New World Order
A short story
by David McVey
‘Hawley,’ the guy said quietly at my driver window, ‘English Intelligence.’
I checked the urge to make my usual crack about a contradiction in terms and replied, simply, ‘McLean, Security Scotland. Get in.’ If I’d made the jest, he’d no doubt have pointed out my organisation’s unfortunate acronym; when my superiors had belatedly realised the gaffe, all operatives were memoed to the effect that ‘SecuScot’ was the only acceptable abbreviation.
Hawley nodded and climbed in the car, but in the back. This seemed not only less than sociable but also likely to draw attention to us, but I just sighed and pulled away into the slack stream of Edinburgh’s traffic.
A few minutes later we were stuck at another set of lights. There had been no further conversation. A tram swished by and finally I snapped, ‘So, what are you lot whingeing about now?’
‘Steady on,’ said Hawley, ‘we’re on the same side, remember.’
‘No major wars on at the moment,’ I said, ‘there are no “sides”.’
He didn’t reply, so I said, brightly, ‘Shall we go to see the Castle? Pretend we’re firing Mons Meg or perhaps spend time in prayer in St Margaret’s Chapel?’ I paused. ‘Or is there something you actually want to talk about?’
I could see in the rear-view mirror that he was now grinning broadly. ‘Our boys were right about you,’ he said.
His boys probably had a point. When MI5 and the rest of the covert community were compelled, on Scottish independence, to split and re-form into smaller national equivalents, there had been a good deal of wrangling and horse-trading and bitterness; scores were settled and feuds erupted into the open. On a personal level, I went down a grade on the pay scale, lost several thousand Euros in salary and ended up based in a room with no windows. I even lost my photocopier, which went to some EI outpost in Gloucester. It surprises outsiders who picture us spending our lives dodging bullets, working undercover among psychotic Russian drugs barons or assassinating maverick right-wing generals of the American Federation that we can get so animated about office equipment.
‘At the split they say you got really hung up about a photocopier of all things,’ said Hawley.
I sighed. ‘It did colour and double-sided and everything.’
‘We think our consul in Edinburgh has gone over to the Americans.’
The traffic unstuck and we pulled off again along streets darkened by a fresh shower of rain.
‘Lord Cope, eh? Which Americans?’
‘Oh,’ Hawley waved a hand, ‘does it matter? They’re all as mad as a bag of bats.’
After the global financial meltdown of 2011, the former United States had broken up into a loose confederation of unstable fiefdoms. The rump of the USA, along the eastern states, had long since submitted to the Confederation. Cope had been at the English Consulate since independence. If some American outfit had offered him juicy incentives, he’d be able to spill a lot of sensitive stuff about Scotland as well as about his own country.
‘So, what do you want us to do about it?’
‘You people know the Americans here. Keep an eye on them. Keep an eye on Cope.’
‘We watch them all already. Especially Cope.’
‘Shouldn’t be a problem, then, should it?’
I pulled into the Queen’s Drive, and said ‘If he’s in touch with them, he’ll probably communicate electronically, or by mobile.’
‘We’re monitoring all that already.’
‘Good. So are we.’
He didn’t register surprise but I bet he was taken aback that we were undertaking sophisticated surveillance of such a senior figure. Mind you, I’d no idea if it was true. I pulled up outside the Parliament building. ‘Here we are at the home of Scottish independent democracy since 2013. Your tour ends here.’
‘And you lot still haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1998.’
I glared at Hawley, and then said, ‘We’ll look into it. I’ll speak to my people. Now beat it.’
He was grinning as he climbed out of the car. Before he walked off he tapped the driver’s window; I wound it down and he said, ‘My office has a great photocopier.’ I watched as he sauntered up towards the Royal Mile, pulling up the hood of his Goretex jacket. I wondered if I was right; were there no sides?
Just a week later I stood on the platform at Haymarket Station. Cope, the English Consul, stood just along from me, pretending to be interested in a free newspaper. I knew him by sight; as far as I knew, he didn’t know me, but I had to assume he’d know what I was.
A train for London Euston rattled to a halt and the consul climbed aboard. I followed suit and settled myself in a deep, comfortable First Class seat. Happily, the ticket inspector was an experienced woman who knew just to nod and pass by when I flashed my SecuScot ID.
It was interesting, this. I had been alerted to Cope furtively leaving his office. I expected that he might go and meet his American contacts in Holyrood Park or Princes Street Gardens or somewhere else local. Instead, here I was, seemingly headed for London with no spare socks, toothpaste or luggage.
I had, at least, bought a newspaper. I unfolded it and began to read it with one eye while, with the other, I looked along and across the carriage at Cope. He was tapping away at a text message. Whatever it was, Hawley and his gang would be picking it up. So, now, would we.
The journey rolled by and I finished my paper. I wandered over to a rack at the end of the coach and picked up the rail operator’s magazine, but its glossy vapidity struggled to hold my attention. Cope had been snoozing for a while, so was clearly in for the long haul. We passed a lineside sign that read Welcome to the United Kingdom of England and Wales! and soon pulled into Carlisle. I looked up from a soul-sucking article on soft furnishings to check up on Cope. He was gone.
Boy, he was good.
I didn’t look very professional over the next few minutes. I jumped up like a schoolboy smoker caught behind Maths Hut 5 and ran like a mad thing through First Class checking the toilets and every other hidden corner but could find no sign of him. I opened a door and jumped onto the platform and scanned the faces there and on the concourse. A clattering of doors sounded behind me, there was a sharp whistle and the train pulled away. I turned towards the departing train to see Cope waving at me from a door window, wearing a buffet attendant’s cap. As I mouthed silent but violent curses, he hurled something towards me. I retrieved it from the platform; it was a rolled-up glossy pamphlet of some sort. I smoothed it out; a photocopier sales brochure. Ah, the famous English sense of humour.
I found a quiet spot further along the platform, pulled out my mobile and dialled the office. ‘It’s McLean; listen. Track down all EI agents and English Consulate officials in Edinburgh. Cope was just leading me off-track; Hawley must’ve set me up. There must be something happening that they don’t want us to see.’
I’d no idea if any of this was true but it would do as a face-saving working hypothesis. I went up to a ticket sales window and asked when the next train to Edinburgh was.
‘In half-an-hour, sir. The 15.05 SNR service.’
Oh, superb; I’d be travelling on the grim awfulness of Scottish National Railways. ‘Give me a First Class single to Edinburgh, then, please.’
‘No First Class on the SNR service, sir.’
‘Actually, forget it, I won’t.’
I had just discovered that my wallet was still on the train to London, so I would have to hope that the surly, ill-trained SNR staff would respect my ID.
An hour later I was squeezed in the SNR train, a puttering diesel affair like two single-deck buses squashed together, sharing a table with three shaven heads rapidly working their noisy way through a 24-pack of cheap supermarket lager. My mobile pealed. ‘McLean? How long till you get back?’
‘Gies another f***ing can ya c***!’ bawled one of my neighbours.
‘Look, this isn’t really a good time…’ I said, feebly.
‘F*** off, ya f***ing c***, ye’ve had two mair than me already!’
‘McLean – Hawley’s been on to us. They knew nothing about Cope heading south either.’
‘There’s only five f***ing cans left ya c***!’
‘OK – look, we’re past Galashiels, I’ll be back in about half an hour. See you then.’
One of my neighbours turned to me and bellowed, ‘Wis that yer f**ing wife, ya fanny?’
There’s one thing you’ve read about the covert community that’s actually true; we can kill people silently with an innocuous-looking grip. But we cannot exercise that ability against voluble drunken oafs in public, however much the general population would applaud us if we did.
I smiled and said, ‘I could kill you in seconds with a single touch.’
They went still and quiet, looked at each other, looked at me, back at each other, and then finally burst into spluttering gales of laughter, before offering me one of their few surviving cans.
On the platform at Waverley I was met by Hawley and one of his gang; there was no sign of anyone from SecuScot. They looked with smirking amusement at the right sleeve of my suit jacket which was soaked and dripping with lager. My companions had started throwing the obvious missiles at each other when their tempers frayed.
‘I’d have dressed as a Morris Dancer if I’d known we were doing national stereotypes,’ said Hawley.
I glared at him and said, ‘So you were genuine about Cope, then?’
‘Yes, and you lost him.’
‘He is. Pity you’re not.’
He did, of course, have a point. ‘He’s your problem anyway. I was just doing you a favour. And who’s he?’ I pointed to Hawley’s companion.
‘His name doesn’t matter,’
‘Does he talk?’
‘If it’s called for. But we’re all on the same side, eh?’
I stomped off to the taxi rank; home first, then the dry-cleaners with the suit, and off to the office for the reckoning. Meanwhile, Lord Cope would have disappeared from the train somewhere and met up with shadowy American Federation agents who no doubt had a slick plan for flying him out to his condo on the Florida Cays. Not a good day.
What was our place in this New World Order? Low and falling, and I hadn’t helped.