June Create: The Major Sees Red

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The Major Sees Red

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The file of papers on the desk was labelled in bright red:Top Secret. Major George Marston stared at them with growing anger. There had been something odd about the sequence of events that led to them arriving on his desk. He'd got a phone call from an official in the Foreign Office, saying there were Top Secret file papers that must be destroyed. He'd sent Pearl down to the registry where classified papers were kept to look for them. It took her a while to find them. He'd flicked through and what he saw changed his view of the government he served.

At first sight, the file contained nothing more than a sheaf of emails, between oil companies and top officials in both Britain and the US. But as he read, a suspicion turned to certainty. The oil companies had been lobbying for an attack on Asuristan for a year before it happened, and the governments had proved sympathetic. He'd dismissed as left wing propaganda the claim the invasion was intended to secure the country's oil fields . Now he knew it was true.

He pushed back his chair and strode to the window in the Ministry of Defence headquarters. From here, he could see the Cenotaph in the middle of Whitehall. No wreaths on it today. But in November, the plinth stood in a sea of red poppies.He'd served in Asuristan and some of the memories of that posting kept floating into his mind.

They had flown in, heads held high, thinking they were going to overthrow a despot. After a while, they'd found themselves in the middle of a bloody civil war. There were so many factions, it was difficult to know friend from enemy. They had trained to cope with the heat and fighting from house to house, but the roadside bombs had caught them out. He'd been travelling in a convoy of armoured vehicles when the one in front blew up, disappearing into smoke and flame. He'd run to the aid of his men, but they'd found one soldier dead and two seriously wounded. They were good men and he didn't see why they should die to assist some oil company's grab for resources.

The phone call from the Foreign Office must have come from someone keen to prevent these papers being handed to the interminable Inquiry into the war. Someone high up who didn't want the truth getting out, and had ordered the destruction of the papers. He was used to obeying orders but he was entitled to refer to his own conscience. Hadn't the Nuremberg trials established that? His conscience was telling him quite clearly these papers ought to go to the Inquiry. The truth should be told.

But how? He couldn't scan them into the computer and email them, because they would be detected almost immediately. The network was constantly monitored. He could put the papers in a brown paper envelope and post them but all the entrances to the building were watched by security cameras. It was clear he wouldn't escape detection for long. The best he could hope for was enough time to get the papers to the Inquiry. Then he'd have to face the consequences. It had to be his responsibility: he didn't want either his wife Julie or Pearl to be blamed.

Having made his decision, he acted quickly. He collected the file and strolled into the office where Pearl was working at her computer. She was pale and fat, with a moon face and lumpy body. He'd sometimes wondered why she didn't lose weight, as her dark hair and eyes might have made her pretty.

"You're not cleared to handle Top Secret, are you?" he asked.

"They don't think I'm worth the bother."

He ignored the resentment in her tone. "I'll shred these then."

In fact, he took a few steps down the corridor, then returned to his office, where he removed the Top Secret papers and replaced them with harmless ones. He slipped the Top Secret papers into two envelopes and put them into his briefcase, which he kept under his desk. Only then did he take the file to the office where the shredder for classified waste was kept. Shredding papers was a menial job for him to do, but the classification justified it.

The rest of the day, he went about his work as usual. There was a dull meeting in one of the conference rooms, during which his mind kept wandering to the papers in his briefcase. They were still there when he returned to his office. At half past five, he collected his briefcase and left. As he approached the exit to the building, there was a security check: a compartment formed by two sliding doors. He stepped in with the minimum hesitation, slid his card into the reader and was immediately allowed to leave. As he left the building, he noticed the security camera above the door. It would record his exit but he was doing nothing suspicious. Yet.

Instead of walking straight to Charing Cross Station, he wandered into Trafalgar Square. It was full of tourists idling in the bright June sun. There were youngsters sitting on the lions, children paddling in the fountains and people eating ice creams. Everything looked cheerful and peaceful. There were security cameras here too, of course but, while it was easy for them to track an individual, could they cope with crowds? Would anyone notice a man in his fifties, with grey hair and an upright bearing? For a few minutes, he walked between the trippers, loitering behind a couple of groups, and changing direction a few times. Then left the square, found a post box and posted his envelope.

Nothing unusual happened on his train journey home but, as he left the station, he noticed there were security cameras here too. He took little notice of the speed cameras by the road, although he knew they would photograph his number plates if he broke the limit. It didn't matter, as they knew where to find him. He wasn't going to run away. As he arrived at his house,he was flooded with awareness of how much his family and home meant to him. For the first time, he was glad his sons hadn't joined the army. Chris was doing something in computers which he didn't understand, and Matt wastraining as a GP. Only Julie was at home.

She was cooking and the smell of chicken curry filled the air as he opened the kitchen door. Although her hair was greying now, she had stayed slim and her wide mouth still smiled readily. He knew his action would cause her pain and regretted that, but he still thought he done the right thing.

"Did you have a good day?" she asked.

For a moment, he considered how to answer. "Something's happened. I've got myself in trouble."

"What you?" She smiled. "I can't see you fiddling your expenses or anything."

He shook his head. "It's worse than that. I've done something they're going to think wrong. The people at the top. And this could go a long way up. I think it's right but... It's difficult to explain."

She stopped stirring the curry and looked at him, as if trying to read his mind. "Why don't you try?"

"Look Julie, I don't want you getting involved. It's better if you don't know anything. Can't you go and stay with Chris for a few days? You're always saying we don't see enough of him and the little one. "

She stepped towards him and linked her arms round his neck."I wish you'd tell me."

He kissed her forehead and felt his determination wavering. "It would be like the time I was in Asuristan. I had to take decisions, give orders. I didn't tell you everything. Not even afterwards."

"This isn't Asuristan. It's Sussex."

"You'd still be better off out of it."

She sighed. "If you've made up your mind."

"I have."

"I'll ring Chris."

Julie left next morning. George kissed her, said "I love you" and watched her drive away. Whatever happened to him she would be all right. Rather than wait for the phone to ring and his boss to demand why he hadn't turned up to work, he set off for a brisk walk. Only when he'd reached the top of the Downs did he stop and wonder what would happen. In the past, he might have expected the police to send round a couple of bobbies, but now the armed response team might arrive. Not that he had any arms in the house. It was odd how quickly he'd been transformed from a respectable citizen to an outlaw. He'd stolen official documents, broken the Official Secrets Act and gone AWOL.

That thought made him wonder where his loyalties lay. Not with the politicians, many of whom seemed only concerned with their reputations and the directorships that brought them wealth. With his fellow army officers and the men he'd commanded certainly. Maybe with the country itself. From where he stood, he could look out over the Weald of Sussex and see the varied greens of woodland and field, church spires and villages of mellow brick. He liked to think the people were basically decent, with a belief in fair play and free speech.But was that still true? He turned and walked home.

As soon as he opened the door, he knew someone had been in and searched the place. It wasn't wrecked, but some things were out of place. A desk drawer had been left open, a pile of computer discs had been rearranged. When he walked into the garden and round the house, he found footprints on the gravel near the patio door. They wouldn't have found anything incriminating. He hadn't used his computer or his mobile phone since he left work yesterday. But they were on his trail.

He spent the rest of the day in a state of alert but saw nothing else out of place. Next day, he walked to the village High Street for a newspaper and a bottle of milk. The people shopping or waiting for buses were mainly elderly, or young women with children. Perhaps that was why he noticed a couple of men sitting in a black car parked in a side street. He got no details, just an impression of bulky middle aged men, who could have some business in the village. Nothing out of the ordinary. He walked along the lane towards his house and round a bend, so he was out of sight of the High Street when he heard the sound of a car being driven fast. He turned and saw the black car heading straight for him.

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