree with that. But for an MP to call for war and for the National to make those words public, giving it all support in an editorial that Caitlin heard that Bates wrote at the direction of the board… now that wasn’t right in any way.

The day of the election finally came with campaigning complete. Caitlin was first in rural Buckinghamshire and then later across in Suffolk to cover ongoing events. She’d been sent by Bates to assist the politics team on the ground in select constituencies. He was unimpressed with her recent behaviour, that she was well aware of, though her editor too busy with everything else that was going on that the ‘paper to rip her a new one at that time.

There were police officers wherever Caitlin went. British Army soldiers not on the streets of Leicester were fulfilling police guarding roles at fixed sites to free up cops for extra patrol tasks. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary, British Transport Police and even the MOD Police were out and about, joining reservist special constables providing visible security nationwide. Polling stations and parliamentary candidates received protection. Caitlin got several messages that day about rumours of trouble in certain places though none of that turned out to be true. Apart from where THOROUGHBRED was taking place, it was an eerily quiet day. Those banking services were still down though, power was out in parts of the country and air traffic control had yet to be fixed.

She was back in the newsroom long before ten o’clock. It was at that hour, seconds after voting ceased for the day, that the big television broadcasters released their exit polling projections. Caitlin joined millions of others in watching that, holding her breath as the projections were made of seat counts and who would form the next government.

Tasha was standing beside her: “Hold on to your hats!” She said that just ahead of the announcement coming. Then: “Holy moly! Now, how did that happen?”

“That can’t be right.” Caitlin didn’t believe what she was seeing. “No, no way.”

But she was wrong. The voters had responded to what they had had to live through recently and Caitlin had played her part in making that happen.

Bates sighed noisily. He shook his head at the screen. “Right,” he called out to his staff, Caitlin included, “let’s get on this. Guaranteed political chaos in the election aftermath is what we’re running with, people.”

Caitlin didn’t do as instructed.

Instead, she left. “Stuff this for a game of soldiers!” Such was her comment to no one in particular as she left the National’s offices for the last time.
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