11.30pm On the Grid
The shrill insistent ringing of the phone finally penetrated his eardrums. Shaking his head slowly to clear the stupefying effects of an overlarge tumbler of whisky Harry reached across the desk, grabbed the receiver, scattering the documents he'd been dozing over, and growled his name.
"Good evening Sir, I wasn't sure if you'd still be here. We've had call from Special Branch,..." The voice hesitated as if the speaker was considering what to say next.
Harry glanced at his watch. Its dial told him it was close to midnight. Even for him this was late, although since Ruth's death a few months previously he was spending more time in his office than in his home. The voice seemed to have retreated into silence. Never the most patient of men, at this time of night Harry's reserves of tolerance were dangerously depleted. Gripping the receiver he barked, "Well, what is it... and why hasn't this, whatever it is, been passed to the Duty Officer?"
His outburst seemed to have the effect of strengthening the resolution of the person on the other end of the line. "Sorry Sir"; came the apologetic reply: "But... I am the Duty Officer. Special Branch has informed us that a property on the MI5 relatives list has been subject to a possible bomb attack'. After a brief pause the voice continued: 'The name of the occupant is given as Catherine Townsend with a notification that any unusual activity should be reported to yourself."
This time is was Harry's turn to remain silent as various scenarios, none of them happy, streamed through his mind. Either unnerved or just possibly encouraged by the lack of reaction the officer added in an explanatory tone "I tried to contact you at your home first and then your club but then..." seemingly confused by the lack of response the speaker tailed off before adding hesitantly, "...well Sir, I'm sorry for the delay but ..."
"Yes, yes, thanks." Harry finally managed to croak some words into the receiver "Anyone hurt?"
A faint rustle of paper drifted down the phone indicating that the Duty Officer was consulting his notes. Harry fought down the urge to bawl at him to hurry, recognising that this desire was fuelled by dread.
'Please God No' he thought numbly, 'Not again, not Catherine'
Harry's nightmarish visions were interrupted by the voice of the Duty Officer saying in an unmistakably nervous tone: ..."Sorry Sir, but some of the information is unclear."
"Just give me what you have – NOW." Despite his struggle to remain calm Harry could feel his patience beginning to dissipate.
Recognising that the irascible Head of Section D was likely to descend from the Grid and personally shake the details out of him if he didn't hurry the voice quickly complied, quite obviously reading robotically from a sheet of notes.
"One explosion, cause unknown, about two hours ago, damage to front door and windows blown into street, one female believed to be occupant of the property caught in the blast. Female was outside at the time, injured, extent unknown, taken to hospital. Due to possible bomb blast Special Branch attended ... Er... will there be anything further Sir?"
"Yes," Harry snapped "I want to know which hospital my dau. ... the victim has been taken to, organise me with either a driver or a taxi, whichever is quickest and then contact those at the scene to say that an MI5 officer will be attending."
He threw the handset back onto its cradle and quickly gathered together the papers he'd knocked onto the floor of his office when he'd been startled by the trill of the phone. The documents related to the long delayed the report he was writing on the subject of inter-agency cooperation. No one had explained to Harry exactly what the various intelligence bodies were supposed to be co-operating against. In his more cynical moments he reflected that he was being invited to partake in an administrative version of sleeping with the enemy. Towers would, quite rightly, suspect that Harry was procrastinating and complain but Harry had scant respect for politicians, having once memorably described them as 'conniving, wheeler dealer scum bags.' Even Harry, however, was forced to concede that as politicos went Towers was refreshingly, even uniquely, willing to admit that he didn't always have the answers – and it was largely thanks to his efforts and sympathy that Harry was still employed in Section D. Towers' words on Harry's shock announcement that he intended to return to work, when everyone had expected him to crawl away into retirement, had been uncharacteristically forthright.
"I said that I would support you in whatever you wanted to do and I will –other considerations apart you are one of our most experienced people but I admit to being worried about this: in the last few months you've had to deal with the Albany fiasco, near rendition by the CIA, plus the circumstances surrounding the loss of Ruth Evershed. And you're refusing to consider a stay at Tring! Okay, but Harry, you do realise that everyone will be waiting for you to make an error? Can you really cope with that pressure in your mental state?"
Towers hadn't been the only one to harbour doubts. Harry had noticed the hard stares, the slow pauses, the eggshell treading when he'd reappeared on the Grid. He had expected it: he hadn't been overly sure himself how long he could continue but he'd taken the on the doubters and ignored the undertow of gossip as he set about reinstating his reputation as the hard headed, unemotional boss of the Grid. So what if he was working a sixteen to eighteen hour day and going home simply to shower, shave and occasionally sleep, that was his business and his alone. And if, in the late night privacy of his office, he was sinking overly generous measures of Scotch that too was his business.
Throwing the despised papers carelessly onto his desk, he stood up, fastened his top shirt button and straightened his tie. Pulling his jacket off the back of his chair he shrugged it on, grabbed his heavy outdoor coat from the metal stand in his office doorway and hurried across the darkened Grid towards the pods, pausing just for a moment to check that his id card was secure in his top pocket. He had a hunch that he might need to flash it around before the end of the evening.
As he strode out of the entrance lobby of Thames House the sudden transition from centrally heated building to biting cold made him gasp but cleared the lingering fug of whisky fumes from his brain. The Duty Officer had clearly taken his instructions to heart and a pool car was already waiting for Harry by the kerbside. Having given the direction to the driver Harry flopped into the back seat to consider his next move, pulling out his mobile his fingers hovered over the address book. Which officer... either Erin or Dimitri would be the obvious choice...so Erin or Dimitri? Erin had a young daughter and in an unspoken acknowledgement of the damage the job had created for his own family life Harry found himself trying to cut her some slack when possible. That left Dimitri, supposedly the Grid bomb expert. Dimitri then... if he was available. To Harry's surprise Dimitri picked up at once, although from the background noise, he was, Harry guessed, enjoying a convivial evening in a pub. If that was so Dimitri didn't let on as he said in a casual tone: "Hi Harry, at this time of night I assume that this isn't a social call. What can I do for you?"
"We've had a potential bomb explosion, one casualty probably the occupant, I'll text the address. Can you get round and see what the situation is? Low key but advise them that it may be a counter terrorism case. You know the form. "
"Sure – do we know anything about the occupant?"
Harry swallowed hard before saying in as collected a voice as he could manage "Yes – the occupant is called Catherine Townsend, and, " he added reluctantly, "she's my daughter. I'm on the way to the hospital now' a further deep breath before he added, "if I don't answer my phone leave a voicemail message. "
He noted the shocked pause before Dimtri replied tentatively: "Okay ... er do you want anyone to join you at the hospital?"
"Thanks but no." Harry appreciated the concern underlying the offer but declined. Unless necessity dictated he felt disinclined to expose his personal vulnerabilities to anyone in his team for a second time in months. Speeding in the car towards whatever awaited him at the hospital he recalled the last time Catherine had been involved in an operation, a thought that reminded him, as if he needed it, that all those who had been privy to that emotionally traumatic incident were no longer working in Section D: only eight years ago but it seemed a bygone age. Recently Harry had overheard a new, rookie officer describe him as 'the last of the dinosaurs'. In truth these days he felt more like a very ancient schoolmaster; increasingly the young spooks were the same age or younger than his own children... perhaps he should have retired as everyone expected... Harry suppressed the memory of those three glorious minutes in which his heart had soared at the prospect. The vision of Ruth's smiling face swam before him. He shook himself back into the present not daring to dwell upon her dying image, 'Come on Pearce, firm up, don't wallow, who will that help?'
By the time the car glided into the entrance of the A&E unit Harry had himself well in hand and no one noting the impassive set of his features, squared shoulders and resolute tread as he approached the glass panelled entry doors would have suspected his apprehension.
Most people thought of hospitals as places where you went to be cured – for Harry they were all too often morgues in waiting - and now his daughter, the sole member of his family with whom he was on speaking terms was lying somewhere in there, possibly dead or dying. Entering the building, he sniffed the distinctive hospital smell of disinfectant and sick, a scent that did nothing to lift his mood. Neither did the decor of the waiting area which had been painted a grim yellow, presumably in a misplaced attempt at cheerfulness. The space was filled with the usual variety of uncomfortable blue plastic seats, most of which were occupied by customers who were awaiting attention with varying degrees of impatience. Rising above the general clamour was the voice of a hysterical young mother whose child had apparently caught their finger badly in a car door, neatly slicing off part of the top. Harry felt a trickle of sympathy for her; he had some fairly grim memories of similar visits with Graham whose genius for falling out of trees and off bicycles had been the stuff of family legend. To her credit his ex-wife had never ever attempted to over compensate for the dangers of Harry's job by shielding their son from the normal accidents of exuberant boyhood. Pity they hadn't been so successful in keeping him away from drugs...thinking about Graham Harry felt yet again a familiar stinging sense of failure – successful spook maybe, a name to be reckoned with in the world of spies and double dealing but at what price? Those he should have protected had paid that: Ruth, Graham, Catherine, even Jane ...and at the end, after sacrificing those he had loved what exactly was he left with?
These private and depressing musings were interrupted by a slight touch on his elbow. He whirled around. Standing beside him was a policeman constable whose evident youth again made him feel like the MI5 equivalent of Mr Chips. "Excuse me, but are you Sir Harry Pearce?" By way of answer Harry nodded at him before reaching into his jacket pocket and producing his ID. The youngster scanned the proffered card and then indicated a doorway at the end of the department. Harry headed towards it with the officer following close behind him. Once though the swing doors the constable spoke again: "Sorry Sir, we were notified that you were on your way but I did have to check. "
Harry unbent slightly, "No need to apologise, I understand - now where are we headed and what do you know?"
"Down this way Sir and as I came in with the victim I don't really know what caused the explosion."
The victim...Harry felt faintly sick and caught his breath before nerving himself to ask, "and the victim?"
"Amazing lucky from what the doctor has said – only minor injuries – ah here we are."
They had reached a series of doors each leading into what Harry assumed were small treatment rooms. The door behind which his daughter lay was easily identified by the presence of another, slightly older officer standing guard in front of it. Seeing Harry approach he moved towards him.
"Good evening Sir. I understand that you are related to the victim." At the second use of this impersonal description to describe his daughter Harry finally succumbed to the strain of the evening.
"For God's sake use her name– it's Catherine Townsend and she's not the victim... She's my daughter and I want to see her now!"
In his agitated state Harry entirely failed to register the puzzled expression that flickered across their faces. When the older officer spoke again it was in a professional, soothing voice clearly cultivated for these situations as he murmured: "I'm not sure that that is advisable Sir you see ..."
Whatever he was going to say was lost as Harry moved towards him "Er I wouldn't Sir." The younger policeman promptly shifted to block the doorway. He had height and youth on his side. Harry however had bulk, determination plus reflexes cultivated from years of field craft and a neat sweep to the ankles left the youth sprawling on the corridor floor. Stepping over the human obstruction Harry burst into the room to be met by the astounded stares of a doctor and a woman: not the tall, thirty something, blond he'd expected to see lying on the bed but instead a pale skinned woman of around his own age whose eyes wore an expression in which contempt and loathing were subtly combined.
"Wonky Intel as per usual Harry?" the woman stated in a mocking tone that could have been dredged from the depths of Antarctica. "And, yes I can see that you still have all your own teeth so kindly relocate your jaw northwards."
Wondering if the evening could possibly deliver any more shocks Harry managed to stop gaping and took her advice as he stammered a single sentence.
"J J Jane – what on earth are you doing here?"