Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Prune 6 (shoot first ask questions later), Sangria 19 (Rage, rage against the dying of the light), White Chocolate 22 (lethargy).
Toppings/Extras: Malt – Birthday prompt ( The waters turn from blue to red from likelolwhat).
Word Count: 2906
Notes: early 1961; Ronald Whittaker, Julia Graves, Thomas Hallam, Alan Jemmings. (It's been a while since I've managed plot, but probably most related to Disillusionment for Whittaker, and Splinters for Julia.)
Summary: If it’s come to this, Ron thinks, it must be the end of the world…
It had come to something, Ron Whittaker felt, when Mrs Iveson came to call and wound up pointing a gun at him.
Times had begun to take a strange turn, it was true, what with the resignation or death of so many members of the Cabinet, including Iveson, but Julia Iveson taking such measures seemed so unlikely, he was almost more startled than scared.
“Mrs Iveson,” he tried tentatively, pulling at his collar. “Perhaps if you could put the gun down and we could have a talk about this? Er, whatever ‘this’ is?”
Julia gave a slight nod, but she kept the gun pointed at him. “If you’ll first promise me not to telephone the police, then yes. Happily. But I don’t want anyone else to find me.”
Jemmings had said things once, about Iveson and maybe even Julia; about him being a traitor and her being a spy. Ron hadn’t been sure what to think at first, but Iveson’s death had proved his guilt, and now here was Julia proving herself in the role of an enemy agent of some kind.
“I’m not promising anything to you, not while you’re threatening me,” he said. “I mean, if you wanted to kill me, you’d have done it already.”
Julia held the gun steady, her mouth tightening into a determined line as she faced him. “Oh, I wouldn’t count on that. I don’t want to, and I’d do my best to not to kill you, but I will fire if I need to."
“Yes, but what do you want?” The situation was beginning to lose its unreality and catch up with him. Ron would have liked to sit down, but it didn’t seem wise to move too far. He merely put a hand out to the wall behind him.
“I want to have the conversation with you that you should have had with my husband, if you hadn’t been too damned stubborn to see him. Now, will you please listen?”
Ron looked across at her. He could probably take her without too much trouble, if he tried, but the gun going off in the process was a risk he couldn’t afford unless there was no other choice. And clearly she hadn’t come here to assassinate him, or she wouldn’t have started talking. That thought brought on a long overdue outburst of anger. It was a betrayal of the nation, what Iveson had done, but it had also been a betrayal of Ron, who’d looked up to him not so long ago. And, as for Julia –
“To someone holding me at gunpoint?” he said. “To a bloody spy? It’s all true, isn’t it? I wanted to think it wasn’t, but here you are! God, you and Iveson, up to your necks in treachery and intrigue! And me, like an idiot, insisting it couldn’t be like that when Tom tried to warn me. And I thought – I thought –” He lost what he wanted to say and leant back against the wall. “I never thought that the two of you – that it was all a sham. I suppose I’m a fool, but I thought you were for real.”
Julia shook her head. “Never mind that now! There isn’t time to explain everything. But regardless of what we did, I still have to speak to you. And, besides, if you mean what I think you do, then, yes, we were for real. But that isn’t the point –”
“Isn’t it? If it was all a show, all a deception, how can I believe anything you say? It’s damn well the whole point!”
Julia drew in her breath and said, “For heaven’s sake, Ron, Hallam intends to blow up the Houses of Parliament! Everything else other than that is moot until we’ve stopped him, and you’re the only one I can try.”
“My God,” said Ron, robbed of breath for a moment. “Are you mad?”
Julia lowered the gun. “Maybe, but not for suggesting that. You know that Hallam was blackmailing my husband, I take it? Why did he do that, instead of what any honest citizen would have done on discovering that the Foreign Secretary, or maybe just his wife, had been passing on information to a pressure group?”
“He wanted Harding out, that’s all,” said Ron, shoving his hands in his pockets. He felt bound to defend Tom, but what defence was there? Whatever Iveson had done, Tom had been guilty of blackmail.
“That’s all?” She raised an eyebrow.
Ron rubbed his forehead. “All right, all right. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I’ve been trying to keep out of Tom’s way since. But that didn’t mean I was going to see Iveson when he asked, either. I didn’t know how to face him. Either he didn’t know what you were doing and the man was a fool, or he did, and he was a traitor. What was I supposed to say?”
“Look,” said Julia, “Hallam wants to be in power. You know that, don’t you?”
“Well, that is the aim of the ambitious politician, isn’t it? It doesn’t make him the new Guy Fawkes – quite the reverse!”
“No. But first he blackmails Edward into aiding him in disposing of various Cabinet members he perceives as a threat – Edward, would, of course, have followed in time, but he took matters into his own hands. But not even the position of Prime Minister can give him the power he needs to bring in the sort of reforms and controls he considers necessary to address the country’s predicament. And then there’s Jemmings – he just wants the power, doesn’t he?”
“I’ll grant you that much,” said Ron. “Perhaps.”
“The one certain way for Hallam to get what he wants is to make sure there’s a serious crisis, maybe severe enough to warrant military control – and Jemmings has considerable influence among the military, doesn’t he?”
“It’s still not plausible –”
“And I should think, regardless of how well it succeeds or fails in disposing of how many MPs, a bomb going off in the Commons would provide that crisis. Nothing else would be quite so easy to engineer. I imagine they must have some explosives placed elsewhere – and given Jemmings’s position in MI5, he has a lot of access.”
Ron fell silent.
“Listen,” said Julia, “I understand that you despise me. I despise myself, if you must know. But if you go to the House of Commons and set off the fire alarm, the worst that could happen would be a temporary disruption. If you don’t, and I’m right, a lot of people will die and the government will fall.”
He couldn’t help it. He was beginning to believe her. “I can’t.”
“You could. You’re supposed to be there now. Go, set off the alarm, or if you can’t, just run into the building and yell at everyone to get out. Only do something!” Julia watched him as he hesitated. “That’s why Edward wanted to see you. He spent those last months preparing for something like this, as much as he could, but he couldn’t get to you – and you, close to Hallam as you are, you were who we needed.”
“But why didn’t you phone the police? Even as an anonymous tip off they’d have had to empty the buildings.”
Julia sat down. “Superintendent Sheldon was supposed to act on this, but he’s not around today. I hope that that is because they’ve sent him somewhere – but I expect that’s optimistic of me. So, I had to come to you. We have an officer from Five, but he’s still on his way back from Birmingham, and even if he could make it in time, Jemmings is getting suspicious of him. And if we do put a call through, it’ll only get picked up by Jemmings’s people. I don’t know how much time we have, but you must get the House cleared as soon as possible.”
Ron reached for his jacket. “I take your point, but this still seems too extreme for Tom.”
“Does it?” she said. “You know him better than I do. Does it really?”
No, it didn’t, Ron thought. Hell. What wouldn’t Tom Hallam do to achieve his aims? But such sweeping, wholesale, bloody murder? And then he thought: murder of a set of people Tom considers to be committing what might as well amount to criminal negligence in the running of the country. And he’d always known that Jemmings was a bounder. Julia and Iveson, on the other hand, weren’t necessarily much better – and he still felt a pang of loss for that particular illusion.
“If you won’t, then I’ll try,” said Julia, “but I don’t expect I’ll get very far.”
Ron put on his jacket. “All right, all right. I’ll do it.”
They hurried down the street, Julia slightly behind Ron, her hat carefully positioned to hide her face. Ron found himself infected by her haste, her intent seriousness about the business. He increased his pace, leaving her further behind, but even as he reached Parliament Square, the world seemed to be suddenly torn apart, the ground shaking as if the end times had come and thunder filling the air.
It must have only lasted for a moment, but it seemed to take forever; the awful moment of stillness that followed even longer, before suddenly the world was full of movement and sound – sirens, shouts, and people running. Ron pressed himself back against the wall and couldn’t think what to say or do. He didn’t know whether he truly had believed Julia or not, but she had been right. He didn’t dare let himself think further than that or ask which of his fellow MPs had survived. Smoke was rising over the buildings now – the Houses of Parliament, on fire again.
“Whittaker,” said Major Jemmings, suddenly. “My God, what an appalling business.”
Another thought struck Ron, then: had Tom and Jemmings meant him to be in there, or would he have been waylaid and kept out? Or had Tom not cared one way or another? He’d never find out now – Tom would never admit it, if it was the truth.
“Whittaker,” said Jemmings again. “I know you must be in shock, but you’ll be needed. Now, look, Tom’s around here somewhere – where did he go? – he was running late because I’d cornered him over – well, that’s irrelevant. But he’s here, so he can – where the devil is he?”
And where, thought Ron, was Julia Iveson?
He and Jemmings rounded the corner in search of Tom, and into a narrow alley between two buildings, only to find Julia and Tom together. Julia had the gun aimed at him.
“My God,” said Jemmings, pulling Whittaker back and holding still. “Is that Mrs Iveson?”
Ron stared ahead. “I think so.” Contrary to anything he would have believed when he’d got up that morning, he found himself willing her to press the trigger. With all hell breaking loose behind them and no idea how to prove anything she’d said, or stop Tom, a bullet to his brain would be a mercy for the nation – and justice for the dead.
Julia, however, suddenly sagged back against the wall and fell to the ground. Ron moved forward behind Jemmings, alarmed and baffled – he thought Tom must have done something to her, but when he reached them, he found Tom unusually shaken and silent, merely watching Jemmings drag Julia up and out of the way. She wasn’t visibly hurt, either, but she didn’t fight back, or even attempt to argue.
“Ron,” said Tom, moving forward to grip his arm, causing him to jump. “What an afternoon! Come on – we’ll both be needed.”
Ron nodded. He was also realising that the worst possible thing he could do now was to confront Tom, or let his suspicion show. As they turned and walked the short distance to the Houses of Parliament – to where they had been – he had to choke back nausea.
“They would have been in session,” said Tom. “How did they do it? Those United Europe people, perhaps, if that woman was involved?”
As if he didn’t know. Ron fought to remind himself that Julia hadn’t proved anything to him, but the explosion she’d predicted had happened and Tom had made sure he wasn’t inside. And ‘those United Europe people’ were a pacifist outfit who had nothing to gain from this. He must keep his head, however. He must watch out for the evidence, and wait to be sure. The moment Tom took control of the nation, he’d know there was no doubt.
And if it was true, then Julia should have shot him: Tom was too dangerous to live.
Ron found Jemmings much later and asked where he’d taken Julia. He told him that he’d like to see her, if he could and ask a few questions. “She knows me,” he said to Jemmings. “She’ll probably tell me things she won’t tell you. And I know why you’re suspicious, but even after the affair with the leaked document, I can’t see her having a hand in blowing up the bloody Houses of Parliament.”
Jemmings agreed to that and, after a long, uncertain period of waiting, Ron found himself facing Julia across a table in a secure room. She didn’t look up when he entered, or even when he sat down.
“Mrs Iveson,” he said, and then hesitated, knowing there was a good chance that Jemmings or someone who worked for him would be listening in. He hoped she knew that, too. “Look, why don’t you explain to me what happened? You didn’t mean to shoot Tom, did you?”
Julia lifted her head. “Why are you asking? I’m a traitor and I threatened to shoot a member of the Cabinet.”
“You didn’t,” said Ron. “Shoot him. Why?” he asked, and tried not to let it sound too heartfelt.
She seemed then to make some effort to pull herself together, straightening in the chair and brushing hair out of her face. She gave a short laugh. “I meant to. You can tell him I know what he’s guilty of, even if no one else does! But then I thought – maybe if I did it, someone worse would step in. Or there’d just be chaos. How could that be my decision to make? And he blackmailed Edward and drove him to kill himself – but I kept thinking when I stood there that Edward wouldn’t want me to be a murderer. I think I agree.”
“You weren’t responsible for the bomb, then?” he said. “Do you know who was?”
She laughed again and put her head in her hands; alert enough not to give him away in surprise at his question, but beyond lying. She looked up eventually, and shook her head.
“I believe you,” said Ron. “And you did care for him, didn’t you?” He felt his cheeks warm. “Iveson, I mean. It wasn’t all a lie. I mean, it’s none of my business, but I used to think Iveson was the luckiest devil I knew, being married to you – and then – all this –”
Julia wiped away tears. “That part was never a lie. Never.”
“I’ll have a word with the Major,” said Ron. “Although I don’t know if he’ll listen – and, of course, they can’t let you go, after what you have done. But hopefully, you can be turned over to the usual authorities.”
“I don’t matter any more.”
Ron didn’t know how to say what he wanted, because any of it would give him away. “Don’t be like that,” he muttered as he stood again. “I’ll help,” he said in an undertone, as he bent a little to push the chair back into place. “Any way I can – to stop him, I mean.”
Julia managed a small smile and a nod.
“You’re not hurt, are you?” he said, reverting to his normal voice, remembering how she’d fallen in the alley. “Do you need medical attention?”
Julia only laughed.
“It was a serious question. I thought – you seemed to be earlier.”
She lent her head on her hand as she looked up at him. “It all ended, you see.” He wasn’t even sure suddenly that she was really talking to him. “Everything – and then it seemed to catch up with me.”
“But do you need a doctor?” he said, mistrusting metaphor and wanting a straight answer.
Julia shook her head. “Oh, no. There’s nothing a doctor can do now. I took the fatal shot three months ago. I’ve just been walking around wounded till I couldn’t any longer.”
“You know that’s not true,” he said, more sharply than he’d intended. “Life goes on, Mrs Iveson.” He glanced around the bare cell of a room and coughed. “I mean – it does. Even here, now. Like this. Look, I’d better go, but, like I said, I shall do anything I can.”
Julia said, “Well, that is something, I suppose.”
Ron walked out, deeply uneasy, but he couldn’t stop someone who was determined to make a sacrifice of herself. He could only hope that she’d see things a bit differently once she’d recovered from the shock. What he had to do now was to go outside and face this new world that Hallam had made.
And then he’d have to work out what the hell he was supposed to do try and stop him.