Chapter 35. Meanwhile in Scotland
Maeve found hiring the car much easier than she feared, the office was shut so they had left a message for her to go and pick up the car, the keys were inside. In less than twenty minutes from getting off the train she was on her way. It’s a relatively short drive and her phone worked well enough to get her through the key junctions on the journey.
It was when she logged-in to the guest house WiFi that she got all the news.
Her lovely host Fiona was trying to show her around, Maeve had to stop her and say,
“Could you give me ten minutes to deal with some urgent messages?”
“Of course, why don’t I make us a nice pot of tea? You look like you could do with one.”
Maeve was listening to the messages in reverse order so had to hear them all before she understood what had happened.
Ada’s TikTok post had gone out and was being reasonably effective in stopping the incoming flow of new people into the area. She now had a considerable number of irate followers but the promise of another live session seemed, if not to get them back on side, then at least to take the sting out of it.
The problem was with the fans who had already arrived and seemed to be on their own mission. It turned out that some of the loudest voices had never even seen Ada’s live stream, they were just there to cause trouble. They had picked up the social media buzz, and added some outrageous comments fueling the concerned citizens, edging them into an extremist mob.
The crisis point came when people ran out of the woods shouting “He’s got a gun! The man in the trees, he’s got a gun, he’s going to shoot. Run!”
This had been picked up by the crowd, repeated in all directions by everyone who heard it, causing mass panic. People fleeing the area using all possible routes out of the woods, sliding in the mud causing human pile-ups while those behind walked on, over, or through, those in front.
The police had stepped up their presence bringing in the tactical firearms unit, with a police helicopter providing eyes overhead.
Those officers on the ground were trying to calm the crowd whilst evacuating the area. Initially the police had wanted all names and addresses because they knew that everyone here needed to be tested for COVID-19. Once the panic hit they moved the primary objective to achieving a safe evacuation, only gathering whatever contact information was possible once they were a safe distance from the woods. In what was now a life threatening situation no charges for unlawful gathering were mentioned. That could come later if need be.
In short order the firearms officers were in place, with the estimated location of the armed protester being provided by the helicopter, the officers went into the woods to try to bring him in without anyone getting hurt. So far no shots had been fired, but the language reported by the terrified witnesses as they fled the scene, suggested that the suspect had been trained by the military.
Long before she heard the precise information Maeve had guessed that this was Matthew. The crowds of people must have freaked him out, possibly jolting him into believing that he was in a frontline situation.
Steve had just about managed to keep it together. As soon as a gunman was mentioned it went above his pay grade. His super arrived on site working with him to manage the crowd. She was directly in contact with the firearms team. They had been lucky that the comms signal was good at all of their base points. Particularly as British Telecom were due to upgrade the telecoms mast which would mean disconnecting the area for a reasonable length of time. The whole area was being upgraded to 5G without alerting the local community to avoid any mass gathering of anti-5G protesters. If today’s debacle was anything to go by that was a pretty good call.
Like Maeve, as soon as the intel came through that the ‘possible shooter’ was in a tree, Steve thought it might be Matthew. Unlike Maeve, who was sure that he wouldn’t do any real harm, Steve had grave concerns. He upped the risk level knowing that this bloke was trained to survive on his own which could mean a Para, SAS or someone with elite skills. His fear was that Matthew was a trained sniper, invalided out of the military due to battle trauma. Who could be in the process of reliving an ‘event’ where he imagined himself back in a war zone defending a position. Possibly seeing the punters as the enemy. If true it could be lethal. They couldn’t afford to take any risks.
Even to himself, Steve didn’t want to use the term PTSD, it was a bit close to the bone.
At some point in the past the police had used these grounds in a firearms training exercise, so a few of the officers were familiar with the internal layout of the woods, and were able to guide their colleagues relatively discreetly to the spot where they believed the suspect was hiding out.
As they circled round him getting closer, he came down from the tree and was waiting for them with his hands up, shouting,
“I am not armed, I am a civilian,” he kept repeating the words “I am not armed, I am a civilian, I am not resisting arrest.”
Whatever had happened earlier, whatever threats he had shouted, he seemed on first contact to be pretty normal and rational.
It only took a few minutes to establish that it was true, he was not armed. He was wearing what might look like army fatigues to a civilian, but he was not armed. He also made it clear that he did not appreciate the destruction of ‘his’ woodland by the careless tramping of the ‘concerned citizens’.
The officers who first came in contact with Matthew, quickly developed the opinion that he had shouted out using his ‘army speak’ to frighten the crowd away, because they were destroying his patch, rather than that he meant them any actual harm. Apart from the limited stretches of path that had a hard surface, a quick look showed that the rest had been churned into a mud bath. He had probably been waving something like a rifle shaped stick. Still it was the equivalent of shouting ‘fire in a theatre’ and the ensuing chaos was a public order offence.
The police took him down to the station for questioning.
By the time Maeve had caught up with all of this she felt in need of something stronger than a cup of tea. She had put her overnight bag in her indulgently warm room, and took the remains of her bag of luxury food from the Goods Shed downstairs.
She didn’t know her host but given the day's events Maeve suggested to Fiona that they put the bottle of white wine in the fridge to chill, and that they should start on the red right now if she was up for a glass.
What she didn’t know was that Steve had done an impressive job in sorting out a surprise ‘romantic dinner’ for them, and had already inveigled Fiona’s help. Given the crisis that he was dealing with, he hadn’t thought to cancel it. Of course he hadn’t discussed any of this with Maeve, so as if by magic as she was discussing the wine, an excellent venison casserole and a flank steak and chips arrived.
Maeve explained that Steve had had to leave urgently, as Fiona shared the menu he had chosen to be delivered from their local restaurant, Sutor Creek. Fiona had done her bit and dressed the dining room with soft lighting from candles, flowers, and a beautifully set table. The room was painted a rich red with a generous wood table, giving the overall effect of one of the more exclusive media type clubs in Soho.
Maeve looked at the mound of delicious food now being laid out on the table, asking Fiona if she would like to join her for dinner. Maeve needed someone to talk to and Fiona was a ready listener and already in thrall with the adventures that Maeve had started to recount, dying to hear the end of the story.
Pushing back her chair Maeve finished with “That was amazing.” She sat back extremely satisfied, she hadn’t noticed how much she needed a ‘girls’ night out’. As well as appreciating the good food, and good wine, she enjoyed the good company. Being able to talk to someone who was non judgmental, someone with whom she could be indiscrete, and open up about her feelings and Steve. Someone who might understand.
“There’s more, we got chocolate cremeux oranges and sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce.”
The two women looked at each other, full but not to be outdone by what looked like fabulous desserts.
“Let’s split them and take half each.” Maeve thought a taste wouldn’t kill them.
By the time they were half way through the second bottle of wine, they had fully bonded and had moved into the more comfortable sitting room with deep sofas.
“Okay, I don’t want to sound too forward, but can I tell you what I think?” Fiona was now fully immersed in Maeve’s issues.
“Of course. This is the best fun I’ve had in weeks.”
“Well.” She hesitated, but the wine had its effect, so whereas normally she would have held her council, Fiona didn’t hold back now. “I think you need to get out more. Get back in the saddle as they say.”
“What? You mean date some men?”
“Yes. But I’m betting the world has changed a lot since you last had a proper look for someone to suit you.”
“Go on.” Maeve was definitely outside of her comfort zone, and trying not to be defensive.
“I bet you used to meet people, I mean men, at work or socially and you just don’t any more. Is that right?”
“Yes.” Fiona was spot on, Maeve hadn’t really thought about it before. Up to now she had been too busy with work and looking after the girls. Over the last year she had decided that it was her time, and this was something she had pushed to one side, not ready to face it yet. Of course the pandemic hadn’t helped.
“Right, get your phone out, girl. We have work to do.”
Maeve leaned over and lowered her voice to say,
“Before we do whatever you are thinking of, and I don’t mean to pry, but would that lady, is it your mother, would she not like to come over and sit with us?”
Fiona looked puzzled, “My mother?”
“Well, whoever she is, the lady sitting on the upright chair, by the fire, with the rug on her lap. The one you have been ignoring.”
Fiona went pale, “Can you describe her?”
Maeve had seen that look before, oh dear, she thought, I’m going to have to explain this too.