The British Parliament has been dissolved. Now the nation is divided among four soccer clubs: City, United, Wanderers, and Athletic, constantly and violently at odds with one another. And the United Kingdom is on its own, alienated from the rest of Europe.
Expatriate journalist Whitey Singleton escaped safely to America, and has been an outspoken critic of the tactics of the Club managers ever since. The last place he wants to be is back in London. But now his plane has been hijacked and diverted to Heathrow, and he finds himself at the mercy of this brutal regime—and drawn into a terrifying web of political intrigue that is about to explode at Wembley Stadium, in this chillingly suspenseful political parable by a winner of the prestigious Diamond Dagger.
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Even sunsets become boring after three hours. Whitey Singleton pressed the button which let him hear what the intense young man above his head was saying to the blousy blonde with the schismatic tits "... a pair of reechy kisses, or paddling in your neck with his damn'd fingers ..."
He groaned. Sixty thousand feet over Asia, who needs a 1920's Hamlet? Another button gave him the Japanese historical drama. A kimono'd stewardess arriving with his drink smiled at him approvingly, and he waited till she had disappeared along the blue carpeted aisle before switching off.
He took a magazine from the rack in front of him and groaned again when he saw it was last week's Nuspic.
He knew the articles almost by heart. The World Money Crisis. The ingenious solution of it by persons yet unknown who had dug a hundred foot tunnel into the vaults of a Los Angeles bank and removed a million dollars. The usual attack on the E.E.C.
And there as always in the centre spread was his own name, alongside the solemn photo and above the punchy prose.
The picture never changed. It was five years old now, taken when he first joined the paper shortly after settling in the States. He glanced at himself in the glass port. It was like Dorian Gray in reverse. The thought raised a smile which made him look younger but still not very like the solemn twenty-five year old of the photo. He reminded Whitey of someone else. Yes, that was it. Hamlet laying down the law to his poor old mother. Not the features, just the expression. Preachy righteousness.
Whitey yawned widely, his normal reflex in face of the disquieting, whether mental or physical. So he preached a bit. At least that way things got said and heard. And he kept a balance. The photo lied, he assured himself; which wasn't such a bad thing. There were many advantages for a journalist in anonymity.
He took a pad from his pocket and began to sketch some preliminary notes for his first piece on the Sudanese war. His critics might accuse him of pre-judging the situation, but two hours after landing he would be sending his first report home, so time was of the essence.
He glanced through the port. The plane was just overflying another cloud shelf and there, not quite dead ahead and just visible from his side of the aisle, was the orb of the sun which their speed had kept balanced on the horizon ever since leaving Tokyo. He tried to whip up some enthusiasm in himself for either the beauties of nature or the marvels of technology. It wasn't good for a creative journalist to become desensitized. But it was hard work.
His glass he noticed with surprise was empty. Some Nipponese version of whisky, perhaps, so volatile that if you didn't get it down in ten seconds, it just evaporated. He rang the bell for the stewardess.
A few seats ahead of him a bulky man with an unhealthily pale face stood up and started down the aisle, followed by a slim girl who Whitey would have guessed to be a Westerner but whose face was made up to an almost Oriental smoothness of complexion and feature. Only the hydrangea-blue eyes weren't quite right. He watched her go by without interest. Two weeks on a story in Tokyo had whet his appetite for more expressive beauties.
He returned to his notes. Perhaps he was in fact pre-judging the situation. But hell! you didn't have to be on the spot to know what was right and what was wrong. All you needed to find out for yourself was which was winning. Usually there was little doubt of that, either.
He rang the service bell again impatiently. A stewardess appeared bearing a laden coffee tray high in front of her face, like an icon in procession. The uneasiness caused by a sense of his own cynicism made him uncharacteristically rude. As she passed without slowing, he grasped her kimono, bringing her to a halt which almost toppled the coffee pot. She looked down at him, expressionless except for the eyes whose dusty blue was momentarily polished by a bright fury.
"One moment, sir," she lisped and continued on her way.
He watched her move swiftly down the aisle and ring for admittance to the flight-deck. She glanced back as she waited for the security scrutiny to take place and the door to be opened. For a moment their gazes locked.
Hydrangea-blue eyes, thought Whitey. Unusual. But not impossible.
But even as he reassured himself, he knew that this was the girl who a few minutes earlier had walked past him in the direction of the toilets. And the galley.
He half rose, uncertain what he was going to do. The unhealthy fat man loomed over him and pushed him gently back into his seat.
"Watch the pretty picture," he said, snapping the viewing switch back on.
Claudius, very smart in an admiral's uniform, was speaking. 'Hamlet, this deed, for thine especial safety — which we do tender, as we dearly grieve for that which thou hast done — must send thee hence with fiery quickness ...'
Out of Hamlet's mouth there seemed to issue the printed words fasten your seatbelts. There was a slight murmur of surprise and activity as the passengers complied except for two men who rose from different parts of the plane, hurried forward and with the fat man disappeared through the unlocked door of the flight-deck.
A few minutes later Whitey, imprisoned like the rest of the passengers in the strong clasp of his seat belt, noticed that the sun, though still balanced on the horizon's rim, seemed to have rolled through about forty degrees to its left, and he knew for certain then that the aeroplane's destination was no longer Khartoum. He leaned back in his seat, stared unseeingly at a plain in Denmark on which Hamlet wearing a straw boater stood talking to a Norwegian captain, and began to yawn convulsively.
It was a highly efficient hi-jack. Many of the passengers did not even suspect anything was wrong till arrival time came and passed. A reassuring female voice then explained over the speaker system that there had been a slight change of plan, inconvenience was regretted but nobody need worry. The stewardesses had been instructed to supply the passengers' drinking and eating needs and of course there would be no charge.
Whitey almost smiled at this, but as he began to suspect where the plane was headed, he got further and further away from a smiling mood. Every international reporter has places in the world where he is unwelcome. Usually this simply means he will not be allowed to enter the country. But sometimes it means that, having got in, he will find it almost impossible to leave.
And when two hours later the great strato-jet finally settled on the runway and rolled majestically along between rows of fire-tenders, ambulances and security-guards, Whitey knew he had come back to the last place on earth he would have wished to be.
For a while a kind of pessimistic vanity made him fear that the whole thing might have been arranged for his special benefit. On the last occasion he had been in this state, he had narrowly escaped with his life and ever since then he had peppered its rulers with advice, accusation and abuse, from all corners of the globe. They would like him back, he was certain. But he was surely not all that important. Worth a knife in the back, some day, perhaps, but not a public kidnapping. In any case, he had booked his seat on this plane at the airport only an hour before departure.
Gradually he relaxed. Nothing happened for half-an-hour. He presumed some kind of negotiations were going on, and finally an open jeep drew up alongside the plane, followed by a truck out of which clambered four armed guards in tight fitting red uniform. Two of them were accompanied by very nasty-looking dogs, but when the hi-jackers climbed down from the plane, their greeting seemed friendly enough and they were driven off in the jeep without incident.
Next a tall stooping man in shirt-sleeves wearily boarded the plane.
"Preds," he said, giving the local greeting accompanied by the clenched fist salute with thumb upraised. The man then addressed the passengers, with one of the stewardesses interpreting for those who did not speak the language. The plane would be taking off for its original destination after being refuelled and checked. Meanwhile the passengers were invited to step down and make use of the airport reception and catering facilities.
Whitey had no desire to leave the plane, but everybody else was moving and the last thing he wanted to be was conspicuous. No. The second last thing. The last thing was dead.
He walked in the middle of the caravan of passengers which wound its way to the huge reception area and once inside he headed straight for the toilets and locked himself in a cubicle. It was undignified but dignity was an expensive commodity if it left you short of life. These were people with a tradition of casual violence. The boot could go in so quickly that the only protection you could look for from an American passport was to hold it over your crutch.
He sat for nearly three hours, listening to announcements over the speakers. From time to time when he was sure the place was empty, he changed cubicles so that nobody could remark on the length of time any particular door was locked.
Finally the announcement came. The plane was ready for departure. Would passengers please assemble at gate number seven? He counted up to thirty, pulled the plug and stepped out.
A man was washing his hands at one of the row of brilliant white basins which bounced the harsh strip-lighting back against the tiled ceiling. He was tall, stooping, in his shirtsleeves.
"No hurry, Mr. Singleton," he said wearily.
Whitey headed for the door which opened before he could reach it. Two men stepped in wearing the red uniform he had seen by the plane. The tight fitting trousers made their thick-soled brown boots seem huge.
'"Preds," said one of them.
'"Preds," answered the stooping man, drying his hands in a warm-air jet.
"This is Mr. Singleton."
"Reffing bastard," said the man and swung a flailing right hook which Whitey saw coming so far off that he even had time to resurrect a possible counter-move from his teenage judo training as he ducked beneath the blow. But his assailant's less talkative companion offered no such notice of intent. The metal-tipped boot caught him just below the knee and he shrieked in agony as he fell. Keep on your feet was the only bit of teenage fighting lore that came to him now and he dragged himself half upright against one of the wash-basins, gripping the taps for support. A fist thudded into the small of his back and he shrieked again, but hung on. In the mirror he could see his attackers clearly, or as clearly as his tear-filled eyes would permit. The talking man moved forward and he tensed himself for another blow, but it didn't come. Instead the man turned on the hot tap and a gush of near boiling water broke over his right hand. He let go and fell back.
Now the blows came fast, mainly from the boots though an occasional punch was thrown if his writhings brought his head within striking distance. In the background the drone of the hot-air drier went on and on, mingling with and absorbing all other noises till it seemed to enter his head and become the only functioning part of his consciousness.
Then it stopped, and he thought he must be dead.
"That's time," said the stooping man's voice. "Take him out."
Ten minutes later he came to in the back of a moving van which smelt as if it had been used for carrying dogs. The ear which wasn't bleeding caught the noise of a jet taking off and he wondered if it was his flight. He managed to push himself off the ground till his face was level with the metal grille which covered the rear window.
There was no hope of glimpsing the departing plane but with the eye that wasn't closed, he saw the huge road sign which they were rapidly leaving behind them.
It read HEATHROW AIRPORT. ALL TRAFFIC SLOW.
Nixon Lectures: Fifth Series
Extract from preamble
The rise of the Four Clubs is my theme. I shall from time to time glance at the Scottish Two Club system and at those parts of Wales and the West Country which still deny allegiance to any Club; but England is my main concern.
Someone once said that language is history in the making and in support of this I should like to draw your attention to the document folder in the rack before you.
I (a) Extracts from MIDDLETON'S New International Dictionary; British Supplement (1994)
blest, int. Form of greeting in mid-English territory governed by Wanderers Club (contr. of blue is best referring to Club colour; sometimes falsely derived from be blessed). Note also preds (S.E. form, contr. of up the reds!), greening (N.E. form, corruption of greeting), and yellow (N.W. form, corruption of hello!).
glib, a. & n.Homo-sexual, particularly a member of a transvestite group, frequently violent (contr. of gay liberation, defunct protest group of sixties and seventies).
nonleague, a. Below standard; finished; knackered.
norm, n. Non-active member of Four Clubs society.
plite, int. Farewell (contr. of play it tight, in common use throughout England. See also smatch, int., contr. of see you at the match).
reffer, n. Blackguard, scoundrel (term of great abuse; fr. referee, arbiter in old football competitions. Also exists as v.
reff, commonly used with off with strength of fuck off! Also part.-ing).
relegate, v.t. Demote (often euphem. for beat unconscious, murder).
striker, n. active member of the main security force of one of the Four Clubs, usually known as the First Team. But also used for any member of the disciplinary cadre of a Supporters' (q.v.) Club. (Fr. obs. sport. slang, one whose purpose in the game of football was to score goals).
supporter, n. Member of the myriad clubs formed to pledge support to the Management of one of the Four Clubs. (N.B. These Supporters' Clubs' range from mere social centres to hotbeds of fanatical extremism, especially in the universities).
yuss, v.t. Use superior strength to enforce one's will; (yussing, though nowhere defined in writing, is at the basis of Four Club law; a Supporter may do what he has the power to to do. Fr. L. ius virium, the law of force. See Mr. Justice Lauriston's summing up Rex v. Woodcock and others, March 1985).CHAPTER 2
The Governor of Wormwood Scrubs was not pleased by Whitey's arrival in his office.
"What you want me to do with this reffer?" he demanded.
"Just look after him till I see the Manager," said the stooping man persuasively.
"He's so important?"
"I think it. He's Singleton. You remember?"
"Singleton? Oh yes. That Singleton."
Whitey, supported between the two large men, revived slightly at the mention of his name.
"I demand to see the American Consul," he said. At least those were the words that formed in his mind, but what sounds emerged from his swollen and split lips he could not tell.
"All right," said the Governor, capitulating suddenly. "Chuck him in. But he's your ball, Sheldrake."
From somewhere inside the building came a long shriek, cut off suddenly. Sheldrake looked enquiringly at the Governor who shrugged.
"The girl," he said. "Some of the team are having a bit of fun."
"The reffing idiots!" protested Sheldrake. "We might want her."
"Up to you," said the Governor. "There's six of them. You want to yuss it?"
Sheldrake glanced at his two henchmen who looked back at him neutrally.
"No," he said. "It's too late anyway. But no one touches this one or I'll yuss it with half a dozen strikers. OK?"
"By the look of him, you'd need a glass to find anywhere that hasn't been done over already," said the Governor. "Take him down. We're a bit full, but we'll squeeze him in somewhere.
You want a sponge for him or is he to be let fester?"
Sheldrake thought a moment, then nodded.
"All right. Call the quack. I'd like him to be taking notice when the Man sees him. The girl too."
"Her? She won't need a doctor, just a long rest."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Singleton's Law"
Copyright © 1997 Estate of Reginald Hill.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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