I Hear That Good Girls Die
By J. Ferguson a.k.a. Timeless A-Peel
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Mike Gambit, Purdey, John Steed, and Elroyd Foster. They belong to The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.
Timeline: Set in April, 1976, during the events of the TNA's first episode The Eagle's Nest. If you haven't seen the episode, there may be one or two spoilers in here, though nothing particularly pertinent to the plot.
Author's Notes: My first fresh piece of the New Year! I'm very much hoping this will be the year of the arc, and that I'll be able to get back to writing another installment, but until then, there's a couple of small ideas that I want to work on. This particular piece was inspired by a graphic put together by the fabulous Dandy Forsdyke, a link to which can be found in my profile. The other primer was a lyric by the Killers, as quoted below. It all came together to create a little character sketch for Purdey in the very early days of her career. I hope you enjoy.
"Out where the dreams are high
Out where the wind don't blow
Out here the good girls die"
"A Dustland Fairytale" by the Killers
Purdey picked her way through the sparse wood that constituted what St. Dorcans no doubt thought of as a forest, though from the looks of things, living, breathing St. Dorcans were a rare breed. Even though she hadn't spent much time around the actual town, she had the awful, chilling feeling that anyone not ensconced in the monastery was in league with the monks. The only people she'd come across, other than the forgetful old man who'd led her to the wreck of the plane, were patrols, pairs of men armed with fishing rods and exuding menace. But even adding them to the tally, their number wasn't great enough to constitute a fishing village, even on am isle as this one. Scotland could be eerie at the best of times, but being stuck on an island with a few dozen hostiles, with no one but Steed for back-up, was enough to set her ever-so-slightly on edge.
She looked out toward the sea, wondered when Gambit would be joining them. He had stayed behind to conduct a little last-minute research on the island's history, while Steed and herself made for St. Dorca itself. Steed had taken the obvious approach, pulling up in a boat with enough luggage to occupy even the most enthusiastic traveller for a month. Purdey herself had exited the craft a mile from shore, slipping surreptitiously into the frigid waters and swimming the rest of the way. Without the pretence of delivering Steed to act as cover, Gambit's own boat wouldn't be able to venture anywhere as near the island if he hoped to avoid drawing attention to himself, and in all likelihood it would be dark when he started his swim. Purdey hoped he'd arrive all right, but then the Ministry brief on Gambit she'd been issued upon achieving full partner status had informed her that he was a strong swimmer. Just as well. She hated to admit it, but even if with Steed at her side, she knew she could use the help.
Purdey shook her head to clear it. She'd promised herself she wouldn't do this, doubt herself in these early days of her career. Second-guessing didn't happen in their business, not if you wanted to last any length of time. Sometimes there wasn't even time for first-guessing. But it was hard not to indulge a little, especially with time to kill, and nothing to occupy her mind until it grew dark enough for her to chance entering the village, and climb up to Steed's window in the tiny inn. There were the patrols to dodge, of course, but she'd learned their schedule two hours ago, and could keep out of their way without much difficulty. She'd talked as long as she dared to the forgetful old man—O'Hara, he was called—but after it became clear his sieve-like memory had nothing left to reveal, she'd moved on, for his sake as much as hers. True, the patrols seemed happy to let him be, but forgetful or not there was always the risk that they could change their minds and inflict whatever unpleasantness they chose on the poor soul, particularly if they got wind he'd had a visitor. The man's memory was failing but not completely gone, and Purdey's presence could easily be shaken out of it given the right persuasion.
Think about something else.
Purdey cast her eyes downward to navigate a treacherous patch of ground, and smiled when she saw her bright-red high-heeled boots. She knew if some of the more officious Ministry men had seen her out on assignment in them, they would have gone straight through the roof, but she'd grown so tired of wearing the plain, practical clothes assigned to trainees that she was determined to make up for all those months of fashion servitude in any way she could. The boots were red, and high, and most certainly impractical for this kind of terrain, but Purdey was more expert than most when it came to walking in heels, and anyway, they were warm, just like the green bodystocking she'd put on under her wetsuit. Even that she couldn't help but dress up with a removable metallic frock that came apart in pieces. If it ever really got in the way, she could always dispose of it. That ought to be practical enough for anyone.
Not being practical. That's what her mother had said when she'd told her about her plan to join the Ministry. Well, after she'd said a few other things. It hadn't been her father's department, but it hardly mattered—the survival rate was more or less the same. With the espionage business already taking credit for making her a widow, Purdey's mother was hardly keen on it shorting her a daughter as well. The row they'd had over it was one for the ages. Many things were said, but in the end her mother kept coming back to the same question over and over again.
"Why? A lovely young woman like you. You have your whole life ahead of you. Why on earth would you want to involve yourself in that awful business?"
At the time, Purdey said it was out of a desire to do something useful with her life, something that would, hopefully, make some sort of difference in the grand scale of things. It was essential work, after all. And exciting work. But deep down, Purdey knew there was more to it than that.
She took a left past the broken tree trunk she'd designated an unofficial landmark, and skirted off towards the denser growth to conceal her progress from the incoming patrol, due in three and a half minutes. She knew why she was doing it now. If she was honest with herself, she'd known after two weeks in Peking, pondering life over cups of tea and trying to work out how the hell she'd ended up there.
Not long after her father's death, at the tender age of 18, she made a firm commitment to the safe, conventional way of life. The risky existence that cost her a parent was shunned for the security of the straight and narrow. She made her plans carefully—career in the ballet, marriage, and, when she outgrew the narrow window of peak performance only a few dancers managed to cheat, children. Her hard work paid off. A spot in the Royal Ballet had her dancing onstage with the greats, with the added bonus of catching the eye of the handsome young airman in the audience. By 21 her name was on the posters, and a ring was on her finger. Perfection.
And then it was all gone in an instant.
Purdey cast her eyes up to the sky as a way of distracting her eyes from tearing up. Evening came earlier this far up north. Her brain made the calculations quickly. Another half hour, and she could make her way to Steed. Unfortunately, that still left her with plenty of time for reminiscing.
Finding herself without a husband, and then a job, in quick succession, her life plans in ruins, Purdey took her mother's suggestion and escaped to France, a place where neither Larry Doomer nor her old troupe would find her, and set about picking up the pieces of the aborted degree she'd begun at the Sorbonne, then dropped when the Royal Ballet's offer came through. It was something to do, and it kept her occupied, but upon graduation she once more found herself at loose ends. It was then that she chose to indulge in the age-old, post-graduate tradition of travelling cross-continent, all with the purpose of—though Purdey hated to admit she'd ever subscribed to the corny sentiment—"finding herself." Hence Peking. And her decision.
She had enjoyed school, loved learning, but had no desire to attend more classes. Resuming her career as a dancer was out. Everything was a step down from the Royal Ballet, and she knew even if she managed to be hired on elsewhere, without any real prospects to work toward, it would become a grind much like any other, and she loved her art too much to reduce it to drudgery. And anyway, at that point in her life, being on a stage brought back too many bad memories. And that terrified her.
What she really wanted was a chance to build herself up again, after having everything fall apart around her. To prove to herself that she could survive perfectly well without having to rely on someone else to provide the same security. People didn't always hang around to help you, whether by accident or design. That much she'd learned the hard way. She'd given up on the dream of an idyllic family existence. Now she needed to acquire the skills that would let her thrive in the world, and face whatever it threw her way head on.
And what better way than working in an Intelligence service, where they not only taught you how to spar physically and mentally, but where solving matters of national importance threw everyday domestic matters into sharp relief.
To an extent, she also wanted to know just what it was that had hooked her father so long ago, what was worth leaving his family behind for.
But at the end of the day, it was the desire to reinvent herself that was the strongest. The need to be strong and self-reliant, to be able to protect herself from the proverbial slings and arrows. That goal would lead her back home, to her mother and the inevitable confrontation. In the calm after the storm, her Uncle Elroyd Foster paid a visit, sent by her mother in a none-too-subtle attempt to dissuade her from her chosen course.
"But Purdey, my dear, what does a deucey pretty girl like you want to do, mucking in with that intelligence lot?"
"I have to do something, Uncle Elly. They provide the training, and I'm good at languages and puzzles." Purdey shrugged, the gesture carefully constructed to appear carefree. "Anyway, why not? Don't you think I'm tough enough?"
Her uncle smiled. "You're more than tough enough. You get that from me." Purdey grinned at her uncle's touch of hubris. "But aren't you worried about being targeted. The scoundrels always target the nice girls. You know that."
She did know that. "I'll just have to look after myself, won't I?" was her reply, a refrain she'd gone on to repeat in training, though some of her classmates had proved less-than-encouraging.
"You can look all you want, love, but if you don't have someone else to help with the looking, you'll get a bullet between your eyes before you know what's happened."
"But as an agent, you have to be self-reliant," Purdey protested. "There won't always be someone there to watch out for you."
"Maybe not, but there's a reason they send us out in teams of two. You'll last longer that way. Especially you."
Purdey frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you're a good girl, aren't you? All sweetness and light and fairydust."
Fairyprincess. That's what Larry used to call her, a thousand years ago. She was trying to shake the image, but her femininity stood out in sharp contrast to the masculine Ministry surroundings. "What if I am? I don't see why it matters."
The grin she got back in return made her heart stop. "Don't you? That's funny. In this business, I hear that good girls die."
Purdey was started out of that unhappy thought by a bird flapping dangerously close past her head. She bit her lip as she watched it gain altitude, only to perch in a tree a few feet away. She hoped no one had noticed it, and thought to connect it with her presence. She'd have to be more careful from now on, not let her mind wander. Presumably this was what her classmate had been on about. Being on your own and looking out for yourself was all well and good, but you had to actually do the looking for it to work. She hadn't been out in the field very long, and she was trying to forgive herself these small mistakes, but even small mistakes could prove fatal in this line of work, and they made her, not self-reliant, but vulnerable, a position she most definitely did not want to revisit.
Back in February, when she'd finally attained full agent status, a tiny part of her had worried that being assigned to a team would hamper her ability to practice her self-sufficiency, especially since her new position found her working with not one but two colleagues. But at the end of the day, Purdey was just too sociable to make for good lone wolf material, and she'd been alone so long in those days after leaving the ballet that it was rather nice to have someone else around. Besides, Steed and Gambit were, thus far, making for good company. And anyway, just because they were looking out for her didn't mean she couldn't look out for them, too. Gambit in particular seemed to need looking after, if the number of cuts and bruises he collected was any indication. Purdey half-expected him to get into some sort of tussle on his way to shore. With a shark, maybe, or at the very least a very irritable seal. She hoped not. She was running low on bandages.
Steed, on the other hand, needed back-up less than a collaborator. Perfectly capable of surviving on his own, as his records would attest, he was legendary as much for his infamous string of partners as his exploits. If even John Steed needed somebody, perhaps Purdey being on a team didn't make her as vulnerable as she'd once thought.
And as for the survival rate of the good girl, she'd mentioned it in passing to Gambit only the other week. His snort of derision could have been heard from Dover. "You don't have anything to worry about," he opined.
Purdey cocked her head in interest. "Oh? Why?"
"Because the last thing you are, Purdey, is a good girl."
Purdey arched an eyebrow. "And what on earth gives you that idea?"
"Call it a hunch," was Gambit said with a wink.
Purdey felt the corners of her mouth turning up even now, out here, on a chilly evening on the isle of St. Dorca.
It was dark enough to make the journey into town now, and contact Steed. Purdey adjusted her route and darted off through the trees, alone, but not for long. And most definitely alive.