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SHACKLETON BLISTER

The Wolf of Westminster

 

Prologue

 

Hong Kong

Midnight, July 1st 1997

 

  

The night sky exploded with a million stars as the fireworks thundered out over the island. The smell of cordite wafted across the bay as over a million dollars’ worth of pyrotechnics gave celebration to this most auspicious event. The city’s population watched with a mixture of joy and trepidation their upturned faces happy yet serious. What will tomorrow bring? This day had been coming for over 150 years and now, finally,  the British were out. Now Beijing ruled  this glittering jewel in China’s crown.

     The Wanderer, a two hundred foot super yacht, lay at anchor on the Kowloon side of the shimmering bay. On the top deck three men, dressed in evening suits, stood silent. They sipped on vintage Dom Perignon as they watched the magnificent display.

     From the saloon an older man in military uniform joined them. ‘Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.’ he said in perfect English.

     The three turned and raised their glasses towards General Jin Shoo, the head of the Guoanbu, China’s Secret Service . . . ‘Congratulations, General,’ they said in unison.

     The old soldier smiled for a few moments then raised his glass in salute. His face turned serious as he looked over his heavy rimmed spectacles. ‘Gentlemen. Unfortunately for you there will be no time for celebrations.’

     The men listened in expectation.

     ‘We’ve been working together for over seven years . . . and in that time you’ve proved to be of the utmost value to The People’s Republic of China.’

     The three smiled slightly and nodded.

     ‘But now the real service to my country begins.’ Jin took the magnum from the ice bucket and topped up their glasses . . . ‘Tomorrow . . . My Wolves . . . You leave for London.’

 

 Chapter One

January 2020

Longdray Manor, Scotland

 

 Lord Geoffrey Gonville Lang, the 9th Earl of Longdray, switched off the light and pulled the duvet around his shoulders. As he settled down to sleep there was a knock at the door. He leaned across and switched the lamp back on. The knock came again.

     ‘Come in.’

     The butler entered. ‘Excuse me, Your Lordship, but there is a person at the rear door.’

     Lang sat up and cleared his throat. ‘What time is it, Connor?

     ‘A little after midnight, sir.’

     The old lord frowned, ‘Who the devil is coming at this time of night? And to the back of the house?’

     ‘Actually, Your Lordship, he said his name was Sir Marcus Romford. But he looks more like a vagrant, sir.

     ‘Romford!’

     ‘Yes, sir.’

     ‘Is there still a fire burning in the study?

     ‘I can re-kindle it sir.’

     ‘Good. Take him into the study please.’

     ‘Yes, sir. Shall I bring tea?

     ‘Yes please, Connor.  I’ll be down directly.’

 

A few minutes later Lord Lang, wearing a heavy dressing gown and monogrammed slippers, entered his study. For several seconds  he stared, unbelieving, at the man in front of him. This person bore little resemblance to his old friend, Sir Marcus Romford.

     The visitor stood in front of the fire rubbing his hands together. Dirty, dishevelled and shivering, he did indeed present as a vagrant and not the elegant Knight of the Realm Lang had known for many years.

     ‘My God, Marcus . . . What the devil old chap?’

     Romford turned and looked Lang in the eyes. His voice croaked. ‘You have to help me, Geoffrey . . . I didn’t kill anyone . . . And I’m not a spy!’

 

     The door opened and the butler entered. ‘Excuse me, Your Lordship. Tea.

     ‘Ah, thank you, Connor. Just leave it please we’ll help ourselves.

     ‘Yes, sir. Will your guest be staying, sir?’

     Lang look at the pitiful figure by the fire. ‘Er, yes. Yes he will. Do we have any guest rooms ready?’

     ‘The Blue Room is ready, sir.’

     ‘Good, good . . . Thank you.’

     ‘Not sure I should stay here, Geoffrey. Might not be safe.’

     ‘Don’t be ridiculous. You’re quite safe here.’

     ‘I mean in case anyone comes.’

     ‘Anyone comes?  . . . Who on earth is going to come, Marcus?’

     ‘Is there somewhere else I can stay?’

     ‘Excuse me, Your Lordship.’

     ‘Yes, Connor?’

     ‘Perhaps Sir Marcus could use one of the shooting lodges, sir?’

     Romford nodded. ‘Yes, yes. That’s sound good. Where is it?’

     ‘The nearest one is about a mile and a half around the other side of the lake,’ said Lang.

     ‘That’ll do if you don’t mind.’

     ‘Very well . . . if that’s what you want but I think you’d be more comfortable here.’

     ‘I’ll be fine.’

     ‘I’ll drive Sir Marcus round when he’s ready, sir.’

     ‘Thank you, Connor . . . Sorry to keep you from your bed.’

     ‘Not at all, sir. My pleasure. All sound very exciting.’

     ‘We’ll call when he’s ready to go.’

     ‘Very good, sir.’

      Lang poured the tea. ‘Sit down, Marcus . . . before you fall down.’ He picked up a decanter and brandy balloon from the sideboard and placed them in front of the still shivering Romford. Then he passed him a cup. ‘Tea first,’  then nodding to the decanter said, ‘then a stiff one of those.’

     Romford swallowed a mouthful of tea, flinching slightly as the hot liquid ran down his throat. He took another mouthful, the heat welcome in his belly.

     Lord Lang gave the fire a poke and the flames grew bigger. Then he took a seat opposite his unexpected guest. ‘Now what’s this all about, Marcus?’

     Romford put down his cup and picked up the decanter, half filling the crystal balloon.

     Lang frowned. ‘Steady on old chap. I said a stiff one . . . that’ll have you on your back.’

     Romford finished off the brandy as swiftly as the tea then leaned back in the big comfy sofa. For a second he closed his eyes then sucked in a lungful of air. ‘Thank you, Geoffrey I really needed that.’

     The old lord took a sip of tea. ‘So what on earth are you doing showing up here in the middle of the night?’ He waved his hand at Romford. ‘And in that condition? And what’s all this about not killing anyone . . .  and not being a spy for God sake!’

    

Romford had stopped shivering; the tea and brandy had done their job. The fire was now throwing off a good heat so he removed the dirty overcoat. Lang frowned as he dropped the soiled garment onto the carpet. Romford picked up the decanter again . . . ‘May I?’

     Lord Lang made an affirming gesture and watched as another large measure of his finest brandy was poured into the balloon. He sipped at his tea and took in the state of his old friend. At 63 years of age Marcus Romford was ten years Lang’s junior but tonight looked much older. He’d lost weight since Lang had last seen him. His hair was longer than usual and he was sporting the start of a salt & pepper beard. Known for being one of the more dapper civil servants in Westminster his appearance tonight was anything but and Lang had to agree with his butler’s initial observations. Romford definitely looked like a tramp. But what was most shocking was his face. Romford’s blood-shot eyes were sunk deep into dark hollows giving the man an almost crazed appearance.

     ‘So what’s going on, Marcus?’

     Romford swallowed the brandy then sat silent for several seconds . . . ‘It’s a long story, Geoffrey.’