Table of Contents
Chapter 24, part 3 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 24: London, England
Toni bought a pocket guide from a pavement kiosk, and they took a cab towards Westminster. He decided they should get out at St James’s Park station.
‘Right,’ he said, still consulting his guidebook. ‘That immense edifice opposite is the main Home Office building. But it says here it’s not big enough for them — so they’re having an even larger place built, just down the road! Now that’s what I call moving home!’
They sauntered down towards the park and along Birdcage Walk, then up the steps into King Charles Street. Toni was still reading as he walked.
‘Those are the old Cabinet War Rooms, Carla. This huge complex is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Now, straight ahead is Whitehall ... we’ll turn left ... there’s the Cenotaph war memorial ... and here’s Downing Street, where the Prime Minister works and the Cabinet makes its decisions. Then opposite, there’s the Department for Work and Pensions, and then the Department of Health ... and just beyond them, the Ministry of Defence. Wow ... everything is so close together!’
‘I wonder where Jeremy Farant is right now, Toni ...?’
‘Hmm. Anyway ... see over there, Carla ... from 10 Downing Street they can look across Whitehall, through the gap between those ministry buildings, and get a perfect view of the people high up in the new London Eye observation wheel!’
‘But can the people in the London Eye get a perfect look down into the corridors of power, Toni?’
‘Ha ha ha ... you’re doing it again! Brilliant!’
They still had plenty of time left. They strolled down Bridge Street to the river, and marvelled at the proud beauty of the Houses of Parliament, and in particular, Big Ben.
‘That’s actually the name of the biggest of its famous bells, Carla — the whole thing is officially called The Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster.’
‘I prefer Big Ben, Toni.’
‘So does everybody else.’
They crossed Parliament Square (‘... remember Friday’s sunset, Carla?’), and took a long walk around the vibrant glory of Westminster Abbey.
Then there was time for Toni to have a quick cup of coffee before they hailed another taxi.
‘Piccadilly Circus, please!’
* * *
Jeremy Farant MP arrived on time, returned Carla’s smile, and nodded politely to her companion, whom he had not spotted at all during Saturday’s proceedings. His well-concealed anger was not directed at them ... and he knew anyway that it would be fruitless to waste his energy on the go-betweens ...
‘Mr Farant,’ said Carla, ‘I feel we need the privacy of our office entrance once again, but I am certain it will be in use today. May we take up your original suggestion of a local pub where you will not be recognised ...?’
‘Of course, madam. Follow me ...’
They trooped off down Coventry Street, then turned left as they approached Leicester Square, and penetrated into Chinatown. They walked in convoy into The King’s Head (the barman gave them a polite but non-committal nod of welcome) and they all sat down at the table in the farthest corner from the door. Then Toni remembered again that he was in England, and, after establishing that the Hon. Mr Farant would also like ‘a small glass of draught beer, thank you very much,’ he stood up again and went over to the bar.
Carla, however, was not keen to be a lady-in-waiting, and quickly got on with her own job. When Toni returned with the beers two minutes later, she had already begun her second, and this time public, close encounter with the member for the leafy constituency in West London.
The barman, having seen it all over the past thirty years, took no notice of their antics whatsoever, and returned to his newspaper ...
Good afternoon, Jeremy. I am sorry to observe that you appear mildly distraught.
‘Distraught, Quo? That’s a good word for it! Mildly? No! Extremely!’
Perhaps you will explain why ... in your own words ...
‘There is not much to explain. It is very simple. On every subject I investigated, I found that both of my good friends were concealing their true beliefs and opinions behind a front of either watered-down or beefed-up positions. I could not find a single issue, for either of them, in which the line they have taken in public was in full accord with their real feelings! Distraught? No, that’s not strong enough! I’m mortified!’
Jeremy, please be calm. I regret that I have caused you such distress. Of course, it is not of my making ... I am merely the agent of your improved insight. I think the parallel with your free press is a fair one — and like its reporters, I can bear no responsibility for the effects of the revelations which I enable ...
‘Don’t be so pompous and hypocritical! You’re worse than the press! You gave me the key to Pandora’s box, knowing I could not resist it. That is just downright immoral!’
Jeremy, listen to me ... (Quo turned up the strength of the outbound transferral circuit) ... Jeremy, you have merely learned the truth. The real truth. You have seen that, with its current make-up, the human species simply cannot achieve the heights of integrity to which you personally aspire.
‘Quo, I really do not feel happy about this ...’
Jeremy ... (the power went up another few points) ... Jeremy, you must concentrate on what I am saying to you. Your aims are immaculate. Your cause is the most worthy. Your purity of intent matches that of Joan of Arc. You must continue, to the best of your great and inspirational ability, to pursue everything that you believe in ... for it is the way of the future. The only way.
But ... it is of the future.
Your peoples will never be able to achieve the integrity you seek until each and every individual has been taught — as we Domans were taught, long ago and far away, and as you yourself were taught, only hours ago — to know each other’s minds. But here and now, Jeremy, is not quite the time for that great lesson to be taught on Earth.
‘I feel, Quo, that I understand you at last.’
That is good. So, Jeremy — fine, honest Jeremy — you will now resume your great crusade. You will recall nothing of the extraordinary events of the past two days. In particular, your insights into the thinking of your illustrious colleagues will be exactly as they were before you began to assist us. Your faith will be completely renewed ... and you will have totally lost the special powers which we lent to you.
However, if you should be asked over the next three days about the young man and woman who have twice provided us with our service of introduction, you will confirm that they are trusted freelance journalists, and bona fide new members of CAMRUTH.
Until the next time, Jeremy ...
The fully-restored politician blinked, and spotted the beer in front of him.
‘Ah, how good of you,’ he said graciously to Toni, and drained his glass in one go. ‘Well, it has been a great pleasure to bump into two very contented constituents. Thank you again for paying for the beer (very fine beer, didn’t you think?) ... at least I can’t be accused of trying to corrupt my voters! And I do hope I can count on your continued support at the next election!’
He rose, nodded politely, and walked smartly out of the bar.
‘OK, Toni ... can you get straight on the phone and organise a flight to Strasbourg as soon as possible? You’ll need to arrange a hotel at the same time ...’
Toni eventually completed his latest tasking.
‘That was interesting, Carla ...’ he said, as they stood up to leave the pub.
‘Well, considering Strasbourg is the centre of European government, it’s awfully difficult to get there from this particular outpost! There’s only one more direct flight today ... and that’s not until half-past seven. There’s no meal provided. It doesn’t arrive until ten o'clock local time, after we’ve adjusted for the European zone again ... and we’ll need to go out into the countryside to catch it!’
‘Every picture tells a story, Toni. And it is a pity ... it means we can’t do anything useful in Strasbourg tonight. I was hoping we could make contact with Monsieur Lamargue. Never mind ... it should just about give me time to see you to your new hotel room, before I nip back to Belgium to meet up with Raymond again. Let’s hope the flight arrives on time!’
‘What happens if it doesn’t, Carla?’
‘We panic. But there’s no rush for now. You can get yourself a good lunch after all, and perhaps have a gentle stroll back to Bayswater ... and then pick up your luggage and make your way to the airport. I’ll be right behind you all the way, and I’ll see you first thing in the morning ... we’re going to have a busy day tomorrow!’
Toni would rather have spent some more quiet time with Carla straight away, to pursue her own recently-revealed, astonishing truth. But she was already hurrying off towards the nearest side alley ...
* * *
The walk back to his hotel and the journey out to Stansted Airport by tube and train were uneventful, and, fortunately, the flight to Strasbourg did depart on time. So, well before eleven-thirty that evening, Carla was able to ensure that Toni was safely ensconced in his latest hotel room on the Place de la Cathédrale. She then made her ultra-rapid return to the bench outside Mons railway station.