With more than a little trepidation Peter opened the door. He managed to put on a false smile for Dalton, who wore a deeper scowl than he had earlier. Behind him stood Stanton, who shuffled nervously on his feet. Two other men, one short-haired dark-skinned man who looked like he’d been going to the gym all his life, and one wiry, beady-eyed pale-skinned man, stood a little further back. They weren’t in military uniforms; black jackets, ties and trousers were the order of the day for them, even in the middle of the night. They screamed spooks.
“Captain Myers, these men are from MI5. They have informed me that Eric Cooper is in possession of highly sensitive material that he shouldn’t have. They are here to arrest him.”
Peter did his ‘shocked’ face and looked at Eric with incredulity. “You fuckin’ wanker, I trusted you…” He took a step toward Eric but a restraining hand on the shoulder from Dalton stopped him.
“Not now Captain, he’ll be dealt with.”
Rob was wearing the same stunned expression. He shook his head at Eric as he walked out of the room, letting the MI5 officers head in.
“This isn’t true!” Eric shouted, kicking out at the wiry agent. The officer grunted in pain but moved quickly, yanking Eric’s hands behind him whilst his partner moved to slap on handcuffs. With practiced experience he delivered a head butt to the smaller of the two men, who gasped and grabbed at his nose. Peter and Rob both sprang into action, grabbing Eric, holding him still.
“Come on mate, don’t do this…” Rob said through gritted teeth as he tried to hold his struggling friend. “Just go with them.”
The other agent had pulled a pistol from a concealed holster. He held it by his side, eyes fixed on Eric. “Don’t do anything like that again.” His voice rumbled with threat. All Eric could do was to stare back, but his eyes held defeat.
Rob pulled the injured agent back to his feet. “Can we get this fella a towel, some tissue or somethin’?”
“Stanton, see to it.” Barked Dalton. The corporal scurried away. Other guards had clustered around, curious to see what was going on – a stern glance from Dalton saw them move on. “Captain Myers, you say you know this man?”
“Yes sir, we served together, as I said earlier. I can’t believe he would do this…” He began, as the MI5 agents began to haul Eric away. “I thought he was a decent guy.” His voice raised an octave, making sure Eric could hear.
“We’ll need to speak to you two as well…” The broader of the two agents said over his shoulder. By now Stanton had returned, handing a bunch of tissue paper to the wounded agent. Dalton rolled his eyes at what would inevitably be a messy scene. “Colonel, would you take their contact details for us?”
“Of course. I’ll have someone escort you out of the base.”
“Thank you for your cooperation Colonel.”
“Did you order it?” Peter asked Rob quietly as they climbed back into Rob’s car.
“Yeah, got the Chinese on order.” It was a code, in case anyone had planted a bug on his car. “You wanted the beef in black bean yeah?”
“Yeah. Let’s go home.”
The black Mercedes trundled down streets that were still surprisingly full of traffic, even though midnight had come and gone. Bright Christmas lights, hung between buildings, showed off the warmer spirit of the season, though Eric felt cold, and not from the weather. Will they torture me? Do they know anything of this code, or are they just following orders? He was handcuffed, and all too aware that the driver would probably have a gun in the glove box – MI5 agents and SAS soldiers were different in so many ways, yet alike in others.
The injured agent was muttering about his ‘broken nose’, to which the driver had told him – more than once – to stop moaning, and to not get blood on the light-brown leather interior. That was proving tricky, as the agent had nearly used up all the tissues.
Eric clung to the hope that Peter and Rob had avoided arousing suspicion and that they were safely away. The decoy USB was now in the pocket of agent ‘Harris’, the one nursing the broken nose. It wouldn’t take them long to realise what had happened once they arrived at their destination, but Rob and Peter were dab hands at evasion techniques. He watched as the car came down Horseferry Road and turned right into Thorney Street. Bollards protecting an underground car park to the left lowered and the security barriers retracted, allowing the car entry.
After heading down a couple of levels, the car parked up, next to another, similar vehicle. Eric was pulled from the car and marched toward a set of lifts.
“Am I actually going to be charged with anything, or is this all off record?” He said slowly.
“How about being charged with GBH you old fart.” Growled Harris. The other agent rebuked him with a look.
“Come on. And to answer your question…” He paused to slide a security pass into a reader by the lifts. “You’re facing charges pertaining to breaching national security.”
The lift ride was quiet. They went up several floors, then the doors opened up into what could have easily passed for any average London office. A few private offices with their shutters down, a few rows of desks, a few of which were manned, even gone midnight (made sense), and several people walking around with folders. The water cooler looked nearly empty, and there was a half-empty vending machine too.
Toward the end of the bright corridor was a turn to the right, that Eric was led down, to see yet more offices. He was steered into one of them. Awaiting him was a simple room with a grey MDF desk, and three basic chairs that looked like slightly scaled up versions of what he’d been used to from his school days. A single fluorescent tube light was protected from tampering with thin grating, and Eric took note of the extractor fan in the corner, farthest from the door. A small camera poked out of the wall facing Eric.
Eric was manoeuvred into the chair, whilst Harris and the other agent sat down opposite him.
“I’m Agent Bevin, you’ve met Agent Harris…” Bevin’s voice was quite deep, a voice that commanded respect. “And you are Eric Cooper, formerly a corporal of the SAS. Currently working for One Touch Security, and residing in Upminster. Married, but no children.” Bevin leaned back. “You are also said to be in possession of highly classified material that compromises national security.”
Eric shrugged as best he could; he was still cuffed, with his shoulders starting to ache where his arms were crossed behind his back. “Given someone’s already tried to kill me to get it back, I’d say it’s very serious.”
Bevin and Harris exchanged a confused glance. It was very subtle, but Eric caught it.
“According to our report, an agent was sent to apprehend and arrest you.” Replied Bevin.
“Well, your report is wrong. Either you’re lying or someone is lying to you.”
Harris leaned forward. “You stole something you shouldn’t have, and killed to keep it.” Harris failed to keep the irritation from his voice.
“I found something, a backdoor, right into your systems, MI6, every government authority, every power grid and more. One so good you wouldn’t even know it was there.” Eric kept his voice calm and level. The camera would be recording every second, which meant anyone watching who was involved would be thinking of how to shut him up. If these two are compromised, I’m dead.
“Bullshit.” Spat Harris. “You’re lying…”
“Shut up Harris.” Bevin ordered. “Idiot…” He muttered. “Mr Cooper, we’re working to make sure we can defend this nation against any threats, internal or external, through the cleanest, quietest means possible. In this day and age, that includes computers and hacking, obviously. Let’s loosen those cuffs…”
Is this a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine? Eric wondered as Bevin got up, walked around and unlocked the cuffs, offering welcome and blessed relief to Eric’s sore shoulders. He rotated each one to get some blood flowing again.
“The fact is Mr Cooper, your employers are working on something for us. They’ve been working quietly for years to develop the tools we need to stop our enemies from getting into vulnerable systems. They have powerful corporate enemies of their own, to say nothing of other countries who are trying to develop similar systems. This is deep espionage, I’m sure you understand how far this rabbit hole goes.”
“Then why the backdoor into our own systems, including MI5?” Eric asked. “Why would you need a code so secret hardly anyone could find it or exploit it, in your own system?”
“There’s no ‘backdoor’. Our systems are completely secure, and sit outside the remit of One Touch. Has it occurred to you that one of their rivals, or ours, is trying to undermine us? Or perhaps you took the data in order to sell it.” Bevin stepped back in front of the table and stared at Eric. “A code like this is worth huge sums of money, and people will pay it. You’d be very wealthy.”
Eric sneered. “You know my history. You know what I’ve given for my country. I’m not about to sell out, and I’m telling you the truth. I’m sure you have ways and means of verifying if someone is being honest with you. Give them a try.”
Bevin exchanged a sideways glance with the pouting Harris. “Perhaps we will.”
There was a knock at the door. With a grunt Bevin walked over and opened it. A mousey-haired man in a suit whispered into his ear, but Eric could see the man’s lips. They’d discovered the USB he’d been carrying was a decoy.
The door closed again. Bevin stepped back to the desk. “Where is the USB with the code?”
“You took it.” Eric said simply.
“You switched it. Right now, the means to unlock every major electronic system of our country’s competitors, a vital tool to this nation’s security, is out there, who knows where, because of you. Where is it?” Bevin’s voice had taken on a harder edge.
“I have no idea.”
Bevin’s hands slapped down upon the table with an audible whack. “You’d better get an idea, and quickly. If that code falls into the wrong hands it can be reverse engineered and…”
“Ha. Someone’s already done that. You should be more worried about that than me.”
“Harris, get the drugs.” Bevin didn’t take his eyes off Eric. “I have the utmost respect for those who served their country, but you are playing a dangerous game sir. If you are telling the truth…” He said as Harris stepped out of the room. “Then why not come forward, to us, to me, right now. Why the cloak and dagger routine?”
Eric leaned forward. “Because I don’t know who to trust. I’ve already had one attempt on my life, and it cost me the life of a good friend. That tells me there’s someone in your organisation, feeding you disinformation. For all I know, you’re involved.”
“We need to verify your claims. I don’t act on someone’s word, not unless I am very sure of that person.”
“Hence the drugs.”
“Hence the drugs.” Repeated Bevin.