Disclaimer The following story is written in homage to the 1967 TV Series "Man in a Suitcase" and with no intent to usurp the rights of the current copyright holders-, whoever they may be. At least the author hopes that the copyright holders will see it that way!
THE FOE of a FRIEND
In his anonymous office in the London headquarters of the Royal Air Force, off Kingsway, Sir George Lewis was looking forward to a long weekend in the country. It was five o'clock on a Thursday evening and, even though the day off on Friday was one of many owed to him due to the long hours he often put in, he still felt guilty about it, like a schoolboy playing truant. So, he couldn't resist taking one last look around his office to make sure that everything that should be out of sight, was, though he knew his staff car was waiting outside for him. Finally, he was satisfied that all was well and he started towards the door. Then the telephone on his desk rang. He was tempted to leave it; he even had his hand on the door handle, but his conscience failed him at the last moment. He went back to answer it. By the time the call was finished and he replaced the receiver, his whole demeanour had changed. The news he was told was unwelcome, to say the least. Suddenly the world was a serious and dangerous place again. There was nothing too unusual about that in his particular line of Intelligence work but this time it was personal. This was one long forgotten case which had come back to haunt him. For a few moments, his brain raced through the options open to him, and then he made his decision. He picked up the receiver. He pressed a button on the bottom bar that connected him with his secretary.
"I want you to telephone M.I.5 Domestic Surveillance Operations, "he said. " I need to know the whereabouts and contact information for an ex- C.I.A. operative by the name of McGill. It's urgent, so I will wait for your call."
Chapter 1 Arrival
The August day was humid to the point of suffocation. Iron-grey clouds stagnated in the sky overhead, darkening the earth below. Not the most pleasant of days for a country drive.
Not that McGill was particularly worried about it. For, an hour or so ago, the tall, broad Texan with the prematurely greying hair had squeezed himself behind the wheel of his little Hillman Imp car and taken to the road in pursuit of business, not pleasure. Now, with London and main roads behind him, he was driving slowly along a country lane, looking carefully from side to side at the hedgerows flanking either side of the road, his keen hazel brown eyes taking in every detail as he searched for something in particular. It was taking him so long to find that "something" he was beginning to believe he was lost.
Luckily for him, it was a quiet lane and driving slowly was unlikely to incur the wrath of fellow drivers (although he had a ready excuse even for that eventuality seeing that he was a Yank and a stranger to the Highway Code. He had been using that old chestnut for years now. It worked every time). He seemed to be the only traffic on the road and had been for some time now. Before setting out he had taken the precaution of looking at a map, by way of a back up to the directions given to him, and remembered thinking then that this place seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Right now, this road seemed to be leading nowhere although he knew from the directions given to him by his client that it eventually ended up in a railway yard. He also knew that if he ended up in the railway yard he had gone too far.
The road began to curve gently to the right. When he came to the end of the long bend, McGill saw that the hedge on his left gave way to a high wall of once yellow brick, greyed with age. Lichen encrusted the large stone ball that topped the cornerstone. He felt relieved. A loner by nature, even he was beginning to feel lonely without a sign of human habitation for miles until now. It was also the first "something" he had been looking for. Now he looked for something else from the directions given to him.
A glance in his rear view mirror revealed that he was still alone on the road so he slowed the car to a crawl so as not to miss his next landmark. When it came into view he realised he need not have worried about missing it. It was the entrance to a stable yard, guarded by a pair of massive oak gates, complete with studs and iron handles, which would have done justice to any medieval castle. McGill stopped the car, sat back in his seat and gathered his thoughts. McGill's client this time was Sir George Lewis, a very senior Intelligence Officer in the Royal Air Force and an old friend from his C.I. A. days,. During their past meetings, Sir George had occasionally mentioned a "house in the country". Now McGill knew Sir George to be a modest man; and it seemed to him he had been more than modest about his country house, if these doors were anything to go by. McGill had only brought one suitcase. It was his only suitcase containing his few meagre belongings. As he switched on the ignition, he hoped he wasn't going to be expected to dress for dinner because his few meagre belongings didn't stretch to a tuxedo.
Only moments later McGill saw the house for the first time, when the high wall gave way to a gravelled drive that swept by the front of the house in a semi-circle. McGill turned his car into the drive and pulled up in front of the house. House? Mansion more like, built square and plain in the late Regency period the like of which McGill recognised from similar buildings dotted all over the country. It dated back to a time when this tiny island was beginning to dominate world trade. Somehow it didn't fit with what he knew (or thought he knew) about George Lewis.
McGill got out of the car. He saw the large iron bell pull to the side of the door and used it, but heard no sound of a bell inside. While he waited for someone to answer his summons, he stepped back to his car and leaned against it, the better to take in his surroundings and get used to this surprise find. The more he saw the less he could picture small, dapper George as one of the 'untin', shootin', and fishin' set. The George Lewis he knew was full time R.A.F; he even had the moustache to go with the uniform. This house he was looking at now was serious and imposing, whereas the man he remembered was anything but. Easy going and genial. That was his memory of the man who was his first tutor in the field; of the man with the grey eyes, which twinkled as if mischief was always on his mind. When that man spoke, it was with a soft, singsong Welsh accent, filtering out around the pipe that, alight or not, seemed to be permanently clenched between his teeth.
McGill was seconded to R.A.F Intelligence straight from his C.I.A training in the States. As a finishing school, he could have asked for none better. In George Lewis, he found a mine of experience in interrogation and de-briefing techniques dating back to the Second World War. McGill became his very willing apprentice, until the time came for McGill to move on. After that, he saw George only rarely. Nevertheless, he thought he knew George inside out. Confronted by this house, he realised that he probably didn't.
With these thoughts in his head, McGill stepped away from his car. Then another thought struck him. He looked at the car. He looked at the house. Definitely not right. The little car looked so out of place it stuck out like a sore thumb. It was no wonder then that, when George rang McGill at his London flat the previous afternoon, he offered McGill the services of his staff car. Secret agents ought to blend in with their surroundings. If so, then McGill had blown his cover already. He realised that his casual clothes and little car looked horribly out of place amidst such opulence. This was James Bond country, and it wasn't his style at all.
This train of thought preoccupied McGill for several minutes. During that time he had rung the bell again but still there was no sign of life from within the house, although he was aware of a slight sound of a small, noisy crowd. The sound came from his left and beyond the high wall that separated the drive from the stable yard. He looked toward the sound and saw an ornate iron gate set just about mid length in the wall. Well, that would save him a long walk back up the lane, he thought to himself. He glanced again at the still silent house, and decided to investigate the sound; it could be that the one was linked to the other. Now that his mind was made up, he took off towards the gate with his usual long, loping stride. To a bystander, it would have appeared that he was on the trail of his prey already.
McGill's training had instilled in him the need to be watchful at all times. It wasn't long in his career before it was second nature to him; and by now it was automatic. So, as he stopped to open the gate, in that split second a glance to his right showed him a neatly clipped yew hedge beyond which he could not see but assumed, correctly, that a garden was behind it. Without thinking, he added the information to the file in his head that he was already building up on his surroundings. Another small part that would eventually help him to make up the whole picture. McGill raised the latch on the gate, opened the gate, walked through and closed it behind him (another ingrained gesture that was part of covering his tracks).
He found himself in a neat and clean stable yard, surrounded by white fenced paddocks. He could make out the small, but noisy, crowd in one of the furthest paddocks straight ahead. The people, some on horseback, others sitting on the fence or the ground with their ponies wandering around them, were fooling around and having fun. One of the mounted figures noticed him and raised a hand in acknowledgement. At that, all heads turned McGill's way. He, in turn, waved his hand. One of the figures sitting on the ground slowly stood up, climbed over the fence and started to walk towards him at a leisurely pace. This gave McGill some time to kill before the figure covered the ground between them, so he made the most of it and looked about him.
In spite of his Texan upbringing, horses had not played a great part in McGill's life and he was not sorry. Not that he disliked them. McGill liked all animals to a degree, just that he liked horses to a lesser degree. In his experience, horses had two ends; one end bit and the other end kicked. Yet even to his inexpert eye, everything about the yard appeared to be just so. There were buckets beside each stable door, so shiny they looked new. There were horse blankets draped over each stable door, so clean and tidy they looked as if they had been pressed that very morning. There was not a speck of horse muck anywhere that he could see; not so much as a blade of straw out of place. There was a faint whiff of horse, but it was a far cry from the usually overpowering smell he normally associated with stables. To his left was a large track, almost a road, and at the end he saw the back of those huge doors he had seen from the lane. He strolled by the loose boxes to what looked like an office at the end of the stable block. The door was open, and the figure still some way off, so, naturally for McGill, he peered in. And he kept peering until he heard a girl's voice behind him say
"What's so interesting in our tack room?"
McGill about turned and found he was facing a neat little brunette package. The distant figure from the paddock had at last arrived.
"Can I help you?" she prompted him again.
This package was all wrapped up in blue t-shirt and tight jodhpurs that accentuated every small curve. She could have had quite an effect on McGill, except that she struck him as being only about fourteen. He noticed she wore no make up. He re-evaluated her in the light of this new information and downgraded her to twelve. In fact, as he found out later, she was eighteen.
"Are you lost?" she prompted him once more, a little more impatiently this time.
"I don't know," he countered annoyingly, "Am I?"
"Well you wouldn't be the first. It's amazing how many people end up here when they should be somewhere else. I suppose it's because we are so far off the beaten track."
"Yes," he said, smiling, "you are! In fact, I had quite a deal of trouble finding the place at all!"
It was then that he saw from her expression that the penny had dropped. She knew who he was, and that in turn told him who she was. She smiled too. An open, friendly smile that endeared McGill to her at once.
"You are Dad's friend, Mr. McGill!"
"That's who I am alright!" McGill offered his hand to shake, and had it shaken, firmly. Surprisingly so for such a child like creature. "You are Beth, I take it?"
"Yes," she said, and the smile dropped. "Has Dad been very rude about me?"
In fact, Sir George had been uncompromisingly rude about his youngest child to McGill during their earlier telephone conversation.
"Well, let's just say that he told me all I needed to know about you."
"Umm," she made a noise like a low growl in her throat. "I bet he did!" Then her voice perked up once again. "Have you seen Dad yet?" She began to walk the way McGill had come.
"No," McGill kept pace with her. "I called at the house but there was no answer. I heard the crowd over there and came along here instead."
"Oh, right! I expect there was no one in the butler's pantry to hear it. The bell, that is. That's where it rings, you see."
She led McGill past the gate he had come through to another, identical one, in the same wall a few yards further along by the paddock.
"What about your friends?" McGill reminded her as she stopped to open the gate.
"What friends? That's the pony club over there! They aren't friends; they're a pain in the neck. Gordon, he's the one who waved at you, you'll meet him later, he can sort them out. Taking them on was his daft idea in the first place! Come on!"
They went through the gate, with McGill closing it carefully behind him, as ever. McGill saw that Yew hedge again, but it was off to his right now. They were in the garden on the other side of it. While Beth walked ahead, he glanced around him. The garden was large, and from this side the house looked even larger than from the front. He idly wondered if a map of this place (never mind one for getting here) would be a wise idea.
McGill followed Beth's lead, around the edge of the sunken lawn on the gravel path and down some stone steps, which brought them level with the lawn. Ahead of them was a sweeping curve of steps that led the eye to a balustered terrace. This was the ground level of the house when viewed from the front, but here at the back, the terrace was underpinned by a basement level, comprising, as McGill saw when they rounded the bottom of the steps, many small windows and a few rustic type doors. McGill expected Beth to turn to go up the stairs, but she surprised him by making for the nearest door in the basement instead. He followed her inside, feeling a slight coolness from the semi darkness of the interior compared with the humid air outside.
They were in a small lobby with a stone-flagged floor. Little more than a cupboard really. Coats and hats, mainly wet weather gear, practical, rather than stylish, hung on the wall before them, several deep, burying the hooks they were on. A variety of boots stood to attention beneath them, with a lone pair of slippers beside them. Shoe jacks were in a heap in the corner. Beth took one and used it to ease her boots off. She put on the slippers. Mac watched the ritual with fascination.
"Me too?" he asked, thinking this was protocol for such a grand house.
"Only if you have been treading in horse muck." She replied, bluntly. McGill was taken aback slightly by the coarseness of her tone and words. He found it unexpected of a supposedly well brought up girl. It didn't suit her at all, but then, he knew Beth even less well than he knew her father.