Line of Descent chapter 11

Chapter 11

Drayton was back in London by early that evening. He went directly to the plain sixties style building overlooking the Thames that housed the headquarters of the security services. They had been waiting for him to return and had scheduled a meeting to begin at his arrival to discuss what he had learned about the Burham incident in greater detail. It was chaired by the deputy head of the service, Campbell, and attended by the heads of all departments dealing with domestic security. A successor for Sir Horace Vinton had not yet been appointed.

They debriefed Drayton in detail and he confirmed they would be receiving copies of all the evidence Pritchet had collected. There was a general consensus that the killer had cleaned up at Burham to conceal a bungled attempt to reconnoitre the Minister’s country residence. The pressure point technique used to kill Levitt was taken to support the theory that the killer was a new face. As far as the files section was concerned, the terrorists did not have such a highly skilled killer. Their methods were simple and brutally direct.

The Provisional’s claim for the assassination of Vinton had come as no surprise. What was occupying their attention was the delay of nearly a whole day before they had taken the credit. The claim was usually made fairly quickly, to prevent another group getting in first. Some argued this reinforced the theory that the assassin was a hired man. He would be outside the Provisional’s operational control and report back through a letter drop or some cut out device. The delay could be explained by the innate slowness of the communication method. It takes time to place messages in such locations and they can only be periodically checked by the recipient. Would the killer be using such a method to communicate with his clients, asked one of the group. Baker, in charge of domestic surveillance, thought so.

‘They don’t have a permanent unit here we haven’t spotted. They’re pretty well sewn up. If we’re not actually watching them, we’ve got their hideaways bugged. If this man knows what he’s doing, he’ll stay well away from them.’

He finished on a down note. Drayton knew he had taken Vinton’s killing personally. He was responsible for active and electronic surveillance of mainland terrorist groups. It was his job to keep tabs on them, to anticipate and warn of their plans. To date, his record had been impressive but Vinton’s death represented his first failure and it was massive.

‘You see we’re not set up for this kind of attack’ Baker continued. ‘It’s like when they send over a unit from the north, but worse. They’re always under orders to keep away from the locals but with them at least we know they’ve disappeared from the province. We can eventually fill in the missing faces. This looks like a one man effort by someone we probably haven’t even got on file. We’ve got to get in touch with the Americans, ask for help with the identification.’

They agreed to initiate contact through Cheetham, the CIA liaison man at the embassy. He had already been in touch that afternoon after the claim had been made and had offered the services of the Agency. There had been a polite chuckle over the moment he had chosen to call, it showed a nicer sense of timing than Prochnikov, his KGB alter ego at the Russian embassy. Nobody was under any illusion that Cheetham had not already known about Vinton’s death. In the light of the claim, there was no longer any problem about going public in the intelligence community nor in the media. Baker volunteered to set up a meeting and give Cheetham copies of the pictures they had as well as the descriptions from the Burham witnesses. Arrangements were made to have the killer’s picture given to the television and newspaper people. They discussed for a while the possibility of denying the Provisional’s claim that Vinton had been the head of the service, to diminish the propaganda benefit, but concluded that the media would not stomach it. There was only so much co-operation they could expect from that quarter.

The next item on the agenda was to try to anticipate the killer’s next move. Bearing, the head of the personal security section said he had already reinforced Walters’ security and would be reviewing the Minister’s agenda at the start of each day. As far as he could see, Cosgrave Hall was when he was at his most secure. It was an old country house set in a rambling estate, but the security there was ultra modern and first class. It was the area they had to worry least about.

It was the public appearances he feared the most. Someone would have to speak to the Minister, warn him of the threat and get him to cancel or change the venue of events where his protection could not be guaranteed. Campbell said he would try to arrange something for that evening if possible. He left the room to arrange an appointment with Walters’ private secretary, leaving the others to continue the discussion.

He returned after half an hour. Walters could squeeze them in that evening at his Westminster residence. Campbell asked Drayton to accompany him. This came as no surprise to the others who had long ago realised that Drayton was Campbell’s protégé but bore him no malice because of it. He was well liked and they had too much respect for his obvious talent. It was Campbell who had originally spotted him while he was still a humble lieutenant in military intelligence and had recruited him into the service. Once there, he had blossomed into one of the most gifted and promising intelligence officers of the coming generation.

He had fulfilled a succession of posts admirably, stepping-stones to what all were sure could one day be the pinnacle, barring any unforeseen accidents. At the moment, he was nominally billed as Campbell’s executive assistant, a job specially created to leave him free to handle the unforeseen but sticky problems that Campbell and the late Vinton had sent his way regularly. It was in these ad hoc situations that he truly excelled. He had a quick analytical mind that could go straight to the crux of a problem, and having reached it, the ability and relentless determination to sort it out. Accompanying Campbell to see Walters was just a bit more work experience, they knew, more grooming for the stardom that beckoned.

They arrived there promptly at ten to eight that evening. The house was set into a cul‑de‑sac in one of the anonymous sandstone streets off the Houses of Parliament. A policeman at the entrance to the street examined their passes before waving them on to the house. Outside it, another one went through the same procedure. He knocked on the door when he had finished and after a slight delay, it was opened by a security man inside. He recognised his boss Drayton and skipped the frisking he was under orders to do to all visitors. Drayton made a note to have him removed from the security detail. In the entrance hall, two other security men stood waiting, looking relaxed but alert. Drayton noticed they both held their machine pistols at the ready. That was more like it, he thought.

After a brief delay, they were ushered into Walters’ study where he was sat at his desk working on some papers. He had a phenomenal reputation as a hard worker. Paper did not stay on his desk for long. A despatch box stood open on his desk. If a Minister had a token of office, the venerable despatch box was it, thought Drayton. For the best part of two centuries, they had been the exclusive conveyance of papers of state to and from ministers of the Crown from their civil service. They were filled every morning with documents for the sole attention of the appropriate minister. It was part of the Walters’ legend that every paper in his box would be actioned by the end of the day.

He kept them waiting until he had finished writing on the sheet of paper in front of him. Drayton watched the slow careful loops of the fountain pen. Walters took his time, careful to dry the ink with a large crescent‑shaped blotter before putting the paper in the despatch box and closing it with a snap. He capped the pen and looked up at them expectantly, his eyebrows raised slightly. They had stood quietly long enough, they could begin. He silently waved them to the two chairs in front of the desk.

Campbell introduced Drayton and told Walters that they had uncovered a possible threat to his life. He outlined the events at Burham and the connection that had been established between Vinton’s killer and the man arrested outside Cosgrave Hall. Walters took it well enough, thought Drayton. He hadn’t really expected a big reaction. The post of Home Secretary was always subject to special protection and a threat to Walters’ life was by no means a new event.

He actually seemed flattered at the idea of an assassin being hired to kill him. Drayton recalled he had the reputation of being an interferer. Most Home Secretaries ignored the service, some actively disliking it, but a few were very interested in it, enjoying the clandestine thrills and the feeling of secret power. Many a battle had been fought to keep them from poking through the files on old cases. He had heard Vinton rail about Walters’ interference on more than one occasion.

Drayton had never met him but knew his background. Walters had always been a coming man, who had never quite arrived at the pinnacle of political power. He was prominent in the party and had occupied several high positions but he had always been denied his ultimate goal, Prime Minister. There was something too slick and smug about him that no amount of presentation could conceal. In short, he was not popular with the electorate, a limiting handicap for even the most capable politician. The Grandees of the party realised this and had gently indicated, at the last election for the leadership of the party, that his place was to serve elsewhere. To give him his credit, he had taken it well, settling for a promised Cabinet post. By and large, he was a good Home Secretary. He kept the lid on things, neatly fielding the occasional crisis that came his way and satisfying the exacting right wing of the party of law and order, as they occasionally like to call themselves.

By the time Campbell finished, Walters was in a jocular and expansive mood. He was humouring these peculiar little people from the cloak and dagger brigade.

‘So in short dear boy, my trail is being dogged by some gangster from America. A hit man ‑ is that the correct expression?’ he asked. Campbell said he believed it was. Drayton watched Campbell exercising his powers of self-restraint. He could easily see why Vinton’s meetings with the Minister had always resulted in him being in a foul mood for the rest of the day. They must have fought like tigers, mused Drayton.

‘Oh you people are quite the end, you really are. First you allow the head of your own service to be assassinated and now you want me to creep around in fear of my life from some hired thug from America. Well really, it’s just not on. I’m sorry but you’ll simply have to catch the blighter.’

He spoke in a peculiar mixture of dialects, predominantly public school with the occasional piece of Ealing Brothers’ cockney slipped in. A residue of a previous attempt at the common touch, mused Drayton, his dislike of the man growing with every word he uttered.

‘We’re not asking you to go into hiding’ explained Campbell tentatively. ‘It’s just that certain types of engagement are inherently insecure. You know, the wide open public ones. Your safety can’t be guaranteed. If you could just clear your agenda at the start of each day with Drayton here, I’m sure the impact will be minimal.’

Walters’ eyes flicked in Drayton’s direction. They sized him up briefly before returning to Campbell. He doesn’t believe it, realised Drayton, it’s all being treated like a joke. Maybe he doesn’t want to believe it.

Walters thought it over. ‘I’m sorry gentlemen, you’ll just have to take what precautions you see fit. I cannot afford to be seen hiding from a threat.’

Despite Campbell’s objections, he would not move from that position. Campbell tried several times but Walters very soon made it clear their time was up. They were shown out of the house. They stood on the doorstep outside where Campbell vented his anger.

‘The stupid, supercilious jackass’ he spat out with venom. ‘The ball’s in your court I’m afraid. You’ll not be getting any help from him. All we can do is take every precaution and hope to catch this man quickly before he blows that bloody fool’s head off.’

They were met on their return to the office by Baker. He was flushed and excited.

‘We’ve been waiting for you’ he exclaimed. ‘We’ve got him. A bug in the Hammersmith safe house has picked up an American.’

© Pointman

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