In her office at UNIT HQ, Iolanthe Grosvenor was finishing off a report. She typed steadily, pausing to turn the pages of her notebook. She had spent the last couple of weeks on secondment with a police force in Yorkshire, helping them with the evidence that led to the arrest of a fraudlent psychic, who had been preying on vulnerable clients. Her notes completed, Iolanthe resisted the temptation to type “the end” and pulled the page from her typewriter with a flourish, then started guiltily as the phone rang.
“Lily? The Old Man wants to see you, pronto.”
Iolanthe wasn’t sure how her given name had become “Lily,” but, given the possible alternatives, she didn’t really mind that much. She replied,
“OK, thanks Bob,” to Private Jenkins, who was on the other end of the line, and hung up. She gathered up her report, in case that was why the Brigadier wanted to see her and set off briskly down the corridor.
As she approached the Brigadier’s office Iolanthe stopped short as she heard a commotion and shouting from within. Other members of the UNIT team came out into the corridor as there was one final crash, followed by silence. The door opened and a military policeman came out, leading a UNIT soldier in handcuffs. Another officer followed, closing the door behind him. To the astonishment of his comrades, the soldier under arrest was Sergeant Benton. The policemen positioned themselves on either side of their prisoner and steered him towards the exit. Benton scowled at his escorts, then, catching sight of Iolanthe, suddenly winked, throwing her into even deeper confusion. As sound of footsteps faded down the corridor, the bewildered UNIT personnel looked at each other in horrified silence. The silence was broken by the sound of the Brigadier clearing his throat.
“Ahem! When you’ve all QUITE finished sightseeing ...”
He didn’t need to say any more. His subordinates fled without a word, leaving Iolanthe, her eyes wide, her report clutched to her chest as a child might hold a favourite picture book. The Brigadier came out of the doorway, a bloodstained handkerchief pressed against his nose.
“Miss Grosvenor,” he said, somewhat indistinctly, and stood back for Iolanthe to enter the office and closing the door behind them. The interior of the office was far from its usual military neatness. The Brigadier’s desk had been shoved sideways and his chair upset. Papers were strewn across the surface of the desk and his in tray and telephone had been knocked to the floor. Three chairs near the desk had also been tipped over. The Brigadier stepped forwards and set one of the chairs back on its legs, gesturing to Iolanthe, who sat down. Having pushed his desk straight and righted his own chair, her commanding officer sat down himself, then fished in the mayhem on the surface of the desk, finally grunting in satisfaction as he found the file he was looking for.
“I must say,” he remarked, after cautiously removing the handkerchief from his nose, “when Sergeant Benton does a job, he does it thoroughly.”
Iolanthe opened her mouth, but couldn’t think which question to ask first, so closed it again. The Brigadier watched her, a hint of amusement in his eyes.
“I’m sorry to have startled you like that, Miss Grosvenor, I had hoped to brief you in advance, but we were rather overtaken by events. I can set your mind at rest about one thing though, Sergeant Benton has committed no offence.”
The Brigadier opened the file.
“A couple of weeks ago we were contacted by the Governor of Chelsfield Prison, it’s a military establishment, about 20 miles from here,” he added in answer to Iolanthe’s questioning expression. “The Governor had been received intelligence from an informant that an escape was being planned, led by this man, Ronald Baxter.”
The Brigadier passed a photograph across the desk. The photograph showed a man of medium height wearing a captain’s uniform, gazing haughtily at the camera. His short hair was reddish brown in colour and showed signs that it might be curly if it had been longer. His nose had been broken at some point and healed slightly out of alignment and his downward curving mouth was strongly marked. It was not a handsome face but, looking at the picture Iolanthe felt a strong impression of charisma. This was a person who would be followed, who would inspire loyalty, she felt. The Brigadier went on.
“Had it just been the escape plot, I would have hesitated to get involved, but there are further complications. Before he was arrested, Baxter was responsible for the theft of a quantity of weapons and ammunition from a storage facility near Beconswood. It’s believed that the arms were stolen with the intention of selling them to a criminal gang. The police and the army have combed the area, but they can find no trace of either arms or ammunition and, as far as the organised crime squad are aware, the guns haven’t turned up on the market yet. The authorities believe, and I’m inclined to agree with them, that Baxter and his gang are planning to break out of the prison, retrieve the arms from wherever it is they’ve stashed them and make contact with their customers. That’s the only way they can be sure of profiting from the theft.”
“I see.” Iolanthe frowned. “Did the informant say when the break out was likely to happen?”
“Unfortunately not. He was due to meet the Governor yesterday but,”
another photograph was passed across the desk. This picture showed the body of a man, lying on the floor of a cell.
Iolanthe took the photograph and looked at it in silence. Then she asked;
“How did he die?”
“The cause of death has not been established. He doesn’t show any outward signs of having been poisoned, but it only happened yesterday and tests are still underway. He appears to have been in good health, with no sign of heart problems. It may be that there was some underlying problem that the medics didn’t know about, but the timing of his death was a bit too convenient for Baxter and his cronies for the authorities to ignore. He was found in his cell early yesterday morning, when the doors were unlocked and he failed to come out for breakfast. The doors are locked electronically at night and the computer record shows that they stayed closed, there’s no evidence that anyone was in the cell but Webster.”
“He had a cell to himself?”
“Yes, as with most prisons, cells are usually shared, but Webster had been moved to a single cell after he got into a fight with his previous cellmate, another member of Baxter’s gang. If the fight had anything to do with his informing on the gang, it would have been only a matter of time before Baxter took his revenge.” The Brigadier paused, then went on, “as I say, tests are continuing and we should have the autopsy report in the next few days, but, as it stands, it appears a healthy man dropped dead alone in a cell, and that seems unlikely to say the least.
The powers that be wanted an investigation by people who understood the setup, but had no connection to the regular army, so they contacted Geneva, who contacted me. It was decided to place a man on the inside, and that man is Benton. His job will be to try and get close to Baxter and find out when the escape is planned to take place and, if at all possible, where the arms are hidden.”
“Does anyone at the prison know why he is there?” asked Iolanthe, looking up from the photograph of the dead informant.
“The Governor does. It was he who requested the investigation, along with General Gibbs, who was investigating the theft for the Army. As far as the rest of the prison staff is concerned, Sergeant Benton has been accused of involvement in a gambling ring and, ahem, of striking a senior officer and resisting arrest.”
Iolanthe carefully avoided the Brigadier’s eyes. Events were moving so quickly she had begun to feel slightly hysterical, and the thought of Sergeant Benton being required to punch his commanding officer in the face had her on the verge of giggles. She took a deep breath and listened as the Brigadier gave her more details of the operation.
“We haven’t shared any details with anyone other than the Governor because he suspects that at least one of the senior staff, and possibly one or more officers might be compromised. His informant hinted at it and, frankly, I’d be surprised if Baxter hadn’t either bribed or coerced someone on the staff into working for him. From what I’ve read about him, it would be his style and a major breakout from a place like Chelsfield would be almost impossible without the cooperation of at least one officer, if not more.”
Iolanthe looked serious.
“Then he has no help? Apart from the Governor?”
“Not quite.” The Brigadier sat back. “We do have an agent placed in the prison library. Of course, Benton won’t have a lot of contact with her, but she will be there three days a week and if he can get to her, she will be able to give us the latest intelligence.”
“She? but, I thought, is it a mixed prison?”
“There are two wings, one for male prisoners and the other for females. But this person will be on the staff, or at least a volunteer. There are a few female members of staff in the men’s wing, and our agent will be one of them.”
“Oh, I see.” Iolanthe didn’t think to ask who the ‘agent’ was, she was too busy trying to remember all that she was being told and wondering where she fitted in with the plan. As if he had read her mind, the Brigadier said;
“I assume your next question will be how do you fit in to this operation? Yes,” seeing Iolanthe blush, “I thought so. I want you to be Benton’s contact on the outside. He will be allowed visitors eventually, and I want you to be his visitor, either as a colleague or relative. With your skills he may be able to get more information to you than he would to other people and, to put it bluntly, a female visitor is less likely to arouse suspicion than a man.”
The Brigadier looked sharply at Iolanthe as he said this, but she showed no sign of having been offended, instead she frowned, apparently lost in thought. She assumed that by “skills” the Brigadier was referring to her ability to sense the motivations and emotions of others, and, possibly the experiments in thought transference that she, Benton, the Doctor and some other volunteers had been working on. The results had been promising, but there was no guarantee of success and, in any case, they hadn’t really got beyond the basics. Iolanthe looked at the Brigadier.
“And when can I, when will he be able to have visitors?”
“Not for at least a week, I think. Prisoners are kept in isolation for the first two days after they arrive, then integrated with the rest of the inmates after that. Visits aren’t permitted during that time. But, in any case, it’s unlikely Benton would have much to report.”
“No, I see that. Thank you, Sir. And how many people here know about what’s happening?”
“I’ve tried to keep the full particulars of the case to as few people as possible, although, after this morning’s performance there will have to be a general briefing. But apart from that, access to the file is limited to myself, you and Records personnel. You’ll need to consult them and they may have to make amendments to Benton’s record and to yours to fit with the story we’ve devised.”
The Brigadier stood up and handed the file over to Iolanthe.
“I think that’s about all for the time being, Miss Grosvenor. I’d like you to take a look at the report into the robbery and the postmortem of the informer, there are peculiarities in both cases that you may be able to shed some light on. Other than that, I’ll keep you informed of any developments and brief you before your first visit. Understood?”
“Good, then I won’t keep you any longer.”
Taking the hint, Iolanthe stood up and made her way out of the Brigadier’s office and back to her own, her mind in turmoil. The initial shock of Benton’s arrest had faded after her briefing, but she was still concerned about her friend, even as she told herself that he was a soldier and had gone undercover before. She wondered what the Brigadier had meant about peculiar aspects of the robbery and the death of the informer. This train of thought took her to the door of her office. Once inside, she sat down at her desk, put her own file back in her in tray and opened the folder the Brigadier had given her. Then, her chin resting on her hands, she began to read.
A military police jeep drew up outside the entrance to Chelsfield Prison. An officer got out of the driver’s seat and went round to let the backboard down. Another officer got out, followed by the tall figure of Sergeant Benton. Benton looked up at the prison building as he was escorted towards it. His previous experience of prisons had been limited to the raid on Stangmoor in pursuit of the Master. Unlike that rambling, stone fortress, Chelsfield was on a more compact scale, a square, brick-built, three storey construction, with small, barred windows set round the upper floors. The sergeant and his captors entered through the imposing metal doors that formed the entrance and went through to the reception area, where Benton’s details were checked and his few personal belongings taken from him and listed, then put to one side to be stored. His uniform was exchanged for the prison uniform of grey trousers, shirt and jacket and he was taken to another room, where the prison doctor completed a brief examination and asked him questions about his health. The doctor, a small, wiry man in his sixties, recorded the answers on a clipboard, smiling at Benton as he did so.
“Good, very good,” he remarked, for all the world, Benton thought, as if he was appraising livestock.
“That’ll be all thank you, Mr. Benton,” he said eventually, “Thank you Mr. Hooper,”
This remark was addressed to one of Benton’s escort, who was waiting by the door. Hooper replied drily, “right you are Doc” and led his prisoner out of the room. Benton had the impression that, although the officer was polite, he didn’t have much respect for the doctor. Interesting. Benton was led down a corridor to the Governor’s office, where he was given a short speech about the conduct that would be expected of him while he was at Chelsfield. As the warder was in the room, the Governor could say no more than he usually did to new prisoners. Looking at him, Benton could see signs of strain. The Governor wasn’t a young man, the Sergeant guessed his age to be in the mid-sixties, and the current situation was clearly taking its toll. Benton stood to attention, only answering “Yes, Sir,” when he was directly addressed. Having concluded his remarks, the Governor instructed Hooper to escort Benton to an isolation cell, which he did. Standing in the doorway, Hooper, a tall, fair-haired man with an expression that suggested that he took a certain cynical amusement from his work, informed Benton that, as he would be there for the next two days at least, he should make himself comfortable. Sergeant Benton rewarded this remark with a scowl, which drew a laugh from Hooper as he closed the door with a bang. Left alone, Benton took stock of his surroundings. The cell was sparsely furnished, a metal framed bed stood against one wall and a desk and chair against another. The window, as he had seen from the outside, was small and placed high up in the wall. It was glazed with toughened glass and the bars set into the frame cast shadows on the floor. Basic toilet facilities completed the furnishings. Benton sat down on the edge of the bed. Here he was then. He hoped he hadn’t hurt the Brigadier too much, but he’d been told to make his assault look real, and it was difficult to pull a punch at such close range. Three days. Three days to try and work out how to get close to Baxter without him suspecting, then he would have to try and put any plan he had formulated into action. Benton was not a coward, but he felt some trepidation. From all accounts Baxter was a ruthless man and he had a gang of his fellow prisoners under his command, and probably some of the staff too. Benton frowned, then his brow cleared. He knew that at least one member of the prison staff could be trusted. Despite the seriousness of his situation, Sergeant Benton smiled, and wondered how soon he would be able to visit the library.
In a cell off the main corridor, Baxter was in conversation.
“So, who is this new bloke?” he asked.
“Benton, his name is. He’s from UNIT. He’s on remand pending a court martial.”
“UNIT eh? What did he do?”
“Ran a gambling den and thumped his C.O. when he got found out,” was the reply.
“My word. He’s got a temper on him then. Shame. We could do with a new man after Webster grassed us up, but he’ll have to be able to keep his head.”
“Could be a one off,” said his companion, a stocky man with the appearance of a heavyweight boxer gone to seed.
“Maybe. We’ll keep an eye on him anyway.”
Baxter shifted in his chair.
“And did our friend have any other news?” he asked.
“Not so far.”
“Right, you’d better clear out then, and we’ll wait and see how this new bloke works out. He won’t be out of solitary for another two days, so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“Right.” The other man got up off the edge of the bed and moved towards the door, “see you later then.”
“Yes.” Baxter stood up and turned his back, making it clear that the meeting was at an end. After his informant had left, he stood for a moment, deep in thought. He had suspected that there was a mole in the operation for a while, but the discovery of Webster’s treachery had still come as a shock. That problem had been dealt with though, Baxter thought, smiling grimly, and Webster’s fate would encourage the others to think carefully before they considered grassing on him. This had left a gap in the team though, so if this new man from UNIT could fill it, so much the better. He would have to wait and see.