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 wouldnât be too many people to witness the ignominy of her household evacuating the building. However, she also knew it wouldnât be long until the television crews arrived.
âBloody fire drills,â her husband muttered, as a footman brought him a gilt chair to rest on.
âI think itâs rather more serious, darling,â the Queen replied. âApparently the state dinner with the Chinese President has had to be called off.â
âWell thatâs a relief,â said Philip. The Queen silently agreed. âYouâve been dreading that, havenât you old girl. Now whereâs my hip flask?â
The Queenâs private secretary, Sir Nicholas, sidled up to her. He coughed gently.
âExcuse me, maâam, the device that was found on the second floor has been secured.â
The Queen raised an eyebrow.
âAnd what exactly does âsecuredâ mean?â
âWell, the preliminary assessment is that it isnât 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 Presidentâs arrival. It was in a cubicle in the East Wing ladiesâ powder room.â
The Queen interrupted. âI 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.â
Sir Nicholas reddened. This was as close as the Queen got to giving a ticking off. âRather embarrassingâ in Queen parlance equated to an utter disaster.
âMaâam âŚ I can really only âŚ I think that âŚ perhaps âŚâ
The Queen cut him off. âEnough. We will not air our dirty laundry in public. The tabloids will have enough fodder tomorrow with a bomb scare at the Palace.â
âThe Buckingham Bomb,â declared Philip.
âThank you, Philip. Letâs not do all their work for them.â
Philip smiled. âHeaven forfend that a journalist may be out of a job.â Sir Nicholas bowed and beat a hasty retreat.
She had been unfair on Nicholas. She felt rather bad about it. However, duty to oneâs 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.
âYour Majesty, please forgive this sudden departure from your ordinary schedule. A matter has risen of the gravest importance.â
The Queen sat up. She recalled the security briefing after the July 2007 bombings. A sudden wave of nausea swept through her stomach.
âWe are here to brief you on Operation Torchlight and to ask for your assistance.â
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. âBut Mr Frome, these functions are planned months in advance. They cannot simply be cancelled.â
âCould Her Majesty be indisposed?â
âImpossible. One is never indisposed.â
âA slight cold? Influenza?â
âI have world class physicians. They would order a barrage of tests and see through it.â
Jane Blake had glanced at Mr Frome. âThere is another option.â
Mr Frome had shook his head and sighed. The Queen looked at Jane Blake. âWhat âotherâ option?â
The younger woman sat up straighter. âItâs called a decoy device, maâam. 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.â
The Monarch frowned. âI donât understand. How does this help us?â
âWell the device could be planted in the Palace, prior to the Chinese Presidentâs 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.â
âWouldnât there be a panic?â
âNot really,â said Mr Frome. âThe device would clearly be labelled as âpractice onlyâ and we could step in and explain that it had been left there accidentally during a security drill.â
âIt seems rather drastic.â
âDrastic times, call for drastic measures maâam. This plan has the added advantage of saving face. The Chinese wonât be offended and the Palace wonât be blamed.â
The Queen nodded. Another more anxious glance was exchanged between Mr Frome and Ms Blake.
âThere is one final issue Your Majesty,â Frome said. âEveryone is checked when entering the Palace. Everyone, that is, apart from you. You would have to be the one to place the decoy device.â
She didnât 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.
âIâll do it.â
Sir Nicholas was at her side again. He looked perturbed.
âMaâam the threat scale has intensified.â
âWhat do you mean, Nicholas?â
âYouâre being evacuated, maâam, to the Whitehall Bunker.â
The Queen was losing patience. âOh donât be ridiculous. Whatever for?â
âIt wasnât a training device. Itâs real. Thereâs a bomb inside Buckingham Palace.â