Today's Reading

He was the last to arrive, settling into his chair as the buzz of idle conversation faded.

'Gentlemen,' Chief Constable Crossley began, 'I've received the inspector general's report on the king's visit in July.' He began to smile. 'You'll be pleased to hear we were given full marks.'

Harper felt the wave of relief. Still, it was no more than they deserved. They'd spent months planning every detail and it had gone off without a problem. Only twelve arrests, most of them drunk and disorderly. Sixteen hundred officers brought in from other forces. The biggest operation they'd ever undertaken.

The chief had had overall command. But he'd been a member of the monarch's party, escorting King Edward and Queen Alexandra around Leeds. It had fallen to Harper to direct everything. That made sense; all the places they were visiting—Central Station, the town hall, the university—came under A Division. His responsibility.

'Well done, every one of you.' The good humour left Crossley's face. 'Before we start patting ourselves on the back, though, there's something else.' He picked up a letter. 'This is from Downing Street. As I trust you're aware, Mr Asquith became prime minister earlier this year. He's planning to speak at a meeting in Leeds on October tenth.' He sighed. 'Not exactly a great deal of notice, and more work for us, I know. And I'll remind you that he's local. Born in Morley, educated at Fulneck, so we're going to have to put on a very good show.'

It was the very last thing they needed. First the king and now this. Quite a year. And only two weeks to plan.

'Where's he going to be speaking, sir?' Harper asked.

'The Coliseum on Cookridge Street. It's going to be a public meeting.' A small pause. 'I'm told it holds three and a half thousand people.'

He heard the groans. Even more police required to keep order.

'I know we're being stretched,' Crossley said. 'I'm sorry, but it's out of my hands. We need to start work on this immediately. I've asked for more details. As soon as we have them, we can come up with a proper plan. In the meantime, go through your numbers and tell me how many men you can readily spare that night. October tenth is a Saturday, and we all know what that means.'

Payday, Harper thought. Men out drinking, enjoying themselves, fighting. The cells were always full by Sunday morning. The prime minister on top of that? It was going to be bedlam.

Another half-hour and they were done, putting on their coats and starting to file out.

'Tom, can I have a quick word?' Crossley asked. Once they were alone, the chief reached into a drawer and brought out a large envelope.

'Sir?'

'This is for you. A certificate of appreciation for your work in July. From the king himself. I made sure he knew whose manor he was on.'

'Thank you, sir.' Harper tore open the flap and took out a piece of parchment. Thick black ink on heavy vellum, Edward's signature at the bottom. It looked impressive. It felt impressive. He had to read it twice to be certain it was real. Then he beamed. 'I'll have that framed.'

'You deserve it. You took care of everything and did a bloody good job. We're going to have our work cut out next month, though.'

'I agree, sir.'

'I'm landing you with it again, I'm afraid. At least you have the experience now. Two things I didn't tell the others. The meeting is going to be men only.' He frowned. 'You know that's going to stir up trouble with the suffragettes.'

'Of course.'

'Remember what they did when Earl Grey spoke here.'

They'd shouted him down. It could have been worse. No violence, just loud voices. They could cope with the suffragettes.

After all, they'd caused no trouble at the by-election earlier that year, and the huge rally on Woodhouse Moor during the summer had gone by without any problems.

'I've also had word that some unemployed men are planning a demonstration on Victoria Square outside the town hall the same evening. Now, that one worries me.'

'How good is the rumour, sir?'

'It's pretty solid. I'm told that it's going to be led by Alf Kitson.'

Harper groaned. He knew about Kitson. A clever, sly operator. An anarchist who loved confrontation. More misery.

'You'll need to start organizing your men immediately. I want this to go off as smoothly as the king's visit.'

But there'd be no bunting hanging from the windows for Asquith, no decorated trams, no sense of joy. That was reserved for royalty. And it all had to happen in his bloody division.
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