Dates unknown, 1971
It was the brightness that woke me up. I had been dreaming for what felt like forever, an intense fantasy where everything seemed real. The grass between my fingers, the sound of the gathering crowd, my feet slamming against the stairs as I raced upward, the heavy jerk of the wood against my shoulder as I pulled -
I blinked warily and immediately jammed my eyes shut again, struggling to adjust to the glare assaulting them. Everything was blinding white. I squinted, jamming my eyelids together to allow just the merest glimmer of light through. Gradually, painfully, I was able to relax the muscles of my face as I became used to the blazing whiteness around me. While I waited for my eyes to get used to the glare, I used my other senses to assess my surroundings.
I was lying in an unfamiliar bed - a thin single mattress on a sprung metal frame judging by the protesting squeak of springs every time I shifted. The sheets were brittle and roughly starched, the blanket thin and scratchy in my hands. The smell of disinfectant filled my nostrils - an acrid assault. Combined with the paper-thin gown I was wearing, all these details added up to one conclusion: I was in a hospital of some kind.
Gingerly I put my hands up to my face, lightly running fingers over the swelling on the side of my head, and across the bridge of my shattered nose. Although I could not remember how or why yet, I knew my face had been injured recently. But touching it caused no pain. My nose had been re-set and I could feel no contusion. The injuries had fully healed, yet I felt like I had only been unconscious for a few hours - how was this possible? How long I had been in this place?
Squeezing open an eye, I began to look around me for the first time. I lay in an old, cast-iron single-bed, one of two dozen identical beds lining opposite walls of a long, silent room. The beds were empty, all stripped bare bar one which was fully made up for another, unseen occupant. The floors were covered in black-flecked white linoleum squares, reaching out to the white-tiled walls. Above me the ceiling was made of clear glass sheets in a metal latticework, hence the glaring brightness. I was completely alone.
What the hell was going on? Last thing I could remember was going to New Scotland Yard, waiting to see a CID man... With a jolt of fear I recalled the appearance of the C19 operative from the secret doorway, the brutal beating I had received at his hands, and the intervention of a familiar voice. I knew I had heard the voice before but its identity remained frustratingly just outside the grasp of my conscious mind. It was lodged inside my memory, but right now everything was a jumble of images and sensations - it was hard to separate fantasy from reality.
Groping around by the side of the bed, I find a plastic cord ending in a small white box with a button set into it. A call switch? Not knowing the answer, I pushed it to see what would happen. A few seconds passed and then there was a rattling of keys from the doors at the end of the corridor. Perhaps I was in a prison hospital, I wondered. At least that would explain the other empty beds and the locked door.
The double doors swung open to reveal a stern-faced nurse in a crisp white uniform, pushing a metal medical trolley. On it I could see a range of pills, bedpans and medical equipment. I relaxed and smiled quietly to myself. For an irrational moment I had almost been expecting torture tools. The nurse pushed the trolley up to the edge of my bed and smiled at me.
‘Mr Stevens, awake at last! You had us worried there for a while, didn't you?’ she said chirpily.
‘Oh, yes. My word, we weren't sure if you would pull through.’
‘Pull through? From what?’
The nurse smiled as if she thought my thinking had been impaired by whatever ordeal I had been through. ‘From the accident of course! Still, you're nearly better now. Here, let me take your temperature.’ She shoved a cold thermometer into my mouth. I tried to ask her another question but she hushed me to silence for the next minute. As she counted off the seconds on a watch fastened over her left breast she held my wrist and monitored my pulse rate. Eventually, the thin tube of glass was pulled from my mouth, examined and placed back on the trolley, rattling inside a kidney-shaped stainless steel dish.
‘Well, you're nearly fully recovered, Mr Stevens,’ the nurse said. I examined her uniform carefully but could find no name badge by which to address her, just a curiously large white belt around her waist.
‘Does that mean I can go home soon?’ I asked.
‘Go home? Of course you can't leave, Mr Stevens,’ smiled the nurse, slipping into her voice for simpletons again. Her next words sent a cold thrill through me. ‘You're in the Glasshouse, Mr Stevens. Nobody ever leaves the Glasshouse!’
With that she bent over to look for something on the lower level of her trolley and I saw the handgun holstered politely behind her back. Turning my head I realized that the metal latticework on the glass ceiling was actually a series of bars to prevent escape; the heavy lock on the door to keep me in, not to keep others out. I was a prisoner in the Glasshouse.
‘Help! Somebody help me!’ I screamed over and over without response, my cries echoing around the empty ward before gradually dying away to nothing. The nurse straightened up, holding a large hypodermic needle in her right hand. Her thumb pushed the depressor upwards and a short squirt of liquid shot out of the end of the needle.
‘Now, now, Mr Stevens, no need to shout. Nobody can hear you, you know,’ she said soothingly, but I was having none of it. I screamed even louder as she plunged the needle into my arm, but I was still too weak from weeks of constant sedation to fight back.
Within seconds I could feel the strength leaving my limbs, my arms thrashing uselessly about in impotent rage. As darkness engulfed me again, the nurse leaned over my face and smiled at me, her teeth like large, yellowing tombstones.
‘We can't have you getting all upset now, not when the director will want to see you later. No, we can't,’ she said.
Then, just blackness...
‘And how is Private Cleary doing today? Is the conditioning taking complete control yet? We have a very important task for him...’
The voice which awoke me was warm and rich, full of dark, mellow tones with just a hint of menace to its edges - a threat underlying its smooth, persuasive words. Keeping my eyes shut, I strained my ears to hear what was being said. Any information I could gather might be useful in helping me to get out of this place; to escape this nightmare.
It seemed ironic that I had been searching for months for hard facts about the Glasshouse, but now that I was being held captive here, I was desperate to escape its harsh realities. I concentrated on keeping my breathing even and regular while listening intently.
‘Yes, Director. The implants are working perfectly and the cover story is now well set in the patient's subconscious,’ a female voice replied. My nurse from earlier, I realized immediately. She was talking with a man whose voice I knew, but from where did I know it? The sedative given to me earlier was still clouding my thoughts, impeding my search for the answer I knew was locked inside my own head.
‘That's excellent. One or two more treatments and Private Cleary will be ready for the outside world. He's making good progress, very good progress. Soon he can go back to UNIT,’ the director said. I was startled by this, but did my best not to show that I was conscious yet.
Had I heard right? Were soldiers from UNIT being held here against their will, being forced to undergo mental conditioning for some ulterior motive of the director? This was the man Dodo had described as controlling the Glasshouse through a reign of terror, yet his words were soothing, and his tone friendly and charismatic.
The sound of leather steps on the linoleum floor interrupted my furious thinking. They were coming over to my bed. I did my best to maintain the façade of still being asleep, but without success.
‘It's alright, Mr Stevens, you can stop pretending now. We both know you're already awake,’ the male voice purred. I opened my eyes and gasped as I saw the face of the director. The dark, gleaming eyes, the black hair swept back from the forehead, the neatly-trimmed goatee beard and moustache: it could only be one person.
‘I am usually referred to as the Master,’ he said.
‘Is that right?’ I replied, trying to keep my voice casual.
‘Universally.’ Magister smiled, as if this were the punchline of some private joke. ‘But you can call me Director from now on.’
‘Aren't you meant to be imprisoned at a top secret location somewhere in Britain, awaiting trial?’
‘True, and I will be imprisoned again soon. But one advantage of my line of work is the ability to slip away unnoticed, while the simple-minded fools meant to be guarding me maintain the pretence of my incarceration. Your kind are so easily manipulated,’ he sneered.
‘You were the one who came into the interview room at New Scotland Yard, just as I was passing out,’ I said.
‘Yes, that was taking a risk, but I had to take you out of circulation. You came very close to blowing my cover during your appearance on that ridiculous television programme, and then my associates failed to finish you with the firebomb attack on your home. Sloppy, very sloppy,’ he said distastefully, shaking his head. ‘I could ill afford another bungled attempt on your life so I had you intercepted and brought here instead.’
Finally, I knew where else I had heard Magister's voice before. ‘You were the mystery caller - the person who phoned me with tip-offs while I was working at the Chronicle!’
‘I was wondering how long it would take for you to remember me. Yes, I was your mystery source. You have proved very useful to me over the last two years, Mr Stevens. You've helped me create no end of difficulty for those bumblers at UNIT; I must thank you for all your assistance.’
I was outraged at his smug insincerity. ‘You used me.’
‘But of course, Mr Stevens. What else is your kind for but to be used?’ replied the director with a shrug. ‘But you wouldn't be happy with acting as my conduit to the press, my mouthpiece in the media. No, you had to get above yourself with your petty little investigation; your search for personal glory as an "investigative journalist", your ridiculous notions about UNIT and my operatives within C19 working together.’ The director was laughing at me now. ‘You really are a most amusing individual! I even tried to warn you off, remember? And still, you wouldn't take the hint. Now you will have to suffer for your stubbornness.’
I cursed at my tormentor until he stopped laughing. ‘Why not kill me now? Why keep me here?’ I demanded. I tried to get out of bed to attack him but was still too weak from the drugs to do more than sit up.
‘Sadly, you still have a part to play in proceedings - one more pawn to be sacrificed before the endgame. I cannot kill you yet, so you've become a missing person for the meantime. I'll say goodbye now, as I doubt we'll see each other again.’ The director turned and began striding out of the ward, followed by the nurse. ‘Do enjoy your stay here at the Glasshouse, Mr Stevens. It will be a long one.’
I shouted abuse after him, but got no response. The director left, followed by the nurse, who locked the doors after her. I lay back in my bed, furiously going back over the events of the past two years. Had I really been acting as an unwitting agent of Victor Magister, or whatever his real name was? Was I just another pawn in a larger game, unable to see what was really happening beyond the narrow boundaries of my own vision? It was hard to accept yet I knew that the director had no reason to lie to me now. I was already his prisoner; I could be eliminated at his whim.
Something else was nagging at me. If Victor Magister was also the director of the Glasshouse, why had Dodo not recognized his face when it appeared on television after his arrest at Devil's End? She had always said her memories of the Glasshouse and its feared leader were vague at best, but were the director's powers so strong he was able to make her forget him completely? I put this insoluble problem aside to consider more pressing matters. What was happening in the outside world? How long had I been missing for? What was Dodo doing in my absence?
I had not seen her since leaving on that fateful morning to report the firebomb attack. I remembered kissing her as I set out for New Scotland Yard, and my arms ached to hold her now. I made a vow to myself to get out of this madhouse as soon as I could and get back to her. Knowing how fragile her grip on reality could be, I did not want to imagine what she was going through while I was ‘missing’.
A moan from the other occupied bed in the ward got my attention. I slipped out of my bed and breathed in sharply as my bare feet touched the cold floor. Slowly, painfully, I managed to walk over to the bed opposite me, using the metal bedstead to support my still-weak legs. Slumbering on it was a man in his mid-twenties, heavy-set with closely cropped jet black hair and bushy eyebrows that nearly met in the middle. A smattering of freckles over his cheeks gave his features a boyish aspect. Like myself he was clad only in a white hospital gown.
I shook his shoulder, gently at first and then more insistently but without response. Whatever ‘mental conditioning’ the director was subjecting him to, it was obviously physically draining. I looked at the locker beside Cleary's bed. On top of it sat a chunky metal bracelet with fine copper wiring worked into an intricate pattern around its outer ring. Inside the cupboard I found a full set of clothes and some other items.
The bulk of the locker had been taken up with an army uniform of khaki green: tunic, trousers, hat, socks and boots. Four letters were embroidered on an oval patch sewn on above the left breast pocket of the tunic: u. n. i. t. A clear plastic bag held more personal belongings, probably the contents of Cleary's pockets, I guessed. There was a simple silver watch, a signet ring, and a small billfold containing some cash, a family photo and an identity card. The family photo showed Cleary in the midst of a laughing throng of children, all with similar facial characteristics. Some of them were too old to be his own children - could they all be his brothers and sisters? A look at his identity card seemed to confirm that theory.
Beside a recent picture were typed a few details. His name was listed as cleary, francis peter, his rank was Private, his religion was Roman Catholic, and he was on attachment from the regular Army to the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. The card also listed his date of birth: 22 November 1948. He had the same birthday as me, but was three years younger. I was smiling at the coincidence when a rough hand grabbed me by the throat and pulled me backward on to Cleary's bed, keeping me down in a vicious choke-hold.
‘Who are you? What do you want?’ Cleary demanded, his voice a mixture of harsh Liverpudlian and softer Irish accents. I just choked, my hands clutching feebly at the grip around my neck. Eventually, as I began to feel blackness edging in around me, the young soldier relaxed his grip enough for me to breathe again. I gasped in great lungfuls of air, coughing and choking still. Finally I managed to prise his thick fingers from my throat and stagger away to collapse on the empty bed beside his belongings.
‘My name's Stevens, James Stevens. I'm a captive here, just like you,’ I said. ‘I was trying to find out who you are.’
‘How do I know you're telling the truth?’
‘If I worked for the director, would I need to go through your belongings to find out who you are? I'd already know.’
He considered the logic of my argument. ‘True enough, I suppose. But what are you doing here?’
‘I told you, I'm a captive too. I was getting close to exposing this place for what it really is, so the director had me kidnapped and brought here. Now I'm a prisoner until they decide what to do with me,’ I explained. ‘What about you?’
Cleary smiled. ‘They've been trying to brainwash me. They keep showing me pictures of killings and murders; I think they're trying to turn me into some sort of assassin. But I've been trained to resist, so I'm okay.’
‘How did you get here?’
‘I was a soldier, working for a special squad -’
His eyes flashed at me suspiciously. ‘What do you know about UNIT?’ he demanded.
‘Only that it's an international taskforce of some kind, fighting terrorism,’ I replied. I was not going to reveal what I really thought UNIT did. Cleary seemed volatile enough without my provoking him with tales about mind-control experiments and killer plagues. He seemed satisfied with my reply and continued his own story.
‘Anyway, I started having blackouts and dizzy spells. The medics said I was something called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and I needed a break away from the frontline. I went to a psychiatric hospital and then I got referred on to here.’ He looked around him at the bars on the windows and glass ceiling. ‘If only they knew what this place was really like!’
‘Look, Cleary, I've got to get out of this place. Do you want to come with me? I can't make it on my own.’
‘Just say when,’ he replied. While he was talking I went to the locker by my bed and was gratified to find my clothes and belongings were inside it. My strength was returning at last, thanks to the adrenalin rush of Cleary's attack. I quickly began slipping my clothes on and motioned for him to don his uniform as I asked another question.
‘Do you know when your next session is due to start?’
‘They usually take me away twice a day, three times if I fight them too hard. They'll be back for me soon.’
‘Okay, finish getting dressed. We're getting out of here while we still can.’ We only had to wait a few minutes for our opportunity. The keys rattled against the double doors as they were unlocked from outside. I positioned myself to one side, Cleary to the other and we flung ourselves at the nurse as she entered. She grabbed for the hypodermic needle on her trolley but I managed to smash it from her hand.
She retaliated by slamming the base of her hand into my face, sending me reeling backwards into a wall. Cleary had circled round behind her and ripped at her hair, pulling it backward. She clawed at his face with her fingernails but he was stronger and heavier, batting her hands away before grabbing her ears. With a mighty heave he drove his forehead into the bridge of her nose. There was a crack like a muffled firecracker and a single cry from the nurse as she slumped to the ground.
Cleary dropped to his knees and grabbed her hair again. Now he started slamming her bloody face into the white linoleum, thudding her wet features into the floor again and again and again. Red flecks of blood spattered from the floor, speckling the front of Cleary's uniform. A crimson stain began to pool out across the white tiles.
‘Stop it! Cleary, she's dead - stop it! Jesus Christ, you've killed her!’ I shouted at him, sickened by his brutal, animalistic act. I had never seen a person killed before, let alone butchered in front of me. I choked down the vomit in my throat and pulled at Cleary's shoulder. He whirled his head round to stare at me, his eyes dilated, spots of blood mingling with the freckles on his boyish features. There was nothing boyish about the rage in his face now. ‘Come on, we're got to get out of here!’ I insisted.
‘Yeah, right,’ he said, almost as if the berserker inside him had been switched off again. He stepped over the red-stained remains of the nurse and began striding towards his bed.
‘Where are you going?’ I was exasperated and afraid.
‘I'm taking this with me,’ he said, snatching up the metal bracelet from atop his locker. He turned and ran past me into the hallway outside. I gingerly took a set of keys from the waistband of the dead nurse and ran after him as fast as I could, trying not to think about the murder I had just witnessed. Perhaps the director's mental conditioning process had been far more effective than the young soldier yet realized.
We encountered two more staff members in the Glasshouse and Cleary dispatched them quickly - dispassionately. Finally, we reached what appeared to be an outer door. I struggled with the keys and dropped them in my panic to get the door open. ‘Come on!’ Cleary yelled at me, a raw edge sounding in his voice.
‘I've got it!’ I pulled open the door to reveal a long, tree-lined gravel driveway outside. There were several parking spaces but each stood empty. Judging by the long shadows it was late afternoon - but where were we? Cleary burst past me through the door and ran into the heavily wooded grounds outside.
I ran after him, glancing back only to take one quick look at the place where I had been imprisoned. It was a tall, Tudor country house with a long, modern building built on to its west wing. From the outside the Glasshouse looked normal, even ordinary but I knew what horrors it held inside the unremarkable façade. I was determined to fix every aspect of this place in my mind. I would be coming back here, but next time I would be bringing a camera crew. The true horror of the Glasshouse would soon be revealed to the world.
Dodging a sentry patrolling the outer wall of the estate, Cleary helped me scale a low point in the perimeter wall. We dropped to the other side and ran on. All the time I fixed reference points and landmarks in my head to make the return journey simple, to make the Glasshouse easy to find again. Within twenty minutes we had reached the edge of a small town. I saw an old lady walking towards us, pushing her purchases for the evening meal in a shopping trolley. I stopped her, still thinking how best to put my question.
‘Excuse me, my friend and I aren't from round this way and we seem to have got lost. Could you tell me where we are?’ I asked, inwardly wincing at the awkwardness of my words.
She looked warily at my grubby clothes, still stained with smoke and blood from when I had been abducted. Cleary looked even more incongruous on this country path in his combat gear. ‘You on an army exercise or something?’ she asked.
‘Something like that, but we're not allowed to tell you any more. Can you tell us where we are?’
‘Well, you're obviously not very good at map reading otherwise you'd know. That back there,’ she said, pointing over her shoulder, ‘that's Evesham. I just come from there and I think you'll find -’
Cleary and I were already running towards the suburban area she had indicated. As we ran we decided what to do next. ‘Evesham! Christ, that's out past Oxford - we're nearly in Cheltenham,’ I gasped between gulps for breath. ‘We'll have to get a train back to London - it'll probably come into Paddington. How much money have you got?’
We managed to negotiate our way through the centre of Evesham - a strange mixture of old and new buildings. The town had long been a service centre for local milling but was now in the process of trying to find a new purpose as old industries died out. Finally, breathless and exhausted, we found the railway station and just caught the last train back to London for the night. As the locomotive wound its way to the capital, I put a proposition to the young private.
‘Thanks for getting me out of there,’ I said. He just nodded. ‘Look, I'm an investigative journalist and I want to expose the Glasshouse and the man who runs it. His name is -’
‘I know who he is,’ interrupted Cleary.
‘Oh, right. Well, would you be willing to help me some more?’
‘I won't go back there. Not ever.’
‘Don't worry, you won't have to go back. But if I could get you on television to talk about what they did to you back there, would you do it?’
Cleary thought long and hard before answering. ‘Will it do some good? Will the world be a better place if I do this?’
I thought his questions were a little oblique, but I was willing to agree to anything to get him on television. My words, my testimony alone could be disputed but not the evidence of two people who had been held prisoner at the Glasshouse, especially when one of them was a member of the highly secretive United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. Besides, I believed exposing the Glasshouse could only be to the good. ‘Yes, the world will be a better place, Francis, I really believe that.’
‘Only my mum calls me Francis.’
‘Oh, well what should I call you - Frank?’
‘Private Cleary. Call me Private Cleary - that's who I am now.’ He lapsed back into awkward silence and I let him, happy just to be free again. I already assembled in my mind a long list of phone calls to make when we got back to London but the first had to be to Dodo, to tell her I was alright. Hopefully the phone would have been reconnected at our home in Wandsworth. I smiled, realizing I had said ‘our home’. After all that I had been through, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Dodo. Cleary saw me smile and asked what was so funny.
‘Nothing really, I'm just wondering how I'm going to explain all this to the woman I live with,’ I replied. ‘You've been pretty quiet - what are you thinking about?’
Cleary looked me in the eyes before speaking. ‘If someone gave you a chance to change history, would you do it?’ he asked.
‘It would depend. How do you mean "change history"?’
‘If you could go back in time and change one event to make the world into a better place, would you do it?’
‘What, you mean like if I could go back in time and stop Hitler from ordering the systematic genocide of millions of Jews and other races - would I do it?’ Cleary nodded. ‘I guess I would.’
‘But what if you had to murder Hitler to stop him? What if the only way to prevent Hitler was to kill him - would you still do it?’
I shook my head. ‘You're asking the wrong person. You're the man of action; you're the one who has been trained to kill for Queen and country. I'm just a reporter - I report things. It's my job to write history: it's your job as a soldier to make history.’
‘But that's just washing your hands of responsibility. You're no better than Pontius Pilate when the Pharisees brought Jesus before him,’ Cleary insisted. ‘If you refuse to take responsibility for your actions, you're no better than the Nazis who put people into the gas chambers and then said afterwards that they were only following orders.’
‘All right, then I would kill Hitler,’ I said. Cleary had touched a nerve and I wanted to change the subject quickly. ‘Anyway, this is a ridiculous argument because it could never happen. Time travel is impossible, it's just science fiction, so I'll never have to make the decision.’
‘What about a different example. What if someone offered you a chance to go back and change history by saving a good person from dying?’
‘I'm not sure I understand.’
‘What if someone gave you a chance to alter history for the better by saving a good person from dying? What if someone said they have the power to send you back through time to 22 November 1963, so that you could change history? What if President John F. Kennedy had lived?’ Cleary's voice had dropped to a fervent whisper, his eyes full of passion. His fingers were holding the metal bracelet he had brought out of the Glasshouse with him, turning it over and over in his hands.
‘It can't be done,’ I scoffed.
‘I can do it,’ the young soldier said. ‘I'm going to do it. I'm going to change history - forever!’
By now I was becoming seriously worried by the strange direction the conversation was going in. It was time to step away and let feelings cool down, I decided. ‘Look, I'm thirsty, I'm going to get myself a drink. Do you want anything?’
‘I'm going to change history,’ Cleary muttered to himself again, not even hearing my question. ‘I'm going to change history.’
‘Suit yourself,’ I said and headed for the buffet car. I was becoming increasingly worried about Cleary's mental state. I just had to hope he could hold it together long enough to help me expose the Glasshouse.
Soon afterwards we were pulling into Paddington Station. I made sure I kept Cleary in my sight as I made a series of urgent phonecalls. The first was to Dodo, who was overcome with relief at the sound of my voice.
‘Oh James, it's you! I thought you were dead, the police said you'd disappeared and nobody could find you. You've been missing nearly three weeks. Where have you been all this time?’ she said between sobs.
‘In the Glasshouse,’ I replied to a sharp intake of breath from the other end of the phone. ‘Look, I've managed to escape with the help of a UNIT soldier called Cleary. I'm going to try and contact Vincent at BBC3, get his help so we can expose the Glasshouse once and for all. We're getting a taxi and we'll be home in less than an hour, okay?’
‘Hurry home, James,’ Dodo cried. ‘I've got something important to tell you.’
My next call was to Vincent at BBC3. As usual he was working late to prepare that night's edition of The Passing Parade and I managed to catch him at his office just before he left for the studio. ‘Look, Vincent, what have you got on tonight's show?’
‘Some rubbish about the effects of decimalization on small shopkeepers. What can I say, it's a slow news day -’
‘Look, I've got a scoop that'll have your show splashed all over tomorrow's front pages. Are you interested?’
‘Tell me more.’
‘The terrorist Victor Magister is secretly running a Government-funded psychiatric institution near Evesham and he's using it to brainwash British soldiers into becoming his own private army. How's that for size?’
‘Rubbish! Magister's being held at some secret prison in the countryside - you know that as well as I do,’ Vincent scoffed.
‘Really? Well how do you explain the fact I saw him earlier today at the very institution I'm talking about?’ I replied.
‘Easy - he was holding me prisoner there. I've been investigating links between Magister, C19 and UNIT for weeks and he abducted me.’
‘I've heard some whoppers in my time but this one takes the biscuit, James. Upstairs is never going to believe this!’
‘Don't just take my word for it. I've escaped with a UNIT soldier who's willing to talk about his experiences on camera - and in his full uniform. If you want to know more, meet me at my place in 45 minutes. As for Victor Magister, I suggest you serve a writ of habeas corpus on the Government to make them produce him - that should stir things up a bit!’
‘You're on, but this better be legit or else neither of us will ever be able to work in journalism again. You do know that, don't you?’ Vincent asked, seeking reassurance.
‘Don't worry, Vincent,’ I replied, ‘I'm about to give you the scoop of the century!’ With that I hung up and got into the nearest black cab with Cleary, and headed for home.
The drive through London was eerie, the streets surprisingly empty for a late summer's evening. It was hard to believe I had been away nearly a month when it only seemed like a day or perhaps two at the most. Magister and his associates must have kept me under sedation for nearly three weeks without respite. I could never get that lost time back. It was another score I would have to settle with the ‘Director' of the Glasshouse.
We were driven around Wandsworth Common and pulled up outside the house. I was not sure what to expect. When last I had seen it, on the morning when I went to New Scotland Yard, smoke was still rising lazily from the smouldering embers. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the outside of the building looked almost unscathed from the fire. All the windows had been replaced, new curtains could be seen hanging inside, and only a few tell-tale smoke stains at the top of the sills revealed what had taken place here.
While Cleary settled up with the cab driver, I went to the front door and knocked. There was the sound of running footsteps, then the door was flung open and Dodo embraced me in a hug that seemed to go on forever. We kissed feverishly like teenagers, with only an insistent coughing from Cleary behind me finally breaking our clinch.
‘Dodo, this is Private Cleary. He helped me get out,’ I said nervously, but Cleary was at his charming best. The further we had got away from the Glasshouse, the better his state of mind had become. It was frightening to realize what a grip Magister had taken on the poor soldier's mind. Cleary offered his hand to Dodo who shook it gratefully.
‘I know what you've been through,’ she confided to him. ‘I've been locked up in - in that place - myself. Come inside, come inside.’
We entered to find out just how busy Dodo had been in my absence. Several of the rooms downstairs had already been re-decorated although the kitchen was still a burnt-out shell. ‘I took some money from the savings account - I hope you don't mind,’ she admitted shamefacedly.
‘You've done brilliantly,’ I said. ‘Look, can you talk to Private Cleary while I go upstairs and get changed? I feel like I've been wearing the same clothes forever.’
‘You smell like you have too,’ Dodo said, crinkling up her nose in mock disgust. ‘Go on, get upstairs!’
I managed a quick wash-up and was pulling on a clean shirt when a car screeched to a halt outside. For a second I had a horrible image of the director emerging from the vehicle flash through my mind - Magister coming to take me back to the Glasshouse. But when I looked out the window I saw only Vincent emerging from his sporty soft-top, waving up at me. I ran downstairs and let him inside. ‘Well?’
‘Well, at least part of your story checks out,’ Vincent said happily. ‘We tapped a few contacts in the Lord Chamberlain's office and when a habeas corpus writ on Victor Magister was mentioned they hit the roof - alarm bells ringing, the works. I really think you might be on to something. Strictly speaking I think only a defendant's counsel is allowed to bring a writ of habeas corpus, but a QC friend of mine did enough to scare them anyway. So, where's this soldier then?’
I took him into the next room to meet Private Cleary. Vincent grilled him thoroughly for ten minutes, then emerged again, apparently satisfied. ‘Okay, we're doing it. Will smiling boy next door go back to the Glasshouse for the doorstepping?’
‘No, no way. I promised he didn't have to go back.’
‘Pity. Still, as long as you're willing to go and he's in the studios for the links back there, we should be fine. We'll have an outside broadcast van following you and another one will be covering the fun and games at the courts - God only knows what'll happen there. Better if they can't produce him - gives your story more credence.’
‘My story? You mean you don't believe me?’ I spluttered.
‘Let's just say I'm waiting for all the evidence. Okay, let's get going!’ Vincent bundled Cleary into his car while I said my goodbyes to Dodo. We had only seen each other for a few minutes and already I was leaving her alone again.
‘Don't worry about it, I'll see you soon enough,’ she said. ‘And when you get home, I've got a surprise for you.’
‘What surprise? You mentioned this before - what's the surprise?’
‘I'll tell you when we're alone,’ she said, kissing me goodbye. She whispered a final farewell in my ear: ‘I love you, James Stevens.’ Then I was out the door and running for Vincent's car, which he was revving impatiently in the road. I looked at my watch - it was nearly midnight.