Books written by Ray Sullivan

Friday, 4 January 2013

Parallel Lives chapter 41

Sergeant Jim Forsythe rubbed his eyes as he walked down the corridor, brushing the yellowing plaster walls as he avoided personnel passing him in the other direction. ‘Monday morning again,’ he thought to himself, ‘and I’m still knackered.’ Jim had completed a week of 12 hour night shifts as Guard Commander at RAF Fylingdales two weeks previously, his third such stint in that role since arriving at the base two and half years earlier. The slightly extended weekend following the duty was considered sufficient recovery time, but even on the best guard stints meant taking half the following week to recover. This duty had provided rather more work than Jim had been prepared for, and an amount of intrigue he couldn’t have anticipated.
On arrival back at work Jim had discovered an altogether expected pile of paperwork and files piled on his desk, all marked for his attention. On previous guard duties Jim had managed to siphon much of his paperwork to the Guard Force HQ to keep on top of it. However he hadn’t enjoyed the same degree of freedom over the week, having to manage his meagre guard force over an extended roster. Now, just over two weeks since he had been directed to supervise a ‘transfer’, he had been summoned to the new boss’s office.
He stood outside the open door viewing the top of the head of the new man, a middle aged Flight Lieutenant, as the Officer scribbled a note on a pad in front of him. Jim rapped the door smartly, conscious that he hadn’t yet worked out where this man stood on protocol. The Flight Lieutenant’s predecessor, many years his junior, had been one of the new breed and had attempted to be as informal as possible with all ranks save for the inevitable disciplinary functions he had had to perform from time to time. This one, Jim reckoned, was a bit more old school. Probably an ex-ranker, he appeared less comfortable fraternising with any of the personnel on the section, and had managed to rub most of Jim’s subordinates up the wrong way within days of arriving through his obvious formality. Jim had made a conscious decision not to bring his beret along with him, ensuring he did not need to salute the Officer as he entered his office, testing the water.
‘You asked to see me, Sir?’, Jim asked as the Flight Lieutenant looked up. A momentarily querulous look crossed the Officer’s face as he tried to recall the visitor’s name. Suddenly recognition flashed in his eyes and he beckoned Jim to enter.
‘Sergeant Forsythe, come in. Close the door and sit down please,’ the Officer said, picking up his desk phone. He turned the phone upside down, located the ringer sound level switch and turned the ringer off. Jim realised that this was unlikely to be a social interview, it was being played by the book. He sat and waited for the boss to continue.
‘I understand you were enjoying a week away from your desk the other week,’ opened the Flight Lieutenant. Jim didn’t respond, assuming that this statement didn’t require answering. The Officer continued: ‘You were in charge when we received our unexpected visitors, I understand.’ Jim shuffled in his seat uncomfortably, wondering whether he should pitch in. Technically he had undertaken not to mention the events that had occurred under his command, had been specifically reminded of his obligations under the Official Secrets Act; however it was clear that the boss had some knowledge. Jim leaned forward to ask his question.
‘Can I stop you there, Sir? I’d like to know exactly what it is you think I was involved with before I answer any questions,’ he said, sitting back once he finished his piece. The Officer didn’t bat an eye at this apparent impertinence, in fact his briefing the previous day had prepared him for it. He rocked back in his chair, scanning behind Jim to confirm the door had been closed fully.
‘I’m aware that you received a request on your first shift as Guard Commander to assist in the transfer of a civilian to the medical centre, and that you maintained an additional guard shift on the facility for the remainder of your duty. The order to divert the Guard Force from their primary duty was directed from a Senior Civil Servant from the Home Office and sanctioned by the Station Commander following enquiries he made with the Ministry of Defence. I am fully aware that your obligations under the OSA were reiterated to you several times, as it was to all of your guards and the personnel on the day shift. To my certain knowledge, and we have been monitoring as far as possible all guard personnel involved, you have complied with that instruction.’ The final sentence had been lifted directly from the briefing the Officer had been given; he had no personal knowledge of Jim’s or any other Guard Force personnel’s adherence to the instructions, nor had he the means to determine these ‘facts’ had he needed to do so. Jim looked carefully at the Officer, trying to work out if he was being tested. He decided that this was not a trap. Leaning forward, talking quietly, Jim unburdened himself.
‘To be honest Sir, I’m very uncomfortable about some of the events of that week. The transfer, as you call it, was hardly the most professional of affairs. More importantly the man they brought onto the base was clearly drugged. I don’t know how I stand on this one if anything should happen to him. I think I could be wide open to prosecution, I don’t know, aiding and abetting in unlawful imprisonment.’ Jim felt himself flushing as he spoke, wondering if he was over-reacting. The Officer nodded slowly, inhaled through his nose noisily, then replied.
‘The man you were guarding is assisting the, em, Security Forces,’ he began, using a euphemism generally reserved for the intelligence community. ‘He has been operating close to a terrorist cell in the North West somewhere and has suffered injuries believed to have been maliciously inflicted. At present it is unknown as to whether his cover has been blown or whether the injuries are related to other activities,’ the Officer continued, suddenly not understanding the reasoning he had been persuaded less than twenty four hours ago to accept. Jim interjected, attempting to clarify what he had just heard.
‘What sort of “other activities”?’ he asked. The Flight Lieutenant searched for the words the amiable man, Martin, had used. He wished that the SIS man could have conducted this briefing as he clearly had far greater knowledge of the situation, even if he did claim the task to have been dropped onto his plate at very short notice.
‘This man, he’s not a career member of the intelligence service, more of an opportunist, a chancer. One of life’s risk takers. These people are the best way of infiltrating some of the groups that threaten our freedom but they can be a little erratic, perhaps unprofessional.’ Leaning back, he felt pleased with himself, he knew it wasn’t quite how Martin had put it, but felt it reflected the essence of the words he had weaved. Jim looked a little more convinced
‘That would explain some of the cloak and dagger stuff we found ourselves involved with. Not completely though, but I guess when you’re dealing with these types I expect you never get the whole story,’ he said. Then a thought hit him. ‘Why is this being raised now? As far as I know he’s still in the medical centre being guarded by the guards who replaced those who replaced mine.’ The Officer clasped his hands together, gathering his thoughts.
‘I understand the guard has been dropped as unnecessary. The site’s secure, the patient isn’t a prisoner and the guards were drawing attention that could be avoided. But yes, he’s still here, for the time being. Now, I’ve been asked to release you for an additional duty, one that needs someone of your obvious sensitivity and calibre. In fact you have been specifically requested by the spook in charge…’
‘The what?’ asked Jim, trying to follow and anticipate the thread of the conversation. Talk of ‘additional duties’ requiring much thought-of traits he had previously been unaware of gave him great unease.
‘Sorry, the man who is heading up the operation here. It’s slang for his type, you know, the secret squirrels,’ explained the flustered Officer. Jim had understood the term perfectly well, he had just been surprised at the pace of developments involving him. Clearly his outburst had been misunderstood. The Flight Lieutenant continued, his delivery slightly shaken. ‘They want you to help escort their man, later this week. It should be a cake walk, they actually don’t expect any problems, but they are thin on the ground with their own people at the moment and they have asked for our assistance. You specifically, as it happens.’
‘Me? Why?’ asked Jim, not liking the way this conversation was flowing. His boss tilted his head smartly to the side, not a large tilt, but a rapid one, the way birds move their heads while feeding, scanning for predators.
‘Because you have impressed them, with the way you handled the transfer given it was short notice and outside of your terms of reference, and by the way you have kept your own counsel since. Apparently you were noted as being businesslike, asking relevant questions, organising the troops and making sure they didn’t go over the top. They looked at the personnel who had been involved so far, and you stood head and shoulders above the others. They didn’t want to involve anyone who hadn’t already been involved, it limits the risk so to speak, but they really want you to help above all,’ he said, ‘so we have agreed.’
‘We? We have agreed what?’ asked Jim, forcing himself not to allow the compliments to sway his judgement, though he was struggling.
‘To release you for this task. They have no formal jurisdiction over us and we would be quite in our rights to refuse. However, we are all batting on the same side here and the Station Execs have agreed to allow you to be seconded.’ Jim squirmed in his seat, an unease washing over him.
‘Sir, what exactly are you telling me I have to do?’ he asked, resorting to a more formal approach to the conversation, a formality he had tried to avoid on a poorly formed principle. The pressure was on and he had reverted, hidden behind even, his military indoctrination.
‘They would like you to act as an additional escort for their patient. He has to attend some sort of inquest in Manchester as a witness, apparently. Something to do with an industrial accident some time ago, quite unrelated to his undercover enquiries. They feel that if he didn’t show it might make his absence more visible, so to speak, and could blow his cover. At any rate they aren’t expecting any problems. They expect that he will arrive, give evidence and then leave, no problem. Its just that they hadn’t anticipated this tasking and are more or less fully committed elsewhere. They need our help and you are their first choice,’ concluded the Officer. Instinct told Jim to refuse the task, protocol told him it wasn’t a choice of his. He would end up doing this job whether he agreed with it or not. If he tried to turn it down he would pay at the next appraisal yet still be ordered to do it; embrace it and it is all gain, given the amount of compliments being paid.
‘Fine,’ he lied, ‘what are my instructions? His boss, pleasantly surprised at the positive turn around, beamed.
‘Well, first, we need to get you pistol qualified.


Copyright Ray Sullivan 2011

The characters, places and events described in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, places or events, past or present, is coincidence.  All rights reserved

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