He could have been anybody; a tall, well-built figure in a suit and overcoat and a bowler hat. A City banker, perhaps, or a Whitehall civil servant on his lunch break; just walking in the park with his briefcase and his umbrella, enjoying the sunshine and the birdsong. A fine day to be out in old London town. He had a certain upright, military bearing, to be sure, and an officer’s moustache, but then most men his age had served the Queen in their youth, even if it was only peeling potatoes in some nameless barracks as part of their National Service; some of them still bore the indelible hallmarks. The other man who wasn’t exactly walking with him was more casually dressed; beige slacks, zip-up windcheater, a copy of the Daily Mirror folded under his arm. The well-dressed man half turned to him, smiling for the cameras, and murmured something, as if commenting on the weather or simply passing the time of day:
“Trap One to Greyhounds, requesting sitrep. All Greyhounds report. Over.”
The other man gave a nod of acknowledgement, returning the smile for all the world as if he had never met this man before in his life:
“Greyhound Four go,” he whispered. The others chimed in, one after another:
“Greyhound Seven go.” The unseen sniper in the upstairs window of a house across the street, him and his spotter, watching the park and its approaches through their scopes.
“Greyhound Three go.” The counter-sniper team watching the all of the other upstairs windows for the twitching curtain or the upward-sliding sash that would be the first hint of betrayal.
“Greyhound Nine go.” The young man with the long hair and the flared jeans sitting on the grass by the duck-pond, necking with his girlfriend. She had a submachine-gun hidden in her handbag.
The well-dressed man crossed to a bench while the man in the windcheater stopped for a moment to look at the ducks. He took a half-eaten sandwich out of his pocket and started to break bits off it; the ducks gathered round. The well-dressed man scratched his ear, adjusting the flesh-coloured earphone that he wore.
“Greyhound Seven to Trap One,” came the clipped, military voice. “Greyhound Seven to Trap One. We have eyeball; repeat, we have eyeball. Grey Man sighted; E.T.A. in five minutes. Over.”
No doubt, they had their watchers and waiters around as well, and they would never spot them until it was too late; the well-dressed man glanced around, not really trying to spot them. It could have been the Italian-looking man selling ice-creams from a barrow further down the path, or the three young punks with the ripped denim and the spiked hair walking past, or the tweedy, bespectacled lady with the bicycle who gave them a disapproving glance. It probably wasn’t any of the boys on their school holidays, kicking a decrepit football around the grass and pretending to be Kevin Keegan or Dennis Law. The voice crackled in his ear again:
“Greyhound Seven to Trap One; prepare for action; Grey Man is inbound; repeat, Grey Man is inbound. E.T.A. three minutes. Over.”
“Wilco, Greyhound Seven,” he acknowledged. “Trap One to all Greyhounds; code word is Curtain Call. Repeat, Curtain Call.” He knew that they would all be springing into readiness, even if they gave no outward sign of doing so. The young long-haired man simply seemed to get himself a firmer, more intimate, grip on the girl in his arms; she didn’t seem to mind. How they’d laugh and rib each over that in the mess tonight. The man in the windcheater dropped the remains of the sandwich in the pond; the ducks started splashing as they fought over it; he partially unzipped his jacket and looked casually up and down the path. The snipers were no doubt working the bolts on their rifles, fingers sliding dangerously close to triggers as they surveyed the scene:
“Greyhound Seven to Trap One; Gray Man is Onstage. Repeat, Onstage.” A car pulled up to the green-painted park gates, a dark blue Jaguar, gleaming brilliantly in the sunlight. The man on the bench watched the back nearside door open as he slipped out the earphone and dropped the wire into his briefcase; he stood and walked briskly but casually towards the car.
“Good luck, sir,” whispered the man in the windcheater as he walked past him.
The man who had emerged from the vehicle passed him halfway; a slim young man in a navy blue suit and polka-dot tie. They glanced at each other as they passed, and he continued to track the other man over his shoulder as they parted. The young man went to sit on the bench he had just vacated, as agreed, and the windcheater man sat down beside him, smiling and saying something as he did so. He was unzipping the front of his jacket a little further; he was showing the young man his gun and telling him not to try any funny business.
He climbed into the backseat of the Jag and pulled the door shut. The man already sitting there immediately pulled a gun on him and pulled open the front of his coat and suit jacket, patting him down. That was only to be expected.
“Now, keep your hands where I can see them,” the gunman ordered.
“Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart,” said the grey-haired man in the front passenger seat as the driver took off around the block. He turned around in the seat to look at his guest: “I think I’m supposed to say something like “at last, we meet again!” or something of the kind, but I don’t think we have ever met, have we?”
“We’ve moved in the same circles,” the Brigadier replied. “Mr. Starke, I presume?”
“Today I am, anyway. Who knows what they’ll be calling me tomorrow?” Starke smiled as if they were old friends; his accent was the sort of smooth, cultured drawl that they only beat into you at the better public schools; nobody was born talking like that. He was of indeterminate age, despite the grey hair; his eyes were like daggers, despite the smile.
“Is this really necessary?” Lethbridge-Stewart indicated the hard-faced young man holding the gun on him. Starke’s smile widened:
“A question I often ask myself, Brigadier. Why can’t we all just get along? If you have something you need to discuss with me, why can’t you just call my secretary and make an appointment? Then, we could discuss this in my club like civilised men, over a brandy and a fine cigar, instead of playing at secret agents in a London park. I often ask myself this, Brigadier; unfortunately the world isn’t like that, is it?”
“Unfortunately not.” He glanced at the gun pointing his way, unimpressed. “Still, it would be nice if he could put it away.”
“Do as the Brigadier asks, Norris,” Starke instructed the young man, with a smirk. “It appears that you’re making him nervous.”
“Oh, not at all, old chap,” the Brigadier replied. “I just thought his arm would get a bit tired eventually. That’s all.” Norris, if that was his name, reluctantly stowed the pistol away inside his jacket.
“I trust that your Sergeant Benton is looking after my man with similar solicitousness,” said Starke, pleasantly enough.
“Am I supposed to be impressed that you know the names of my staff?” Lethbridge-Stewart wondered.
“Surprisingly easy to find out,” Starke observed. “I thought UNIT was supposed to be a secret organisation.”
“Benton’s a top man; he knows how to look after your chap, and he knows what to do with him if I’m not back on that bench within the hour.”
“Hopefully it won’t come to that, old boy.” Starke was still smiling, but his eyes said it all.
“Let’s hope not, eh?” Now it was the Brigadier’s turn to smile while casting visual daggers at the other man. “What with him being such a young chap with his whole life ahead of him.”
“Quite; quite.” Starke fell silent for a moment, as if genuinely reflecting upon the unfortunate nature of their current predicament. Lethbridge-Stewart placed his left hand in his jacket pocket, and Norris instantly went for his gun again:
“I said keep them where I can see them!”
“Well, you didn’t do a very good job of searching me, did you?” The Brigadier pulled an object out of his pocket; a tiny silver hemisphere with jointed metal protuberances that gave it the appearance of a crab, or a spider. It looked as if somebody had stamped on it, quite hard. He poked it with his other hand and the legs kicked spasmodically. “I’ve heard of people planting bugs,” he said, “but quite frankly that’s ridiculous.”
“Wherever did you find that, my good man?” Starke asked, all pained innocence, but still seemingly unable to stop smirking.
“Inside the telephone on my desk, as you well know; it actually made a run for it, too; my counter-surveillance team tell me that’s a first.” Starke tried his best to look suitably shocked at hearing this:
“I hope you don’t think we’ve been planting listening devices in your secure facilities, Brigadier?”
“Who else?” Lethbridge-Stewart asked, with a slightly pained expression. “It’s clearly extraterrestrial technology.”
“Clearly,” Starke conceded. “However, forgive me if I’m wrong, old chap, but you seem to make quite a lot of extraterrestrial enemies, don’t you? Maybe one of them would want to bug you?”
“Possibly, but their devices don’t usually have “Made in Sheffield” stamped on the bottom.”
“Ah.” Starke actually contrived to look embarrassed.
“Tell your ape to put the gun away again,” the Brigadier suggested. Starke nodded and Norris once again holstered his weapon. “You’re getting sloppy,” he continued. “I thought the Torchwood Institute was supposed to be a secret organisation.”
“Don’t use the name,” Starke requested, as if genuinely offended by the sound. “How do you know there aren’t some Russians parked over there with a laser-microphone aimed at that window?”
“What are we supposed to call you, again? C-19 is it, this week?”
“That is the government department that’s currently acting as our cutout, yes.”
“Did those boys of yours come home?” Lethbridge-Stewart asked. “The ones Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton had to talk to a couple of weeks ago?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, old chap,” Starke gambled, and lost:
“You know the ones; tall chap, short chap; Miss Grant saw them lurking at the end of her garden or some such damn fool nonsense; thought they were peeping toms or something, so she rang Captain Yates for help.”
“We do live in sad times,” Starke smiled, “when a young lady can’t feel safe in her own home.” The Brigadier nodded in concurrence:
“I couldn’t agree more; strange thing was, when my men had finished giving them a good hiding, the pair of them tried to show official identification and claim that they were acting for Her Majesty the Queen. Strangely, that just made my chaps beat another seven bells out of them. Out of hospital yet, are they?” Starke forbore to comment, but suddenly the smirk, while still glued to his face, did not look quite as genuine as it had a moment ago.
The car rounded the block for the first time; peering out of the window, the Brigadier could just make out Sergeant Benton apparently in deep and enthusiastic conversation with his hostage.
“Mr Starke,” he said, with false friendliness so thick that you could have cut it with a knife, “explain to me precisely why the Torchwood Inst — oh, I’m sorry old chap, department C-19 — precisely why you are trying to spy on UNIT. You have thirty seconds.”
“Brigadier,” Starke replied, “when you were commissioned as an officer in the British Army, did you swear an oath of loyalty to Her Majesty, and by extension to the United Kingdom of which she is the sovereign?”
“You know that I did.”
“Then why do you betray that oath by associating every day with Her Majesty’s most bitter and longstanding sworn enemy?” Lethbridge-Stewart raised one mystified eyebrow:
“Sorry, old man; you’ve lost me there.” Starke shook his head in exasperation:
“I am referring to the extraterrestrial entity that you currently employ as your scientific advisor.”
“The Doctor?” The Brigadier thought about that for a moment. “He’s the Queen’s sworn enemy as well?”
“Our organisation was originally founded in order to protect the British Empire from his depredations,” Starke informed him.
“Well, well done old chap,” Lethbridge-Stewart sarcastically replied. “The Doctor hasn’t destroyed us yet. What on Earth is this nonsense? Do you have any idea how many times he has saved this country since he’s been working for us? I won’t ask how you know he does work for us, because, well…” He held up the still-twitching bug to illustrate his point.
“Quite apart from that,” said Starke, “UNIT has violated the terms of its agreement with us. I don’t know if you recall, Brigadier, but when UNIT was first founded, we formed an understanding with your superiors. UNIT would be permitted to operate on British soil, with British personnel on secondment, and in return any extraterrestrial material that was recovered in the course of its operations would be handed over to us. We had that agreement; material was defined as both technology and living and dead entities.”
“I was never party to such an agreement,” the Brigadier told him. “And as far as I’m aware, Torchwood — sorry, just done it again old chap;” he did not sound the slightest bit sorry; “your organisation, is not officially part of Her Majesty’s government, and therefore is hardly in a position to be permitting UNIT to do anything.”
“If it’s alien, it’s ours,” Starke insisted, and suddenly was not smirking any more. “Hand the Doctor over to us, or we’ll take him. Believe me, we’re only even asking out of courtesy.”
“Doctor John Smith is a fully-accredited civilian employee of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce,” Lethbridge-Stewart answered, and his air of sarcastic amusement was suddenly gone as well; “and as far as I am aware has committed no crimes against the United Kingdom, and therefore I can no more hand him over to you, as you put it, than I could hand over Miss Grant, or Sergeant Benton, or myself. And what’s more, I wouldn’t give him over to the likes of you whatever he’d done.”
“You have to ask yourself where your loyalties lie, Lethbridge-Stewart,” Starke snapped. “Whether your career with UNIT comes first, or your loyalty to Britain.”
“Don’t talk rubbish, Starke; I’ve served my country my entire adult life; now I serve not only Britain but the people of this entire planet. Torchwood isn’t Britain; Torchwood is a group of old men in a back room somewhere, hoarding alien toys and using them to amass wealth and power over the rest of us. Let’s be quite clear about that.” Starke sighed wearily, and picked up a dossier that had been resting on the dashboard in front of him.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t force me to this,” he said, something of his earlier smirk returning. “I was hoping we could resolve this situation like reasonable men. However, you leave me no choice.” He handed the file over the seat to the Brigadier. “That’s just a free sample; a taster.”
Lethbridge-Stewart contemplated the typed pages contained in the folder, the photographs and documents that went with them; lists of home addresses, telephone numbers; lists of home addresses of family members; surveillance photographs of wives and children going about their business; police reports detailing unfortunate youthful indiscretions; different surveillance photographs, taken through bedroom windows with telephoto lenses; some of them were quite explicit in their details.
“We have material on most of your senior personnel,” Starke was saying. “Including your good self. Does your wife know about Doris, Brigadier? All we need to do is make a few phone calls to the right people at the UN, and failing that, to the newspaper editors with whom we have understandings. Give us the Doctor.”
“Swine,” Lethbridge-Stewart breathed, furiously.
“And if you think you can ride out petty personal scandals, we know where your families live; we know their daily routines. Car accidents can be nasty things, Brigadier; and you’d be surprised how many people just die in their sleep. Give us the Doctor.”
“Cheap threats, Starke?” The Brigadier was almost trembling with rage, but his voice had regained its calm. “I would have thought better of you than that. I thought Torchwood were subtle.”
“Give us the Doctor.” Now it was Lethbridge-Stewart’s turn to sigh wearily. He turned to the man Norris:
“Do you mind terribly if I open my briefcase?”
“Nice and slowly,” said Norris, pulling back his jacket to give him a flash of gun.
“Thanks awfully.” The Brigadier produced his own plain brown dossier, more or less shoved it at Starke. “I really didn’t want to do this,” he said, insincerely. “It goes against everything I stand for, but I won’t be threatened, I won’t be blackmailed, and I’ll be damned if I’ll betray my friend and colleague to an organisation like yours. Those are photocopies, by the way; the originals, and further copies, are deposited with several different law firms and private banks.”
“You can’t,” said Starke, leafing through the file and looking distinctly sick. “The press in this country will never print a word of this; we wouldn’t allow it. We know every banker and lawyer in the City; we’ll find out where you’ve hidden these.”
“You only control the press in this country,” the Brigadier reminded him, with grim satisfaction. “And who said they were deposited in London? Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Geneva, Zurich, Milan, Tokyo, and the rest.” He looked out of the window as the park came back into view around the corner. “The UNIT secretariat in Geneva has recognised that things might come to a head such as this for quite some time, you know. We have done a lot of business with you, haven’t we? A lot of documents and memos and other evidence of your existence and activities have passed through UNIT hands over the past few years, and more than that; do you think you’re the only ones who can plant bugs and snap photos?”
“For God’s sake, Lethbridge-Stewart! You’re committing treason!”
“Not treason; blackmail. UNIT has some fairly comprehensive evidence of Torchwood, its key personnel, its projects and activities, going back to 1879. All of those little indiscretions, all of those expedient acts; every piece of world-changing technology that you’ve kept salted away not only from Britain’s enemies but also from its friends. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Traitor!” Starke spat.
“These are the terms,” the Brigadier said, ignoring the comment. “The Doctor is off-limits; UNIT and its personnel are off-limits. If anything happens to the Doctor or to any of the people in that file you just showed me — if Miss Grant gets a heavy cold, or if I get a paper-cut, or if anybody starts making puerile insinuations about anybody’s private life — I am authorised to tell you that the Secretary General of the United Nations will present all of our evidence to a public session of the UN General Assembly. Britain will be a pariah nation, a rogue state; and Torchwood will be finished. Which would be unfortunate, but our work is too important to have to waste time dealing with this sort of nonsense. Do I make myself clear?” Starke did not reply immediately. “Do I make myself clear, Mr Starke?” This time, he managed to choke out a reply:
“Then call my bluff, Mr Starke. Call it.” The car pulled up at the park gates. “I really don’t know who you people thought you were dealing with; we’re only the United Nations, for God’s sake. I face worse than you every working day. Just be glad I’m not going to let the Doctor know you exist; he’d eat you lot for breakfast.” As the Brigadier climbed out of the car, he placed a small silver object on the seat next to Norris: “You can have the bug back, by the way.”
He marched back towards Benton, still sitting on the park bench; the young man in the navy blue suit passed him, on his way back to the car. The Brigadier gave him a pleasant smile as he went past.
“Is everything all right, sir?” Benton asked, as he stood up. “You were gone for a while; I thought I was going to have to, well…do something, sir.”
“Oh no, Sergeant; everything’s fine. A small disagreement with one of our partner organisations; we were just agreeing on some ground rules, that’s all.”