They were walking back the five miles from the village where the new American girl was staying with an older married couple like Martha and Iltud, children no longer at home, who were paid by the authorities for looking after newly arrived guests. They had sent a message to Martha asking her to visit, as Lena was proving difficult, bring Sally too, as they knew that the girl knew Sam, the connection might help.
They had decided to bring Josey and Narin along; the girl was still withdrawn, her comprehension of English was improving, but she seemed to have given up trying to speak other than a few basic phrases. Hopefully Sam’s return would fix that, but it might deepen further the thing that worried Martha most of all.
Lena’s hostess had intercepted them on the lane to say that she was the most difficult guest they had ever had. She spent most of her time alone in her room, never offered to help, didn’t want to do anything, said she wanted to go back to London, ate little and hardly spoke. They had been warned that she had been a drug user in the past, but the poor thing was a mess, couldn’t settle, kept asking for Sam. Sally noticed that Narin started at his mention.
Sally, as a new arrival herself, had offered to go up to her room and introduce herself, try to find some common ground. The faded curtains were closed, Sally opened them to find the girl lying fully clothed on the bed, slumbering. That was her first surprise; she hadn’t expected someone black or with such obvious beauty, even if currently spoilt by a lack of care.
“What do you want; I didn’t say you could come in?”
“Hi, I’m Sally, a friend of Sam’s,” that was pushing it, “I’ve only been here a few weeks myself.” Really, is that all it’s been?
“I thought you might like to meet another recent immigrant or two.”
The girl looked at her suspiciously.
Yes, nature had been kind to her in some ways at least. She was curious Sally could see, feeling isolated in a new world that must have been even stranger for her than it had been for Sally.
“Is that true?”
“Yes. Would you like some tea or coffee? Let me try to answer some of your questions, help you understand you’re not alone…”
Lord, I’m starting to sound like Gillian did with me.
Whether the girl was still getting over whatever drugs had been in her system, or because of the loneliness she felt being in a house with people, however kind, with whom she felt she had nothing in common, or because Sally was a woman from London so much nearer to her in age, she seemed open to talking. After a while Sally went to ask for more tea and persuaded Narin to come up with her.
“Lena, I’d like to introduce you to Narin, who has only been here a little longer than you. She speaks very little English, but I think understands more than she admits.”
Yes, she does from the look of surprise on her face, “but she helped me to get my head straight when I felt like you. Let me explain. Do you mind, Narin?”
The teenager looked at her.
Confirmed my suspicion anyway.
An hour later when they left, while it hadn’t been a breakthrough, she could see Lena had been impressed, knocked out of her self-pity for a time at least, by the sufferings of others. It had felt exploitative using Narin like that, but the girl’s example had lifted her, so why not others? At least she’d been able to deflect the conversation away from the subject of Sam, when Narin found out that he had once been Lena’s boyfriend…
The girl had even walked out with them, promising to visit them for tea on Sunday afternoon. As they parted she had smiled a couple of times and thanked Narin. Definite progress. She thanked Narin herself as they walked back through the fading afternoon light, putting her arm around the girl.
“Come on Narin, I’ll help you learn to speak English so you can talk to him properly when he returns, yes?”
The girl’s face lit up, Martha, saying nothing, just kept on walking.
Not there, please not there, not after all I’ve been through…
A young man in an officer’s uniform, standing alone by an open grave in a small windswept churchyard, hands pocketed, narrowed shoulders hunched, back towards the north wind, so little natural shelter up here on the Plain. It’s all done, everyone’s gone, vicar inside the church, putting it all away ready for another day, someone else’s turn. A few spots of rain falling, failing, not having the heart to intrude too much; all seems ash now, the light losing its vigour, dark coruscating from the higher stones around, seeking to link with the black void of the pit in front to swallow all in its shade.
The emptiness within, up here, deeper than that below at his feet, the thread of a promise snaking up from below, entwining his legs, entering his marrow, infinitely elastic, seemingly unbreakable, trailing out behind him as he turns and walks to the lych-gate. He knows what comes next, so many times before, the driving, the motions, the wandering, the returns night after night, the burdens, the
But this time someone’s waiting.
THURSDAY AFTER EASTER
People in the office were looking at him differently now; things just kept happening to him. He’d tried to make a joke of it, such a run of such misfortune had to end with something stunning coming out-of-the-blue to compensate, he said. Even Dager was trying to be pleasant again. Virtually everyone in the office had camped at work overnight and it was clear that similar levels of activity were being repeated in other agency buildings in London and Cheltenham. By mutual understanding the inter-agency sub-committee overseeing this investigation, or series of enquiries, had decided not to brief up the chain until they had had an opportunity to come to some conclusions and prepare actions. Only informing their leaky masters at the very last second, when ready to move. They’d decided to stonewall questions at that morning’s Home Secretaries update; fortunately, the wet cold night across most of the country had dissuaded all but the most hardened troublemakers from taking to the streets, reducing the sense of impending crisis. It was forecast to continue until the weekend at least, good news for all concerned; perhaps their collective luck was changing for the better.
He was invited to attend the sub-committee meeting at eleven which would be trying to make sense of the plethora of translated files he had been gifted by his anonymous benefactor, a fact that would surely be the subject of some discussion itself. There were representatives from MI5, GCHQ, SIS, the Met of course, CT Command was heavily represented, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, some regional forces where the bulk of the names and addresses identified were located, a couple of senior military people, and some others who he didn’t know and who weren’t identified.
He looked around, no ‘Henry’ though.
The Director of MI5 was in the chair, hardly surprising really, though one might have expected the Met to have claimed the right, but the Commissioner wasn’t here either. I wonder if he knows? Naughty question, but he’s seen as political within the agencies.
One of the MI5 ‘oppos’ was standing at a projector screen, running through where everyone had got to so far, but apologising for the fact that things were still moving fast as they cogitated over the information.
The odd thing was that once the ideological waffle was cast aside, what was left was quite concise. Operation titles, names of individuals, some coded, eighty-two that weren’t, some phone numbers and addresses, references to arms movements including one shipment identified as being on a named ship due shortly at Felixstowe, some bank account numbers and not much else.
Of the eighty-two identified names they already had addresses for over sixty and were confident that they would shortly have the rest. The unknown code names and phone numbers were already being cross-referenced with their databases and those of their key allies, the phones being traced and actively tapped, other addresses were being placed under covert surveillance. The bank accounts had not been frozen, but all payments in and out were being tracked up and down the chain. By the end of the day they should be a position to move and sweep up everything identified before it could melt away, but they could really wait no longer.
Two main questions remained to be answered: firstly, there appeared to be references to several very large terrorist outrages being planned, to take place concurrently and requiring hundreds of armed jihadists, but the identities of these targets weren’t disclosed, and, secondly, where did this information come from: who sent it and why? There were no coding markers of any description to identify the computer or its owners, and the software was standard, available in its billions around the world. Furthermore, why send it to Chief Inspector Bowson who had survived two of the incidents in Birmingham? He felt himself blushing as everybody’s eyes turned to him.
Yes, what’s so special about you, what aren’t you telling us?
The Director of MI5 took pity on the poor humble policeman and thanked his summariser. Had anyone anything useful to add? No, this was a serious business meeting, not one for pushing agendas. Did everyone agree on the need to act this evening, at say eleven o’clock? Could the military arrange to stop and board the suspect cargo ship this evening, and provide Special Forces back up, if required, to the police scheduled to make the raids? Yes, good. When would the accounts be frozen?
If large funds were about to be withdrawn, immediately, otherwise at close of play. Good. This sub-committee will remain in open session until the operation is concluded, but some of us better get over to see the PM and Home Secretary, but let’s say after lunch? Don’t want to spoil theirs. Sorry, poor joke. Sniggers.
The meeting was breaking up; ‘Henry’ was still not about. He picked up his things and was about the head away when the Director of MI5 caught his eye and came over, to be joined by Ted Armstrong. “Chief Inspector Bowson? May I have a word? Have you really no idea who sent you that stick or why?”
“I’m sorry Sir; I’ve been wracking my brains; all I can think is that my name got known because of my injuries in Birmingham and some local must have sent them to me because of that. Perhaps there’s a split in their ranks, someone’s got cold feet?”
“I hope so, I really hope so.”
“May I ask where your man is? He’s normally here, calls himself Henry?”
“He’s not my man; he’s ‘ours’, if anybody’s.” He seemed to find that funny. “Sorry, poor taste, I’m just tired. Didn’t you know? He was one of the five; he was shot and is in hospital. He came to yesterday afternoon, should make a full recovery thank God. Why are you so interested anyway?”
“He’s been at a few of these things and always made an effort to speak to me afterwards. I rather liked him I suppose. Can you pass on my best wishes please?”
“Of course; that sounds like Henry alright.”
© 1642again 2018