Выбрать главу

… Unless, of course, you counted the Trident system's use in geopolitical economic terms, as part of the West's vast arms build-up; the build-up that broke the communist bank, finally devastating a Soviet system no longer able to compete (it bankrupted the US, too, turning the world's greatest creditor nation into the world's grossest debtor in two easy presidential terms, but a lot of dividends had been paid out in the meantime, and the debt was something for the next few generations to worry about, so fuck "em).

So as communism disappeared and the threat of total, global holocaust evaporated and just left us with everything else to worry about, and as those enticing Eastern markets opened juicily up and the old ethnic hatreds pressured into solution under the Comrades bubbled and frothed themselves up to full bursting pressure… maybe this giant black slug, this potentially city-fucking, country-fucking, planet-fucking prick sliding up between the thighs of the loch could take some of the credit.

Hell, yes.

I start the car, feeling charged and alert and justified again, fully firing on all cylinders and just fizzing with the good great god-damn Gonzo juice of the determination to get down to that there nuclear submarine missile base and cover the story, as the blessed St Hunter would say.

At the base — past the peace camp where protesters wave placards, past the dense-meshed fences topped with rolls of razor-wire and through the tank-stopping gates, after showing my press accreditation and being directed to the relevant building for the press briefing and typing part of the story into the lap-top while waiting for everybody else to arrive — the naval officers answering the questions look fresh and fit and seem decent and polite and somehow regretfully but steadfastly sure that they are doing something that's still important and relevant.

Later, the protesters in the peace camp outside — most wearing layers of droopily grubby cardigans and ancient combat jackets and sporting dreadlocks or side-shaves — seem just the same.

I drive back to Edinburgh listening to Gold Mother with the speed wearing off fast, tailing away like an engine losing revs all the way along the M8.

The news room of the Caledonian is busy as usual, crowded with desks and shelves, partitions, bookcases, terminals, plants, piles of papers, print-outs, photographs and files. I thread my way through the maze, nodding and saying hello to my accomplice hacks.

"Cameron," Frank Scare says, looking up from his terminal. Frank is fifty, with bouffant white hair and a complexion that succeeds in being moderately ruddy and childishly smooth at the same time. He talks with a sing-song voice and, after lunch usually, a slight lisp. He likes to remind me what my name is whenever he sees me. Some mornings, this helps.

"Frank," I say, sitting at my desk and squinting at the little yellow notes decorating the side of the terminal screen.

Frank sticks his head and shoulders round the other side of the screen, providing an unambiguous visual cue to the fact that he still thinks coloured shirts with white collars are neat. "So how's the latest component of Britain's vital and totally independent deterrent, then?" he asks.

"Seems to work; it floats," I tell him, logging onto the system.

Frank's Biro taps delicately at the topmost of the little yellow notes. "Your mole rang again," he says. "Another wild-goose chase?"

I glance at the note. Mr Archer will phone me again in an hour. I look at my watch; about now.

"Probably," I agree. I check my Olympus Pearlcorder has a blank tape in it; the recorder lives beside the phone and gets to listen in on any potentially exciting calls.

"You're not moonlighting, are you, Cameron?" Frank says, bushy white brows furrowing at me.

"What?" I say, putting my jacket over the back of the chair.

"You haven't got two jobs and this mole is your excuse for getting out of the office, have you? Is it?" Frank asks, trying to look innocent. His Biro continues to tap against the side of the terminal screen.

I take hold of the end of the Biro and gently push it away, directing Frank back towards his own seat. "Frank," I tell him, "with the imagination you've got, you should work for the Sun."

He sniffs and sits down. I scroll through the e-mail and the wires for a bit then frown and stand up, looking over the terminal at Frank, who's sitting with his slim fingers poised over the keyboard, chuckling at something on the screen.

"What did you tell Iain Garnet about this so-called mole?"

"Did you know," Frank says, sounding mischievous, "that Yetts o" Muckart becomes Yetis o" Muscat under the spell-check?" He grins up at me, then his expression becomes serious. "Pardon?"

"You heard."

"What about Iain?" he asks. "Did you see him there today? How is he?"

"What did you tell him about this "mole"?" I peel the note off the screen and wave it at Frank.

He looks innocent. "Amn't I supposed to say anything? Well, I didn't know," he protests. "I was talking to him on the phone the other day; must just have come up in conversation. Terribly sorry."

I'm about to say something when the phone rings with an outside call.

Frank smiles and makes a lobbing, pointing motion with his Biro. "That might be your Mr Archer now," he says.

I sit down, lift the receiver. The line is terrible.

"Mr Colley?" The voice is machine-like, synthesised-sounding. I don't doubt it's Mr Archer but I could believe I'm talking to Stephen Hawking. I switch the Pearlcorder on, stick its earpiece in my ear and put the microphone attachment over the telephone earpiece.

"Speaking," I say. "Mr Archer?"

"Yes. Listen; I have something new on this thing."

"Well, I hope so, Mr Archer," I tell him. "I'm getting —»

"I can't speak for long, not on your phone," the mechanical-sounding voice continues. "Go to the following location."

I grab a pencil and a pad. "Mr Archer, this had better not be another —»

"Langholm, Bruntshiel Road. Phone box. Usual time."

"Mr Archer, that's —»

"Langholm, Bruntshiel Road. Phone box. Usual time," the voice repeats.

"Mr Arch —»

"I have another name for you this time, Mr Colley," says the voice.


The line goes dead. I look at the phone, then peel off the microphone attachment as Frank's smiling face appears round the side of the screen. He taps his Biro absently on my keyboard. "Our friend?" he inquires.

I tear the sheet off the pad and stick it in my shirt pocket. "Yep," I say. I log off the system, gather up the Pearlcorder and pull my jacket on again.

Frank smiles radiantly when he sees me doing this and clicks something on his watch. "Off so soon? Well done, Cameron," he says. "I think that's a new record!"

"Tell Eddie I'll phone in the story."

"On your head, my boy."

"No doubt." I head for the door.

I do a very little medicinal powder in the gents, then, having so girded my septum, bloodstream and hemispheres in the magic powder, I take the 205 down to Langholm, deep in the western Borders. I compose the rest of the Vanguard article in my head as I drive; it's a Sunday so getting out of the city is easy, but the roads in the countryside beyond are full of crap drivers, mainly little old guys wearing bunnets and staring intently through the steering wheel; I can remember when they all drove Marinas and Allegros but nowadays they seem to be issued with Escort Orions, Rover 413s or Volvo 340s, all apparently fitted with governors limiting their speed to thirty-nine and a half miles per hour. I get stuck in a line of traffic and, after a couple of hairy overtakes which result in various people flashing their headlights at me and which are purely the result of the speed, I decide to slow down, stop shouting at people, accept my lot and enjoy the scenery.