Thanks once again to all those who read and especially to those who took the trouble to review.
The Grid approx 3.30pm
Within seconds of Calum's appearance in his office Harry was dashing out the door, very nearly knocking Calum off his feet in the process. Jane, forced by her nuisance of an ankle to follow behind at a more sedate pace, paused for a moment as Calum steadied himself, while making one of his trade mark comments.
"The last time I saw him move so quickly was when he saw the DG approaching his whisky stash."
"The only two real loves of his life Calum – malt and his daughter, I'm not entirely sure one which edges it."
The reaction from the normally insouciant Calum startled her, instead of responding to her lightly meant remark in kind his face took on a guarded look, the one she remembered well from Harry. She'd christened it his 'spook look' serious and hiding... well who knew what... the whole point was that it was hiding whatever had to be hidden. Did Calum's 'spooked look' relate to Harry or to himself? All spies were human carriers of the clandestine and she suspected that most of them preserved their sanity by compartmentalising, Harry just happened to be better at it than most. If anyone asked her for an off the cuff description of her secretive ex she'd be tempted to answer 'a filing cabinet of covert secrets wrapped in a bespoke suit.'
As Jane and Calum arrived at the their destination, the computer monitor upon which the eyes of the entire team were affixed, all she had a chance to register was that the video being played was of a dubious quality, a few notches up from the CCTV footage that had adorned the Briefing room screen, but several below what would be expected from a night at the local multiplex. She had no further opportunity to exercise her critical skills. Harry, having heard her approach, straightened up and turned around to face her, his body effectively blocking her view of the screen.
In a harsh voice he insisted, "No, Jane this is not something for your eyes."
In his anxiety to protect her Harry had reverted to boss default, completely forgetting just how much Jane loathed Harry the Spy. It only took the time Jane needed to draw breath for her to refresh his malfunctioning memory.
"How dare you dictate to me! Is this what you meant by honesty? In your true colours after all. Just get out of my way."
As an angry Jane moved to push him aside, Harry was, for once, grateful for his desk induced girth. His gradually expanding physical bulk may have earned him endless pamphlet strewn admonishments from the Thames House medics but it was proving to be a useful aid in obscuring Jane's defiant attempts to peer around him. Hitting a woman was distinctly against Harry's code of conduct, grabbing one as she made to shove him aside most definitely wasn't. Grasping her arm firmly he pulled her away from the work station, ignoring her gasp of astonishment at his temerity, while shouting an order over his shoulder to Malcolm.
"Burn that onto a DVD, four copies, one to be sealed and secured. And bring one to my office."
Jane was still struggling as he turned back to state quietly but firmly, "Jane, my office, now. I don't want to drag you in there. But if I have to I will."
His first urgent words had been motivated by an alarmed concern, but with that one moment's lack of sensitivity the whole delicate edifice of unity he'd managed to create with the near hysterical woman he was grasping had collapsed. Inwardly he was berating himself. Who knew better than he how Jane felt about his habits of secrecy. If he did have to make good his threat he could forget any chance of extending their truce into a peace treaty. No one would have suspected that he was inwardly quivering at the possible consequences of his involuntary reaction. His long practiced air of authority conspired to hide his nerves as he awaited her decision.
Jane recognised the expression on Harry's face, determined and shut down. Glimpsing beyond the solid wall of his body the uncomfortable looks of the team, she felt cornered, confronted with two choices. Either make a scene and be manually hauled into Harry's office or pipe down, enter his sanctum of her own accord and argue in privacy. A testing wriggle of her arms advised her that she was clamped in an unshakeable grip. Submitting, at least temporarily, seemed the most dignified option. A choice also dictated by the consideration that while she could match him with her tongue any day of the week, physically he was stronger than herself, and trained to deal with opponents who were infinitely more vicious. That yet again she'd been painted into a corner and forced to acquiesce to his demands wasn't improving her mood any.
"Very well, as you wish. But take your hands off me."
Harry slackened his hold slightly, enough to enable her to twist out of his grasp and stomp mutely into his office without a backwards look, her demeanour oozing indignation out of every pore.
Jane stormed into Harry's red walled goldfish bowl with every intention of continuing the dispute. As she crossed its threshold, preparing to bawl him out, she was pulled up short by the sight of the framed picture of Catherine. The photograph, last seen in Catherine's flat, was now residing on the shelves behind Harry's desk. Jane was certain that it hadn't been on display when she'd last graced this office, then also intent on giving Harry an ear bashing regarding his treatment of Laura. Her original grievance temporarily shelved as securely as the picture she turned to ask.
"Where did you...wasn't that in ...?"
Having closed the door behind him as he didn't think that the sound of screeching would improve either the morale or his standing on the Grid, Harry moved to pull the window blinds, thus ensuring some privacy for the forthcoming conflict. Choosing to ignore the initial reason for their joint presence in the office he answered her stuttering question.
"I brought it back with me yesterday afternoon." The questioning gaze continued, forcing him to add, with a would be casual shrug, "I didn't want to leave it for strangers to gawp at."
She looked again more closely at the picture, Catherine holding her award lightly had been captured at a three quarter face angle looking outwards. By sheer chance Harry had placed the frame at an angle that meant she was smiling serenely down on the pair of them. Her daughter, their daughter; the reason Jane was currently standing here on the Grid planning to tongue lash Harry to flinders, about what precisely? She'd been so absorbed in a fury born of anxiety and frustration she'd scarcely given him an opportunity to explain himself.
Flinging herself onto the sofa she confronted him with her direct stare as she snapped, "So why couldn't I see what was on the stick? Don't try to tell me that it isn't important."
Harry wasn't certain how to respond to this. Did he sit beside her and try to comfort her, as one parent to another, or should he adopt his 'Chief of Spies' persona and retreat behind the defence of his desk. He wasn't even sure in which capacity he'd refused to let her watch the dramas being played out on the monitor. As Jane's current self appointed protector he had no intention of exposing her to images that would haunt her. As Head of Section D his very brief glance at the screen had sufficed to convince him that what he was viewing was potential political dynamite, and as such highly restricted. Time for some good old British compromise?
Leaning against the edge of his desk he answered stare for stare as he articulated a response that he hoped would pass muster.
"Yes Jane it is important. From what I glimpsed I now have an inkling as to why Catherine was being hunted."
"So why?" That Jane had ceased to shout was music to his ears, but her inflection was still accusatory
Harry sighed. "I might be wrong." Seeing her sceptical face he assured her, "It has been known. When I've had a chance to view it properly I promise I'll not be keeping you in the dark."
"So why can't I see it with you?"
Harry was tempted to adopt parent mode and reply, 'Because I say so." but reckoned making that statement to the stormy eyed woman seated opposite would have an effect akin to that of throwing petrol on a barbeque. Striving not to sound as though he was imposing a resented masculine authority onto her he finally gave her the honest answer, "Because the brief glance I had contained images that would qualify as a video nasty."
"For heaven's sake Harry, I'm already imagining goodness knows what happening to Catherine."
Finally she'd got his point, she just hadn't realised it yet. "Exactly, you are imagining; and horrific as those visions may be they are not reality. Trust me once more Jane, I've see grim and grisly for most of my working life, sometimes as the results of my own actions at that. The visual stays with you, it burns into your brain. Unless it can't be avoided I don't want that for you."
Jane wondered fleetingly if this was another example of Harry's manipulation, but little as she might like it she was forced to trust him, and, leaving the memories of their chequered past lodged firmly in that long ago country, had he actually done anything in the thirty six hours or so since she'd been literally catapulted back into his life to warrant such ongoing distrust. If he'd been lying to her then her detection skills had hit an all time low. Supposing that, just for once, she accepted what he said as the truth, what harm precisely would that do? More pertinently as he wasn't going to retract did she have an alternative?
She was about to voice her capitulation, in terms that implied only a partial surrender, she'd hate him to think that she'd degenerated into a pushover, when Malcolm knocked and entered. Greeks came bearing gifts; Malcolm came bearing, if she was to believe Harry, a nightmare inducing DVD. Malcolm handed it over to Harry saying helpfully, "I've taken extra copies of the memory stick as well. From the three minutes or so I saw it seems to contain hardcore violence so I killed it. I didn't think the public Grid was the most appropriate viewing area."
Any doubts Jane might have still be harbouring about Harry's current honesty were immediately dispelled by this speech. Despite the fact that Malcolm had voluntarily returned to this murky world of lies and deception his entire manner radiated an undeniable integrity, forcing her into the unwelcome admission that she was in the wrong. She was about to stand up, her equivalent of admitting defeat, when Harry, having taken possession of the disc enquired, "Malcolm have you seen Jason yet, about that hard drive?"
"He's just popped over to see me. His brother owns a computer business so Jason knows exactly what to do. I just wondered with developments..." His eyes strayed to the DVD as he said it.
"Thanks Malcolm but I think we can spare Jason and Laura for a few hours. Make them a legend – and..."
Jane the school ma'm was becoming extremely irritated with these unfinished sentences, a fact that was apparent in her impatient questions. "Harry what are you talking about? What else are you involving Laura in?"
Harry's unspoken reaction was to wonder how many more hours of his life would be spent justifying his actions and motivations to Jane. It reminded him of his regular screenings with the psychologist, appointments he only attended under the extreme duress of threat of immediate suspension, and then spent doing his vexatious best to wrong foot the interrogator. In this obdurate endeavour he was usually assisted by the relative inexperience of the unfortunate assigned to examine him. He'd rarely been assessed by the same shrink more than once. For some inexplicable reason the approximate date of Sir Harry Pearce's annual check up was the signal for a spike in leave applications, the department's personnel having suddenly fallen prey to an uncontrollable desire to luxuriate in the glorious sunshine that characterised an English February.
"Sorry Jane but I haven't had a chance to mention it. Malcolm wants the hard disk from Robin's computer so while he's away..."
Another incomplete sentence that she finished for him, "You're sending MI5 to play." Damn him; with all the trouble he was taking to solve her very personal problems shouting at him, however justified, would be churlish. "Very well, I presume it would help if I hand over my house keys? But why Laura?"
"Yes it would. And Laura because she already knows the layout and something of the neighbours." Harry, deciding that if Jane could be distracted into action she'd get off his back, suggested, "Any extra advice would be useful."
Jane wasn't fooled, "You mean give the little woman something to do and she'll shut up. Is that your game?"
Despite her deadly accuracy in dissecting his motive he wasn't about to capitulate. "Not exactly, as you pointed out in your... er... face time with darling Gawain you're above average height. More relevantly as it's your home you are the best person to advise. Can I also remind you that your report does need to be written up?"
Malcolm, observing this clash, was reminded of the question relating to the irresistible force versus the immovable object, with one minor difference. He couldn't be sure which of the pair was the force and which the object; let alone take a punt on the eventual victor. After a glaring contest that took only ten seconds but seemed, to Malcolm caught in the silent crossfire, more like a minute, finally, reluctantly Jane sighed, "Very well. I know when to be the meek submissive female." In revenge she ignored Harry as she extracted herself from the sofa, instructing Malcolm, "Lead me to a computer then."
Meek and submissive would not have been Harry's ideal words of choice in describing Jane, he'd have plumped for the antonyms of assertive and confident, but he wasn't planning to prolong the argument. He was more alarmed by her relatively painless and speedy compliance. From past experience he wouldn't put it beyond her to wait three minutes and then reappear. With that possibility in mind he moved silently to peek at her through an infinitesimal chink in the blinds, but no, she seemed to be settled and occupied. Once assured that she wasn't going to hop back into his office, yelling the Shakespearian version of 'Gotcha," he returned to his own chair and pushed the DVD into his computer. As the footage loaded up he prepared himself for what he already knew would be an unsavoury session of viewing by wondering if Jane, pushed beyond her tolerance limit, would voice her frustrations to his staff. If she did the chances were that she'd be the recipient of endless sympathy on the subject of coping with a grumpy Harry.
As spied by Harry, having returned into the less insulated space of the open plan Grid, Malcolm had logged Jane onto an unoccupied computer and clicked up the necessary form. Having absorbed the format Jane asked one question, "Do I fill this in as per office speak, for example, 'After a considerable discussion it was decided to reduce the number of scenes to be included, and to take account of the audience's cultural differences in term of the actual presentation of such,' or do I forget my blushes and give a verbatim account?"
Before Malcolm could reply the irrepressible Calum, ears wagging and tongue at the ready, interrupted with, "Go for verbatim. Don't so selfish Jane, think of the light relief some poor sod will enjoy in the future when ploughing through our historic paperwork."
After he'd favoured Calum with a reproving look Malcolm responded judiciously. "Office speak I think." Relief flooded Jane's face, although the undeterred, unabashed Calum was heard to stage whisper "Spoilsport".
A few minutes later as Jane sat struggling with the form, 'How I describe my position in MI5? Arty Bullshit Monitor?' she was surprised by a mug of tea suddenly materialising in front of her. Looking up she saw Malcolm who simply said, "It occurred to me that you might be thirsty."
Malcolm had previously decided that it was best if all bystanders stayed out of Harry and Jane's non marital disputes. Close friend of Harry he might be but Malcolm had long preferred to maintain a policy of deliberate ignorance relating to some aspects of Harry's life. An opinion reinforced by the unwitting damage he had inflicted on the burgeoning relationship between Harry and Ruth so many years ago. While Malcolm was still inclined to regard Jane's reappearance in Harry's orbit as something of a dubious blessing at best, he was forced to admit that any comparison with the disgraced Juliet Shaw and the fanatical murderous Elena veered in Jane's favour. Jane wasn't Ruth of course, but while she yielded nothing to Juliet in the waspish tongue department so far she'd appeared devoid of the self serving arrogance of the latter. Nor could Malcolm visualise the woman facing with him an uneasy expression cold bloodedly smirking while someone threatened to execute either of her children. Malcolm had not been an actual eye witness to the emotionally charged showdown in the Thames bunker, but he knew what had transpired, courtesy of a concerned Dimitri Levendis. In those subsequent hours, while Towers and the CIA where slugging out the fraught issues relating to Harry's extradition and house arrest, Dimitri, believing that Harry needed the support of an old friend, had deliberately risked his own career and broken the established protocols to contact Malcolm with the full story.
Taking courage Malcolm trod into the emotional minefield as he murmured, "I can only imagine how hard this is for you Jane, but from what I saw of the video Harry really was trying to protect you."
He'd half wondered if Jane would break out into a denunciation of Harry. Instead she just looked up emptily, acknowledging him with a sigh. "I know...it's well ... with everything..." unusually inarticulate she diverted into, "Can we just let that go for now while you tell me the legend you're giving Laura and Jason."
Moving into the more secure matter of fact territory, of which he was the unsurpassed master, Malcolm described his reasoning, "As I wasn't certain what your neighbours know about your family I thought son and daughter of the old friends you're staying with – arriving to pick up some extra clothes as you've been taken ill and obliged to stay a little longer."
Jane contemplated for a moment, "I'll give them a note. Robin will be away but Mabel might..." She suddenly recalled that Malcolm hadn't been around to hear Laura's report of the previous evening, "She's my neighbour and watches the house for me when we're both away. She might just catch them, but if they have a note she'll be okay with it."
Malcolm, not sure as to how much Jane knew he knew about the breakdown of her marriage, ventured an enquiry, "About last night's party, who'd clear up?" Jane, with a slight sardonic quirk, greeted this with a straightforward statement. "Malcolm I'm sure Harry's described the gory details of my current marriage in full so no need to tiptoe. Robin probably left any mess for me to deal with as my punishment. Why do you ask?"
Despite her exhortation to abandon an unnecessary tact Malcolm was remained wary as he answered carefully, "If the place has been left looking like a tip I could ask Jason to take a picture. Taken in conjunction with yesterday's message a court could construe that as unreasonable behaviour. You can't use on adultery on its own as you've been aware of his affair for over six months."
"Then ask Jason to do it. I don't know quite what Harry has in mind." This was a part invitation to Malcolm to enlighten her but she was disappointed by, "No more do I." Then more cheeringly, "But I have every confidence that it's Robin who'll come off worst. Can you do the note now and give me your keys. Then I'll send the pair of them on their way."
Harry meanwhile had finally watched the contents of the DVD in their entirety, relieved that he hadn't reopened the blinds. It wouldn't do to for his team to see him blenching and fighting down the impulse to vomit. Harry was the fortunate possessor of a strong stomach, one of the several unspecified but vital requirements for his post. He'd lived with violence, been subjected to it, through sheer necessity had resorted to it himself on occasions, but nothing had prepared him for the systematic callous depravity he'd just witnessed courtesy of his desktop. That certain parts of the mystery were now illuminated was of little consolation, when set alongside the continuing puzzle as to who had kidnapped his daughter. The thought that she may also have viewed the revolting contents previously secreted inside Mr Snuggles backside made him shudder anew. After a few deep calming breaths he picked up his phone to summon Calum and Malcolm into his citadel.
Having already glimpsed the horror movie neither man was surprised at his request, responding with the alacrity of individuals who'd been sitting on hold. Once through the door of the office even Calum was subdued by the expression on Harry's face, last seen on the day he'd returned to the Grid a nearly broken man. Harry gravely raked the pair with his eyes as he stated, "You've already seen some of this. Having watched it all I apologise for making you do likewise, but I need you to go into the lockdown rooms separately, view on your own and make your notes. You also need to pull this apart to see if it is genuine. Lives, and I'm not just referring to Catherine's, may depend on your conclusions."
"Come on Harry, give us a clue." That was Calum, of course.
"Sorry Calum but I need you to come to your own conclusions uninfluenced by me." Sensing the urgency in Harry's voice Malcolm in his usual quiet manner said, "Then we'd better get on with it."
From her squatters post on the Grid, trying to produce a report that converted that the differences of opinion with Gawain the Pretentious into a mildly academic and amiable exchange of views, Jane had noted the movement of Malcolm and Calum purposefully trooping across the Grid with Dimitri following close behind. More confusingly a few minutes later only the latter returned. In answer to Jane's puzzled face he grinned, "What I've wanted to do for ages, lock Calum up securely."
Erin overhearing enquired, "Any chance you can throw away the key?"
Seeing that Jane wasn't about to be distracted by their banter Erin decided she was owed an explanation, "Whatever is on that stick Harry needs to know that it's the real deal. We were all witnesses to its being untampered with after opening and to Malcolm remaining in full sight between the opening and burning of the content onto the DVDs. One has been sealed and locked away as a master copy, only to be opened when two officers are present. Malcolm and Calum now have to reach their individual conclusions to compare with Harry's, which they also seal. Harry will have made similar notes. As technical officers they must make an initial check that what they are watching has not been faked or altered to deceive."
Jane had automatically noted that in Erin's lecture Calum still took priority over Malcolm, but she let it pass in the light of the greater concern. While she understood the relief the team felt in having finally acquired some definite Intel, for Jane the very fact that it was so important was ominous. If Catherine hadn't been taken for a triviality, then she was probably in an acute and still unexplained peril. Before she could muse much further one of the junior officers passed Erin a note. Reading it Erin spoke to Dimitri, "The traffic department mole is here for questioning, shall we?"
Dimitri seemed to hesitate as he looked towards Jane. Realising the root of his worry she reassured him, "It's okay Dimitri, Queen Guide's honour I promise not to scour the Grid for state secrets. Go and do your job."
"Very well, what's his name ...Erin!" this last because Erin was spluttering in amusement. "Sorry D but he's called Ben Dover." While Dimitri joined her in laughing Jane commented more reflectively, "Some parents tend not to think, I once taught a girl called Theresa Green. Even worse though was one family who chose outlandish with deliberate intent."
Erin was sufficiently intrigued to stay the planned meeting. "Jane do tell."
"You have to understand that the mother thought Smith was a dull surname and wanted first names to make the children stand out from the crowd. As father was a First World War geek they called the three boys, Somme, Ypres and, Cambrai."
"Lucky then that they didn't have a daughter."
"Oh they did, she got landed with Passchendale Smith. Still she was fortunate, I suppose, that it wasn't the Boer War father was into." The puzzled faces plainly suggested that history wasn't the lovebirds strongest subject. "She could have got landed with Lady – you know Lady Smith."
A chortling Erin and Dimitri were still laughing as they disappeared into the pods, their previous differences seemingly forgotten, leaving Jane to wrestle with her report.
It took her about another ten minutes to translate the scatological exchanges of the morning into something that could be read out in public, giving her an intriguing hint as to the actuality underlying oft quoted official reports. As she hammered the keyboard she half expected a prowling Harry to come seeking her. Now that her initial anger had been damped down by tea and thinking time she realised that he'd been running true to protective type, excluding her to shield her. Well meant maybe, but accompanied by his utter failure to understand that for her, in the past, protective exclusion had been twinned with deception. An all in one package of Jane's personal sensitivities linked to a temper destruct button that he had inadvertently pressed. Having completed her task she risked a glance at his office, noticing that the blinds remained drawn with no ripple indicative of movement. As the mountain that was Harry wasn't moving in her direction Jane decided it was her turn to play supplicant. At the risk of looking either apologetic or needy she hauled herself up and, for the second time in an hour, headed for Harry's office.
Her entrance was greeted with a weary look and a plea, "Jane, if you've come to continue the argument, just don't."
If she had had any such intention it withered away instantaneously. She'd never seen him look so haggard. Under his furrowed brow his eyes seemed to have sunk into his skull. The deep worry lines that were carved into his features appeared to have aged him by at least ten years in the space of the past half hour. More frightening was the hint of hopeless supplication in his voice. Even at the very worst periods in their time together Harry's voice had carried a base note of either humour or anger. Now he sounded the way he looked, old and defeated. Jane wasn't sure how she should react. Harry the boss might be seated at this desk but for her Harry came in two guises, the warm, sensitive, mischievous man hiding a core of steel, and conversely the steely, impassive, grim faced spy concealing an overflowing heart. Over the years of shouted dialogue she'd never known which part of his personality was dominating at any given moment. She still didn't. What she did know however was that he would shy away from any expression of pity so she gently replied,
"I wasn't as it happens. I came to say that Laura and Jason have been dispatched, so thank you. Can't you tell me anything at all about what you've found out?"
"I prefer not to in case I'm wrong but..."
"You did say something earlier about not keeping me in the dark."
Reminded of this Harry was warring with himself. How much could he safely tell her? How much did he want to tell her? Was he being fair? And crucially did he want to break this to her in front of the rest of the team? Equal parents, equal worry, and he couldn't entirely protect her from the knowledge he'd just acquired, however much he might wish to do so.
The fixed haunted gaze from her eyes was sufficient to convince him. Accepting the inevitable he gave in.
"The memory stick contained videos of some of the most appalling torture I've ever witnessed in my life. If my guess about its provenance is accurate anyone who has ever handled it is in grave danger."
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