The summer of 1971 was notable for three things: the death of Louis Armstrong, the Cod War developing between the UK and Iceland, and the massive media overkill about Victor Magister. While the accused spent his time on remand at a special prison in a secret location somewhere within Britain, newspapers, magazines and television companies began a series of investigations into the background of this mysterious figure.
Who was Victor Magister and where did he come from? Nobody could find any record of such a person until his arrival at the parish of Devil's End, making Magister an obvious alias. One of the broadsheets latched on to the Latin translation of Magister and renamed this supposed criminal mastermind ‘the Master’. The name stuck and soon teams of investigative journalists began finding evidence pointing to the existence of the Master Gang - a team of terrorists responsible for many unexplained terrorist incidents from recent years.
Quickly added to Magister's list of alleged crimes was the series of attacks across Britain a year and half before known as Black Thursday. A World in Action documentary suggested that Black Thursday was actually an attempted coup by the Master Gang which had nearly succeeded. The Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team of investigative journalists discovered evidence that the Wenley Moor plague was actually the by-product of an attack on the nuclear research facility by the Master Gang. The plague was actually a radioactively accelerated virus that attacked the body's auto-immune system, initially passed on touch and then later becoming windborne. Neither of these scoops made any mention of the role of UNIT in each incident, nor of my previous investigations that had revealed the incidents in the first place.
These revelations were followed by a flood of similar stories. The Master Gang was soon blamed for the failure of everything from the Mars Probe series of rocket launches (‘an attempt to destroy Britain's lead in the space race, thus shattering the credibility of our Empire’ thundered the Daily Chronicle's leader the next day) through to the collapse of the World Peace Conference in London. After a few of these stories appeared, I began to see a pattern emerging.
I contacted Cassandra who was not happy to hear from me, especially over an open phone line. ‘This is not a good time to talk, Whiti,’ he whispered. ‘I'll call you when I can.’
‘Okay, but make it soon,’ I insisted.
It was another two days before my source in the intelligence services finally got back to me. He confirmed my suspicion that the stories were the result of a series of carefully controlled leaks of information - some of it accurate, some of it fabricated - to different news media organizations. The plan was to resolve a whole series of embarrassments for the Government by placing the blame for them squarely at the door of Victor Magister and his Master Gang.
‘But surely this is overkill,’ I interjected. ‘One or two well-planted stories I could understand but this is going way over the top. There's no way Magister will ever be able to get a fair trial anywhere in Britain: the case against him has been blatantly prejudiced by the media coverage.’
‘That's the whole point,’ Cassandra replied. ‘The stick and the carrot, the stick and the carrot. Wait a few more days Whiti, you'll see what I mean.’
Mystified by his oblique explanation, I concentrated instead on securing my press accreditation for the trial of Victor Magister. This was going to be a three-ring circus and I wanted to be in the front row for all the action. But Cassandra's words returned to me a week later when the Lord Chamberlain's office made a shock announcement.
Due to the extensive media coverage prejudicing any chance of Victor Magister getting a fair trial in Britain, it had been decided that his case should be heard in camera before a tribunal of top judges. The statement also mentioned in passing that matters of vital national security would be compromised should a word of the proceedings be openly reported. The entire trial would be closed to the public and the media.
The stick and the carrot: now I realized what Cassandra had been alluding to. First the media was given a series of nice juicy carrots with all the leaks about the Master Gang. Now came the stick, the punishment to keep the media in line. As always, the intelligence services were a long way ahead of the media in their mind games.
The announcement about the Magister trial being in camera brought howls of fury from the media. At the forefront of protests about this show of high-handedness by the Government was BBC3's The Passing Parade programme. Of all the media, this show felt it had a right to report about the trial since it was by sabotaging the programme that Victor Magister was brought to justice in the first place.
Alex MacIntosh hosted a special edition of the show that night, where invited guests held a round-table discussion about the decision and its consequences for the media and the public. I phoned up Vincent and reminded him of the invitation to try my hand at television. He quickly had me drafted on to the panel of guests for the debate.
To my left sat noted journalist, writer and broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge, while on my right were an uncomfortable spokesman from the Lord Chamberlain's office called Davis Jenkins and the editor of the Daily Chronicle, Peter Wise, recently given a knighthood for his ‘services to the media’. The latter did his best to avoid all eye contact with me before the live programme went on air.
MacIntosh began by asking each of us what we though were the implications of this decision, starting with Muggeridge. An elder statesman amongst commentators and journalists, Muggeridge still cut an impressive figure with his concise summaries of situations and frequently incisive predictions. He had obviously thought long and hard about the wider issues of this case, although he was not well versed in its intricacies. Muggeride said the decision to hold the trial in camera was setting a dangerous precedent for Britain and could only harm the credibility of the world's greatest system of justice. ‘Certainly, exclude the press and public when it comes to matters of national security, of course, but in essence this trial is a murder case - the killing of that archaeologist, Professor Horner. That is what Magister is standing trial for, if Victor Magister is, indeed, his real name. There seems to be some doubt about even that.’
MacIntosh turned to direct Muggeridge's comments at the man from the Lord Chamberlain's office. ‘Davis Jenkins, is this setting a dangerous precedent? Are you eroding British justice by this decision?’
‘Of course not,’ Jenkins said obsequiously. In his three-piece pin-striped suit and Eton tie, Jenkins was every inch the model civil servant. His round, baby face spoke of an easy, comfortable life and his carefully parted hair revealed just a hint of dandruff. Jenkins was barely thirty years old, but despite his youth his attitudes and appearance were those of someone closer to fifty. I took an instant dislike to him as he spoke.
‘As Malcolm Muggeridge well knows, there are two reasons why this trial must be held in camera. Not only is there the danger to national security posed by this case, but also the highly prejudicial reporting of this whole affair by news media like this very programme.’
‘Indeed?’ The presenter turned to my old boss. ‘Sir Peter, as editor of the Daily Chronicle, how do you respond to this charge that your coverage of the so-called Master Gang has prevented Victor Magister ever receiving a fair trial in Britain?’
‘I think my paper's coverage of this matter has been fair and unbiased. But there have been others who have not shown our sound judgement and prudence in this matter. The Chronicle agrees with the decision to hold this trial in camera for reasons of national security. The sanctity of Britain must come first!’
I could not help snorting in disbelief at Sir Peter's self-righteous justifications. He noticed my reaction and went on the offensive.
‘May I just say I would not have agreed to appear on this programme had I known that a sensationalist tabloid hack like James Stevens would also be taking part in this debate.’
‘After your display of selfless toadying to the Establishment, I should take that as a back-handed compliment,’ I said gleefully. ‘Being called sensational by the editor of the Daily Chronicle is like being criticized for being too clever by a simpleton!’
‘Gentlemen, if we can keep the debate seemly,’ MacIntosh said. ‘Now, Mr Stevens, you are a prize-winning investigative journalist and best-selling author of the book Bad Science. What is your view?’
I took a deep breath. I had been preparing my thoughts for just such a moment and now was my chance to say what I really felt, knowing that the live-to-air broadcast would make it difficult to censor my comments.
‘Frankly, I think this whole affair stinks of conspiracy, corruption and collusion. The media and the British public have been manipulated ever since the day Victor Magister was arrested and that manipulation continues even now.’
‘How can you justify such a claim?’ asked MacIntosh, one hand held to his earphone. He was obviously receiving instructions from his producer in the control box. They were giving me my head - for now.
‘Consider this, Alex: as soon as the so-called Master was arrested, all the major media were each given different photos of him, so they would all have a picture exclusive the next day. Yet this was no time before his arrest and subsequent incarceration awaiting trial for all those different photos to be taken. How long have the authorities known about this dangerous terrorist, and why have they concealed his existence from the media and the public?
‘Since Magister's arrest we have seen exclusive after exclusive about different terrorist crimes this man is meant to have masterminded. Yet not a word about his involvement in any of these events was spoken before his arrest at Devil's End. Also, many of these so-called exclusives are fabrications. The Master Gang has been blamed for Black Thursday, the Wenley Moor plague and problems at the British Space Centre without a shred of proof to back up any of these claims. My Bad Science book investigated each of these specific incidents and I have gone back to all my original sources. None of them has made any connection between Victor Magister, the Master Gang and these incidents.’
‘But these stories about him can't all be wrong, can they?’ Malcolm Muggeridge asked. ‘Sorry, these allegations?’
‘Perhaps not,’ I replied. ‘But my sources indicate there has been an active campaign of disinformation led by members of the Government and the civil service to lay the blame for these incidents on Victor Magister, thus exonerating themselves. By leaking these fabrications the Government can then use its own lies to prevent the media covering the Magister trial, furthering the cover-up.’
By now MacIntosh was making frantic signals at me from off camera to shut up and the studio floor manager in the background was indicating it was time to wind up the show and quickly. I was determined to finish what I had to say, no matter what the consequences.
‘I know for a fact that the cover-up is being carried out by a covert intelligence taskforce known as UNIT, aided and abetted by a department of brutal enforcers -’
‘Well, that's all we've got time for tonight,’ interrupted MacIntosh, who was now sweating profusely. ‘I'd like to thank our guests -’
‘A department of brutal enforcers working within the Government's secret service ministry, C19. I believe they are using a secret establishment called the -’
Suddenly all power to the entire studio was cut. Only a single television monitor remained on in one corner. A BBC3 TV caption card appeared on the screen:
THE PASSING PARADE
A voiceover reassured viewers that there had been a technical fault and BBC3 was moving on to the next item in its schedule for tonight. MacIntosh turned and swore at me for a full minute before calming down. ‘What the hell did you think you were doing?’
‘I had something to say, so I said it.’
‘I'll make sure you never appear on a show with me again!’ he vowed and stomped off the set. The other guests melted away quickly and I was just leaving when Vincent beckoned me over.
‘That was brilliant!’ he said. ‘The top floor are going crazy but that's the best edition we've had for months - thanks for coming. I'd keep my heads down for a few days if I were you: you've probably made a few important people very, very angry indeed!’
Realizing he was probably right, I rushed home with my mind full of the horrors I might find waiting for me there. Instead I walked through the door unharmed and found Dodo asleep on the sofa. I kissed her awake and tried to suppress my paranoia. If anything should happen to her...
‘Did you see the show?’
‘Yes, you were very good,’ she murmured dozily. ‘I thought that editor was going to hit you at one point. The look on his face!’ I packed her off to bed, and was just locking all the doors and turning out the lights when the phone rang. It was long after midnight: who was calling at this time of the night? I picked up the receiver and felt a chill as the caller spoke - it was Cassandra.
‘Jesus Christ, what the hell did you think you were playing at, James?’ There was none of the normal caution in his voice, he seemed genuinely afraid. He had certainly never called me James before.
‘What is it? What's wrong?’
‘Get out. Get out of the house now - while you still can!’
The phone went dead. Not as if Cassandra had hung up. There was just silence, nothing at all. The wires had been cut.
‘Hello? Hello?’ I kept asking impotently. I was interrupted by the sound of glass smashing in the front room, and then a hearty whoosh. Following the noise I ran next door to find the floor on fire and the window smashed; someone had thrown a molotov cocktail from the street. Another smash, this time from the floor above, then another and a third. The house was being attacked with petrol bombs.
I ran up the stairs to the main bedroom. Inside the curtains were on fire and Dodo was crouched on the bed screaming. Wrapping a robe around her, I dragged Dodo down the stairs and out the kitchen door into the back yard. Make sure she was safe and unhurt, I got the attention of the neighbours and made them phone the fire brigade. Clutching a handkerchief to my face, I ran back into the burning building.
A wall of heat barred the way up the stairs and the acrid fumes from the flames made breathing almost impossible. I was gasping for air between choking fits as I staggered into my office to try and rescue some of my notes. But inside I found someone tugging at my desk, trying to shift it to get at my floor safe.
‘I wouldn't bother if I were you,’ I shouted over the roar of the fire. ‘I shifted all my important notes to a safety deposit box after the last break-in.’ I began edging slowly towards my desk, hoping to reach the top right drawer. Inside was something I had recently also acquired after the burglary - an old service revolver I had bought to protect Dodo and myself. I had never fired a gun in my life but somehow having it in the house had made me feel safer. If I could just get hold of it...
The figure turned to look at me; it was the blond man with the tan who had attacked me at the pub in Cambridge. He peered at me through the smoke and noticed my movements towards the desk drawer. Reaching into his waistband he pulled out the revolver.
‘Looking for this?’ he said. ‘I told you to stay away. Now I'm going to show you why.’ He threw himself at me. We both slammed against a wall, the impact forcing all breath from my body. I slumped to the floor gasping as my attacker staggered back. ‘Now you'll have to die, you little shit!’ He lashed out with the revolver, smashing me in the side of the head with its butt. I remember falling sideways and blood trickling down into my eyes, warm and dark. Then, blackness...
I regained my senses in the garden, black smoke billowing over my pounding head. I rolled to one side and vomited on the grass, retching and coughing, my lungs still full of smoke. Dodo crouched beside me, holding a damp cloth to the side of my face.
‘Are you all right? I saw a man run out of the house and then nothing. When you didn't come out I got one of the neighbours to help me drag you out,’ she said. ‘How do you feel?’
‘I've been better.’ I managed to sit up and look at what remained of the house. The exterior shell still stood but the downstairs interior was completely burnt out. Fortunately the fire brigade had arrived in time to save most of the upstairs rooms. ‘Good thing it wasn't a terrace block,’ I joked, but could not manage a smile to match my attempted humour.
‘Look, the ambulance men want to take you to hospital. They say you're suffering from smoke inhalation and possible concussion,’ Dodo said uncertainly.
‘Forget it, I'm not going into hospital!’ I replied. Dodo nodded.
‘I though you might say that. Well, the people next door say we can sleep in their spare bedroom tonight. Who knows? Maybe it won't look so bad in the morning...’ She turned away and I knew she was crying. I stood up and embraced her, trying to soothe the tears away.
‘What's wrong, what's the matter? It's just a house, we can always get another.’
‘I was so scared I was going to lose you,’ she cried. ‘I don't ever want to be alone again.’
‘You won't be,’ I whispered and kissed her.
The next morning I woke up angry. The ground floor of the house was a black, sodden mess. I had been to my share of fires as a reporter and knew that frequently putting out the blaze caused more damage than the fire itself. Everything was soaked through, making me glad it was summer - at least we had a chance of drying out our remaining belongings during the day. Much of the furniture was smoke-stained, and virtually all the downstairs section would need to be rebuilt. At least we could continue living on the top floor while repairing what was left below.
More worrying by far was the precedent that this new escalation in the campaign to scare me off had set. Up to now I had only been subjected to vague threats and one physical attack. Within an hour of my appearing on television and mentioning the names C19 and UNIT, someone tried to kill me. What made me more angry was that Dodo had become a target too, and had nearly died because of the attempt on my life.
Although I had kept my most valuable notes elsewhere, months of work on the book about UNIT, C19 and the Doctor operatives had been wiped out by the fire. If not for Cassandra's warning, I could have lost everything: my work; my home; the woman I loved; my life. This had gone far enough: it was time I went on the offensive.
Leaving Dodo to sift through the wreckage, I went to New Scotland Yard to file a complaint. The constable at the front desk took one look at the blood- caked wound on the side of my head and immediately got the desk sergeant. ‘Yes sir, how can I help you?’
‘I want to report an attempted murder,’ I replied. ‘Mine.’
‘Really, sir? And what's your name?’
‘Stevens, James Stevens.’
‘Mr Stevens. Didn't I see you on the telly last night? Talking about something called C19?’
‘That's right. Can we please just get on with this? I've been attacked, left to die in my own home while it burnt to the ground, and I'm not feeling very well,’ I said, my voice husky from all the smoke I had inhaled. Having to wear the same clothes I had on the previous night, I still stunk from the fumes of the fire.
‘Very good, sir. I'll take you to a private interview room and get somebody from CID to come down and see you,’ the sergeant replied. He led me through a series of doors and corridors before finally indicating a white room furnished with only an old oak desk and two hard-backed wooden chairs. ‘If you just wait in there, somebody will be along to deal with you shortly, Mr Stevens.’
‘Thanks,’ I said and wearily sat in one of the chairs. I felt exhausted, physically and emotionally drained by the events of the past 24 hours. I had searched carefully throughout the house but there had been no sign of the revolver in the wreckage, which meant that the weapon was probably now in the possession of C19. I had not dared to tell Dodo - she was frightened enough already.
After waiting more than ten minutes, I became infuriated at being made to wait like this. I guessed they had forgotten about me in this obscure interview room. Typical! I decided to see if I could find anyone to complain to about my treatment. But when I tried the door handle, I discovered it was locked. What the hell was going on? I hammered against the door and yelled and shouted but got no response from outside. A familiar voice behind me got my attention.
‘Persistent, aren't you, Mr Stevens?’
I turned to face my attacker from the previous night, a hidden door in the wall closing behind him. He was dressed in a regulation police uniform, with the insignia of a sergeant visible. He was smiling.
‘You couldn't take a warning, could you? You just couldn't just leave this story alone. You wouldn't listen, no matter how many warnings we gave you. Now, we're going to have to take care of you - permanently.’ The blond man slipped his hand into a pocket and pulled out a pair of gleaming brass knuckle-dusters, fitting them carefully on to his right fist. The legend C19 was carved into the glinting metal.
‘What do you mean, take care of me? People know I've come here today; I made sure I told people I was coming here,’ I said nervously.
‘Nobody's going to save you, Mr Stevens. There are no knights in shining armour in real life, no cavalry, no heroes who burst in at the last minute and save scum like you. Reality is you and me and that's it. Nobody saw you come into this building, nobody will remember you at the front desk, and nobody ever remembers seeing me - not if they know what's good for them, anyway.’
The huge man strode across the room towards me, throwing the heavy wooden desk to one side. ‘Officially, I don't even exist,’ he said. ‘And from today, neither do you.’ He pulled back a fist and smashed it into my nose. The bones broke with a dull crack and blood began gushing from my nostrils, pouring hot and wet into my mouth and down my throat, making me gag. ‘From today, you're just another missing person statistic,’ the blond man confided. ‘Goodbye, Mr Stevens. We won't meet again.’ Then the blows came quickly, savage in ferocity yet quite clinical in their precision.
I fell to the floor, throwing my hands up uselessly to protect myself. Just before I lost consciousness, my face pressed against the floor, I saw the secret doorway open again and a pair of legs walked in. A boot was grinding my face into the floor, preventing me from looking up to see who the newcomer was. But when the person spoke, I knew its familiar tones immediately.
‘Ah, the troublesome Mr Stevens. After all the assistance I gave you, that it should come to this!’
As blackness engulfed me, I realized I recognized the voice. It was -