Lucas's reinstatement to Section D happened very quickly on screen. I have slightly expanded the timeline.
THE UNTOLD STORY
Without even looking at the clock I knew what time it was. Legend has it that troubled sleepers always wake at four a.m. Not yours truly. In my case it was always twenty minutes either side of two in the morning. That was the hour they picked for random interrogations; when all of us used to be woken by the clanging of doors and the bawling of drunken guards. Everyone had the same reaction – cringing in the darkness, heart pounding, silently praying that the thud of boots would stop outside someone else's cell. Compassion and selflessness don't last long in a Russian prison.
So I wasn't surprised that when my own shouts of terror woke me the alarm clock was showing 02.17. I'd been thrashing around like a windmill in a hurricane, and the sheet, damp and sticky with sweat, had wrapped itself around me so tightly that I could hardly move. That just made the panic worse; I'd seen guards bury prisoners' bodies that had been carelessly wrapped in a dirty sheet.
I tore myself free of it, ripping the fabric in the process, and threw the window open. The air was freezing, but I didn't care. During eight years in Russia I'd necessarily become accustomed to the cold. Anyway, freezing or not, it was air, and air was what I craved.
The room was spinning, and as I slumped on the edge of the bed I almost lost my balance. I lowered my head to get the blood back into it and it started to throb instead. Shit. This was all I needed, with my initial debriefing due to begin today. I'd been pestering Harry to get it started; as long as the process wasn't complete, I knew I wouldn't be formally cleared to return to Section D. Harry's admonitions to me to 'take your time, you're exhausted' might have been sincere, probably were, but I couldn't shake the fear that he was using them as an excuse to justify delaying my reinstatement. Logically, I knew that after eight years' detention I wasn't going to be able to just waltz back in and pick up the threads of my career where they'd been so brutally ripped apart. The Service was bound to have doubts about my loyalty and my state of mind, not to mention my physical condition. I hadn't seen a mirror in years, and now I could barely recognise my own scrawny, drawn, sunken-eyed reflection. Even I wasn't sure I looked fit to return to duty, so I understood Harry's doubts. At the same time, I was desperate for the reassurance that being officially recommissioned as an MI-5 officer would give me. I'd been floundering for what seemed like eternity, clutching at every tiny straw that would give me the strength to get through another endless day, until the chain of them stretched so far I couldn't remember where it had started, or believe that it would ever come to an end. I needed the stability that the anchor of belonging to the Service again would give me. Until I had that within my grasp, I knew I was doomed to fighting the pull of the tide of nightmares and flashbacks dragging me back to Russia.
Knowing that any attempt to go back to sleep was likely to be unsuccessful, I wandered into the kitchen. It took me a moment to find what I needed to make coffee. Visiting the supermarket since my return had been a nightmare that was reflected in the cupboards. My idea of the cost of things was eight years out of date, and being denied the right to take even the smallest decision for so long meant that I'd been utterly overwhelmed by the huge range of products available and quite unable to make any rational choice anyway. Malcolm, bless him, had come with me the second time and made sure that I bought the necessities and had sufficient money with me to do so.
I took a mug of coffee and a packet of chocolate biscuits into the living room. I never used to have a sweet tooth, but since my release from Russia I'd been eating biscuits, chocolate and cake to excess. I sat down on the floor with my back against the sofa. I still couldn't get used to soft, cosy chairs. Most nights the comfort of the bed defeated me too, and I ended up sleeping on the hard floor that I'd got used to in prison. I switched on the TV. An old episode of 'Poirot' was showing. It was comforting to see a programme I actually remembered, and the murmur of voices took the edge off the silence. After the endless days and weeks in solitary, I'd developed a need for the sound of the human voice as intense as any of my fellow-inmates had for drugs and alcohol. Harry was concerned that I would find debriefing difficult, but I'd been looking forward to it – not only because it would be my gateway to returning to the Service, but because I longed to be able to tell him about what I'd been through during the years of my captivity. For one thing, I wanted his sympathy – God knows, I felt I'd earned it! – but paradoxically, I also wanted him to know what I'd had to endure, and to feel guilty for his share of the responsibility for it. Two sides of the same coin, I suppose. Either way I wanted, and desperately needed to talk to him.
So it had been a shock to learn that one of his senior case officers, a woman called Myers, rather than Harry himself, would be handling at least the start of the debriefing. Harry hadn't been willing to tell me much about her, so I'd turned to Malcolm again and discovered that she was the woman who'd taken control of the Remembrance Day operation after Adam Carter's death. It seemed she was now chief of Section D.
The news had unsettled me. Some of my worst interrogations had been at the hands of a female FSB officer as brutal as any of her male colleagues, and the last thing I wanted was to be debriefed by another woman. All right, I knew that no MI-5 officer would be allowed to conduct herself in that way, but still. All I could recall of this one was a fleeting impression of a competent, snappy whippet of a woman in a leather jacket and jeans. I'd tried to elicit information from Malcolm, but he'd been hesitant and evasive. At last he'd muttered something about Ms Myers being 'tough … I suppose you'd call her a hard nut.' He'd uttered the last two words with distaste, as if they were the verbal equivalent of picking up something slimy. My face must have shown something, because he'd added hastily, 'But she's very good, Lucas. And completely unbiased.'
I wasn't reassured. I didn't need someone 'completely unbiased'. I needed someone sympathetic and understanding. It didn't sound to me as if Ms Myers fitted the bill. And I couldn't help wondering – if she was Section Chief, where would that leave me, even if I were reinstated? Eight years ago I'd known, without any false modesty, that Harry had been grooming me to fill that post one day. I had no idea what my status might be now. I wondered what had happened to Tom Quinn, who surely would have been an automatic choice to become Section Chief once I was otherwise occupied as prisoner 56711. Harry's assertion that he had 'taken early retirement' didn't ring true, but he obviously didn't trust me enough yet to offer me the real reason for Tom's departure.
Trust. It was the biggest obstacle standing between me, and the resumption of my career in Section D. But re-building that trust was a two-way process. My trust in Harry had been absolute … once. I trusted him when he sent me to Moscow, and when everything went so terribly wrong I trusted him to get me released and bring me home.
I didn't trust him that way now, not after he and the Service callously left me in Russian hands for eight years. My chief tormentor at Lefortovo, Arkady Kachimov, had loved to remind me that Harry didn't seem particularly eager to have me back. Although I knew that his periodic little jabs on the matter were designed to lay a feeling of emotional solitude on top of my physical isolation, there was no getting away from the fact that I was alone and, apparently, abandoned. As the years dragged by his needles penetrated deep under my skin and lodged there. By the time I was hauled from the boot of that car and handed over, I mistrusted Harry almost more than I did Kachimov. I had hoped that once I had talked to him I would be able to start rebuilding the old relationship of confidence and friendship I'd had with him in the past and valued so much. We knew each other; Harry would understand. Except that now I wasn't going to be sharing the details of my ordeal with Harry but with the unknown quantity of Ms Whatever-her-name-was Myers.
I took another biscuit and dipped it into my coffee. What the hell had she said her name was? Something unlikely. I remember thinking that it didn't suit her. Rebecca? Rowena … no. Something Shakespearian. I concentrated. Rosamund - no, Rosalind. Rosalind, that was it. Something wrong there! To me, 'Rosalind' conjured up the quintessential English rose in a Laura Ashley dress. Not the severe-looking woman I'd met so briefly – curt, assured, and crisply snapping orders to armed men twice her size. She'd barely batted an eyelash when I told her Adam Carter was dead. Turned white and gone very still for a couple of seconds, yes, but the instant the cavalry arrived she'd taken over command without so much as a flicker of emotion. More like Rambo than Rosalind.
You're getting fanciful. And sleepy. I looked at my watch. Maybe it was worth trying to get at least a couple of hours rest. I wouldn't do much to impress Ms Rosalind 'Hard Nut' Myers by dozing off during the debriefing. I went back into the bedroom. The sheet was beyond immediate repair – by me, at least – so I took the blanket and settled on the carpet in the living room. With the little Belgian muttering into my ear about order and method, and the familiarity of an unyielding floor beneath me I drifted back to sleep.
I had been instructed to be at Thames House by ten, so I made sure I was there by nine-thirty. Security wasn't very happy with my temporary access card, and it took a further check call to Harry before I was admitted. When I emerged from the pods Ms Myers was waiting for me.
"Mr North." I thought she smiled, but it was so fleeting that I could well have been mistaken. She extended her hand; it was slender and pale, with well-manicured nails, and bore no rings. "My name's Rosalind Myers. We met on Remembrance Day."
"Yes." I shook her hand and added, somewhat unnecessarily, "Lucas North." She had some of the coldest eyes I had ever seen; a mossy green like the Russian steppes in spring, and I could feel them appraising me. I decided to take the initiative. "Is Harry around?"
"Not at the moment." I waited, but she added nothing further. "Shall we get started? I've had coffee sent in. Would you follow me, please?"
She walked briskly off down the corridor, leaving me with little choice but to follow. I made my own appraisal on the way. She was slightly built, but obviously very fit. Both her carriage and her expression oozed self-confidence, and did little to bolster mine. She stopped at a plain metal door, and was just sliding her ID card into the reader when an attractive young woman with very short bleached blonde hair came hurrying round the corner.
"Ros! Ros, Ben's latest report's ready."
I watched her thin lips tighten in annoyance. "Then deal with it, Jo. Unless he's about to join the Taliban I don't want to be disturbed for the next two hours. They did train you to take independent decisions, didn't they?"
Without another word, she turned away and opened the door. The girl glanced at me. She was scarlet with embarrassment, and I gave her what I hoped was a sympathetic smile.
"Mr North?" Rosalind Myers was tapping her foot impatiently. "If you're quite ready?"
I rolled my eyes at the younger woman, who hurriedly hid a smile as she moved off. I turned back to Ms Myers. She gestured me into the room, and as she followed, I heard the door hiss shut.
"Take a seat, please." She was already moving to the table, but when she turned and saw that I hadn't moved, both her expression and her voice hardened. "Mr North, take a seat."
I swallowed. My mouth was dry and I could feel my heart beating too fast. The room was small, spartan, and windowless. And Rosalind Myers was the only one able to open the door. I blew out a long, slow breath and made myself walk to the table, conscious of her watching me closely as she poured two cups of coffee from a thermos flask. I didn't want to start this by demonstrating weakness, so I forced the memories back. You're not in Moscow now. She wasn't about to strap me down and let the gorillas loose. And I had a mobile, a way of contacting the outside world. I wasn't trapped. The Grid was only a few feet away.
"Is something wrong?" she enquired.
"No," I lied. I pulled out a chair and sat down. She raised her eyebrows and passed me a cup. My hands were unsteady, and the spoon tinkled betrayingly in the saucer. She said nothing, but we both knew that she'd seen and noted it. Without comment she took the other chair, and, sitting on the edge of it with her back ramrod straight, flicked open the file she had been carrying with her.
"Lucas Simon North." I nodded. "Sent to Moscow in March 2000 to make contact with an MI-5 asset in the GRU."
"Yes." I kept my eyes on that impassive face to avoid having to look at the smooth, featureless walls sealing us in on all four sides. "On 23rd March, to be exact."
Rosalind Myers consulted the file and nodded. "When were you picked up?"
"Four days later," I answered. "Late at night near Khrista Spasitelya, by an FSB snatch squad."
Another nod. "Very well." She picked up a pen and held it poised. "Tell me what happened."
She grilled me for two hours before she called a break for lunch. By then I was exhausted and fighting a headache. Rosalind Myers's conduct had changed not one iota; she remained attentive, composed, impeccably polite, and those chilly green eyes rarely moved from my face. I had to admit she was a damned good interrogator – intelligent, thorough, and persistent. By the end of two hours she had taken copious notes in a personal shorthand that I couldn't read, although I'd caught Ms Myers giving a sardonic smile when she saw me trying to.
"OK," she said crisply, slapping the file closed. "Let's take an hour for lunch." She got to her feet, and I rose with her. "You know where the cafeteria is?"
"Yes. Unless they've moved it." My little quip produced no reaction whatsoever. She slipped her card through the reader again and opened the door. Then she looked at me.
"Did you suffer from claustrophobia before Russia, Mr North?"
I wondered if the insistence on formality was to emphasise that I wasn't – yet – what I so desperately wanted to be, a fully-fledged member of Section D. On the Grid we'd always called each other by our first names; everyone did, right from day one. I shook my head.
"No. It developed there, in prison."
She nodded. "You did well to control it." Her tone was completely devoid of warmth; it was a statement of fact, not a compliment. "See you back here in an hour." I stood there and watched her walk away, and then went to the nearby lavatory. When I got back to the Grid I glimpsed her blonde hair in Harry's office. Making her report. Harry was seated at his desk, listening intently. He met my eyes for a second as I went past the office window, and raised a hand. I did likewise and continued to the pods. I could still feel Rosalind Myers's gaze burning the back of my neck as they decanted me out of the Grid.
The cafeteria was busy, noisy, and on the fourth floor with a view over the city. I carried my tray to a table by the window and for a moment, just sat staring out of it, drinking in the range of the view, the breadth of the sky, and blessing whoever had opened a window to let in the crisp air that swirled around the back of my neck.
"Hi, can I join you?" I looked up, startled, to see the young woman whose head Rosalind Myers had almost bitten off. She had large eyes that looked almost violet, and they were smiling warmly at me. The contrast with the steel-eyed gaze of her colleague was startling.
"Sure." I smiled back and moved my tray along to give her space. "Lucas North."
She beamed. "Yeah, I know. I'm Jo Portman." Without ceremony she began to make inroads into a large salad. "You survived, then?"
"So far," I said, carefully. "Early days." Given what had happened downstairs it didn't seem very likely that Ms Myers had sent this girl as a stukach (the Russian word came without thinking, the English equivalent escaped me), but I wasn't taking any chances.
She chuckled. "You'll be fine. Her bark's a lot worse than her bite, really."
"Rosalind's?" I enquired, disingenuously.
"Yeah. Ros. We all call her Ros." Jo wrinkled her nose. "She doesn't like Rosalind. Too girly, I think. Harry only ever calls her Rosalind when he's angry with her."
She was being very open. I glanced warily around us. Something told me that Rosalind Myers wouldn't enjoy being talked about.
"Don't worry," Jo said brightly. "She never comes in here. Goes out or takes a sandwich or something up to the roof. She might have to talk to people if she ate with the rest of us. You know, chat and have a laugh. Not really Ros's strong point."
I'll bet it isn't. I started eating. "Bit of a loner, is she?"
Jo nodded. "Delete 'bit of'. Work's what matters to Ros. I don't think she's really interested in people." She looked thoughtful. "Except Adam." She looked intently at me. "Did you know Adam?"
"No. I only met him when I came back. Did you?"
She nodded vigorously, although there was sadness in her eyes. "I joined MI-5 because of him. He recruited me." She went quiet for a moment. "It seems so odd without him around. I miss him. I suppose Ros must too, even more than the rest of us, but she never shows it."
The words puzzled me. "Why more than the rest of you?"
Jo Portman hesitated. "Well, she – she and Adam … they were an item, so …" She trailed off. I ate for a moment without speaking, recalling Ros Myers's reaction when I'd told her of Adam Carter's death. Surely no woman who really loved the man could have shown so little emotion. And besides, from my brief two encounters with Adam I couldn't imagine an unlikelier pairing. He had been warm, impulsive, and gregarious. I thought I'd sensed a streak of recklessness, too. What on earth he'd seen in that cold, remote, emotionless woman with whom I'd spent the last two hours – other than a remarkably good figure - I couldn't think.
"They're very different, aren't they?" I said, casually.
"God, yes." Jo laughed, albeit with a touch of bitterness, I thought. "Ros is pretty different from everyone. She was difficult enough when she went away. Since she's come back, well …"
"Come back?" I enquired.
"From Russia." I choked on the baked potato I'd just put into my mouth.
"Russia?" I spluttered, when I could. "What on earth was she doing there?"
For the first time, the young woman looked slightly uneasy. "Oh, I – er – I shouldn't really talk about it. I expect Harry will tell you – or she will. When you're back in the Section, I mean. You are coming back?"
I smiled as disarmingly as I could. "I hope so. If I can charm Miss – Ros."
Jo giggled. "I'd practice on something easier first if I were you. Like a spitting cobra." She glanced down as her mobile beeped. "Oops, got to run. See you soon, I hope!"
I hope so too, I thought as she hurried off. I finished my food deep in thought. The aura of mystery around Ros Myers was growing by the minute. Private travel to Russia was absolutely forbidden for all serving MI-5 officers for the obvious reason. So either she had also been on an operation there, or … well, there was no viable alternative that I could see.
I finished eating and took a takeaway coffee back down to the Grid with me. My sixty minutes respite was passing far too quickly, and I knew that Ros intended to move on to questioning me about the 'intensive interrogation' (a twenty-first century euphemism for torture) that I'd been put through by the FSB. I wasn't entirely sure that I could face it.
You have to try. I'd been through worse. It was the price for returning to Thames House, and if I couldn't pay it, then all those years of fear and pain and loneliness would have been wasted. I'd effectively be handing Arkady Kachimov and his henchmen the victory they hadn't been able to beat out of me on a silver platter.
I made my way back down to the Grid, hoping I might have the chance for a word with Harry. My luck was in; when I got there he was just taking his leave of a man who had 'senior civil servant ' stamped all over his face. Harry's own wore a constipated expression, and despite myself, I smiled.
"As ever." Harry glared at the man's retreating back and then asked: "How's it going, Lucas?"
The sympathy in his voice brought a lump to my throat, but I answered as casually as I could.
"All right, I hope." I pointed discreetly towards Ros Myers, who was just emerging from the kitchen off the Grid. "But I don't know what Ros thinks."
"Very few people know what Ros thinks," Harry said wryly, neatly sidestepping the invitation in my comment. I probed again.
"I gather she was in Russia, too?"
Harry's expression warned me, too late, that my curiosity had probably dropped young Jo Portman right in it. I waited for the rebuke, but instead he sighed wearily.
"I know this is hard, Lucas. I know how much you want to be back in the saddle – and I want you back. You'll know everything in good time. Ros is an outstanding officer in every respect. I think even she'd admit she's unlikely ever to win the Most Popular Girl On The Grid award, but she's loyal, honest, and scrupulously fair. And she's not as uncaring as she seems. Trust her. And me."
I wanted to ask him why the hell I should when the sentiment clearly wasn't reciprocated and when he'd betrayed mine by abandoning me for eight years, but Ros was approaching, and I bit back what would anyway have been a foolishly heated response.
"Shall we go, Mr North?" she suggested.
"Lucas." I tried to keep the edge out of my voice. "Please."
They exchanged a glance, and then Ros gave a tight smile that suggested that using the word gave her acid indigestion.
"Lucas. This way," she said, as I turned towards the corridor that we had taken that morning. "The interview room's in use this afternoon. There's an empty office up here." She strode off decisively in the other direction. I glanced at Harry, who winked at me and made a shooing gesture with his hand. Hurriedly, I chased Ros down the corridor. The office in question was small, and obviously rarely used. The air was stuffy and dust-laden, a problem that Ros was just solving by shoving the window open and letting in a chilly gust of air. I saw her shiver.
"Just for a minute, freshen it up." She turned to me and said curtly: "Sit down."
At another time I might have bristled at the arrogance in her tone and manner, but I was acutely aware that the satisfaction of snapping back at her would only be momentary. It was obvious that she and Harry were as thick as thieves, and her opinion carried weight with him. Get on the wrong side of Ros Myers, and this grubby little office could be the closest I ever got to being back on the Grid. And I was mollified by my relief at being in a room with a window and a door that could be opened simply by turning the handle. So I did as I was told, watched as she snapped an order for coffee into her mobile to some unfortunate, anonymous junior officer, and prepared to take her back to Russia for round two.