DCI Craig Spencer was sitting by the unlit fireside drinking a cup of freshly made tea and watching his favourite early morning food program on BBC Scotland when it was suddenly interrupted by a newsflash... Unconfirmed reports of ten dead, dozens injured and hostages taken on a luxury cruise ship in the Firth of Forth... Updates to follow...
Before he got to his mobile, it rang. He checked the screen before answering. It was DI Darling. â€œWhat the fuck is happening Andy?â€
â€œYouâ€™ve seen the news then, sir?â€
â€œMore information is coming in as we speak. Some unconfirmed reports put the death toll at around twenty. It is changing rapidly. It sounds like it could be a terrorist attack on a luxury cruise ship berthed in the Firth of Forth.â€
â€œI'm on my way. Get the team assembled and set up number three office as the main incident centre. Has the detective superintendent arrived at the station yet?â€
â€œYes, he has just arrived. Iâ€™m also hearing there are people from MI5 are on their way up from London.â€
â€œI'll be there in around twenty minutes. No one and I mean no one is to leave the station.â€
â€œWho has been dispatched to the scene?â€
â€œAt this point, DI White, DC Cropley, DC Rayner, Sergeant Blackie, PCs Reilly and Gordon should just about be arriving in Queensferry.â€
â€œWhoâ€™s in charge out there at the moment?â€
â€œDI Jim Harvey from Fettes police station has set up a temporary camp in the local Queensferry Police Station.â€
â€œOkay, talk to you when I get in. I cannot believe this is happening here in Edinburgh and so soon after the recent terrible attacks in Manchester and London. Nobody is safe anywhere, anymore. Remember, Andy, as I said, no one leaves the building.â€
Spencer had a lot of time for Darling. He was as dependable as a Swiss watch and as sharp as a tack. His dress sense left a lot to be desired, but that was not a pre-requisite to being a good cop.
Spencer called Detective Superintendent Sam Johnston from his mobile phone as he drove from his home in Barnton towards the station in Leith. No answer. He left a message, then turned on the car radio hoping he might get an update before he reached his destination. Nothing, the news obviously hadnâ€™t yet hit the airways. He checked his phone at intersections, and social media had not picked up anything either.
As he drove to the station, dozens of ambulances with sirens blaring and police cars doing the same were heading in the opposite direction towards Queensferry, where the drama was unfolding. People just stood at street corners, staring and wondering what the hell was going down. Edinburgh was not used to this scale of mayhem.
The traffic heading into the city was fairly light considering it was a Friday morning. The festival was in full swing at this time of the year. That meant thousands of tourists were swarming all over the city, day and night. A catalyst for chaos and panic.
The Edinburgh Festival was established in nineteen forty-seven and had grown to form what is acknowledged as the worldâ€™s largest annual cultural festival attracting millions of people to the city in the middle of summer. An unwanted annual headache for the already stretched Edinburgh Police Force.
He approached the steel barrier at the entrance to the off-street car park at the Leith station which was already lined with frenetic reporters, anxious for news for their papers. He kept the car windows closed and ignored the flashbulbs going off and the questions being shouted through the window at him as he waited for the barrier to raise. Journalists were not known for their patience or good manners as they shoved multiple cameras against the window and waved their notepads in the air hoping for any morsel of response.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the barrier slowly lifted, and Spencer drove into the sanctuary of the police car park.
Inside the station was, as he'd never seen before. Phones are going off everywhere, people darting from office to office, coffee being spilt, tempers flaring, some individuals trying to assert their authority and small groups nervously watching overhead TV screens. Organised chaos would be the only way to describe it.
Above the din and pandemonium, he could just make out Darling's high pitched voice. â€œOver here, sir.â€ He was standing at the door of the incident room frantically beckoning Spencer over.
Spencer quickly made his way across the general office floor, entered the room and simultaneously scanned around to see which personnel were in attendance.
â€œWhere is DI Alex Stone?â€ he demanded as he jostled his way through the crowd of detectives and police officers on his way to the front of the room. â€œWherever she is get her in here pronto. If that's not possible, get her on the line, now.â€
Darling clicked his fingers, nodded toward Trish Hanly from Operations and ordered her to deal with this immediately.
â€œWhat's the latest on the situation DI Darling? Please bring everyone in the room up to speed.â€
Darling slowly walked past his colleagues on his way to the front of the room, adjusted his crooked tie and took up a position where he could see everyone in the room, ensuring they could all see him. â€œAt around seven thirty am this morning a single call came in to triple nine from the cruise ship Atlantic Princess, which is berthed in the Firth of Forth, reporting two people were running around the cruise ship randomly selecting people and shooting them in the head. The operator asked the caller where he was on the ship, but the line went dead. Over the next few minutes, more calls came in. All saying the same thing. There was no further communication for around twenty minutes then there were texts being sent from passengers to their friends and family.â€
Darling double clicked the remote, and the text messages flashed up on the screen for all to see.
In my cabin door lockedgunfire goin off terrified please hurry help Atlanic princessedinburgh
Cruise ship Edinbroug shots fired help
Pleesehelp people bein shot cabin654d
Dozens shotpeople guns everywher
â€œAll very similar. Terrified people, scared out of their wits and not knowing where to hide or what to do. Stranded on a mechanical island, wondering if theyâ€™ll ever see their loved ones again.â€
Darling switched his focus back to the people in the room. â€œLook at all the grammatical errors. People frightened, hands shaking, trying to text in terror. This is no doubt terrorism on an unprecedented scale in Scotland. I would imagine most people would have locked themselves in their cabins, scared to move.â€
â€œWhat else do we have?â€ requested Spencer.
â€œFirst responders are four Tactical Response Teams, and they are now in position under the command of MI5 Director of Security Gordon Graynor, who has just flown in from London and set up headquarters in the multi-agency command centre at Fettes police station. Two of his Agents also from London will be here in this office within the hour. All airports in Scotland have been closed, and all trains, buses and trams in Edinburgh have been suspended. Every hospital in Edinburgh and surrounding areas are on standby, and all elective surgery has been cancelled. The Forth rail and road bridges have also been closed. No one on this ship is going anywhere.â€
â€œWhat structure has command set up?â€ Spencer enquired.
â€œSir, the multi-agency command centre based in the former Lothian and Borders control room at the former headquarters at Fettes has instructed that the incident room here in Leith police station be set up. MAAC will concentrate on the live incident, and MIT (major investigation team) here at Leith will carry out the ongoing investigation.â€
â€œWho is in the MAAC team?â€
â€œThere would be representatives from our executive, probably an assistant chief constable, and people representing the fire service, ambulance service and the council.â€
â€œAnd who, may I ask, is running the investigation team?â€
â€œDetective Superintendent Sam Johnstone, supported by your good self.â€
â€œOkay, get this Graynor chap on the phone for me, as soon as possible.â€ He looked at his watch. â€œWe will reconvene in this office in two hours time. Go and get some breakfast, it will be a long day ahead for everyone. Remember, no one leaves the station until I say so. And DI Darling, go talk to the media meerkats parked outside. They will go to any lengths to seek out a story, and they wonâ€™t let the facts get in the way. Tell them enough to whet their appetite but not enough to distort the truth.â€
Beautiful one day, perfect the next. That's how Surfers Paradise on Queensland's world famous Gold Coast is described in the enticing winter holiday brochures.
Lounging in the shade on his Gold Coast balcony in the late afternoon with an ice cold beer and a light salty sea breeze drifting in from the Pacific Ocean, Harry Cram's only company was the sound of the cicadas, the bronzed surfers shuffling their way back up from the beach and the soothing sound of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross emanating from his Wi-Fi speaker box. He finished his fourth beer of the day and cruised down to the mailbox to pick up the recently delivered mail. These days his correspondence was normally made up of bills and more bills.
As he settled back into his chair on the balcony, he opened the envelope addressed to Mr Harry Cram from Slater Walters and Kelly Solicitors. He thought it would be the normal solicitor flyer promoting their real estate services until he started to read the contents of a formal letter.
Dear Mr Cram
We are pleased to inform you have been mentioned in the estate of Carole Hunter (nee Baxter) late of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Would you be kind enough to contact Nadia Ross in our estateâ€™s section to arrange an appointment to discuss this matter at your earliest convenience.
It had been over two years since his girlfriend, Carole Baxter and her two daughters had been brutally executed in Scotland. He thought about them a lot, and he was surprised, to say the least, that he was mentioned in the will. His immediate thoughts turned to whether he should mention this at the moment to his partner Skye Livingston and what would be the reaction of Carole's husband.
Harry was enjoying the life in Australia, and his relationship with Skye couldn't be better. Together they enjoyed the wonderful weather, the golden beaches and the relaxed lifestyle. His job with the online social media website Crime News as an investigative journalist was working out well and the money was damn good. Skye had landed a great job with the Australian government as a financial analyst and life couldn't be better for both of them.
If he responded to the letter, he was concerned it might interrupt what they had. He decided to pull up stumps, give it the twenty-four- hour rule and think about what he was going to do just as his mobile rang.
Harry answered the call with his unique traditional style. â€œHarry Cram receiving.â€
â€œHarry, it's Blair here. Have you been watching the news?â€
â€œHi, Blair. No, I haven't, what's up?â€
â€œThereâ€™s been a terrorist attack in Edinburgh.â€
â€œCruise ship in the Firth of Forth, dozens reported to have been killed so far, and hundreds of hostages have been taken.â€
â€œWhen did this all happen?â€
â€œA few hours ago. What is the time where you are Harry?â€
â€œSix in the evening. Iâ€™ll switch on Fox news and call you back later.â€
â€œHarry, I have to tell you, James and Moira Scully are on the cruise ship, and theyâ€™re not answering their phones.â€
â€œIâ€™ll call you back.â€
Harry fumbled with the remote and flicked through the channels to Fox news. The presenters were displaying a map of Edinburgh detailing where the attack had taken place. At this time, he felt so alone and so detached from his homeland.
South Queensferry was a very small coastal village straddling the Firth of Forth some ten miles north-west of the city centre of Edinburgh. The prefix South served to distinguish it from its partner North Queensferry on the opposite shore. Both towns derived their names from the ferry service established by Queen Margaret in the eleventh century. The ferry was disbanded in nineteen sixty-four when the Forth Road Bridge was built.
The Firth of Forth is a deep-water channel where cruise ships dock when they are too large to get into the Port of Leith. Passengers are tendered some five hundred metres to the shore at the Hawes Pier at South Queensferry before being transported by buses to and from the City.
There were graphic live shots now being shown from the scene depicting a large cruise ship anchored in the middle of the channel. Smoke was pouring out of numerous portholes, people were scrambling around the decks, and a few were jumping into the sea and being picked up by an armada of small boats.
The cameras panned around to the shore where scores of ambulances and police cars located. There were also six Tactical Response vans parked at the rear. There appeared to be dozens of police running around, and of course, hundreds of intrigued onlookers armed with their smartphones and terror on their faces were cordoned off like cattle in a pen.
The headline tape at the bottom of the screen was now reporting up to unconfirmed thirty dead and dozens injured. This didn't happen in Edinburgh, surely not. Harry was confused and angry. He called Skye on her mobile. Christ was everyone on the phone at the same time. He left a message for her to ring him urgently.
The incident room was jam-packed, and standing room only as Spencer and Darling entered the room for the second time this morning. They both took their respective places at the table.
The shapely, well-dressed woman at the front of the room snapped her fingers at the man standing next to the door, and he immediately closed the door.
â€œGood morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Agent Andrea Kilbride from MI5 and over by the door is my associate Agent Fergus Striker. We are here to oversee the current incident at Queensferry.â€
Her associate nodded as the heads turned towards him.
Spencer shook his head and interrupted. â€œIncident, is that what you people call it? We call it a terrorist attack.â€
She leaned forward on the lectern and slowly removed her glasses as if she was buying time. â€œRemember, two things you can never get back. Words after they are spoken or the criticism you throw. We take a pragmatic approach to these types of incidents. I suggest you do the same. No matter what it is called, it is extremely serious and requires specialised personnel and everyoneâ€™s co-ordination. That's where we come in. We are here to help, not to put barriers in the way. Do you understand?â€
â€œUnderstood,â€ came the reply from Darling and the others in the room.
â€œFine, then let's all start working together as one unit. The situation demands we do this. Up to date reports from the command centre state we have isolated the ship and are attempting to talk to the terrorists on board. We received a call from the Captain half an hour ago reporting he is okay, unharmed and confined to the bridge. He is obviously under instructions from his captors and informed us he would call again in one hour.
We expect the terrorists at that time to inform us of their demands. As the interior of the bridge is visible, we have determined there are three armed terrorists with the Captain and five crew members. The three terrorists have machine guns, and it would seem they could also be wearing explosive vests. They appear to be of Middle Eastern appearance. We don't know how many people are dead or injured and we have no idea how many terrorists are on board or indeed how they got on board. We have divers in the water looking at ways to secretly access the ship. Captain Graynor has also requested a full list of the passengers and crew.â€
â€œHow many people are we talking about aboard the ship?â€ asked Darling.
â€œTwo thousand and twenty passengers and one thousand and fifty-nine crew. That brings us up to date. We will reconvene in one hour. Go and get some coffee, it's going to be a hell of a long day.â€
Spencer and Darling made their way to Spencer's office.
â€œWhere is DI Alex Stone? Why can't we raise her?â€ Spencer asked Darling.
â€œWe've left a couple of messages on her phone. She is actually on a couple of days leave. She could be anywhere.â€
The landline phone rang. â€œDCI Spencer here.â€
â€œCraig, it's Curtis Stone here. I've just heard about the attack on the cruise ship, and Iâ€™ve been trying to call Alex all morning but can't get through to her. She's not in the office is she?â€
â€œNo, we are also trying to contact her.â€
â€œAny idea where she might be?â€
â€œI left home early this morning for a walk. She was meeting a girlfriend for an early round of golf and then going on to lunch, I think.â€
â€œDo you know where?â€
â€œSomewhere in Musselburgh. Can't remember the name of the place and Iâ€™m not sure which golf course they were playing at, although I would think it might be Royal Musselburgh.â€
â€œOk, let us know the minute she contacts you.â€
Skye listened to the message on her phone from Harry. He sounded anxious, so she called him straight away.
â€œHarry Cram receiving.â€
â€œWhat's up love? You sounded concerned.â€
â€œYou been in meetings all afternoon?â€
â€œYes, what's up?â€
â€œThere's been a terrorist attack today in Edinburgh. A cruise ship in the Firth of Forth. James and Moira are on the ship.â€
There was a pause on the line for a few seconds, followed by a deep sigh. â€œStay calm darling; I'm on my way home. I'll see you in fifteen.â€
His first reaction when Skye came home was to hold her tightly. â€œGod I hope no one else we know is on the ship.â€
Skye softly replied. â€œYou know the old saying... Until we know we don't know.â€
They both sat down, holding hands and watched the news. They were deeply in love and Skye was desperate for them to get married, but Harry was more interested in pursuing the status quo. They briefly discussed what had happened, asked the question why and who, then Skye got up from the sofa announcing she was going to make some coffee and toast. Harry nodded and switched his attention back to the news while keeping an eye on his mobile phone.
As she made the coffee, Skye was thinking, Harry, didnâ€™t deserve all this bad luck and trauma. He was a gentle soul, liked by all his peers, honest and trusted in his profession. Sure he had his faults, like everyone else, but he wouldnâ€™t harm a fly. She knew he wouldnâ€™t appreciate pity, but he did respond to care and love. She needed to concentrate on giving him some of that in the next few days in particular.
A meeting with the superintendent was not something Spencer ever enjoyed. He could be a crusty old fart one day and as pleasant as a summers day the next. He wondered what today would bring. He suspected today would be a crusty day.
Superintendent Sam Johnson lived for the force, his wife and family would attest to that. Most evenings he was the last to leave the office and inevitably the last to leave the Raeburn Bar. He just couldnâ€™t seem to leave if anyone else was still in the pub and there were a lot of social coppers in the force.
Fortunately, he was within walking distance of home, saving him the task of getting into and driving a vehicle.
Sam Johnson was all of five-foot-two dripping wet and wouldnâ€™t have weighed in at more than ten stone. Sometimes out of uniform he was mistaken for a jockey. He was a tough bugger though and had sorted out many a criminal earlier in his career. He had a memory and ears like an elephant, which led to the unofficial nickname of â€˜Jumbo Johnston.â€™ Seven years into his current position, he was only a few years away from retiring to his love of gardening. He quietly slipped the Homes and Garden magazine into his top drawer as though it was a top-secret file as DCI Spencer knocked on the door.
â€œCome in young Spencer, take a seat.â€ He always referred to him by that title although Spencer was not sure as to why and never bothered to ask. â€œNasty business this terrorism thing, bring me up to date with the situation.â€
â€œSir, I have called a media briefing for tomorrow on your instructions at the Portobello Town Hall, and I have organised every person on the list as well as the usual press to attend.â€
â€œGreat, well done. Where is Graynor, by the way?â€
â€œHe is at Bilston Glen meeting with the hierarchy.â€
â€œGood, keep him away from here as much as you can, I donâ€™t like or trust his type.â€
â€œIâ€™ll do my best sir.â€
Spencer made his way back to the sanctuary of his office to make some calls and have a quick bite of lunch. Suddenly and without notice, Darling burst into the office at the same time as Spencer was about to grab a bite out of a sandwich.
â€œSir, phone call for you on line two. I think you should take it.â€
Spencer sat back in his chair, dropped his sandwich on his table and stretched out his hand to pick up the phone, â€œHow can I help you?â€
â€œSir, DI Stone here, got a message to call you, thought it must be important as I'm actually on a few days off.â€
â€œImportant? Christ, where have you been? Haven't you heard what's going down?â€
â€œSir, I've been playing golf, I just got off the course.â€
â€œChasing a small white ball around a park with little steel sticks while Edinburgh is under attack. Hell, woman, there has been a major terrorist attack on a cruise ship in Queensferry and your playing golf.â€
â€œSir, I had no idea. Is that what all the sirens are about?â€
The police officer in her immediately clicked in. â€œHow many dead, sir?â€
â€œNever mind about that at the moment, just get yourself in here pronto. Your leave has just been cancelled, and Alex, on your way in, give Curtis a call, he's worried sick.â€
As Spencer put the phone down, he realised he might have been a little bit tough on her. Tempers were getting short; everyone was extremely anxious. This is what a crisis of this size does. Got to keep calm and show the staff he's in control. Take a deep breath, plan ahead.
Agent Andrea Kilbride looked refreshed and very calm as she opened up the second meeting. â€œThank you, everyone, for being patient and on time, much appreciated. We do have a recent update on whatâ€™s happening in Queensferry. The terrorists through a direct telephone link to Commander Graynor at the command centre have instructed that we discuss their demands onboard the ship at six am tomorrow morning.
They have requested the following people attend the meet, namely two senior police officers, a journalist, a solicitor and a local Imam. DC Cropley, DC White, Tessa Alberta, Crawford Mills, Osama Mustaf and two uniforms have volunteered and are being prepared at Base Zero.â€
From the back of the room came the voice of the beguiling DC Kris Wilkie. â€œWhat protection do they get and how do we know that their safety will be guaranteed?â€
â€œThey will get there using one of the ships tenders. The Tactical Response Team will be on alert and may I remind you in situations like this there are no guarantees,â€ Agent Striker explained.
DC Tom Irvine joined in. â€œBit risky is it not? And why the wait until tomorrow morning?â€
Agent Kilbride took control again and looked them all straight in the eye. â€œRisks are what these times call for. We have no option; if we donâ€™t meet with their early demands, we risk more lives being lost. Experience tells us if we fail to act within their schedule then the terrorists will execute some more of the hostages and we must ensure that does not occur. Remember at the moment, the worldâ€™s eyes are on them, and they will drag this out for as long as they can. This ultimately spells danger. In the meantime, get on the phone with all your contacts and see if we can find anything about the terrorists. They could not have carried this out without some local assistance. We will have a relief team in place here overnight. Go home try and get some sleep. Itâ€™s been a long day. Keep your phones handy and report back here at five o clock tomorrow morning.â€
As they all dispersed, Agent Kilbride asked if she could see Spencer in his office. Spencer sat on the edge of his desk, arms folded as Agent Kilbride wandered over to look out the window.
â€œIt looks so peaceful out there. Hard to imagine the mayhem thatâ€™s going on in Queensferry.â€ She swung round to face Spencer. â€œI just wanted to talk to you about the people in your team that have put their hand up to go on board.â€
â€œWhat would you like to know?â€
â€œI donâ€™t need to tell you how dangerous it will be and some of them may not survive the ordeal. Taking into account families etc., is there anyone you would like to be pulled from the list before they go onto the ship?â€
Spencer fully understood her question and moved from sitting on the desk to standing right opposite her. He looked her straight in the eye. â€œNo, they are all good people, and they would be well aware of the risks. Itâ€™s their job; donâ€™t pull the rug from under them.â€
â€œOkay, I understand. Just wanted to make sure and give you the opportunity to call any changes. They are your people.â€
â€œAppreciate that, and yes, I have thought long and hard about this during the day.â€
â€œFine, then letâ€™s all go and get some rest.â€
Spencer made a point of casually approaching Agent Kilbride as they were about to leave the office.
â€œWhere are you staying?â€
â€œAt the Holiday Inn, opposite the Omni Centre.â€
â€œWhere is Agent Striker?â€
â€œHeâ€™s already on his way to the hotel. Bit of a loner. Ex SAS, keeps himself to himself and never mixes socially.â€
â€œI virtually have to drive past your hotel,â€ he lied. â€œHow about you join me for dinner? There is a nice quiet little Italian only a few metres from your hotel. He raised his hands and lied again. â€œNo strings attached. I would just like to discuss more detail about today's events.â€
â€œOkay, if you are going that way and yes, no strings attached.â€
The drive up Leith Walk to The Omni Centre car park took no more than five minutes in the drizzling silver rain, which managed to spot the windscreen just enough to have the wipers on intermittent.
They parked the car in the multi-storey car park and wandered across the road to the restaurant.
Giulianos, a popular Italian restaurant was quiet for a Friday evening, more than likely due to the drastic events unfolding in Edinburgh. One would imagine most locals and tourists wouldn't be venturing too far this evening. They selected a small table for two close to the tinted window which allowed them to see the reflection of the other people in the restaurant. They felt safe as Spencer ordered two glasses of house merlot from the waiter and they ordered their meals at the same time.
â€œSo, what's your background?â€ asked a nervous Spencer. â€œMay I call you Andrea?â€
â€œAs long as I can call you, Craig?â€
He smiled and nodded in agreement.
â€œI was born in the Shetland but moved to England when I was a little girl. Guess that would still allow me to represent Scotland in the Olympics when we gain independence.â€
That small subtle comment made Spencer feel that she had not yet succumbed to becoming â€˜English.â€™
â€œDon't remember much about the Isles except that there were not many trees. Funny what you remember as a small child. My ancestors arrived on the island around 1850. Robert Stewart Kilbride and his wife Margaret had emigrated from Ireland in search of a better life. They built a small castle, and the family expanded to around thirty. The castle, unfortunately, is now in ruins. My parents were schoolteachers, so we moved around a fair bit. School was wherever my parents were posted until I finally went to Cambridge to study law. I was stuck in a boring lawyerâ€™s practice after I left University until this job came along four years ago.â€
â€œMust be exciting, your current role?â€
â€œIt has its moments. Iâ€™ve learnt very quickly in this game that people prefer comfortable lies rather than uncomfortable truths. Itâ€™s how we deal with things as the human race. Anyway, I now live in London, have a nice apartment in the Docklands that I share with my boyfriend, Murray. And as you can see, I travel around the country quite a lot.â€
Spencer wondered if the reference to her boyfriend was a friendly warning. He had been listening intently while observing her at the same time. She appeared friendly enough and gave the impression that it would be difficult to break down the invisible defensive barrier she had built around herself for protection from would be suitors like him. She was also very attractive, long black hair, well dressed, slim and you could just pick a slight trace of a Scottish accent. He guessed she would be in her mid-thirties.
â€œAnd you Craig, whereâ€™s your exciting life led you to apart from the wonderful city of Edinburgh?â€
â€œI wouldn't call it exciting, but I love my job. Probably cost me my marriage though.â€
He thought it was worth throwing that into the ring. A small hint that he was available. Self-interest was always top of mind when talking to the opposite sex. Besides, his current girlfriend was causing him issues.
â€œI enjoy a little flutter with the horses, only a hobby at best. I love tinkering with my old and trusted MGB sports car.â€ He felt sure this would impress her. Really, Iâ€™m like a cuddly puppy dog, settle me down, feed me, and I will laze around and be loyal forever. I go overseas whenever I possibly can. Travel is one of the best ways to gain true experience. That will definitely help me reach my goal of Superintendent within the next five years.â€
Andrea took a small sip of her red wine and nodded her head while not losing eye contact. â€œMmm... ambitious aren't we?â€
â€œProbably no more than you, I guess. You know ambition is not a dirty word.â€
â€œTouchÃ©. All in all, then, it sounds like you are pretty settled in sunny Scotland. Tell me, what do you really think about Edinburgh?â€
â€œWhat do I really think about Embraâ€¦?
I think cold, very cold.
I think sleet, horizontal rain, puddles and green skies.
I think snotty noses, wet jeans, frozen toes and frozen balls.
I think wellies, umbrellas, gloves and overcoats.
I think heating in July, thawing out fingers by the fire.
I think staring at the shite on the telly.
I think sitting in the dark at three-thirty in the afternoon.
I think rain, pishin' doon for hours, even days.
I think sayings like, let it rain for forty days and forty nights.
I think dark, dreary, mingin' pubs.
I think kippers, haggis and pish.
I think fuckinâ€™ festival.
I think bloody one oâ€™ clock gun.
I think being fuckin' miserable.
However, I love it, pure barry, as they say. Embra is a very fair and exclusive city but with a low tolerance for foreigners.â€
â€œIsnâ€™t that a bit of an oxymoron?â€
â€œNo, thatâ€™s Embra.â€
â€œWell, that seems to confirm my earlier suspicion that you are well and truly settled into the Scottish way of life then.â€
â€œAye right, but I worry about the future. I think they should rename Brexit as Wrexit. Anyway, enough about that. Can I ask where you see the events of today heading?â€
â€œUnfortunately, not where we would all like. These guys don't care about their survival, only their cause and joining their brothers as martyrs. They're like the wind, you can hear it, but you don't know where it is coming from or where it is going. That means more deaths before this all concludes.â€
â€œI was afraid you were going to say that.â€ Spencer noticed her glass was nearly empty and her dessert was finished.
â€œThanks, but I need to get back to my hotel and make some calls. Besides, you know what they say about alcohol?â€
â€œNo, what do they say about alcohol?â€
â€œIt provokes desire but diminishes the performance,â€ she explained with a wry grin.
â€œNo, I really need to make those calls.â€
â€œOkay, I'll walk with you back to the hotel on my way to pick up my car. As you would know, in police terms nothing bad happens until after midnight.â€
Andrea just grinned again. She was enjoying this, he thought to himself.
â€œOne question, Craig, before you go. I have a friend who is thinking of moving up to Edinburgh. In your opinion, where would be the best place to live in close proximity to the city?â€
â€œThe leafy, prosperous West End of Edinburgh. I would consider it perfectly safe. A bit of traffic noise, the bells of St Mary's Cathedral, practicing on Thursday evenings and the gasps from prospective buyers when told the price of the local real estate would be the extent of the disturbances there.â€
The Holiday Inn was only round the corner from the restaurant, and the short walk was made in silence. Andrea then thanked him for the meal and the company as they reached the hotel entrance. She then made her way up the steps and left behind a faint smell of perfume mingling in the damp night air. Spencer, convincing himself that perseverance was a sign of willpower, would keep trying to win her over. He continued towards his vehicle that was parked across the road in the overpriced, under-serviced car park.
Spencer had hardly closed his eyes all night. He had slept on the sofa accompanied by the dying embers of the fire he had lit when he got home, not for heat, just ambience. He was tired and edgy as he sat down to a light breakfast around four in the morning when his mobile sprang into life. â€œItâ€™s Senior Sergeant Allardyce here. Sorry to call you this early. Been asked to call everyone to remind them to be in the office within the hour. Courtesy of Agent Kilbride, she has been back here in the office since two oâ€™clock this morning.â€
â€œThanks, Bert. Let her Majesty know that Iâ€™m on my way.â€
Jesus, MI5 get their monies worth out of their staff, he thought, as he continued eating his breakfast and switched on the television to see if there were any updates. It was still showing a live shot of the cruise ship. However, nothing appeared to be happening except the annoying continual loop of yesterdayâ€™s events. That alone was a good sign that nothing drastic had occurred overnight. The station was still buzzing with adrenalin, apprehension and nervousness as they prepared for day two when he arrived.
He sat in his office catching up on his notes from yesterday and wondering what would unfold today. Whatever it was, he knew it would not be peaceful and more people, unfortunately, would most certainly die before this was all over.
Everyone was on time and in position at six oâ€™clock for the start of the meeting.
Spencer asked the first question. â€œHow did these guys get the arms on board? Where the hell was the security on the ship? And who are these people?â€
Agent Kilbride calmly replied. â€œAt this stage, we don't know all the answers. We can only assume they came on board at one of the previous ports. Our guess is that may have been Invergordon, where the security may not have been as stringent as some of the other ports. Nevertheless, that is all supposition at the moment, and we don't act on supposition. With regards to who they are. At this point, our early intelligence is that there may be as many as ten terrorists on board. Our people in Westminster are working on this issue as we speak.â€
Suddenly the operation room door burst open as an agitated Trish Hanly, ignoring the conversation of Agent Kilbride, edged her way through the crowd towards Spencer. She whispered something into his ear and simultaneously handed him a note and left the room as quickly as she had entered.
Spencer urgently moved to the front of the room, glancing at the note as he moved forward and interrupted the speaker with a single stop motion of his hand. â€œExcuse me, but news has just come in that the terrorists have opened fire on the tender as our people were leaving the ship.â€
Agent Kilbride stepped aside, concentrating on her earpiece as she was obviously receiving the same news.
Darling asked the obvious question. â€œAny survivors?â€
â€œAt this stage, all we know is shots were fired at the tender, and a police boat is on its way to intercept.â€
â€œThank you, DI Darling, that will be all for now. Let's take a short break until we have more information on what's happening. Be back here in one hour for an update.â€
They all bustled out of the room to their offices as Agent Striker beckoned Agent Kilbride over towards the coffee machine. Spencer watched them having what seemed a subdued but animated conversation until Agent Kilbride broke away and headed towards his office.
A polite knock on the door was followed by a firm. â€œMay I come in?â€
Spencer pretended to be engrossed in a file open on his desk. â€œPlease, take a seat.â€
She sat opposite him staring out the window directly behind him. â€œThis is getting nasty, Craig.â€
He was pleasantly surprised by the calling of his first name; maybe he had broken some ice last night at dinner. He judged the moment and responded. â€œSure is, Andrea.â€
He waited for her response. There was none.
â€œAgent Striker just informed me there could be three or four fatalities on the tender and we should let everyone know what's going down. But I won't release that information until Graynor verifies it.â€
It slipped out before he realised. â€œOh, so that's what the stilted conversation was about over at the coffee machine?â€
She smiled releasing the tension that was building. â€œDidn't know you could multi-task by pretending to read the file and watching other people having a conversation.â€
â€œWhat do you know then?â€
â€œGraynor will keep me updated as quickly as he sees fit.â€
She had just finished the sentence when she suddenly raised her right hand in a stop position and pressed her earpiece closer to her left ear and listened intently. Spencer watched as the frown on her forehead increased. Her right cheek started to twitch and then she began to rub her thumb and index finger together. All the recognisable signs of stress from what she was hearing. Spencer sat behind his desk, delicately rubbing his chin, watching what was unfolding.
She nodded gently, released her grip on the earpiece and again looked out the window as if she was looking for help, was there a tear in her eye?
â€œTerrible news. It would appear, there are four dead and two survivors, both badly injured. The bastards, opened fire as they were getting off the tender to board the ship. They had no chance.â€
â€œThe Imam and the Solicitor.â€
â€œChrist, that means DC Cropley, DC White, PC Gordon and PC Reilly are dead.â€
â€œI'm so sorry, Craig.â€
Spencer immediately switched his thoughts towards their families and workmates. How do we explain this to the kids, their partners, husbands, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who at the moment don't even know their loved ones are either dead or badly injured and perhaps didnâ€™t even know that they were involved in the operation? He picked up the phone. â€œPlease come into my office immediately.â€
Darling entered the room; he glanced at Agent Kilbride who was sitting motionless opposite Spencer who was beckoning him towards the vacant chair in the room. He could tell by the look on both their faces something was not right.
â€œWe have some dreadful news from Queensferry. Only the Imam and the solicitor survived a shooting at the launch.â€
He waited for a response.
â€œIs that confirmed ?â€
â€œI'm afraid so.â€ Agent Kilbride has just received the news direct from Graynor. Spencer observed Darling who was now sweating profusely and just staring into space. They both explained what happened.
Agent Kilbride rocked them both back into reality. â€œWe have a job to do, and we need to inform the staff of what has just transpired before we deal with the families. The situation is still very fluid, and we need to get back to the command room and continue.â€ She looked at both men. â€œProfessionally and in control. Your people would expect that.â€
You could feel the tension as all the personnel filed back into the room, took up their previous positions and tentatively waited for the official update. Rumours don't take long to pass around a station, and they needed to be ruled in or out before they became fact.
DC Rayner was the first to throw his hand up and at the same time asked the inevitable question. â€œWho survived the execution on the launch then?â€
Agent Kilbride steadied herself and looked directly at the person who had fired the question. â€œI have just been informed officially that DC Cropley, DC White, PC Gordon and PC Reilly have died in the line of duty. The reporter Tessa Alberta has been taken hostage, and the Imam and the solicitor are currently in a critical condition from gunshot wounds and are on their way to the hospital.â€
â€œBastard's,â€ shouted out one of the female police officers from the back of the room. â€œWe should never have let all those immigrants into the country. We need some control in the future.â€
Agent Kilbride continued. â€œI fully understand your anger and your frustration, but we need to remember that your colleagues would want us to carry on in a controlled and dignified manner in helping to bring these cold-blooded murderers to task. We, therefore, need to sharpen our focus and not let our as emotions overshadow the facts. We owe it to them and their families.â€
The silence that followed was an acceptance that what Agent Kilbride had just stated was correct.
Skye was a great traveller unlike her partner Harry. She loved the buzz of the airports, the frequent flyer class lounges and the seclusion of business class. Whereas Harry preferred to describe his flying experience akin to hurtling through space at around one thousand kilometres an hour in a sparsely furnished aluminium hollow tube after meandering through frantic airport lounges and then reaching your destination in another country and in another time zone.
The hostess was asking Harry if he would like another wine just as he awoke from a short nap. â€œYes thank you, red please and how long before we land?â€
The hostess smiled, sensing his dislike of being cooped up on a plane for any amount of time. â€œOnly seven hours to go, Mr Cram.â€
He knew she loved to say that judging by the wry grin on her face. How could anyone get any pleasure out of looking after over three hundred hungry and often grumpy people? Not his idea of the ultimate job. They had already been in the air over four hours from Hong Kong after their connecting flight from Brisbane. The confirmation that his best friends were possible victims of the terror attack on the cruise ship and other unfinished business made the decision easy to fly back to Scotland.
He glanced over at Skye and grinned at her muffled snoring, her black eyeshades barely covering her eyes, ruffled hair and half-open mouth. He thought about grabbing his smartphone and taking a picture. But he decided that it wouldn't be welcomed, so he took a small sip of his red wine, put on his Bose noise-reducing headphones and settled back to listen to his favourite Boz Scaggs album in the hope he would get some shut eye.
God, he wished he could sleep soundly, but his mind was awash with what was happening in Edinburgh and the possible loss of his friends James and Moira Scully. He dozed on and off for the next few hours in between a couple of small snacks. Jealousy was the only way he could describe his feelings as he observed that Skye slept soundly for most of the trip.
Landing in Amsterdam was much easier and less stressful than going through London, and it was only a short one-hour flight into Edinburgh. The three bridges in the Firth of Forth could be seen in the distance on the right-hand side as the plane began a left-hand turn and itâ€™s final descent over the North Sea into Turnhouse Airport. A large cruise ship sat quietly in the middle of the channel surrounded by dozens of small and medium-sized boats. It looked so surreal.
Customs had been dealt with at Amsterdam so it was only twenty minutes after landing they had picked up their luggage and were leaving the Airport to step on to the City Tram that would take them directly into Edinburgh city centre in around twenty-five minutes.
They sat most of the way in silence until Skye broke the ice as they neared Haymarket. â€œIt's good that your apartment is not rented out at the moment and we don't have to put up with hotels.â€
Harry just nodded in agreement and returned to gaze out the window, wondering how this unfolding tragedy would affect his beloved City.
Skye recognised his concern and remained silent, gently holding his hand as the tram meandered along Princes Street towards their destination. Five minutes later, they disembarked at the terminus in York Place where their friend Blair Edwards was waiting to drive them to their Portobello apartment.
â€œAny news on Jim and Moira yet?â€ Harry asked.
â€œNothing confirmed at the moment, but we havenâ€™t been able to contact them. Their phone isnâ€™t being answered. It doesnâ€™t look good.â€
â€œHow are their children dealing with it?â€ Skye enquired.
â€œNot well, as you can imagine. Okay, letâ€™s get you two to the flat and see what we can find out.â€
Gordon Baxter Graynor was an upright, tall, craggy looking sort of character. His posh English accent boomed out at all times like the announcement of a town crier. Probably stemming from his stint in the theatre during his university days at Oxford. He also had an annoying trait of rolling a pen between his forefingers when in meetings and intermittently clicking the head of the pen. An annoying habit to everyone, but not to him.
Aged fifty-nine, he was at the peak of his career in the home office and was destined to head up the division in the not too distant future. He had only ever worked in the civil service and had many friends in politics, mainly through his silver spoon upbringing in Surrey. He was as punctual as Big Ben, and he thrived on the fact that he reported directly to the Minister of Home Affairs. It was also obvious to his peers that the past was present in his attitude.
His salt and pepper hair gave him a distinguished look as did his customary bow tie and black pinstripe suit.
He had called the urgent meeting at the headquarters set up in Fettes as the situation was getting extremely critical and he wanted his people and the local force in attendance to discuss the next move in the stalemate.
The cramped room was not the ideal situation, but it was what they had, and they needed to get on with it. They gathered in the incident room, watched by previous Superintendents gazing down from the walls as they took their positions adjacent to their nameplates at the rectangular table. The station was not equipped with luxuries such as air conditioning, so it was depressingly uncomfortable in the room as the temperature outside was well above average and the humidity was sitting in the eighties. The antiquated free standing fan did little to ease the stifling conditions for the people in the room, who shifted around in their seats awkwardly and uneasily. It was going to be a long and stressful meeting.
Detective Superintendent Johnston coughed quietly, tapped his pen nervously on the desk, and asked Graynor to summarise what had occurred to date. Graynor asked Agent Kilbride to do the introductions once everyone was settled in.
They were all seated around a medium rectangular table that nearly took up the entire interior of the room. A tiny kitchen with a stone bench top was nestled in the far corner, and a wall screen and a set of four plastic chairs and a table took up the entry area. Agent Kilbride sat at the entry end of the table facing Graynor who was seated at the kitchen end of the table.
Agent Kilbride held out her hand introducing the people sitting on her right. â€œThis is DCI Craig Spencer, DI Andy Darling and DI Alex Stone, all from Police Scotland.â€ They all nodded their heads in acknowledgement. â€œAnd on my left from left to right from MI5 are Agent Fergus Striker, Agent Alistair Green and Cyrus Miles from MI6. At the far end of the table are, Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Baird, Fire Chief Bill Webb, Ambulance Chief Anne Douglass and Councillor Quentin Compton.â€
They all nodded their heads in recognition.
Agent Kilbride continued. â€œLadies and Gentlemen, the situation at Queensferry is now supercritical following the killings of our mediators this morning. We still don't know their current demands, but we suspect we will have to be proactive in an effort to stop any further casualties. We don't have a mark yet on who these people are. So at the moment, we are not sure if they are just amateur radicals or a well-organised cell.
Our guess is the latter, given the events early this morning. It is over two hours since the last incident, and we have a specialist task force standing by waiting for the order to go in. Agent Miles along with Agent Striker will board a launch shortly and at a safe distance will monitor the situation. We need to know their demands, and depending on the outcome, we will decide on our response. Are there any questions?â€
Spencer raised his hand. â€œIf the decision is made to send your people in. May I ask how and when that will take place and how many will be involved?â€
â€œCertainly, we practice for this type of situation round the clock. Firstly, we have a team of six divers who have already secretly boarded the ship during the night and are carrying out recognisance as we speak. Stage two involves two helicopters each holding twelve men leaving from the North and South shores simultaneously and dropping the men onto the rear and the front of the boat. At the same time, two teams currently in the water will board the liner at midship cutting off any connection between the terrorists at either end. We also have four snipers already in position.â€
â€œWhat if all the terrorists are on the bridge?â€ asked DI Stone.
â€œThen the majority of the passengers and crew will be completely safe and stand a good chance of surviving this ordeal. Our priority is to eliminate the terrorists and save as many lives as we can of the passengers and crew on board. We won't surrender to their demands, no matter what they are. We simply can't afford to.â€
Graynor, who had been sitting quietly listening to the discussion, entered the conversation. â€œIt is our experience these people have no intention of escaping and are preparing for martyrdom. Our task is to recognise when this will occur and to take appropriate action to save lives. Unfortunately, due to the location and the time taken getting to the terrorists, there is no doubt as soon as they realise that we are responding they will try to kill as many people as they can and then die themselves in a blaze of glory. Meantime we have to buy time to gather more intelligence and plan our inevitable response. This means looking like we are going along with their demands until we are ready to move.â€
â€œSo, are you saying this can't end peacefully?â€ offered Rayner.
Graynor responded. â€œNo, we are not saying that. We are highlighting the most likely outcome. Unless they decide to throw down their arms and come out realising what they are doing is all wrong. We all know that is not going to happen. We have no choice.â€
Graynor slowly looked around the room making sure he eyeballed everyone. â€œLadies and gentlemen, I donâ€™t think I need to emphasise the seriousness of the current events unfolding at Queensferry. What we are dealing with here are faceless monsters who have no empathy and no life. Their sole mission is to kill and injure as many non-believers they can, and at the same time, martyr themselves for their cause, whatever that may be. What we do know, is that the terrorists intended to make the world sit up and notice. Unfortunately, they selected a soft target here in Edinburgh to achieve that. And achieve that, they certainly have. We are here today because we are the best people to deal with the situation.â€ Graynor then looked directly at Spencer. â€œAny other updates from the scene?â€
Spencer, listening to what was going down, realised these guys from the home office had no empathy, no conscience and no ifs and buts. They were only there to get results. Results demanded from their employers, the British Government. â€œNot at the moment, sir.â€
Sandwiches were ordered from the Compass Bar up the road at no doubt inflated tourist prices. Scottish hospitality never missed an opportunity.
Harry Cram was glad to be back in Scotland but sad at the reasons for his homecoming. James Scully and Harry had been lifelong friends, and the tragedy unfolding would have long-term consequences for Edinburgh and surrounding areas.
In all the mayhem, he had almost forgotten about the other reason he had returned to Edinburgh. The will would have to wait.
His priority now was dealing with the concern for his friends James and Moira Scully who were onboard the ship at the time of the terrorist attack.
Looking out over the Firth of Forth from his apartment in Portobello, he couldn't see the cruise ship, but he could just make out the three bridges in the late afternoon sunshine spanning the waters where the cruise ship sat moored, silently awaiting its fate.
Skye was busy making up the bed and sorting out what groceries they needed for the next few days. â€œHarry, would you like to eat out tonight? We could just pop downstairs to the Beach Cafe?â€
â€œThink I'll take a rain check on that tonight, love. Happy to stay indoors.â€
â€œCool. I'll just nip out to the High Street and pick up a few items for dinner, be back shortly.â€
Harry flopped down onto the lounge suite and rested his feet on the black leather footrest as his mind switched to the third reason that had drawn him back home. His half-brother was in a private nursing home in Corstorphine, and there were things he needed to organise on his behalf.
Tommy Cram was born ten years before Harry came into the world and had been adopted out by his mother at birth. His foster parents had realised there was a health problem early on and after consultation with the medical experts he was diagnosed as an autistic child and institutionalised when he was just two years old. Harry had first visited his half-brother at the age of ten accompanied by his Mother. He continued to visit him at regular intervals up until he moved to Australia. His mother only told him a few years ago that his father and Tommy's were not the same. His father died a few years back thinking Tommy was his son and he was okay with that.
Tommy was severely handicapped, but Harry always felt there was recognition if nothing else during his visits over the years and he always knew that his visits meant Tommy was not alone in the world. He had a family if he had nothing else. That was important to Harry. Tommy always showed signs of happiness when Harry visited him, smiling every time Harry used his name. That brought a tremor to Harryâ€™s lips and a smile to his eyes. He had power of attorney and needed to make some financial decisions regarding Tommyâ€™s future. The money his parents had left in trust was about to run out, and this meant Tommy would have to be moved to a public nursing home unless further funding was forthcoming. Something that Harry was seriously considering.
Meanwhile, he was also trying to come to terms with the murder of his lifelong friend. He just could not believe he was gone, along with his lovely wife. Struck down in their prime years by some fanatical religious zealots. The world was a lousy place to be in at the moment.
Harry had a sense of everlasting guilt about the death of Carole Baxter, her two children and the current predicament of his half-brother. Maybe they were the real reasons he had returned to Scotland.
Skye had organised for a few friends to come over for a barbecue tomorrow, weather permitting and he looked forward to catching up with them. They both needed a bit of social interaction at the moment.
Hot coffee was keeping everyone alert when a call came in. Agent Kilbride answered the phone and proceeded to listen. It seemed an eternity as she continued to concentrate without interrupting or asking any questions of the caller until she concluded the call.
â€œThank you for that information. Keep me posted on anything else regarding this matter.â€
She turned to the group. â€œPlease take a seat; I will be with you in a minute.â€
Graynor and Agent Kilbride excused themselves, before leaving the office and announcing that they would return in a few minutes.
â€œWhat's going on sir?â€ asked Darling as soon as they were out of earshot.
â€œNot sure but we'll find out in a couple of minutes. It is sure as hell has to do with the telephone call. They're most likely discussing what we should and should not be told.â€
â€œFeel like a bunch of mushrooms?â€ Darling offered.
They all drank their coffees and chatted idly as five minutes passed before the couple arrived back.
Agent Kilbride took a seat near the door, and Graynor sauntered up to the opposite end of the table, eased himself into the seat and coughed nervously before speaking. â€œAt approximately midnight last night, we had a call come in from two local fishermen who said they saw two men leaving a boat at a small cove near East Bay North Queensferry around eleven forty-five last night.â€
â€œWhat's so strange about that sir?â€ asked Darling.
â€œWhat's strange about that was the same boat was stolen from the same spot a couple of days ago, and the men were not dressed as fishermen. The locals knew the boat belonged to their friends, not to the two people who came ashore. They followed them up the ramp and across the road where they got into a car and drove off heading North.â€
â€œDid they get the registration number?â€
â€œNo, they drove off without turning the lights on. However, one of them thought there might have been a four and a two in the number. They both agreed it was a dark coloured sedan, possibly a Volvo.â€
â€œWhoever they are, they will be long gone now. It seems likely that they may have come from the cruise liner. Meaning they could have been part of the terrorist team and could have been the leaders.â€
â€œAnything else?â€ asked Spencer
â€œYes, a few metres from the boat we found a large-sized drone half buried in the sand.â€
â€œA drone? I don't get it,â€ Darling remarked
Agent Kilbride took over with a nod of approval from Graynor. â€œAttached to the drone was an M16 rifle sling and in the bottom of the dinghy was a magazine of bullets for an M16. It would appear drones may have been used during the early morning darkness to deliver the arms to the terrorists already on board the ship. If that is correct, then we are definitely not dealing with amateurs.
The drone has been identified as a Tarot P-18 Ready to Fly Drone, excellent for those looking to carry a large payload through the skies for a short distance. The eight rotor design ensures stability and power and makes sure that problems with a single rotor or even two, will not compromise the stability of the drone. It can carry around twenty pounds of payload with a range of two miles, has a flight time of up to twenty minutes, comes fully equipped with all required accessories. It has been pretested, so itâ€™s ready to fly out of the box at the cost of less than Â£3000, and if ordered through the Internet, it makes it much harder to trace the buyer. Capable of carrying an M16 rifle which weighs in at four kilograms including a thirty round magazine. Three or four drones equals three or four rifles and plenty of ammunition.
Given the fact, our men found a magazine belonging to an M16 rifle on the floor of the boat. We assume they must have dropped it in their rush to get away.â€
â€œWere the fishermen able to describe the two men?â€ asked Darling.
â€œIt was pretty dark, no lighting, so all they could tell us was that they both were around six feet tall, slim build and were light on their feet. We also received a call a few minutes ago from Agent Striker informing us of the terroristâ€™s demands.â€
â€œAnd they are?â€ Spencer enquired.
* * *