Read Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger Online

Authors: Stella Rimington

Tags: #Mystery, #Espionage, #England, #Memoir

Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger (2 page)

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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A quarter of a mile further on, through another gate and a small copse of trees, the track ended in front of a large stone house. The car stopped with a sudden crunch of tyres against gravel. Malone led the way to the front door. An elderly woman wearing an apron tied around her waist let them in, keeping her head down and her eyes averted as they walked into a large hall.

Malone said, ‘Wait here,’ and Aidan stood with the Spaniard while Malone went through a doorway to one side. When he returned a minute later he gestured towards the back of the house.

‘Come on,’ he said, leading them down a hall, through a large kitchen with a massive Aga at one end. In the short hall behind the kitchen, he flicked a light switch and they followed him down a steep flight of stairs.

They were in a cellar, a damp empty room with exposed brick walls and a rough concrete floor. It was dark, almost dungeonlike, and Aidan began to feel apprehensive again. Fastened to one wall was a metal cabinet, which Malone opened with a key. He pulled down a switch and immediately with a high-pitched whirring noise the far wall of the cellar slowly moved to one side, revealing a room behind it.

This room was furnished comfortably, almost lavishly. The floor was carpeted in sisal, topped by a few small oriental rugs, and at the far end sat a mahogany partner’s desk, with a greenshaded desk lamp on one corner. Ceiling-to-floor bookcases held old leather-bound volumes and on the other walls hung landscape paintings.

The room could be the study of a wealthy, bookish man, but if that’s what it was, thought Aidan, why go to such effort to hide its existence?

‘Sit down,’ said Malone, pointing to a wooden chair that faced the partner’s desk. He sounded tense.

As Aidan sat down he heard steps on the stairs from the kitchen, then on the hard floor of the cellar behind him. Someone came into the room, and Aidan watched as the tall, thin figure of Seamus Piggott walked around the desk and sat down in the leather chair behind it.

‘Hello, Mr Piggott,’ said Aidan, managing a weak smile. He had spoken to the man only once, when he had first been taken on by The Fraternity, but he’d seen him several times when he’d been in the Belfast office on errands – to collect what he’d been told to call ‘materials’, or to return the padded envelopes of cash.

Piggott, with his rimless glasses and short cropped hair, looked like a professor and Aidan knew he was meant to be a brain box, a brilliant scientist, an aerospace engineer who when he was young back in the States had designed hand-held rockets, which the IRA had used to try to bring down British Army helicopters. But they said he was weird, too clever to be normal, and the way he was staring now – coldly, almost analytically, with an air of complete detachment – made Aidan understand why.

‘Are you happy in your work, Aidan?’ he said, his voice soft and almost toneless.

What was this about? Aidan didn’t believe that Piggott was interested in his job satisfaction. But he nodded vigorously nonetheless. ‘Yes. I am, Mr Piggott.’

Piggott continued to stare at him, and for a moment Aidan wondered if his answer had been heard. Then Piggott said, ‘Because as CEO of this organisation I need to feel my staff is fully on board.’

‘I am on board, Mr Piggott. I’m treated very well.’ Aidan was scared now and his mouth was dry.

Piggott nodded. ‘That’s what I’d have thought. Yet you’ve been heard complaining.’

‘Me?’ asked Aidan. Oh Christ, he thought, thinking of his indiscretions in Paddy O’Brien’s. Who on earth could have shopped him?

‘I won’t waste a lot of time on you, Aidan. You are a very small part of my operation, but even from you I require complete unquestioning loyalty and I haven’t had it. You’ve been complaining,’ he repeated. Piggott leaned forward in his chair, flipping a pencil onto the desk. ‘Why?’

Why what? Aidan almost asked, though he knew full well. And rather than trying to explain or deny it, he found himself saying, ‘I’m sorry, Mr Piggott.’

‘Sorry,’ said Piggott, his lips pursed as he nodded his head. There was something in this display of understanding Aidan didn’t trust. ‘Sorry’s a good place to start,’ Piggott added mildly, then his voice grew cold. ‘But it’s not where things end.’ And for the first time he took his eyes off Aidan and nodded sharply at the two other men.

As Aidan turned his head towards the Spaniard next to him, he felt Malone’s hand suddenly grip his arm. ‘Don’t—’ he started to protest, but now his other arm was gripped as well. The dark man grunted, looming over him.

‘What?’ Aidan asked, unable to keep the fear from his voice.

‘Give him your hand,’ said Malone.

And as Aidan raised his left hand from the arm of the chair, he found it gripped by the Spaniard’s hand. It felt as if his fingers were in a vice that was starting to turn. As the pressure grew Aidan gasped. ‘Stop—’

But the grip kept tightening. Aidan tried to pull his hand away but he couldn’t. As the pressure on his fingers increased, Aidan gave a cry, and then he felt and heard his third finger crunch as one of the bones broke.

Agonising pain filled his hand. The Spaniard let go at last, and the hand flopped like a rag onto the chair arm.

Tears welled up in Aidan’s eyes and he could barely breathe. He looked down at his fingers, red and compressed from the strength of the Spaniard’s grip. He tried to move them one by one. His third finger wouldn’t move.

Aidan leaned back in his chair, trying not to be sick. For a moment, the room was completely silent, then he heard the noise of a child, sniffling and sobbing. He realised he was making the sounds. Lifting his head up, he blinked to clear his eyes of tears, and found Piggott staring at him from across the desk. The man nodded, as if in a lab, satisfied that his experiment had proved successful.

Piggott stood up, brushing the sleeve of his jacket, as if to rid it of an unwanted piece of fluff. Without looking again at Aidan he came out from behind the desk and walked towards the open wall into the cellar. As his footsteps rang out on the concrete floor, he called back to Malone and the Spaniard, ‘Before you take him back to Belfast, break another one. We don’t want him to think that was just an accident.’

2

 

Liz Carlyle was surprised to find the church full. It sat in what had once been a proper village, but now formed one link in the chain of affluent suburbs that stretched south and west from London along the river Thames.

 

She guessed the church must be Norman in origin, judging by its fine square tower, though the prodigious size of the nave suggested a later expansion – the sheer number of pews reminded Liz of the wool churches of East Anglia, massive edifices created when there wasn’t much else to spend the sheep money on. Now it would normally be three-quarters empty, reduced to a tiny congregation of old faithfuls on most Sundays.

There was nothing reduced about this congregation, though. She reckoned from a quick count of the rows that there must be three or four hundred people present. She’d known there would be many colleagues from Thames House at this memorial service, for Joanne Wetherby had been with MI5 over ten years, and had never lost touch with the friends she’d made then (and of course her husband had continued with the service). The director general was here, along with director B, Beth Davis, responsible for all personnel and security matters. Virtually every other senior member of MI5 was present and a number from MI6. She noticed Geoffrey Fane, his tall, heron-like figure towering over his row. But what Liz hadn’t realised was how many friends, neighbours and family would also be here today.

Ahead of her she could just see Charles Wetherby in the front row, flanked by his two sons and others, presumably relations. There was a woman in the row behind them, smartly dressed in a dark-blue suit with an elegant black hat, who was leaning forward whispering to Charles’s younger son, Sam. She must be another relation, thought Liz.

She hadn’t seen Charles since Joanne’s death and she felt a sudden pang seeing him now, so obviously bereft. She had of course written to him, but she wished she could have done more than just send a few lines.

He’d written back, thanking her. The boys, he’d said, had been pillars of strength, though naturally he worried about them, and he’d be keeping a particularly keen eye on Sam, the younger of the two, still more boy than man. Charles ended by saying how much he was looking forward to returning to work.

Liz hoped that meant he was looking forward to seeing her as well. She had missed him at work, both as a boss (the best she’d ever had) and as … what exactly? She had only recently acknowledged to herself how strong her feelings were for Charles, yet they had never exchanged so much as a kiss. She wondered if that would change now, then immediately felt guilty about envisaging a future with Charles that Joanne Wetherby would never now have.

Next to Liz, her mother’s friend Edward Treglown put the order of service paper neatly folded on his knee, and whispered something to Liz’s mother on his other side. Liz had been astonished by the coincidence that Edward, who had known her mother for only a couple of years, was a childhood friend of Joanne Wetherby. It turned out that they had grown up together in the same town in Kent. As adults they had lost touch, but came back into contact – because of Liz, curiously enough.

After Liz had been badly hurt several months before, during an investigation into a plot to derail a Middle East peace conference, she had gone to her mother’s to convalesce. Concerned about her safety there, Charles Wetherby had contacted Edward; meeting in London, the two had immediately taken to each other, even before discovering Edward’s earlier friendship with Joanne. By this time Joanne was already very ill, but Liz gathered that Edward and her mother had been to see both Wetherbys on more than one occasion. If either Susan Carlyle or Edward had any inkling of Liz’s own feelings for Charles, they kept it to themselves.

The Bach Prelude ended, and there was a chilly silence in the church, the only noise that of light rain thrown by the wind against the stained glass windows. Then the vicar stood before the congregation and the service began. It was traditional, with old standbys for the hymns, and a short appreciation by an old friend of Joanne’s. There were two readings, given by the sons; Sam’s voice quavered as he reached the end of Keats’s ‘Ode to Autumn’, a favourite of his mother’s as he’d told the crowded church. There were tears in many eyes as resolutely he gathered himself together and finished with a strong, resonant voice:

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the sky.

 

A final hymn and the service concluded. As the haunting sound of the organ playing Purcell filled the nave, the congregation rose and began slowly to file out. The thin drizzle had ended, and the sky had lightened slightly to a chalky mix of greys as Charles stood outside the church with the boys next to him. Liz let Edward and her mother go first to offer condolences. Then it was her turn.

‘Liz,’ said Charles, gripping her hand firmly. ‘It’s lovely to see you. Thank you so much for coming. How have you been?’

‘I’m fine, Charles,’ she said as brightly as she could. It was characteristic of him to ask how
she
was.

‘You’ve met Sam before,’ he said, turning slightly to include his son. The boy smiled shyly and shook her hand. The woman in the black hat Liz had noticed in church came up to the other son, laying a comforting hand on his arm. Was she an aunt? Charles said, ‘Liz, I want you to meet Alison.’

The woman looked up and smiled. She had a striking but friendly face, with high cheekbones, a sharp nose, and unusual violet eyes. ‘Liz,’ she said. ‘I’ve heard so much about you.’

Really? thought Liz with surprise. From Charles? Or from Joanne?

Charles explained, ‘Alison lives next door to us. We’ve been neighbours for years.’

‘Yes. Joanne brought me a cake on the day we moved in.’ She looked fondly at Sam. ‘You weren’t even born then, young man.’

Other people were waiting to speak to Charles, so Liz moved on. She had been invited with others for refreshments at the Wetherby house several miles away, but she couldn’t face a large gathering just now – she wanted to see Charles, but she wanted to see him alone. Her presence or absence would be neither here nor there among the dozens of people certain to be found at the Wetherbys.

Saying goodbye to her mother and Edward, she left, having decided to drive straight back to Thames House and get on with her work. She’d see Charles there soon enough. If he needed someone to talk to today, Liz sensed that his neighbour Alison would be happy to stand in.

3

 

Something was holding them up. Their driver tapped his fingers impatiently on the wheel and Beth Davis looked out of the window at the patchy woods that lined the A307 south of Richmond. She had two meetings planned for that afternoon and was wondering if she’d be back in time for either of them.

 

She glanced at DG sitting next to her. He looked the soul of patience. Typical of him, thought Beth. God knows how many meetings he must have scheduled, yet at the gathering after the service at Charles’s house, he had been a model of tact: solicitous of Charles, polite to the array of friends and relatives he’d been introduced to, never giving any indication that he had pressing business elsewhere.

The car inched forward, tyres churning the slushy piles of leaves in the gutter of the road. ‘Lovely service,’ DG said with a small sigh.

‘The boys read beautifully,’ said Beth, and DG nodded. She went on, ‘It must be awfully hard on them, especially now that they’re boarding.’

‘I think only the eldest is boarding yet. And boarding may be a good thing. They’re kept busy, lots of distractions, all their friends around them. Being at home might be much harder. Too many ghosts; too many reminders.’

‘I suppose you’re right. Still, it will make it more difficult for Charles when they’re both away. Wandering around that house all alone.’

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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