By Helen Board
The Queen stood on the gravel forecourt of Buckingham Palace. An equerry placed a fur coat around her shoulders. She was relieved it was the evening and a cool night, this meant that the usual tourists had all but dispersed and there wouldn’t be too many people to witness the ignominy of her household evacuating the building. However, she also knew it wouldn’t be long until the television crews arrived.
‘Bloody fire drills,’ her husband muttered, as a footman brought him a gilt chair to rest on.
‘I think it’s rather more serious, darling,’ the Queen replied. ‘Apparently the state dinner with the Chinese President has had to be called off.’
‘Well that’s a relief,’ said Philip. The Queen silently agreed. ‘You’ve been dreading that, haven’t you old girl. Now where’s my hip flask?’
The Queen’s private secretary, Sir Nicholas, sidled up to her. He coughed gently.
‘Excuse me, ma’am, the device that was found on the second floor has been secured.’
The Queen raised an eyebrow.
‘And what exactly does “secured” mean?’
‘Well, the preliminary assessment is that it isn’t a bomb. It is clearly marked as a training device. The current conjecture is that the device must have been misplaced when the security services were practising for the Chinese President’s arrival. It was in a cubicle in the East Wing ladies’ powder room.’
The Queen interrupted. ‘I know where it was found, Nicholas. I am the one who found it. Without wanting to get anyone into trouble, this is a rather embarrassing situation.’
Sir Nicholas reddened. This was as close as the Queen got to giving a ticking off. “Rather embarrassing” in Queen parlance equated to an utter disaster.
‘Ma’am … I can really only … I think that … perhaps …’
The Queen cut him off. ‘Enough. We will not air our dirty laundry in public. The tabloids will have enough fodder tomorrow with a bomb scare at the Palace.’
‘The Buckingham Bomb,’ declared Philip.
‘Thank you, Philip. Let’s not do all their work for them.’
Philip smiled. ‘Heaven forfend that a journalist may be out of a job.’ Sir Nicholas bowed and beat a hasty retreat.
She had been unfair on Nicholas. She felt rather bad about it. However, duty to one’s country must come first. Her reaction had needed to be appropriate. None of them must know that she knew about the device. Not even Philip.
It had happened five days ago, after her usual Monday meeting with the British Prime Minister. Two plain clothed MI6 officers had appeared in her private study to update her on the arrangements for the Chinese visit. It was unlike MI6 to be involved in a state visit. The Metropolitan Police normally handled security with aplomb.
The officers had been non-descript bureaucrats and introduced themselves as Jane Blake and Peter Frome. He had done most of the talking.
‘Your Majesty, please forgive this sudden departure from your ordinary schedule. A matter has risen of the gravest importance.’
The Queen sat up. She recalled the security briefing after the July 2007 bombings. A sudden wave of nausea swept through her stomach.
‘We are here to brief you on Operation Torchlight and to ask for your assistance.’
Mr Frome had gone on to explain that the pending state banquet in honour of the Chinese President could not go ahead. MI6 had reliable intelligence that a Chinese backed terrorist attack was imminent. The Monarch needed to avoid meeting the Chinese at all costs.
The Queen had objected. ‘But Mr Frome, these functions are planned months in advance. They cannot simply be cancelled.’
‘Could Her Majesty be indisposed?’
‘Impossible. One is never indisposed.’
‘A slight cold? Influenza?’
‘I have world class physicians. They would order a barrage of tests and see through it.’
Jane Blake had glanced at Mr Frome. ‘There is another option.’
Mr Frome had shook his head and sighed. The Queen looked at Jane Blake. ‘What “other” option?’
The younger woman sat up straighter. ‘It’s called a decoy device, ma’am. We use them for training purposes. To all intents and purposes it looks like a bomb but it is clearly labelled as a practice tool.’
The Monarch frowned. ‘I don’t understand. How does this help us?’
‘Well the device could be planted in the Palace, prior to the Chinese President’s arrival. Once located, the Palace would have to be evacuated and the dinner would automatically be called off. There are standard operating procedures for such an incident.’
‘Wouldn’t there be a panic?’
‘Not really,’ said Mr Frome. ‘The device would clearly be labelled as ‘practice only’ and we could step in and explain that it had been left there accidentally during a security drill.’
‘It seems rather drastic.’
‘Drastic times, call for drastic measures ma’am. This plan has the added advantage of saving face. The Chinese won’t be offended and the Palace won’t be blamed.’
The Queen nodded. Another more anxious glance was exchanged between Mr Frome and Ms Blake.
‘There is one final issue Your Majesty,’ Frome said. ‘Everyone is checked when entering the Palace. Everyone, that is, apart from you. You would have to be the one to place the decoy device.’
She didn’t speak. It was a huge risk, if she were caught. How would it be explained? But if the risk was huge, then it was only fair that she should bear it. She trusted herself more than anyone.
The Queen was pensive. When she spoke, her mind was made up.
‘I’ll do it.’
Sir Nicholas was at her side again. He looked perturbed.
‘Ma’am the threat scale has intensified.’
‘What do you mean, Nicholas?’
‘You’re being evacuated, ma’am, to the Whitehall Bunker.’
The Queen was losing patience. ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous. Whatever for?’
‘It wasn’t a training device. It’s real. There’s a bomb inside Buckingham Palace.’