This story follows on from A Host Of Low Truths, with some new characters created by me because I couldn't bear to use Beth or Dmitri. I have taken nothing from series 10 except for Callum. For reasons of simplicity (and laziness) I have omitted the Paralympics. I think all that makes the story AU.
All 'Spooks' characters from the show belong to the BBC and Kudos. The ones I have invented belong to me.
TRIUMPH AND DISASTER
"Morning, boss." The greeting was accompanied by a whiff of coffee and the sound of a yawn of record-breaking proportions followed by a martyred 'ouch'. "Sorry. Jaw cracked."
Rosalind Myers looked up with a scowl. "I'm surprised your skull didn't join in. Not to mention your vertebrae. And would you mind not doing that all over the place anyway? You might not have noticed, but - " she stopped and gritted her own teeth to prevent the escape of a matching yawn.
" – it's catching," Lucas North finished helpfully. He perched on the edge of her desk and nodded towards the coffee cup next to her computer. "How many's that so far this morning?"
As he spoke, another bleary-eyed officer walked past with a mumbled greeting. He too was clasping an extra-large cup of coffee. Ros nodded at him, and then fixed Lucas with as penetrating a stare as her leaden eyelids would permit.
"Three," she said shortly.
Lucas chuckled wearily. "Maybe they should have added a Coffee Marathon to the athletics events. With the hours we've been working, we'd have won the gold hands down."
Ros grunted, and gave a curt 'morning' to the Section's technical expert, Callum Reed, and two junior officers. Callum looked as if he hadn't slept for days, but the two juniors had been chatting happily, and looked irritatingly perky. Now they stopped talking simultaneously as they caught their section chief's icy expression. With a muttered greeting-cum-apology they scuttled nervously past her to their respective desks. Lucas grinned.
"Or Synchronised Silence," he offered.
"Ha bloody ha," Ros said sourly, as her phone rang. "Myers." She listened for a moment, wearily massaging her forehead. "OK." She raised her eyes towards the wall clock. "Yep, will do. No, I'm still collating reports right, left and centre. Almost. I'm still waiting for the last few." Her eyebrows rose. "With you - oh, right. OK, we'll be ready. Bye."
"Harry," she said, as she replaced the phone. "He's on his way. Wants a full Section meeting then a core team briefing."
"Another one?" Lucas rolled his eyes. "What is it now – someone's judokas threatening to do an ippon on Border Agency staff unless they shorten the departure queues at Heathrow?"
Ros's smile had all the sincerity of a politician on the hustings.
"He's just left the review with the Met. Maybe he knows something we don't." She closed her eyes for a second. "Do the rounds, will you, Lucas? See how many reports are still outstanding."
Lucas swallowed the last of his coffee and stood up. "OK." He looked across to the tidy and, surprisingly, deserted desk of the senior intelligence analyst. "Where's Ruth?"
"She went to Scotland Yard with Harry." Lucas couldn't keep the surprise off his face, but before he could say anything, Ros added tartly, "Good thing too. If I have to face off with any more wannabe heroes in navy-blue serge and silver braid I'll start seeing them in my dreams - if I ever get to bed long enough to have any. Bloody dinosaurs. Some of them must have been around for the last Olympics, whenever it was."
"Not unless they joined the police around the age of six," Lucas said mildly. "It was 1948. We only get the Games every 50 years on average."
"Good." Ros rubbed her eyes. "That means I'll be at least ninety before we're awarded the bloody things again. Well? Are you going to make me wait that long for the reports as well?"
As Lucas hastily made his way to his own desk, she reached for the remains of her coffee, and recoiled when she saw the unappetising skin on the top. Stone cold. Bugger it. She contemplated going to the kitchen to make some more, calculated the risk of having to make small talk with a colleague in the process – astronomical – and ruled in favour of ploughing on through the stack of reports. It wasn't that she'd had anything against the Games per se. Section D's problem had been thwarting the plans of the assorted home grown and imported loonies that menaced all such events these days. Long gone were the heady days of 1948 where the worst threats to a smooth operation had been petrol rationing, power cuts, or a shortage of spam. The reports on her desk now contained details of a dozen major alerts they had had to cope with during the preparations and in the course of the Games themselves. Not to mention a liberal smattering of so called 'lesser' ones – everything from metal hip replacements setting off security gates to so-called security officials from foreign delegations showing a decidedly unsporting interest in things like hi-tech research, military bases and the security arrangements for prominent politicians.
But it's over, she reminded herself, and - most important – safely and successfully over with the pyrotechnics of the closing ceremony forty-eight hours previously. A rumour had started among the junior officers that Harry had actually been overheard uttering the magic word 'leave'.
And it might even happen. After all, the missiles were being dismantled from the roofs. The Tornados on 24-hour standby were returning to their hangars. The last few bottlenecks of squeezing teams and their equipment out through the overcrowded departure lounges of London's airports would soon be cleared. Only the endless ballet of reporting and debriefing among the various security agencies involved in the operation might take longer to complete than scheduled, Ros thought sardonically.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster … She gave another surreptitious yawn. The press had been predicting Disaster, in various guises, mainly security, for the last year. It hadn't happened, and even her current bone-weariness couldn't quite take the shine off the glow of Triumph she felt at the Section's contribution to that.
She had just finished putting the reports – her bullying, which she preferred to think of as persistence, meant that almost all of them were there - into order when Harry Pearce arrived. For the first time in a month he was wearing a suit that wasn't crumpled, a tie that wasn't pulled halfway down his chest and an expression that didn't presage an eruption fit to trigger the monitors at the British Geological Survey. As ever, Ruth was at his heels, the human equivalent of Harry's elderly Jack Russell, Ros thought wryly. She nodded briefly in response to the analyst's smile, and got up as Harry crossed to her desk. Her back muscles ached after far too many hours cramped tensely into a swivel chair, and she was lightheaded from too much coffee on too little sleep. Ros ignored both the pain and the dizziness. She wouldn't let him see her fatigue.
He obviously hadn't. "Morning, Ros," he said crisply. "How does it look?"
"Most of the reports are in." Ros gestured to the stack on her desk. She tried to stifle a smile when Harry's eyes glazed over slightly at the size of it.
"Good, good," he said hastily as he saw her amusement. "Then I think we can start to stand down the alert on the Watchlist. Release some of the bodies we borrowed. And send a few more of our own on leave." Ros nodded her agreement. "Ruth and I have had a look at the rosters."
Ruth? With an effort, Ros stopped herself from making a retort. Staff assignments weren't Ruth's responsibility, and as far as Ros was aware – which was pretty far, she made it her business to know everything that happened on the Grid – she hadn't been near the rosters. She knew this wasn't either the time or the place to pursue the point. She would have a little chat with Ruth later. There's more than one way to skin a cat. Even bloody Fidget. She wouldn't have her authority undermined by Ms Evershed sucking up to teacher outside class.
"Right," she said now, but with an edge to her tone that made Harry Pearce glance sharply at her. Ros held his look coolly. "Does that include anyone on the core team?"
"Possibly. Possibly not." Ros's eyes narrowed, but before she could ask why, Harry pre-empted her. "I'll explain, Ros. Let's get the others sorted first." He raised his voice to parade-ground level. "Right, everyone, can I have your attention?"
Ros listened with half an ear as he briskly thanked his staff for their efficiency and dedicated contribution to making the Olympic security operation a success. She allowed herself a slight smile when Harry unthinkingly took up his officer's 'briefing' stance – spine rigid, legs slightly apart, hands clasped behind his back. Lucas, who was leaning casually against a pillar out of Harry's line of sight, caught her eye, winked in response, and lifted his hand to his temple in a casual salute. Hurriedly, Ros averted her eyes.
"So." Harry's peroration concluded, he gestured to Ruth, who handed him a sheet of paper. "First group for seventy-two hours leave, effective as of midday today – Foxborough, Duncombe, Williams, Newton, Ogunjimi, Al-Sharqi, Bentham, Johnson, Kay and Strachan. If any of you have reports still to turn in, get them to Ros before you leave. Then go home and get some rest. Everyone else – this roster goes on the notice board. Check your name, and if you have any queries, let Ros know. Well done, all of you. Now, back to work." Ros watched him search for her as people began to return to their desks. "Ros, Lucas, Chen Liu, Callum, Khalida and Ruth – meeting room, please."
"Doesn't look as if we're going to get to bed any time soon," Lucas murmured as they threaded their way across the Grid in Harry's wake.
Ros shot him a filthy look, and was gratified to see him look abashed as the ambiguity of his own words seeped through to his tired brain. The fact that she and Lucas had occasionally been sharing the same bed since the latter's return from Bolivia was covered by the Myers code of privacy, which made the Official Secrets Act look like the hull of the Titanic. Ros had no intention of allowing speculative gossip to dog her footsteps the way it clung to the shadows of Harry and Ruth. She didn't know, and certainly wouldn't ask, whether Harry had taken their relationship beyond the vague intention he had expressed to her in the pub at West End to propose to Ruth a second time. Meanwhile, the idea of giving her subordinates the slightest reason to snigger about her and Lucas in the way they did about Harry and the intelligence analyst made her skin crawl.
"Well, it won't be the first time you've 'rested your eyes' in the meeting room," she snapped at Lucas.
"Yeah." Both of them turned to see young Chen Liu, Ros's most recent recruit to the team, behind them, his almond eyes twinkling merrily behind his spectacles. "And to think I used to believe his snores were the air con playing up again." He ducked neatly out of the way as Lucas aimed a punch at his shoulder.
"Come on, come on, playtime's over." Ros waved them ahead of her into the conference room. After the crushing pressure of the last few weeks, she could understand the tomfoolery and their need to release the tension, but she could still hear Harry's 'maybe, maybe not'. Instinct told her that while the Olympic torch might have been extinguished, Section D wasn't in the finishing straight quite yet.
"Callum! Hurry up!" The technical specialist was ambling across the room as if he was taking an evening stroll along the river. As ever, his eyes were riveted to the screen of his iPad. Ros's lip curled. If Callum's wife were ever to divorce him, she'd have to cite that bloody device as co-respondent.
"Sorry, boss." He sounded totally unconcerned. His casual, sometimes arrogant attitude towards authority irked Ros, but she was self-aware enough to recognise that it was the similarity between his behaviour and that of her younger self that made her uncomfortable. Besides, Callum's overweening self-confidence was a small price to pay for his skills with technology. They had enabled him to dodge the swingeing axe that had ended Beth Bailey's career with MI-5 and dispatched a feebly protesting Dmitri Levendis to Section F during Harry and Ros's most recent staffing review.
"You will be." That caught his attention. She firmly covered the screen, and slid the meeting room doors closed after he entered. Then she looked swiftly up and down the back corridor, and took out her inhaler. No-one other than Harry and Lucas knew she carried one. In dry, warm weather, Ros could still – almost - convince herself that she had made a full recovery from the chest injuries she had sustained in the hotel bombing. But damp, chilly weather – the UK's default setting for half the year, and this year for most of the sodding summer as well – destroyed any prolonged attempts at self-deception. If she exerted herself further than her lungs were prepared to accept, she ended up short of breath and in pain, and she had never really regained her previous levels of stamina. She depressed the nozzle of the inhaler and gave herself two short bursts, then held her breath and silently counted to ten.
"Ros?" The quiet voice made her jump out of her skin. "Are you all right?"
Ros shoved the inhaler into the pocket of her jeans and glared at Khalida Niazi.
"Why wouldn't I be? And you're late." She pointed at the meeting room doors.
Her tone would have caused most of her subordinates to run for the hills without a second thought, but the young woman's striking hazel eyes, framed by her headscarf, regarded her calmly.
"Are you unwell?"
"Are you deaf?" Ros snapped, pointing again. As she did so, the doors slid open.
"Ros?" It was Harry, a frown of impatience knotting his forehead.
"Sorry, Harry." Ros jerked her head at the young Pakistani and followed her in, silently fuming. She had recruited Khalida herself from her old college at Oxford. The young woman had actually been born in Afghanistan, but had spent much of her early life in Pakistan, mainly in refugee camps. A UN resettlement programme had brought her to England, a brilliant degree in Oriental Studies, and the attention of the Service. A devout Muslim with a burning hatred for the extremists who had sullied the name of her religion, she was a promising officer with a wide range of skills, including an ability - that Ros now cursed - to move more quietly and unobtrusively than anyone she had ever met. She slid into a seat between Ruth and Callum, while Ros took her own next to Harry. The inhaler jabbed into her thigh; irritably, she covertly slid it into her jacket pocket instead. Khalida didn't scare easily. Perhaps a few days taking her turn on MI-5's Public Alert telephone hotline would be more likely than a threatening word to ensure that she forgot what she had just seen.
"Right." Harry's favourite swivel chair gave a resounding screech as he pulled it up to the table. Ros saw Ruth wince. She'd bet her next month's salary that before the end of the week the analyst would be spotted by someone oiling its constituent parts. "Ros, are all the reports in?"
She exchanged a look with Lucas who cleared his throat.
"98%, Harry. The last ones won't be complete until we've got our last few guests in the air, but the airports are coping. A couple more days."
Harry nodded. "No problems flagged?"
Lucas half-smiled. "Not unless you count a French vaulter who reckons his pole was bent as he went through security."
Ros bit her lip. Exhaustion seemed to have caused a major short-circuit between Lucas's brain and his mouth this morning. Harry Pearce's face remained impassive, but his eyes flicked to a grinning Callum Reed, who was clearly about to say something.
"Don't even think about it. Where do we stand with the Lost Boys' Brigade?"
Quiet laughter whispered its way around the table. Chen Liu had first coined the phrase when six Cameroonian athletes had mysteriously vanished from the Olympic village early on in the Games. Ros nodded to the young Chinese to answer the question.
"The Cameroonians were brought back to the village when they were spotted on the Circle Line by British Transport Police."
"What were they doing to attract their attention?" Harry enquired.
"Looking a bit bewildered, they said." Chen was trying very hard to maintain the appropriate serious demeanour. "Apparently they'd mistaken the train and were going round the Circle Line the wrong way."
This time the laughter was unrestrained. Even Harry cracked a smile.
"Must have been reading that Arabic poster they printed in gobbledygook back in the spring," Callum offered.
Ros saw Ruth take a breath, and caught her eye before the analyst could launch into an explanation of exactly what – grammatically, syntactically and historically – had been wrong with the poster. She admired Ruth's erudition as much as the next man, but she wasn't sure how many of them would be able to stay awake through one of her little lectures right now.
"And the others?" she cut in.
"Two North Korean table tennis players given asylum by the South and flown out while the Northerners were still complaining, a Syrian weightlifter officially unaccounted for but rumoured to be heading for the Land of the Free - "
"God help him," Harry said sarcastically. "Is that all?"
"No, sir," Chen answered. "There's the Belorussian, too."
Harry frowned. "The girl with the maracas, you mean?"
Ros heard Lucas sneeze, although he could have equally as well have been trying to throttle a guffaw. She stepped in hastily.
"Clubs, Harry. Rhythmic gymnastics."
"She's still holed up in the hotel she bolted to, still under guard," Chen added quickly. "And the Belorussians are still demanding her back."
Harry looked exasperated. "The last thing we need is a diplomatic incident with them. What's she claiming protection from?"
"A government stuck in a Soviet time-warp and run by a megalomaniac thug," Lucas answered. His amusement had muted into concern now. "They arrested her brother for demonstrating against Lukashenko two weeks ago and they'll probably have a reception committee out for her too. She's genuine, Harry. And she's right to be afraid. God knows what they'll do to her."
Harry's expression softened; if anyone in the room could assert that with unchallenged authority it was Lucas. "All right. Do we have anything we can use?"
There was a pause. Callum, Ros noticed, was getting all touchy-feely with his iPad again. She was flicking through her personal stock for a put-down that would penetrate his armour of self-absorption, when he looked up with a wide grin on his face.
"Yeah. Their KGB goon – "
"FSB," Lucas and Ros said in chorus. Sometimes Ros wondered if the ghosts of Spooks past didn't drift back to make a spectral contribution to these meetings. She could almost hear Connie James's derisive 'tut'.
"FSB, S.O.B …" Callum shrugged. "Anatoly Baranovich. He's the one been raising Cain, hasn't he?" Chen nodded. " We – ell, we could remind him of that fifteen year old prostitute he picked up a couple of months ago. Gather his boss is a bit of a prude – in public, at least. And she was under age. Doesn't look good. Socialist morals and all that crap."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "Evidence?"
"Yep. It was their week for a bit of company. Section A had eyeball." Callum grinned lasciviously. "Lights, camera, action." He caught Ros's stare and added belatedly, "Sir."
Harry tapped his fingers on the tabletop. " Do it, Lucas. He backs down, we back off. And make sure the girl's safe." He doodled on his notepad for a moment while the silence stretched out and several high-pitched squeaks betrayed people shifting in their seats.
"All right, let's move on," he said abruptly. "Khalida. Have you seen or heard anything at all out of the ordinary in the last three days?"
Yes, but not the way you mean. Ros unconsciously touched the inhaler in her pocket. While Chen Liu had been attached to the officers monitoring the huge team from China, Khalida had spent the Olympics undercover as a Gamesmaker liaison to teams from Muslim countries. The organisers had been determined that even the most sensitive delegations would be made to feel welcome in London. Harry, who understood the word 'sensitive' rather differently from LOGOC, had blithely assured them that they would most certainly be taken care of.
"No, Harry. Had I done so, I should have contacted Ros at once, as I was instructed." She glanced over to the Section Chief. "I made regular reports."
"I know that." There was irritation in Harry's voice, and Ros frowned. Next to her, Lucas had tensed too. "I'm talking about the last three days. Since the close of competition. Think, Khalida!"
A slight flush burnished Khalida's skin, but she shook her head. "No, Harry. Nothing, I assure you."
"Well, it seems you should have." Harry picked up the video remote and flicked it towards the screen. "Ruth!"
The lights dimmed as the analyst began to speak. The screen was showing the closing ceremony; the athletes, as was the custom, were mingling together informally in the centre of the field in no particular order, watching the dazzling display of fireworks.
"I went with Harry to the final Met briefing this morning. Special Branch drew our attention to this."
"To what exactly?" Ros enquired dryly. "The Golden Rain?" as several volleys of the firework lit up the screen. She knew she sounded petty, but despite her casual comments to Lucas earlier, it rankled that Ruth had been given centre stage on this … whatever it was.
"Rosalind," Harry said, warningly.
Sullenly, Ros subsided. She felt Lucas's hand touch hers briefly under the table.
"The SB spotted what looked like an exchange being made between two of the athletes. You can see the teams had all mingled by this stage - " Ruth pressed the fast forward button and then zoomed in. "It's not that clear, but watch this man … here." She pointed at a bearded Asian in a green and white tracksuit. "That's a Pakistani team outfit. Now see this one … here, moving through the crowd towards him."
Ros leaned forward, peering at the screen; the random, swirling movements of the athletes and the continual flashes from cameras and fireworks made it difficult to focus.
"You see … here." Ruth froze the picture. "The blond passes him something ... just there – then drifts on. See it?"
Lucas pursed his lips dubiously. "They could have just been exchanging badges … flags … some kind of memento. Kind of thing athletes always do."
Ruth shook her head decisively. "They didn't speak. Even look at each other. Look." She ran the film back and played it again. "No contact at all except for the exchange. It's a classic brush-pass."
"Special Branch thinks it was a deliberate meet?" Ros asked. When Ruth nodded she added, "So who are they? Has anyone identified them?" Ruth looked uncertainly towards Harry, and Ros shifted uncomfortably. Her chest felt suddenly tight. All the earlier light-heartedness had drained from the room. This, she knew, was the why behind Harry's 'maybe, maybe not.' "Well? Spit it out, Ruth! Or do we have to play Blind Man's sodding Buff with you all morning?"
"The Asian." It was Khalida, not Ruth, who replied. "Whoever he is, he is not a Pakistani athlete, Ros. They only sent twenty-one competitors, most of them in the hockey team. He is not one of them." Before Ros could speak, she added, "I am sure."
"Could he be a member of staff? Coach, trainer, something like that?" Ruth asked.
Chen Liu shook his head. "It's athletes only at the closing ceremony."
Should be, Ros thought savagely. G4S, the elephant in the corner of the room - had been in charge of the official participation at both ceremonies. First, they'd let a gatecrasher into the Indian delegation at the opening parade of teams. Now this – whatever it might be.
"Do we at least know the other one? The blond?" It was Lucas.
Everyone blinked as the lights came up. One by one, heads turned towards Harry.
"He's one of ours," he answered. "Member of the rowing team."
Ros's ribs were aching. She coughed and winced. "So?"
"So this," Harry Pearce said grimly, "is where things get interesting."
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