|Back in Whitehall, Reid and Marjoribanks were
engaged in a NATO sea battle simulation exercise. The blinds were drawn
and added security was supplied by a red-hatted military policeman outside
the office door. Full electronic countermeasures were in place.
"Ready Marjoribanks?" asked Reid.
"Fire away, Sir."
"A4, B4, C4" said the defence secretary.
"All in the drink I'm afraid, Sir."
"Damn," said Reid, "felt sure you would have something
tucked in that corner."
"Tea dear?" asked a thin late-middle aged
lady with her hair tied up in a floral scarf. She pushed a trolley ahead
of her and wore a blue nylon, 'Mrs Mop' coat.
Marjoribanks leaped to his feet. "How the devil did you get in
here?" he shouted.
"Like I always does, dear, through the confidential secretaries'
office and up in the back lift."
"But we have a total security shutdown, secret military planning
exercise underway and some bloody kerfuffle up in Scotland. You can’t
just wander about willy-nilly woman. You could be shot."
"Oh I don’t think so," she replied.
At that moment the outer door burst open and a military policeman entered
at the double.
"See," said Reid, "We’ve got armed men all over
the place, slightest thing could set of a blood bath. Stand down soldier,
I have this under control," he added in a firm, commanding voice.
"Hello Mum," said the MP. "Thought I heard your voice.
Have you got a cuppa for your number one son, then?"
"Cause I 'ave dear," she replied, kissing him fondly and pouring
the rich brown, tannic liquid into a thick, white china cup. "Biscuit?"
"Well don’t mind if I do. Hold this, mate." The MP handed
his automatic rifle to the Secretary of State and took the tea and plate
of biscuits his mother handed to him. The soldier stacked the biscuits
neatly on the corner of Reid's desk and dunked each one carefully in
his cup, before washing then down with a noisy slurp of tea.
Reid and Marjoribanks stared at one another in total
disbelief while the Tea Lady idly picked up Marjoribanks' NATO planning
"Oh, that's interesting, that is," she chuckled. "But
I thought you were s'posed to add the ships before the game started?"
Reid snatched the card from her.
"Good grief woman, this is top secret military planning, you can’t
just…" he looked at the card and stopped in mid-sentence.
"MARJORIBANKS!" he shouted. "What is the meaning of this?
No wonder I've never beaten you. This is going in your annual staff
report, don't think it won't."
"But I was trying a new strategy, Sir," said Marjoribanks,
dissembling. "I thought with all the cuts, what would happen if
we built our navy after the war was over? You can't hit what can't see,
"Marjoribanks you are a blithering id—hang on, it might just
work. Make a note to set up a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
We could save a fortune and be completely invulnerable. Brilliant!"
The MP handed his empty cup back to the Tea Lady.
"Very nice, mum, most welcome." Taking the gun back from Reid
he said, "Cheers mate," and marched out of the room.
"Tea, dear?" asked the lady, offering Reid a full cup. He
took it with a grunt.
"You too?" she handed a cup to Marjoribanks.
She pushed the trolley from the room. Marjoribanks picked up the plate
that had held the biscuits; half a Rich Tea digestive nestled soggily
amongst the crumbs. "Bugger," he muttered.
The telephone rang. Marjoribanks picked it up. "Secretary
of State's office...it's for you, Sir."
Reid took the 'phone. "Reid here. Who is this?…I see…45
minutes?…You're sure this time…No we can’t spare anyone
just now…troops fully committed…you’ll have to do
it yourself…yes…yes…well that's not really my problem,
is it. You advertised the 30-minute delivery service, not me. Right…another
half hour, OK. I'm timing you."
He slammed the 'phone down, whereupon, it rang again almost immediately.
"Sir, the scrambler." whispered Marjoribanks. Reid hesitated
as the scrambler engaged.
"Yes what is it? Ah Beauchamp! Where the devil have you been? What
do you mean won't let you in? Who won't let you in? The MP on the door?
He walked to the door and opened it. "All right soldier, she can
come…Beauchamp, what the hell are you doing? You're half naked
Beauchamp was struggling to pull her grey skirt over
her shapely bottom without dislodging the suspenders from the tops of
her black stockings. Her long, dark hair hung in untidy tendrils about
her narrow shoulders and her yellow blouse was unbuttoned to the waist,
exposing her left breast, which bore the dirty imprint of a very large
hand. Her bra seemed to be unaccountably missing.
"Sorry, Sir," she said as she buttoned her blouse and tucked
it into her skirt. "Sentry insisted on a strip search."
The MP stood rigidly to attention, eyes focused in the middle distance,
his face locked in a suggestive leer.
"I sometimes wonder about you, Beauchamp, I really do. You only
had to let him scan your ID card and you could have come straight in."
They entered the office and shut the door.
"Right, fire away Beauchamp, what have you got
for us?" Asked the Minister.
"Well Sir, as you know, the submarine was monitoring an American
"Hold on Tamara," said Marjoribanks, "What was the American
"It's 'Beauchamp' to you, you wanker."
"Now—steady on Tamara," said Reid. "That's not
the kind of lang—"
"—Oh come on, Sir, he's the biggest prat
in Whitehall," she interrupted. "Yesterday I caught him trying
to get his mother to fax his sandwiches to him after he'd left them
at home." She glared disdainfully at Marjoribanks who flushed deeply.
"Is this true?" asked Reid.
"No—of course it isn't—mummy, er—I mean, I ran
out of greaseproof paper."
"Mummy?" laughed Tamara. "I'm surprised she lets you
wear long trousers."
"Look—I do not live with my mother!" retorted
"Aww," chided Tamara, chucking him under the chin, "It's
nothing to be ashamed of…Peregrine…I'm
sure that stupid tart in the typing pool you fancy hasn't even noticed
'mummy' still packs your lunch-box for you. Which is more than I can
say for your lunch-box—which is anything but 'packed."
"Shut up! Shut up, shut up!" shouted Marjoribanks, hastily
crossing his legs. "Anyway, look who’s talking; look at the
way you carried on just now, you're no better than a common slu—"
The rest of his sentence terminated in a howl of pain as the heel of
Beauchamp's stiletto ground into his foot..
"All right! That'll do," shouted Reid. "Look—there's
a flap on. Can we try to maintain some decorum, please?"
Beauchamp gave Marjoribanks a look that
would have curdled new milk and turned to Reid with rising irritation.
"The American was spying on the Russian," she repeated.
"And the Russian?" Asked Reid
"Oh, Minister. Don’t you ever read your briefing notes? The
Russian was spying on us."
Reid began to speak and then stopped, he scratched his head, looked
at Marjoribanks who was crouched on the floor, doubled up with pain,
coughed and pulled his ear. Eventually he asked: "Well—why
were we spying on the American?"
"To find out what the Russians knew, Minister. It's perfectly simple,"
she said, barely concealing her irritation.
"Uhh-uh...nnng," grunted Marjoribanks.
"Yes," said Reid and Tamara
"Can I ask a silly question?" enquired Reid.
"Why do you suddenly feel the need to ask permission?" said
"Well, why aren’t we spying on the Russian?"
"We are: well we are pretending to—so the Americans don’t
suspect anything. If we didn’t spy on the Russians the Americans
would know we were spying on them."
"How can we pretend?" began Reid.
"We send a ship full of the most frightful idiots we can find and
no one is any the wiser," explained Tamara.
"So where is this blasted submarine?" asked Reid.
"How should I know, Minister?" said Beauchamp,
taking out her compact and applying blusher to her aristocratic cheeks.
"Have you tried ringing the admiralty?"
"We did that this morning, remember?"
"Oh yes, so we did," she said, stifling a yawn.
"We haven't tried the Home Office," suggested Marjoribanks,
crossing unsteadily toward the desk.
"Would it do any good?" asked Reid.
"Well, we're not going to find it in here, are we?" said Beauchamp.
"Right, ring the Home Office, Marjoribanks."
Moments later, Secretary of State for Defence, John
Reid, passed a blue telephone receiver to Marjoribanks with a stifled
"What the devil's that?"
"Vivaldi, I think Sir..No—hang on, Salieri's fourth—"
"—Nonsense," interrupted Beauchamp, craning forward
to listen. "Salieri didn't write any violin concertos. It's Giuseppe
Tartini's Devil's Trill sonata—the technically demanding
double stop trills are a dead give-away. Rather appropriate piece under
The music faded as the disembodied voice droned on: 'Thank you for your
patience. An advisor will be with you shortly. If you have a National
identity card please notify your nearest Home Office Security Centre
of any change in your marital status, sexual proclivities or unearned
The music swelled once more as Reid passed the receiver to Beauchamp.
"I think that is Vivaldi. Wife's always bashing my ears with La
"It is now, Sir, but it was definitely Tartini earlier," said
Beauchamp. "Look—this is no good."
"What do you suggest we do?" asked Reid.
"Escalate?" repeated Marjoribanks.
"Call the Royal Navy Information Line," said Beauchamp. "One
of the PM's new initiatives."
Marjoribanks turned pale and sucked in his breath. "I didn't know
the man had any."
"He doesn't," said Tamara. "Mandelson put him up to it."
"Well...If you're sure," said Reid, dialling the number she
read out to him from a grubby, ministerial memo.
'Thank you for calling the Royal Navy Information
Helpline. My name is Dilip. How can I be helping you today?'
"I say, Marjoribanks. This chap sounds like a bloody foreigner.
The official's eyebrows shot up several inches as he pressed the receiver
to his ear.
"Good grief, you're right Sir. I had no idea the Navy had offices
in Calcutta. Ask him what temperature you should fry Samosas at. I can
never get them to come out like the ones from Tescos."
Reid snatched the receiver back and barked into the mouthpiece: "WE-LOOKEE-FOR-SUBMARINE,
"Better add that it's yellow," suggested Marjoribanks.
"And miniature," added Tamara.
"HAVE-YOU-SEEN-A-VERY-SMALL-YELLOW-SUBMARINE?" shouted Reid.
"What? DVD? What the hell's that? I have no idea what region...Russian
I should think. Beatles? How the devil do I know what filthy bugs infest
those damnable things? Director's cut...extended edition...free shipping?"
Reid mopped his brow and passed the receiver to Tamara. "Here—you
talk to him—the man's a blithering idiot!"
Tamara crossed her slim legs and spoke rapidly into
the telephone: "SUB-MA-RINE KID-HAR HAI? Nahin—'YELLOW.'
Nahin 'BEATLES. Kya? Meri samajh mei nahin aaya?"
"Golly!" exclaimed Marjoribanks, "I had no idea you spoke
their lingo so fluently."
Tamara covered the mouthpiece with her hand.
"We are both fluent, but sadly not in the same language. But I
think he understood me. He's asking about 'distinguishing marks', Sir."
"Tell him to mind his own damned business!" snapped Reid.
"I think he means the submarine, Sir."
"Ah—right...well the usual I suppose..."
"Open other end. Slippery when wet. No naked lights—that
kind of thing I imagine."
"Right you are," said Tamara. "Aap kal khule hain?"
"Does he know where the bloody thing is or not?" interrupted
"No, Sir, but he says an MTB turned up in Peterhead last week."
"Is it yellow?"
"Just a minute, I'll ask him. "Ye bahut mehenga 'yellow' hai?
Kya? Er..no sir, no."
"Damn," said Reid.