The 603 was late.
I didn’t blame them one bit. The sudden, unexpected winter snow had played havoc with everything.
But I’d made it. The train pulled up to the station and slowed down, and I scanned the driveways to the station, looking for a dark green Land Rover.
As I stepped onto the platform, trying to get my bearings, I saw lights flash on and off quickly. Looking closer, I noticed it was the Land Rover. I didn't do anything stupid like wave or shout. I pulled my coat tighter around me, buried my hands in my pockets, half marched, and half plowed through snow and wind to the car. As I reached the passenger side, the door opened.
My job in security meant I often had to meet people in strange places. Usually, these meetings were set up well in advance, and the person I was meeting was vetted, and I knew who I was meeting and why. However, occasionally, I met people at the last minute with little or no preparation. The handwritten note in my daily briefing pages suggested that meeting Lieutenant Gray at the Lancaster station at 5:56 p.m. and taking the 603 train there would be advantageous. I should look for a dark green early model Land Rover. That was all it said. It did not indicate the matter of which it would pertain to or who Lieutenant Gray was. I made a short note about the meeting on my daily page and left in time to get the train.
In my travels among the many branches of government up to the King and his inner circle, whom I’d dealt with a few times, I had heard rumors of personal Requests by the King to do certain things that bypass normal channels. It was said they were called Crown Orders, but only in hushed tones and in confidence. No one had admitted to getting one or that they were real, much less saying what the orders were or if they carried them out. But several unusual things that could be attributed retroactively to Crown Orders had happened over the years.
“Lt. Gray?” I asked as I shut the door, cutting off the fall of light snow following me into the car.
He nodded yes and started the car. We drove silently for a minute while the heater warmed the cold air I’d let into the car.
“Your note said that you had information that would benefit me?” I pushed a little.
“I was asked to give you this and get your response.”
He reached behind the front seat, pulled out a long, thin wooden box, and laid it on the console between the seats. There was a gold inlaid seal on top of the polished wood. A closer inspection revealed that it was the King’s Seal. I sucked in a breath when I realized these must be Crown Orders.
Throughout my entire life in His Majesty’s Service, first as an army officer and then as a civil servant, I never dreamed I would ever receive such a thing. It was rumored that a few empty boxes suspected to be Crown Orders vessels had been discovered in the belongings of several high-profile political types after they passed. All assumed that only people in a high political place would receive such things.
So here I was, sitting in a green Land Rover with a chap who called himself Lieutenant Gray, but I doubted it was his real name or rank. But I didn’t push it.
He motioned to a thermos resting on the floorboard and said there was coffee if I wanted it. I did. I poured about a half cup and waited for the steaming liquid to cool while I took a closer look at the box.
It was long and thin, made of light wood, and the top was fitted to the box inset with edges on the top. I traced the contours of the seal with my fingertips, still shocked. Four red and blue ribbons wrapped around the box and were sealed to the box on all four sides, making it impossible to open the box without breaking the wax seals.
Lieutenant Gray spoke. “If you open that, you’ve accepted whatever orders are there. You can hand the box to me, and I’ll return it unopened and take you back to the train. No questions asked. It will be understood you refused the Order, and no one will mention this again.”
I sat back in my seat and thought about what he’d said. I could refuse to take the box and thus the Crown Orders, but what would the ramifications of that be? Would it make a difference later if I refused them? Or would it not matter one way or the other? I knew the answer to that. I wouldn't have been given them if there wasn’t a specific thing that only I could do. I thought about my daily routine and the people I encountered and tried to think of any reason the King would want me to do something for him. He could easily reach out to anyone and, through a mediator or a PM, get word to them that he wanted to see them. No, that wasn’t it.
There was only one way to find out.
I pulled my small penknife from my jacket pocket and fiddled with it until I opened the tiny blade. I glanced at Gray, who had pulled off the road while I opened the box. I felt guilty about destroying the wax seals, but I had to know what the Crown Orders were.
Carefully slicing the ribbon, I then sliced each of the four small wax seals that sealed the lid to the box. The cover was a tight fit, and I had to pry them apart slightly with the blade of my knife. On the top was a letter bearing Crown’s Seal embossed into the fine linen paper.
Carefully extracting the letter from the box, I unfolded it and began to read.
Dear Ian Fleming:
The box you have in your hand is a personal request from your King to execute certain actions that I feel that you alone are in a position to do.
It is understood that these are only requests, and you are not compelled to do the tasks requested. However, if you fail to do them, there could be ramifications far beyond what you imagine for King and Country.
If you carry out my request, certain allowances will be made in the future regarding your future and that of your family. If you try and fail, for whatever reason, I will have no choice but to deny any knowledge of your actions or this letter.
The importance of your mission cannot be overstated. Below, you will find the particulars and any relevant information and documents you need to complete the request.
Laying the letter to one side, I reached into the box for the file folder marked Top Secret and slipped several papers from the files. A glance revealed each page was marked Top Secret, the highest level of security in the British government.
The first page was a summary of his Order, listing three people with a brief description of each and a small picture. The brief said that each of the three individuals was under pressure to cast votes against their beliefs, and in doing so, the results would be averse to the country's best interest. My remit was to remove the threatening influence from their lives so that they could serve the county’s needs. The orders indicated a timeline that I needed to accomplish the task.
I was warned not to mention the King or my orders or to present myself in any official capacity. That I already knew. Having run such operations before, I knew how it should work, and sometimes it didn’t always go according to plan.
The document indicated that Lieutenant Gray was to be at my disposal and service for any help I should require. It was the last line that grabbed my attention.
You are hereby authorized to use any force necessary.
A shoot-to-kill order told me all I needed to know.
The rest of the papers provided detailed information on each person in question. I scanned the documents to get an idea of what I had to work with.
All three targets were Members of Parliament. Penelope Porter, who had ruffled feathers in a variety of circles, and Edward Crandell were members of the House of Commons. The third target was Lord Robert Duncan, a member of the House of Lords.
The matter in question was scheduled for a week from today. They all had made public statements in support of a new proposal to fund lower-income housing and strengthen the support system for single parents and those in very low-income brackets so they could find work and have the childcare and help they needed.
I read about the proposal up for debate in the papers and watched a few debates on television. No one denied the need for the support. However, the discussion of how to pay for the plan and where the money would come from had been a topic for heated debate in parliament and the public media. All three of the people listed had come out in favor of the bill and had made recommendations on how to pay for it.
However, from what I am reading in these documents, it now seems that behind the scenes, there had been more than the usual political pressure to vote one way or another. Things had gone from pressure to threatening and violence. The Metropolitan police had been notified, had the incident reports, and tried to sort it out. However, their hands were tied in ways that mine weren’t. When threats of major violence in the UK were issued by groups opposing the bill, the King felt that matters had become too violent for regular channels and had issued a Crown Order.
I read through the detailed documents and then returned the papers to the folder. I turned to Gray, who had spent the time tapping lightly on the steering while I read.
“Well, Lieutenant Gray, how do you feel about kicking some ass?”
He grinned and started the Rover. “Where to sir?”
We started with Penelope Porter. According to the intel included in the dossier, she felt her house was being watched. Gray drove to her London residence, located in Belgravia. Fortunately, she lived in a townhome on a street with parking, and even more fortunately, he found a parking place.
Five minutes after we arrived, a man exited the house and left in a car parked in front of the house. From our records, the man was Porter’s husband. Before he was out of sight, a man got out of an old Renault, ran across the street, and put a long pipe into the mailbox.
I yelled at Gray. “Stop him.” He floored the car and blocked the Renault as it tried to pull out of the parking space. We jumped out and pulled the man out of the vehicle.
“Do you want me to retrieve what he put in the mailbox?
“And get your arm blown off? No, call 999 and tell them you just saw a man put a pipe bomb in a mailbox at her address. Meanwhile, we’ll take this gentleman for a ride in the country.”
“How’d you know to wait?”
“Because that's exactly what I would have done. Wait for the targets to leave and then plant the bomb.”
We drove in silence for about an hour. Every so often, there would be the sounds of kicking and grunting from the back of the car, but we ignored it. The longer we went, the more uncomfortable he would be. There wasn’t enough space for him to stretch out back there, and I knew his legs and arms would be cramping up, and he’d probably have to piss too. I hoped he’d wait until we got to where we were going. Thinking back to the old days, he wouldn’t be the first to piss while in transit.
I knew this wasn’t the boss, just another flunky. Someone was out there calling the shots, but hopefully, our bomber would give us something.
We arrived at Southend-on-Sea, a resort town on the Thames Estuary. A trusted former colleague retired five years ago and now lives here. I needed this guy on ice, whether he spilled what I needed to know or not. I called Harry and quickly told him what I needed. He had the garage door up when we arrived.
Harry pulled the garage door down behind us, and Gray and I tugged our guest out of the Land Rover and tossed him onto the floor. He rolled over, moving his legs, trying to get feeling back.
“Done?” I asked as he settled down. He nodded yes. Harry untied his feet, and we helped him stand up. Then I hit him. Hard. He went back down, almost hitting the door of the rover.
We picked him up again, followed Harry to a room at the back of the house, and pushed him inside. Gray rummaged through his pockets and found his ID. One Dexter Edwards, Slough.
“Well, Edwards, you picked the wrong mailbox to stick a bomb in, but that’s the least of your problems.” I handed the wallet to Gray, who stepped out of the room to make a phone call.
“I know you're just a funky, doing what you're told. So, who told you to put a bomb in MP Porter’s mailbox today? This is the only time that I am asking nicely.”
He grunted at me and pulled away, flopping down on the narrow cot.
“Fine, I’ve got all day.” I walked out and locked the deadbolt. Gray was just getting off the phone.
“I’ve got the info on our friend in there and who he works for.
He showed me the screen on his phone.
“How long would it take to go get him?”
“Couple of hours. Probably a little more. Oh, and I have a care package for you.”
He led me back into the garage and pulled a big cooler case out of the Rover. A shoulder holster lay on top, holding a Walther PPK, .380. I slipped it out and dropped the magazine. And reinserted it into the butt of the gun and ran the slide chambering a round.
“Thanks,” I shrugged off my jacket and slipped on the holster.
“This goes with it, and he pulled out a set of earplugs and several loaded magazines. “There are two thermoses of coffee and some food and extra blankets in there.”
“How’d you know I’d take the job?”
“It was a hunch. I also read your file and knew you played rough.” He pulled a battered old baseball bat from the rear floorboard and smiled.
“Go get his boss and get back here.”
“You going to be okay here?”
“Yeah. Harry is one of us, just retired. He bought this place but didn’t want out of the game, so we use it as a safe house, and we do some interrogation here as well. I’ll be fine.”
Harry and I had spent some quality time with our prisoner, who never stopped swearing but said nothing. I hadn’t used the baseball bat—yet. He yelled for water and food, but we locked him in the safe room. He wasn’t going anywhere. He could wait.
We then caught the news, which was abuzz about the pipe bomb found in the postal box at MP Porter’s house. The media was all over the fact that she was a proponent of the poverty relief proposal coming before Parliament. The police were looking for our friend. He’d been stupid enough to use his car, and after we grabbed him, they found it, and his prints were all over everything. I knew what the procedure would be. They would tear his place apart and probably find where he made the bomb, but would they find who set him up?
It was three hours later and almost dark by the time Lieutenant Gray returned with his new passenger. Lt. Gray opened the back of the Rover, pulled a male out, and dropped him to the ground.
“I see you have our friend.”
“Yeah, he put up a good fight, even had to stop once and quiet him, but he lost every time.”
He was awake now, and the cussing and squirming coming from the floor between us confirmed that. I took the same swing at him that I did at Edwards, but this one managed to steady himself. That told me a lot.
Gray told me his name was Micheal James and how he had to strongly persuade him to get him in the Rover. This one was a tougher customer than the first one.
I had ignored Edwards the entire time we’d been here, which hopefully made him even madder. I was pushing him mentally to see how far he’d go. He'd probably break easily if he got hungry and thirsty enough.
Gray needed to make a phone call, so Harry and I dragged Micheal James into the safe room. I watched Edwards closely as we brought James in. His eyes widened, and I knew if James didn’t talk, Edwards would.
Harry had everything I needed in this room. The walls, floor, and ceiling were constructed of concrete. There was a cot, toilet, overhead light, spotlight, and floor drain. Harry was quite serious when I asked about the drain. Easier to hose off the blood, he had answered. I was really hoping for no blood tonight.
Harry forced Edwards to sit in a chair in the center of the room directly under the spotlight. Circling him, I noted the bespoke suit with all the right touches. A fancy watch and the details that had until a few hours ago made him look the part of a respected lawyer serving as an MP in Parliament. But now his suit was wrinkled and dirty, the tie hanging loose, and his neatly styled hair was a mess. His hands were tied behind him, and he watched me warily.
“Michal James, recently, you have been applying pressure to the Prime Minister and several members of parliament to stop passing a bill that would fund and provide low-income housing and other support services for indigent and low-income, single-parent households. This pressure has been more than the usual political crap you guys do all the time. Threats have been made, even a bomb planted, and there are reports of stalking and harassment to get members of Parliament not to pass this bill.”
He turned his head, refusing to look at me—a sign of guilt.
“I have to question why this is such an important matter to you and your colleagues who do not support helping the people who need it the most. This matter has become so visible that the police have visited you several times and all but arrested you for harassment. I fortunately don’t have the legal constraints that the police do. I need to know why this bill and its financing are so important to you.”
I stopped my circling and stood in front of him.
Michal James leaned back and looked up at me. The arrogance on his face made me want to take the baseball bat to him out of general principle.
“And who the hell are you? I’m a member of Parliament. You can’t do this. I’ll have your head for this.”
“I can, and I am. I can do anything I want. My job is to get you to stop the harassment and threats you have been making and let Parliament do its job unhindered. Tell me why you are doing this.”
He continued to glare at me, and I picked up the bat. “I need to know the big deal about that bill, the financing, or something else.” I whacked the bat against the floor, pleased to see him flinch. “Tell me.”
Lieutenant Gray stuck his head in the door and motioned me to join him outside.
“It seems our Michal James has some problems of his own. From what I can tell, without getting too deep into it, sources say he owes money to some big gamblers here and in the States. And it seems he’s been funneling money to pay them from some of his committees. Committees that fund the same programs that the bills up for a vote. None of it has been confirmed, but it makes sense if he has been stealing from his committees and covering it up. When an audit is down to reallocate funds, well….” Gray shrugged.
Now I had something. That all of this was because this fool had a gambling problem that angered me. I returned to Michal James.
“How much do you owe?”
“To gamblers and loan sharks both here and in the States. What funds have you been stealing money to pay them? That’s why you opposed the bill. You knew if they passed it, your creative financing would come out, and you’d be exposed as the crook you are. Right now, you call off your dogs and stop the threats so they can vote as they choose. After that? Who knows?” I slapped the bat against my leg.
Michal James looked down at his feet and sighed.
“I’ll call them off, but you have to let me go.”
“I’ll be happy to let you go. I don’t want the Metropolitan Police to be denied the pleasure of arresting you. It’ll come out as soon as they start auditing your accounts. However, you’re staying with us until after the vote.” I handed him a burner phone. “Start making the calls.”
“What do I tell them?”
“Tell them to leave people alone, or we will come after them.”
It took several phone calls, some of which got heated, for him to tell his cronies to lay off the members of Parliament and the Prime Minster. I took the phone from him.
“There. I did what you asked. I called off the dogs, and those fools are free to vote as they wish. Now, what about us?”
“You are staying right here until the vote is over.”
Michal James quieted down after the phone calls. He knew his fate was sealed. Edwards, the bomber with pages of form, continued to swear and was miserable to deal with.
We spent the next few days watching the news closely for any more threats. According to Lieutenant Gray's sources, all the people James called had been placed under surveillance.
The vote in Parliament went off without a hitch, and the bill was easily passed with some minor modifications about financing.
We were all ready to call it quits. We tied up and gagged our prisoners and put them in the back of the Rover with a tarp. Michal James was released in a busy part of London, looking like he’d been on a week-long drunk. Edwards was left tied up outside a local police station, along with a thumb drive detailing Micheal’s activity.
Lieutenant Gray dropped me off at the train station just in time to catch the 603. It's time to return to my real life and my real covert job.
I never saw him again or learned his real name and who he worked for, but he left me with a phone number. If I ever needed anything, I was to call.
When I got home, I burned the Crown Order documents and kept the box.