Tuesday, 18 March 2008
(Deep in the Cheshire countryside- 1993)
Clara Hale wrapped her big woollen cardigan around her as she watched the red lights of the Rover pull out of the gate. When they had disappeared up the lane, she turned back into the farmhouse closing the thick wooden front door with a satisfying thud. Geoffrey was in the kitchen, his small suitcase ready on the chair.
‘I’ll be off now then Clara, you staying the night here then?’ he asked as he shrugged into his long overcoat.
‘No Geoffrey, I’ll be heading off shortly myself.’
Do you want me to wait awhile?’ he asked more out of courtesy than any great wish to spend more time away from his family.
‘No thank you I’ll be fine, you get off, it’s getting late’
‘OK then me dear, it’s been good working with you again. I suppose we shall see each other soon’
‘Probably not, this was my last assignment. I am, as of midnight, officially retired’
‘You retire, never. You’d miss the excitement too much’
‘My dear Geoffrey I have had enough excitement to last me a lifetime’ Clara sighed as she tidied away the last few dishes off the draining board.
Clara locked the back door after Geoffrey. She swept through the farmhouse making sure that all the windows were locked and the water and heating had been switched off. Finally standing alone in the kitchen, she pulled off the tight band that had been holding her hair in a severe bun at the nape of her neck. As she shook out her shoulder length hair she shed at least ten years off her age.
For her cover as part of a husband and wife team with Geoffrey, she had to look at least sixty years old. To look her real age might have alerted their neighbours that this comfortable remote farmhouse was more than just a smallholding. They might have realised that Geoffrey was hunting for more than rabbits for the pot when he went walking the fields at dusk.
The Service needed a secluded sanctuary, well away from London, to be able to debrief their foreign ‘guests’ in safety. Clara and Geoffrey were considered to be the best in their field. They made sure that the guests were well fed and relaxed before being whisked off down to MI6’s headquarters at Vauxhall Cross for the real fun to begin.
‘Good morning Mrs Hale, have you heard how Martin is?’
‘Good morning Michael, yes I’ve just spoken to his daughter and she says that the doctors are hopeful that he’ll make a full recovery’
‘Oh that is good news, if you’re not busy would you like to join me for coffee, I have just been to the market and could do with a rest’
‘That’s very kind of you but I really must catch the bakers before they close for lunch’
‘No problem, maybe some other time’ said Michael as he watched her stride off.
Clara turned the corner and stopped in her tracks. She had been sure that she had recognised Michael before but hadn’t been able to place him. But standing talking with him just now it had come to her.
She was sure she had seen him in Century House, MI6’s old headquarters before their move to Vauxhall Cross in 1995. He had been taking notes at a procurement meeting sometime in the early 90’s. Clara rested her head against the cool marble of the water fountain. The last thing she wanted was for anybody from the past to recognise her. Her past was a lifetime away. She was a different woman now. Apart from Christmas cards from one or two old colleagues, she had hoped that her links with MI6 were well and truly severed.
‘Signora, are you unwell’ asked Maria spotting Clara from her café.
‘I was just feeling a little hot’
‘You should put your wrists under the water Signora. It will cool down your blood’
‘Thank you, I am feeling a lot better now, it’s probably all the excitement from the party catching up with me. I’ll go home for a rest before lunch, get out of the heat for a while’
‘Would you like me to get Marco to give you a lift?’
‘Oh no thank you dear I am quite well now. Thank you again for your concern’
Clara pulled her shoulders back, lifted her shopping bags and set off for home without a backward glance.
‘Mad old English woman’ thought Maria as she hurried back to the lunchtime rush in the café.
Clara’s house was cool and spacious sitting as it did in the heart of the village. The little courtyard garden was a riot of colour with all the flowering plants neatly growing in large pots against the walls. This house was her sanctuary, after so many years staying in grotty hotel rooms or cramped into her small flat by James Park in Westminster.
She was grateful to have her rambling home in Spain. This was the first place since going to University that had actually felt like a home and not just somewhere to sleep. She had filled it with tasteful contemporary furniture and took great delight in tending the plants in her courtyard. Joining the residents committee and eating at Maria’s each night gave her a sense of belonging that she had been missing since leaving work.
Clara sat at the small desk in her study at the back of the house. Dialling the number for Vauxhall Cross she was promptly put through to Justin Crowther.
‘Clara how’s Spain?’
‘Fine Justin, thank you, but I am worried there may be a little unforeseen problem on the horizon. I would be grateful if you could run a check on a man called Michael Angers. He’s living just outside the village here with his partner Sonny Lansford. It may be nothing but he seems familiar’
‘Do you think that it could be trouble’ asked Crowther
‘I’m not sure. If he is who I think, then he was a middle ranking civil servant in the 90s. I don’t think that he recognises me but I want to be sure of my suspicions before I have to consider my next move’
Putting down the phone Clara sighed, she hoped that she was wrong about Michael. The last thing she wanted to do was to leave all this, her lovely house and the friends that she had made. She didn’t relish moving on and having to start again somewhere else. Somewhere new, where she would have to reinvent a past for herself, all over again.