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Female of the Species


I've been secretary to Mr Cowley for a few years now but rarely has he had me jumping as much as in the last few days. A complete shake up of the country's main security forces is to be discussed at a forthcoming conference, to which he has been summoned. CI5 would not be expected to attend if they were not to be part of that shake up and Mr Cowley takes any suggestion of change to his department as a threat to his control. He has to give a speech, a presentation, and has run me ragged tracking down various files and reports from which he wanted to gather facts and figures to support his argument.
          That the letter of invitation clearly laid out the terms of the meeting including the fact that the speeches by the relevant heads of departments were meant to be purely an overview was completely disregarded by Mr Cowley.
          I rather think I agree with him though. He is a good man, driven yes, but well intentioned and passionate about his role as defender of the realm. Goodness, he even has me using his rhetoric at times.
          Anyway for the last four days as well as the usual heavy workload, we have both worked late into the night preparing papers for him to take with him to the conference. Sometimes he would realise the time and insist I went home, other times I kept him company until the early hours when I would scrounge some breakfast for us both and the working day would start all over again.

"Betty, you will of course be coming with me."
          "Me, sir?" I was surprised. I don't usually get to go on any jaunts out of the office.
          "I'll not have time to organise this lot," he gestured to the pile of papers we had amassed, "before I have to give my speech. With the amount of work we have on here and this wretched drinks affair tonight, I won't have a spare minute. You can come and organise everything for me and whilst you're there, you can take notes for me as well. I suspect I'll need to review this meeting very closely."
          As he disappeared through the door, he shouted behind him, "And call Murphy. I want him ready to leave at five sharp!"

Well I called Murphy and then took the opportunity to dash home and pack myself. I was only gone for a bare hour but by the time I returned the whole place was in an uproar. What had been a fairly routine stakeout had become something much more serious and many of the senior agents were being directed hither and yon by Mr Cowley who showed no sign of being ready to attend a conference.
          In the midst of the hubbub I caught Murphy's eye and he shrugged. He obviously had no more idea of what was to happen than I did.

Finally at six, in a brief hiatus between phone and R/T conversations, Mr Cowley looked up and barked, "The two of you, get going. You can make my apologies and say I will try to get there for the first meeting tomorrow morning."
          We nodded and turned to leave. "Oh and don't get drawn into any discussion at this drinks affair. In fact I suggest you stay away from it altogether."
          We nodded again, a little less enthusiastically this time. The reception promised the only fun of the entire conference and I think neither of us saw why we should forgo it.
          "Oh, and 6.2, if I should be delayed beyond the start of the meeting, you will deliver my speech."
          I nearly giggled. Poor Murphy looked so poleaxed.
          "Me sir?" he asked, voice very nearly quivering.
          "Aye and mind you don't deviate by one word. I've worked hard on that. It says exactly what I want it to."
          "Sir, I can't give a speech." Murphy sounded quite anguished.
          "Of course you can man! Betty will go over it with you beforehand." With that, he snatched up the phone and swiftly dialled.

We were in the car park, stowing our luggage in the car before Murphy spoke again. Then he suddenly grinned at me. "Could be a long night Betty."

It was nearly seven thirty by the time we pulled into the hotel car park. On the journey I had done my best to reassure Murphy that if he did have to give Mr Cowley's speech, he would be absolutely fine. I'm not sure how convincing I was because although the speech was, on the face of it, perfectly straightforward, for it to be delivered as it should be, it really needed Mr Cowley's particular brand of passion and I wasn't sure Murphy was up to it.
          Murphy switched off the ignition and looked at me. "Sorry Betty, I wasn't much company was I?"
          I smiled reassuringly at him. "Don't worry about it, you'll be fine. Let's get checked in and then see if this reception has started yet. After a couple of drinks and some food you'll feel a lot better."
          "I was thinking more of dinner."
          "Ah, a full meal rather than a few canapés? Well I'm sure the hotel has an excellent dining room and it would be a legitimate expense." I smiled to myself as I said the last words. I know how closely the expenses claims get scrutinised but even Mr Cowley would agree his agents have to eat.
          "Actually," Murphy smiled almost shyly, "I was meaning me taking you out to dinner."
          I was surprised into silence for a moment. Ever since I started working for Mr Cowley I've had to deal with a variety of approaches from various agents. At one time there was even a book being run on who could get me into bed first; the silly men thought I didn't know about it. Eventually they all got the message and now I only have to contend with sly innuendos and good natured banter. Therefore Murphy's invitation took me aback and I wasn't sure what to say.
          "Look, Sebast..."
          Murphy held up his hand cutting me off. "Please Betty, stick to Murphy will you? I've managed to go this long without any of the others knowing my first name and I'd just as soon keep it that way. If they knew that, they'd have a field day."
          Despite myself I laughed. Nobody other than Mr Cowley and myself know Murphy's first name. He has been successful in keeping it hidden from all the other agents. Nobody else has managed to hide anything quite so well. Even Bodie hasn't been able to prevent people knowing all his Christian names; he simply refuses to allow them to be used.
          "OK," I said gently. "Murphy, thank you for the offer but I really have far too much to do this evening to think about food other than maybe grabbing a sandwich."
          "Another time then?"
          I could have just nodded and said 'yes, some other time,' and passed it off as I had done many times in the past, but Murphy was not making a casual offer. He was looking at me very intently and clearly meant to have a serious answer.
          I wasn't sure what to say. I liked Murphy well enough; he was good looking, of a more placid nature than some other agents I could name, and had a serious side to him that appealed but I had made it a rule never to get involved with any of the agents. When they were all vying for my attentions bet or no bet, it seemed easier to refuse all than chose one. Besides I don't care to have my private life the subject of locker room gossip.
          Almost as if he had read my mind Murphy said, "I don't gossip with the lads Betty. I'd just like to take you to dinner sometime and maybe get to know you better."
          Before I could say anything he got out of the car, flipped open the boot and hauled out our cases.
          "Think about it," he said. "Because I'll ask you again."

I closed the door and leant back against the car, checking my watch again to verify the time. It still said six o'clock. The only thing I could be grateful for was that I hadn't been on duty overnight as well.
          Mr Cowley's call at four-thirty had come as quite a surprise since I'd assumed he'd gone to the meeting as planned. He hadn't explained why he was still in London, but simply issued instructions for me to pick him up at HQ at six to drive him to St Alban's in time for breakfast.
          I yawned, slightly exasperated. Why couldn't one of the men drive him? Why me, at this time in the morning? I'd noticed how I was expected to be always available, never otherwise engaged with a social life. One of these days I'd surprise everyone.

The door opened and I straightened, expecting Mr Cowley. Instead, it was the Bisto kids, CI5's finest who were looking anything but. Slouching, Bodie and Doyle were looking dead beat, although Bodie brightened immediately on seeing me. "Ruthie!"
          I gritted my teeth and managed to respond politely. "Good morning."
          Ray caught the inflection in my voice and gave a small commiserating grimace. "Yeah, hardly morning, and not exactly good."
          "Can you two explain to me why Mr Cowley didn't go off to his meeting last night?" It was a fairly safe assumption that whatever the delay was, it had involved the pair of them.
          Bodie ran a weary hand over his face. "Oh, the Keppler stakeout suddenly blew up. Cowley should have been in the car when the call came in; he sent Murphy on with Betty." The grin he gave was purely sadistic. "We heard him telling Murphy if he didn't make it, Murph had to make his speech."
          "I'm sure Murphy's very capable."
          The pair exchanged a telling glance before Doyle replied to my comment. "He didn't seem to think so. If he gets it wrong Cowley'll shoot 'im..."

The door banged open behind them. "I thought you two were going home."
          They snapped upright. "Yes, sir." "Just going, sir."
          Dismissing them, Mr Cowley turned to me. "Good morning, Miss Pettifer."
          "Good morning, sir." With a glance I compared his appearance to that of his top team. You'd never guess he'd been up all night as well, although I could imagine that since his call to me he'd had a shower and changed.
          I slid behind the wheel as he settled into the back seat. "Know where we're going?"
          "Yes sir." Although I hadn't been detailed to attend, it was just as well I'd taken the precaution the previous day of finding out where Mr Cowley's meeting would be. I hadn't been to the hotel before but had directions, and no doubt of my ability to follow them, in spite of what most of the men thought.
          I knew I should be grateful that Mr Cowley appreciated my understated competence, but I wished he would show it occasionally. As it was, he simply accepted my confirmation, immediately lifting the carphone and launching into a discussion with someone about what we were going to do about Keppler.
          I turned the Granada smoothly out of the parking space and headed for the gates, catching sight of the scruffy pair waving at me in the driving mirror. I allowed myself a small smile but ignored them, heading for Blackfriars Bridge.

The following morning came all too soon. I was looking forward to the weekend and a hope of catching up on some sleep. What with the previous four days preparing for this conference and then being late to bed again last night I was not feeling as alert as I would normally hope to be before an important meeting. However as no word had come from headquarters as to whether or not Mr Cowley would be attending; I knew I had better be ready to deal with anything that might crop up, including some last minute words of confidence to Murphy.
          As his name came into my mind I thought back to the previous evening.
          Despite Murphy trying his best to persuade me otherwise, I refused to attend the drinks reception with him. I knew I had too much work to do, to risk having any alcohol. I also couldn't help feeling that the other heads of departments would not look with favour upon a mere secretary attending their function. If Mr Cowley had brought me along nobody would have said a word but Murphy would not quite have the same air of authority, especially since he was feeling particularly insecure at the moment.
          I spent an hour or so copying and collating all the relevant documents whilst snatching bites of a sandwich and gulps of coffee the hotel had provided.
          Just as I was finishing Murphy appeared.
          "How's it going?" he asked.
          "Just about finished," I replied.
          "Good, need any help?"
          "Well you could help me to carry this lot upstairs if you would." I loaded him up with files and led him to my room.
          Once there I suddenly realised I still had to return the key of the photocopier room to reception. Murphy offered to take it back down for me, which I accepted gratefully, but I almost wished I had gone myself when he returned with a bottle of wine, two glasses and a mischievous grin.
          When I protested he said, "No reason you should miss out on all the fun. We can have a glass or two while you take me over this wretched speech."
          I dragged my thoughts back to the present; time enough to think of other things when the day's work was behind me. I put the finishing touches to my makeup and left my room.

At that time of the morning the journey didn't take long, and as I turned into the car park just before seven Mr Cowley looked up from his paperwork in surprise. "Are we here already, Ruth?"
          The progression to the use of my first name indicated a thawing of the frosty preoccupation that had made the journey silent.
          "Yes, sir. You should be in good time for breakfast." I parked neatly and sliding out of the car stretched before opening the rear door for him.
          "Thank you, Ruth." Taking a step towards the hotel he paused, smiling, and his thoughtful comment reminded me of why I let myself be taken for granted so often. "You had an early start as well. Come in and have some breakfast before you drive back."
          "Thank you." I'd planned to stop somewhere and eat; I was starving. This made life easier. "I'll just call in and let HQ know we've arrived."
          He nodded, disappearing into the building, and I slid into the backseat and lifted the carphone. "Alpha 1 to Control. I've just delivered Mr Cowley to the hotel."
          Sally had obviously drawn Duty Officer again and responded to my call. "OK, Ruth. Are you on your way back?"
          "Not yet. I'm going to take advantage of the fact that the boss is paying the restaurant bill. I'll let you know when I set off."

As I reached reception I was surprised and pleased to see Mr Cowley signing in at the desk. Murphy will be relieved, I was just thinking when he came through from the dining room and saw for himself. His face lit up and he came forward quickly to greet his saviour.
          We reached the desk at the same moment and his eyes flicked over to me.
          "Morning Betty, did you sleep well?"

I wasn't sure what the delegates' plans were for breakfast, and half-expected to be eating alone - not that that would be a problem. However, in the reception area I saw Mr Cowley with Murphy and an assortment of other men just being ushered into the large dining room. Betty was hovering nearby, looking pretty frazzled; I knew Mr Cowley had been working her hard over the last few days to make sure he was fully prepared.
          "Betty." She turned at my call, looking relieved.
          "Morning, Ruth. Mr Cowley said we could get a separate table; all the delegates are sitting together."
          Glancing into the dining room, I could see them getting settled, and smiled. "Nine or ten men, first thing in the morning. I'm not surprised you don't want to join them."
          We followed the men, and I walked to a small table as far from the main table as we could get, figuring that Betty needed a break, however small. I knew that Mr Cowley expected her to sit in throughout the meeting to take notes, and that wasn't going to be easy.
          Betty sank onto the chair opposite me with a sigh. "I'm exhausted."
          "What time did you get to bed?"
          "Late. By the time we'd got here I still had to finalise all of Mr Cowley's papers. The hotel have been very good; they gave me the key to the photocopier room and left me to it. Then I still had to take Murphy through everything in case Mr Cowley didn't make it..."
          "Sounds like quite a night." I hadn't intended any double-meaning to my comment, but was amused to see Betty flush slightly and immediately picked up on it. "So you and Murphy were together for the evening, then?"
          I was curious about Betty. Goodness knows I've had to turn down enough offers from the men over the years; most of them take no for an answer, although Ray was pretty irrepressible in his frequent invitations. And as for Bodie - well, he just never stopped trying.
          I knew Betty must receive the same offers; she was attractive and single. Perhaps her position made it easier for her to refuse - no one was going to tangle with Mr Cowley if she complained about them pestering her. But with all that testosterone flying about, I often wondered if she'd ever succumbed, and if so, who had got past her defences?
          "No! Well, yes - but not like that."
          "So what was it like then?" Maybe it was Murphy who had stormed the citadel...
          "We were just going over the speech in case Mr Cowley didn't arrive."
          "That obviously took some time. Murphy isn't exactly looking his brightest this morning."
          "But we only had a couple of glasses of wine!"
          "Wine?" I leant forward. "Betty, just what was going on...?"

I thought rapidly. I had already said more than I meant to but maybe Ruth was just the person I could confide in. We didn't really know each other that well but I liked and respected her for the way she walked that fine line between being accepted as one of the agents and a lovely looking lady who was constantly on the receiving end of ribald comments and innuendo. As far as I knew, she had also never dated any of the agents and if she had then no gossip had spread about it, which impressed me even more.
          "Ruth, it was just what I said, we were going over the speech to help make Murphy feel a little more confident and he bought a bottle of wine because I missed the drinks reception." I hesitated, it was a reasonable story if I stuck to it but I did want to talk about it and Ruth could be trusted. "And he asked me out..."
          "So are you going?"
          "I don't know. I have to admit I'm tempted. Murphy is... different. Not so, well, flamboyant I suppose I mean. He's nice and quiet and sincere. Oh I don't know! Maybe I should just stick with my usual policy of ignoring all of them. I'm not going to be just another scalp for anybody." I broke off suddenly, cross with myself for not knowing my own mind.

I smiled at Betty's obvious confusion. We were much of an age and I was sure she'd had partners before, so the uncertainty couldn't be inexperience. I understood the dilemma though - to give in to one of them could open the floodgates if it got out.
          "You're right; he is different. I suppose the question should be: is he different enough not to let anything slip to the others. I think you should take a chance, although perhaps the other thing you should consider is how Mr Cowley would view it." Betty flashed me a bemused glance.
          "Liaisons between agents are frowned upon. You might not come into the same category, but Mr Cowley has always seemed - protective of you. Unless he just doesn't want you being distracted by anything."
          Her smile and question showed me there was more to Betty than most of us realised. "Have you ever been distracted?"
          "There have been distractions, certainly." I grinned at the memory of some of them. "But I've never fallen prey to them."
          I paused. It was obviously the day for sharing confidences and for a split second I nearly admitted to Betty what had happened on my thirtieth birthday. But Doyle had kept his end of the bargain, as it were; not a whisper had escaped, and I should do the same. That didn't prevent me hinting, though. "If I did, it would be Ray. Sensible enough that I could prevail upon him to keep quiet, and easy-going enough not to take things seriously. Whether it'll ever happen -"
          It was at this moment that we were both distracted by Mr Cowley himself, who appeared genie-like at the table.
          "Ruth, I'm glad you're still here. I've just spoken to headquarters, and there's some nonsense over Keppler having diplomatic immunity. The Minister is fielding it, but he's promised to keep me informed. Anyway, I want you to stay here. I've told Sally to call you with any developments, and if it's serious enough you can drive me back to London."
          He sailed away to rejoin his breakfast party, and I shrugged at Betty. "I wish I hadn't bothered with breakfast now - I could have been back in London, instead of which I'll have to sit in the car for most of the day."
          Catching Mr Cowley's eye as he and the other delegates began to move away from the table, Betty gave a small grimace. "It could be worse. Think of me, sitting in that meeting taking notes..."

Betty had a point. Waiting in the car might be boring, but at least I could listen to the radio and maybe read a newspaper. I consequently lingered at the table to finish my coffee and make sure Mr Cowley had disappeared to the conference room before I headed back to the reception; the last thing I wanted was for him to see me and suddenly decide I should sit in on the meeting as well.
          I paused at the front desk to select a newspaper - it was a choice between The Times and The Sun - not much of a choice, to be precise. Folding The Times under my arm, I wandered outside.
          A sleek black Daimler was just pulling into the car park, and I watched in some amusement as the Home Secretary, attended by a weedy-looking flunkey and a staid, permed woman in her fifties, hurried from the vehicle and past me into the hotel. I'd wondered who the extra places at the breakfast table were for.
          The chauffeur, standing by his car as I passed, gave me a fraught smile. "Traffic..."

No sooner had we arrived in the conference room than Mr Willis from MI5 started his usual needling.
          "George, we agreed you could bring one of your boys with you but a secretary as well?" He looked me up and down dismissively.
          I smiled sweetly at him and moved on past to the table where I put a prepared file in front of each place.

This was not going to be an easy meeting. Too many people each with their own idea of how things should be run. We had representatives from MI5, the Anti Terrorist squad and Special Branch as well as us. Not to mention the Chief Constables from Hampshire, Eastlands and the Met.

Everybody was in their place, looking at their watches and making desultory side conversations when the door opened and the Home Secretary walked swiftly in followed by his PPS and, oh heavens, an older lady who, judging by her notebooks and pencils, was here to take minutes. That made our number, unlucky thirteen.

I took my time with the newspaper. Although I would usually skip the Social pages, I read pretty much everything just to kill more time; drawing the line at the Sports pages however. Even so, it was still only just ten o'clock when I folded the paper, to find the Home Secretary's chauffeur approaching with two mugs of refreshment he'd obviously begged from the hotel.
          I vaguely knew him; it was inevitable our paths would have crossed before given my fairly frequent assignments as Cowley's driver, although I couldn't remember if I'd ever spoken to him before.
          "Thought you could probably do with a coffee. I was dying for one," was his opening gambit, as I got out of the Granada.
          I took the mug and sipped it gratefully. "Thanks. This is welcome, although I did manage to have breakfast."
          He grimaced. "We got caught up in traffic. His Nibs wasn't pleased; he was looking forward to eating when we got here. Expect they had to go straight to the meeting instead."
          "Well, the other delegates were on their way up to the Conference room, although they could hardly start the meeting without him."
          "He wouldn't keep them waiting though. Stickler for punctuality, he is. What's your boss like?"
          "Mr Cowley? He believes in being punctual if it fits in with his priorities. Unfortunately his priorities don't always coincide with those of the bureaucrats."
          He laughed. "I've heard a few less than complimentary conversations about him in the back of my car, I can tell you. My name's Mark, by the way."
          "Ruth."
          He gestured to The Times, folded on the dashboard. "I've got the Express. Want to swap?"

"If you spread the authority too thin you lose control!" Mr Cowley slapped his file for emphasis and sat back down looking exasperated.
          "Mis-ter Cowley." The Home Secretary spoke slowly for emphasis. "All that is being suggested is more co-operation between your various departments. A reinforcement of the chain of command if you will. After all, suppose a situation arises that needs attending to whilst you are here today. Who manages that for you?"
          "I manage it!" Mr Cowley bounced back up again. "My men know they can contact me at any time. CI5 is never off duty!"
          "Really George. You mustn't consider yourself indispensable you know," drawled Mr Willis. "I have an extremely competent second in command holding the shop for me. Unless we bring the youngsters on now, who is to take our place later?"

I stifled a sigh and stole a glance at my watch. 10.05am. Probably only another ten minutes until the coffee arrived. I could do with a break. We had only reached the third item on the agenda; it was going to be a long day.

The door suddenly burst open and I had a split second in which to think that was no way to enter a conference room as five men dressed in dark clothing and carrying guns rushed into the room. They fanned out to cover us instantly. I was aware of Murphy by my side going for his gun but aborting the attempt before he had even drawn it free of his shoulder holster. It was hopeless; one of the guns had swung round to cover him as he made his first movement. They took his gun away and that of Rogers, the MI5 man who had made a similar failed attempt.
          "Not clever, not clever at all," one of them said. He had a faint Irish accent and appeared to be the leader because he then ordered all of us to stand away from the table and be searched for other weapons. He and another of the men kept their guns trained on us while the other two moved around the table patting each person down in turn. I tensed when it was my turn but there was nothing personal in his touch, just a business-like frisk and a check in the pockets of my jacket.
          Suddenly there was screaming; loud, hysterical screaming from Bridget, the minute taker. The man searching her had been no more familiar than had the one who searched me but for Bridget, it was obviously the last straw. She was backing away from the man, arms held out to ward him off and screaming all the while.
          "For Christ's sake, shut her up," their leader said angrily.
          The man nearest Bridget slapped her face so violently she fell to the floor. Suddenly silent she gazed up at him in horror, holding her hand to her face already reddening with the force of his slap. Tears came into her eyes and she began to cry. Great heaving sobs.
          I could see the impatience and disgust in the men's faces and I quickly moved around the table to her side. One man put out an arm as if to stop me but I glared at him and he let me pass.
          I knelt on the floor beside her and put my arms around her. "Sssh, Bridget, sssh. Come on, you must stop crying."
          I got her to her feet and gently guided her to a chair. She clung to my arm and although tears still trickled down her cheeks they were silent for the most part. I sat down next to her and wondered what would happen next.

"Good. Keep it quiet from now on." The leader gestured to the rest of the room. "All right, all of you sit down and keep your hands on the table where I can see them."
          He clicked his fingers at one of the men who nodded and left the room. I could just see him, before the door swung shut, take up a stand in the corridor, gun in hand, watching the hall for anybody approaching.
          From his position at the table Mr Cowley spoke up. "Who are you? What are your demands?"
          The leader ignored him and spoke mockingly to the Home Secretary. "We need a spokesman, Mr Webster, and you're it."
          Before he could answer, Mr Cowley spoke again. "No, you deal with me. Just me. Who are you and what do you want here?"
          The leader moved his gun slightly until it was pointing directly at Mr Cowley and studied him thoughtfully for a moment. "Who are you?" he asked.
          "George Cowley, head of CI5."
          The man gave an unpleasant grin. "CI5 eh? Yeah, you'll do. We have a prepared list of our demands." He moved over to the telephone, sitting on a small table halfway down the room by the front window and gestured at Mr Cowley with his gun. "Come over here and make a phone call."

As Mark returned, the carphone rang...

I reached into the car leisurely, expecting Control.
          It was Mr Cowley, and I'd already started to groan mentally, expecting a summons to the room or something equally tedious, when I realised something was wrong.
          "Ruth? I want you to listen to me, carefully. Don't interrupt."
          "Sir?"
          "The room has been seized by terrorists, Ruth. There are five of them - they're all armed. And they have some demands to make."
          Mark couldn't hear what was being said, but was correctly interpreting my horrified expression to mean disaster. "What's happened? Who is it?"
          I waved him to silence. It sounded like Mr Cowley was consulting a piece of paper. "The release of some political prisoners, two million pounds ransom for the safe release of the hostages from this room, and a helicopter to be made available for their getaway. They'll make contact again when you've actioned my instructions."
          "Yes, sir?" My mind was already racing ahead. I'd been part of this sort of scenario before; trained for it many times. Cowley didn't really need to issue any instructions; any one of the team could have organised everything.
          "Ruth, you know what to do; you're to take charge of the operation. Annie is to have nothing to do with it, d'ye understand?"
          Operation, Annie. Oh, hell.
          "Is that clear, Ruth?"
          "Message received and understood, sir."
          The receiver went down at his end, and I slowly replaced mine. The first time I was on the spot to take charge of something, and it had to be an Operation Annie.
          "Ruth, what is it? Who was that?" Mark wasn't just a driver; he'd be security-trained and his sixth sense was working well. First thing I had to do was secure him.
          "Let's get into the hotel." I had to secure that as well; all on my own...

"Ruth, you know what to do; you're to take charge of the operation. Annie is to have nothing to do with it, d'ye understand?"
          I looked across at Murphy. His expression was blank but his eyes flickered at me and I did my best to clear my features of their shocked expression. Not easy since I was on the wrong end of an Operation Annie.

The duty manager was at the front desk; something of a relief since I didn't have to go looking for him. Flashing my ID at him I pushed him into his office, Mark at my heels, and shutting the door behind us leant against it.
          The manager was bewildered. "What on earth's going on? The waiters have just been up to serve refreshments and they tell me the conference room doors are locked..."
          "Mr -" I checked the name on the desk "- Wallis, there's been a security breach. The room has been seized by armed terrorists."
          My announcement had two different reactions. Wallis turned white and sank into his chair. Mark attempted to get past me and out of the door, and when I prevented that turned to pick up the phone. I cut the line by pushing the cradle down and spoke urgently and convincingly.
          "Mark, Mr Cowley has put me in charge. I'm going to call in our teams."
          "I have orders as well. Special Branch need to know what's happening..."
          "Too many cooks spoil the broth. CI5 will handle this, Mark. I have the authority to have you forcibly restrained if necessary, but I'd prefer it if you didn't make me."
          For a long moment Mark looked as if he would oppose me. Then he dropped the handset back into the cradle. "You're the boss."
          I wasn't certain what that meant. None of our lads would underestimate me because of my gender, but I wasn't so sure about Mark. I'd put a stop to his action for the moment, but what would happen as soon as my back was turned?
          I mentally put him aside for the moment. "Mr Wallis, I need the hotel effectively sealed off from the outside world. No phone calls in or out - pull the plug on the switchboard, and no one is to leave the building. We need a complete clampdown on everything until the CI5 teams get here."
          Wallis nodded his acquiescence and hurriedly left the office on his errand.
          Mark turned towards me. "You wouldn't do it." Along with the certainty, there was something of a sneer. "I'm going out to my car now and I'm going to call Special Branch."
          He never knew what hit him. Shame really, we'd been getting on so well up till then. I had fortunately grabbed my bag from the car, and it took only a few seconds to cuff Mark to the filing cabinet. I ripped the phone line from the wall - I couldn't take any chances on him having any access to one whatsoever - and left the office, closing the door behind me. I had to call in...

"Ruth? Annie?" The leader laughed nastily as he took the phone from Mr Cowley. "You trust your lives to girls? Really Mr Cowley, I think the stories of your organisation are greatly exaggerated."
          Mr Cowley scarcely glanced at him as he limped back to the table and sat down. "Oh I think you'll find my 'girls' are very good at carrying out my orders."
          "They'd better be. We're not joking you know. We're quite willing to use up a few hostages to get what we want."
          "Might be worth the money to get rid of this lot." One of the other men spoke. "We'll never have another chance to have so many of the top brass in one place."
          A frisson of fear ran through me. He was right. This would be a golden opportunity for them. And, if they did but know it, CI5 were possibly co-operating with that end.
          Mr Willis leaned across the table and spoke quietly. "George, what are you up to? I know there was some code in your telephone conversation. What's going on? It's our lives you're playing with you know."
          Chief Constable Stewart Wilson from the Met looked up. "Is that true sir? Is there anything we can do to help?"

"Silence! Just sit still and shut up." The leader was maybe a little more nervous than he had appeared up to now. He waved his gun for emphasis.

I hared across the car park to the Granada. It was only six minutes since Mr Cowley had made his phone call...
          "Alpha 1 to Control. Alpha 1 to Control."
          "Go ahead, Ruth."
          "I have a Priority A2." I knew my voice was shaking and did my best to control it. "Repeat, Priority A2. The security conference has been taken over by terrorists. I need all available teams here immediately."
          "Message understood. Activating full-scale mobilisation now."
          "And Sally - Mr Cowley's instructions. This is an Operation Annie."
          "Could you repeat that, Ruth?"
          "This is an Operation Annie." I paused, imagining the reaction in the Comms room. "I've put a freeze on the hotel phones so you'll only be able to reach me on the car phone, but I might be in the hotel... Get me help here as soon as possible, Sally."
          "Already on their way, Ruth."

I hung up, mentally calculating how long it would take them to reach me. Too long, was the answer. I stared up at the hotel, to the third floor where I knew the conference room was.
          An Operation Annie, one of Mr Cowley's directives. No deals. No way out. The teams were to make every effort to bring the siege to a peaceful conclusion, but the hostages were expendable.
          I wondered how Betty and Murphy were feeling at that moment?

The tension in the room was mounting. Most of the men were experienced in hostage situations but more often from the other side. They would know exactly what to do if they were on the outside co-ordinating things but stuck in here they were helpless and they didn't like it. I checked on Bridget. She seemed to be in shock and sat staring into space, rocking gently on her chair. There was nothing I could do for her so it was perhaps as well to leave her alone for now.
          As for myself, if I was honest, I was scared witless. But I was also determined not to let the reputation of CI5 down in any way. So I bit my lip and took some controlling breaths and tried to think of something else. I wondered how Ruth was getting on and if she had received any assistance yet.

Back in the hotel, after his initial panic, Wallis had things under control. "I thought it best to keep everything under wraps. So I've only told the girl on the switchboard what's happening; everyone else will just be told the phones have failed."
          "Good. What about the waiters? What have you told them?"
          "Nothing. I've put them into the rear office. I thought you'd probably want to talk to them."
          "Yes, I do. But first, do you have floor plans of the hotel? We'll need those."
          "In my office."
          They would be. I followed him and shut the door quickly behind us, cutting off the sound of his exclamation as he discovered the semi-conscious Mark handcuffed to his filing cabinet.
          "Mr Wallis, I warned him. CI5 is more than capable of handling the situation, and I'm afraid he didn't take me seriously. Now, I need the floor plans, and then I want you to lock your office."
          The poor man was collecting enough shocks to last him a lifetime; he gave me a bewildered and apprehensive stare, and stepping carefully around Mark opened the top drawer of the cabinet to hand me the plans.
          I ushered him out ahead of me, and after he locked the door, took the key from him. "Thank you. I'll speak to the waiters in a moment; but first, I need your help. It could be half an hour before my teams arrive and we're fully operational. The only way my HQ have of contacting me is by carphone, I need you to stay by my car and call me if they ring through."
          "Of course; whatever I can do to help. At least you seem to know what you're doing - I know you'll be doing your best to get everyone out safely." He headed for the door and I stared after him, flooded with guilt. Damn Cowley! Why did he have to instigate Annie?
          I shook it off. I had work to do.

My heart sank as I entered the rear office to encounter the two slightly agitated waiters, both Mediterranean-looking. I just hoped they spoke English.
          "My name is Ruth Pettifer. I work for the Security services. Can you tell me what happened when you went to serve refreshments in the Conference room?"
          It looked as if they understood about one word in five. I sighed, summoned up my O level Spanish and tried again.
          "Me llamo Ruth. Trabajo para el servicio de seguridad. Necesito que me digas que encontraste cuando llegaste a la sala de conferencias."
          Well, that provoked a response. Both of them instantly burst into a flood of Spanish, from which I managed to distinguish two regional dialects but not a lot else.
          "¡No hablas tan rápido! ¡De una en una!"
          The elder one of the two hushed the other, and then spoke slowly - in what I assumed could be pidgin Spanish - so that I would easily understand. The gist of it was that they'd gone to serve the drinks as normal and found the doors locked. They'd seen a man dressed in black and holding a gun and very sensibly retreated.
          I shook out the floor plans onto the desk and asked them to point out the conference room and where they'd seen the man. They identified the locked double doors for me, confirming that there was only the one entrance to the main conference room. This could be tricky; up till now I'd been imagining somewhere that could be easily stormed. With this layout there wouldn't be a lot of scope for an attack. I began to see why it was an Operation Annie. It was the only way Cowley could guarantee we would go in...

Telling the waiters to stay where they were, I checked my watch as I walked out to the desk. Nearly twenty minutes gone. The lads might arrive soon, but it was more likely to be another twenty minutes or so.
          I headed back to the main hotel doors; thinking that I could call in and find out how close they were. Wallis was waving at me.
          "Your phone was ringing. It's Mr Cowley."
          I picked up the handset quickly. "Sir?"
          "Ruth? Things are - on edge, up here. Have you put things in motion?"
          Before I could reply, another voice came on the line. "On edge, he says. Master of Understatement, this gentleman." The voice had an Irish burr to it - well, I supposed that narrowed the field a bit when we came to try and establish just who was in the room. "See, we're ready to make some demands. And the boys and I haven't been blessed with much patience."
          I summoned up what I could recall of negotiating lessons. Keep them calm, keep them talking. What else? Stall for time.
          "There's a lot to organise. You have some important people up there; I've had to make phone calls, get people to come up from London. And it all takes time."
          "But that's something you've not been blessed with, Ruth, me darlin'. You're in charge, I heard your Mr Cowley say so."
          "I'm going to need more time." Something else came back to me from the negotiating lessons - never agree to anything. Always refer upwards. "And I'm only in charge of this end of the operation. I don't have the authority to agree to your demands; I have to wait for someone senior."
          As I said it, I wondered if he would work out that with the Home Secretary up there, there was no one senior, unless you called on the PM. Still, it appeared to satisfy him.
          "I'll give you a little longer. But I want to know what's happening - you keep talking to us."
          "It would help if I knew who I was talking to. What's your name - what do I call you?"
          He hesitated. "You can call me Flynn."
          I breathed a sigh of relief as he hung up.
          Although that relief was short-lived; it was Catch 22. I really needed to be checking out the hotel but to leave the phone could mean the terrorists getting even more edgy.
          If Mark had been more cooperative, maybe I could've left him in charge of the phone.
          Struggling with indecision, I resisted the urge to look at my watch again and instead looked over my shoulder at a sudden screech of tyres. The Cortina that was just shuddering to a halt was familiar...
          "Jax!" It couldn't be more perfect. Assistance, and in the form of one of the few male CI5 agents who wouldn't automatically try and take over.
          "I was already in Barnet when I got the call. What's the status?"
          "Five terrorists, holed up in the conference room with the hostages. Mr Cowley, Murphy and Betty, and about 10 others - the Home Secretary top of the list."
          Jax grimaced. "Nice. And the Old Man's declared an Annie on us, I gather?"
          "While he's stuck in there and can't countermand it if things get hairy. I've just spoken to the man apparently in charge, calls himself Flynn - they're getting a bit edgy, but I think I managed to reassure him that we were taking them seriously. Can you cover for me down here? I've got floor plans, but think I should take a look at the third floor itself, get a feel for the layout..."
          It would be then, if at all, that Jax would try and take over; by telling me to stay outside while he checked things out. I held my breath briefly until he replied. "Sure thing. Got an R/T? I might need to shout you."
          I fished one out from the car, along with my revolver which I tucked into my jacket pocket, and headed for the hotel.
          Twenty-nine minutes gone. I rode up in the lift to the second floor, walking the last flight of stairs. The corridor was silent, still. No one about.
          Gun in hand, I hugged the wall as I made my way towards the double doors to the conference suite. This was the only way in - and it was fully defendable. We couldn't take that and hope to get everyone out alive.
          I couldn't get any closer without the risk of being seen, so began to retreat, planning alternatives to a direct assault - the room had large windows down the far side, we could probably put a few of the lads through them with stun grenades.
          There was only the one shot but I ducked on instinct, even though I knew it was nowhere near me; it had to have been in the conference room.
          Macklin would have been proud of the speed with which I reached the car park...

Despite Ruth's words of reassurance on the phone, I could see the terrorists were getting more and more nervous. They paced, they muttered together, they eyed us all suspiciously and gripped their guns more tightly.
          Abruptly the Home Secretary got to his feet and started to move towards the door. He moved slowly and in a non-threatening manner, but nevertheless there was an instant reaction.
          'Where the hell do you think you are going?" The leader, Flynn, had his gun up and pointed at Mr Webster immediately.
          Mr Cowley, Murphy and Rogers had instinctively got to their feet as well and the other three terrorists were swinging their guns this way and that not sure where the main threat was coming from.
          "I am going to the toilet," Mr Webster said with dignity, but he at least had the sense to pause while he spoke.
          "Sit back down. Nobody is going anywhere."
          "Young man, when you reach my age you will realise that one's bladder does not wait indefinitely for anything. Even for your schedule."
          Mr Cowley tried to intercede. "Now be reasonable. We've been in this room since nine this morning. We would have had a coffee break by now if you hadn't arrived. You cannot keep thirteen people hostage without making some arrangements for use of the facilities."
          Flynn scowled but he took the point. He backed to the door, still keeping his gun trained on the Home Secretary. He opened the door and spoke briefly to the man outside. Then he turned back to the room.
          "All right. You will go, two at a time and remember my colleague is only outside the door."
          Mr Webster sighed with relief and made a move.
          "No," Flynn spoke again, maliciously. "Ladies first I think, or has your bladder made you forget your manners?"
          He gestured to Bridget and me and we got to our feet; Bridget still clearly terrified and I doing my best to look calm.
          It was a relief to out of that room and away from those watchful eyes if only for a couple of minutes. The ladies toilet was directly opposite the door to the conference room and was on the inner side of the hotel. Therefore there were no windows, nothing that could help us at all.
          Bridget washed her face and hands and tried to apologise for her earlier bout of hysterics.
          "I don't know what came over me," she said. "I know it's not helping and I don't mean to be a nuisance but I just couldn't help myself."
          I soothed her as best I could and assured her that help would soon be here. I hoped I was convincing. I knew Ruth and whoever she summoned would do their best but I was still remembering the words earlier about it being a wonderful opportunity to get rid of a great many high ranking officials. If things went wrong they might decide to just kill us all and I wasn't at all sure what anybody could do to stop them.
          When we re-entered the conference room our places were taken by Mr Cowley and the Home Secretary. We took our seats again and almost at once I noticed Mr Willis sidle up to the leader and start an earnest conversation with him. I knew there was no love lost between Mr Willis and Mr Cowley and I was immediately concerned that he had taken this opportunity to cast aspersions on Mr Cowley's ability to handle this situation. But surely even to score points over Mr Cowley, Mr Willis wouldn't interfere in a hostage affair?
          Murphy had obviously noticed and shared my concerns because he got up and drifted over to where they were talking.
          "No." I heard him say, emphatically. "You can't allow him to do that. Mr Cowley is handling things."
          "Your input is not required here. Go back to your seat and be quiet," Mr Willis hissed. "Mr Cowley is not the only one who has resources to call upon and his methods are not always the most suitable."
          "Now look..." Murphy was beginning when the door opened and Mr Webster and Mr Cowley were escorted back into the room while the PPS and Chief Constable Davis were ushered out.
          Mr Cowley took the situation in at a glance and hurried over to the little group.
          "What's going on here, are you interfering Willis?"
          "George, I was merely pointing out..."
          "Ach, I can imagine what you were 'merely' doing Willis. This is my operation. My organisation are handling it and you can just keep out of it."
          "Actually, it is my operation and you will both do as I say." Flynn raised his voice. "Mr Cowley, I am getting tired of waiting. That girl of yours has precisely thirty minutes more before I start to demonstrate how serious I am."
          "Now listen," Mr Cowley sounded suddenly concerned. "You heard her on the phone. She's doing what she can but it all takes time."
          In his anxiety to convince, he placed his hand on the leader's arm. Flynn shook him off roughly, he stumbled and Murphy caught him before he could fall.
          At the exact instant Flynn was distracted Mr Willis shouted, "Now!" and he grabbed at his gun. Across the other side of the room Rogers leapt at the man nearest to him and attempted to wrest the gun from him.
          I realised they must have planned this but they could only have had time for a few words during the distraction of the toilet discussion.
          It all happened so fast that I could only work out the sequence of events by replaying them in my mind afterwards. It wasn't so much that I wanted to think about it, more that I couldn't stop it running over and over.
          Mr Willis had clearly not thought this through because the other two gunmen were only stunned for a split second and moved in swiftly to break things up. But they in turn were set upon by the two Chief Constables and Mr Ryerson, the head of the Anti Terrorist squad. They were all men of action and had presumably been watching for just such an opportunity. For two long seconds it almost seemed as if our side had a chance of winning. Then just as quickly, it was all over. One of the terrorists thrust the chief constable who had been hanging onto his arm, away from him and clubbed him viciously in the head then swung his gun around the room looking for his next target. There was a break in the melee of bodies across the room and he noticed a clear shot at Willis' back.
          "Nooo." I heard the cry from Murphy and watched in horror as he pushed Willis out of the way and was flung backwards himself by the force of the bullet.
          The sudden silence was total and for one long moment we were all frozen in place. Next second the door was flung open and the terrorist who had been left guarding the corridor rushed in, his gun held at the ready. He gazed in stupefaction at the scene before him.
          Then I jumped to my feet, my chair falling backwards to the floor, and rushed across the room calling Murphy's name.
          I dropped to my knees beside him and bit back a cry at the amount of blood pouring from him.
          Mr Cowley was there as well, his hands gently moving over Murphy's body. "Easy lad, easy, let me see how bad it is."
          Murphy groaned in pain and his eyes flickered open. He seemed aware of what had happened because he said in a hoarse whisper, "Shot saving Willis. Bodie will never forgive me."

...but it still took me several minutes to reach the car, dial the hotel and get the girl on the switchboard to connect me to the conference room, and my nerves were stretched taut as I listened to the unanswered ringing.
          A few short sentences had been enough to advise Jax about the shot, and he was at his own car, calling in. He hung up and rejoined me. "Bodie and Doyle are about five minutes away; Lewis and Anson are just behind them, they're escorting the van with the Comms gear."
          "What about the assault gear?" If we were going for a rapid assault we were going to need that; more so than the communications equipment.
          "On the way, with Lucas, McCabe, Pennington and Turner." I nodded distractedly. The phone must have rung nearly thirty times. Why didn't they answer? Jax was about to add something else, but I shushed him as the receiver was suddenly picked up.

When the phone began to ring I only registered it with the back of my mind. My attention was centred on the hasty first aid taking place on the floor before me.
          Mr Cowley swiftly padded Murphy's wound with his handkerchief and when the one proved not to be sufficient he didn't look up but merely held out his hand and Mr Willis produced his, instantly.
          Murphy had, mercifully passed out but gentle though Mr Cowley was, Murphy gave a feeble moan and the sweat broke out on his forehead. I felt so helpless.
          "Still alive then," Flynn said peering over our shoulders. He sounded so callous and uncaring.
          The phone continued to ring and now the immediate crisis was over it impinged on me more. It seemed to get more shrill and insistent with every ring and I thought of Ruth and what she must be feeling stuck outside and in the dark.
          Mr Cowley rose to his feet. "This man needs a doctor immediately."
          "No chance..." Flynn made a move towards the ringing phone. "I suppose I'd better answer that. It'll be your girl no doubt."
          "Good. Speak to Ruth, she can send a doctor up."
          "Don't you listen? No doctor!" He snatched up the phone, "Ruth, me darlin'..."

"Ruth, me darlin'." He sounded casual, but the tone of his voice was higher and I could hear the stress in it.
          "Flynn, what's happened?"
          "We're all just fine up here -"
          "I heard a shot." Being that direct probably wasn't a good idea, but I had to know if anyone was hurt.
          His voice and attitude changed: became harsher. "One of the boys got a bit careless. Someone got in the way."
          Someone? I tried to control my fears as to who. "Look, we can send up a doctor -"
          "No need." Flynn pre-empted my next question. "Ah, they're not dead. Just bleeding."
          "Why not let me send up a doctor?" I tried again; I could send Jax in to get the complete picture. "Or let us collect whoever's injured -"
          "I said No. No one in, no one out. What's one, more or less? Got a room full of people here, remember." Bastard! Fortunately I didn't get a chance to respond to him as with a final comment he slammed down the receiver. "We'll call you."

His brief conversation with Ruth that left us all in no doubt about the precariousness of our position. It was true, he did have plenty of hostages and poor Murphy was certainly very low down the priority order.
          The Chief Constable from the Met suddenly spoke up. "Look here, you can't just let the poor man bleed to death. If you won't let us have a doctor, at least let us have the first aid kit from the kitchen to do what we can for him."
          I looked up hopefully. I hadn't known there was a first aid kit around but on reflection, it would be a standard requirement for at least a basic kit to be available on all floors.
          The leader looked around at us all. There was clearly an undercurrent of anger in the room and for a moment, indecision and worry were written on his face. The other two terrorists who up until now had remained silent suddenly spoke in a language I wasn't sure about but thought it might be Spanish or Italian.
          "¿Por qué estamos siguiendo este idiota? ¡Podria hacer que nos matasen!"
          "No tenemos elecciòn, Miguel dijo..."
          "Shut up. Shut the fuck up!" Flynn hurled abuse at the two men. He was furious and I wasn't sure why but I could see Mr Cowley looking very interested and alert.
          Flynn took a deep breath trying to regain his control and suddenly grabbed hold of my wrist.
          "You, go into the kitchen, get the bloody first aid kit and get back here." He pushed me towards his colleague who had fired the shot.
          "Go with her. Hurry up."
          At gunpoint, I was urged to the kitchen, which was just down the corridor from the ladies. The kitchen was very small, just a kitchenette really. A few cupboards, a small sink, waste bin and a dumb waiter on the end wall. Like the toilets, it was a closed in area, with only two tiny windows set high in the wall and therefore no exit except the door. Not that there was any opportunity to escape with my guard watching my every move. I snatched the first aid kit from where it was hanging on the wall and allowed him to hustle me back to the conference room.
          Mr Cowley and the others were seated around the table once more. Obviously, Flynn had tried to regain the upper hand. Poor Murphy still lay on the floor and I made a move towards him.
          "Let me." I was astonished as Bridget came towards me holding out her hand for the first aid kit.
          She gave a shy smile at my confusion and said, "I used to work as a secretary to a hospital consultant and he encouraged me to take a first aid course. I do know what I'm doing." She faltered, "unless you are trained...?"
          I shook my head. I knew very little about first aid and had only assumed it would be down to me to do what could be done. I wanted to do something to ease Murphy's pain but Bridget could help more than I could so I let her take the kit from me.
          My guard took my arm and thrust me into the chair Bridget had vacated next to Mr Cowley.
          He smiled at me and patted my arm. "You're doing fine Betty. Try not to worry about Murphy, it's not too serious." Then he leaned closer and whispered, "Those two are Spanish. This is an interesting collaboration and the leadership could be challenged at any time. We have to be prepared for an opportunity."
          I must have shown my surprise at his words because he said, "Aye, you too Betty. Anyone of us could have an opportunity and we must be ready and have all the available knowledge to pass on to those outside. Luck doesn't just happen, you have to make it."

"No go. No one's dead yet, anyway." I shrugged hopelessly at Jax, and turned my mind towards the next part of the procedure. "As soon as the others get here, can you organise the hotel? We need to get everyone out and away from the area."
          Jax didn't need me to explain why. If this Operation Annie didn't come to a peaceful conclusion, the less witnesses the better. He nodded. "I've already been talking to the manager. We're going to arrange a gas leak. It shouldn't take long; the hotel isn't that full."
          "Good. We'll also need -" I was interrupted by the arrival of Bodie's Capri, swiftly followed by the quaintly nicknamed BuggyBoo driven by Phillips, and Lewis and Anson.
          As Bodie and Doyle flung themselves from the silver car and loped towards us I had time to take in their appearance, and compare them to the other team just emerging from their own vehicle. It was easy to see which team had been on duty overnight; Lewis and Anson looked positively suave in comparison to the terrible two.
          It wasn't yet eleven; they'd probably only had about three hours sleep apiece, and it showed.
          Call me fussy, but I've never found anything particularly appealing about men first thing in the morning. Stubbly faces are more likely to repel than attract me, but maybe it's just something to do with how handsome the man is to start with. Scanning between Bodie and Doyle right at that moment, 'rumpled and unshaven' took on a whole new meaning; and at another time and place I'd have had no hesitation in pursuing that new definition.
          Doyle met my eyes as if conscious of the depth of my scrutiny, and he smiled slightly. "Sorry we didn't have time to clean up. Thought the Old Man might not mind if we hadn't shaved for once."
          Reminded forcibly of the present situation, I shook myself. "I should think he'll have other things on his mind. You know the latest?"
          Bodie was scanning the upper windows. "One shot fired. Do we know if anyone's injured?"
          "Yes, one. We don't know who." I seized and spread the floor plans across the Granada's bonnet as we were joined by the others, and began to indicate the access points, or lack of them. "One main entrance off the corridor, here. The door is locked; the waiters saw one man at the door to the actual conference room, here."
          The lads took in the situation easily. "Toilets on internal walls. What about the kitchen windows?"
          "Too small for easy access." Jax had been checking the plans while I was upstairs. "They're no more than fanlights."
          "We're going to need a sledgehammer to crack Annie," Bodie jested mirthlessly. "What's our first move, then, Ruth?"
          The need to concentrate on the operation was uppermost in my mind; later I'd look back on that moment with relief, that none of them had suggested taking over. In spite of the fact that we all had our specialisms and mine was undoubtedly organisation, as a woman it was still a struggle to be taken seriously.
          "It's an Operation Annie. Whatever the outcome of negotiations, we've got to assume we're going to need a rapid assault."
          "Our job, then. We'll check out the roof." With Doyle, Lewis and Anson in his wake, Bodie led the way as I knew he would; that was his specialism.
          Phillips was hovering. "What's needed, Ruth?" Our technical boffin, nicknamed Brains.
          "Can you tap into the hotel switchboard? At the moment they're stalling all calls, but I need proper - and sole - access to the conference room phone. Once that's done, the lads will want some microphones set up on the roof to establish the terrorists' positions."
          "Onto it." He loped back to the BuggyBoo and I suddenly found myself alone; Jax already having disappeared into the hotel to begin clearing it.
          I gazed up at the windows again. The blinds had been pulled and I'd seen no sign of anyone near the windows; presumably the terrorists were keeping well back from them, but if they looked out now they would see the action they'd been demanding.
          What next?

Flynn, obviously in an attempt to regain some control, insisted on silence and waved his gun aggressively to enforce his orders. I saw the two Spanish men exchange glances but they remained silent as well. The only sounds in the room were the murmur of voices in the corner as Bridget tended to Murphy.
          "Ahh, that feels better." With Bridget hovering by his side, Murphy came slowly across the room and sank into a chair opposite me. He was still pale and his smile had less wattage than usual, but he grinned at me and said, "You're not getting out of dinner that easily Betty. I'll be as good as new before you know it."
          I was aware of, rather than saw, Mr Cowley's eyes flicker between the two of us, but he said nothing. A treat he would save up for later no doubt.

Flynn began pacing; up and down, up and down. He was scowling and clearly thinking hard.
          "She's bloody well had long enough," he said and strode to the phone.
          Mr Cowley gripped my arm. I'm sure he was thinking as I was that Ruth could have done with longer before being bothered again.
          Flynn picked up the phone and held it to his ear preparatory to dialling. His expression changed to one of surprise and he said sharply, "Who the hell is this?"

"Ruth!" Phillips was waving urgently at me from the BuggyBoo; holding out a phone. "You're on!"
          I was both delighted that he'd got the interrupt in place so quickly, and alarmed that I hadn't been there when the first call came through. Phillips kept his hand over the receiver as he passed it me. "I'd just got the wires in place when he picked up the phone. I didn't get chance to call you."
          "It's OK." I took a deep breath. "Hello?"
          "Who was that?" Flynn sounded suspicious. "I'll only talk to you."
          "Just one of the team. You can't expect me to do everything. How is the injured person?"
          "Still alive. It's time to start talking about what we want."
          "As I told you, I can't agree to your demands -"
          "But you've had enough time by now to find someone who can," he cut across brusquely. "So this is what you'll tell them. You're going to organise for Gerry McHenty, Paidraig O'Rourke and Juan Garcia Ramirez to be released from the Maze. At the same time you can find us two million pounds to boost our Swiss Bank account, and a helicopter to park on that nice lawn down in front. Once we know that they're safely away and the money's in our account, we'll fly away and you can have all your very important people back."
          Up till that point, given his accent, I'd been assuming it was the IRA we were dealing with. Now I was certain. Gerry 'Mad Dog' McHenty and Paidraig O'Rourke were two of the most prominent activists. The third name was Spanish and unknown to me; but if he was in the Maze it was a sure bet that he wasn't an angel.
          "I've made a note of all that, but I'm still waiting for someone in authority." I didn't need to organise the release of prisoners or money; stalling him for long enough was undoubtedly going to be the most difficult part of this job.
          "Y'needn't think you can fool us. We'll know when our demands are met. And we're running out of patience. So be a good girl, and make waves, eh?"
          He hung up abruptly, and I replaced the handset. Phillips pulled off the headphones he'd been wearing and stopped a tape machine. "Got all that. Doesn't want much, does he?"
          "Terrorists are greedy. But I'm not about to start trying to talk their demands down. They've got a bit too much leverage up there for that."
          At the hotel I could see Jax with Wallis, propping open the main doors, and several anxious-looking hotel guests starting to make their way out into the car park. Some of the hotel staff were with them, and I scrambled from the van to speak to Jax.
          "We're going to get them round into the staff carpark at the back," he explained. "It's out of sight of all of the conference room windows."
          "Sounds ideal. Listen Jax, there are two Spanish waiters in the rear reception office - can you make sure they stay there? I might need to speak to them again."
          Bodie trotted down the steps and catching my arm pulled me to one side, out of earshot of the guests. "It'll be a cinch. There are plenty of pulleys and securing points for the window cleaners' equipment which we can hook onto."
          Doyle joined us. "It'd be better if we had someone on the inside."
          I couldn't prevent a tense laugh. "That's just the problem. We've got too many of us inside."
          "Isn't there any way we can someone in? Or get a gun in, to Murphy?" The lads followed me across to the BuggyBoo, which I wasn't keen to get too far from.
          "I don't see how. The main corridor is locked and watched. They've refused to allow a doctor up." I nodded to Phillips, knowing it was important to keep Bodie and Doyle involved at all stages. "Play back that bit of tape, will you?"
          They listened in silence, Doyle the first to speak. "That bit about knowing we're acting on their demands. He sounded pretty sure. I think you should organise some radio broadcasts that make it sound like we're getting the prisoners released."
          Bodie was shaking his head. "I'm not sure that's it. These guys know we have the means to fake broadcasts."
          He turned to Phillips. "Brains, can you monitor for short-wave frequencies from here? It probably won't be more than a couple of miles."
          Phillips shrugged. "I can try, but the chances of me hitting on the right frequency at the right moment -"
          "Set it up anyway." Bodie elaborated for my benefit. "If they have someone on the outside with a short-wave radio then they won't be listening to regular broadcasts. The drawback is that they'll probably only broadcast in short bursts; the chances of picking it up are slim."
          "Should I still arrange fake broadcasts, just in case?"
          "Wouldn't hurt. Although they're almost certainly in contact with someone. There's no other way of them knowing we've transferred the money." Bodie turned as a Granada, followed by a Land Rover, came to a halt in the carpark behind him. "We'll bring Lucas and McCabe up to speed."
          Phillips was busy with cables and microphones, and I signalled to Pennington and Turner to come over. "We've got five terrorists, one wounded and a lot of demands we won't meet. We need cover in the van and microphones on the roof; I want you two to help Brains. Oh, and see what you can do about some radio broadcasts for me."
          The other thing I could do which would cost us little but make it look as if we were complying was to rustle up a helicopter. I called Sally on the Granada carphone to put her in the picture, and she put an immediate call into the RAF for me.
          Back by the van, I watched as the team went into action. I was handling the shout, Bodie had taken control of the assault, and Phillips was directing communications. Another time, roles would be reversed; someone else would issue the orders and we'd still all function the same. I marvelled again at how Mr Cowley had achieved what was unthinkable in most organisations; rejecting all but the best left him with the most capable operatives. Bodie was self-appointed leader for the assault, but if anything happened to him it wouldn't leave the others deprived of direction - they might be a well-oiled, highly-coordinated team, but each was a trained, proficient, and independent individual.
          The last of the guests were being ushered away. From the looks on their faces I supposed the gas leak story had lost all credibility, as they were passed on the steps by Doyle carrying coils of rope and grappling hooks. At the Land Rover Lucas and McCabe were getting into assault suits whilst Bodie checked the action on an MP5.
          I joined him. "Have you formed a plan for the assault?"
          He nodded, picking up another SMG to work the action. "Four of us will go in; two at the side window and two at the front. We know the hostages outnumber the terrorists almost three to one."
          I knew what Bodie was thinking. That was a three to one chance of getting it wrong, and in spite of Cowley's orders it was still ingrained in us all that you worked for the best case scenario, that of getting all the hostages out alive. "Phillips is setting up microphones, we should soon be able to work out their positions. But no one moves until we're ready - you'll go on my command."
          For a second I thought Bodie might argue, but he nodded. "The room's not all that large. Depends where people are, but stun grenades and CS gas might be more of hindrance than a help."
          I got a flashback to that morning when the Home Secretary had bustled past me wheezing, and immediately vetoed the CS gas. "Asthma. The Home Secretary has it - there's no way you can use gas."
          Behind me, Doyle laughed. "That'd amuse Cowley. Get all the hostages out safely and kill the Home Secretary in the process. Good thing you're here, Ruth - none of us knew that."
          "I'm not just a pretty face." I saw Bodie shoot a glance between us as if picking up an undercurrent of familiarity, and hastened to turn his thoughts back to the job. "How long do you think you'll take to get set up?"
          "At a push, 20 minutes." Setting down the last weapon, Bodie picked up a bullet-proof jacket and began to struggle into it. "But to be on the safe side we need longer. Think we can string them along?"
          "I'll think of something."
          Doyle was frowning. "I still think we should try and get someone in. What about food?"
          Bodie grinned. "Now you're talking."
          Doyle thumped him. "Not for you. For the hostages. What time were they supposed to have lunch? Can't we organise getting some food upstairs? Two of us go in as waiters, and launch the assault as soon as we're in?"
          I looked at Bodie, who shrugged, beginning to sling SMGs over his shoulder. "Worth a try. But we need to be set up first. C'mon sunshine, grab something..."

The tension in the room was high. The slightest cough or scrape of chair leg brought shouts to be quiet. I could see the two Spanish terrorists exchanging glances but even they kept silent. They were clearly not happy but unwilling to challenge their leader.
          I felt as if I might start screaming if somebody didn't say something soon. I made efforts to breathe as calmly as I could and glanced around the table at the other faces to try and gain some strength from their attitude. I caught Murphy's eye and he winked at me, smiling. I felt slightly better. He wasn't letting this situation get him down and I tried to take my lead from him. Beside me I could almost hear the cogs turning in Mr Cowley's head. He, I knew would refuse to allow any thought of failure to enter his mind. Our situation may have looked desperate but there was very little he hadn't seen more than once in his career and I knew he would be juggling the various permutations and attempting to come up with a plan of action.
          "Bloody girl. Bloody snippy little bitch." Flynn was muttering to himself as he paced up and down. I tried to keep my head down for fear of drawing his wrath but it was impossible not to look up from time to time just to keep track of him. Nevertheless it was a shock when he suddenly leapt across the room and dragged Mr Cowley from his seat.
          "She's your girl, acting under your instructions! You tell me, what's she doing now?" He shook Mr Cowley roughly. "Tell me, now!"
          Mr Cowley shook his arm free and tugged on his jacket to straighten it. "She will be following your instructions and doing everything she can to bring about a successful resolution to this situation."
          "My instructions... or yours?" the terrorist hissed. "I know you lot. You've got procedures, standing orders, plans! You think you can get one over on us. Well you can't. We've got the upper hand here and don't you forget it." He glared round at us all and gestured with his gun. "I've got more than enough ammunition here and I don't care how quickly I use it up."
          Although once more he had pointed out the power he held over us, the immediate fear that had run through us when he grabbed Mr Cowley had subsided and those who had leapt to their feet in protest now sank back down again.
          As if to test just how far our nerves could be pushed, the phone suddenly rang loudly. Bridget squeaked in surprise, coloured and looked down at her hands in confusion.
          "Jesus, what does she want now?"
          He snatched the phone up and said, "You'd better be calling with good news darlin'."
          It quickly became clear from his side of the conversation that Ruth was offering us lunch. I felt a moment of hope knowing the food wouldn't be delivered by ordinary waiters but that hope was quickly dashed when Flynn refused point blank to allow anybody to enter the corridor let alone our conference room. In fact he seemed inclined to refuse the food entirely at first but Ruth must have managed to say something to convince him because he gave permission for the dumb waiter in the kitchen to be used instead. I found myself wondering how he knew it was there and the obvious answer was that he must have checked out the hotel while planning this operation. It might not mean very much and I might not have the opportunity to pass the knowledge on to anyone but presumably this was exactly what Mr Cowley meant when he said every scrap of information could be useful.
          "All right, send it up but take note Ruth. Your friends and colleagues here will be testing this food so don't even think of putting anything extra in the sandwiches if you know what I mean."

The lads rejoined me as I set the phone down.
          "Any joy?"
          "Well, Flynn's agreed to us sending food up. But he's got all the bases covered; the door stays locked. There's a dumb waiter in the kitchen, apparently."
          Bodie grimaced at the lost opportunity. "Can't be helped. I'm not sure it would be the best move, anyway; whoever we sent up would be searched."
          "You've cleared all the hotel staff out. How are we going to organise lunch - unless you're thinking of sending Bodie to the chippy?"
          "You're not thinking, Ray. Lunch is probably already organised, and waiting in the kitchen. All we have to do is send it upstairs."
          "And Ruth can manage that. Women's work, after all..."
          I ignored Bodie. Picking up my R/T, I told Phillips I'd be five minutes, and headed for the hotel, delighted to find Doyle at my heels. "Can't let you do everything, Ruth."
          "I'm not." Pausing behind the reception, I signalled to my two Spanish waiters; "Ven conmigo. Enseñanos donde está la cocina."
          As I'd anticipated, plates of cling-filmed sandwiches, bowls of salad and some creamy gateaux were ready to be served. "Por favor manda la comida arriba, a la sala de conferencias."
          The waiters both nodded, but as I turned to leave one held out his hand to delay me. "Senorita... Hemos estado hablando. Creemos que un hombre que estuvo trabajando aquí puede haber estado organizando esto. Él no trabajó aquí durante mucho tiempo, tuvo problemas. Era del pais vasco."
          "Vale, muchas gracias."
          Doyle was looking baffled. "What did he say?"
          "That there was someone working here who came from the Basque region. Must be our link to the Spaniard they want released."
          "Right. Good thing you speak the language." He grinned. "Maybe I should have kept up those French lessons."
          "I didn't know you were taking French lessons, Ray."
          "I'm not. I give 'em..."
          I shook my head reprovingly at him. No matter how dire the situation, he and Bodie always managed to lighten the tone.
          I left him staring thoughtfully at the waiters as they worked, and headed back to the van.

After he put the phone down, Flynn addressed us all. "Your lady on the outside is being very considerate and sending up some food for us all." He pointed at me. "You, you'll prepare it." He gestured towards the door with his gun and I got to my feet with a quick glance at Mr Cowley. The fifth terrorist looked up as we appeared in the doorway. Flynn said to him, "Grub's coming. Take her into the kitchen. She'll prepare it and bring it through." He handed me over as you would a parcel.
          The fifth man took my arm and thrust me through the kitchenette doorway. I was getting rather tired of being dragged and pushed around and I yanked my arm away. "For goodness sake, I'm not going anywhere!"
          "Too right you're not!" he said viciously, adding, "But I'll be right here, just in case."
          The crockery and cutlery were already stored in the kitchen area along with the dried staples such as tea-bags. I only had to fill the urns with hot water and await the delivery of the sandwiches and such like via the dumb waiter before transferring them to the trolley.
          I had barely filled the first urn when I heard the whine of the dumb waiter. I removed the plates of sandwiches and sent the waiter back down to the hotel kitchen. It returned loaded with bowls of salad. I had almost finished filling the second urn when I heard the dumb waiter arrive again. Just as I was about to open the doors the terrorist poked his head around the doorway and said, "Aren't you finished yet?"
          I opened a drawer and started counting out teaspoons, being deliberately slow. "I'm going as fast as I can. When the kitchen stops sending food up I'll let you push the trolley. You can be 'mother' if you like."
          I thought for one moment he was going to hit me but he muttered a sharp, "Just hurry up," and went back out to the corridor.
          I found my hands were shaking. I rested my elbows on the countertop and put my head in my hands. If this was what getting a trip out courtesy of CI5 involved, then I would stay at home in future. If there was a future of course. It would have been all too easy to give in to tears at that point, the tension was getting to me, but that would help nobody. I straightened up, took a couple of deep breaths to steady myself and was about to continue with the food when suddenly I was grabbed from behind and a hand put over my mouth.
          Terrified I struggled and tried to kick out but I was held firm. Then Ray Doyle whispered urgently in my ear. "Betty. Betty... easy love, it's me."
          The relief made me weak and I collapsed against him. He put his arms around me and hugged me gently.
          "Alone at last," he said in a phoney French accent causing me to giggle slightly hysterically.
          Doyle held me at arm's length and smiled at me. "That's better," he said. "You were looking as if you had problems for a minute." Then his voice became serious. "Listen Betty, we haven't got long. Tell me what we're up against here."
          As quickly as possible I told him about the five terrorists and of Mr Cowley's suspicions as to the nature of their alliance.
          "Spanish eh? That could explain why they want a Spanish bloke released as well."
          "I think they knew the layout of the hotel before today," I told him.
          "Yeah? Ruth's been chatting up a couple of Spanish waiters downstairs. She's been finding out a few interesting things."
          "How is Ruth coping?" I asked, suddenly reminded of the world outside.
          Doyle smiled, "Ruth is doing... just fine."
          He fired rapid questions at me as to the layout of the room and the location of all the hostages and the firepower he and the others would have to deal with. He swore when I told him it was Murphy who had been shot.
          "Damn! Can he still use a gun?"
          "I don't know. I doubt it."
          Doyle frowned and then said, "OK, give this to the Old Man if you have a chance." He slid his gun from its holster and handed it to me butt first. I took it gingerly. I have handled guns before. Anybody who works for the department in any capacity is expected to know basic gun safety, but I have never fired one in anger. The practice range is open to all employees and most of the office staff has at one time or another had a go but when you are surrounded by genuine secret service agents it tends to put any James Bondesque fantasies firmly in their place.
          "And where exactly am I supposed to put this?" I demanded.
          Doyle grinned and ran his eyes very slowly over my body. "Stocking top?" he suggested hopefully.
          "Ray, be serious! He could be back any minute!" I hissed at him, gesturing out to the corridor.
          Doyle sighed. "If you insist," he said and taking the gun back from me, slid his arms around my waist pulling me closer to him. Before I could protest I felt him slide the gun into the waistband of my skirt at the small of my back.
          He released me with a smirk on his face. "There's one up the spout so be careful," and then he moved swiftly back to the dumb waiter to make his return journey.
          As he folded himself up inside the small box he said, "Tell Cowley we're getting ready to move. We'll use a toot from that blasted horn of Bodie's as a signal." He slid the door shut.
          I pushed the button to send the dumb waiter back downstairs just in time as the terrorist came back into the kitchenette. I quickly took hold of the trolley and pushing it in front of me like a shield we headed back to the conference room. It crossed my mind though, just how had Ray intended to get back down if I hadn't been there to push the button. Could he really have been that stupid? Surely not.

"Of all the stupid, blithering idiots...!"
          Doyle opened his mouth but didn't stand a chance. "What the hell did you think you were doing? That's the sort of irresponsible act I'd expect from Bodie, not you!"
          He bridled. "Information-gathering. Now I've talked to Betty, we at least know everyone's positions, and that we can't expect help from Murphy when we go in..."
          "We know most of their positions already - that's what the technology is for," I snapped back.
          "I know exactly where they're all sitting. And I was able to give Betty my gun..."
          "You left your weapon with Betty?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "She's hardly trained for that."
          "She knows the basics. Anyway, with any luck she'll be able to pass it to the Old Man."
          "Let's hope so." I shook my head despairingly. "You were just lucky you didn't spark off a massacre. Supposing someone else had been in the kitchen?"
          Bodie had kept quiet throughout our exchange, apparently brooding. He'd just been asking me where Doyle was when his partner had emerged whistling from the hotel, and confessed his jaunt to the third floor in the dumb waiter.
          "You acted pretty dumb, mate. Wasn't worth the risk. And just for the record, Ruth, there's no way I'd do something as stupid as that..."
          I let that go. They had both been known to rush in without thinking in the past; Bodie might not have pulled the same stunt as Doyle just now, but in different circumstances he'd be the one getting the bawling out.
          "OK, OK, so maybe it wasn't the brightest idea," Doyle conceded. "But it was worth the risk. We know about Murphy; Betty was able to tell me exactly where the main table was and how they're all sitting. And I was able to tell her that we were getting set to move in, and she needed that reassurance; she's not used to all this, remember. I told her we'd give them a warning, using a blast from that horn you had fitted to the Capri, Bodie."
          "Hell. Did you have to?"
          I could actually see the sense in that. "Well, it's recognisable, but not the sort of signal the terrorists would be looking out for."
          "It's not the sort of signal Cowley will be pleased to hear either... He doesn't know. Yet."
          I exchanged an amused look with Ray. The raucous addition to Bodie's car in the form of a horn which played Dixie had amused most of the squad. We'd actually all taken bets on what would happen when Cowley found out; could be we were about to find out.
          In the circumstances, if the operation was a success, maybe Cowley wouldn't mind. On the other hand, pigs weren't known for their flying skills...

It was strange how different I felt. Nothing had really changed; we were still held at gunpoint, I had always known the people outside would be working to free us but having seen Ray and talked with him, I felt much less tense. For just those few moments he had given me some much needed release.
          However, I could feel the gun tucked into my waistband. It was heavy and uncomfortable and despite being safely covered by my jacket I still felt it must be as obvious to everybody as if it were lit with a neon sign.
          Bridget came to help me and while she poured the tea, I handed the cups around followed by plates of food. Flynn not surprisingly wouldn't allow anybody to help themselves but despite that the atmosphere relaxed a little and a few quiet conversations struck up around the table. I took tea and food to each of the terrorists as well and they took them up eagerly and while they were not exactly distracted, they were at least not quite as alert as before and I wondered how quickly those outside could be ready to move. Now might be the best chance they would get.
          While I was serving, Mr Willis moved down a place or two to sit next to Mr Cowley. Not wanting to share my news with Mr Willis I moved around the table and placed a cup of tea in front of Murphy. He smiled at me. "Thanks Betty. You holding up OK?"
          I leaned over him on the pretence of handing him sugar and whispered, "I've seen Doyle. He's given me a gun."
          Murphy's eyes widened just a fraction and then his face was neutral again. "First opportunity, you pass it over to me or Mr Cowley," he ordered, as if I had the intention to hang on to it. "What's the plan?" he continued.
          "The signal is Bodie's car horn."
          Despite the tension, Murphy gave a smothered snort of laughter. "The Cow had to find out about it sometime I suppose but I wouldn't like to be in Bodie's shoes when this is all over."
          There it was again, that confidence, that refusal to accept anything but that we would get out of this. I wondered if it was a job requirement or something that an agent developed along the way. Whatever it was, I needed to adopt the attitude as well.

"Anyway, this changes things a bit." Doyle was preparing to argue a point, I could see the physical adjustment as he mentally squared up to Bodie and myself. "You don't need me up on the roof; I'll ride back up in the dumb waiter and be ready to get in behind them when we make the hit."
          "I'm not sure -"
          "No way." Interrupting me, Bodie tried to over-rule him. "You'd be a sitting duck if they hear you."
          "They won't. There's no reason they should. I won't move until I get the signal; and they'll be too busy worrying about you lot coming through the windows."
          Bodie was swayed, I could see, and rather than arguing with Ray he appealed to me. "What do you think, Ruth?"
          "I think I'm supposed to be in charge." It didn't come out the way it would have sounded had Cowley said it, but they both got the message. "What I think is Doyle's idea has merit." Before they could do more than exchange glances; Doyle's smug, Bodie's irritated, I continued. "But, you wait for the signal. No leaping in ahead of everyone else. I don't want to have to explain your injuries to Cowley as well as Bodie's new toy..."
          They both grinned, the humour defusing their potential clash.

Not quite a tea party but things were flowing along nicely for a while. The guard who had been stuck in the corridor had entered the room demanding his share of the food and Flynn sent one of the Spaniards outside to replace him but apart from that attention to business, the atmosphere was almost civil. It was inevitable I suppose that somebody had to try something...
          It was Rogers. He had been quiet since Murphy got shot and I hadn't paid much attention to him. I was taking advantage of the calmer environment to sit next to Murphy and speculate softly on the plans being made outside. Murphy of course knew the general shape of things to come and tried to give me some idea of what to expect.
          "When they come in, just drop to the floor," he was saying and then suddenly he broke off, "What the hell is that idiot doing?"
          Turning, I noticed Rogers moving slowly, inch by inch around the room to position himself behind Flynn.
          Murphy gripped my arm with his uninjured one. "Don't look, don't draw attention to him."
          I looked away from Flynn and saw Mr Cowley's expression. He too had noticed what Rogers was doing and clearly disapproved.
          There was the sound of a scuffle and a cry and when I turned I saw Rogers now held Flynn's gun and was holding it to the terrorist's head.
          "Drop your guns or I blow his head off," he said tersely looking at the other three gunmen.
          The second Spaniard was standing next to Mr Willis who was still seated at the table. He had noticed the intense conversation between Mr Cowley and Mr Willis and had drifted in their direction hoping to overhear. Of course Mr Cowley had noticed him and they had stopped talking but now, in one swift movement he put his gun to Willis' temple and smiled wolfishly. "Checkmate."
          Flynn said to Rogers. "Do it you bastard. I dare you. I'm willing to die today. Can your boss say the same?"
          Looking at Willis' face, I thought I could tell the answer.
          They stood like that for nearly a whole minute, like a Mexican standoff at the OK Corral or some such thing. Then with a furious and frustrated look on his face, Rogers slowly lowered his gun to the ground.
          The Spaniard laughed and released Willis whose face was no less furious.
          We all seemed to release our collective breath that we had been holding. Another crisis averted. How many more would we have to go through before the rescue team arrived?
          Flynn picked up his gun and smashed the butt across Roger's face. "I am sick of this! You will all learn that I mean what I say. And you..." he kicked Rogers in the groin, "...you, will help me make my point!"
          He clicked his fingers and gestured at two of his men. "Hold him."
          They grabbed Rogers who was curled into a ball on the floor and dragged him to a standing position.
          Flynn snatched up the phone receiver just as Mr Cowley and Mr Willis started speaking. It was clear they were both protesting at whatever Flynn was planning.
          "Shut. The. Fuck. Up." Flynn said very precisely and fired two shots into the ceiling to emphasise his point.

The lads were at the Land Rover; Doyle getting a replacement weapon ready. I could see them laughing and joking, the slight antagonism forgotten in an instant. The helicopter was on the way; Phillips had just been on the radio to them. I was hoping that the arrival of the helicopter would lead Flynn to believe we were actioning their instructions and relax his guard.
          Within fifteen minutes, I hoped to be giving the order to move in. I supposed that meant, within thirty minutes, I would know my future - if it all went wrong, regardless of Mr Cowley's orders, I'd be out, and I could count myself lucky if the only thing I lost was my job.
          I shook the thought away. I couldn't let anything distract me. Nothing was going to go wrong.
          The phone rang, and I hopped into the BuggyBoo, casually picking up the receiver.
          The two loud crashes of the gunshots made me physically jump; Phillips pulling the headset away from his ears in protest at the noise.
          Leaning out of the vehicle, I waved wildly at Bodie and Doyle, whilst shouting into the handset. "Flynn! What's going on! Calm down, talk to me...!"

I could hear Ruth's frantic shouts over the phone and I held on tighter to Murphy. The silence in the room now was absolute. We were all hanging on Flynn's every word.
          "Listen to me, you fucking bitch! You are not taking me seriously. When I say you will do as I say or I will kill a hostage... you will do as I say or I will..." He casually pulled the trigger and Roger's chest seemed to explode in a burst of red. He didn't even have time to cry out.
          "...kill a hostage."
          Flynn hung up.

That moment seemed to hang, for far longer than the few seconds of time that actually passed. The lads had reached the van just in time to hear Flynn's last few words and the shot, and even they were visibly shocked by what had just happened.
          Doyle squeezed my shoulder. "It's OK, Ruth."
          "Who did he shoot?" Bodie vocalised the thought we all had. "Did we get any idea...?"
          "No. Flynn just said we weren't taking him seriously and that he would do what he said - and then the shot."
          "We go in." Doyle took a step away without waiting for my reply. Bodie turned to follow him and I saw my responsibility slipping away.
          I was in charge, this was my operation. Somehow, I had to hold onto that. I took a deep breath. "Hold on."
          They both paused, and in that moment I knew I still had control. "Get into position. Liaise with me. I'll give the go, when I'm ready. First," I replaced the handset which I had discovered I was still gripping, "first, I'm going to call Flynn back, and see what I can find out."
          With brisk nods, Doyle's accompanied by a slight smile which seemed to confirm some secret thought, they sloped off on their assignments. They'd need at least ten minutes to get into position.
          With considerable trepidation I lifted the receiver to call Flynn...

Murphy swung me around and I buried my head in his chest. I would not scream, I would not scream, I would not...
          I would not hide either. I swallowed hard and turned back to face the room.
          In the far corner of the room, Bridget held her face in her hands and sobbed loudly. The Home Secretary put his arms around her shoulders and spoke to her urgently. She looked up wildly and gulped once or twice in an effort to stop her crying. We did not need anybody else to draw attention to themselves.
          The rest of the room was slowly coming back to life. They had been frozen in a horrified tableau. The Spaniard who had been on guard in the corridor was framed in the doorway. He had flung the door open when he heard the first two shots fired into the ceiling and remained in place as Flynn shot Rogers. The two men who had been holding Rogers suddenly let go of his body as if they had forgotten they were holding it. Their faces and clothes were blood splattered and they looked... not stunned like the rest of us but more... resigned, almost as if they had been expecting it.
          Mr Willis had been staring at Roger's body as if he was having trouble believing what he had seen. Now his head came up and he took a step and then another toward Flynn.
          "You...you...bastard. You..."
          "Willis, shut up. Sit down and be quiet." Mr Cowley moved swiftly to intercept him, catching hold of his arm.
          Mr Willis tried to shake him off but Mr Cowley held on. "Willis for the love of Mike, sit down! Don't make matters worse." Then he swung around to face Flynn who was watching us all with a curiously aloof look on his face.
          "Listen Flynn, Ruth will call back in a moment and when she does, you must talk to her. She is complying with your requests. I've told her she must. You just have to give her a little time."
          We held our breath as Flynn looked at Mr Cowley thoughtfully. He waved his gun in a casual gesture. "Sit down. Be quiet." His eyes flickered to Mr Willis. "You too."
          As he finished speaking, the phone rang again. We all watched Flynn, would he answer and if he did, what would he say?

"Come on, come on." The phone rang out unanswered, and covering the mouthpiece I whispered to Phillips. "Do we still have the connection?"
          He nodded. "Unless he's pulled the wire out of the wall."
          Another two rings, and I suddenly became aware of another noise, the steady whup-whup-whup of rotor blades as the helicopter came in low over us and began to circle.
          Suddenly the phone was answered.
          "Flynn? You've got to talk to me, don't hang up."
          I couldn't hear any sound on the end of the line, and several seconds passed before he spoke. "I warned you. I told you to take us seriously."
          "We are taking you seriously, I always have. You can hear that helicopter, that's just what you asked for."
          "And our other demands? The money, the prisoners? What's happening there? Things aren't happening, Ruth. Now you know we mean business."
          I heard him speak to someone in the room. "You... come over here. Now!"
          A chair scraped in the background, as whoever he'd spoken to complied with the order, before Flynn spoke to me again. "Now, Ruth, you listen to me. I've got your Mr Cowley right here beside me, and I've got my gun resting against his head. So I want to know what's happening."
          I struggled to speak, forcing sensible words through insensible lips. "I'll need to make some phone calls. Need to check the latest position..."
          "Call me." The phone went down and I practically dropped the receiver at my end.
          Cowley. At least we now knew he hadn't been a victim so far; that he was safe. But for how long?

If Flynn thought he didn't have our attention before, we were riveted on him now. His gun was jammed against Mr Cowley's head and his eyes were flickering around the room as if daring us to try something.
          "Patrick, get out in the corridor. And keep your eyes open. I think they're gonna try something. Stay alert." Then, as his colleague seemed to hesitate, "Well, go on!"
          With a glance at the other three terrorists, Patrick sidled out of the door, closing it behind him.
          "Listen Flynn, maybe we need to talk..." The other Irish terrorist spoke hesitatingly.
          "Talk? What about? Flynn snapped.
          "Well there's this, for starters." The other man gestured at the body of Rogers at the floor by his feet. "I didn't bargain on anything like this."
          "Well just what the fuck did you think we were doing, Ryan? Coming here for tea and cucumber bloody sandwiches?"
          Dissention in the ranks; was this a good thing or not? They might be distracted and that could be good but on the other hand, upsetting Flynn any more could only mean trouble. I stretched out my hand; Murphy took it and squeezed it comfortingly.
          "Not much longer," he breathed quietly. I knew what he meant. One way or another, this would be over very soon. My only fear was how many of us would be left standing.

I stepped down from the van and looked up towards the roof where I knew the lads would be getting ready even though I couldn't see any movement, before pressing transmit on my R/T. "3.7, 4.5, come in."
          Doyle answered almost immediately, his voice muffled. "Here, Ruth. I'm just getting the waiters to shut the doors."
          "Hold on; don't move yet. 3.7? Bodie, where are you?"
          "With you. Just getting the latest from Turner on the terrorists' positions."
          "I've just spoken to Flynn." My lips were dry. "I don't know who he shot, but it wasn't Mr Cowley. However -" I pre-empted any relief they might have felt. "Flynn says he's holding a gun to Cowley's head. Literally. I don't have any reason to doubt him. He wants to know what's happening, wants action..."
          "Well, let's give him some. We're ready to move, Ruth, whenever you give us the go."
          I knew I could trust him; trust all the lads, but still felt as if I wasn't in control. "What's the position?"
          He didn't need to tell me. Bodie knew it, and so did the rest of them. But there was no hesitation as he outlined the plans for me, which I could visualise very clearly since Phillips had taped a copy of the floor plan to the back door of the van for me.
          "From the microphones beside the windows, Turner's able to confirm we've got four terrorists actually in the room. There's one in the corridor who's bound to come in as soon as we hit -"
          "He'll be mine," Doyle interrupted.
          "- that Ray will no doubt take out for us." I heard the smile in Bodie's voice. "All the hostages are still sitting around the table, so just three of us are going in, Lucas and McCabe through the side windows. I'll hit the closest of the front windows."
          "What about Mr Cowley?"
          "We'll have to handle it when we get in there, Ruth. Can't plan for that, although -"
          "Yes?"
          "If Flynn's the one holding him and he was answering the phone, at least we'd know for sure where they'd be standing..."
          "I'll ring through again."
          "Give me two minutes to get into position..."

The longest two minutes of my life.
          The rest of the team had been listening to the R/T conversation and all knew what was at stake. Jax was already waiting in Bodie's Capri ready to blast the horn; Doyle was on his way to the third floor, squashed into the dumb waiter, so vulnerable at this moment if he were heard.
          The radio crackled back to life. "We're ready, Ruth."

Pressing transmit I shouted "Go!" whilst dropping my hand in a similar signal to Jax. The car's horn blared out; strident and incongruous, and I looked skyward to the three figures swinging down from the roof, before reaching back to lift the phone receiver...

When we heard the sound of the horn with its raucous rendering of Dixie, Murphy and I looked at each other. This was it; whatever the outcome, it would all be over in the next few minutes.
          The phone rang and I caught my breath. Surely nothing had gone wrong now. Flynn swore and grabbed for the phone. Almost as if he sensed this was the moment, Mr Cowley made a sudden movement and twisted out of Flynn's grip. Almost.
          Flynn dropped the receiver and lunged for Mr Cowley. "Oh no you don't. C'here you bastard!"
          He twisted Mr Cowley's arm up behind his back and I swear I heard the bone snap. A sick-making sound. Mr Cowley cried out, I'm sure he couldn't have helped himself, and sank to the ground, Flynn still holding him.
          I know I made a sound as well, a squeaking protest at yet more violence, quickly clapping my hand to my mouth to stop myself. I involuntarily backed away, to distance myself from the blood and the pain and the never ending... hatred.
          Flynn pulled Mr Cowley back to his feet and put his gun under his jaw. I don‘t know what he had in mind but the next second all hell broke loose. There was glass flying everywhere and three figures dressed in black came flying through the windows. There were shouts and gunshots and cries of astonishment and pain. I was vaguely aware of people dropping to the floor and of Murphy doing the same. I saw his hand reaching out for me but I continued to back away, away from everything. I had had enough of this madness.
          There was silence; wonderful, blessed silence. The sound of the last of the shots died away and people started cautiously raising their heads to view the outcome.
          Ryan and the two Spanish terrorists were lying still on the floor, dead or at least unconscious. Patrick was on the floor also, clutching at his leg in silent agony. Lucas was at the far end of the room sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, holding his arm. I saw him nod at McCabe, most probably in answer to a question about his condition.
          Doyle was poised in the doorway, gun still raised. He had presumably come in behind Patrick, having come back up the dumb waiter. I shook my head. Ridiculous. No matter what, I couldn't seem to stop mentally recording events I would rather not recall. Too many years training to be the perfect secretary, always observing everything in case the boss wanted something later, the idea being to have whatever it was there before he could even ask for it. Now, when I so desperately wanted to, I couldn't shut off the ability.
          Bodie had come in by the front window and like his colleagues his gun was still raised ready for action. But action was suspended because all eyes were on Flynn and Mr Cowley.
          "That's right," Flynn said with a sardonic smile. "You just stand right where you are. But you could be putting those guns down while you're about it. You'll not be taking me while I've got your boss here so nice and close."
          "No. No..." Mr Cowley's face was pasty in colour, he was obviously in pain but he spoke clearly enough. "Bodie, Doyle, shoot damn you! Don't mind me, shoot him!"
          Flynn jerked Mr Cowley's arm and he groaned through gritted teeth.
          I could see Bodie and Doyle exchange looks. Neither of them were willing to follow those orders but nor did they want to let Flynn go. They didn't release their guns. McCabe didn't move either; he would take his lead from the top team I knew, which meant we were at stalemate.
          I took another step backwards almost without realising and my back hit the wall. Or rather the wall met the hardness of the gun in my waistband. The gun. A gun. An unknown, unexpected, additional gun. Maybe one that could break this deadlock.
          I can only think I went a little mad then. I drew the gun from the waistband of my skirt and hefted the weight in my hand. "Enough," I said to myself. I took a step towards Flynn. "Enough." Another step.
          From where I was placed, I was to the right and slightly behind Flynn and Mr Cowley so neither of them could see me approach. Both their attention was focused on my CI5 colleagues.
          I saw Doyle's eyes widen slightly as he saw me but I ignored him and took another step. Flynn must have caught the look because he started to turn his head to look over his right shoulder.
          "Flynn!" Bodie's voice rang out sharply and Flynn swung back to face him. "Come on now Flynn. There's no way out. Give up now."
          Flynn laughed. "From where I'm standing, I'm holding all the cards. I'm going to just walk out of here and you're gonna smile and take it, chump."
          He carried on talking I think. But nothing else penetrated. My range of vision had reduced to one spot between Flynn's shoulder blades. I wanted nothing more than to have an end to this day and this man was all that was preventing that. I was sick of the pain, the violence, the shouting and the bloodshed. While he ranted I took two more steps towards him and raised the gun...

"Betty... Betty, love... Come on Betty, give me the gun. Let go of the gun." It was Murphy's voice and from its tone it seemed as if he had been speaking for a while. I blinked and tried to focus on him. His warm, brown eyes were only inches away from mine and full of concern.
          "Betty, will you give me the gun, please?" I suddenly realised I was gripping the gun as if my life depended upon it and I mutely held out my hands to Murphy and let him unwrap my clenched fingers from it. He passed it behind him to somebody and then turning back to me, he said in quite a different tone, "What the bloody hell did you think you were playing at?"
          "Oh come on, Murph. Leave her alone. She did a good job." That was Bodie, grinning at me, happy as the proverbial lark.
          "A good job?" Murphy started to splutter. "She damn nearly killed the Cow. That bullet could have gone right through Flynn at that range."
          That jolted me out of my daze but before I could start to worry, a familiar voice came from across the room. "At least one member of my staff can obey orders. As for the rest of you, I'll be speaking to you later." Mr Cowley with his arm at a more comfortable angle now, broke off from his conversation with the Home Secretary and came across the room to us.
          "Come on now lassie," he said to me. "Come away downstairs, away from this mess and you'll be feeling fine in no time." His voice was so gentle I was really concerned.
          He led me across the room, past the various ambulance men, past the blankets draped over body shaped mounds, past Doyle still talking on the RT who reached out and patted my arm briefly, downstairs to the car park where I drew a shaky breath of fresh air.

Although Bodie had kept his R/T channel open throughout I hadn't been able to interpret much from the various shouts, shots and crashes. Longing to demand information I restrained myself; the last thing any of them needed was my interruption.
          Then there was a lull and I could hear voices; what sounded like Flynn attempting to negotiate his way out. Bodie's voice, much clearer, demanding his surrender. Another single shot, then it all went completely quiet and I could hold back no longer.
          "Will somebody please tell me what's going on?!"
          Even then, it took far too long before Bodie replied.
          "S'OK, Ruth. All the terrorists are down; Lucas has taken a bullet but it's minor. Murph and the Old Man will be fine..."
          Thank God. "What about Betty?"
          "Betty..." Bodie sounded awed. "Betty's - just amazing. I never thought she had it in her..."
          "What?"
          I heard Doyle's voice close by, sounding amused. "Female of the species, mate. You never know..."

I'd heard enough. I abandoned R/T communications and fair galloped towards the hotel to see for myself.
          The first of the hostages had already reached the front door and were milling about. Attempting to avoid the questions they were flinging at me, I tried to get past, only interested in the safety of our team.
          Then I halted, as the three people I wanted most to see appeared, moving slowly.
          A rough, slightly bloody bandage indicated an injury to Murphy's right arm, while Mr Cowley's left arm was tucked awkwardly between the buttons of his jacket. Between them, Betty.
          She took a deep breath, blinking in the brighter light of the car park, despite everything still looking neat and tidy, although visibly shaken.
          Ambulances had been on stand-by and Jax had called them in as soon as we'd made our move. The majority of the crews were already upstairs, but a couple came forward to help Murphy and Mr Cowley and I found myself left with Betty.
          "Are you all right?"
          "I shot him, Ruth." She stumbled over the words. "Flynn... He was threatening Mr Cowley, and the others couldn't do anything..."
          I knew how she felt. I could clearly remember the first time I'd had to shoot a suspect - and I'd been trained for it and was expecting to have to pull the trigger in reality at some point. As I was reaching for consoling words we were interrupted as Bodie and Doyle suddenly appeared; both high, bouncing.
          Bodie swept in to hug Betty tightly. "Well done, Betty. Nice shooting, we'll have you on the team yet."
          "You did OK." Doyle's gesture was slightly less effusive as he limited himself to squeezing her arm.
          Betty's smile was brittle; appreciating their congratulations but not sure she deserved them, and I hastened to get her away from the lads before her fragile composure was broken.
          "Shouldn't you two be getting on with down-rigging the equipment?" They both smirked at my furious glare; not much could subdue them in this mood.
          "Yes ma'am," Bodie neatly saluted me and they fell about laughing, even raising more of a genuine smile from Betty.
          I began to lead her away. "You'll feel better shortly. I think you should probably go to the hospital, just in case..."
          "I'm going anyway." Betty suddenly sounded a lot more assertive. "I have to go with Murphy."
          I managed to sneak a glance behind me. That had wiped the smile off the lads' faces; they were open-mouthed with astonishment as Murphy put his good arm around Betty and winked at them.

"You did a good job, Ruth." From the step of the second ambulance where a sling was being fitted to his injury, Mr Cowley called me. "I knew I could rely on you."
          "Thank you, sir. Although it might have been easier if you hadn't called an Annie."
          "Oh, that was just to make sure everyone knew it was serious. You all managed it just as I knew you would." He looked about him. "You can fill me in on the details later. Including exactly what it was you used to make that signal to move in..."
          Oops. That could be the point where I made myself scarce and got Bodie to explain. Fortunately I was called at that moment by Jax.
          "Ruth, do you have the key to the manager's office? He needs to get in there."
          "Yes..." I began to fish it out of my pocket, before remembering why I'd locked it in the first place. "I - er - left something in there for safekeeping."
          The Home Secretary chose that moment to ask loudly if anyone had seen his driver, and I felt a giggle forming as I passed Jax the key.
          I watched as Bodie and Doyle, obviously curious, followed Jax inside, and headed for the BuggyBoo as hilarity threatened to overwhelm me, wishing I could have seen their faces when they unlocked the door...


 

© Sue Tier & Carol Good - November 2002