Andy Bowson’s heart wasn’t in it this evening so he decided to tidy up his desk and make ready to go to the place he now dreaded, his home, or was it now just the house he lived in, bereft of its emotional investment? But he had to face it, keep it going for when, or even if, they should return.
Dager had looked lost when Sheena Ellison left his office, ‘Poor sod,’ he thought. Whatever she had said, or knowing her type, more probably implied, it appeared almost shattering for his boss. What was it that the spook ‘Henry’ had said in warning? To watch out for when Dager started spending time with HR? Well, if Dager started spending more time like he had just, he must have strong masochistic tendencies. He hadn’t even come out of his office to parade about as was his wont most afternoons; giving little pep talks, showing his people managements skills as he thought them, or even berating those he deemed responsible for the lack of progress. Definitely not his normal self.
Andy packed up, said goodnight to his colleagues and then went home, hoping to confront his new demons by searching his house from top to bottom just in case he had missed any clues as to his wife and child’s disappearance.
He had called to say he would be staying at home this evening, too much work to go through which he couldn’t do in the office; she must know how it was, perhaps this weekend?
Of course, she understood, don’t feel guilty. Well, maybe a little bit. Could she help in any way, come around; get some food for him, new pair of eyes?
No, no, nothing to do with her. Had she followed up any of his advice from last night?
No, too busy today, perhaps later this week.
She had promised him; tomorrow please?
Ok, will try. He would call tomorrow, the day after if not. Later that evening, when she arrived at her apartment, it felt less like a home than ever.
Eleven p.m. and still it felt like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most of the information, as was almost inevitable, was dross: wordy statements, communiqués, ideological frenzy, intelligence and planning for the fall-back mission by the NEC.
Fall-back, so what was the preferred target?
Birmingham New Street station and the redeveloped Bull Ring, including Selfridges: massive bomb attacks followed up by Mumbai style gun assaults, similar to the attack which had been attempted at the NEC.
To bring chaos to the rail system while at the same time delivering a massive blow to the central business district of Britain’s second city. All about instilling terror and economic disruption, making people wonder: which cities would be next, how almost impossible they would be to protect them from determined men happy to die for their cause? No wonder they went for the secondary target, losing their leader and his deputy like that, not enough experience or numbers left to go after the two primaries together.
So, what are we looking for: upstream contacts, logistics details, codes, caches, funding, numbers, addresses, other volunteers?
All of these, especially the upstream backers, managers, planners, along with any evidence of their thinking, strategy and objectives?
Too big for me alone and so very few, just a couple in fact, who might be able to lend me their trusted eyes, but they are too important in other ways to risk diverting on to this.
I know… Find and extract the juiciest bits and deliver the rest, anonymously, to the police. They have the resources to follow up the rest. Send to who though… a little chuckle… why not Andy Bowson himself, it certainly can’t hurt his career?
Sympathy; that’s probably the last thing he’s bothered about now and, if it is, then I’ve misjudged him.
Nearly midnight, better get some sleep if I can, rest at least. Looks like I already know what I’m doing tomorrow evening. I hope Helena listened this time. She would come running to help if asked, but she had her job, jobs, to do, she was just too precious to suck in any further. She really was remarkable; she had helped bring in others over the years, even her cousin who was in her own different way even more surprising. “Our Father, which art…”
Sally was waking up with the light now, her body adjusting to the low-tech life style, seeking to squeeze every useful moment from the daylight available. So was her son, whom she could see watching her from the little bed alongside hers. At least he slept through here, the outdoor life clearly suiting him, although he did seem hungry most of the time. Poor Iltud and Martha, the trouble to which they were putting them, the expense; Iltud had not made any fuss of it but she was pretty sure the allowance they were paid for being hosts would not cover the gifts, and certainly not the cost of the cloth. She smiled at the memory of Thea. Almost a stereotypical Italian or Greek mother, albeit one who claimed the blood of long dead Emperors. Burning bright in her old age, like a Phoenix resisting the oncoming dark.
She and her son got up and dressed for the day, as they went downstairs, she, on an impulse, returned to her room and opened her case. Inside lay her little travelling jewellery box, the gifts Andy had bought her during the time when things had been warmer: gold earrings, a couple of gold bracelets, one with pearls, her engagement ring, a few other pieces and three strings of natural pearls. She loved the ivory iridescence of natural pearls, he always said they matched her colouring. She reached in and picked up one of the strings, stroking it fondly, the cool weight of the pearls sliding over the sides of her palm. She pocketed it, went to close the box then changed her mind, she was in a home of almost selfless generosity after all. She picked up one of the others and pocketed that as well, before closing and stowing away the box.
Martha, Iltud, Josey and the girl were already in the kitchen. Josey and Iltud unconcernedly devouring bowls of porridge at the kitchen table while Martha and the girl busied themselves, drinking tea and preparing the rest of the breakfast. Martha looked at Sally as she sat down.
“Narin here,” she smiled broadly at the girl, “was already down when I came, cleaning the table and floor. It’s not going to be easy to make her understand she’s a guest, not a servant.”
The girl sat there nervously, as if waiting on Martha’s every syllable, hearing her name spoken amidst words she didn’t comprehend.
Sally drew herself up. “Martha, Iltud, I realise I haven’t really thanked you properly for taking us, complete strangers, into your home, or your friends for saving our lives, for bringing us here safe, or for your generosity.” She looked at Iltud. ”Don’t try to convince me that’s it’s all paid for by the government, that cloth wasn’t for a start and I’m sure there’ve been other things. I’ve been thinking about it: I want to see my husband again, make things right, but I can’t just yet, I accept that now. I need to earn the right, to be trusted enough, to work, to support Josey and myself, perhaps be able to leave you in peace in your home before you tire of us. No, please don’t interrupt, let me finish. I’ll swear that oath, so I’m given support, but only once I’ve seen the Abbot so I can better understand to what I would be committing. In the meantime, I’ll start to improve my languages as they asked, so I can be useful and help here, whatever you want me to do. But that isn’t enough, not true thanks, I have little with me, little to give you in repayment for your kindness, but I have this for you Martha.”
She held out her hand to her hostess across the table, unclenched it, the string of pearls once again spilling down the sides of her palm. Martha drew back, astonished tears in her eyes, looking at her husband; he nodded. Sally later learnt that such thing were rare in the Pocket, if they could be found they might cost over half a year’s income for Iltud. Martha reached out and picked them up, fingering them.
“I don’t know what to say, they’re so beautiful, far, far too much.”
Martha subsided into tears, taking Sally with her, Josey and the girl looking bewildered and mute. Iltud said something to himself in his own tongue, but all three women knew what he was saying by his tone.
Martha showed them to Narin, who touched them in wonder, before placing them round her own neck, standing up to go and see them in the mirror in the adjoining bathroom.
“Narin,” said Sally “I know you can’t understand a word I say, but your presence here has helped me more than you will ever know, helped me find my courage. So, His Blessings upon you,” Brother Peran has been getting into my head, “may you find your way safe back home and perhaps these will help you realise that there can be love in the hearts of strangers.”
She placed the second string around the girl’s neck and smiled at her, nodding. The girl’s eyes widened in shock, marvelling. Then the tears came again, all three of them this time, leaving Josey even more bewildered and Iltud muttering anew.
A few minutes later, when they finished weeping and admiring themselves in the mirror, Sally noticed someone was missing. “Martha, where’s Sam?”
“He was out before dawn with his gear. He said last night that the call would come soon, and he and the others needed to train, keep fit, that sort of thing. He seemed more determined than ever, but that’s my Sam for you!”
Andy Bowson left home for work that morning unusually early, even for him. It had felt like camping in an abandoned tomb, old, echo-y, filled with imagined fears; he had found nothing, damnably nothing, that might help solve the mystery of his family’s disappearance. So here he was, distracted but trying to concentrate, making calls. The local Devon & Cornwall missing person co-ordinator no longer really trying to mask the dying hope in his voice: they would be releasing resources back to other operations in the next forty-eight hours unless anything new turned up. He couldn’t blame them, it was just the way things were done when resources were so stretched, but the grim news compounded the feel pervading the office.
The understanding was that things were going badly, no real progress, and the chief was out-of-favour. Dager appeared to be on the slide; the dark presence of Sheena Ellison in his office the previous day, along with the apparent cancellation of his annual review being seen as equivalent to the serving of a black spot on an errant pirate. Dager disappeared shortly after nine-thirty, his secretary gossiping that he had announced he was going to see the HR woman for a coffee. She would later disclose that he had seemed much happier when he came back, as if a deal had been done. Sure enough, later that afternoon a series of training appointments had appeared in Dagers electronic diary, something about senior leadership development she said; it appeared they had been inserted by Ms Ellison’s office.
Lunchtime already. I need to go for a walk, get out of this place, grab a sandwich and juice nearby; I’m drinking too much coffee. A walk may help me clear my head, think things through afresh, I must be missing something, maybe we all are. He walked past a church; its front door was open. Well, why not, I’m all out of inspiration and, she would like it, I’m sure, me reaching out here, if only for her and Josey.
He found himself a seat halfway down the aisle on the left, wondering what came next.
He looked about, must be Victorian, simple and not too gothic, just a little. No one else about, so how does this go?
‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy…’
It’s no use, I’m sorry; I can’t be a hypocrite, when I don’t believe in you. I did once, long ago, before I saw the world as it is. I think they call it the problem of pain and evil. I know there are answers, good ones, but when you see the evil close-up, scrape its victims from the walls and floors, these answers seem all too glib. Sally didn’t agree, she didn’t understand, and he was glad in a way that she didn’t, but it had become a wedge between them, hammered deeper and deeper by every argument, every incident he had to attend and every flashback. Well, if she’s right and I’m wrong, look out for her please, she’s not the one who should be punished in my place; you’re supposed to be on the side of the little children, the innocent?”
Just silence, nothing, he was a fool, what was he thinking? He got up and walked out, into the daylight and dirty city air, contrasting with where his mind was, with her, up on the moor. She loved it there, had only been here for him, had hated the city.
He mentally shook himself; he had to stop using the past tense for them!
Mind clicking back into work mode, Dager and the bitch from HR to the forefront. Might as well give ‘Henry’ a ring, who knows, he might have something for me by now?
© 1642again 2018