II. Arrest

Ned shivered and pulled the blanket closer around his shoulders.

‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘Do you think it would be possible for someone to bring me my clothes?’

The policeman at the door shifted his eyes from the ceiling to Ned.

‘Not cold is it?’

‘No, but you see I’m only wearing…’

‘Middle of summer, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, yes it is, but. ‘Well then.’

Ned stared at the foil ashtray in front of him on the table and tried to force his mind to concentrate on what had happened.

At four o’clock he had seen Portia into the College, which is to say they had rung the bell for the fifth floor of a disappointingly ordinary doorway in a narrow street behind the Scotch House.

‘I’ll be outside,’ he promised, kissing her goodbye as if for the longest parting. ‘And when you come out we’ll go into Harrods for an ice-cream soda to celebrate.’

He had been waiting there on the pavement for nearly half an hour, trying to work out, in a cheerful sort of way, whether or not Portia taking such a time up there was a good sign. Being an optimist, he had naturally decided that it was.

A group of young Spaniards or Italians (he couldn’t really tell which) had come up to the door. They had been in the act of producing a key when Ned had decided, on an impulse, to be let in with them. The sight of a respectably dressed boyfriend might just tip the balance in Portia s favour.

‘Excuse me,’ he had said. ‘Would it be all right if I came in with you?’

They had looked at him in bewilderment. If this was the average standard of English here, then Portia was going to have a lot to do.

‘I… JUST… WONDER… IF…YOU…‘he had started to say, but before the words were out of his mouth it had all happened. Appearing it seemed from nowhere, two men had each seized an arm and bundled Ned towards a car. Too surprised to speak, the last thing he heard before a hand pushed him down into the back seat was the raucous laughter of a small group of people standing in the dimly lit doorway of the nearby pub.

‘W-what’s going on?’ he had asked. ‘What are you doing?’

‘You’d better ask yourself what you’ve been doing,’ one of the men had said drawing a foil package from Ned’s jacket pocket, as the car accelerated away with a squeal of tyres.

At the police station he had been more thoroughly searched. They had taken away for examination everything but his underpants and he had been sitting in this room now for over half an hour, wondering what could possibly be going on. The next time the door opened and someone came in, he decided, he would insist on being allowed to telephone his father. The police had no idea they were dealing with a cabinet minister’s son. Sir Charles was a gentle and scrupulously polite man, but he had commanded a brigade in the war and run a small pocket of Empire for six years. In the Sudan he had pronounced sentences of death and seen them carried out. As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland he had extended the limits of internment without trial and authorised all kinds of extreme measures – ‘strong medicine for a strong infection’ he had said to Ned once, without revealing details. This was not a man to be messed with. Ned almost felt sorry for the police. He would assure his father that he had been kindly treated and that he held no grudge.

At last, the door to the interview room opened.

‘Right then, son.’

‘Hello, sir.

‘My name is Detective Sergeant Floyd.’

‘If it’s all right, I’d like to ring …

‘Cigarette?’

Floyd dropped a packet of Benson and Hedges and a lighter onto the table as he drew up a chair opposite Ned and sat down.

‘No thanks. I don’t smoke.’

‘You don’t smoke?’

‘No.’

‘Half an ounce of hash and you don’t smoke?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Bit late for “sorry” isn’t it? One thing to have it for your own use. But selling to foreign students. Magistrates don’t like that.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Of course you don’t. How old are you?’

‘Seventeen and a half.’

‘Seventeen and a half? And a half’

The policeman at the door joined in the laughter. ‘Well, I am,’ said Ned, tears beginning to form in his eyes. What was wrong with saying that, when it was true?

Floyd frowned and bit his lip. ‘Let’s forget about the drugs, shall we? Tell me what “Interior, interior, interior” means to you.

Ned looked at him helplessly. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘Not a difficult question is it? Interior, interior, interior. Tell me about it.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’ Ned felt as though he was drowning. ‘Please, I want to ring my father.’

‘Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Name?’

‘Do be quiet, there’s a good fellow.’

Ned and the Detective Sergeant turned together. A neatly dressed man in his mid-twenties was standing in the doorway, a gentle smile on his face.

‘And just who the hell might you be?’ said Floyd, outraged.

‘A word, Sergeant,’ said the young man, beckoning with his finger.

Floyd opened his mouth to speak, but something in the young man s bland expression made him change his mind.

The door closed on Ned once more. He could hear Detective Sergeant Floyd’s voice raised in barely controlled anger in the corridor outside. ‘With respect, sir, I do not see the need …

‘With respect, that’s the ticket, Floyd. Respect. Just what’s needed. Now I’ll take those if you please. Thank you… paperwork will follow.’

The door opened again and the young man popped his head in, smiling. ‘Would you like to come with me, old chap?’

Ned jumped to his feet and followed the young man along a passageway, past an angry Detective Sergeant Floyd.

‘Can I use the telephone?’ Ned asked.

‘Ridiculous of them,’ said the young man, as if he hadn’t heard, ‘to strip you like that. Ah, here’s Mr Gaine!’ He indicated a broad-shouldered man in a denim jacket who was leaning against a fire door at the end of the passage bearing in his arms a pile of clothes, neatly folded with the shoes lying upside-down on top.

‘Those are mine!’ said Ned.

‘That’s right. We shan’t have time to put them on just now, I’m afraid, we must be off. All set, Mr Gaine?’

The broad-shouldered man nodded and pushed against the bars of the door. The young man escorted Ned down some steps into a courtyard and towards a green Rover parked in the corner, where the sunlight beat down on its roof.

‘You just hop in the back with me. We’ll let Mr Gaine drive shall we?’

Ned winced when his bare thighs touched the upholstery.

‘Scorched you a bit? Sorry about that,’ said the young man cheerfully. ‘Should’ve thought to park in the shade, shouldn’t we, Mr Gaine? All righty, then, cabin doors to automatic. Let’s not hang about.’

‘Where are we going?’ Ned asked, adjusting the blanket around himself to protect his legs and his modesty.

‘My name’s Delft,’ was the reply. ‘Like those ghastly blue and white tiles. Oliver Delft.’ He put out a hand for Ned to shake. ‘And you are…?’

‘Edward Maddstone.’

‘Edward? They do call you Edward, do they? Or are you an Ed, Eddie, Ted or Teddy?’

‘Ned, usually.’

‘Ned. Fair enough. I’ll call you Ned then, and you can call me Oliver.’

‘Where are we going?’

‘Well, there’s lots to talk about, isn’t there? I thought perhaps we might go somewhere nice and quiet.’

‘Only, my girlfriend, you see … she doesn’t know where I am. And my father…’

‘We’ve a fair drive ahead of us, I’m afraid. I’d try and get a bit of shut-eye if I were you. I know I shall.’ Delft settled against the headrest.

‘She’ll be worried…’

But Delft, apparently asleep in an instant, said nothing. Since the sleepless night of his watch on the Orphana and the anxious day that followed it, Ned had lain awake on a bumpy train from Glasgow to London. The next day, today – could that really be today? – he had travelled out to the airport and then back again to Catherine Street. There he did, it was true, spend time in bed, but he had not slept. Portia had dozed a little, but Ned had been too happy to think of sleep.

But now, in spite of the strangeness of his circumstances, he found himself starting to yawn. The last thing he saw before he fell asleep was the rear-view mirror and Mr Gaine’ s cold eyes watching him.

‘You’ll have to forgive my brutal way with an egg,’ said Oliver Delft. ‘It started life as an omelette aux fines herbes but now I’m afraid it’s just scrambled eggs speckled with green. Non-stick! It’s just a phrase if you ask me.’ He pushed a plate towards Ned and smiled.

‘Thanks.’ Ned began to shovel the eggs into his mouth, amazed at how hungry he was. ‘Very good.’

‘You honour me. While you eat, we can talk.’

‘Is this your house?’

‘It’s a place I come to sometimes,’ said Delft. He was leaning against the Aga rail, a glass of wine in his hand.

‘Are you a policeman?’

‘A policeman? No, no. Nothing as thrilling as that, I’m afraid. Just a humble toiler in the lower realms of government. All very dull. Here to get to the bottom of one or two things.’

‘If it’s about the drugs the police found, I swear to you I don’t know anything about them.’

Delft smiled again. The smile was an effort. Inside, he was very bored and extremely annoyed to be there. The pleasurable long weekend he had been looking forward to for ages had already been ruined.

Five minutes … five blasted minutes were all that had come between Oliver and freedom. He had already locked his desk and had been in the very act of signing the duty log when Maureen had bustled in, twittering about a flash from West End Central.

‘Isn’t Stapleton here yet? I’m about to go off watch.’

‘No, Mr Delft. Captain Stapleton hasn’t signed in. There’s no one else.’

‘Bugger,’ Oliver had said, meaning it. ‘All right then, let’s have a look.’

He had taken Maureen’s typed slip and read it through carefully. ‘Hum. Who’s in the Heavy Pool?’

‘Mr Gaine, sir.’

‘Get him to warm the car up. I’ll be out in three.’

That had been something at least. Mr Gaine was Oliver’s man and could be trusted not to make life more difficult by ruffling feathers and stamping on sensibilities.

Whatever Oliver had expected when he arrived at Savile Row police station, it certainly hadn’t been a worried schoolboy. The whole thing seemed ripely absurd. Undoubtedly a mistake, he had said to himself the moment he laid eyes on the floppy haired teenager jiggling his knee up and down under the interview-room table, a forlorn and bewildered look on his face. Delft may have been only twenty-six himself, but he had seen enough to be sure that Ned Maddstone was as innocent as a day-old chick. A day old carrier pigeon chick, he thought to himself. He was pleased with the image and made a note to include it in his report. His masters were old-fashioned enough to enjoy a pert turn of phrase.

He looked across at the child now.

Ned was sitting at the kitchen table, still jogging his leg on the ball of his foot, with an earnest pleading look on his innocent face.

‘Honestly,’ he was saying. ‘I absolutely swear. On the Holy Bible!’

‘Calm down,’ said Oliver. ‘I really don’t think a Bible will be necessary. Not that we’d be able to find one in a place of sin like this,’ he added, looking round the room as if it were less a country kitchen and more a Louisiana brothel. ‘You can swear on Marguerite Patten’s Cookery in Colour if it gives you pleasure, but there’s no need.’

‘You do believe me then?’

‘Well, of course I believe you, you daft young onion. All some silly mistake. Still, as we’re here, you might as well tell me what the words “Interior, interior, interior” mean.’

‘I don’t know!’ said Ned. ‘The policeman asked me the same thing, but I’ve never heard them. I mean, I’ve heard the word “interior” before, obviously, but…’

‘You see, this is what we have to try and understand,’ said Oliver. ‘And when we’ve got to the bottom of it we can let you go and you can get on with your life and I can get on with mine, which I’m sure we’d both like.’

Ned nodded vigorously. ‘Absolutely! But…’

‘All right then. Now let’s have a look at this shall we?’

Oliver came forward and laid on the table a single sheet of paper.

Ned stared at it mystified. It was a typed list of names and addresses. He recognised at once the names of the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Defence followed by others, vaguely familiar to Ned. Last of all came his father’s name, Sir Charles Maddstone. At the bottom, in handwritten large black block capitals were the words –

INTERIOR INTERIOR INTERIOR

‘What does it mean?’ he asked.

‘It belongs to you,’ said Oliver. ‘You tell me.’

‘My piece of paper? But I’ve never seen it before.’

‘Then what was it doing in the inside pocket of your jacket?’

‘In the… oh!’ The truth began to dawn. ‘Was it… was it originally in an envelope?’

‘It was in an envelope!’ said Oliver. ‘You’re absolutely right! It was in this envelope!’ He held up a white envelope, an envelope that to his annoyance the police had torn open without a single thought. Oliver had immediately spotted a tiny hair behind the flap, a little security measure sealed there to warn the recipient of any tampering. It might be possible to find a duplicate envelope and put the letter back in play, but one never knew what other safeguards the police might have blundered through. Not really their fault of course, he conceded. The search had been routine. They had imagined they were dealing with nothing more than a spoilt kid’s drug stash.

‘But why is it important?’ Ned asked. ‘What does it mean?’

‘Well now, you’ve just admitted that it’s yours, so I should’ve thought you’d be the one to tell me.

Ned shifted uncomfortably. ‘But you see I was… I was given it.’

‘Yes, I’m afraid I’m going to need a bit more than that.’

‘By a man.

‘Well that eliminates two billion or so, but it’s still not quite enough, is it? We’re going to have to narrow it down a little more than that.’

‘He’s dead.’

‘A dead man gave it to you.

‘He only died yesterday.’

‘Don’t arse around with me, Ned, there’s a good fellow. Who was he and how did he come to give it to you?’

Tell me the thing in your life that you hold most holy.

Ned could have wept with frustration. He was desperate to do the right thing. He wanted to please this nice man, but he wanted to keep his word too. Would it bring him the most terrible luck to break so mighty an oath?

What is the thing that matters to you most in all the world?

What would Portia want him to do?

‘Is it very important that I tell you? Important enough to make me break a solemn oath?’

‘Well now, young scout,’ said Oliver. ‘I’ll tell you a thing. A thing you shouldn’t know, but that I trust you to keep to yourself. Glass of wine?’

‘Do you have any milk?’

.‘Milk? Let me see.’ Oliver went over to the fridge and peered suspiciously inside as if it were the first fridge he had ever inspected. ‘Milk, milk, milk… ah yes. Now my job, Ned, such as it is,’ he went on, ‘involves, amongst other things, doing my best to stop people letting off bombs in this country. Only UHT I’m afraid – semi-skimmed. Do you mind?’

‘That’s perfect, thank you.’

‘Can’t bear the stuff myself. Makes me snotty. Letting off bombs, Ned, is a thing some scallywags do, as you must have read in the papers. They’ll do it in pubs, clubs, offices, railway stations and shops, killing and crippling ordinary people who have no quarrel with anyone but their bank managers, bosses and spouses. Drink it from the carton, there’s a lamb. Now, some of these bombers, they like to call up a police station or a newspaper office to claim the credit, if credit is the right word, or – if they’ve a spark of humanity and it’s only property they want to destroy – to warn the police to evacuate the area. Making sense so far?’

Ned nodded, wiping a white moustache from his lips with the back of his hand.

‘Well then. To prevent any old deranged freak from calling up and leaving hoax warnings or taking credit just for fun, a more or less workable arrangement has been arrived at between us – the government, and them – the bona fide terrorists. When a bomber calls up a newspaper or a police station he gives a code word, to show that he is the real thing. Not going too fast for you?’

‘No.’

‘Good. Well now, it so happens that the Provisional IRA’s latest coded warning for a bomb, just a few days old, is the word “Interior” repeated three times.’

‘But…’

‘So perhaps now you can see why Detective Sergeant Floyd, whom God preserve, got a little excited when he found this piece of paper in your jacket. And perhaps now you can see why he gave my department a call and why I am asking you now to tell me how you got hold of it. The man who gave you that envelope was an IRA terrorist, Ned. The worst and darkest kind of man. The kind of man whose idea of political protest is to blow the arms and legs off young children. Whatever oath of secrecy he may have sworn you to is meaningless. So let’s have his name.’

‘Paddy Leclare,’ said Ned. ‘His name was Paddy Leclare. He was a sailing instructor. We were at sea and he suddenly became terribly ill. He gave it to me just before he died.’

‘Well now you see. There we have it,’ Oliver said, patting Ned on the back. ‘That wasn’t so difficult, was it?’

‘I had … I had absolutely no idea. I mean he was employed by the school and everything. If I’d thought for a minute…’

‘Of course not, you daft young kipper.’

‘Do you think it was because of my father?’

‘Your father? Why should…, oh, you’re that kind of a Maddstone, are you? As in Sir Charles? What, he’s your granddad is he?’

‘He’s my father,’ said Ned defensively. ‘I was a…a late arrival.’

‘I had rooms in Maddstone Quad during my second year at St Mark’s,’ said Oliver. ‘I had a perfect view from my window of a great big stone statue of John Maddstone, the founder of the college. You don’t look a bit like him. We used to paint it dark blue during Eights Week, you know. Well, well. I expect it gave your friend Paddy Leclare quite a kick entrusting his letter to you. Sort of thing that appeals to his kind.’

‘He wasn’t my friend!’ said Ned indignantly. ‘He was just the school’s sailing instructor.’

‘Forgive me.

Ned looked down at the piece of paper. ‘So these are all people that the IRA wants to kill?’

‘That’s how things look on the face of it, certainly,’ Oliver conceded. ‘But how things are and how things look aren’t always the same.

Ned examined the list of names. ‘I don’t see what else it could mean,’ he said. ‘These are all politicians and generals and things, aren’t they?’

‘Well, maybe we are supposed to think that they’re targets. Maybe your friend Leclare believed that you would open the letter out of curiosity, get suspicious and show it to your father. Maybe the whole idea is to make us run around wasting a lot of time, effort and manpower laying on extra protection while their real targets lie elsewhere. Or maybe the envelope has been impregnated with some deadly bug and the plan was for you to pass the infection on to your father who in turn would pass it on to the entire cabinet. Maybe that’s why Leclare fell ill and died – maybe he’d been a bit careless with the old microbes.’

‘Oh my God! But…’

‘Or there’s another maybe. Maybe they planted that cannabis on you and then tipped off the police just in order to winkle me out and follow us here. Maybe they’re in a van outside now with a mortar trained on this very room. Maybe a thousand things. We don’t know. There are as many maybes as there are seconds in a century. But this one thing I can tell you for certain,’ Oliver said, drawing up a chair opposite Ned. ‘We won’t know anything until you’ve told me the whole story from start to finish. I hope you can agree with that?’

‘Of course. Absolutely.’

‘Good. I have been very frank with you and now you can repay the compliment. You give me everything you’ve got, and before you know it, Mr Gaine will be driving us back to London. You’ll be home and in the bosom of your family before the News at Ten, that’s a promise. You don’t mind a tape-recorder, I suppose?’

‘No,’ said Ned. ‘Not at all.’

‘Excellent. Sit you there and drink your milk. Be back in a tick.’

Hoo-bloody-rah. Oliver’s mind raced ahead as he went through into the sitting room. If he got back to town, sketched out a preliminary report and left Stapleton to make the security calls, he could be heading out to the country by midnight. Maybe his weekend could be salvaged after all.

‘As you were, Gaine. Where’s the Revox?’

‘Cupboard under the bookshelf, sir. I’ll fetch it.’

Oliver picked up the Evening Standard Quick Crossword against which Mr Gaine had been pitting his mighty wits.

‘There’s your problem. Eft.’

‘Sir?’

‘Four across, “Newt”. You’ve put Rat, should be Eft.’

‘Why Rat, incidentally?’

‘Well, Mr Delft, sir,’ said Mr Gaine, handing Oliver the tape-recorder. ‘Pissed as a rat, pissed as a newt.’

‘How silly of me,’ said Oliver, marvelling once more at Gaine’ s unusual thought processes. ‘Well, we shouldn’t be much more than an hour. Oh, be a hero and fill the Rover up with petrol, will you? There should be some jerrycans in the garage.

‘Have done, sir.’

‘Good man. Oh and Gaine?’

‘Sir?’

‘You’re sure we weren’t tailed on the way up?’

‘Sir!’ Mr Gaine was deeply reproachful. ‘Thought not. Just checking.’

‘So. To begin at the beginning. When did you first meet this Paddy Leclare?’

On and on came the questions, one after another. Ned had been talking for over an hour now, and still they hadn’t come to the last night on board the Orphana. Oliver had wanted to know not just every detail of every previous trip abroad, but of every term-time meeting of the Sailing Club too.

‘You’re doing well, Ned, very well. Not too far to go now. Where were we? Ah, yes. Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway. Two hours he was away while you boys played on the beach and gasped with pleasure at the rock formations. Two hours exactly?’

‘One and half hours perhaps, two at the most.’

‘And when he came back, he was on his own?’

‘I definitely didn’t see anyone with him.’

‘And then you set off for Oban again, sailing through the night? What time was that?’

‘Eight thirty-five. I helped with the log. I told you.’

‘Just making sure, just making sure. Now, describe the conditions to me. There’s a new moon rising just now isn’t there? You can see it through the window. So two nights ago it must have been pretty dark. There you were, out to sea, hugging a barren coast. Pitch black, I should think, but only for an hour or so at the most, this time of year. Am I right?’

And on and on came the questions. Oliver was naturally thorough because he was trained to be, but he was covering the ground with especial care now because he had no wish to have to haul Ned back at some later date to go over any questions that he might have missed. There would be enough work in the coming weeks, interviewing the boy’s headmaster, other members of the school bloody sailing club as well as witnesses in Oban and Tobermorey and Holland and a dozen other places besides.

‘… I could tell at once he was very seriously ill…, sent Cade off to find a bottle of whisky … no, Jameson’s … seemed to find it funny ‘… made me swear … whatever was most holy to me…

Oliver drained his wine glass.

‘Excellent, excellent. And the envelope came from where?’

‘Well, a shop I suppose. A stationer’s. He never said.’

‘No, no. He produced it from where? His pocket? A safe? What?’

‘Oh I see. From a small bag. It was on the chart table.’

‘Colour?’

‘Red. It was red nylon.’

‘Any maker’s name? Adidas, Fila, that sort of thing?’

‘N-no… pretty sure not.’

‘Good, good. Your chum Rufus Cade still out of earshot, was he?’

‘Oh yes, definitely.’

‘You’re sure of that? You could see the hatchway from where you were?’

‘No, but Paddy could and he would have seen if Rufus had come back.’

‘Fair point. On we go.

‘Well, that’s when he told me to deliver the letter.’

‘There’s nothing on the envelope. Not written in invisible ink is it?’

‘No.’ Ned grinned at the idea. ‘He made me memorise the name and address.’

‘Which were …

‘I was to deliver it to Philip R. Blackrow, 13 Heron Square, London SW1.’

It was as if a bolt of electricity had shot through Oliver Delft’s body. Every nerve end tingled, his heart gave a great leap and for a second blackness crowded in on his vision.

Ned looked at him with concern. ‘Are you all right?’

‘It’s cramp. Cramp that’s all. Nothing to worry about.’

Oliver stood up, turned off the tape-recorder and walked away from the table, pushing hard down on the toes of his right foot, as if trying to stretch out a muscle spasm. It was absolutely essential that he remain calm now, completely calm and completely in control.

‘Um listen,’ he said. ‘I won’t be a moment. Wait here, would you? Make some toast or something. There’s more of that milk in the fridge. I need to do a few things. Put in a call. Find you some clothes, that kind of thing. You’ll be all right?’

Ned nodded happily.

Mr Gaine was still wrestling with the crossword.

‘Everything all right, Mr Delft, sir?’

‘He’s a plausible little bastard,’ Oliver said. ‘We’re going to need to do a D16 on him. I’ll go up and clear it. Thank Christ we’re only half an hour away.

Mr Gaine’s eyebrows shot up. ‘A D16? Are you sure, sir?’

‘Of course I’m bloody sure. This is ultra, Gaine. Absolutely ultra. Whistle up a couple of your own, the tougher and dumber the better. You can use their car when they get here. I’ll be needing yours straight away. I’ll meet you at D16 tomorrow morning with the paperwork. Go on, go and call them up. Use the clean phone. Go now, now! What the fuck are you waiting for?’

Gaine headed for the door, alarmed at his first sight in four years of his master looking anything less than in total control.

Oliver stood in the middle of the room thinking furiously.

It was unbelievable, unbelievable! The name and address, spoken clearly out loud into a live microphone – well, that tape was going to have to be wiped, for a start. No, not wiped. London would need something. The flash from West End Central had been logged, there was Maureen, there was that Detective Sergeant.

Christ, the boy was a cabinet minister’s son. There’d be hell to pay if he played this wrong.

Oliver forced himself to take a mental step back and focus his thoughts. The Detective Sergeant and the arresting officers could be dealt with easily. They’d be signing the Official Secrets Act and swearing eternal silence by midnight, he would see to that personally. Besides, they didn’t even know Ned Maddstone’s name. Oliver had come into the interview room just as Floyd was asking Ned to reveal it.

The long weekend was shot to pieces now, no doubt about it. Oliver wasn’t even going to have a short one. And there was the problem of the tape. He needed a tape with a name and address spoken on it, that was certain, but not the name of Philip R. Blackrow and not that address.

It had been a horrible shock to hear that name, but when you came down to it, thought Oliver, it could be looked upon as a kind of gift from God. If the flash had come through just five minutes later, it would have been Stapleton here now, not Oliver. And if Stapleton had been given the name Blackrow…

No – all in all, God had been abundantly good. The boy had been picked up on the street. No one knew. No one knew. That simple fact gave him almost limitless power over the matter. From now on it was merely a question of finesse.

Oliver’s first instinct, almost before the name and address were out of Ned’s mouth, had been to undertake immediate terminal action, but he discarded any such thoughts now. In his world, whatever the contrary assumptions of newspapers and writers of fiction, death was always a very final resort – so final indeed, as to be almost beyond consideration. This was less a question of scruples than of options. An enemy might one day be turned into a friend and a friend into an enemy, a lie might be made true and a truth rendered false, but the dead could never, not ever, be transformed into the living. Flexibility was everything.

Besides, death had a way of loosening tongues. Dead men may not talk, but living men do and Oliver had great need of living men if he was to survive this crisis. He was confident, of course, that Gaine was as trustworthy as they made them, but the long view had to be taken. There were many bleak scenarios that Oliver could project, and many more, he knew, that he could never even guess at, life being life. There was always the threat of the development of a conscience in Gaine, or of a sudden religious conversion that might bring with it a flood of remorse and confession. Old-fashioned guilt-sodden liberalism was a dangerous prospect too, come to that. There was a descent into the bottle to consider, bringing with it threats of indiscretion or blackmail. Oliver had seen Gaine drunk – pissed as an eft, as it were – and while he knew that the man’s head was as strong as the rest of him, he could not possibly be sure how he would be in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time. Given the impermanence and uncertainty of everything, the permanence and certainty of death could prove the most disastrous choice of all. It was paradoxical but true.

Oliver was the kind of man who had never understood the status accorded to Hamlet. For him, thought and action were one and the same thing. Even as he went upstairs to search the bedroom cupboards for clothes, the beautiful idea was forming itself in his mind to the last detail.

Gordon had arrived back in time to witness Portia’s blazing row with her parents.

‘He is not like all men!’ she yelled at Hillary. ‘Don’t you dare say that!’

‘Probably saw some of his friends going to Harrods and forgot all about you,’ Peter offered. ‘His type are like that. No sense of loyalty. Look at how they behaved in Palestine. Look at Ireland. Well rid of the chinless ass if you ask me.

‘Palestine? Ireland? What has Palestine got to do with anything?’

‘Hey, hey, hey!’ Gordon cooed as Portia flung herself onto his chest. ‘Cool it, Pete. Can’t you see that she’s upset? What’s up, Porsh? You and Ned have a fight?’

‘Of course not,’ she sobbed. ‘Oh, Gordon, he’s disappeared!’

‘Disappeared? How do you mean?’

‘I mean disappeared. Vanished. I … I went for that job interview. He was supposed to be down in the street waiting for me when I came out, but he wasn’t. And he wasn’t at his father’s house in Catherine Street either. I hung around outside for hours but there was no sign of him. And then I thought perhaps he might have phoned here, so I came home as fast as I could, but there was no message, nothing. And anyway,’ she said, rounding on Peter. ‘What do you mean chinless? Ned’s got a wonderful chin. What’s more, he doesn’t have to hide it under a scraggy moth-eaten beard like some people.’

‘Well we won’t know that for sure,’ said Peter, folding open the Morning Star with a flourish, ‘until he’s old enough to grow a beard, will we, pet?’

‘An appalling way to treat someone,’ sniffed Hillary. ‘As a matter of fact, it’s a kind of emotional rape. It is. It’s rape pure and simple. Rape.’

Portia turned towards her mother and snarled.

‘Okay, okay,’ said Gordon, laying a placating hand on Portia’s shoulder and pulling her round to face him. ‘Let’s stay with it. Did you call yet?’

‘Call? Call where?’

‘Ned’s house. His father’s house. In … Catherine Street, was it?’

‘Of course I called. I rang the moment I got back here.’

‘Nobody home?’

‘It just rang and rang,’ said Portia going over to the telephone, ‘I’ll try again now.

‘Seems kinda strange.’

‘I know it does. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell these two, but they won’t listen.’

‘What about his dad?’

‘I don’t have his number. He’s down at his constituency.’

‘Yes, chasing after innocent foxes, no doubt.’

‘It’s July, Peter!’ Portia shouted. ‘They don’t hunt in July!’

‘Well, please excuse me, your highness. I’m sorry I’m so shockingly unfamiliar with the delicate nuances of the social calendar. I’m afraid my time these days is taken up with trivial things like history and social justice. There just never seems to be enough left over to devote to the really important issues, like how the upper classes organise their year. I really must get round to it one day.’

Much of this fine speech was wasted on Portia, as she had stuck a finger in one ear while the other was pressed hard against the telephone receiver.

‘No answer,’ she said, ‘he’s not there.’

‘Or not picking up…’ said Hillary.

Gordon was itching to turn on the TV to see if there was anything yet on the news, but he knew that for the moment he would have to concentrate on behaving in his most tender, brotherly and concerned manner. This crisis for Portia, and the public scandal that was certain to break, would draw her closer and closer to him. He needed to play it slow, not rush things.

‘Would it help if I maybe went over?’ he asked. ‘To Catherine Street? You could stay by the phone in case he calls.’

‘Oh, Gordon, would you?’

“Sure, no problem.’

‘But suppose he phones after you’ve gone?’ Portia wanted to know. ‘How can I get in touch with you?’

‘I’ll find a call-box somewhere and check in every hour,’ said Gordon.

‘Be back by midnight,’ Hillary called after him. ‘If he hasn’t turned up then you’ll have to decide what to do in the morning. I’m not having you hanging around the street all night.’

‘Sure,’ said Gordon. ‘No problem.’

He wheeled his bicycle from the garage and set off towards Highgate, and Rufus Cade’s parents’ house, a pleasant evening of smoking grass and giggling at the news ahead of him.

Ned was tired, but strangely elated. There is no pain in talking to someone who is fascinated by every word you say. Once he had made the decision to tell Oliver everything, he had actually enjoyed.the experience of examining his memory so minutely. He was rather proud of the accuracy and the detail of his recall.

And what a story! He couldn’t wait to tell Portia all about it, if he was allowed to. He would tell his father for certain. And Rufus perhaps, who had been right there that very night. Oliver would probably have to question Rufus anyway, and the whole of the Sailing Club too. What a scandal for the school!

‘The cannabis in his pocket however, that remained a total mystery. Ned wondered if perhaps those Spanish students he had spoken to outside the college had seen the policemen coming up behind him and dropped the package into his pocket as a way of saving their own skins.

Oliver came back into the room holding a supermarket carrier-bag. ‘Details, details,’ he said. ‘My department, it grieves me to say, is an absolute bugger for details. Here you go, you can put these on in a second. I’m afraid yours got oil all over them in the boot of the car.’

Ned took the bag and looked inside. He could see a pair of Dunlop tennis shoes, grey trousers, a pullover and a tweed jacket.

‘Brilliant!’ he said. ‘Thanks so much.’

Oliver had set the tape-recorder running again.

‘Think nothing of it. Now then, you have a girlfriend I think you said?’

‘Yes. Portia. She doesn’t know anything about this. In fact, I’ve been wanting to ring her.’

‘All in good time. What does her father do, I wonder?’

‘Well, he’s a history lecturer at the North East London Polytechnic.’

Oliver could have hugged himself with delight. It was almost too much. A history lecturer! At the NELP, if you please…

‘I see,’ he said, ‘and just for the record, I wonder if you could give me his full name and address?’

‘Um, Peter Fendeman, 14, no 41 sorry, 41 Plough Lane, Hampstead, London NW3. But why…?’

‘Say that again for me, would you? Just the name and address.’

‘Peter Fendeman, 41 Plough Lane, Hampstead, London NW3.’

‘Excellent.’

Jewish too, by the sound of it. Oh frabjous day. When things fall into place like this, Oliver told himself, it doesn’t do to become arrogant. It is God’s work.

‘Ned you’ve been fantastic! I can’t tell you how sorry I am that we had to hoik you out here and put you through this nonsense. Look, I’ve got to hare up the motorway in the other direction from you, check out a few things in Scotland, so I’ll say goodbye. Mr Gaine can look after you from now on.

Ned took the outstretched hand and shook it warmly. ‘Thank you, Mr Delft. Thank you so much.’

‘It’s Oliver. And thank you, Ned. It’ll make a real difference you know. You should be very proud of yourself.’

‘But what about the drugs?’

‘Drugs, what drugs?’ said Oliver, lifting the spools of tape from the recorder. ‘The whole incident is forgotten, Ned. No, better than forgotten – it never happened. The police never picked you up, in fact they’ve never heard of you. They don’t know your name, they don’t even know what you look like. I promise you this, by tomorrow morning every record of your arrest will have disappeared for ever.’

And oh, if only you knew how true that was, Oliver said to himself. How wonderfully, wonderfully true.

‘Phew!’ Ned smiled as relief flooded through him. ‘If the press had heard about it, my father would have been … well, devastated.’

Oliver checked his watch.

‘I’m afraid it may be a little while before you can leave. I’m taking the only car. We’ve sent for another though, and it shouldn’t be too long before it gets here. I’d get into those clothes now if I were you. Have a safe journey home and if you need anything, just ask Mr Gaine.’

The pullover fitted. There was that to be said. It smelled of rotten onions, but at least it fitted him perfectly. The jacket and tennis shoes were too tight by miles and the trousers seem to have been made for a five foot man with a forty-eight inch waist. Oliver hadn’t thought to include a belt, so Ned hunted around the kitchen looking for string. He found some in a drawer and drew it five times around his middle. He was picking up a knife to cut the string when he heard the door open.

‘Oh, hello, Mr Gaine,’ he said, turning with relief. ‘I was hoping you might…’

Gaine stepped forward. Before Ned knew what was happening his right arm had been twisted behind his back so high that the bone was wrenched from its socket. Ned screamed as much from the sound of the crack and pop as from the pain. He screamed again when Gaine’s enormous fist slammed into the side of his head, dropping him to his knees. But when Gaine followed up with a blow of incredible force to the back of his neck, Ned was already incapable of screaming any more.

Mr Delft had been right as usual, thought Gaine, returning the knife to the drawer. Nasty piece of work. Weak though, he said to himself, looking down at Ned’s unconscious body. Very weak. Like wrenching a wing from a chicken. Where’s the challenge in that? He heard the sound of a van in the driveway and, pausing only to deliver a heavy and pleasingly crunchy kick to Ned’s ribs, Mr Gaine made his way out into the hallway.

‘Oliver, my dear, what a delightful surprise. I do wish you’d let me know. I can’t offer you a scrap to eat.’

‘I’ve not come for lunch, Mother,’ said Delft, sidestepping her embrace. ‘I’ve come for a talk.’

‘Oh dear, that sounds positively horrid. Well, we’d better go up to the drawing-room. Maria is in the kitchen cleaning out the oven, poor thing. I had the most spectacular disaster last night, you wouldn’t believe. Two boys from Australia who do dinner parties. The highest recommendation and shatteringly good-looking, as so many queers are these days, but their souffl?s exploded and Maria had to run out and buy that new American ice-cream that comes in fifty-seven varieties. Monsignor Collins was here and some frighteningly rich people whom I wanted to soften up before digging into them for the Oratory Fund. Heavens, there’s a terrible fug, isn’t there? Jeremy’s cigars I suppose. Shall I open a window?’

‘No, Mother, just sit down.’

‘Very well, darling. There!’

‘Where is Jeremy, by the way?’

‘At the office, of course. He’s been working like a Trojan lately. So long as he doesn’t overdo it like your poor father. Or like you, come to that. You’re looking awfully tired, darling. Positively hagged. Anyway, I think there s something rather good in the air, so if you know anyone who can buy shares for you, I would scoop them up as fast as you can.

‘Mother, how many times have I told you? It’s against the law.’

‘Oh, I know I was a bit naughty with Cohn’s airline, but this is family and surely that doesn’t count. Besides, Father Hendry told me in confession once that insider dealing as you call it isn’t the least bit of a mortal sin, it’s only a manmade one, so I really don’t think it can be said to matter very much.’

‘I tell you what, Mother,’ said Oliver taking up a position in front of the fireplace, ‘let’s cut all this dizzy Belgravia hostess nonsense, shall we?’

‘Oh, do move away from there, Oliver. You look like a Victorian patriarch. It’s too lowering. It reminds me of how Daddy used to stand when I’d been naughty. That’s better! Come and sit down beside me and don’t be so pompous. Tell me what’s eating you.’

‘Well, since you mentioned him, let’s talk about your father.’

‘Darling, what an odd idea!’

‘Not Great Uncle Bobby but your real father. We’ve never discussed him, you and I, have we?’

‘Is there something to “discuss”, as you put it?’

‘Of course there is. I’ve always known, you know.’

‘Always known what, dear?’

‘How you felt about him. How proud of him you’ve always been. I’ve seen it in your face the handful of times you’ve ever mentioned him to me.

‘Daddy was a very great man. A very great man. If you’d known him, you would have adored him. You’d have been as proud of him as I am. You are strangely alike in some ways.

‘I damned well hope not. The man was a traitor.’

‘You’re not to use that word. To die for your country isn’t treachery, it is heroism.’

‘But he didn’t die for his country, did he? He was English. One hundred per cent hearts of oak, village green, maypole and mutton English. There wasn’t a single drop of Irish blood in his veins.’

‘He loved Ireland and Ireland loved him! Loyalty to your country of birth is vapid and unremarkable. Only loyalty to an idea has meaning. You don’t understand the first thing about it. You wouldn’t recognise a principle if it stared you in the face. You would stamp it with your dull civil service stamp, push it onto a spike and send it off to be filed.’

‘I do recognise murder when I see it, however.’

‘Murder? What are you talking about? Daddy never murdered anyone in his life.’

Oliver took a white envelope from his pocket. ‘For you, I believe.’

‘Goodness!’ exclaimed his mother, reverting a little to her former manner. ‘How wildly exciting. What is it, an invitation?’

‘I believe everything is in place. You’ll note the little hair protruding from the flap. Open it, Mother.’

‘It doesn’t say that it’s for me …

‘I have it on the best authority that it is to be delivered into the hands of Philippa Blackrow of 13 Heron Square and none other. Those were the exact words – well, exact enough at any rate. Believe me, Mother, it is for you all right, the gift of a dead man.

‘Dead?’

‘I’m afraid so. Paddy Leclare died two days ago. It was his last request that you should have this. Who am I to stand in the way of a dying wish?’

‘It ate into my heart when you applied to the Home Office,’ his mother said, looking sadly down at the envelope and twisting it in her hands. ‘I remember how excited you were when they accepted you, and I thought how ashamed I was that a son of mine could be so unambitious as to choose such a career for himself. It turns out I misjudged you. You are like your grandfather after all, only a mirror image, fighting on the wrong side and with every good quality reversed. Do you have a knife?’

Oliver passed over a penknife and watched his mother carefully slit the envelope open.

‘Ah, you’ve made a mistake there, darling,’ she said, with something like triumph. ‘The letter should be tucked in with the folded side up, how silly of you not to have noticed.’

‘At it happens I was not present when they opened it.’

‘When who opened it?’

‘Never mind.’

‘Well, thank you so much for delivering it, Oliver dear. What happens now? Am I to be arrested? Interned without trial? Shot out of hand? Escorted to one of your secret lunatic asylums and pumped full of thorazine perhaps?’

‘We don’t do that kind of thing, Mother.’

‘Of course, you don’t, darling. It’s just awful gossip and rumour. You don’t shoot to kill, you don’t torture, you don’t lie, spy, bug and blackmail either, do you?’

Oliver turned his head at the sound of a sudden creak on the stair. He strode quickly across the room and opened the door.

‘Ah, Maria, how can we help?’

‘Good mooring, Mister Oliver. I’m sorry, distrubbing you. I woss wunnering if you or Mrs Blaggro like maybe some cop of coffee? Or some bisskiss? I have bake many bisskiss.’

‘Thank you, Maria, no. If we need anything, we will come down,’ said Oliver, closing the door.

‘But such a sweet thought!’ his mother called over her shoulder. ‘Thank you, Maria, dear.’

Oliver closed the door, crossed over to the window and looked out over Heron Square. Through the balusters of the first floor balcony he could see a sparklingly clean turquoise Bentley manoeuvring into a parking space. In the central garden a game of tennis was in progress on one of three courts set aside for the use of residents. From most of the stucco faзades that overlooked the square, national flags drooped from cream-painted poles. The houses here were so large and opulent that few were still in use as private residences, the majority served as embassies or grand offices.

‘I just want to know one thing,’ Oliver said. ‘Why? That’s the question isn’t it. Why? You have more than most people ever dream of. A rich husband who adores you, health, friends, luxury, status…, why?’

For Philippa Blackrow who had lived with her passion since almost before she could remember, the answer to that question was so clear in her mind that it seemed almost impossible to express. She lit a cigarette and looked up at her son, whose face was dark against the window.

‘After the British shot your grandfather,’ she said at length, ‘Mummy and I went to live in Canada to avoid the fuss. She died there when I was fourteen. The doctors never explained what it was, but I knew that it was what they used to call a broken heart. We seem to have lost that capacity of late, don’t we? Doctors have told us not to be so silly. Animals still die that way, but what do animals know? To this day I am sure that she would never have been taken ill if Daddy had still been alive. The British killed both my parents. Well, Mummy’s brother, my Uncle Bobby, adopted me and so I came back to England and became his daughter. He never let me talk about Daddy. If I so much as mentioned his name I would be sent to my bedroom. Uncle Bobby was to be called Daddy and Aunt Elizabeth was to be Mummy. It was as if my real parents never existed. Daddy was the wicked brother-in-law that Uncle Bobby’s poor sister had been tricked into marrying and his name was to be struck from family history. I suppose they thought I would forget him, but I never did. The less he was mentioned, the more proud of him I grew and the more determined to have my revenge on the unjust, cruel and gutless regime that destroyed him. You think I have more than most people dream of? What other people dream of doesn’t matter. I always had less than I ever dreamt of. All I ever dreamt of was a family. A father and a mother. Most people don’t even need to dream of such luxuries, they take them for granted. That is what I used to dwell on, alone in my bedroom. I dwelt as all children do, on the injustice. Injustice is the most terrible thing in the world, Oliver. Everything that is evil springs from it and only a cheap soul can abide it without anger. You were named, you know, after the great Irish patriot, Saint Oliver Plunkett, who was betrayed on the lying word of Protestant perjurers and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered on Tyburn hill just there, at the top end of Park Lane.’

‘And there’s me,’ said Oliver, looking out over the rooftops towards Marble Arch, ‘thinking I was named after Oliver Cromwell, the very man who had him hunted down. You paint a very sweet, a very sentimental, a very Irish portrait, if I may say so, Mother, of dignified suffering and noble ideals, but I seem to remember that the Blessed Oliver Plunkett, as he was known when I was at school, by the way…

‘The Holy Father canonised him not long ago …

‘Did he now? I must have missed the headlines. Be that as it may, my memory tells me that he died thanking God for giving him the grace to suffer and praying for the forgiveness for his enemies. I don’t remember reading that he shrieked down curses and swore bloody revenge on all the English. Would the sight of British children blasted into little pieces have made his heart rejoice, do you think?’

‘I do not expect you to understand. In fact, I would prefer not to discuss it further.’

‘I’m sure you would,’ said Oliver, turning from the window. ‘I can at least be grateful for one part of your childhood.’

‘And what might that be?’

‘Great Uncle Bobby’s adoption of you allowed my real ancestry to slip through the net, didn’t it? He buried your father so deep that it was never picked up when they vetted me for the service. Do you seriously imagine that the government would have given me a job if they had known I was the grandson of a Fenian traitor and spy, a friend of Casement and Childers and a proven enemy of the Crown?’

‘And now you will tell them, I suppose.

‘I’ll do no such thing, Mother. You were wrong when you described me as unambitious. You and I are the only people on God’s earth who know the truth and that is how it will stay. I have been busy making arrangements and you are one of them.’

‘Really, Oliver? I’m one of your arrangements? But that’s too tremendously intriguing. Have you worked it all out?’

‘You’ll send a message to your friends to tell them that Leclare’s last message to you was intercepted. You fear that you are being watched and have decided to lie low in the country.’

‘Have I decided that, darling?’

‘You have. From time to time I will visit you and you will furnish me with the names of every member of every bomb-making factory, every cell, every Active Service Unit, every safe house, every weapons cache and every recruiting officer, money-raiser and sympathiser you have ever heard of. The smallest shred of intelligence, rumour or gossip you have ever picked up in your long years of crime and betrayal you will pass to me. This will advance my career enormously and should fill your remaining years in the country with maternal pride.’

‘My bowels opened as you were being born,’ said Philippa. ‘For many years I used to wonder if perhaps in all the confusion the midwife accidentally disposed of the child and wrapped the shit in a blanket for me to feed. Now I know.’

‘A charming sentiment.’

‘And supposing I refuse?’

‘You really don’t want to do that, Mother. I am in a position to make life very difficult for you, for Jeremy, for your step-children and most especially, for the young man who was assigned to deliver that letter to you.

‘Who is he?’

‘You don’t know him, but you would adore him, I promise you. He’s suffering eternal torment like Christ on a crucifix, and all for your sins. I’ll give you a week, to explain to Jeremy that you have tired of the city and yearn for the rural peace of Wiltshire. And if you think you can feed me useless information mother, think again. I will take my chances and hand you in. You will spend the rest of your life as a prisoner in the hardest jail in Europe.’

Oliver walked across the square, humming ‘Lillibulero’. The sun was shining and the roads were giving off a pleasant smell of softened tarmac. Poor mother, he thought to himself, how she will miss London.

He stopped off at the Berkeley Hotel to use the telephone.

‘News desk.’

‘This is the Provisional IRA. We have the son of the British war criminal Charles Maddstone. His clothes will be sent you as proof. The code is “Interior Interior Interior.” Good afternoon to you.

Handcuffed to a wooden upright, Ned sat on the floor of the van opposite two of the ugliest men he had ever seen in his life.

At the age of fifteen his collarbone had snapped during a game of rugby and he had supposed at the time that this was as far as pain could ever go. He knew better now. Every turn and bump that Mr Gaine negotiated, driving in the cabin up front, sent through him blinding surges of a pain so intense that at each wave of it, orange and yellow light flashed in his eyes, the blood roared in his ears and the very guts within him seemed to explode in shock. The pain grew from his shoulder, where a grinding background ache radiated outwards into violent raging fires that scorched and spat into every corner of his body. The effort of holding still without tightening his frame as he breathed had prevented him from even trying to talk, but he could feel now that the van had joined a motorway and the smoother progress encouraged him to try a few words.

‘Mr Delft…’ he began. The men opposite turned their eyes towards him, ‘Mr Delft said I was to go home … he said I was …

Mr Gaine swung the van out to overtake a lorry and Ned’s body slid forward, detonating an explosion in his shoulder that sent sheets of pain flashing and screaming through his body.

Five minutes later he tried again. ‘I’m supposed. supposed to go home…’ The words came out in a whisper.

The men regarded him with silent interest for a moment or two, then looked away.

Ned had lost almost all sense of time and space. He did not know whether he had been left to lie for five minutes on the kitchen floor or for five hours. He could not tell how long they had been travelling or in which direction. The van was closed and windowless, and his only clue as to time was a feeling that the number of cars and lorries around them was increasing, which suggested the build-up of morning traffic.

He attempted speech again. ‘My shoulder … it’s … I think it’s dis … dis … I think it’s dislocated.’

Curiously, through the uncomprehending fog of his senses, Ned was still careful to be polite. He could have said that his shoulder had been dislocated, or even that Mr Gaine had dislocated it.

The men turned to each other.

‘You know how to put a shoulder back?’ one of them asked.

‘I’m not bleeding touching him,’ said the other. ‘The cunt’s cacked his fucking pants. Fucking stinks.’

Ned’s smashed nose, bubbling with blood, had not detected the stench that surrounded him, but he understood now why he felt a soft squash and slide between his buttocks.

‘I’m sorry …‘ he said, tears dropping down his face. ‘I didn’t know. I’m so sorry, only

‘Give it a fucking rest, can’t you?’

‘Mr Delft said … he said I was to go home. He’ll be angry…, and my father…, my father is an important man … please, please!’

To stop the unpleasant whimpering, they took it in turns to kick him into unconsciousness.

It is not often that I confess to being baffled, but for a short while today the disappearance of Ned Maddstone struck me as the most complete mystery imaginable. It was as if he had been simply scooped off the surface of the earth. I am pleased, however, that I was able to work out the truth for myself.

I spent a frustrating night, raging against the system that had covered up his arrest. How typical, I thought, as each succeeding bulletin on the television, and subsequently on the wireless through the early hours, failed to disgorge so much as a scrap of news, how supremely typical. The police had been got to, it was clear to me. Some squalid Central Office lackey had swung into action and initiated a cover-up. I was tempted to ask Tom, in whose house I have my basement flat, if he knew anything. Tom works at party headquarters in Smith Square and is privy to all the gossip. I should know, I regularly read his paperwork when he’s upstairs drunk in his bed. I tamped down the desire, preferring not to have to answer questions. But it was frustrating to me that nothing of Ned’s arrest had yet emerged.

Rufus and I should have tipped off the press as well as the police, I told myself furiously, it was naпve of me not to have thought of it. I made a mental note to myself. One day, I resolved, I will put a sign over my desk –

This is, after all, England – and I shall make no important decisions without referring to it. Although it seems now that I may have done the police and the establishment an injustice, the sign over the desk is still a good idea.

In the normal course of events, Sir Charles had been due to arrive at Catherine Street at mid-day for a diary meeting. It seemed obvious to me however, given the lack of any news, that he must have come down the previous night to bail out his son and establish some kind of media blackout. None the less, I was determined to ensure the full involvement of the press somehow, even if it meant another anonymous call from a phone-box. First, however, I would have to see precisely how events had unravelled at Catherine Street. The prospect of Ned’s embarrassed explanations and confused protestations of innocence to his father filled me with delicious anticipation. Would he have been sent up to bed without any supper? Would he have been believed? I had decided to offer him exactly the same spaniel-eyed tactlessness and clumsy sympathy that he so crassly meted out to me.

Despite a great eagerness to be there as soon as possible, I took the tube to Victoria at my usual time of half past nine. While I would have loved to be there earlier, it was important not to show that I expected today to be anything more than a perfectly normal Friday.

As I turned into Catherine Street I was delighted to see a police car parked outside the house. Things were looking up. Such a sight argued against any concerted or coherent cover-up: at the most it suggested a very incompetent one. If the police had been got at they would hardly be there now, with an unmarked car outside the front door. Perhaps the Drug Squad were searching the place from top to bottom, I thought, hoping to enter and see floorboards up and books scattered all over the Bokhara. What an agreeable prospect. I looked up at the faзade and fancied I saw a face pressed against the window of the first floor study.

I let myself into the house and mounted the stairs, preparing an expression in which I hoped that mild curiosity and impassive preparedness were nicely blended.

Sir Charles was at his desk in conversation with two policemen. I saw that Ned’s girlfriend, Portia, had been the face at the window. She stood at it now, restlessly turning her head one way and the other to look up and down the street, her breath misting the pane.

‘Ashley, thank heaven!’ cried Sir Charles, rising excitedly to his feet as I came in.

‘Sir Charles, what is it? Is there something wrong?’

‘Have you seen Ned?’

‘Ned? Not since yesterday, sir, no. Why? Has he gone missing?’

‘He hasn’t been seen since four o’clock yesterday afternoon!’

‘Good lord!’ I said. ‘But that’s bizarre …

The policemen were eyeing me with curiosity and I bowed my head respectfully in their direction.

‘Gentlemen, this is Mr Barson-Garland, my researcher,’ said Sir Charles with a wave of the hand in my direction.

The two policemen half rose from their seats and nodded grave good mornings to me.

‘These kind officers are being very helpful, Ashley. But so far the thing seems to be a complete mystery.’

Very helpful? The Metropolitan Police should look to its policies on interdepartmental co-operation. I thought. The buffoons of the drug squad haven’t yet bothered to tell these poor flatfoots that they were holding Ned.

I had to confess that I hadn’t imagined that a minor offence like the possession of cannabis could warrant an overnight stay in the cells. But it struck me that on arrest, to save his father embarrassment, Ned might have refused to give his name. Perhaps such a lack of cooperation, allied to the arrogant Maddstone manner, had so annoyed the arresting officers that they had thrown him in a cell simply in order to teach him a lesson.

‘Have you tried calling the hospitals?’ I suggested. ‘Or police stations, even. If he was mugged perhaps, or…

‘Yes, yes,’ said Sir Charles, sitting down again. He had taken up the natural position of authority at his desk, with the policemen sitting respectfully across from him, caps on lap and notebooks in hand, like secretaries about to take dictation. ‘We have tried everything. A missing persons alert has been put out, every police station and hospital in London has been contacted. Officers from Special Branch will be here soon. There is always the possibility you see, given my position,’ he said, lowering his voice, ‘that the security angle may have to be considered.’

There was something in the way he said ‘given my position’ that reminded me forcibly of Ned. The same Maddstone-maddening apologetic ruefulness – as if status, authority and birth were embarrassing solecisms to be understood and pardoned.

One of the policemen turned to me. ‘When did you last see Mr Maddstone, sir?’

I considered the question. ‘Um, about mid-day, I should say. Let me see. I spent the morning working on correspondence…’ My eye travelled to Sir Charles’s desk, where the pile of post still lay, unsigned. ‘Those letters there, in fact. Then I left at … what time did we leave, Portia?’

Portia turned from the window with a blank stare. I could see that she hadn’t slept all night and that the question hadn’t penetrated, only my calling her name.

‘I went off with your cousin Gordon,’ I reminded her. ‘To show him round Parliament. Do you remember? When was that, would you say?’

‘Lunchtime,’ she said in a dull voice. ‘You went off at lunchtime. And then you came back.’

‘Came back?’ I said, raising an eyebrow. ‘I don’t think … oh yes, you’re quite right, though. I let myself in to pick up my briefcase at … I suppose it was around three o’clock, but I didn’t see Ned then. You were both up … you were both – otherwise engaged,’ I amended with care, winning the ghost of a smile from one of the policemen. ‘And then you were off to a job interview somewhere, weren’t you? What happened?’

The story tumbled from her. I could tell that she had told it many times, to others and over and over again to herself and that in the telling of it she hoped somehow for a meaning or clue to emerge. Ned had not been there when she emerged from her interview. She had waited around Catherine Street, gone home, phoned and phoned and then at seven in the morning she had finally managed to persuade a House of Commons official to telephone Sir Charles in the country. He had driven up and called the police, who had so far discovered nothing.

‘You’ll forgive me, miss,’ one of them said now. ‘But there were no bad words between you and Mr Maddstone, were there? No quarrel or anything of that nature?’

Portia stared at him. ‘Quarrel? Me and Ned? No, that was impossible. We have never … we could never… We were like…’

Sir Charles went over to her with a handkerchief and put an arm round her shoulder. The policemen exchanged glances, then saw me looking at them and transferred their gazes down to their notebooks. All deeply affecting.

‘Is there anything that you think I could be doing?’ I said. ‘Anyone I should call?’

‘That’s very kind, Ashley, but I don’t think…’ Sir Charles began.

‘There is the question of the media, sir,’ said one of the policemen. ‘They can be very useful. Maybe Mr Barson-Garland here could call someone you know in the newspaper world.’

Sir Charles stiffened. The press were not his favourite institution. They liked to mock him for being ‘out of touch’ and for possessing an accent that made the Duke of Edinburgh sound like a filing clerk. They habitually referred to him as Barkingstone, Loonystone and Sir Charles the Mad.

‘Do we really think that’s necessary?’ he said worriedly. ‘Surely they would only-’

Any further consideration of the role of the press was put aside by a loud pealing on the doorbell. Portia gasped and, wriggling from Sir Charles’s grip, went to the window and looked down.

‘Oh. It’s just three men,’ she said dully.

‘That’ll be Special Branch, sir.’

Sir Charles stood alone on the carpet, suddenly looking every month his age. It occurred to me that he had put his arm round Portia to support himself as much as her.

‘I’ll let them in,’ I said.

And so the morning wore on. One nugget of news finally came through just before lunchtime and it puzzled me greatly. I relayed it to Rufus and Gordon over another pub lunch in the shadow of Big Ben.

‘It seems that the police paid a visit to the Knightsbridge College,’ I told them. ‘Apparently four Spanish students saw a blond English youth being picked up and driven off in a car. They can’t agree on whether it was a Vauxhall or a Ford and have been taken off somewhere to look at pictures of Ned.’

‘Bloody hell,’ said Rufus. ‘They’ll recognise him straight away.

‘I don’t get it,’ said Gordon. ‘The cops already know it’s him. They’re the ones who picked him up, for Christ’s sake.’

‘The more time that passes and the more policemen that get involved, the less likely it appears that they ever picked him up at all,’ I murmured, but Gordon was listening to Rufus.

‘That car was definitely a Vauxhall,’ he was saying with conviction. ‘No doubt about that. A T-reg Cavalier. And they looked like Drug Squad to me. Unshaven, leather-jackets, tattered 501s, Adidas trainers. Classic DS. It’s their idea of undercover. Pathetic, really.’

‘Christ, what a screw-up. You mean the Drug Squad are holding the guy and they don’t realise that he’s been reported missing? Maybe we should make another call.’

‘Gordon, that is a disastrous idea,’ I said. ‘Listen to me. You have to get it into your head that whatever kind of jeans and whatever kind of footwear favoured by those men we saw yesterday, they were in fact not the Drug Squad, nor any other kind of squad.’

I spent a very fervent quarter of an hour persuading the pair of them that for us to confess to any part in the business would only confuse matters.

‘It has to be a coincidence,’ I explained. ‘Ned has been kidnapped. That is the obvious and the only explanation. It just so happens that the kidnappers chose that particular time and place. If you think about it, it’s not as illogical as it seems. Yesterday would have been the first proper opportunity they’d’ve had for a long time. He’s been at school for months and then away sailing. But yesterday, yesterday they could have followed him and Portia from the house all the way to Knightsbridge, seen him left alone on the pavement and nabbed him. We saw the whole thing and of course assumed it was an arrest. In fact the police probably didn’t think our tip-off worth bothering with. Or,’ I added, ‘they heard Rufus giggling in the background and recognised it for what it was, a schoolboy hoax. In any case, it’s just a coincidence. Nothing more.’

It sounded pretty thin to me, but they bought it and chewed on it for a while. Gordon, as I thought he would be, was the first to see the flaw.

‘If he’s been kidnapped, why hasn’t there been some kind of ransom demand?’

I was ready for that. ‘There are kidnappers and kidnappers,’ I said darkly. ‘For two years Ned’s father was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.’

Their mouths dropped as they took in the significance of this.

‘So now you see,’ I continued, ‘why we must lie low and not say a word. None of it has anything to do with us.’

‘Except that we witnessed it,’ said Gordon. ‘We might be needed for evidence…

‘Those Spanish students were right there, they can give plenty of descriptions. We were the other side of a busy street. No, believe me, there’s nothing we can add but confusion.’

I left the pub confident that I could trust them not to do or say anything indiscreet. I arrived back at Catherine Street and found that to gain admittance I now had to show my House of Commons pass to a policeman posted by the front door.

There is a chaise-longue in Maddstone’s office, all plush and gilt, the kind on which exotic princesses used to pose with panthers. I went upstairs to find Sir Charles slumped on it, the colour drained from his face. Portia was leaning against him, or he against her, and the tears were pouring down her face. It was clear that news of great import had broken while I had been away.

A man in his middle to late twenties sat on the desk, talking into the telephone. His eyes had taken me in as I entered the room and I had the unpleasant feeling that, lazy and pleasant as his inspection seemed to be, he had seen right through to the back of my soul and been unimpressed with what he had found there. An intelligence operative of some kind, I told myself, trying to shake the feeling off. No doubt a course of training in the perfection of that kind of look goes along with instruction in the use of code books, microfilms and cyanide capsules.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked.

Sir Charles opened his eyes and tried to speak. The man was completely in pieces. If this is the quality of our political leaders, I thought, then no wonder the country has gone to the dogs. You won’t find me cracking like that when I’m in power.

When I’m in power…

How strange. That’s the first time I’ve ever articulated such a thought. I have always told myself that I was going to become a teacher. How very strange. Now that I’ve written it down I feel pleasantly relieved. Perhaps I knew it all along. Well, well.

‘And you might be?’ said the man on the desk, gently replacing the receiver and smiling across at me.

‘Ashley Barson-Garland, I’m Sir Charles’s personal assistant.’

‘Ashley Barson-Garland, Ashley Barson-Garland…’ he picked up two black notebooks that lay by the telephone. ‘What frightful handwriting our friends in blue have … ah, yes, here we are. Ashley Barson-Garland. Says here you’re a researcher for Sir Charles and a school friend of Edward’s. But surely you must be at least twenty-two? Twenty-three perhaps?’

‘I shall be eighteen in two weeks,’ I said, flushing slightly. It has not been uncommon for new boys at school to take me for a member of staff and I dislike being reminded that I look older than my years.

‘My mistake. My name is Smith.’

Smith indeed. A deliberate insult. I went forward to shake his hand and he had the cheek to look into his palm afterwards and then to my face, causing me to flush again.

‘Well, Mr Barson-Garland,’ he said, and I would have found open revulsion infinitely less offensive than the expressionless way he now took a handkerchief from his sleeve and wiped it against his hand. ‘I’m afraid that while you were at luncheon some rather bad news came in…

The tone of ‘While you were at luncheon’ seemed to suggest that I had been guilty of some terrible, sybaritic dereliction of duty. In fact, Sir Charles had insisted that I get something to eat and the policemen with him had agreed there was nothing further I could do.

‘Bad news?’ I said, resisting the temptation to explain this and open myself to further humiliation.

‘… it seems that a call was made to the offices of The Times newspaper an hour ago claiming responsibility for kidnapping Edward Maddstone. We are working on the assumption that the call was genuine.’

‘But who? Why?’

‘The claim was made by a man purporting to represent the IRA. As for why …

Sir Charles made a kind of moaning noise and Portia hugged him close to her.

‘Oh Jesus,’ I whispered. ‘I was right.’

‘You were right?’ ‘Smith’ raised his eyebrows in mild astonishment.

‘Well, the thought had crossed my mind,’ I said. ‘I mean it seemed a possible explanation, you know. Given, given…, everything,’ I completed, lamely.

‘What a sharp fellow you are, Mr Barson-Garland.

Well, perhaps you might employ some of that sharpness in making yourself useful, if you’ve a mind to?’

I nodded vigorously. ‘Of course. Anything.’

‘The Times will give us a little time to check out the information before they act upon it, but act upon it they surely will. I think perhaps Sir Charles and the young lady here should leave before the media circus arrives and all hell breaks loose. Perhaps you can think of a suitable bolt-hole. Where do you live, yourself?’

‘Tredway Gardens,’ I said. ‘It’s just a flat.’

‘And do you ah, share it with anyone?’ He put the question innocently enough, but again I had the impression that he had detected something in me that amused him.

‘Tom Grove. He works in party headquarters, it’s his house, I have the basement. Sir Charles’s PPS made the arrangement,’ I said, annoyed at myself for feeling the need to elaborate.

‘I see,’ said Smith. ‘Well, let us repair thither and that right speedily.’

‘I can’t drive a car I’m afraid…’

‘My dear old periwinkle, leave all that to me.

As I write this, Sir Charles is upstairs in Tom’s bedroom, asleep. The man Smith arranged for a doctor to come and pump him full of tranquillisers.

Poor Tom Grove has been warned away. Portia was driven off for further questioning half an hour ago, still hysterical with grief. Seems a little hard on her, but I dare say the authorities know what they’re doing. Smith himself has disappeared to ‘rattle a few trays’ somewhere, whatever that means, but said that he would ‘pop his head round the door’ sometime tomorrow, would I mind meanwhile ‘commanding the support trench’ – he really is insufferably pleased with himself.

The flat is now pleasantly calm, however, with no sign of the press anywhere. A part of me feels a little sorry for Ned, but another part tells me that, wherever he is and whatever is happening to him, it will do him a great deal of good.

Enough for the moment. I think I shall watch the six o’clock news now.

No matter how strongly she fought it, Portia’s evenings at home had fallen into a routine. She had tried for a long time to prolong a state of perpetual crisis by arguing with Pete and Hillary over everything and nothing, but over the weeks the outbursts subsided and life began to assume a normality that she was not able to resist, however much of a betrayal the very assumption of ordinariness in life might signify.

Were it not for Gordon, she felt she would have gone mad. With tremendous tact and psychological understanding, he had suggested that instead of waiting for news or continuing to sit by Sir Charles’s bedside looking in vain for signs of recovery, she could do Gordon a great favour by showing him the sights of London. All the crazy tourist shit, he meant. Stupid stuff that would take her mind off Maddstone Junior and Maddstone Senior at least for a few hours every day. He’d really appreciate it, he was starting to feel homesick and he still couldn’t find his way round the city.

Pete conceded that it would be cruel to hold her to any promise of working through the summer holidays and had provided enough pocket money for the two of them to buy summer travel passes and spend long days trailing around galleries, churches, museums and royal palaces.

‘I want you both to keep a notebook,’ Peter had said. ‘The architecture and building in London is a discourse on the movement of power and money. You’ll find it’s a kind of economic geology. From the church to the kings to the aristocracy to the merchant classes to the banks and finally to the multinationals. It’s like reading rock strata.’

Gordon and Portia took no notice of this and pressed the buttons at the Science Museum, giggled at the Yeomen of the Guard and tried to get the sentries in their boxes outside St James’s Palace to flinch or move their eyes, just like the other adolescent tourists they accompanied around London. Portia found that taking Gordon around her favourite art galleries and explaining the pictures to him was as close as she had come to pleasure for many weeks. It was something to be able to answer questions, to be needed and useful.

Pete never asked to see the notebook he had insisted on. His own time was taken up by his summer students at the polytechnic. One of them had flattered him into forming a discussion group for the analysis of British colonialism in Northern Ireland and Peter had bullied the Inner London Educational Authority into funding a visit to Belfast so that they could see for themselves what was happening ‘on the ground’, as Pete liked to say. Hillary, busy with her novel was happy enough in the belief that Portia was in the hands of a sensible cousin.

Twice a week Portia still went to visit Sir Charles. It was a relief to her that the press were no longer keeping up a vigil outside the hospital gates, but it was a sign too of waning public interest and that worried her. Events had moved on and the disappearance of the cabinet minister’s son had slipped from the front pages to smaller paragraphs inside until quietly dropping from the agenda entirely. At the height of the public fever, when the Prime Minister, cutting short her holiday in the south of France, had stood at the hospital entrance assuring the cameras that steps would be taken and revenge exacted, Ned’s kidnapping had been the sensation of the summer period known in journalistic circles – Portia discovered with distaste – as ‘the silly season’. But, as sightings of Ned dwindled and reports emerged that the IRA were now denying any part in the affair, the papers began to suggest that the whole thing had never been anything more than a family row, a teenage tantrum of the kind that went on every day. They resumed with relish the usual August parade of fifty-stone women, two-tailed dogs and string beans that spelled out ‘armageddon’ in Hebrew. The senior newsmen left Britain for their summer holidays, and the deputies minding the shop preferred not to mess with tradition. Besides, the only person worth interviewing would have been Charles Maddstone, and he wasn’t saying a word. To anybody.

The two massive strokes that had felled him during the week following his son’s disappearance had been so severe that doctors doubted he would ever walk or talk again. The first had completely incapacitated the left side of his body and the second had reduced him to a state of motionless coma. Portia found that her time at his bedside gave her an opportunity to talk without any fear of being misunderstood.

‘No news, Daddy,’ she would say, closing the door of the private room, drawing up a chair and offering the latest scrap of news. Calling him ‘Daddy’ gave her a secret and almost erotic thrill. ‘Someone was seen in Scarborough, but it was another false alarm.’

She would talk on, pouring out whatever came into her mind, every now and again finding opportunities to emphasise Ned’s name in a sentence and glancing across to see if that one mention might be the lowered rope to pull Sir Charles from the well of his unconsciousness.

One day, as she repeated to him for the thousandth time the story of the afternoon Ned had come into the Hard Rock Caf? with his friends, there was a knock on the door.

A doctor Portia had never seen before told her that he had spoken to Sir Charles’s sister, Georgina.

‘It may be time to consider switching off the life-support, he said, ‘and let the old fellow slip away.

‘But Ned is the next-of-kin,’ protested Portia, outraged. ‘It’s his decision.’

‘It’s been over a month. We must face up to the fact that there is no chance of any change. Miss Maddstone has said that she will think about it for a week before coming to any decision. I do not believe,’ the doctor added, ‘that you are a member of the family?’

Back home at Hampstead, Pete explained that any decision of this kind in a private hospital would be based on financial rather than clinical considerations.

‘It’ll be the insurance company, believe me,’ he said. ‘That kind of twenty-four hour intensive care is expensive. The money men will be the ones clamouring for the machines to be switched off.’

Gordon was surprised to hear this. ‘I thought England had a public health system.’

‘A public health system?’ Pete snorted. ‘That’ll be the day…’

Oh, God, here we go, thought Portia. Gordon should have known better than to walk into that one. There’ll be no stopping Pete now.

In fact, Peter was only warming up when Hillary came downstairs demanding to know what clothes he wanted to take on what he had been rather grandly calling his ‘Northern Ireland Fact Finding Trip’.

It always amazed Portia that her mother, such an ardent and devoted feminist on paper and in conversation, should spend so much time, when it came to the realities of everyday life, looking after Pete’s every need. From childhood on, Portia had never seen her father so much as pick up a sock, let alone wash one. Hillary cooked for him, shopped for him, washed his clothes and packed his bags, and not once had Portia heard her complain. If all men truly were, as Hillary had written so many times, rapists, it seemed odd to Portia that they should be waited on like Maharajahs.

As they discussed the wardrobe that would most make Pete look assured, supportive and at home on the streets of West Belfast, Gordon came up to Portia and suggested they leave Pete and Hillary and go for a walk somewhere.

‘All right then,’ she said. ‘Let’s go to the Flask. You’ll like it.’

‘What is that, some kind of park?’

‘It’s a pub. You’ll like it.’

Gordon knew perfectly well what the Flask Inn was, since he had already been there twice in the company of Rufus Cade. He wanted Portia to have the pleasure of introducing him to it, however. He discovered early on that the more helpless and ignorant he appeared, the more she liked it. Gordon was used to that. Most of the girls he had known back home had been the same.

‘You guys make sure you’re back before eleven,’ Hillary insisted. ‘In time to say goodbye to Pete.’

A loud pealing came on the doorbell as they left the room and Portia’s heart gave a little jump. She had learned not to get too excited by the sound of the door or the telephone, but one day soon a call would come and it would be the call. You never knew…

‘And see who that is,’ Pete shouted after them. ‘If it’s not important, we’re out.’

As they went downstairs, a huge bang shook the front door as if a car had slammed into it. An even louder one followed and the whole hallway shuddered. At the third bang, the front door splintered off its hinges and fell inwards with a crash, shattering the floor tiles and rocking the staircase. Three men in gasmasks and body armour stepped through.

At precisely the same time, to the very second, there came a delicate tinkle of broken glass in the sitting room above, followed by the thumping hiss of tear gas canisters and the shrill terrified screams of Hillary and Pete.

Dr Mallo was a very simple man. He approached life rationally, not empirically. The horizons of his world were narrowly confined and this afforded him, he believed, more happiness than that granted to the majority of his fellow creatures. The young Englishman in front of him now, for example, was of no interest to him at all. The trained psychiatrist in him recognised the submerged tension, emotional sublimation and signs of erotic shame in him as a matter of course, but only the paperwork and money being laid on the desk were worthy of scrutiny and serious attention. Where the man came from, the source of his money, the authority behind the documents he produced and the reasons for his neuroses were questions that only an empiricist or – worse still – a psychologist, would ask. The only questions Dr Mallo considered worth asking were questions of authenticity, quantity, reliability and seriousness of purpose.

‘This money,’ said Dr Mallo, ‘is good for one year of treatment. Also, with the current weakness of the pound, what you have given me is, I regret, too little by approximately one and one quarter percent.’

Oliver Delft took a thick wad of twenty pound notes from his pocket. ‘The case is a severe one,’ he said. ‘Regular sums will be paid into a bank of your choice, annually or quarterly. I believe this procedure is agreeable to you? Unluckily, as you know, this is not the first time my family has had occasion to avail itself of your services.’

‘Sometimes these problems lie deep within genetic inheritance,’ said Mallo, watching the money being counted onto the table. ‘Enough, one hundred and forty is fifteen pounds too much. Be pleased to sign here and here. I can offer change for you in dollars US or francs Swiss.’

Oliver replaced the roll of money and took the proffered pen.

‘Dollars, if you’d be so kind.’

‘I note,’ said Dr Mallo, ‘that your unfortunate brother has no name.

‘I’m afraid you will discover that he has many,’ said Oliver with a rueful smile. ‘Last year he was the rightful heir to the Getty fortune. He kept that one up for over six months, almost a record. In his time he has been…, let me see, Margaret Thatcher’s secret lover, he has been an abused orphan, a Palestinian gunrunner, a member of the Danish royal family – frankly, you name it, he’s tried it.’

‘You don’t say?’ murmured the doctor. ‘And at the present time?’

‘It’s back to politics. Thinks he’s the son of an English cabinet minister called Maddstone. Won’t answer to any name but Ed. Or is it Ned? No saying how long it’ll last. He gets it all from the newspapers, of course. The real Maddstone boy was snatched by terrorists two days ago. Dare say you’ve read about it in the papers?’

Mallo gave no answer.

‘Anyway,’ Oliver continued, ‘that’s the current delusion. It’s sad to have to give up on the lad, but we just can’t cope with him any more I’m afraid. He’s young, extremely fit and capable of terrible violence. He’s done some appalling things to the family. Quite unforgivable things. You wouldn’t credit it to look at him, but then I believe that’s often the way.’

‘Indeed so.’

‘I understand also that this kind of mania is generally somewhat intractable. Permanent often, I believe.’

‘Sometimes it is regretfully true, patients seldom respond quickly. If, however, some improvement were noted…?’

‘I think it very unlikely,’ said Oliver. ‘But if the family’s circumstances were to change in any way and we found ourselves willing to give him another chance we would of course be in touch with you in the usual manner. Otherwise

‘Otherwise, sir, you may trust that he will receive the highest quality of care. In the event of demise …

‘He is very dear to me, I trust that you and your staff will ensure that he lives a long and, in so far as he is able, happy life. My father and uncles assure me that you are to be relied upon in this respect.’

‘Naturally we are to be relied upon,’ the doctor assured him. ‘Our diet and exercise regimes here are of the highest standard. You will be pleased also by the seriousness with which we regard issues of hygiene, safety and general health. Besides, we are subject to rigorous inspection from the authorities. There are patients who have lived happily amongst us for more than thirty years. Indeed we have three men who were placed here by your…, grandfather.’

‘You’ll find that the company and conversation of other people excites him,’ said Oliver, rising. ‘They feed his delusions. You may find it best to keep him on his own until he is a great deal calmer. Let the memory of his old life fade away.

‘Of course, of course, you may depend upon it. And when shall we expect the pleasure of receiving him?’

‘My friends will arrive here with him some time later this afternoon. I wish I could stay to see him settled in, but pressure of work I’m afraid…’

‘Really, I quite understand. If there’s nothing more you wish to see, a car will take you to the airport directly.’

Ned awoke from a dream of rivers of gore and spittle pouring from Paddy Leclare’s mouth and knew at once that the movement under him was of a sea in full swell. He tried to open his eyes. For a moment it felt that they had become glued tight by blood and sweat, before he realised that they were indeed wide open. It was simply that there was nothing to see. Either he was in a place where no light shone – not the smallest reflection of anything – or he had become stone blind. Some instinct told him that he was not blind but enclosed in a vacuum of absolute darkness.

While the grinding ache in his shoulder socket hung like a black cloud over his every conscious moment, he found that he could foreground each of his other torments. He could concentrate separately on the hot pain of the torn skin around his wrists for example, on the nauseating throb of his smashed nose or on the stabs of a broken rib that pierced his lungs with each breath or movement. These tortures feasted on him like a swarm of angry wasps, yet behind them all, the shoulder, nagging like an evil memory, rasped and grated against its socket with relentless cruelty. But behind even the sick torment of his ruined shoulder, terrible as it was, other agonies raged that were harder yet to bear, the agonies of bewilderment, loneliness and naked fear.

Ned’s mind was so closed in by terror and confusion that he became less and less able to make sense of any past or present identity. In delirium and over the course of hours that might have been minutes or days, he reached out with his mind to every image that had ever been sacred to him, his father, cricket, a yacht skiffing in the wind, his best woollen blazer, hot porridge lightly salted, the sound of the school bell at evening – the images came randomly – a pair of silver hair-brushes he had found in a jumble sale and polished to perfect brightness, the gear wheels on his first bicycle, the sharp sour stink of National Geographic magazines, cold milk, freshly sharpened pencils, his naked body in the mirror, gingerbread, the clatter of hockey-sticks at bully-off, the smell of a record-duster…, yet each picture that he fixed upon flew from his mental grip, and, like soap from a closing fist, the harder he tried to force them the further they leapt away.

The image above all others that he had saved from bringing into the open could at last be denied no longer, and he conjured up Portia to be with him. But she would not come. Her handwriting, her laugh, the shining warmth of her skin, the grin of animal wickedness in her eyes – they had all gone.

Now only Christ was left. Christ would come to him and lift him from this empty despair. Ned’s torn lips could barely close on the words of his prayers. He asked for pity and hope and love. He asked for a sign that he had been heard. And then, all at once, Jesus rose and floated before him, glowing with light. Ned looked into the gentle, loving eyes of his saviour and leaned up to be taken into his arms and away from this terrible place. With a snarl of fury, Satan sprang forward and opened his huge mouth. He tore the Son of God into bloody pieces and turning towards Ned with a roar of triumph, he closed his black jaws around him.

Ned awoke again in darkness to the sound of the van’s engine and the swift hum of passing traffic. Perhaps he had imagined the sea.

All that he had to connect him to reality now were his pain and the rhythmic flip of tyres on tarmac road. It was as if he had been reborn, reborn into a churning waste of unending isolation and pain. Every instant seemed to contain an eternity of suffering that flung him further away from what he had been and further towards a new existence in which friendship, family, future and love Gould never have a part.

Later he imagined that he had been inside a white room. He recalled a glare of fluorescent light and the rising stench from him as a scalpel cut the string from around his waist and his trousers fell to the floor. He thought he had felt a sharp sting in his arm, a quite new slam of pain and a jarring thump in his shoulder, streams of warm water washing over him and strong arms bearing him away.

He awoke once more to find himself on a bed in a small room whose every surface had been painted cream. The door, walls and ceiling, the tubular steel at the end of the bed, the bars on the single window and the clouds in the sky beyond – all were cream. He couldn’t tell the colour of the floor because the room was small and something was pinning him tight to the bed. When he raised his head, stretching the nape, he could see two thick belts of black webbing strapped across his chest and legs, each fastened by what appeared to be seat-belt buckles. But when he raised his head, the muscles in the back of his neck burned and the broken ribs shifted and clicked inside his chest, so instead he lay back and let the general ache of his body comfort and console him. He was calmer now and almost frivolously cheerful. The black torrent of his nightmares had subsided and the stupidity of his situation was starting to entertain him.

He dozed for a while and awoke with the bedroom still washed by the same creamy daylight. The skin in the arm below his good shoulder itched and a memory surfaced of the first of the straps having at some time been unbuckled, hands forcing him to sit upright and a needle pricking his skin. He believed that he had woozily murmured ‘Good morning’ and ‘Thank you’ before falling asleep again. He stared at the cream ceiling and attempted to assemble his thoughts. Before he could do so he heard the sound of footsteps squeaking on a shiny surface. Ned raised his head an inch from the pillow as they approached. A door close by opened and closed, and Ned sank down again.

Keys rattled in the lock and Ned started awake, annoyed with himself for having slipped off again.

‘Hello there, young sir! Feeling much better now, I am sure.’

A plump little man in a white dentist’s tunic came into the room, smiling and twinkling. He had spoken with an accent that Ned could not place. A very tall and elegant younger man with white-blond hair and pale blue eyes stayed in the doorway, holding in his hands a steel bowl.

‘You have been most unwell, my chap, and we are here to see that you may become better and stronger.’

Ned started to speak, but the plump little man raised a hand.

‘No, no. There will be time for us to talk a little later on. My name is Dr Mallo and we will have many good chats, I promise you. But now I want you to know that Rolf will be looking after you. You have done a great amount of harm to yourself and we must give your body some time to be healed. Rolf can help you with your pain…’ he gestured to the tall man who came forward, holding out the steel bowl with outstretched arms like a communion server offering the paten, ‘… and in gratitude for this, I hope you will be very calm and not disturb yourself, yes?’ Ned nodded and watched as Dr Mallo took a syringe and a glass phial from the bowl.

‘Excellent, this is excellent. You are a good fellow.’

Rolf stooped down to loosen the strap around Ned’s chest. Ned forced himself upright and watched the doctor push the needle into the cork top of the phial.

‘But this is very fine! Already you sit up on your own!’ Dr Mallo beaming with approval, raised the loose sleeve of Ned’s gown and rubbed cotton wool on the upper arm. ‘That is cold, I know. Now, Rolf is more in practice with needles than I, but I am hoping this will not hurt… So! It was nothing.’

Ned lay back again and immediately a warm surge of calm flooded his brain. He smiled up at the doctor and at Rolf, who was bending over the bed and buckling the straps.

‘S’nice… s’very nice. Z’lovely…’

Dr Mallo beamed again and moved round to the other side of the bed. ‘And your shoulder is not so hurtful?’

‘It’s fine,’ murmured Ned, his mind floating happily. ‘I can’t feel a thing.’

‘We have strapped him tightly for you. You are young and he will mend very nicely, I think. So. Sleep now and stay at peace.

Ned could not remember either of them leaving the room and when he next awoke, it was nearly dark.

Over the next few days Ned tried his best to exchange even the smallest number of words with Rolf, who visited at regular intervals with his steel bowl and syringe, sometimes bringing with him fresh dressings, a plastic bottle to urinate into and flasks of soup which Ned was only allowed to drink through a shiny steel tube.

Rolf proved entirely uncommunicative. Ned decided that he couldn’t speak English. Dr Mallo, whom he had not seen since, had spoken with an accent that might have been German or Scandinavian, so it seemed logical that Rolf too was foreign.

No, Ned was the foreigner. Wherever he might be, it was far from England. The black nightmare of his day or days in the pain and dark was proof of that. Distant seagull cries gave Ned the impression that he was close to the sea, perhaps even on an island. Some instinct told him that he was somewhere north. Perhaps it was the nature of the light that made him so sure, perhaps it was his interpretation of Dr Mallo’s accent, which he now believed may have been Scandinavian. That would accord too with the sharp blue of Rolf’s eyes and the silver blondness of his hair.

Ned began to use the periods of physical pain and mental clarity that attended him for the hour or so before each injection to consider his circumstances. He decided after a while that it was not the nature of the light that told him he was in a northern country, it was its steadiness, its constancy. No matter at what time Ned awoke, the sky outside his window was always bright, or at the most in a state of gentle twilight. At this time of year, Ned knew, the farther North you travelled, the shorter the hours of darkness. The night he had sailed on the Orphana for Oban, the night Paddy died, it had been dark only for the briefest time.

Ned was sure that Oliver Delft’s colleague, Mr Gaine was mad or criminal. He had beaten and broken Ned and taken him away with two evil, ugly, violent and malevolent psychopaths whose dead and brutal eyes would haunt Ned for ever. He had arrived here, where he was being treated kindly and with consideration, yet kept tied to his bed in a locked room with bars on its window. What could that mean?

Somewhere, Oliver Delft and Ned’s father would be looking for him. Perhaps Mr Gaine was demanding a ransom. Ned was sure enough of Delft’s skill and his father’s influence to feel confident that he would not get away with it.

But meanwhile, what could his father be thinking? And Portia, what of her?

He was puzzled that it should be so, but it was his father, not Portia, who visited him in the loud and vivid dreams that filled his sleeping hours. In his waking moments, when he pictured what he would do when he got back, when he thought of home and school and the places and people that he knew, Portia’s image was never there. Ned was not worried that he had to force her to his mind. He supposed that he was frightened she would have been angry at his disappearance. She might have believed that he had run away from her. Perhaps she even feared that she had disappointed him somehow during their afternoon in his bedroom and that he had escaped like a coward at the first opportunity. When this whole nonsense had been cleared up Ned would take her away to a country inn and they would get to know each other all over again.

For the moment, Ned hoped that Rolf might at least bring him something to read. When his straps were loosened, he could sit up easily now and he believed he could move his right shoulder and the muscles of his upper body well enough to handle books. Reading would help pass the time, which was beginning to hang more and more heavily as the pain receded and the drugs began to have less and less hold over his mind. Besides, the school had given him a reading list at the end of the summer term and Ned didn’t want to be left behind.

He started to ask Rolf each time he came.

‘Morning, Rolf. I was thinking… Are there any books here, by any chance?’

‘Rolf, I can definitely move well enough to read now…

‘It doesn’t matter what kind of books, really, but if you could find some on European history…’

‘Perhaps you could ask Dr Mallo what he thinks, but I really believe it might help me to get better…

‘Did you ask Dr Mallo? What did he say?’

‘Rolf, please! If you can understand me, can I have something to read? Anything…’

‘Rolf, I want to see Dr Mallo. Understand? You … tell… Dr Mallo… come to me, yes? Soon. I see Dr Mallo. It’s very important…’

Anger began to boil up inside Ned and anger forced him into a terrible mistake. It was impossible, he decided angrily during his endless hours of isolation, that Rolf could have failed to understand him. He was being deliberately cruel.

One morning, he could take it no longer.

‘What has Dr Mallo said about my books? Tell me.’

Rolf continued his methodical routine of loosening the straps and preparing for Ned’s injection.

‘I want to know what Dr Mallo has said. Tell me.’

Rolf handed him an empty urine bottle without a word. Ned, seething with the bitter injustice of it all, passed the bottle under his bedclothes and began to fill it, anger rising and rising within him.

Rolf leaned forward with the syringe and Ned, maddened as much by the calm routine as by the silence, pulled the bottle up and threw the contents into Rolf’s face.

For at least five seconds, Rolf stood completely still and allowed the urine to drip down his face and off his chin.

Ned’s temper subsided in an instant, and he tried unsuccessfully to smother a laugh. Rolf bent slowly down and replaced the syringe on the trolley, picked up a towel, folded it carefully into four and started to pad his face. There was something in the cold impassivity of his demeanour that turned Ned’s laughter to fear and he started to babble apology like a three-year-old.

‘Please don’t tell Dr Mallo!’ he pleaded. ‘I’m sorry, Rolf, I’m sorry! But, I just wanted to … I’m so sorry, I didn’t know what I was doing…’

Rolf replaced the towel on the trolley and straightened up. He looked at Ned speculatively, without a trace of visible anger or concern.

‘I don’t know what came over me, Rolf. Please forgive me!’

Rolf beckoned with his hands for Ned to lie down, the usual gesture he made to show that he was ready to fasten the straps.

‘But what about my injection? My injection, Rolf…’

Rolf snapped the buckles and looked down at Ned, his head cocked to one side.

‘Rolf, I’m really sorry, I promise …

Rolf placed both hands, one on top of the other, flat on Ned’s shoulder and pushed down, his whole weight behind it, like a baker pressing dough. The ball gave a crack as it jumped from its socket.

Rolf gave a little nod, then turned and wheeled the trolley from the room. Within a few hours Ned had lost his voice. The screaming had torn his throat to shreds.

Over the eternal days that followed he lay alone and whimpering. Unvisited, undrugged and soaked in his own sweat and urine, he had nothing to turn his mind to but two terrible facts and one impossible question.

Firstly, Rolf had not lost his temper. If he had done what he did in the heat of the moment, while Ned was laughing right in his piss-streaming face, there might be some possibility of reconciliation or appeal. The violence would have been terrible, but human.

Secondly, and Ned wept and wept at the cruelty of this, Rolf had quite deliberately set to work on Ned’s good shoulder, the left. The right shoulder, still recovering from its earlier mauling, he had left alone. Such implacable, methodical malice offered no hope at all.

Thirdly came the question: a question that grew and grew inside him as he whispered it to himself over and over again.

Why? What had been his offence? In the name of Jesus … why?

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