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Tuesday 14 June 1988

By time I had managed to retrieve my luggage from the carousel, I was hot and cranky – my plane had been delayed and as a result there were about four different flights off-loading at the same time, most it seemed were the bucket and spade brigade on their way back from Spain. As I turned away with my cases and headed towards the immigration desks, I was met with the vision of what appeared to be thousands of mad Mexicans, or Spaniards, all intent on invading, there were sombreros everywhere I looked. By now my head was pounding and I knew that I had a long wait ahead of me before I could escape the claustrophobic confines of the airport and be on my way to my hotel. The only good thing about the trip was the fact that for once I was booked to fly first class both ways and had been given an upgrade at the hotel, the downside? The downside was I would have to be careful as this was not a pleasure trip but work and after I’d completed the job, time would be spent on tying up loose ends, so in reality nothing about this trip was pleasurable. Hopefully there would be a car laid on to meet me outside but knowing my luck it would be a taxi across town, not a prospect I relished carrying what was in the small locked case in my right hand. Travelling for someone in my profession is always fraught with obstacles – no I can’t book this case in as hold luggage, no I can’t show you what it contains read this letter, it explains everything and no I can’t put it in the overhead locker, again read this letter etc, etc, etc.

Eventually I reached the front of the queue and presented my passport and the frequently read, dog-eared letter to the officer on duty.

‘So how long are you coming for?’ enquired the officer.

‘I don’t know, it could be a week but then again it could be longer, I’m here on business. I may extend my trip once my business is concluded’ I replied waiting for the inevitable question which was bound to follow.

‘And what sort of business are you in ma’am?’

‘I’d rather not discuss that here. Is there somewhere private we could talk? If you read that letter it might explain why I’d rather not discuss my business in public’ no matter how many borders I crossed I always seemed to encounter a jobsworth who thought they knew best and was, to put it bluntly, a pain in the bloody arse, I felt my temper rise another notch. ‘Can I talk to your supervisor?’ I asked, in the hope that they might be a bit more clued up on why I needed to deal with my business in private. ‘Look I don’t mean to be awkward but it really would be better for everyone if we could talk somewhere out of prying eyes.’

‘This really is irregular ma’am, we don’t normally do that kind of thing, I don’t see why you can’t answer my questions here.’

Oh boy, I thought here we go ‘right, I am not prepared to discuss my reason for travel with you here, I have given you that letter and if you took the time to read it you might understand why I’m not prepared to. Also, there is a telephone number on there that you can call to verify I am who I say I am and why I’m travelling.’ The pain in my head was getting worse by the minute so I took a deep breath and smiled at the officer ‘I’m not trying to cause any problems but I really think that the general public don’t need to be worried by why I’m coming here on business. As I said I my business should take no more than a week, the private stuff I don’t even know if I will stay to deal with that, hopefully I won’t need what is in my luggage but the people on that letter will vouch for me. Would you mind if I sat down I’m not feeling too good, I need to take a tablet’ I asked. Stress and flying are not a good combination for me, even now I suffer from the after-effects of one too many head injuries and standing around dealing with half-wits did nothing but send my blood pressure even higher.

I suppose I’m lucky that given everything I’ve been through, I’m still here and able to do my job but unfortunately one of the trade-offs is that I have to attend medicals on a more regular basis than I’d like. By rights I should have been dead years ago but I fought back and I’m still able to the job I was trained for but for how much longer is anyone’s guess – the doctors keep telling me that soon all those head injuries will affect my memory in particular but also my motor skills. A lot of the memories from immediately before that one incident and after it have gone, which in one way I’m thankful for, I’ve read through my files, so I know what happened but nothing has ever come back. In fact, I’ve read all of my files and there are several incidents that I have no recollection of, maybe they’re locked away somewhere waiting to ambush me, a lot of my life has been lived in recent years via nightmares. As I root around in the bottom of my bag looking for the right pills, the officer decides that maybe he should humour the mad woman and he wanders off to do what, I don’t know and right at that precise moment, I really don’t care. As I dig about in the bottom of my bag, the light catches the thin platinum band on my wedding finger drawing my attention to it, I still don’t know why I wear it after all these years, perhaps underneath it all the words still mean something to me. That part of my life is over but the ring serves well to keep men away, even though I am in effect single I’ve been faithful but to what, a memory before things were said that couldn’t be unsaid? Bizarrely, on the odd occasions I’ve not worn it, I have missed it and what it once symbolised – love and fidelity until death do us join.

Luckily I am able to find the right tablets and I take two with the water I always seem to have to hand, never mind that the dosage on the bottle says to only take four a day, since when have I taken notice of things like that, I take as many as I need as often as I need to, always have and I’m still here. Closing my eyes, I rest my head against the cold wall behind me and realise that this trip is likely to open up a whole can of worms and memories that I have locked away, with very good reason. Confronting my past is not something I particularly want to do but given the nature of the job I’ve come to do, it is inevitable. Slowly the pounding in my head begins to ease, hopefully I’ve caught things before they spiral out of control as they have begun to do lately.

‘Miss Green?’ I am disturbed by a voice calling my name, even now it takes time for me to realise who people are talking to. Anna Green is not the name I was confirmed under, nor the name I have lived most of my life by. ‘Miss Green, I am sorry about the delay, I’ve spoken to someone at the number on your letter and they’ve assured me they are expecting you. Enjoy your trip. Oh, by the way, they asked me to tell you that they have sent someone to meet you. Thank you once again and please, accept my apologies for your delay.’

I open my eyes and see that this is a different officer, probably the supervisor I’d asked to speak to. ‘Thank you’ I reply taking back my passport and the dog-eared letter, hopefully this would be the last time it would be needed. ‘Don’t worry, I’m quite used to being held up, it goes hand in hand with my job.’ I bend down and pick up my bags, thankful to be finally on my way. Surprisingly it would appear that supervisor must have had a quiet word with the customs guys as I am not stopped by them, in fact they merely glance in my direction to confirm that I am probably the mad woman who has been causing problems.

As I approach the sliding doors to the arrivals area I pull out my dark glasses, as I know given the state of my head, the sunlight will cause me even more problems. The arrivals concourse is packed with families jostling their way through the waiting masses, trying to get to the front of the queues for a taxi and the hire car desk. Suddenly I spot someone who stands out, it’s not just the sign he’s holding up with ‘Anna Green’ on it that catches my attention, it’s the man himself. He is about six foot, dark haired and attractive with it, but it is his demeanour which draws me in – I’d know him anywhere even though I haven’t seen him for what, it must be six years – his eyes are never still, they are constantly scanning the crowds, alert for danger. As he scans those of us piling out from the customs hall, his gaze passes over me, for the moment he doesn’t recognise me and I’m thankful for that extra time to do some observation of my own. I pause just beyond the sliding doors, unwilling to approach my, contact, chauffeur, former friend, not sure how things are going to pan out, I scan the crowd as well and come to the same conclusion – there appears to be nothing threatening within the concourse. Having said that, of course someone could be watching from the car park, waiting to take a shot but that was outside my control, if someone wanted me dead they’d find a way and almost certainly it wouldn’t be on the arrivals concourse of a major airport. Before they put a hit out they would have to know who I was but then again money could always buy information.

Satisfied that no one was paying me any particular attention, I abandoned my spot by the sliding doors and walked towards the man holding the plaque with my name on it, as I approach him I wondered whether to address him by name or not and if I did would he recognise me after all this time? Although I still looked basically the same, I have managed through grit and determination to maintain my figure from back then, I now wear my hair long and it is shot through with grey.

As I debated in my mind, he turned towards me ‘Anna Green?’ he enquired, his voice hadn’t changed neither had he, to be honest. Michael Patrick Murphy was one of those men who had been gifted good genes and he didn’t look a day over thirty, although I knew he was a couple of years older than me.

I stop in front of Murphy and lift my sunglasses ‘that’ll be me, I’m afraid I got held up in there’ I held up the smaller of my cases ‘always the same when I travel for business.’

‘Do I know you?’ I could see confusion on Murphy’s face, not only had my hair grown but I had taken a long time trying to lose my natural accent. These days it only tends to come out when things get really shite but I still use the odd phrase now and again. You can take the girl out of Belfast but you can’t take Belfast out of the girl.

I decided to put poor Murphy out of his misery so I laid on the accent for him ‘to be sure, once youse were one of me closest friends Murph.’

‘Char…’ Murphy started to say my name, I reached over and placed my finger over his lips.

‘Hush, that person doesn’t exist anymore, I’m Anna Green now and have been for a long time. I take you are my lift. The immigration guy said they were sending someone for me but never in a million years did I expect it to be you, I thought they’d send some newbie.’ I could see that poor Murph had so many questions but standing in the middle of the arrivals hall was not the place to start answering them, that’s if I could. I knew that some of the subjects that would get dragged up would be very painful for me to deal with but I realised that perhaps I did owe people an explanation of sorts. ‘Can we go Murph, I’m not feeling too good, flying doesn’t agree with me these days.’

‘Come on then, is this all your luggage?’ asked Murphy indicating the small case and the larger one which was sat by my feet.

I nod at him ‘yes, you know me Murph, always travelled light – don’t need things to tie me down. I’ll hang on to the small one if you don’t mind, you can guess why, this one always causes me problems, even with the letter I’ve had so long it’s falling apart. There is some other stuff, not much but I don’t expect that to arrive just yet.’ Murphy picks up the bigger case and I follow him towards the doors, replacing my sunglasses, both of us hesitate before stepping out into the bright sunshine and I can’t help groaning in pain as the light causes my head to start throbbing again. ‘Don’t worry I’m fine’ I say as Murphy looks at me with concern.

‘Are you sure you’re alright, you look a bit off colour?’

‘I’m fine, flying tends to upset my head these days, I’ve taken a couple of tablets which helps it’s just the light is bright even wearing these.’ I can see by Murphy’s face that he’s not convinced by my explanation, he knows me of old and has seen me hurt in the past, I can see by his eyes he’s trying not to remember things. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be fine once we get in the car, it usually doesn’t last long, if it gets any worse I promise I’ll tell you, deal? What’ I turned and looked at Murphy ‘don’t you trust me?’

I saw a strange look pass over Murphy’s face and I could have kicked myself – deep down I knew the answer, once upon a time maybe but after six years? Not a cat in hells chance and he was right, I was the one who’d thrown everyone’s trust in me back in their faces when I’d left the way I did, none of them owed me anything.

‘Car’s over here’ said Murphy studiously ignoring my question ‘I’m to take you to HQ and then on to the safe-house that’s been assigned to you.’

I stopped, it felt as though I’d been punched in the head again, so strong was the jolt in my head ‘no Murph, that’s not happening’ I managed to grind out through the pain, ‘just take me to the hotel, I’m not staying in one of the safe-houses, no matter that they might have all changed. Please Murph, try and understand, I can’t stay in one there’s too many dangerous memories, please?’

Tuesday 14 June 1988

I don’t remember how long the journey from the airport to CI5 took, I think the tablets I’d taken and the motion of the car lulled me into a light doze and I could tell that Murphy, although he had a million questions he wanted to ask, realised that I was in no fit state to deal with the past at that point. As Murphy parked the car outside CI5 I began to feel queasy and unusually apprehensive – this wasn’t the first time I’d been back in London in the last six years but it was the first time I had been to HQ. Any time I had been called upon I had arranged meetings well away from wherever CI5 was currently housed and had met with George on neutral ground.

Murphy noticed my reluctance to leave the safety of the car ‘don’t worry, you’re unlikely to bump into anyone you know, there aren’t many of us old faces left these days and those that are still around tend to be tied up with either meetings or dealing with new recruits. The only person you will see is Betty, will that make things a bit easier for you,’ Murphy hesitated and then added ‘Anna?’

‘Thanks, Murph, you’ve always looked out for me haven’t you and what did I do throw it all back in everyone’s faces. Do you realise that’s one of my biggest regrets – not saying goodbye to certain people, you included. Now I suppose I’d better go and beard Cowley in his office, do you want to show me the way and carry me, no, my bags for me, save leaving them in the car, I’ll get a taxi when I’ve finished.’

‘No leave them here, I’ll take you to the hotel after, if you are feeling that grotty I don’t fancy the idea of you being dragged round London by some unscrupulous taxi driver, not that anyone would’ve dared rip you off, Cha…sorry Anna.’

‘Maybe once upon a time they wouldn’t but now I’m not sure, maybe I’ve changed since then’ I wasn’t about to tell Murphy that the younger me was still there, as far as I could I wanted my old life to stay dead, it was safer that way and not just for me. The only time I really thought about my old life was when I had received the odd out of the blue phone call from George. ‘Come on then, show me the way to Cowley’s office.’

Although I didn’t know the man on the door, it appears that a valid CI5 photo ID is enough to grant me entry to the building – this one is quite a modern affair, compared to some of the ramshackle buildings we had in the past and for once we didn’t have to suffer an antique lift to deliver us to the correct floor. The more floors we passed the more my anxiety grew, although Murphy had assured me, in not quite so many words, that I’d be unlikely to bump into anyone I knew I still couldn’t shake the fear of seeing one particular person. Finally, we stopped outside Betty’s door and I could hear her talking to someone, whether it was in person or on the phone it was hard to tell.

‘I’ll let Betty know you’re here’ said Murphy, picking up on my unease at the sound of voices from behind the door. The door closed behind him leaving me in the corridor feeling exposed and vulnerable, my poor brain was trying to work out an escape plan and struggling with what was being asked of it. I could hear Murphy and Betty, then the door opened and Murphy ushered me in, making it clear that there was no one else there.

Betty looked up from her desk and I could see the cogs whirring – was it going to be like this with everyone, I had hardly set foot in HQ back before I left but it looked like someone else remembered my face. ‘Anna Green to see Mr Cowley, I believe he is expecting me?’ I decided to pre-empt what I knew was coming and placed a deliberate emphasis on my name before Betty could fall into the same mistake Murphy had nearly made.

‘Oh, yes, err Miss Green, I’ll let him know you’re here.’

I wandered over to the window and took the time to look out across the London skyline, it had been a long time since I’d been able to compare the new city to the one I knew, things seemed to have changed rapidly although I came back three or four times a year, depending on work.

Just then I heard the door open ‘ah Anna, come in’ said Cowley ‘Murphy if you can hang on so you can take Miss Green to her accommodation?’

I followed George into his office and once the door was shut turned and gave him a hug ‘it’s been a while this time, why drag me here to meet you? Murphy has put two and two together and Betty I think has as well. I’m too much of a risk to others if someone recognises me and word gets back across the water, you know that George.’

‘Och stop worrying Anna, you’ll be perfectly safe while you’re here – I’ve set aside one of the safehouses for you and you will have twenty-four-hour surveillance, with some of the older agents taking charge…’

‘No George, on both counts – I can’t stay in one of the safehouses you know that, there are far too many memories attached to them and as for twenty-four-hour surveillance…’ I left the sentence hanging, my head was starting again and there was no way I was even going where George was suggesting with ‘older agents’. I sat down in the chair in front of the large desk, it appeared to be one I remembered from years ago but looking at it, I was aware that things were beginning to become fuzzy and I was having trouble concentrating on what George was saying to me. I tried to focus on the man the other side of the desk but there was a ringing in my ears, it took me a moment to realise that the phone was ringing and as I tuned in, my blood ran cold – I heard the one name I’d been dreading, then nothing as the blackness took over.

‘Sergeant Price, Anna, can you hear me? Come on, easy, don’t try and sit up’ a voice I vaguely recognised was speaking to me but it seemed to be coming from a long way away and they kept getting my name wrong. Strong arms were holding me down, I struggled against them but I was too weak to escape their grasp and I tried to fight harder. My arms and hands didn’t seem to want to co-operate with what my brain was trying to tell them to do, spasms seemed to be taking over and as I opened my eyes I became aware that everything was still blurry.

‘Where am I, let me go, I’m warning youse let me go whoever youse are’ I was almost shouting and the fear and confusion I was experiencing had caused me to lapse back into my old accent. ‘Get the fuck off me’ still the arms held me down.

‘It’s no good George, I’m going to have to give her a mild sedative, just to calm her down so I can work out what’s going on’ that voice again, seemed it was someone with medical knowledge and known to CI5. ‘Hold her still Murphy, I want to get this done as quickly as possible.’ Blackness descended again, this time it was the medicinal kind but it sucked me under just as quickly.

This time as I came back up through the fog things were much clearer and when I opened my eyes I could see the concerned face of Dr Atkins, that was the voice I’d recognised, as well as Murphy standing by the door to Cowley’s office. So now I knew where I was – the small room that he was known to use if leaving the office was not practical, for example if there was a big op about to break. Lying there I could hear voices drifting through the closed door and once again my blood ran cold.

‘Right, Sergeant, let’s have a look at you’ said Atkins.

‘Doc, please it’s Anna you know that’ I pleaded with him to use my new name, which he was fully aware of and every time I saw him he would call me Sergeant just to wind me up but today it wasn’t funny, given who was in the other room. ‘Please Doc, for once just call me by my name, if they hear you next door…’ I left the rest of what I was going to say unsaid.

‘Ok, just this once, Anna. Right care to tell me what happened in there earlier? Also, what this with the tremors’ he looked at me sternly, he knew me of old and how I would try to get out of answering questions about things that concerned me. ‘How long have they been going on and what causes them, don’t you even think about lying to me!’

Dr Atkins has been taking care of me since before I left London and he knows exactly what I’m like for trying to avoid things but one of the reasons I was back this time was to seek his advice about the tremors, as he called them. ‘Ok, they started not long after I last saw you and at first were fairly infrequent, say once a month if I overdid things but’ I paused gathering my woolly thoughts, I still felt off kilter and thinking was difficult ‘yes they’ve been happening more and more. There’s something else too Doc’ again I hesitated, I felt uncomfortable discussing anything medical at the best of times but add an audience, even if it was Murphy, I would usually clam up. I took a deep breath and continued ‘my vision is starting to be affected at times and I can’t pin it down to anything particular, the tremors come on more when I’m stressed like now. The vision thing is new but it is completely unpredictable and it can last a couple of hours.’ I held out both my hands and watched them shake as I tried to control them. ‘Not exactly good for someone in my profession hence this is to be my last job, I’m handing in my resignation once I’ve taken care of this last, target.’ Deep down I knew, that whatever the problem was, it was serious, I had dodged enough bullets to last a lifetime and a fair few had found their target leaving me bearing both the physical and emotional scars. ‘Organise whatever tests you need to Doc, I’m not going to stop you this time – just tell me where and when, I’ll be there. I’m guessing you want me to go to St Thomas’?’

Atkins looked at me, almost in disbelief, then shook his head ‘ok Sergeant, sorry Anna’ he lowered his voice ‘would you be prepared to go now?’

‘I suppose we might as well get it over and done with, make the arrangements and I’ll sort out a taxi to take me’ part of me was relieved that things were happening but the other part was, shit scared, give me a nutter and I’ll happily deal with them, anything concerning my health was likely to make me run screaming in the opposite direction.

Friday 17 June 1988

Here I am sat in yet another bloody hotel, twiddling my thumbs, spending yet another birthday on my own. How have I made it to forty-two? I look in the mirror and all I can see is a tall, muscular woman, with a physique of someone twenty years younger, with long black hair that now is actually more grey but the thing that stands out most and has done for a long time to me, is my scars. To be honest they don’t really bother me, a bit like my hair but I know they bother other people, they are one of the reasons I have spent the majority of my birthdays alone. Scars and some deeply installed Catholic beliefs that tell me marriage is for life, no matter that I haven’t seen the man in question for almost six years, in my mind he is still my husband and no matter what he thought of me, I can’t break my vows. Those words said almost six years ago, by someone I thought loved me, hurt deeply especially as they knew about my past and my hang ups, mostly brought about by the Catholic Church that I’ve tried so hard to rebel against. Unfortunately, the majority of my life has been moulded by the way I was brought up – Catholic teaching leaves you feeling guilty for so much and dirty for most of the time. Fidelity is one thing that was drummed into me along with the sanctity of marriage and the fact that sex outside of marriage and abortion are morally wrong. The fact that I’ve ended up managing two out of three leaves me trying to justify things in my head, which is not helped by having people jump to the wrong conclusions and rubbing my nose in it. Catholic guilt for me is sometimes a harder one to deal with than survivors guilt but when the two get mixed up together they, well let’s just say I don’t sleep well. There has only been one person that I’ve trusted enough to share all my past with and now look where I am.

I move away from the mirror, I’ve never been a big fan of self-adulation and decide that the only thing I can be bothered to put on is the tatty old tracksuit that has travelled as many miles as me, I don’t care what it looks like, it fits and it’s comfy. Most of my things, from when I lived in England last time have been given away, some were left behind and I have no idea what happened to them but in my case are a couple of things that, even now, hold special memories for me. The items in question very rarely see the light of day, due to the memories they evoke but I can’t bear to throw or give them away – one is my dress uniform and the other a stunning midnight blue velvet evening dress, cut to fit like a second skin. Tonight, is not a night to look at either of them, other things are upper most in my mind. There is one other memento that I have and strangely that one I use every day, it’s a heavy black Porsche design watch, a man’s watch, that I know I should never have taken but I did. Another thing I shouldn’t have is also in the bottom of my case – it’s a thick file detailing my career from when I signed on, on my eighteenth birthday, exactly twenty-six years ago, right through to when I left six years ago. This is an unredacted copy, top secret to say the least but it contains all the information that now is beginning to slip away from me – some of the things I’ve been involved in have been gone for years and at least this tells me in black and white why I can’t remember them, they’re too distressing for me to remember first hand. Eventually I guess the only way I’ll be able to remember people, places and events is either by someone telling me or re-reading the file daily.

Tomorrow Atkins is coming here to bring me the results of the tests and scans he asked St Thomas’ to carry out after my funny turn at CI5 and I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything other than what they will tell me. If I’m honest with myself, I know the news won’t be good but then again the prognoses I’ve had over the years have always painted things blacker than they’ve turned out. This time I know that things are starting to fall apart – the things that the consultant told me could happen are finally beginning to happen. My memory is starting to fail me, the last couple of days have made that abundantly clear – oh, I know London has changed in six years but I should be able to find my way around and I can’t. Last time I had this type of discussion with Atkins I had someone with me to hold my hand, now I’ve got to face it alone. Not only is my memory starting to fail, my body is as well, my left leg has been getting weaker as time has gone on and soon I will need the dreaded crutches again. My pain threshold has either got lower or the pain has increased, I’m not sure which but the tablets I’m on now barely help, I live with the pain constantly. These days I’m not even sure where the pain comes from – it could be any one of the numerous scars or injuries that I have had over the years.

I pick up one of the many bottles of water dotted around the suite and wander over to the floor to ceiling window and watch the people below going about their mundane and safe lives. I know that a life like that would have killed me as surely as a bullet to the back of the head, which once upon a time was the way I expected to die, un-mourned, unmissed and buried in an unmarked grave somewhere probably down near the border. If I could describe my life in word, I think it would have to be anonymous, none of the people out there know my name, what I’ve done or what I’ve managed to overcome. Do I regret the lifestyle I chose all those years ago – the majority of it no, just certain parts that I wish I could go back and change. Suddenly the phone breaks into my reverie, it can only be reception no one else, apart from George, Murphy or Atkins know I’m here. I pick up the receiver ‘hello?’

‘Miss Green? There’s a Mr Murphy here at reception, he is asking if you are happy for him to come up?’

I stare at the wall, it takes a moment for me to realise what the person on the other end of the line said ‘yes, that’s fine tell him to come up.’ I put the phone down and just stare at it as if it is going to come alive and do something but it remains where I put it, another little funny thing or something more serious, I file it away for Atkins tomorrow. I wonder what Murphy wants at seven in the evening, if it was anything important with reference to the job I’m here to carry out then George would have rung me – we are the only two people who are aware of what my job entails and what I’ve done for the government over the last six years. I suppose in one sense you could call me a housekeeper, always making sure things stay nice and neat and tidy, that there aren’t any nasty surprises lurking to dirty our doorstep. Housekeeper sounds so much more civilised than paid assassin, which is what I have been since the age of twenty-four. I really hope Murphy isn’t coming looking for sparkling wit and conversation, my thoughts are most definitely on the maudlin side tonight.

As I turn back to the window there’s a knock at my door so I put the bottle of water down and go to check the peephole, even though nobody outside CI5 knows who I am, information can be bought and there are a lot of people who wish me dead and would pay very well to find out where I am. All I can see through the peephole is a massive bunch of roses, someone has obviously got the wrong room ‘sorry wrong room’ I say loudly enough for the person to hear.

As I watch for the delivery guy to leave, the bunch of roses is replaced by Murphy grinning like a loon so I step back, undo the flimsy chain and open the door for him. ‘What the feck are you doing Murph?’ I ask him as I walk back to collect the water from the side, leaving him close the door and apply the chain.

‘It is your birthday today, isn’t it Anna? These are for you, I guess nobody else will remember so I thought I’d pop by and cheer you up. Get something presentable on you’re going out for dinner’ said Murphy handing me the bouquet with a flourish.

I looked at him and gave a slow sad smile ‘thanks Murph, they mean a lot to me but dinner? No, I can’t, just because I’ve changed my name doesn’t mean it’s safe for me here in London, or England for that matter. You know information can be bought, all it takes is for one person to recognise me and then there’s a hit out on me. I’ve been gone for six years but I know the memory of the Brigade and their reach, is a lot longer than that, don’t forget how long I’ve been in this game and how much I’ve cost them over the years. You are so sweet but I can’t leave here, I’ve already been out and before you say, yes I know it was stupid…’

‘Don’t you think I know you’ve been out?’ replied Murphy, inspecting his shoes for dirt.

‘Are youse saying what I think youse are – youse have had me under surveillance?’ I can feel my temper begin to bubble, if Murphy had his wits about him he’d know how pissed I was, the Belfast accent was becoming more dominant. ‘So why I am I honoured to have a tail, whoever they were, they were fecking good, either that or I am getting old. Are youse going to tell me what youse are up to Murph or am I going to end up losing me shite?’ By now I’m pacing the room, my head is starting it’s familiar pounding and I can feel the tremors. I tuck my hands under my arms in an effort to control the shakes and to prevent Murphy from noticing, too late he’s worked out exactly what is happening.

‘Sit down Charlie’ I look daggers at him ‘there’s no one here, the room is clean, I checked myself’ he says, I stop pacing long enough for that to register. ‘No one can hear what we are talking about, Charlie, so if I want to call you that, then I will!’

Hmm, things are getting interesting – Mr Cool is capable of losing his temper, this is something no one has ever seen, well not to my knowledge at least and it had certainly never happened when I’d been around CI5. I decide that perhaps I’d better let Murphy have his say and get whatever it is off his chest before I say something I’d later regret. I had learnt one or two things over the last six years, the most important being that friends are hard to find in my line of work. I look at Murphy and see he is getting as pissed as me, so for once in my life I do as someone tells me and I sit down, to be honest I was having trouble pacing but there was no way I was going to admit that.

‘Right, Charlie Price, you and I are going to have a serious conversation about several different things. Get on that phone and order something for us to eat. I know you don’t want to talk about things, you are a close-mouthed bastard but I am your friend, you know that and I know for a fact, things are playing on your mind. I have never seen you give in with regard to your health before so something is definitely bothering you, am I right?’

I can see I’m going to have to tread very carefully around our Murphy, in the time I’ve been gone he’s become even more perceptive and quick to pick up on things I thought I was able to hide. I know he’s still got a million questions that he wants answers to but I have some of my own, maybe I can try and convince him to do a sort of trade. Then again if I know Murphy half as well as I did, I think I’m going to be the one doing more of the talking.

‘Ok, deal I’ll order some food but…’

‘But what? You want to set limits as to what you’re prepared to talk about – no deal, anything and everything madam. You asked me whether I trusted you the other day, talk to me, convince me why I should after all this time. You upped and left Charlie, why? What was so bad that you had to throw everything away, I’ve heard about the impact you made on training in certain scenarios, both for us and others, why give that up? Let’s start with something less scary, why have you come back now?’

Having phoned reception and organised some food for us, I turn back to Murphy and consider his questions – why have I come back to England and arranged for the few odd things I couldn’t carry to be sent on to me? Deep down I know what the answer is but can I explain it to someone else, I don’t know whether to fabricate a reason or just bite the bullet and see where the conversation goes. I’ve missed someone to verbally spar with so I make my answer a question ‘why do you think I’ve come back Murph, surely you’ve done some digging in the last couple of days and have got a theory?’

‘We’re going to play verbal games are we? Right, I have been doing some, digging, as you put it and I found out some very interesting things – where do you want me to start?’

I look at him and shrug, if I can keep him talking then maybe I won’t have to lay myself open to things I’d rather not face.

‘Ok, number 1 – Charlie Price/Duffy is still on the active roster at CI5, why? Number 2 – Charlie Price/Duffy is still paid by CI5, again why? Number 3 – I’ve also found out, through various contacts, Sergeant Charlie Price is still listed as active and being paid, another why? Number 4 – Anna Green doesn’t appear on any flight manifests or hotel registers prior to September 20 1982, why? Number 5 – Anna Green appears to fly into and out of the London airports every four to six months, for the last six years but only ever appears for two nights per trip in any hotel registers, again why?’

Christ, Murph has done some digging, everything he has found out is true, how could I have been so careless to leave such an obvious trail? As I sit, dumbfounded, trying to work out what to say there is a knock on the door and a disembodied voice calls out ‘room service’. I look at Murphy, who nods and gets up to answer the door, hand slipping inside his jacket for his gun, he peers through the peephole, then undoes the chain and opens the door allowing our food to be delivered. The bellboy hesitates on his way out and bless him, Murphy flips him a tip. Thankfully the arrival of food gives me a few more minutes to think about how to reply to Murphy. I lean forward and take a couple of sandwiches from the tray but to be honest the thought of food is making my stomach churn however, I know Murphy will be watching me, he always was a worrier, so I take a bite and try to not choke on it.

Friday 17 June 1988

‘So, Einstein, what does this all mean?’ I sit back and watch Murphy eat, it’s been so long since I’ve spent time with someone I know and I’m finding it difficult to not fall back into the easy way we had, back before I left. I think Murphy can feel it too, we were such good friends back then and I remember the first New Year’s Eve after I joined the CI5 and the way Murphy introduced me, I smile sadly to myself thinking how everything went wrong after I suffered the injuries that have, now, finally caught up with me.

Murphy notices ‘hey, penny for them?’ he reaches across and lifts my chin, forcing me to look at him.

‘They’re not even worth that these days, everything has changed so much that I don’t think that the few memories I have are worth anything.’ The maudlin mood has come back even worse than before Murphy arrived ‘I’m not good company Murph, there’s been too much heartache and pain that sometimes I struggle to find the good in things. You were about to tell me what you’ve deduced about me.’

Murphy put down his plate and I could see him organising his thoughts ‘right, we both know something happened on that op Bodie and I were involved in concerning the smuggled guns what I don’t know, but it must have been something significant. I know you were in London that Friday night, he told me you dragged out Duffy for the first time in months and that you had a fight. That isn’t what drove you to leave, there was always a hint of something else but like you Bodie’s a close-mouthed bastard’ I snorted, my heart pounding in time with my head at the mention of his name. ‘Less than a month later Anna Green flies out of London to god knows where. Strangely though, every time someone with a grudge or an agenda against CI5 disappears or turns up dead, Anna Green just happens to have flown into London, spent one night in a hotel and vanished.’

I’ll give him his due, Murphy has put together all the pieces of the puzzle and has hit the jackpot, I sit and wait for him to tell me what I’ve been doing and for who. ‘What are youse suggesting Murph?’ I ask as I get up in search of another bottle of water. ‘If youse want a drink there’s a bottle in the other room’ I nod in the direction of the bedroom.

‘Not if you’re not having one, chuck me a bottle of water.’ I throw one in his direction and watch as he catches it without effort. ‘So, our Anna Green is in England right around the time all our enemies and naysayers seem to meet their maker, all dead of a double tap, very neat. Now call me cynical but there’s not many killers that would use that as their signature shot, not unless they’ve had British military training.’

‘And because of this stunning fact youse think what?’ calm down, I need to calm down, why should it matter if Murphy has worked out what I do - it matters because if he can connect the dots then so can others, others both inside and outside of CI5. Calm down, concentrate on your breathing and how you sound. I get up and walk over to window, the shakes have started again and I can feel sweat trickling down my back, everything is crowding in on me. I turn around too quickly and my leg decides it’s not playing tonight either and I end up on the floor in a shaking heap, thankfully I manage to avoid hitting my head on anything.

Murphy is up almost as soon as I hit the floor, next thing I know I’m being carefully picked up and carried into the bedroom where he places me gently on the bed. ‘In my bag Murph, there’s a bottle of small blue tablets,’ he rummages around and pulls out the bottle, making to open it ‘no give it here.’ I reach out to grab the bottle but he’s too quick and I’m still too shaky, he hands me just one of the tablets.

‘I remember what you are like with things like this, it says one and one is all you’re getting. Now care to tell me what that little display was all about?’ he sits on the edge of the bed and hands me an open bottle of water from the table. ‘If you think that is going to get you out of telling me what is going on, you’re very much mistaken.’

I sit in a shaking heap on the bed, memories of that night in London crowding my thoughts, I take a deep breath realising that the time for hiding from the past is over. I look at Murphy and remember why I’ve come back, not just to complete the job but to finally get some closure on my life, I know that making old bones is now only a dream if my health continues to deteriorate the way it has over the last six months.

‘Youse’re right Murph, it’s time for me to try and put things right, things that should never have got out of hand the way they did but first will youse answer me one thing?’

‘Ask away and I’ll answer it if I can’ he replies watching me closely; I think he knows what I’m about to ask, there isn’t any doubt in my mind, he’s just waiting to see how I’m going cope with what he says.

‘How is he Murph?’ I ask, with a catch in my voice. There it’s out in the open but even now I can’t say his name or what he is to me, at least on paper.

‘Honestly Charlie? He’s alive, he walks, he talks, he does his job. Him and Doyle are still the best the A Squad have ever had but truthfully? Something died in him that Friday in London. Every so often he’ll come out and socialise but watch his face, his eyes are dead, he smiles but it doesn’t reach them. Even Doyle and I can’t break through his armour and believe me we’ve tried’ he paused and I gestured for him to carry on, I had to hear what he said no matter how much it hurt. ‘I talked to him that night when he got back to the barracks. I caught up with him in the showers, trying to wash away his aches and pains, he was being sick and his lip was bleeding, there was a bar of sandalwood soap lying in the sink. He told me you, or rather Duffy, turned up and decided to play hardball for the audience, that you had a fight, if I remember rightly he had some spectacular bruises. Why didn’t the pair of you pull your punches, for god’s sake you were married?’ Murphy looked at me as an uncontrolled sob escaped. ‘It was what happened after the fight, that I never got to the bottom of. All he said was you threatened to break his head and tried to break his arm before you rode off. I’m sure he said something about your parting shot being ‘see you around Bodie’ but I could be wrong.’

I sit and try to control the rollercoaster of emotions threatening to overwhelm me, trying to decide in which order to deal with things. ‘Do youse mind if I deal with your theory first – the one about Anna Green?’ Murphy nods. ‘Youse are right, Anna flies in, spends a night in a hotel and meets with Cowley – yes Cowley, youse heard me right. I suppose youse could call me a housekeeper – I keep our doorstep clean, have been for the last six years. Housekeeping is one of the reasons I’m here now, youse know who’s due for release don’t youse?’

‘Jimmy Keller’ Murphy whistles but he doesn’t seem that surprised by my admission.

‘Yes Jimmy Keller, he could hurt a whole load of people if he gets to walk away and start a new life – not just CI5 but another unit just as shadowy’ I pause as the penny drops ‘yes our friends in Hereford. Youse are right I’m still being paid by the government in return for, certain favours, both here and elsewhere, dealing with threats from one group in particular. Have youse heard of Op Flavius’ Murphy shook his head ‘I’d be surprised if youse had, how about the Gibraltar Three?’

This time Murphy nodded ‘the foiled bombing, that the one? That was a four-man SAS team that took them out, so that one wasn’t you.’

‘Not directly no, but they needed someone who could identify them positively and who better than someone who had been around the Belfast Brigade for so many years?’

‘So, you’ve spent the last six years sat by a phone waiting for a call to deal with our dirty laundry? Where have you been living?’

‘Does that really matter? I’ve been here and there; George has always had contact details for me. I’ve also had another reason to come back – I come back every six months or so to see Atkins, he’s been keeping an eye on me health since before I left. I was due to come back about now but then I got the call so I decided that this was to be me last job, me health is declining rapidly Murph, that’s why I agreed to Atkins sending me for those tests, they were due to be done anyways so…’

‘Hence you not arguing with Atkins the other day, I did wonder whether the Charlie Price I knew had mellowed but obviously not. What about the rest of it? Can you tell me the real reason you left; you know it won’t ever go any further?’

I know I can trust Murphy; I always have right from day one, I take a deep sigh wishing I had something stronger to drink other than water but now was not the time to start back on that rocky road. ‘How much of me past do youse know?’ Strange how being in a room with Murph and I slip back into that Irish girl I thought I left in England six years ago – is it him or the fact that I’m facing up to what Charlie Price is? I don’t know the answer but I feel happier and strangely safer, being me.

‘Not a great deal, you were born and brought up an Irish Catholic in Belfast, joined the Army, worked in and around Belfast most of your life, came and worked for CI5 and then all of a sudden upped and disappeared six years ago. Have I missed anything?’

I give him a sad and tired smile ‘did anyone ever tell youse much about the Kelly op?’ He shakes his head, I can see he’s puzzled, so I continue ‘I grew up with Siobhan Kelly and her brother Pat, he was the same age as me and me cousin Paddy, she was a couple of years younger. To cut a long and grisly story short Siobhan and Pat spent two years, from when I was fourteen til I left at sixteen, raping and abusing me’ I looked up and saw the colour drain from Murphy’s face. ‘Yeah not pleasant but it gets worse, by time I left I was pregnant – a sixteen-year-old Catholic girl pregnant out of marriage? I came over here and found someone to get rid of it for me. I was around four months by then and I nearly died.’ I stop and wipe the snot and tears from my face, this part of me life never gets any easier with the telling of it. ‘Siobhan was after her brother’s killer; she’d managed to find out who it was from another low life she consorted with. This same low life was one of those responsible for me kidnap back in ’77 – egged on by her they did the same again, raped me, likely she was there but as that’s one of me missing memories I can’t swear to it. Before I killed Pat I had put Siobhan in hospital on his orders – why did I do that? He whored me out, said I gave the best…..in Belfast, well he should know they taught me – she’d hold me head down on him til I was gagging but eventually I was able to do what he wanted. I had the means and opportunity to kill him back at the end of ’73, so I took it.’

‘Christ Charlie how did, how do you…’

‘Deal with it? Well for one Christ didn’t offer much help I can tell youse! To be sure it’s not for the want of trying. I’ve spent so much time wearing me knees out praying for forgiveness, I didn’t deal with it and still haven’t. Me upbringing, such as it was revolved around the church, one of the reasons we, no I, spent so much time down in South Armagh – no adults to force me to go to Mass or Confession.’ I so desperately want a drink but until I know what’s going on with me head I won’t have one, once youse would have had trouble separating me from a bottle, now I know it just encourages the demons to come calling and believe youse me they will tonight without any encouragement at all. ‘All me life I’ve had hang ups about certain things, like taking an innocent life, sex youse name it I’ve probably tried to deal with it. Killing in a uniform, for me, was never an issue and it still isn’t now but that abortion?’ Even though it was so long ago I can feel all the emotions I felt back then, as well from later when someone stole my unborn child from me, which in some ways is a false memory – I found it written in black and white in me medical notes, I have no recollection of how it happened. ‘Youse wanted to know what happened that night in London?’ Murphy nods at me, I can see by his expression that he’s probably guessed part of it but not all and realises why he couldn’t get a straight answer out of Bodie. Even saying his name in my mind is so very difficult. I take yet another deep breath and plough on. ‘Youse remember what he said about me being bored up in Hereford, well I was, we hadn’t seen each other for around a couple of months. Even living with Peter and Jenny, working at the Lines with the other trainers, I was lonely, I needed to see him.’

‘So, you rode down to London, nipped back to your flat, saw the briefing notes and decided to try the pub nearest Wellington Barracks?’

‘Yeah something like that. While I was there I had a quick shower, I’d literally left the Lines after work and rode straight down and I borrowed his soap to wash with. I’d been in the pub a while before he arrived with whoever they were, I watched for a few minutes then I went over and gave them the Duffy treatment. Things got out of hand and he dragged me outside and things just got worse in some ways. We were both strung out, youse name it, adrenaline, frustration, lust they were all there to some degree. Youse know that feeling after an op gone bad – the one where youse need to, well you know…’ I can’t bring myself to say what I mean but Murphy’s been there and gives me a knowing smile, he can see I find things like this embarrassing. I can’t talk about sex with anyone but I could parade around butt naked back then, before I was married, I sit and fiddle with my ring. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Murphy watching me, waiting patiently for me to finish telling him what went wrong with our relationship.

‘Can I ask you question’ Murphy hesitates, I know it’s going to be something personal but I nod, having told him some of the worst parts of me life, what does it matter now. ‘Why do you still wear your ring, I remember having to tickle you to get you to cough about…getting married. Do you remember, it was the day of the bombing outside Chelsea Barracks?’

I look at Murph and try to recall the day in question but the only part that is familiar is the bit about him tickling me, I’m not surprised I’ve got so many blanks in my memory and the holes seem to be getting bigger. ‘No, the only thing I remember is youse tickling me, the rest is gone. I’m Catholic and although we weren’t married in Church, in their eyes he is my husband and will be til death us do join. I’ve been faithful to him as marriage is sacred in my eyes, it’s that simple, oh and the plus side is it keeps men away.’ I pause again and take a long drink of water. ‘The main reason I left is because of what was said and done in a piss stinking back alley in London – I went down on my knees for him and gave him, in my eyes, a gift, something I’d not done since I’d been, trained shall we say, nearly twenty years before. Unfortunately, he came out with some quip about never being without boyfriends when I was a teenager, I took it the wrong way, that the he was implying it was what a whore would do and that I’d make a good one. End of story.’

I sit back and lean against the headboard with me eyes shut so I don’t have to see the pity and shook on Murphy’s face, it’s there I know. I can feel the shakes starting up again but I do nothing to hide the fact that me world has almost imploded. The things I’ve told Murph tonight have opened up yet another world of pain and regret that I thought I’d put behind me. Tonight, I know sleep will not come easy for me, the appointment with Atkins and all the things that I’ve dredged up will see to that. It’s at times like this I wish I had someone here to hold my hand and tell me that they’ll be me safety net to catch me when I fall, that they’ll be with me not matter what I have to face. I know that’s not going to happen now, I blew that happy ever after six years ago, in a piss and rubbish strewn London alley.

I hear Murphy walk into the other room and pick up the phone, I have no idea who he can be talking to, a broken date maybe? His voice seems distant, as if he doesn’t want me to hear the conversation. I reach out my right hand to pick up the heavy watch from the table, I check the time and am surprised to see that it’s past eleven, doesn’t time fly when youse are having fun. Just as I’m about to attempt a trip to the bathroom, Murphy comes back into the room and plonks himself back on the end of the bed, looking ever so pleased with himself. I look at him and ask warily ‘what’s got youse so cheerful – your date still hot for youse now youse are free to leave?’

‘Nope, nothing like that, I’m a good boy me,’ I snort at him, I remember he was almost as bad as the other two for chasing women. ‘No, I was reporting in, I’m your bodyguard tonight so you’d better behave madam.’

I look at him barely able to control my temper ‘oh no, we’re not playing that game Murph. No one knows who I am and much less that I’m back in the country, so youse can feck off and play bodyguard somewhere else.’

‘Right I’m only going to say this once, Charlie Price, you are my responsibility so get used to the idea! I will be in the other room, I’m not leaving you alone tonight, not after all that has been raked over tonight, do you understand me? Even if you don’t, I’m not going anywhere.’

‘How many times do I have to tell youse I’m not a fecking invalid or a fecking mad woman, don’t youse think I’m capable of looking after meself? I’m forty-two fecking years old Murph and I have been killing people for twenty-six of them, do youse not think I might just be able to deal with an intruder?’ I’m up off the bed, Browning in hand, shaking this time with supressed anger. Murphy just sat there and watched me, completely unaffected by me outburst. ‘Well?’

‘It’s not other people I’m worried about Charlie, it’s you.’ That shut me up good and proper, I turned away, unable to look at him and went into the bathroom.

Saturday 18 June 1988

Waking up should be a relaxed affair, even for someone like me with me bad sleeping habits, but not today. As I slowly come to, I realise that what I thought was sleep is not, it’s one of those drug induced sleeps that terrify me, coupled with the sedative fogginess is the distinctive smell of antiseptic, fear and death, a smell that I know oh so very well. I try to sit up but for some reason I can’t move my arms and it seems to be abnormally dark in the room. I can feel my heart rate accelerating and my head pounds in time with it. I can hear the monitors ticking away and am aware of the fact that, once again, there seems to be a canula in me arm. The one thing I can’t hear is anyone else in the room, for which I’m thankful, as I try and work things out but I know someone will be along shortly when they realise that the alarm on one of the machines is blaring away. I try to relax and work out what has happened, where I am and why, who brought me here, what do they want? All these thoughts and more tumble through me head and I try to sort them into some semblance of rational thought. Can I feel me legs, me arms, the rest of me body? The answers come back yes but there is one worrying aspect to this scenario – why is it so fecking dark in here, I’m sure that I’ve got me eyes open but just to appease meself, I close them and open them again. No nothing, it’s definitely me then, it’s still as black as anything but I don’t know why.

As I lay there trying to work out what is going on, I hear the door open and someone walk into the room – so if me hearing is working properly then the chances are I’ve not been caught up in a random bombing. I can attest to the fact that it takes some considerable time for your hearing to come back after something like, having been caught in a couple during me career. Whoever has come into the room must have some medical knowledge as the first thing they do is stop the infernal alarm, peace descends. ‘Hello’ I ask tentatively ‘who’s there?’ Now is not the time for me to start shouting and swearing as it’s unlikely to go down well with the hospital staff, I need to be calm, well as calm as I can be given me situation.

A voice I recognise replies ‘it’s me Dr Atkins, how do you feel Sergeant? Do you know where you are?’

‘Well, now let’s just say I’ve had better days to be sure. As to where I am, I’ll be guessing a hospital, there’s this kind of smell that youse just can’t mistake, I should know I’ve spent enough time in them. As to which one, if youse are here I’d say it’s likely to be St Thomas’, am I right Doc, oh by the way how many times do I have to tell youse, it’s Anna.’ I’m trying desperately to hang on to me temper, as I need to know what exactly is going on and how long I’ve been here, at least I know Atkins will be straight with me, he’s never lied to me so far.

‘Yes, you are in hospital, St Thomas’ but do you know why?’

Even though I can’t see him I’m able to work out roughly whereabouts in the room Atkins is and I turn towards his voice. ‘I’ve no fecking idea…..’

‘Language, Sergeant.’

It’s an old game, he knows what I’m like and he tries to keep me under control, half the time I do it just to wind him up, so I continue in the same vein ‘like I said, I’ve no fecking idea what I’m doing here – I don’t even know what fecking day it is! Mind I’m sure youse are about to tell me all I need to know. First I’ve got a question for youse – why is it so fecking dark in here?’ I want and need answers so, as I usually do, I launch into attack mode, it doesn’t matter who it is, it’s the way I deal with situations like this. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door and I can hear more familiar voices, two people are ushered into me room, so stranger and stranger, what are Murphy and George doing here?

‘Ok, Sergeant’ I groan yet again ‘let’s get on with things. You say you’ve no idea how you got here or why?’

‘No and no’ why do I get the feeling I’m going to be saying that or yes a lot over the next few minutes.

‘You were brought in by ambulance at around three thirty this morning, on a code one alert.’ Something cold settles in the pit of me stomach, I’ve been in this game too long not to know what a code one is – it usually signifies someone is on their way out, in fact I’ve been code one’d a couple of times before. ‘As I understand it Murphy found you in your hotel room, unresponsive and fitting, is that correct Murphy?’

‘Yes, I’d called in to see Charlie last night’ so today must be Saturday ‘it was her birthday. We spent the evening talking about things, emotional things and the past, so I decided to update control to the fact that I would be keeping obs at the hotel.’ Ah, the mysterious phone call, why didn’t youse tell me Murph, I know why I’d have been even more blunt with youse than I was. ‘Around three this morning I heard noises coming from Charlie’s room, I’d expected an interrupted night but this didn’t sound like normal nightmares. By time I got into the bedroom Charlie here was lying in a pool of vomit, fitting. Nothing I could do except call it in and hope she didn’t choke in the meantime.’ Someone else I owe me life to, yet another debt to be paid. I lay back against the pillows and close me eyes not that it makes much difference, it’s still dark. Ok so I know the how of me being here but why? That’s still a mystery but one which I’m sure Atkins is about to clear up.

‘So, Sergeant are you happy for Mr Cowley and Murphy to be here while we discuss the results of those test that we had done?’

I snap me eyes open and this time there’s a bit less of the darkness, I try to lift me hand to shield me eyes forgetting that for some reason I can’t. Someone reaches down and unties whatever it is that was restraining me hand, I take a guess that it is Murphy. By the time I get me hand up in front of me eyes I am beginning to see vague shapes, well, less dark patches of darkness.

‘Is the light bothering your eyes Sergeant?’ enquires Atkins. I nod in his direction. ‘Murphy, could you get the blind please. Is that better?’

‘A bit, look can we just get on with things, what the feck is going on Atkins? Why are youse asking if I’m happy for George and Murph to stay while we discuss me results and what the feck is going on with me eyes?’

‘Language, Anna, how many times do you have to be told about using profanities’ said Cowley. I turn my head and work out roughly where George is standing, then stick my tongue out and grin, I hear an ‘och’ coming from his direction, he also knows me of old but there is genuine respect on both sides, even if I do push things slightly more than I should.

‘If you’re happy for them to stay,’ I nod and Atkins continues ‘tell me what you can see at the moment, I want to look at your eyes.’

Suddenly a bright and blinding light shines in me right eye ‘shite youse could have warned me Doc’ then it’s gone.

‘What about the left one?’

‘Well try shining the light there and I’ll let youse know’ I am getting cranky with all this blathering that seems to be going on ‘well I’m waiting.’

‘Ok, Sergeant I am shining the light in your left eye right now, tell me what you can see.’

‘Stop fecking about Doc, youse are pulling me leg, just shine the light in me eye and stop joking!’ My pulse is beginning to rise again, there’s something not right here, I can feel an atmosphere and it’s not one I like. ‘What’s going on Doc, Murph he’s pulling me leg isn’t he?’

‘No Sergeant I’m not pulling your leg as you put it. Don’t worry your eyes will adjust, it might just take some time for you to see clearly. Before those tests and scans we carried out you said that your memory lapses appear to be getting more frequent and you have been losing more events from your past, yes?’ I nod. ‘Ok, you also mentioned some trouble with your vision, is it the same as now or is this worse?’

I sat and considered the question and if truth be told didn’t like the answer I come up with. ‘This is nothing like I’ve had before, in the past it’s been like things are misty, almost like I’m looking through a dirty window. When I came to, just now, everything was black, no light so I shut me eyes and tried again but nothing had changed. It’s getting better, well me right eye is but if I close that one I can see feck all out of the left one.’ I notice when I re-open my right eye things are a lot clearer and I’m able to start making out people’s faces. When I look at Atkins I can see how serious things are, there’s a look I’ve seen before on his face, years ago back when he laid out me future with regard to things getting worse as a result of the brain injury. I close my eyes and swallow down the bile I can feel rising in my throat, I turn towards Atkins ‘just tell me Doc, it’s serious yes? The brain injury is finally beginning to dictate me life, well I suppose I’ve done well to last this long without any really serious side effects.’

‘Actually Sergeant, you are only partly right’ he says as he sits on the edge of me bed. ‘There’s no easy way to tell you this but the scans have revealed something very serious,’ he pauses and that cold hard lump is back in my stomach ‘the scans have revealed a tumour, which wasn’t there six months ago when we did the last set of scans, suggesting that it is a fast growing, aggressive one.’

He sits there and watches me for any reaction, me being me tires to brush it off ‘to be sure, youse are having me on, there’s nothing wrong with me head, youse have always told me I’ve got a thick skull.’ Deep down though I know he’s right, something had been telling me it was time to come back, face me demons and set everything in order but could I do the one thing that I dreaded. ‘Ok let’s set out a plan to get rid of this annoying little bastard once and for all, when do youse want me here to operate, bearing in mind I’ve job to do first?’

‘Anna, listen to what Dr Atkins is saying – I’m afraid there will be no more jobs, your health is the most important thing right now’ said Cowley. ‘What is the prognosis then, like Anna said when can the consultants operate?’

‘I’ve spoken to the neurology consultant about the scans and, I’m afraid they can’t operate due to where it is located and how big it is, not only that they are concerned that if they try to remove it there could be significant blood loss, fatal blood loss. They won’t give me a firm prognosis but given the speed with which it’s grown I would think you have maybe six months and certainly no longer than a year. I’m so sorry Charlie, I wish there was something I could say or do to change things but you deserve the truth, I can’t and won’t lie to you.’

‘So, what happens now then Doc?’ I sit meself up on the bed and look around the room at the people I know, I can see the shock and sadness on their faces. ‘Come on I’m not dead yet nor am I beaten; I intend to deal with this in me own way.’

‘It’s up to you Charlie, what do you want to do?’

‘Right now? I want out of this place, no reason for me to be here is there? No, in that case I hope youse brought me some clean clothes Murph, I refuse to traipse out of here in this fecking thing’ I point down at the sick covered tracksuit, pity it’s one I’ve had for years and it’s travelled as many miles as I have. ‘Then I’m going to sort out somewhere to stay, I’m not sitting around on me arse in some hotel, even if it is a bit more upmarket than I’m used to. After that, well I’ll see what comes along.’

Monday 4 July 1988

I am up and ready for the car to arrive to take me out to Warfield to start what I hope will be me new normal. After much persuasion, I have convinced both Atkins and George to let me go back to assist Brian with the training of new recruits. They have both made it abundantly clear that I am not allowed to get involved in any sparring or anything that could lead to me injuring me head and I have had to reluctantly agree to limit what I’ll do. There were two other bones of contention – driving and being allowed to still carry me Browning. I have been out to the range with Jack and he’s passed me fit, obviously this will have to be reviewed more frequently than other agents. Strangely enough, although the tremors affect most things I do, put a gun in me hand and I’m rock steady, don’t ask me how that works, it just does. The driving is a different matter, the neurologist will not let me behind the wheel as there is clear evidence that it will cause over stimulation to me brain, which is usually when things start to go wrong, also the vision in me left eye fluctuates daily and therefore it is deemed to be below an acceptable driving standard.

Hence I’m stood in the hall of the safehouse at seven thirty on Monday morning waiting for someone to collect me. The place I’m in is sufficient for me needs at the moment, although I realise that sooner or later I will have to accept a place with no stairs, most of the time I can cope but I know that things are likely to change quickly. Three weeks ago, when I came out of hospital it was like there was nothing wrong with me, by time Murphy dropped me at me hotel me sight had even returned in me left eye. The only fault I can find, which is just me being picky, is that this is an CI5 safehouse, although not one of the usual ones and with that comes the ever-present surveillance team. Even though I am technically dying, there are still people out there willing to pay an extortionate amount of money to hasten me departure from this life, hence the surveillance. The rigid security grates on me and the fact that I’m not allowed to be alone at night, just in case I start fitting I guess, so not only do I have people baby-sitting me outside, I also have someone else stuck in the house with me, usually one of the female agents. I suppose in one sense I should be pleased that George is prepared to provide this for me, I guess I must be worth something after all, either that or someone is afraid of what I could reveal which could compromise, well a lot of things.

Something else I’m looking forward to is using the pool out at Warfield, I know not many people use it, so hopefully I will be able to get in at least a couple of sessions a day, provided I let Brian know where I am there shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Although I spent a good few months with Brian helping set up some new training ideas and programs I feel a bit apprehensive – how will things pan out, will he be wary of what might happen but then again knowing Brian he’ll probably let me get on with things and just keep a fatherly sort of eye on me and fuss when he thinks I’m overdoing things. When you get to know him, I mean spend time with him as an equal, he is in fact quite a calm guy, not what you’d expect but then again visits to Warfield for field agents usually mean assessments and hard work.

I stop to look at me watch and I’m surprised to see it’s lunchtime so Brian and I call a halt to the sparring and send them off for something to eat. I decide that as Brian is going to be doing some hand to hand work straight after lunch, I might get in a session in the pool while I can have some peace and quiet. I sneak off to the changing rooms to check that there’s no one in there, finding it empty I strip off, slip into me bikini and make me way out to the pool. I can’t remember the last time I went swimming but as I slip into the water it hits me – it must have been back in ’81 just before I started working up at Hereford. I pause and try to put the thoughts out of me head, dwelling on the past won’t change anything, what happened happened and I need to concentrate on the here and now, past and future are irrelevant, nothing I can do will change either of them.

Reaching the end of the lap, I glance at me watch and I’m stunned to see that I’ve been in the pool over an hour, it’s a wonder Brian hasn’t appeared to check that I’ve not drowned, I hurry out of the water and head for the showers, if I’m quick I should be back in time for the afternoon session on hand to hand fighting. As I reach the showers I slip out of me bikini not bothering to wait until I’ve pulled the curtain across, as I say no one seems to use the pool and I honestly can’t remember seeing anyone use these showers either, so I know I won’t be disturbed. Finally, I’ve finished rinsing me hair, only problem with having it so long is how much effort it takes to keep it clean and tidy; I step out of the shower and grab me waiting towel wrapping it tightly round me to keep some of the chill off.

Standing trying to drag a comb through me hair I’m lost in me own little world, oblivious to anything going on around me, everything seems to be taking longer to deal with these days especially when the tremors start.

‘Well, well, well who have we got here, are you one of the new intake? I don’t think we’ve been introduced.’

My heart almost stops, the voice is instantly recognisable and I realise that he has no idea who he is talking to – the towel covers me scars and of course me hair is quite grey and long, so there’s no way he knows it’s me. I struggle to breath and I can feel the tremors getting worse, me head feels like it’s going to explode, I manage to shout ‘Brian, Brian’ and then everything goes black. This time it feels different, I’m aware of what’s going on but can’t interact with people. I’m aware of being caught before I hit the floor and being held in strong arms, I can smell the distinctive scent of sandalwood soap and Paco Rabanne, so it must be him who caught me. I try to snuggle in closer but me body won’t do what I want it to do. Part of me thinks I should be scared but the rational part of me, that seems to be functioning normally, overrides it and assures me that whatever has happened in the past there’s no way this man would deliberately let me come to harm. As he carries me, gently, I can hear and feel his heart beating against me, slightly faster than normal – is that because he’s realised who I am or because he’s carrying the extra weight? Me brain has finally decided that there’s too much information coming it’s way and now decides the most important thing is to keep me breathing, so therefore it shuts down.

I have no idea how much time has passed but slowly I begin to be aware of me surroundings, I can still smell him so I know he is here, not saying anything but radiating tension, I just feel it in the air. I can hear other voices in the background, Brian and Doyle seem to be having some sort of discussion over whether to call Atkins out or to get him meet me at the safehouse.

I try to add me voice to the conversation but all I can do is mumble ‘take…..me…..there…..going to…..puke’ I hate being sick but unfortunately there’s not a lot I can do about it and me stomach rebels and given where I am I know for a fact, even though I can’t see much at the moment, I have managed to throw up all over him yet again. ‘Sorry…..Will…..bad habit.’ I try to joke but I can tell by the intake of breath that he is having trouble holding on to his temper, for once I decide to shut up and see what they decide. ‘Please…..can’t…..see…..so take me…..back there.’ Yet again I hear that sharp intake of breath and part of me realises that not only is it anger there’s fear mixed in too. I know exactly where his mind has gone – he’s back in ’81, on that fecking Kelly op.

‘Doyle take, whoever she is, Charlie, Anna I don’t fucking know, out to the car and stay there til I come out, I’ll drive her back. Brian, get hold of Atkins and get him on the phone, I want to speak to him before I leave here.’ Ok so that’s how things are going to work out then – I decide that until I’m in the car it’s best that, for once, I keep me mouth firmly shut. ‘But first will someone sort her clothes?’

Eventually Doyle sets me down in the Capri and wraps the old tartan blanket round me, same one from years ago I guess, even though I’m still having trouble making things out.

‘So, what brings you back, don’t you think you’ve done enough damage already?’ spits Doyle at me. ‘Would you believe he loved you back then and all you could do was throw it in his fucking face, I hope you’re happy!’

Great, we’re back to the old hateful Doyle, I half expect him to throw the old arguments back in my face about someone putting me out of me misery ‘maybes I’ve changed, maybes there’s things going on in me life that have made me realise that life’s too fecking short to…..Oh shit!’ I’m slipping again and I can feel a strange sensation, it’s like me whole body is trying to shake itself apart. ‘Get Will, now’ I manage to grind out as I feel meself stretch backwards in the seat, almost bent double, so this is what the start of a fit feels like, is me last coherent thought.

Monday 4 July 1988

Soft warm sheets envelop me and the bed is comfortable, unlike the ones in hospital and there is no smell of fear and death, just the familiar scent of sandalwood. This time I decide to keep me eyes and mouth shut until I can work out who else is in the room however his sixth sense kicks in.

‘Don’t play games, I know you’re awake, do you want me to get Atkins or not?’ Jesus how I’ve missed that voice, even if he is royally pissed with me and just from that tone I know how much he is.

I decide to try and take stock of things before I answer – hearing is working, sense of smell definitely, touch, well I can tell I’m in me own bed and I slowly move all me limbs, yep they’re working. Just one more thing to try – I slowly open me eyes to see a familiar pair of blue eyes regarding me from not three feet away, me breath catches in me throat. Today they are tinged with a hint of ice which means that I am still not Mr Bodie’s, my brain doesn’t react neither does me heart rate change by much, ok wasn’t expecting that, favourite person either that or he’s had a long and enlightening conversation with Atkins.

‘No, things seem to be working as they should. Why are youse still here Will? I’d have thought sitting beside me bed is the last place youse’d want to be considering’ I throw down a small gauntlet to see what he is going to do or say. I try to sit meself up in the bed and next thing I know he’s there helping me, sorting out me pillows and offering me a bottle of water. ‘Thanks, youse can leave me, I don’t plan on trying anything, I’m wiped out’ oops not the right thing to say, there’s a tightening around his mouth and eyes which I know means I’ve hit a raw nerve, he’s so easy for me to read even after six years. I turn away to hide the tears that are threatening, ashamed of how I’ve behaved, I don’t deserve anything from him not the way I’ve treated him. ‘Just go Will, I don’t deserve your time, youse have got more important things to be doing to be sure, than sitting here’ my voice finally breaks.

‘I’m not going anywhere until we have talked about a couple of things’ ok so that’s how things are going to be, the iciness is there in his voice as well as his eyes, I get the impression that it’s going to be Will doing most of the talking. ‘Just when were you going to fucking tell anyone you were back; don’t you ever think about anyone but yourself?’ He’s up on his feet, pacing around the bed.

‘Will, please stop pacing, me head can’t take it, please unless youse want a repeat of earlier?’ Me head is starting to spin and I feel sick, please don’t let me throw up all over him yet again. ‘Get Atkins in to see if he can give me something to stop me puking, please Will, just get him!’

Will gets up and sticks his head out of the door, Atkins is obviously waiting for a summons as he comes straight in.

‘How do you feel?’

‘Stiff, drained and decidedly sick, is there anything youse can give me for the sickness? This is a new one today, can’t recall feeling the nausea before, I suppose I can expect to be adding that to me list of symptoms to look out for, yes? What other ones have I yet to have the pleasure of?’ Jesus me and me big fucking mouth, I see Will stiffen and take a deep breath which means I’m guessing he and Atkins have already had a nice little tete a tete without me being there.

‘Well the quickest way to stop it would be an injection if that’s what you want.’

I sigh and hold out me arm, watching it shake pretty badly even by me own standards, then a pair of strong hands reach out to steady it long enough for Atkins to administer the injection. ‘Should be fairly fast acting’ he says, ‘is everything else about normal?’ I nod and he looks at the pair of us, shaking his head, in sympathy or disbelief I can’t make me mind up, before taking his leave.

I look at me husband, ok no reaction to that and start playing with the platinum band, still no reaction from me head or me heart, strange I’m not sure what is going on here but me body’s not reacting at all the way I thought it would being this close to Will, I throw that one in just to test things – still no reaction. I sit in bed, aware that I must look a total mess, I’m sure there must be snot and sick in me hair but I really couldn’t give a fuck anymore, I’m beyond anything other than trying to put right what shouldn’t have gone wrong, in the time that I’ve got left.

‘What do I call you now – is it Anna or Charlie? It might help if I knew who is was talking to before we continue.’ He goes to stand up again but sits back down, I think he realises that me health is probably more important at the moment. ‘And yes, I’ve spoken to Atkins, technically I’m still your next of kin or had you forgotten that like a couple of other things?’

‘No, I haven’t and for your information Will, there’s a lot of things I have forgotten, even more than youse realise but I’ve not forgotten that or this’ I wave me left hand at him. ‘I may have, run away, but believe me when I say this, not once in the time I’ve been gone did I dishonour me marriage vows, youse have been the only man in me bed for more years than I can remember!’ There it goes again that tightening around the mouth and eyes, I wait to see what, if anything, he will say in reply.

‘Why should I believe you, Charlie?’ so he’s decided to stick with me proper name, is that good or bad, I can’t decide at the moment.

‘Two very simple reasons Will, number 1 – youse know how screwed up I am about, youse know, sex and number 2 – I’m dying Will, what’s the point of lying to youse? Youse wanted to know why I came back, I did have a job to do but that’s someone else’s responsibility now, to try and sort out the past, plus see Atkins – something was telling me that things weren’t right with me head. He’s been looking after me for years and he knows me background – I started getting these shakes, tremors, call them what youse will, then bigger and bigger gaps in memory but the thing that was worrying me the most was the problems with me eyes. No way did I think we’d find what we did nor did I think they wouldn’t be able to operate or even offer me any sort of treatment. Did Atkins tell you how quickly this thing, this tumour has grown – it wasn’t there six months ago, I might just get lucky and have six months to a year left. Not long is it, not really, not in the grand scheme of things but I’ll tell youse this Will, I intend to make the most of whatever fucking time I’ve got left! Now if youse want to be me friend fine if not then say goodbye now, youse have got the choice to be sure I’ll abide by what youse decide.’ I lay back against the pillows, exhausted, I can’t believe how much that has taken out of me, still I suppose it’s an indication of how things will be sooner or later and I can feel the tears start to fall, I’m beyond caring now what Will or anyone thinks of me. I feel so washed out and exhausted that it takes me a couple of minutes to realise that Atkins didn’t just give me a shot for the nausea, he’d added a sedative to the mix, cheeky bastard. I’m away in dreamland before I even know when or if Will left me room.

I’m not sure what woke me but I look at the time and see it is just gone three, then I hear the low voices outside me room, obviously me inbuilt warning system still works, I creep out of bed and open the door a fraction.

‘Well, what the fuck are you still doing here playing babysitter?’ so that’s Mr Doyle which probably means the other voice is likely to be Will or at a push Murph.

‘Does it really bother you that much, playing babysitter? If it does fuck off and get someone else to cover, I’m sure Murph won’t have the same objections as you’ right first time Charlie but if they’re both in here who’s outside? Not that it’s any of my business I try to tune back into what they’re saying.

‘You always did have a soft spot for a lost cause’ replied Doyle, I can just imagine the sneer on his face.

‘And what’s that supposed to mean? The person we are being paid to babysit was, at one time, a friend of yours or had you forgotten that fact? Mind you the way you’ve spoken to and about Charlie, I wonder whether you ever did like her at all.’

‘And as usual you’re acting like a dog with two dicks around her, get your fucking brain out of your balls and look at the facts, she has always had an agenda, all she wants to do is prove that nothing we do matters, she is the only one who can deal with whatever. Why do you think she’s come back now? Have you looked at who is out on parole or will be very soon – your mate, Jimmy Keller. Now why has Charlie Price suddenly appeared after six years, right when he is due for release? Don’t you think it a bit strange, mate?’

‘Christ Doyle, stick the knife in why don’t you! That woman in there is ill, you saw her this afternoon or do you think she was faking it, so she can slip away and take a pot-shot at whoever?’

‘So, the famous Charlie Price has been back here for five minutes and already you’re defending her. Don’t you remember she upped and left you six years ago, not even a year after you’d married her. What does that tell you – she played you good and proper then and now she’s back for another go. Funny how she never divorced you while she was gone – what’s she after, your money?’ People are right, if you listen to conversations you’re not meant to hear, it is usually for a good reason, you never hear anything good about yourself. I waited with bated breath to see what Will would say or do.

‘Listen to me Raymond Doyle, that woman in there is dying, do you hear me dying, that’s why she’s come back now!’ Ok I can hear the catch in his voice, again that’s something I wasn’t expecting but what does it mean – is he upset a friend is dying or does it mean more?

‘Oh, and she’s told you that has she, well if you believe her stories more, fool you. You can believe what you want, one of ours or not I don’t trust her!’

‘Actually, for your information, it was Atkins that told me. Not that you’d be interested Charlie has got an inoperable brain tumour and probably has between six months and a year left!’ I hear footsteps stomp away down the hall and I know that Will has stormed off in an effort to control his temper. There’s something very distinctive about an angry Will, even if I can’t see him I know exactly what expression will be on his face and how hard he is trying to control his emotions, that’s why he’s walked away.

Wednesday 6 July 1988

Another sleepless night and a full day of babysitting ahead, hopefully after the small disagreement we had the other day, Doyle might just get the message that he probably won’t be welcomed with open arms anytime soon by me, things are still rocky between us as it is. To be honest they’ve been pretty bad off the job since well before Charlie left, normally at work things are fine. We’ve worked well together on the streets but now we don’t spend all day every day in each other’s pocket, age has seen us step back a bit from that which helps to a certain degree. Hopefully someone else will have drawn the short straw to assist by providing backup at the safe house. There aren’t many of us left who were around when Sergeant Charlie Price rocked up to use CI5 manpower back in ’80 to break an IRA splinter group in London. I try to think who is still on the duty roster apart from me, Murphy and Doyle – no Lake, Mathieson, King, there’s a few others but like I said not many that would remember Charlie Price. Mind you the number of times Charlie came into HQ were very few and far between if I remember correctly however there is nothing to connect Anna Green to Charlie Price or Duffy for that matter but that is a good thing as some people have very long memories. There has been a price on Duffy’s head for a long time and if anyone makes that connection or the information gets out that she’s back in the country then CI5 are going to have a nasty problem to contend with.

I look at the time and realise that if I’m to be there to relieve the nightshift then I’d better get a move on, just enough time for a quick shower and grab a couple of cold sausages to eat on the way. The safehouse that is being used is a fairly new one and is in a quiet area at the end of a cul de sac so there is no passing traffic or footfall but at the end of the day these places are only as safe as we can make them by keeping them under twenty-four-hour surveillance. I know how much being confined under ‘house arrest’ can grate but in this case there really is no other option other than to put Anna Green on a plane back to where she came from and Cowley has made it perfectly clear she is one of us and deserves the best treatment.

As I drive out to the safehouse I try work out how I feel about this Anna Green turning up, before I knew who she was it was all the usual moans about babysitting but now? Now I don’t know what to think. I had a chat with Murph yesterday, after the row with Doyle and tried to find out what he thought about things – Murphy and Charlie have always had a special brother/sister relationship. He told me he was there when Atkins broke the news regarding Charlie’s health, to say that they were shocked is an understatement, he said he’d never seen Cowley look so pale and old. There seems to have been a strange relationship develop between Charlie and Cowley over the years, Murph even said she calls him George, something he certainly wouldn’t tolerate from the rest of us.

My feelings about seeing Charlie seem to vary, anger, betrayal, fear and lust, after all as far as I’m aware she is still married to me, at least on paper. Can I forgive her for walking out on me almost six years ago, at the moment I’m not sure, probably but is that out of pity for what she’s going through, I don’t know. Do I want her back in my life as my wife, for as long as she’s got left or am I happy to be there for her as a friend? At the moment I’m still trying to come to terms with what Atkins told me, as I said according to all the paperwork we are still each-others next of kin and it was only right that he inform me of the situation. I’m also still trying to get my head around her actually being back in the country. Talk about almost having a heart attack moment out at Warfield, Christ I think mine stopped for a moment and when she did the swan dive at my feet, it was only the training we get that had my reflexes working as fast as they did, unfortunately she seems to make a habit of doing that.

Can I get over the fact that she ran out on me and left me in a piss and rubbish strewn alley in the middle of an op for no apparent reason? I have to give her the chance to explain why she left, where she’s been and what she’s been doing for the last six years just as I have to work out what I want. I’m surprised that a certain thing hasn’t come up yet but then again I would think she’s been struggling to get her head around what Atkins told her. Why did I try to chat up some unknown female? It’s not like I’ve made a habit of it while she’s been gone, in fact I can’t even remember the last time I tried to attract a woman. Although I’ve had a reputation of loving ‘em and leaving ‘em there’s not been another woman in my bed since she left, whether she believes me or not will be another matter. As I remember saying to her, women haven’t meant much to me since I met her and they’ve never lasted long because my heart was already claimed by this brash Irish lass with black hair and blue eyes. Can we go back to how things were, I don’t know I think we both have to see how things go and how this illness is going to affect her. I also said that I’d be there for her and help her get through whatever life threw at us with regard to the brain injury so what’s the difference, brain injury and a tumour? I’m guessing that a lot of the symptoms are pretty similar it’s just the prognosis or lack of it that takes some getting used to.

Thankfully traffic is light and I make it to the safehouse in time to relieve the night shift, one of the new lads, Thomas and Susan. I try to catch Susan on her way to the car as I know she has been the one inside the house.

‘So, how’s our house guest this morning?’

‘Exceedingly grumpy and tetchy to say the least, my God I hope her temper has improved by tonight, I don’t think I could stand another night like last night.’

‘Nothing else, just grumpy?’

‘No, nothing just I don’t like this, why am I still here etc etc. Right I’m off to my bed, have a fun filled day and oh, by the way your partner is waiting for you.’ Susan gives me a peck on the cheek on her way past, strange to think we used to call her Little Miss Prissy all those years ago. So not only have I got to put up with a grumpy Charlie, still have trouble calling her Anna, Mr Jealous is here as well just what I need.

Having seen Thomas and Susan safely away and checked that the handover hasn’t attracted any undue attention I head into the house via the side passage, hoping to avoid bumping into Doyle before I can grab a coffee. Unfortunately, best laid plans and all that, I bump into him as soon as I open the kitchen door.

‘Morning’ I grunt as I head for the kettle. ‘Our house guest up yet?’

‘Haven’t got a clue, why you desperate to see her? I don’t think she’s changed in the last six years but then I’ve not looked closely unlike you!’ Ok, so nothing has changed since the other night, in fact I’d even go as far as to say young Raymond has been gnawing over the bones of my relationship for all of that time and has decided that he has got something to say.

I sigh ‘go on then, get it off your chest whatever it is you want to say. Shall we go into the other room so Anna can hear what it is that is so important, after all I’d hate for her not see how glad her friends are to see her back. Come on don’t waste time, just get on with it.’ I snap at him and at the moment I’m having trouble actually remembering that we were all good friends, the four of us together, before the Kelly op. That op seemed to mark a turning point in mine and Ray’s friendship, he seemed to have trouble that somethings you don’t share with some people, I’ve known Charlie a lot longer than I have him but still he can’t accept that.

‘Why are we playing nursemaid to, her, I mean as far as I’m aware she upped and left this organisation six years ago but now she’s back how convenient that she can wrap people round her little finger. This department owes her nothing, I owe her nothing she came along and managed to get everyone jumping through hoops just because she is dying. Well I for one won’t mourn her loss if it means the department can go back to the way things were before we took on all those who seem to think they can do a better job than us.’

‘Just what is your problem with Charlie, once upon a time you liked her, were friends I don’t understand what changed, I’ve never known you act like this with anyone not in all the time we’ve worked together. It’s jealousy isn’t? You can’t stand the thought that someone could come between us, that someone knows me better than you, is that what the problem is? That I’ve known Charlie Price longer than I’ve known you, you really are something else, mate, if you thought that…’ I can’t actually put into words what I’m thinking it seems to be so ridiculous that Ray doesn’t like having to share, it’s so childlike that it makes me laugh.

‘Go on laugh, I’m sure you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when she ups and leaves you again. Never could resist a lost cause could you.’ He turns and stomps off outside, leaving me in the kitchen.

Friday 8 July 1988

Sitting here waiting for the car to collect me to take me up to Hereford for Peter and Jenny’s for their silver wedding anniversary, it’s hard to believe how much has changed over the last three weeks since Atkins dropped his bombshell on me. Today I feel good, no tremors and no clouded vision, if he hadn’t shown me the scans I wouldn’t have believed that there was anything wrong with me. In fact, nothing untoward has happened since Monday, apart from there’s been a change in who has taken on the responsibility of me babysitting – it would appear that the majority of it has fallen to Murphy and Will. Thankfully, after me little bit of eaves dropping, I’ve not seen anything of Doyle but I guess he must be around somewhere – from my vague memories of babysitting jobs there’s always one inside the property and one outside. Given that the two who have been splitting the indoor shifts are Murph and Will, that means Doyle and at least one other must have drawn the short straw, the only plus side for them is it is the middle of summer.

Me bag is packed for the weekend with some glad rags to wear to the party tomorrow night and for appearances sake I’ve thrown some fatigues in to wear when I call in to see Major Nairn. The only fly in the ointment is the fact that I’ve not felt up to going out to find something to wear tomorrow night and the only suitable outfit I have is the blue velvet dress. Every time I think about wearing that dress I feel sick and ashamed, ashamed and guilty for causing numerous people problems because I have so many hang ups about fuck knows how many things. The last time I wore it I was a married woman with a husband, now all I have is a platinum band and some memories, memories which I can’t deal with just now. Since our brief conversation on Monday, Will and I have only talked in generalities, I haven’t had the guts to try and find out whether he is prepared to be me friend or not. Murph and I seem to be able to chat for hours about any old shite, he knows what is safe for me to talk about and he’s been filling me in on who is still left with CI5 that I would know. As far as the general population at HQ is concerned, looking after Anna Green is down as a full-on babysitting job of a valuable asset, valuable to who and why has not been advertised. I suppose in one sense that’s what I am but the idea is not for me to be in protective custody until I can testify, as is the usual case but to keep me safe until I die.

As I watch a car pulls up on the drive and the driver gets out, it’s Murphy, how much more will I owe this wonderful man before I die? I love Murphy like a brother, have done for a long time, but he will never be anything more than that. Don’t get me wrong, Michael Patrick Murphy is a very attractive man but he is not for me, no one will ever have that place in me heart, it’s already taken by the other man outside. I stand back from the window, somehow me training still seems to kick in without me consciously thinking about it and watch what appears to be a heated exchange between the two of them. I have no idea what they are discussing but I guess it must concern me in some way, as there seems to be a lot of arm waving in the direction of the house and the cars parked outside. Well whatever it is about, I’m sure one or the other will tell me what’s going when they decide the time is right. Me standing at the window won’t change whatever is going on, so I wander into the kitchen to find yet another bottle of water. Glancing at the kettle as I reach into the fridge I’m tempted to make meself a coffee but realise, like a lot of things these days, it really isn’t worth the problems it will cause me later. I’ve kind of got used to having to stick to a sort of set regime that Atkins has given me – no caffeine, no alcohol, plenty of fruit and vegetables along with the numerous tablets I now have to take. I’m sure if youse were to pick me and give me a shake I’d rattle, I take that many different pills every day, pain killers, vitamins, anti-nausea ones, muscle relaxants to help the tremors, sleeping tablets you name it I’m probably taking it.

Realising that the pair of them are likely to be some time, I wander back into the living room and sit down to wait, part of me is looking forward to seeing Peter and Jenny but then again I know it’s going to be very difficult having to explain things to them. Nairn is a different kettle of fish, fairly straight forward conversation regarding medical discharge – hopefully Atkins has already forwarded me latest set of medical notes for the Medical Officer to review. To be honest as much as I was unsure of Nairn when I first met him, he turned out to be an ok boss – happy for the training sergeants to run things amongst ourselves and not overstep the mark, of course we did get pretty close to it on one or two occasions. At least that conversation should be fairly impersonal, just sorting out what kind of payment their prepared to make and how long it will take to come through, knowing my luck it will come through the day after I die.

As I’m sat thinking of the irony of receiving me pay out after I die, or when I’m so far gone that I can’t enjoy I hear the front door open and close. I grab me bag and head out into the hall and walk straight into Will, not what I was expecting.

‘That all you’re taking with you?’

‘Why? Youse know me, travel as light as possible’ I try to keep me voice as light as possible. ‘I take it Murph’s waiting in the car?’

‘Nope’ ok, so today I’m going to get the man of few words ‘hurry up, you should know that moving from building to car is one of the most likely times for a hit.’ Will grabs me by the arm and almost pulls me out through the side door into the passage which leads out on to the drive. The silver Capri is parked, engine running and doors open, Murph is stood watching the road, he nods at Will then I’m bundled into the front seat and me bag chucked in the boot.

‘Oi, watch what youse are doing with me bag’ I snap loudly ‘I’d like me stuff to be in a vaguely presentable state when I get to Her…..’

‘Will you ever learn to shut up, woman’ Will also snaps as he climbs in behind the wheel and floors the accelerator. ‘Murph will not be escorting you, you’ve got me, that is if you can bear to be in my company.’

I get the feeling that the drive to Hereford is going to be, how shall I put it, interesting to say the least but there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it except grin and bear it.

‘Ok, I take it youse’ll drop me off at Peter’s then youse will be back on the road?’

I glance sideways to take in the powerful profile and my heart gives a little skip, not a gut-wrenching pound but I notice that his hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles are white.

‘Nope.’

‘Surely it won’t be that late when we get there will it?’

‘Nope.’ Ok now I’m at a loss as to where this is going, maybes he’s going to stay in a hotel and travel back sometime tomorrow after a night in the Sergeant’s Mess.

‘Let me guess, youse are going to the Mess tonight, meet up with some of your old mates?’

‘Nope.’

Great, Mr Congeniality is in sparkling form today so I decide to sit back and try to watch the scenery but before long I realise it is making me feel decidedly queasy and me head is not at all happy with things moving quickly past the window. As that seems to have been a dismal failure, I resign meself to trying to doze off as it appears that conversation is going to be exceedingly stilted. I tip the seat back a fraction and close me eyes, willing meself to drift away with the motion of the car but I can feel Will’s eyes keep sliding over me, I don’t know what he’s doing only that every few minutes I can feel meself being scrutinised, there’s no other word for it.

‘Right, have I suddenly grown two heads or something’ I say turning to look at him. Oh shit, wrong thing to say as I see his hands tighten even more on the wheel and those tell-tale muscles round his eyes and mouth do their thing. ‘Sorry, me and me big fecking mouth, that’s not how I meant it, come on Will please talk to me? I’ve tried looking out of the window and all that does it make me feel sick and wobbly, I’ve tried sleeping, how about I try talking to youse instead?’

‘Whatever.’

‘Is there anything youse want to talk about?’

‘Whatever.’ I swear I’m going to lose me shite soon and we haven’t even got out on the motorway!

‘Why are you taking the time to drive me to Hereford if it’s such a chore?’

‘Because,’ there’s a pause and I wonder what is coming next ‘I am, problem?’

For fucks sake I feel like screaming, all this non-committal stuff is going to give me a headache so I decide to take the bull by the horns so to speak ‘right, I know youse don’t want to be stuck in a car for a couple of hours with me but at least do me the courtesy of telling me why youse and Murphy seem to have decided that no one else is going to babysit me.’

‘Why do you think the two of us are doing it?’ So today it looks like I’m going to be the one doing all the talking, still if it stops me head from exploding, I can at least try to be civil.

‘Probably someone has worked out I’m less likely to kill the pair youse, mind if youse carry on the way youse are Will, I might just go ahead and do it, who’s going to convict someone like me?’ Great choice of words, not, there’s another intake of breath and tightening of various muscles, when will I learn not to antagonise the man beside me? ‘By the way I heard youse talking the other night with Doyle, yes I know eavesdropping isn’t good for people and yes I did hear all of it right up to where youse stormed off. Please Will, just tell me what’s going on in that head of yours, don’t make me suffer any more than I am…’ I can’t finish what I’ve started saying and turn to try watching the countryside again but it’s no good I have to shut me eyes before I puke. I realise that I’m being a coward but for once maybe backing away from a confrontation might just be the best thing to do.

I come awake with a jolt as the car stops and me brain is a bit behind, being woken suddenly seems to do that and has done for years. ‘What, where are we?’ I struggle to form a coherent sentence but luckily Will has seen this before so hopefully he won’t go into full on, what, protective, over concerned mode.

‘We’ve arrived, stop sitting there like a drowning fish and go knock, let them know we’re here, I’ll grab your bag.’

Me brain is still playing catch up as I get out of the car, I should know where we are but for some reason nothing is ringing any bells, I turn back to the car and see Will getting not one but two bags out of the boot. ‘Humour me Will, where’s here and who I am I supposed to be telling we’re here?’ I can see from the expression on his face as he looks up from grabbing the bags, that he’s not sure whether I’m pulling his leg or not. ‘I’m serious Will, who I am I supposed to be telling we’re here?’

‘Don’t worry I’ll deal with it’ he says as he walks up to the door and knocks. I’m still not sure where I am and why, there are hints from Will that he is still not best pleased with me for some reason but I push them aside as the door opens.

Saturday 9 July 1988

I quietly slip out of the bedroom, careful not to wake my babysitter who is sleeping on a camp bed in my room, not an easy thing to do but I manage it. The least said about that arrangement the better. I have already made me feelings known about the subject but as usual the subject of me health and the possibility of middle of the night fits and choking was thrown back in me face, along with the fact that it was Atkins who had laid down that little law. As I creep out of the room I glance at me watch, it’s just gone seven and if I’m quiet I might just be able to slip out of the house and be away before anyone notices I’ve gone. By time I get out to the garage I’ve managed to collect me battered leather jacket and boots from Peter’s boot room, where they’ve been languishing for some time. Reaching into the pocket, I’m relieved to find that the keys for the Moto Guzzi are still where I left them, I know I’m breaking all the rules here but I need to do this, even if it is only this one time. I could have asked Will to take me out on the bike but the one-sided discussion wouldn’t be worth it and not only that I don’t fancy riding pillion. I’m too much of a control freak and adrenaline junkie to be anyone’s bitch on a bike.

I open the garage door and stand looking at the bike, the odd memory comes back but nothing like I’d expected. Discretion makes me push the bike out to the road, no mean feat and by time I park it at the kerb I need to take a couple of minutes to get me breath back, I climb on to the bike and just sit there relishing the freedom. I turn the key in the ignition and the big bike roars into life, the main reason I struggled out to the road with it is how loud it is, especially on a sleepy Saturday morning and I really didn’t fancy waking up the whole house. Sitting at the side of the road, feeling the vibrations from the engine, I try to work out the last time I actually rode it and come to the conclusion it would have been just before I left England back in September ’82. Thankfully Peter, or someone else, has maintained it for me and it feels as smooth as ever as I open up the throttle and pull away.

I check the time and decide that if I’m sensible I can make it out to Pen Y Fan and back before I see Nairn this afternoon, the weather looks set to stay sunny and dry, so I point the big bike towards the Brecon Beacons. Riding along in the sun I feel alive and I’m relieved to find that despite all me problems I’m able to control the big bike with ease and can cope with everything that riding a motor bike entails. I’m able to keep an eye on the road, in front and behind, anticipate the conditions and other road users and just generally enjoy the freedom of being on the road which thankfully is relatively quiet at this time of day. By nine I can see Pen Y Fan in front of me and the rest of the Beacons spreading out in the morning haze – it’s going to be a fantastic day and I wish that I was able to spend more time out here on me own. I’d hoped on this visit back, to be able to complete the Fan Dance again but that chance is lost to me for ever now, there’s no way Atkins or the training team at Hereford would sanction me being allowed to take part, even with full medical support. Still it’s not like I haven’t completed it in the past, the last time being after the disastrous trip to London, just before I ran away. A time of four hours ten minutes is allowed to complete the fifteen-mile course whilst carrying a 25kg Bergen and it is normally held at the end of the first week of selection. I’ve done it as a candidate back on me selection for 14 Company and then again on several occasions whilst on the training team Hereford and completed it on each occasion comfortably within the time. Admittedly the last couple of occasions, were without medical permission but hey I’ve always been a rebel. It’s safe to say, if Atkins had heard what I’d been up to I’d have been out of a job, thankfully the MO was a little more sympathetic shall we say, especially after a couple of pints in the Mess.

I sit on the big bike, taking the time to look around at the spectacular views stretching as far as the eye can see, taking a sip from me ever present bottle of water and realise that stupidly I should have brought either something to eat with me or some money with which to buy something. Still I think going without won’t hurt for one day, it’s not like I’ve never gone without food before. Images drift through me mind but they are fleeting and I have trouble pinning them down before they’re gone. Some of them I think are due to where I am but as to when or if they actually happened, I can’t say. Hopefully I will be able to hang on to the memory of this magical place but knowing me brain it’s highly unlikely so I sit for as long as I can just enjoying it. Looking at me watch I reluctantly start the big bike and turn back towards Hereford to attend a meeting I don’t want to have. After that, well I’m not even going to think about what the fallout from this little trip will be, spectacularly messy springs to mind.

Riding back from Sterling Lines and the meeting with Nairn, I try to replay what was said but I’m having trouble concentrating on the bike and the meeting, I think with hindsight I’ve crammed too much into the day. I’m tired and me brain is beginning to struggle, so I’m glad when I finally pull up outside Peter’s garage and turn off the engine. Not only is me brain exhausted I find me legs are a bit wobbly when I climb off the bike and I nearly collapse, not one of me smartest moves to be honest – ride for over three hours after years of not being on a bike. Bike safely locked away in the garage I re-trace me steps of this morning and leave me jacket and boots in the boot room on the way upstairs. All I want to do is fall on the bed and sleep for hours but I realise that sleep will have to wait – tonight is the party for Peter and Jenny’s anniversary. I manage to make it all the way upstairs to me room and into the bathroom to run a bath without encountering anyone. I collect me dress for this evening and retreat to the bathroom, locking the door behind me, strip off, climb into the inviting water and relax, hoping to relieve me aches and pains.

Suddenly there is a loud bang, I’ve no idea what is going on and then it is accompanied by shouting.

‘Open this fucking door, else I’m going to do it!’ I struggle to make sense of what is going on. ‘Last warning madam.’ The lock on the door is one of those that slides across, the type that can be undone from outside with a pen knife or screwdriver. The next thing I know is one very angry or should that be one seething and concerned Will is in the bathroom.

‘What,’ I say not even bothering to cover me modesty, it’s not like he hasn’t seen me naked before, ‘are youse doing in here? Can’t I have a bath in peace?’

‘No, you fucking can’t, what would have happened if, if…’ Will is spluttering with rage, something which I have only seen a couple of times since I’ve known him.

‘Nothing happened’ I say as I try to get out of the bath but me legs don’t want to co-operate after having been on the bike for so long and I end up slipping under the water. ‘It might just happen now if youse don’t give me a hand getting out of this bath. And, anyways why are youse so concerned if youse can’t abide being around me?’ I manage to splutter once I surface again. ‘For someone who doesn’t care, youse seem to care that I haven’t drowned!’ I’m tired and cranky, slipping in the bath and having someone force open a locked door have managed to make me even more so.

I try a second time to climb out of the bath but as I go to stand up Will reaches down and picks me, plonking me down without ceremony and I grab me towel, more as something to do rather than cover me modesty. ‘Thanks’ I grind out between me teeth, at this particular moment I’m trying desperately to hang on to me temper, as I guess he is as well, if the look on his face is anything to go by. ‘Well, is there anything else youse want to comment on?’ I barge past him to check what the time is, thankfully I’ve got plenty of time to get ready before I need to leave for the party.

‘Yes plenty, but let’s start with the small matter of where the fuck you’ve been today – do you know how close we were to putting out a missing person for you? Luckily someone up at the Lines said you’d been in a meeting with Nairn, they also happened to mention that you were carrying a bike helmet, now why would that be? I think you’ve got some serious explaining to do madam, don’t you?’

‘Like I said Will, for someone who claims not care youse are acting real concerned. I’ve been out, I need to have some space and I can’t with youse ranting at me every five minutes! I’ll tell youse where I’ve been, though why the fuck I should is beyond me, after all youse aren’t keen on being particularly nice to me at the moment. I went out to Pen Y Fan, there are youse satisfied?’ I hear the sharp intake of breath. ‘I had to go Will, don’t youse see, today might have been me last chance to go, I want some happy memories to think on, that’s if they stay in me mind. I am dying William Bodie and I intend to do the things that make me happy while I can and if youse can’t accept that well, there’s nothing I can do about that!’

‘Christ, woman do you have to be so blunt!’ he pales at me words.

‘Youse know me Will, always called a spade a spade not a digging implement, that’s how I am, I’m not planning on changing not until things get to the point…’ I turn away, tears threatening and I’m not prepared to show any weakness in front of this man. ‘I will carry on living me life the way I want until I can’t physically cope.’

‘You’re telling me you rode that bike of yours all the way out to Pen Y Fan without telling anyone where you were going? Why didn’t you leave a fucking note, we’ve been going frantic here. I even phoned London to see, I don’t know why, anything could have happened to you did you think about that? I was all for phoning the hospitals but Peter said to wait. What would have happened if you’d had a fit or a fall or, or’ his voice gives up at this point, worry or just unable to put into words what might have happened?

‘Nothing happened, I came back in one piece, none of those things happened. What are youse going to do – make me sit a in a padded room with nothing to hurt me, watched either in person or on a monitor? I can’t and won’t live me life like that. Do youse know I’d planned on doing the Fan Dance this trip home? I had so many things I wanted to do while I was here but I won’t be able to do any of them now! Just listen to yourself Will, nothing happened, stop trying to let me be me, all I keep hearing is how unfair I’m being. I can’t cope with all your restrictions; you’ve got to let me have some space. Let me lock the bathroom door, let me sleep by meself, let me wander out for a while – by meself!’

‘You just don’t get it do you? I was worried about what had happened to you.’ Ok, so I wasn’t expecting that, a full-blown row yes but Mr Cool telling me, after what I did to him, that he was worried, I don’t know what to say and end up bursting into tears.

‘Sorry’ I manage to mumble as I collapse on the bed, tears flowing freely. ‘I’m so sorry Will, I wanted to be me, Charlie Price, just for a short while, doing what I’ve always done, is that so very wrong?’ I turn on to me side, back towards him and bury me face in the pillow, sobbing me heart out for everything, all the bad things I’ve done, the people I’ve hurt, the things I’ve lost over the years and all the things that I can’t now do. Reality has caught up with me and I don’t know how to deal with it, alone. It’s not that I’m afraid of dying, we’ve all got to go sometime and to be honest I thought I’d have been dead years ago with two in the back of me head, buried fuck knows where. It’s the fact that I know that things are going to get fucking shite on the way and I’m facing the prospect of being alone – the being alone is the scary part.

I feel the bed dip and a tentative hand reach out and touch me on me shoulder, then it’s gone. ‘I’ll wake you in a couple of hours, will that give you enough time to get ready?’

I nod, unable to speak. As I drift off, I can’t swear to it, but it felt like there was a soft kiss in me hair, then I hear the door softly close and I’m away.

One minute I’m asleep the next there’s someone in the room, I keep me eyes closed and reach carefully under me pillow for the Browning ‘get the fuck out of me room, I’m warning youse, I know how to use this’ I say slowly and deliberately as I thumb back the hammer. I look at the intruder and part of me brain seems to recognise them but I can’t put a name to the face and I notice that strangely they’re not armed, which, surely if they were here to kill me, they would be?

‘Relax madam, it’s only me Will, put the hardware away’ says the familiar man holding his hands out for me to see ‘I woke you suddenly, sorry. Come on minx, it’s time to get ready that’s if you’re still going out tonight or do you want to stay here?’

‘Oh fuck, Will, did I just do what I think I did?’ I put down the Browning having made sure it’s safe, old habits die hard but for safety’s sake, this time I even remove the magazine, as I don’t trust meself. I realise that me hands are shaking; I don’t know if it’s me brain or fear of what could have happened that’s causing it this time.

‘Hey, calm down, it’s bound to happen just shows your reflexes are working but I honestly don’t think you would have pulled the trigger would you?’ he sits on the end of the bed, watching me closely.

A vague feeling of déjà vu comes and goes ‘but this isn’t the first time I’ve pulled a gun of youse is it? Christ I must be losing it if I’ve done it before. Sooner or later Will I’m going to end up shooting someone, most likely a friend, how am I going to stop meself unless youse take it away, go on just take it.’ I pick up the Browning and thrust it towards him ‘just take it, I can’t be trusted around it anymore’ I’m almost in tears again and I can’t stop shaking.

Suddenly he’s up, rooting around on the bedside cabinet ‘here take these, they are the right ones aren’t they?’ I’m handed two different tablets and a bottle of water, I nod gratefully and sit back against the headboard, forgetting that I’m not wearing anything, I quickly try to pull the sheet up but can’t quite manage it. Will sits back down on the end of the bed and gives me a strange look, I can’t quite place whether it’s longing or regret. I take the tablets and make to get out of bed as I can see time is getting on but I’m wary of upsetting the atmosphere, it’s almost as if Will is waiting for something, but what I don’t know.

‘Charlie,’ he says me name in a strange way ‘never mind, how do you feel, any better?’

I nod, not trusting meself to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing and ruining whatever might be brewing. I look closely at the man sitting on the end of me bed, me husband in name only and I wish, maybes it’s too late and there’s too much hurt on both sides but I wish I could turn the clock back to another night like this. Another night in this very house, back when things were right between us and as I look at Will I can see he is back in the past as well. I wonder if he is thinking the same thoughts as me. I blush as I catch him looking at me and he gives me a searching look before standing up, carefully I notice and turning towards the bathroom. I watch him disappear, presumably to get ready for the do which is being held in the Officer’s Mess. I’m pretty sure he was thinking about the same thing I was, just by the way he gingerly got up off the bed and turned quickly away. If this man is so unconcerned and couldn’t care less for me why did he feel the need to hide, what I’m guessing was his arousal, from me?

By the time I wander downstairs Peter is in the kitchen tidying away, he and Jenny are staying in a hotel tonight, so things are neat before they leave.

‘Wow, that dress really doesn’t date and how do you manage to still fit in after what ten, fifteen years?’

‘Hard work and not eating, mainly.’ Idle chit chat, both of us skirting around difficult issues. ‘Peter,’ I hesitate, not sure how to begin the conversation ‘I just want to say…’

‘Don’t worry, I know what you’re trying to say’ he comes over and gives me a hug ‘don’t bother trying to explain any of it. Bodie told me everything on the phone, before the pair of you turned up. You know you are always welcome here, just you or both of you’ I snort at him ‘just give him time to come to terms with things. You do know that he cares very deeply for you, don’t you?’

I slip out of Peter’s arms and consider what he’s saying ‘I really don’t know Peter, once upon I time I’d have agreed with youse but now? I have no idea what’s going on in his head, I think he cares as a friend, why else would he be here, beyond that, no there’s nothing. Can youse really blame him – I ran out almost six years ago, no explanation if youse remember, I just upped and left him. I came back here and got on with me job and when the course was over, left. I’ve never apologised to you and Jenny either, never gave youse an explanation. Is it any wonder he is only ever going to be me friend?’

‘You had your reasons, I know it was something personal, we could see how much you were hurting during those last few weeks but you did what you thought was best at the time. You are welcome to come and stay, I mean that, we will do all we can for you for as long as you want. I think you might just be surprised Charlie, as to how much you mean to him. Give him time, you suddenly appear back here out of the blue, as far as he’s concerned for the first time in six years, of course he’s going to be angry and confused. Not only that he’s suddenly expected to act as your babysitter and to top it all he finds out you’re ill. I know you’ve been back in between but you didn’t make any effort to contact anyone apart from us and Cowley’ he gestures for me to be quiet and let him finish. ‘You have always been welcome here and no, neither of us have broken your confidence and told anyone you’ve been back. Look at it from Bodie’s point of view – you vanish for almost six years, then all of a sudden you appear back in CI5, on top of which you drop the bombshell that you’re dying. For a time, he thought you were dead, that you’d gone back to Belfast and become one of the disappeared, I thought he might end up the same way, you know walk in front of a bullet to escape his misery. How do you think you’d react if things were reversed? Give him and yourself, time to come to terms with everything. I think you’ll be surprised if you do, don’t push him away Charlie, let him be there for you but let him deal with things his own way.’

I turn away, unwilling for Peter to see the tears in my eyes, I only got to know Peter and Jenny through Will, way back when but I know he is a true friend. Every time things have gone badly wrong in me life; they’ve been there to help me get back on me feet. After Belfast and before I left they took me in and let me deal with things me own way, usually with a bottle or two, without interfering, no explanations or questions. I know I’ve treated them a bit like a hotel, turn up, stay for a while, do me own thing and then disappear without a word. It’s people like this that I came back to see, to try and give them and me, some sort of closure, of course now it’s become even more important that I try to set things right. ‘The problem is, Peter, I don’t have time do I? Nobody is prepared to even hazard a guess on how long I’ve got, not only that, how long do I have before I can’t cope – will I lose me sight, the ability to walk, talk, dress me self. I’m already losing memories, even more than before, do youse know I’ve got a copy of me file, going right back to when I signed on, just so I can remember things? Christ what a way to live, having to read about me own life and career. Atkins can’t tell me anything and as for the consultants I’m not sure if it’s they can’t or they won’t give me any answers. I’m forty-two, I know given me job I’ve done well to get to this age but I thought with no one shooting at me I’d have a few more good years yet! Do youse know the one thing I wish I could do?’

Peter looks at me, trying to understand what I’m going through ‘what and is there anything we can do to help?’

‘There’s nothing youse can do in reality it’s far too dangerous, I’d really like to see me cousins Davey and Paddy one more time before I die. Unfortunately, that’s the one thing that’s not going to happen – I can’t go back to Belfast and as for them coming over here and finding out me whole life has been a lie, well…’

Saturday 9 July 1988

The party for Peter and Jenny’s silver wedding is in full swing but my hearts not quite in it tonight, as much as they are good friends and to have been invited is an honour, I’d rather be anywhere than here tonight. There are too many memories of happier times tied to this place, last time we were all here, things were looking good for me and Charlie. I remember it being Remembrance Day and we had been invited to the Officer’s Mess by Freddie Nairn, quite why I don’t know but Charlie had been summoned by him for a meeting. I look through the crowd trying to pick her out in the mass of people, she should be easy to spot she’s wearing that blue velvet dress. In that dress she looks stunning, not that she is aware of the fact, all Charlie says is ‘it shows off me scars’ and ‘I’ve got nothing else suitable’, I couldn’t believe it when I found her in the kitchen wearing it. The sight of her in it took me back almost seven years, it turned me on something chronic that night, I spent most of the evening in an exceedingly uncomfortable state and I’m struggling again tonight. Apart from the fact that her hair is greyer now and longer, it’s like time has stood still and things are as they were but unfortunately I know that is not the case, how many more nights like this will there be? If things go the way the doctors are predicting there won’t be another one like this, even this is likely to prove to be too stressful and tiring for Charlie.

Since dinner we’ve hardly said two words to each other, she disappeared to chat to a couple of the guys from the Regiment who were on the training team with her and I found my way over to some old timers from way back in my day. It’s been pleasant catching up with people I haven’t seen for years, we’ve all moved on, it would appear that a couple of them have set up a successful security business and it would appear that they’re always on the lookout for new blood. Thankfully nobody has mentioned a certain ex-colleague which is surprising given he is due for release in the next couple of weeks, I’m sure if the contract which was out on him had been carried out, then the conversation would have been different. Doing the job, I do and having the connections that go hand in hand with it, can make talking with old friends difficult but at least here certain things can be discussed fairly freely.

Bored of talking shop I wander over to the bar, pity it’s got to be something non-alcoholic but for now it’s a case of grin and bear it. Peter has booked for the pair of them to have a couple of nights away in some romantic hotel which leaves me as night nurse. I lean against the bar, drink in hand and try to pick Charlie out of the crowd, almost immediately I spot her over near the windows, sat with her head tipped back against the wall. As soon as I spot her, her eyes open and she looks straight at me, as if some invisible link joins us, I feel a thrill of arousal coil through me and I tip my glass in her direction, smiling over the rim. Christ a single look across a crowded room and I’m lost, just like last time – I turn away and try to consider how I feel. I keep moving around the room, chatting to people I know and every so often I look up to see Charlie trying to track me through the mass of people. Finally, I manage to catch up with Peter and Jenny who are preparing to leave for their hotel, I give Jenny a long hug and shake hands with Peter.

‘Give yourselves a chance to come to terms with things, you need each other’ he says holding on to my hand. ‘I’ve seen how you look at each other when you think the other’s not watching, it’s written all over both of your faces, Bodie. You need each other, don’t blow your chance at happiness, grab it with both hands, no matter how long it lasts, love is hard to find and when you do find it, you need to hang on to it, through good times and bad.’

I don’t know what to say, how is it others can see what the pair of us struggle with ‘cheers Peter, I’ll think on what you’ve said at the moment I just don’t know where things are going, so much has happened…’ I leave the rest of what I was going to say, he knows me of old and what I can be like.

‘Just don’t leave it too long Bodie.’ With that comment the pair of them are off saying goodbye to the other guests. Finally, I spot Jenny go up to Charlie and hold her in a long hug, obviously telling her something important but what I don’t know, I’m too far away. After the anniversary couple leave, I wander back towards the bar and am surprised to see Nairn seek out Charlie, they appear to talk for a few minutes and then he shakes her hand as he turns and leaves her by herself. I lose track of Charlie in the crowd for a while but then it parts and I see Charlie stood by the long windows looking out over the parade ground and I decide to see how far this game of cat and mouse might go. I walk slowly over to where she is stood, she sees me approaching in the window’s reflection but I keep moving until I’m almost touching her, I’m close enough that I can feel her body heat and smell her unique perfume.

I move even closer until we are touching and I lean in to whisper in her ear ‘are you ready to go, minx?’ I feel her start and wobble as if she is about to collapse. As she nods and turns around I take hold of her arm to stop her from falling and harming herself, I can tell she is tired as we walk out to the car and head back to Peter’s. It’s only a short drive back to Peter’s from the Lines, no more than twenty minutes but it seems within seconds that Charlie is asleep. I keep glancing over to make sure she is asleep and I can’t help but notice how tired she looks, her face is grey and drawn, there are new lines that must have happened over the years we’ve been apart but the most obvious change is her hair – long and almost grey now instead of the short glossy black it once was. My emotions bubble away and I try to work out what I’m feeling for the woman at my side – do I still love her enough to be there and support her or is it only friendship and lust, can I put the hurt and rejection aside and go back to how things were?

When we arrive back at Peter’s I open her door for her and offer her the chance of help – surprisingly Charlie accepts the offer gracefully, as we go in through the front door I notice her look at the stairs and this time she asks for my help. I bend down and gather her in my arms and carry her upstairs to the bedroom, she takes a sneaky peak at my face so I decide to carry on with the teasing ‘still want to play cat and mouse, minx?’ I ask with a feral smile.

Saturday 9 July 1988

I take yet another look at me watch and realise that only half an hour has passed since I last checked the time, I’m tired me legs ache and I really wish I could have a decent drink, a small glass of champagne with which to toast Peter and Jenny is all I’ve been allowed to have. I’m standing by the long windows that overlook the parade ground, watching everyone else have a good time and I realise that there are in fact very few people here I know. Sure there’s a few guys from the Regiment I know by sight and some of the old training team are still around but apart from them, Nairn, Peter and Jenny, plus Will that’s it. Standing around isn’t doing me legs any good and I look for a chair from which to watch the goings on, the other thing that is beginning to grate is the twat who is doing the music, it’s far too loud but then again that could just be me. The longer I sit or stand around the more I’m struggling with me head, I can’t take anything for it, as everyone seems to think I’m going to try and take them the way I normally do, hence they are in the control of Will.

I finally manage to grab a chair and sit down, glad to be able to take the weight off me legs, what doesn’t help is the fact that I’ve had to put on a pair of shoes and I am not used to standing around in heels. Me usual attire is either me comfortable old track suit and trainers or me bike boots, neither of which would have been suitable tonight. Part of me is glad that I came along, after all Peter and Jenny are some of me oldest friends but part of me is struggling to deal with too many people and the fact that this could well be me last social gathering. I search through the crowd in the Mess, looking for the one person I want to see, we’ve not spoken much since after the meal, Will went in search of his old mates while I chatted with some of the training team. Tonight, I know he won’t be drinking, after all I’m not allowed to drive, also as it will only be the two us in the house tonight, he will be me sole carer so he needs to be sober in case anything happens during the night.

I can’t see Will through the mass of people still enjoying the party, so I tip me head back and close me eyes in an attempt to lessen the pounding in me head. Suddenly I become aware that someone is watching me, it can only be one person and I open me eyes to see him gazing at me across the room, he tips his glass in me direction. I feel a frisson of arousal coil its way through me and settle in me stomach, the look he is giving me is, I don’t know what it is – anger, longing, desire, regret, they’re all there to some certain degree. He moves and I lose him in the crowd but I know he’s there watching me, he’s up to something, what I don’t know but suddenly the evening has become a little more interesting. It looks like it’s going to turn into a game of cat and mouse, each of us trying to observe the other without being seen, however we haven’t got to where we are without being the best in our jobs and we were both trained by the same people, so we both know the same tricks.

It seems strange sitting where I am, it’s as though the party is going on and I’m not part of it, like I’m watching a washed-out film with the odd person in it I recognise. I don’t have a clue how much of it I’ll remember but I try to store away as much as possible. I glance at me watch, it’s a little after eleven, as I notice Peter and Jenny head towards the door, much like a wedding they are about to leave the reception. Jenny spots me sitting alone and comes over, pulling me to me feet she gives me lingering hug ‘trust him Charlie, give him another chance, he really does love you and you need him’ then she’s gone to find Peter. I stand and watch them leave, puzzling over what Helen said, I can’t work out how these two people can see what neither of us can and I wonder what has been said between them while I’ve been away. Will, as Murphy said is a close-mouthed bastard, just like me and I can’t believe that he’d come out and tell Peter or Jenny, how he felt or feels about me, talking about emotions has never come easy for either of us, not even to each other.

I watch the pair of them leave and I wonder to meself if I’ll take Peter up on his offer and come to stay with them again but I know deep down that I won’t, I can’t impose meself on others and expect them to have to deal with what will come. I turn away and look for Will but as usual he’s done his disappearing act and instead I spot Major Nairn heading me way.

‘Sir’ I address him respectfully but draw the line at saluting him ‘I think the happy couple had a good evening, don’t youse?’ I can’t help wondering why he’s singled me out and what he could possibly want to say to me that we didn’t discuss in his office earlier.

‘Glad I caught you, Sergeant, there was something I meant to mention earlier but I was just waiting on confirmation. Your medical discharge has been changed’ I groan, here we go just like I thought, it will be paid once I’m no longer here, he can see what I’m thinking. ‘Nothing like that Sergeant, in fact it has been changed in your favour and also you will be receiving a back dated lump sum. I’m pleased to tell you that you’ve been promoted to WO 1, back dated to when you were on the training team. Congratulations.’ He shakes me hand and I’m left standing by meself, wondering if me brain is playing tricks on me, as he wanders off having spotted someone else in the crowd.

By now I’ve just about had enough of the party and I want to leave but I can’t see Will anywhere so I resign meself to people watching for a while longer. After ten minutes even the people watching has become boring so I turn to peer out the windows across the parade ground. As I’m trying to focus I see a reflection coming closer, thinking they’re going to stop before they reach me however Will, it seems, has other ideas as he stands as close behind me as is decent. I’m surrounded by his unique smell, that mix of sandalwood soap and Paco Rabanne and he’s standing so close that I can feel his body heat on my bare back, he leans closer and I feel him press against me, I nearly collapse so unexpected are his actions.

‘You ready to go minx?’ now he’s throwing in his pet name for me and I struggle to work out what he’s playing at – is he playing games with me or has there been some miraculous thaw in his attitude. Has the man who claims not to care realised, as Helen said, he actually does care for me and is prepared to forgive and forget? I nod unsure of what to say and as I turn around I wobble, I’ve been stood so long and used muscles I’ve not used for years, so he takes me arm and guides me out to the car.

Even though the journey back to Peter’s is only about twenty minutes I somehow seem to manage to doze off and come to with a start when Will turns the engine off. At the moment put me in a car and no matter how short the journey me brain switches off. Tonight, I’m not sure whether it is the combination of a strenuous day and alcohol or not, it’s one of those things that appear to be a new normal for me.

‘Come on then, time for bed for you I think’ says Will as he opens me door for me. ‘Do you need a hand?’

I think about making some smartarse comment but decide I really can’t be bothered with another row, not after the looks I’ve been getting while we were at the party, I don’t want to spoil anything. ‘Thanks’ I actually give in gracefully and let him help me out of the car and up to the front door. Me legs feel like jelly and I have trouble walking so I’m glad I can lean on him. Finally, we make it inside, I look at the flight of stairs and groan, there’s no way I feel safe attempting them. ‘Err, I know I’m a pain but could youse give me a hand going up the stairs?’

As soon as I ask for help, I’m picked up in those strong arms and carried effortlessly up the stairs to me room. As Will carries me I can hear his heart and I sneak a look up at the strong profile. He notices me watching ‘still want to play cat and mouse or have you got something else in mind?’ So, he was teasing me at the party, I shake me head and he grins at me. There’s that strange look on his face again that I really can’t work out, if I didn’t know better I would call it desire.

‘Youse really don’t want to know what’s going on in me head, Will, even I can’t believe it.’ He smiles at me as he lowers me to me feet.

‘I’m guessing it’s possibly what’s going through mine’ the look he gives me as he says that, is almost feral. ‘Do you remember what I said to you last time you wore that dress?’

I try to think back to when I last wore the dress and draw a blank on the occasion but some of what happened is still there and I can feel me pulse quicken and the butterflies start in me stomach. ‘I can’t remember when I wore it but there are some odd memories attached to it, I’m sure youse will be able to remind me what was said or done.’

‘I wonder, should I refresh your memory or just let you go to bed, you looked washed out and a bit grey, it’s entirely up to you, minx.’

There’s that name again, I wish I could work out what is going on behind those blue eyes, do I risk everything and take a chance or do I let sleeping dogs lie? I look into those blue eyes, darker tonight and no hint of ice, just curiosity and maybe something else, I decide to throw caution to the wind, after all as I know you only get one life. ‘Maybes youse could remind me, to be sure I think I need to know as I seem to have forgotten’ I reply with an equally feral grin.

Even having placed me on me feet, Will has kept hold of me arm and I’m suddenly turned around to face the wall, it throws me for a moment and I think about retaliating but I’ve made me choice, so I go with what is happening. Will moves his hands, winding one in me plait to hold me where he’s put me and the other strokes the side of me face.

‘I think you know exactly what happened last time, don’t you minx?’ he whispers, standing close behind me, I’m surrounded by the smell of him and I can feel his heat. ‘You knew exactly what you were doing when you put that dress on, you know what it does to me’ he leans closer and I can feel what it does to him ‘I’ve been like this for hours!’

‘It wasn’t through choice Will, youse know I’ve not been allowed out to buy anything, I can’t be trusted on me own and who would I have taken anyway?’

‘How convenient, minx but I’m not sure I believe you. You can be a devious wench given half a chance. Right where were we?’

I’m facing the wall and I can feel his breath on the back of me neck, he bends forward and starts to kiss his way down the side of me neck then back up the other side, me legs begin to turn to jelly. He still has one hand wound in me plait, keeping me off balance, the other suddenly moves to the zip of me dress and then he is pushing it off me shoulders and I’m stood there, naked in just a pair of heels. ‘Well, well, you still haven’t learnt the correct way to dress for formal evenings, have you? Right minx, let’s see if you remember this, spread your legs, that’s far enough’ says Will as he reaches behind me, the next thing I know is he gently pushing forward between me legs and then he’s sheathed in me.

‘Please Will’ I take a deep breath as I’m stretched by his bulk ‘go easy, it’s been a long time, give me a chance.’ I can feel him throbbing, then he uses his left hand between me legs, I won’t last long not after so long. ‘Will, I’m close it’s been so long, please.’

He remains motionless, apart from the throbbing I can feel inside, he’s breathing heavily and I sense that when he does move he won’t last long, just like me. ‘And why should I believe you?’

I swallow ‘because youse know me Will, there’s not been anyone else for years, not just since I left but before that, youse know, this, this…’ I struggle to put into words me hang ups about sex. ‘This, it should be between husband and wife it’s a special gift, act, I can’t, couldn’t with anyone I didn’t love, apart…well youse know…’ I let me words die, I can’t go back over that part of me life again, it’s far too painful at this moment, especially with the man I love buried deep inside me.

He starts to move, slowly but firmly, his hand and hips in time with each other, so very slowly that the movement is hardly there but I can feel it take me higher. I want, no I need more friction and he knows it, so he is playing with me, teasing me, he holds all the cards and is well aware of what to do to keep me on the edge for as long as he is able, until he can’t control his own needs. He stops again but this time he goes back to kissing down me neck until he reaches me collar bone, he bites down, marking me and I arch into his body exactly as he’d planned.

‘Will, please I need to come, please’ me legs are shaking and I’m having trouble maintaining me balance, even with him holding me up and controlling me movements. ‘Will’ I’m panting with, what desire, anticipation I’m not sure all I know is that I need for this to happen. Whatever this turns out to be, a one night only or more I don’t know and at the moment I don’t really care, me mind is focused on other things. He knows he can take me higher than anyone else and have me come crawling back for more, with just a single look. I’m almost in tears, both with frustration and knowing that this can’t last for ever. I know that I need to try and keep the memory for as long as possible. One day I won’t remember and I won’t be able to create new memories as it will be physically impossible for me.

He starts to move his left hand in slow lazy circles, nothing more and then he is offering me his fingers to wet so he can carry on tormenting me, I suck them into me mouth and roll me tongue gently around them, I hear and feel him groan. Satisfied he drops his hand down and begins the slow torture again, I can hear a low moan and it takes a moment for me to realise that the noise is coming from me. Suddenly all movement stops and he pulls out, leaving me gasping in frustration. He pulls on me plait and guides me to the bed, mindful that I keep me balance, once there he spreads himself out on the covers in all his glory for me to see.

‘Right minx, I think this time you should be the one doing your fair share of the work but first come up here so I can get at you with my tongue, I want to taste you.’ He pats his chest and gestures for me to straddle his broad torso. I climb on the bed and move where he wants me, he grabs hold of me plait again and all I can do is brace meself against the wall while he begins to part me with his tongue. Will carries on taking me higher and higher, stop, start for what seems like hours, I’m climbing the walls and moaning, desperate to come. I know what he’s doing, he’s trying to savour the moment, trying to prolong it for both of us, he knows that neither of us is going to be able to last long. Me legs are shaking and I’m covered in a thin sheen of sweat when he stops and guides me back with his hands until he has me poised above him. ‘Now why don’t you let me watch you come, minx’ he says as he guides me down on to his rock-hard cock. ‘You have no idea how erotic that looks, it’s a pity there’s no mirror for you to watch in this time. Go on ride me, make yourself come.’

He lets go of me plait and places his hands on me hips to set the rhythm that will make us both last as long as possible. Unfortunately, I can’t last and within a few thrusts I’m coming, he keeps going through me orgasm and suddenly I feel him tense beneath me. I slump forward drained, I’m not sure what day of the week it is but I can feel he is still rock hard, buried inside me and I realise that I’m beyond exhausted.

Sunday 10 July 1988

I lay in bed playing over the events of the evening and I know sleep is not going to come for me tonight. Beside me Will is fast asleep, face down on the pillow, his breath drifting gently across me face, he’s been like that ever since he came back from the bathroom. I don’t know what has happened this evening, he stayed in me bed rather than sleep on the rickety camp bed he’d been using. Trying to be as quiet as possible, I slip out of bed and pick up me track suit, there’s not much point lying here wide awake so I dress and creep downstairs thankful that we have the house to ourselves.

Once downstairs I head for the living room and give in to the temptation that is Peter’s drinks cabinet, I know I shouldn’t but one small drink won’t do me any harm, it might just be enough to send me to sleep. I’m still playing the events of earlier in me mind, willing them to become memories that I will be able to hang on to. The one drink soon becomes two and before I know it I’ve finished the bottle but I think to meself that why the fuck should it matter if I get royally pissed, it won’t kill me, something else is planning on doing that. I sit and think about the man upstairs and what happened – was it a one off or is he planning on staying in me bed. I wouldn’t blame him if he decided that friendship is all he can give me, who in their right mind wants to be tied to someone who is unlikely to see the new year. I get up suddenly restless and move to stand in front of the picture window. I start to sing softly to meself, the song suits me mood,

‘O Danny Boy the pipes the pipes are calling

From glen to glen and down the mountain side

The summers gone and all the roses falling

Tis you, tis you must go and I must bide

But come ye back when summers in the meadow

Or when the valleys hush’d and white with snow

And I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow

Oh Danny Boy oh Danny Boy I love you so

And when you come and all the flow’rs are fading

And I am dead as dead I well may be

You’ll come and find the place where I am lying

And kneel and say an Ave there for me

And I shall hear tho’ soft you tread above me

And all my grave shall softer sweeter be

For you will bend and tell me that you love me

And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me’

I have no idea how long I’ve been down here when I hear movement, I guess Will is awake, I glance up and I’m surprised to see him watching me, he must have been disturbed by me singing and came down to see what was going on.

I glance up at him, start giggling and then burst into tears and collapse in a heap on the floor. I have no idea why I should have found it funny but I did, then I realise how pathetic I must look.

‘And just what the fuck do you think you are doing? I don’t understand you Charlie, why are you down here clutching an empty bottle of scotch?’ I don’t need to look up again I can hear the anger and hurt in his voice and I know his eyes will be the colour of steel.

‘I honestly don’t know, I came down because I couldn’t sleep but as for this’ I wave the empty bottle ‘I wanted one small drink, is that so very wrong of me to want things that aren’t good for me, to want to do things and enjoy meself while I can?’ I manage to say between sobs. ‘Do youse know what I’d like to do before I go?’

He squats down beside me and I’m surprised to see that it isn’t anger on his face, it’s concern and another emotion I honestly didn’t think I’d see again. He leans down, gathers me in his arms and carries me back upstairs, standing me in the bathroom. I get the message and do what needs to be done, when I walk back into the bedroom I’m surprised to see him sat up in bed waiting for me.

‘Sit down’ he gestures for me to sit between his legs and lean back against that broad chest. ‘Talk to me, I promise I’ll listen, tell me the things you so desperately want to do. Whether I have any answers, is another matter.’

As I try to walk in a straight line from the bathroom to the bed, I attempt to organise me thoughts into something that will make sense, finally I make the safety of the bed and collapse between his thighs. I lean back against the broad chest and close me eyes for a moment savouring the feeling of safety being wrapped in his arms gives me. ‘What do you want me to talk to youse about?’ I throw the ball back to him and let him set the tone of the conversation, however by doing that I’m aware that it could open a can of worms. I have to face the fact that one of me main reasons for coming back was to face the past and try to put right some of the wrongs, the main one being why I ran in the first place.

‘Ok, let’s go back, why did you come down to London that Friday night and how did you know where to find me?’

I take a deep breath and try to remember that far back, hopefully I can find the right memories and sort them into some sort of order. ‘Bear in mind that I might screw some things up, it might be that those parts are missing from me memory but… The bottom line was I was bored, bored and lonely, can youse remember how long we’d been apart for, what was it seven, eight weeks?’ I feel him nod behind me. ‘Probably the longest we hadn’t seen each other for quite a while. I came down and popped back to the flat, had a shower, nicked your soap – I’d literally finished work and rode down so I was hot and sweaty. If I remember the notes for that op were lying around and I just took a punt on the first pub nearby.’

‘So, Duffy coming out to play was nothing to do with that op at all?’

‘Nope, just an impulse act on me behalf, youse being seen with someone like that would have been good for your image, that’s all it was but youse took things the wrong way. Things should never have got out of hand like they did. I should have left youse after youse dragged me outside but youse know me, can’t back down from a fight. What happened in that alley should never have happened – it was bound to be a disaster, we were both too keyed up, angry with each other, too much desire and not enough time. I realise now I should never have done what I did nor should I have run, it was never me intention to hurt youse, youse know that don’t youse but youse hurt me that night.’

‘I think you’ll find, madam, it was me that had the worst bruises after that, my split lip took a while to heal if I remember’ I can hear the smile in his voice.

Taking a deep breath I start to try and explain what I mean ‘what I did that night Will, go down on me knees for youse like I did, that was the first time I’d ever done that of me own free will, I wanted to do that for youse because I loved youse, I wanted to show youse how much I loved youse and youse were me husband.’

I feel him tense behind me. ‘What do you mean, that was the first time you’d given someone a blowjob?’

‘In a way’ I’m glad he can’t see me face, I’m embarrassed and I know I’m bright red. ‘Youse are the only man I’ve ever gone down on me knees for and given a…..I can’t say it Will, but youse know what we’re talking about. I’d always seen it as dirty, wrong, sinful youse name it I thought it had no place in love, not until that night when it seemed to be so right, a loving gift from a wife to her husband. Pat and that witch trained me, there’s no other word to describe it, to be able to take a man…into me throat. Pat would force me to do it for his mates right up until I put a stop to him. Every time it happened I would spend hours in the bathroom, or wherever, making meself sick to get rid of…’ I suddenly get up off the bed and rush to the bathroom, just making it in time before I throw up all the alcohol I’ve drunk. I sit with me head hanging over the toilet, tears rolling down me face to mingle with the snot and sick. As I sit there feeling drained, I’m handed a damp cloth with which to clean meself up ‘and do youse know what made it worse that night? Youse saying that perhaps I should have been charging for me services all that time. Christ Will, youse knew me past and yet youse threw that at me, how was I supposed to deal with that? I thought youse only wanted a whore not a wife and that hurt so much that’s why I ran. In all the time we’ve been apart, I’ve never even looked at another man, I’ve gone without – as far as I was concerned I was a married woman, in my eyes anything else was a sin. Youse treating me like a common whore totally destroyed me, I spent so much time trying to sort out sin and love, sex and the Church. Even if youse don’t want anything to do with me, youse will still be husband til the day I die.’ I make to get up but I’m too uncoordinated and I almost pitch meself headfirst into the bath, Will grabs me just in time and carries me back to bed.

‘So, you’re saying that you leaving was all my fault? Where have you been, it’s been almost six years, Charlie why the fuck couldn’t you at least let me know you were ok!’

‘Don’t Will, don’t youse think I’ve wanted to but I believed what youse said, or rather implied, that I was nothing but a cheap common whore, how do youse think that affected me? Part of me thought youse wanted a whore in your life and part of me thought youse would run a mile from someone like me, someone who’d been trained to give pleasure no matter who youse were. Youse knew about me past and me hang ups about…sex and relationships. To be told that I should have been charging for it, that I was that good at what I’d done, Jesus that really screwed me head, again. I’ve never got over what happened as a teenager and what I went through, at their hands and after when I came over here, like I said sex, love, sin they’re all mixed up for me.’

‘You haven’t told me where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing? Why did you come back now?’ give him his due, when Will wants to know something he won’t let it drop until he gets answers, it’s part of what makes him good at his job. He gets up and starts to pace around, nervous energy or anger I can’t tell.

‘As to where I’ve been that’s not really relevant anymore, I’m not leaving again, what have I been doing? I’m not sure youse are going to like the answer to that one to be sure’ I try to stall for time before explaining that I’ve been in and out of the country almost since I left.

‘Surely it can’t be that bad.’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure; you must have heard of certain departments wanting to clean their own doorsteps?’ he looks at me and nods. ‘Well, I’ve been responsible for cleaning ours for the last six years, George would contact me every so often to give me the details of who and when. I’ve been back over the years and as to why didn’t I contact youse – I thought youse’d want nothing to do with me for leaving youse the way I did and I didn’t know how to mend what was broken, or if it was broken.’ I look at him but I can’t read the expression on his face, he looks, drawn, worried, relieved I don’t know, I’ve been away too long and me heads so screwed up, to be able to see what he’s feeling.

‘You asked earlier why I came back now – well I was supposed to do one more job for George, I was going to stop after this one.’ He stops pacing and comes to sit on the bed, watching me try to explain why now and not before, there’s no shock on his face just acceptance that someone has to do what I’ve been doing. There’s also a hint of relief that he hasn’t had to deal with the scum and dross that I’ve had to over the years. ‘I had a feeling that things were starting to go downhill with me health so I was going to ask Atkins to sort out some appointments and tests, I had no idea that they were going to uncover what they did. Me health has kind of forced me hand now.’ I pause and look up at him and see the look of horror, sympathy, shock flash across his face before he can hide whatever it was from me, I decide to plough on with the last part of what he wants to know. ‘The other thing you asked was what did I want to do, before things get too bad? I want to be able to ride me bike, feel the rush, I want to feel the sun, the wind, the rain, the snow one last time, I want to see me cousins and I want to climb the Black Mountain one last time. Most of all I don’t want to die alone, I want someone to hold me hand when the time comes. Do you understand? I also want the choice if things get too bad to be able to, decide how I go and I want me friends to understand me choices.’

More tears start to fall and I begin to shake and can’t seem to stop, it’s not just me arms this time and I can feel meself starting to lose awareness.

‘Charlie, come on minx, wake up’ I can hear a familiar voice but it sounds as though they shouting from a long way away and all I want to do is go to sleep, it’s quiet there wherever I was, quiet and safe. ‘Come on, wake up, snap out of it. Christ what I am going to do with you? There’s only me here, come on, come back’ I can feel someone shaking me, trying to get me to do something, something important.

‘Let me be’ I mumble ‘youse are making me feel sick, stop shouting at me, me head hurts.’ I open me eyes, the light is so bright it hurts but everything seems off, it’s like only one eye is open. ‘Stop shining that light in me eye, it hurts, leave me be.’ I try to curl up but a pair of strong arms have got me held tightly and I can’t move, I can feel a heart beating so very fast against me. ‘Let me go, please let me go, youse are scaring me!’ I hear a sob of what sounds like relief. I manage to open me eyes again and look up, there’s a pair of blue eyes looking down at me, they appear to be full of unshed tears and something else. ‘Will?’ I manage to croak. ‘What’s going on Will, why are youse looking at me like that?’

‘Why am I looking at you like what? You went away, you were gone completely, you were having another fit and I couldn’t get through to you, I didn’t know what to do’ his voice is shaky and he buries his head in me hair, emotion for once getting the better of him, I can feel him shaking.

Sunday 10 July 1988

I slowly come awake and move my hand expecting to encounter a warm body next to me but the bed feels chill, I open my eyes and look around, there’s no sign of Charlie, I guess she’s probably gone to get a drink from the kitchen. I stretch and adjust the pillows behind me and find myself going over the events after the party, the game of cat and mouse carried on to a conclusion that even I didn’t expect. As I lay there and replay what happened I can feel myself lengthen and harden beneath the covers, it takes all my willpower not to take myself in hand as I think about Charlie and what we did. I haven’t had a woman in my bed for so long, it just never seemed worth the effort, all for what, a quick tumble? No, if I’m honest I have to admit the real reason was because no matter what anyone else thinks, I happen to be a one-woman man. Even though I hadn’t seen her in years Charlie Price was and still is the only woman I want and need in my life and bed. For six long years she has fuelled my fantasies, rather than some nameless or faceless woman who I won’t remember come the morning. Six years is a long time but once we both realised where things were going everything just happened so naturally, I knew exactly what to do to make her want me and how to play her. I know all her little foibles and how to turn her on, how to make her beg me to let her come, what touches drive her higher and higher, as well as me. I am so very tempted to carry on where we left off when she comes back to bed, let her see what just thinking about making love to her does to me but I suddenly realise she’s been gone a long time if she went to get a drink.

I grab a pair of jogging bottoms and pull them on before rushing out of the bedroom, half expecting the worst but as I reach the top of the stairs I can hear her faint voice – she’s singing, Oh Danny Boy in that soft Irish lilt of hers. I creep quietly down the stairs and stand at the door of the living room and as I listen to her sad voice I realise she’s been drinking, there’s an empty scotch bottle dangling from her hand. She turns around and sees me, she starts giggling then she drops to the floor crying, I lose my temper and demand to know what the fuck she is doing getting drunk. I can’t help my temper; I was expecting to come down and find her having a fit or something similar or not be able to find her at all if she’d wandered off confused. I cross the room, bend down and pick her up, carrying her back upstairs and depositing her in the bathroom, trying to give myself time to sort out my feelings – yet again she has managed to confound me and I’m having trouble sorting out fear, anger and love. I get back into bed and prop myself against the pillows, we need to talk about things, difficult things, things we’ve both been trying to avoid. Charlie comes out of the bathroom looking a bit lost and sorry for herself, I pat the bed between my thighs implying that if we are going to talk it might be easier for her not having to look at me. Charlie climbs into bed, settling back against my chest, it feels so right that I wrap me arms around her, holding her tight to me.

I try to broach the subjects we’ve been avoiding and promise, that although I might not have answers, I want to listen and try to help but Charlie throws the ball back to me and gets me to open the can of worms that’s been sitting there waiting to see the light of day since she came back into my world. I sit and listen to her explanation that shatters my world – the appearance of Duffy six years ago in a piss and rubbish strewn London back alley was not part of the op that was running. It turns out that she was bored and lonely, she decided that seeing her husband was more important than work or SOP’s. It was, with hindsight, bound to end in some sort of disaster – both wound up, missing each other and the sex, it just escalated from there. I remember the way she went down on me, careful don’t want any of that threatening her hesitant explanations, so I try to think cold showers and such like. It turns out her leaving was down to some huge mix up between us – my brains were still well and truly in my balls when she looked up at me, mouth still around my rock-hard cock and I like an idiot basically told her she should be selling her expertise. Not for one moment did I think about anything other than trying to get my heart rate under control and some feeling back in my body, to say she had blown my mind and sent my balls into orbit was an understatement. So, what do I do open my mouth like the Mersey tunnel and all hell breaks loose, though to be fair not much oxygen was actually reaching my brain to help with my thought processes.

Christ, looking back with the benefit of hindsight I can see exactly why things imploded the way they did – Charlie had tried to explain her hang ups concerning religion and sex, sin and marriage to me before but I’d only meant it as a joke. I knew about her treatment at the hands of Pat and Siobhan Kelly, the fact that he treated her as his own personal whore for years, even after her abortion. What she’d neglected to tell me, was that they had taught her to be able to deep throat a man, by holding her down until she could do what they wanted without gagging and then he proceeded to whore her out to anyone and everyone whenever he could. Suddenly she jumps up and rushes to the bathroom, where I find her in tears, covered in snot and vomit, I hand her a cloth to wipe her face with. As she turns to go back into the bedroom she loses her balance and I have to catch her before she falls. Back in bed Charlie tells me about the jobs she’s been doing for Cowley over the years and part of me feels relieved that it hasn’t fallen to me, which in some ways I guess it should have done given my dubious past and part of me feels angry that she has had to kill people as and when ordered to. The real Charlie Price is not a killer, it’s just the way her life has worked out, she’s a good person who struggles with right and wrong, which has coloured her whole life and relationships. The Catholic Church has caused her so much grief and as a result she sees herself as a sinner of the worst kind. Throw in an abortion at age sixteen with no one to help her emotionally and no wonder there’s been such a shitstorm of problems with relationships and feelings of guilt, they’ve all added to her nightmares and such like. Charlie Price has had a hard life, she’s fought prejudice, hate, been disowned by her family and the only family she has left she will almost certainly never see again and now she has to deal with the prospect of a drawn out painful and degrading death. I listen to her telling me that she wants to do things, be normal not be told she can’t do this or that but that most of all she can’t face the prospect of dying alone.

As she finishes speaking, telling me in not so many words that she’s contemplating suicide again she begins to fit in my arms, I’m shouting and shaking her not sure what to do, I’m scared of losing her like this and I know that there is no way I can leave this woman. Slowly she comes out of the fit but is disorientated, she can’t see properly at first and all I can do is hold her tightly while she recovers. My emotions are shredded and as I hold her close to me I bury my head in her hair in an attempt to stop her seeing my tears.

Finally, she falls asleep in my arms, I hold on to her reluctant to let her go, she’s told me how scared she is of being alone with no one to comfort or hold her hand when the time comes and I know in my heart of hearts I won’t leave her. I gave my heart to this woman so many years ago and it took me a long time to realise it, I screwed my way through London and other places all in an attempt to find someone special. Little did I know she had already found her way into my heart. It seems almost irrelevant that she left for six years, at the end of the day she is my wife and I will love her for ever, whether she is here or not. As Guy said once you find, it you need to hang to love with both hands.

Wednesday 17 August 1988

The flat is quiet, Will is at work and today I’ve managed to get him to agree that I can have a day by meself providing if I feel unwell I call either him or Murphy but he knows what I’m like so he is threatening to phone me on and off during the day. I have decided that today I will try to put together my thoughts for those I will be leaving behind. I have accepted that I am dying but as far as I am concerned it will be on me own terms, when I decide enough is enough. Although Atkins has hinted that I could have some sort of treatment, chemo or radiotherapy, I have said no to any of them, at the end of the day none of them will cure me and at best they will prolong my suffering. I have not discussed any of this with Will, he knows me and knows that I wouldn’t want to hang on suffering with no quality of life. We both chose how to live our lives and both accepted years ago that living a long life was unlikely – I think to be honest we are surprised to have made it to the age we have.

Me plans, unfortunately, have had to change and I have to accept that I won’t even see another birthday and it is unlikely I’ll be here at Christmas. I had hoped to have a few years with Will, especially having missed out on so much already but we will just have to fit in as much as we can while I’m still fit enough to do the things I want to do. The one thing that I’ve wanted to do is never going to be possible, it’s silly really as I’m dying, because if I attempt to go back to Belfast I will end up with two in the back of me head, buried somewhere remote and unrecorded. I can’t and I won’t do that to those I love. I have to accept that seeing the sunset or sunrise from the Black Mountain is just a dream that I will have to take with me, along with the memories of Davy and Paddy, whose faces grow ever more distant with each day that passes. I know that sooner or later all my memories of my life before will be gone and all I will have is each day, by tomorrow today will have gone and the future won’t exist so I need to learn to live each day to its fullest.

I go into the bedroom and look out the notepad I have put to one side, well out of Will’s way, there’s already a few scribblings that I don’t want him to read, now, if ever. We both know his heart is going to be broken but I want to try and make things as easy as possible for him, explain why I did what I did, although I know nothing will take away his pain and guilt. I know what he’s like he bottles things up and he will be full of guilt for not stopping me or thinking that he should have done more, loved me more and other things. I’m no good with feelings and emotions so what I’ve set meself is going to be so very hard, putting down things to make my leaving easier for everyone is going to take a lot of courage and I’m not sure that I can do it but I owe an explanation to all those that matter to me.

Dear George

I think as my boss I owe youse some sort of an explanation as to why I walked away from me job and me friends six years ago, it was nothing to do with CI5 or youse. Throughout me life I have problems dealing with right and wrong, sin, call it what you will. Something personal happened during that op set after the Falklands and unfortunately I couldn’t separate or deal with what happened. Simply put I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been; I could have blown the whole thing wide open, also something happened that should never happened then. I ran away, finished the training in Hereford and simply packed my bags and turned my back on the life I was making for meself. I told no one I was leaving nor where I planned on going, at that point I had no idea meself, all I knew was I had to get away from certain things and people. Youse can probably guess who I needed to cut out of me life but as for the reasons they were and still are deeply personal.

I debated long and hard before I contacted youse, I didn’t know whether youse would be prepared to speak to me, let alone keep me working in the shadows doing the jobs that no one else could do or would want to do. Although some of those terminations were hard to deal with they gave me a reason to carry on living, I had so very little else to occupy me during those times. I want to thank youse for allowing me to gain your trust and respect, I have not had many people I could call a father figure in my life but I am honoured that youse have stepped into that role. During those days after I left, I contemplated whether I had anything left to give or whether me life was even worth living, I’ve come close to ending it all several times and it never gets any easier.

I hope youse can understand why I have chosen to do what I’ve done; I’m not asking for forgiveness or absolution just an understanding that I’ve reached the point where I cannot carry on. I’m sat here writing this before I reach that point for the simple reason I know that at the end I won’t be able to see what I’m doing nor will I be able to hold a pen to write down me thoughts and ramblings. The next few months or weeks, however long I have left are, going to get increasingly more difficult for all concerned, me included – I’m already losing so many memories of people and places that it is difficult for me to know who to trust as I don’t always remember who they are. At the end of the day, I’m dying George and whether I chose to finish it while I’m still able or I wait for me body to give up, the result will be the same.

Saying goodbye is so very hard but at least this way we can both keep our dignity. Don’t mourn for me, remember that brash Irish girl who turned up and threw her weight around not the broken docile wee lassie I’m becoming.

With much love and respect,

Sergeant Charlie Price

I fold the letter up and place it in the envelope, there is nothing else I can say to George and I hope that he can see that all I’ve ever wanted to do is to follow orders to the best of me ability, never mind the personal cost. I stand up and stretch, my balance is fairly ok today, some days it’s better, some days it’s worse, so I wander out to the kitchen to see if Will has left any little treats with which to tempt me to eat. I know he worries about what I’m eating and how much but to be honest most of the time I’m not even hungry and when I am the mere thought of food usually turns me stomach. Today I want to eat, so I open the fridge to see if there is anything in there that I fancy, unsurprisingly there is a plate of cold sausages and I grab them, find some mustard and tuck into them along with a large glass of orange juice. I look longingly at the kettle and debate whether to risk a cup of coffee but I know if I do then my head will become unbearable. At the moment I can just about ignore the pounding but caffeine is probably best avoided, along with the resulting row if Will finds out I’ve been drinking it while he’s not here or rather drinking it full stop.

Dear sweet Murph

I’m struggling to find the words to say goodbye to youse. I want to thank youse for the fun we’ve had over the years, the days when my sides didn’t stop hurting from all the laughs we’ve had. Youse truly are one of life’s good guys, how youse got caught up in all this death and mayhem is beyond me. Youse are a loner like me, maybe that’s why I love youse like a brother because we both knew that we weren’t for each other and we could just be friends. Friends are a rare thing to find in lives like ours and when we find them we need to hold on to them. Time is running out for me and I’m beginning to find things difficult so I apologise now for all the days where I will lash out because I can’t remember things, people, places. I hope that youse will still be prepared to help me deal with things, Will can’t do it all on his own but I don’t want to ask youse to do things youse can’t. Be there for him, I know that the pair of youse have become friends since that Kelly op and that he prefers your company these days. I won’t hold youse to any promises as that wouldn’t be fair on youse to be beholden to a dying woman, just try to be yourself and make us both smile occasionally.

They say suicide is a cowards way out but believe me when your only choice is dying a slow and degrading death it is by far the better option. My time is limited and I know things are going go downhill rapidly, the symptoms I’m suffering now are only going to get worse. Every day I struggle to remember things from the past, a lot of me memories have already gone and that is just the start, there’s far worse to come, eventually I won’t be able to be left alone as I will be a danger to meself and others. I can’t remember anything from me Army days, the only way I know what I did is to read the copy of me file, which I shouldn’t have in any way, shape or form, especially an un-redacted copy. I will lose me sight, me balance and every single memory will be gone along with the capability to make any new ones. I don’t want to be tied to a hospital bed, full of tubes being force fed food and medicines, I want to go out on me own terms, can youse understand that? I have already turned down things to prolong me life or should that be prolong me suffering. I’ve always been the one in charge of me life so it is fitting that I should be in charge of me death, I want to go with dignity not as some vegetable only kept alive by machines, how is that living?

I’m not asking anyone to give me forgiveness, I just want youse to understand why I’ve done what I’ve done and accept that what I chose to do I do so freely. That is why I’m writing this now while I’m still able to think clearly and make decisions of my own free will, youse know me I can’t have someone else make this decision for me and there is no one I would want to do it, not even Will. For someone to have to make the decision to end me life is a burden I can’t place on anyone except meself. The only promise I want youse to make Murph, is to find someone to love and to love youse the way I love Will.

Charlie xxxx

Friday 16 September 1988

I wake early and creep out of bed, hoping not to disturb Charlie, she needs to sleep after the last few nights, things have not been good and we’ve both struggled to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. Charlie and I for that matter, have been plagued on and off over the years with nightmares but suddenly she seems to be having far more than usual, even compared to after the Kelly op. Neither of us can come up with an explanation as to why they started, well not one that we are prepared to discuss openly, they seem to come on without any warning and can happen at any point during the night. We’ve tried going to bed early, we’ve tried going to bed late but nothing seems to stop them from happening and it is almost impossible to wake her once they do start. I remember last time this was happening Atkins said to try and avoid people and places that could have bad memories attached to them and also to avoid crowded places. The place we are in has only recently been acquired and we are the first agents to live here, so there shouldn’t be any memories for either of us, we are trying to make our own here, in what little time we have left.

I wander out to the kitchen to make myself a coffee but I daren’t close any of the doors between here and the bedroom in case Charlie wakes and can’t see or hear me – today of all days I don’t want anything to upset her. I think about making breakfast but I’m not sure whether today will be a good day with regard to food or not – it seems to be the case that most days it is a battle to try and get Charlie to eat at least two meals. Decision made I quickly grab a couple of slices of toast and have them with my coffee, hopefully I can finish them before she wakes up looking for me. On my way back to the bedroom I pick up the small black box from behind the stereo and put it in the pocket of my track suit, then I pick up the anniversary card. As I stand there I realise that this our first anniversary that we have spent together even though we have been married for seven years, I wish that it was the first of many but I know it won’t be, in fact deep down I know that we’ll be lucky if we see Christmas.

Thankfully by time I get back to the bedroom I can see that she’s still fast asleep so I strip and crawl back into bed and gather her in my arms, I want her to wake up of her own accord and not be catapulted awake. I look down at Charlie sleeping peacefully in my arms and gently smooth her hair back off her face, in two months her hair has gone from mainly grey to completely silver but in my eyes she is still stunning and always will be. I gently place a kiss on her forehead hoping she won’t wake just yet. I lay here looking down at her as she sleeps and try to not think about the future but it is always there, not necessarily at the back of my mind either. Asleep she looks so peaceful and even the deepest of lines on her face seem to fade, she is still pale and far too thin these days, long gone is the lean muscular figure that I remember. Eating has become a major issue – most days it is a battle to get her to eat anything, the nausea is a constant factor but I can at least manage to get her to eat one meal a day, even if it is small and mostly stolen off my plate.

Over the last two months things have gone downhill quite rapidly but we seem to have hit a plateau over the last week or so, nothing new has come along we just battle with the constant tiredness and unwillingness to eat due to nausea. At the moment Charlie’s balance is fairly good, having said that like with most of the symptoms she has good days and bad. On the good days she will come to work with me, either out on the range with Jack or checking up on Brian and his constant workload of new recruits and refresher training. On a really good day I can see Charlie is itching to get involved with things and to a certain degree we let her try and do what she can, providing she is sensible and doesn’t over do things. Having her come to work saves someone having to babysit, which as ever Charlie hates but there are a couple of people she is happy to spend time with. Cowley has made it clear to both old and new agents that the safety of one Anna Green is of paramount importance but only a handful of us know her true identity and why a dying agent needs twenty-four-hour security.

A lot of the babysitting has fallen to Murphy, which is good as they share such a special friendship, for which I’m grateful, they trust each other. I also know that if anything major happens Murph will tell me, unlike madam who will swear that black is white and that she has had a good day. Murphy has been there when she was shot during the op to bring down the splinter IRA group, when they airlifted her back from Belfast after the hit and run and when she was affected by the nail bomb outside Chelsea barracks, he has seen her at her lowest and has helped her recover. I know he is a dab hand at massage, he did some sports therapy course years ago, so if she is feeling particularly rough he can iron out the kinks for her. I know when he’s been round and given her a massage – she is usually sound asleep when I get in and the air smells of massage oil. Her return to almost full fitness after the hit and run is in part down to the hours of massage she had from Murph.

I’m glad that Charlie has someone to talk to who is on the outside of this, thing, we are trying to deal with, as much as I try to remain positive and upbeat it’s hard when you are watching your lover die by degrees in front of your eyes. Bizarrely the one person I’ve been able to talk to is Kate Ross, for once she is prepared to listen and offer sensible advice without trying to analyse what is being said. I never thought that I’d be able to talk to her and actually tell her personal things, like emotions and fears but Atkins suggested that I at least give it a try. I haven’t told Charlie that I speak to Kate, I value keeping all my parts firmly attached to my body. If I didn’t have someone to talk to I don’t know how I’d be able to cope, not just at home but at work. As I lay here contemplating all those things I don’t want to say, I feel myself drift back to sleep, with the woman I love wrapped safely in my arms.

I slowly come to as I can feel Charlie fidgeting as she wakes up and I wonder who I’m going to get today – Anna with her BBC English or the guttersnipe tones of the Belfast Charlie, the one who has been consistently missing during waking hours is Duffy however over the last few night’s it has been Duffy all the way. Atkins warned me when I spoke to him one day, on my own, that I would likely see major personality changes as time went on and he was right. Where once you could expect the odd outburst of Duffy when things went wrong now the only time Duffy makes an appearance is during the nightmares, which is hardly surprising considering that most of those relate to Charlie’s time undercover.

I move slightly and loosen my hold on Charlie so as not to cause her to panic as she wakes up, finally I am greeted with the sight of her sleepy blue eyes looking up at me. ‘Morning sleepy head, how are you feeling this morning?’ I kiss her slowly so as she is fully aware of who she is waking up with.

‘Don’t know how youse can do that first thing in the morning, I must taste like a, I don’t know what.’ She stretches and I can see her taking stock of how her body feels this morning, what aches she has and whether she is able to see clearly. ‘I think everything is about how it should be, why are youse asking me?’

‘I was wondering what you fancied doing today minx, it looks like a sunny day out there, do you fancy going out for a while? After all today is a special day’ I say as I reach down beside the bed to pick up the card and hand it to her. ‘Happy wedding anniversary minx.’ She looks at me with confusion on her face ‘hey don’t worry, I’m going to spoil you today for making me happy by being my wife.’

She looks at me with tears in her eyes ‘I can’t remember Will, how long have we been married and where did we get married?’ She is trying to hold back the tears and I realise that she has lost those memories, she has no idea that we have been apart for more years than we have been together.

‘Hey, stop worrying minx, we’ve been married seven years and as to where it was a small special place, just right for the two of us. Happy now?’ I don’t like lying to her but sometimes bending the truth a little is a lot easier than trying to explain that we have never had an anniversary together and the heartache something like that will cause. ‘Dry your eyes and open this’ I say as I hand her the small black box. ‘Go on open it.’

Big blue eyes look from the box to me unsure of what to make of my revelation that we’ve been married as long as we have and I know I’ve made the right decision to bend the truth that little bit ‘go on your making me nervous, will you just open the box minx.’

She picks up the box, hands shaking I’m not sure whether that is nerves or just her normal state these days and opens it, this time the tears start to fall ‘it’s beautiful Will’ she says as she takes the sapphire solitaire ring out of the box.

I lean over and place it next to her wedding ring ‘the colour of the sapphire matches your eyes minx and it’s set in platinum so neither of them will wear when they are next to each other. Do you like it?’ I’m not sure if her tears are of joy or sorrow and if I know Charlie she is unlikely to tell me the worst.

Suddenly I’m grabbed in a tight hug ‘do I like it? Youse fool, it’s beautiful but why now, why not when we got married? Youse shouldn’t have spoilt me, if we’ve been married this long why give it to me now. That’s not being ungrateful Will, youse know me, I don’t deserve something so beautiful I’m just a simple Irish lass not something special.’

‘You are far more special than you realise Charlie Price and you will never know just how much I love you, now are you going to wear that for me?’

‘Just youse try and stop me Will, I still don’t deserve it no matter what youse say.’

I look at Charlie’s face as she keeps turning her hand this way and that, getting the light to play off the surface of the sapphire and I have to turn away so that she doesn’t see the look of sadness on my face. ‘Right then minx, breakfast, bath or shall we just go out?’

‘I’m not hungry at the moment, where do youse suggest we go today then?’

‘Oh no madam, you are going to decide that – how about I give you a list of places to pick from?’ She nods, not really interested in choosing so I think about places we haven’t been that would be suitable for a sunny September day. ‘The zoo, Kew, boating on the Thames at Richmond?’

‘I like the sound of boating at Richmond Will, never done that before’ she replies making to get out of bed.

‘Err breakfast?’ I say but she’s gone and I follow behind just to make sure that she hasn’t decided to try a bath or shower on her own. ‘Will you at least have some fruit juice please?’ Even if I can’t get her to eat breakfast then I want her to have something, fruit juice is a good substitute, full of vitamins, will help with hydration, easy to get down her and definitely no caffeine. ‘Are you done, if so come and have some orange juice while I grab something to eat. You can get dressed after.’ I manage to catch hold of the slippery little madam as she comes out of the bathroom ‘right, kitchen now and sort out a glass of juice or we go nowhere and you still won’t have been boating on the Thames. I mean it.’ I stand there with my hands on my hips and she gives a cheeky little grin over her shoulder as she finally does what I’ve told her to do. Some days I wonder which is the more difficult to deal with – a brash loud bike riding Irish enforcer or a sweet cheeky little madam. I honestly have no idea but there are times when I wish I could see all the facets of Charlie Price’s personality, not just this docile Irish lass.

Even though I’ve already eaten I decide to have another slice of toast, partly to see if Charlie will try and steal some off my plate while my back is turned, I glance in the window and see the reflection of her breaking off a small corner, typical she’s picked the one with the most butter. I smile to myself glad to see that she has at least attempted to have more than the glass of juice. I try not to make an issue of food but I wish there was more I could do to get to eat more than just the odd bite here and there. If things get worse Atkins has already hinted that she may have to have a tube fitted so at least she can get the vitamins and minerals she needs. Neither Atkins nor I have mentioned this to Charlie as her aversion to hospitals is well known and also neither of us want to remind her of just how bad things are. At the moment she seems to be living in a world where brain tumours don’t exist, whether this is because she truly has lost the memory of what is happening or she is merely ignoring anything to do with it. I have no idea which it is and I try not to do or say anything to remind her. All I want is for the woman I love to be happy for as long as she has got left and I don’t want her frightened by what is to come, we’ll cross those bridges when we get to them.

I turn around from the sink and watch her try and hide the crumbs in front of her, as usual I decide to ignore her actions ‘come on then minx, let’s get sorted and get out at this rate it’ll be lunchtime and we won’t have any time on the river. Jeans, t-shirt and that tatty old leather jacket do for you?’ I ask as I head into the bedroom to sort out something a bit more presentable than my old tracksuit, comfortable as it is I refuse to wear it outside the flat or gym. ‘Come on hurry up madam.’

The drive out to Richmond doesn’t take long and soon we’re parked and looking for a boat to hire for a couple of hours. While I haggle with boat hire people I watch Charlie out of the corner of my eye, even though she appears to be steady on her feet today I don’t want her getting too close to the water’s edge – it almost feels like looking after a toddler might. It’s amazing how many hazards there are out there when you suddenly have to look out for them. ‘Oi, minx how long do you fancy messing about on the water for?’ I call out to her in the hope that I can distract her from trying to get up close and personal with the ducks.

‘What’ she turns around and almost does go headfirst into the river, luckily I move quick enough to catch her before her leg gives out. ‘Hey, fancy seeing youse here’ she giggles at me ‘youse decide how long, I’ve never been on the river so I’ll let youse decide how long youse can stand it before youse get bored.’ She leans in and kisses me in a way that leaves me in no doubt as to where her mind really is, it’s not on a trip on the river.

‘Behave, minx, save that for behind closed doors’ she grins at me and slips out of my grasp ‘oi, leave the ducks alone. Come on the boats over here, will you wait for me to help you get in.’

Friday 30 September 1988

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of rushing here and there, trying to let Charlie do and try as much as she has been able to but now things have started to decline rapidly. Just these last few days I’ve noticed a difference, she is so very tired, is hardly eating and spends most of the day in bed or lying on the sofa. If she wants to get up it means I have to carry her to the bathroom as her legs have become so unpredictable, she can’t stand by herself and if I’m honest I’ve noticed that she is having trouble seeing, especially out of her left eye. Charlie being Charlie won’t admit that her eyesight is failing and tries to bluff her way out of the little mistakes she makes. Murphy is due any time to sit with her while I see Kate and Atkins, at least she isn’t bothered by Murph taking her to the bathroom, so I have no worries about leaving her in his capable hands and she also looks forward to his company. At the moment she is quietly dozing on the sofa in the late summer sun, she looks so peaceful it is hard to reconcile the woman in front of me with the woman I met, what seventeen years ago on a dirty Belfast street throwing up behind a car and then again when a no nonsense PTI showed up in Aldershot to put us hot headed paras through our paces. Christ back then she could put any of us on our arses without breaking a sweat and quite often did during those PT sessions, no one had come across a PTI like her before and most of us were in awe of her.

I’m so very tempted to go and find her photo album of memories and look through it but I know if she catches me with it there will be all sorts of questions that are so very difficult to deal with. I haven’t dared look at it since we’ve been back together for the simple reason I know how much heartache it will cause for Charlie when she realises what she once had. As far as she is concerned she is living very much in the here and now, what has happened before, apart from us getting married, hasn’t even crossed her mind. It would appear that all her memories have gone and I can’t face breaking her heart now and as for the future she has been making all these plans. According to Atkins it could be that she has no recollection of the fact that she is dying or it could just be her being bloody minded and ignoring what she can’t face. All I can do is go along with her madcap plans and try not to upset her. The latest plan is for us to find a house to buy and move into, somewhere we can grow old together, so I have been on the phone to estate agents, consequently we have been bombarded with particulars for all sorts of properties. The only time the past comes back to haunt her is during the nightmares that seem to come every night and sometimes during the day when she sleeps deeply, thankfully by the time she wakes up they are gone from her memory for a few hours at least.

I’m still trying to go to work out at the training centre as much as I can and when George can spare someone to come and keep Charlie out of trouble, I need to try and keep things as normal as possible for her sake and mine. I think underneath his tough exterior George has a soft spot for Charlie, she is the only one who can get away with using his first name and he has been so very understanding of everything. I don’t know what happened between them during the time she was out of the country and working for him, it’s not my place to ask, if one day he thinks it is relevant he’ll tell but it won’t be yet. As I sit here mulling over things Charlie gives a small sigh in her sleep and I’m instantly focused on her – is this another bout of nightmares about to start? Thankfully with a gentle kiss in her hair, she turns and settles back down, I sit and stroke her hair off her face and just watch her fall deeper asleep, glad that she seems to be at peace for now. As I’m sat there I hear a key in the lock, Murphy must have arrived, for expediencies sake and emergencies he has had a key for a while now at least I know if I need someone to get there quickly he can let himself in.

‘Shush, she’s sleeping for now, I thought she was just about to go into a nightmare before you came in’ I explain to him as he slips his jacket off. ‘Hopefully I should only be a couple of hours, three max but you know where to reach me.’

‘Go on mate, she’ll be fine while you’re gone, stop worrying everything will be alright.’

‘Cheers Murph, you’re a brick, I don’t know what I’d do without you, are you sure you don’t mind?’

‘Look Bodie, Charlie is my friend just like you are and I know how hard things are for you at the moment, it’s not a problem for me to come and visit a friend’ he carries on as we head out into the hall out of Charlie’s earshot ‘I want to come and see her. Nobody knows what is around the corner and if I can make things a bit easier for the pair of you then, well, let’s just say you’d do the same for me if our situations were reversed. Just go out, I know you’re going to see Atkins so go, nothing is going to happen while you’re out.’

By now Murphy is almost pushing me out of the door, I look at him and just nod as I watch him close the door to the flat. Up until today I haven’t overly worried about going out and leaving Charlie in the care of someone else but these last few days have got to me and I know that we can’t have long left together hence the reason I’m going to see Atkins.

I finally make it to HQ and Atkins’ office. Knocking on the door he calls me in and I find Kate there as well, she gets up and gives me a hug, I wonder do I look that worn down that I need some kindness.

‘Thanks’ I say and I find I actually mean it and that it makes me feel just that little bit better. ‘Why are you here Kate, I thought I was going to see you after the Doc here? What do the pair of you know that I don’t, what have you got to tell me?’ My heart rate increases though I know in reality there probably isn’t anything new that they can tell me that I don’t already know or realise.

‘Stop worrying’ says Kate ‘I just thought it might be easier all round if we did everything at the same time, save you from being away from Charlie any longer than necessary.’ She smiles at me in an effort to try and reassure me that things are going to be okay.

‘How have things been, Bodie?’ enquires Atkins.

I sit and try to gather my thoughts, I asked for this meeting with him to try and work out how we carry on, I know in my heart that time now is getting very limited but I’m not sure how limited and I need to be prepared if we are talking months or weeks. ‘Where do you want me to begin? The last couple of weeks, up until the last couple of days, have been, I don’t quite know how to explain what it’s been like.’

‘Manic, wanting to do all sorts of things, get out, go places, do all those things Charlie has wanted to do?’ says Atkins. I nod slowly at him. ‘Ok, this is to be expected and now?’

‘And now, the only thing she has wanted to do is look for a place for us both to live, to put down roots, stop being nomads sent here and there, we’ve been bombarded with house and flat particulars but…’

Atkins nods again, ‘how about in herself? Sleeping, eating, balance, nightmares, vision all normal or as normal as they can be for Charlie, given what is happening?’

I take a deep breath and face up to the hard facts that are pointing one way and one way only. ‘Most of the time she is sleeping, trying to catch up on the disturbed nights as a result of the incessant nightmares, I left her sleeping on the sofa, in the care of Murphy, when I came out. She hasn’t eaten for the last three or four days, whereas before, although she wasn’t eating a lot, I could usually tempt her to steal food from my plate, now she is only drinking, water and the odd glass of juice if I can convince her to without resorting to blackmail. Her balance is virtually non-existent and I can’t leave her unsupervised for more than a couple of minutes. I’m carrying her to the bathroom and back, as for having a shower or bath unless I get in with her they are out of the question. I think her sight has gone completely in her left eye, though trying to get Charlie to tell me anything like that is like pulling teeth or banging your head against the nearest brick wall. How long are we talking Doc, these are all signs that time has almost run out aren’t they? Don’t try and fob me off, we all know we’re talking, what weeks, a month?’

Atkins looks at me and I can see that he wished that he could tell me that everything was going to be okay and that Charlie’s diagnosis was a mistake and that she wasn’t dying, I can see that he wishes that what he was going to say didn’t hurt so much. Ever since he was introduced to Charlie Price in the aftermath of the Kelly op he has built up a strong respect and liking for the brash Irish girl who had seen and done so much and suffered over the years. I know that during his career before he joined CI5 he had been the bearer of bad news on very few occasions but since signing on with Cowley he has had to deliver career ending news to far too many agents. ‘I wish there was something I could tell you to soften the blow but you don’t want to be lied to, I understand that. I think we are probably talking in weeks rather than any longer, we could even be talking days. I won’t lie to you Bodie but I think you need to be prepared to say goodbye. What you are describing is fairly typical at this stage in Charlie’s illness, don’t be at all surprised if over the next week or so she appears to be her old self again most patients in her situation seem to rally in the last few days. Let her do whatever she wants to do, eat anything if she fancies it and if she wants a drink such as tea, coffee, alcohol then let her, it’s not going to do any harm now. Just let her live a little while she can. Is there anything I can do to help; do you want me to arrange any nursing care or a bed somewhere for her? What about pain medication, is what she’s taking sufficient to keep her comfortable?’

I look up at Atkins and see the pain on his face, pain and the kind of sadness you don’t normally see in a doctor ‘I thought you were going to say something like that, I’d prepared myself for this moment but now, I don’t know how what to do or say if Charlie asks what is happening. Do you think she knows Doc or has she really forgotten that she is’ I almost choke on the words and have to take a deep breath before I can continue ‘dying? She keeps on about the future how can I tell there is no future, do I lie to her and hope she has forgotten, I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to upset her, not now knowing how close we are, all I want is for her to be happy and without suffering, is that so very wrong?’

Kate looks at me and leans over to take my hands in hers ‘you know her best; you know what to say to her. Just keep making her happy that is my advice, I know you hurt and want to protect her from everything but you are going to have to let her go, you can’t keep her here suffering. You said you want her to be happy, do whatever she asks of you, look at houses together, make plans but don’t let her see you hurting. If she sees you hurting she could take it the wrong way do you understand what I’m saying?’

I nod and think back to our anniversary ‘yeah I understand. On our anniversary she asked how long we’ve been married, I just said seven years, I didn’t mention that out of those seven years this was the first anniversary we’d spent together. She also had questions about our wedding, I couldn’t tell her the truth I don’t want her upset by the past. Have I done the right thing, Kate?’ I just need reassurance that I’m doing right by Charlie by not telling her things she doesn’t remember. ‘I want to look at her photos we put in an album but I can’t, not because the photos upset me, I don’t want her asking about her past – she has no recollection of anything other than us being married. I’m also afraid that if she sees the pictures the nightmares will become worse than they already are. I don’t know what to do for the best for her anymore.’ I get up and pace around the room, emotions are hard for me but what I’m going through right now is even harder. ‘This is so fucking hard, I know it’s harder for her, in some ways I wish I didn’t know what was going on but I guess in some ways knowing makes it easier to cope with saying goodbye. The woman I’ve known for the best part of twenty years has been replaced by this adorable, docile Irish lass, none of the brash soldier or Republican sympathiser is left, apart from during her nightmares. Don’t get me wrong I still love Charlie, no matter who she is but it’s so hard, it’s almost as if I’ve lost her already if that makes sense.’

By time I get back to the flat I’m just about in control of my emotions, I need to be otherwise madam will work out something is up but Murphy’s is a different question he knows where I was going and why, so I owe it to him to tell him. I open the door to the flat and the first thing I can smell is massage oil so I guess Charlie is likely to be in bed fast asleep after a Murphy special. The man in question is sat on the sofa, mug of coffee in hand, feet on table, he looks up at me when I walk into the room.

‘How’d things go? And before you ask Charlie’s been fine, no mishaps or anything like that. She’s fast asleep in bed after a good massage, I even managed to get her to have a small glass of orange juice and a couple of mouthfuls of banana. Do you want to talk?’

‘How did you manage that – I’ve been trying to tempt her for days; how do you feel about staying on as a personal chef?’ I walk over to the drinks cabinet and pour myself a large scotch ‘do you want one to go with your coffee?’ Murphy looks at me and nods, I’m not sure what he can read in my face or body language but the idea of a drink might help the news seem less bleak. I wander over to the window, scotch in hand debating how to tell Murphy what Atkins said, ‘there’s no easy way to put it Murph, we’re talking weeks at best days at worst, it’s just a waiting game.’ I turn around and look at Murphy, he looks, shocked, was that how I looked in Atkins office I wonder. ‘All we can do is keep her happy, let her do whatever she wants to do. Fuck, fuck, fuck, what a fucking shitty way for things to end up, she should have had years left Murph, years not fucking days!’ I try not to shout I can’t afford to wake her with my ranting, nothing can be allowed to upset her.

‘Is there anything I can do? Do you want me to hang around for a bit so you can have a shower or something, just in case Charlie wakes up while you’re in there?’

‘Cheers Murph, no you get off home I’m not good company I just want some time to myself.’

‘If you’re sure, look I’ll pop round, what Sunday just to see how things are, she’ll probably want another massage by then.’

I nod at him; I can’t face talking to anyone and he puts a hand on my shoulder in a brief gesture of understanding and friendship then lets himself out of the flat.

Saturday 8 October 1988

I am sitting on the bed reading a book with Charlie curled up beside me, at the moment she is fast asleep and I keep glancing down at her, she looks so peaceful. I daren’t move, even though my arm is going to sleep, if I do I know she will wake. Atkins’ seems to have been right in his assessment of Charlie in that this week she has been almost her old self, although I know for a fact that now her eyesight in both eyes has diminished to the point that unless something is within inches of her face she can’t see it, her sight in her right eye is now as bad as her left. I know she can’t see but as usual she will not admit that there is anything wrong so we both ignore it. Luckily she is able to bluff her way around most things but now I can’t leave her alone anywhere in the flat it’s far too dangerous, she needs constant supervision even to do the most basic of things. Despite the loss of sight, she has somehow convinced me that she still wants to look at house particulars but although she tries to read the brochures I end up reading them to her. Yesterday I was reading one of them to her and all of a sudden she said that she wanted to view this particular property and persuaded me to phone the agent to arrange a viewing. We are supposed to be viewing on Wednesday, provided she is up to it, I’m not sure that I’m doing the right thing but if it makes her happy then I am too. There is one small blessing in this, it means that I don’t have to be so guarded in my facial expressions unless she has her head on my shoulder and happens to glance up directly into my face. Trying to keep upbeat and positive is extremely wearing and I’m glad that Murphy and Susan have both popped in to allow me time out of the flat, not that I’m gone long, usually it’s just a quick walk round the block to keep me sane. I can’t risk being out of the flat for any length of time in case anything happens and I think the others realise this, just to get out in the fresh air for a few minutes is good. Every day Charlie seems to have at least three or four fits, despite the medication, they can last from a few seconds to several minutes and each time I just hold her and hope that she comes out of them. I know we are getting closer to the end and I hope that when it comes she just goes to sleep in my arms and doesn’t wake up, I don’t want her to suffer in any way.

I try to move very slightly just to allow some feeling back into my arm but unfortunately I manage to disturb Charlie from her sleep and I’m met with an intense blue gaze, which I know is just an illusion as I’m too far away for her to see me properly.

‘And what exactly do you want now minx?’ I ask leaning down so she can see my face and while I’m there I catch her mouth in a kiss. Surprisingly she seems to melt in my arms and opens her mouth allowing me in. After a few seconds she pulls away and starts to kiss her way along my jaw and down my neck ‘what do you think you are doing?’ I ask as I try to catch her hands as they attempt to slip inside my sweatshirt but she can be as slippery as an eel when she wants to be and she continues her assault on my neck.

‘What do youse think I’m doing Will?’ she grins up at me and then goes back to what she was doing.

This time I manage to catch hold of her hands before she can get them inside the waistband of my sweatpants, it’s been a long time and I find I’m hard and aching for her touch but I’m wary of doing something wrong. Looking at the cheeky grin on her face I’m sure she is all too aware of what her antics are doing to me. ‘What do you want minx, come on tell me.’

She looks up at me and goes all coy ‘I want youse Will, make love to me please, make me feel alive.’

‘Are you sure that’s what you want madam?’ I don’t want to hurt her but I’m finding it hard not to pin her to the bed and have my wicked way with her. ‘It’s been a while, are you sure?’

In reply she manages to get her hands free and suddenly I find she’s got them inside my briefs and has taken me in hand. I groan loudly which makes her even bolder, she begins to push my sweatpants and briefs down in one go, allowing her more freedom to explore with her hands. I lay back, unsure of what to do and let her have her way. Suddenly her hands are replaced with her warm wet mouth and it takes all my control not to thrust wildly into her inviting throat. ‘Oi minx, come here a minute’ I manage to say, or rather moan ‘I think you might just be a little overdressed don’t you?’ I lift her gently up so I can begin to remove her t-shirt, once it is out of the way I get her to lay down on her back and skim her joggers off, the cheeky mare is not wearing any underwear, how did I miss that? ‘Right you can go back to what you were doing in a moment let me get at you.’ I bend down and take her left nipple into my mouth while I tweak the right with my hand, I roll them both around, one in my mouth and the other in my hand, matching my movements. She arches up into my touch and gives a slight moan ‘too much for you minx? Just you wait until I’ve finished with you madam.’ I bend back to what I was doing and with my free hand I stroke across her stomach feeling it contract with my touch, she is grasping the sheets tightly in her hands and arching her hips up in the air trying to encourage me to move my touch lower. ‘Patience minx, you’ll get what you want soon, so in the meantime why don’t you tell me exactly what it is you want me to do.’

I want this to be on her terms, I want her to set the direction things are going to take because I want to make it so very special for her, she deserves to have special memories to hang on to now the end is getting closer. I don’t want to stop her from doing whatever she wants, if she wants me to go down on her I will and if she feels she can do the same for me then as long as it is on her terms I won’t stop her.

‘Make me come Will, take me as high as youse can. I want to feel all of youse and this time I want to…take youse in me mouth but not all the way…I want youse in me then.’ I look up and see she is blushing, even after all she’s been through she still finds it so wrong to tell me what she wants either of us to do in bed.

‘Are you willing to let me set the pace then minx or do you want to be in control of things?’ I move back up her body and kiss her deeply and stroke her face with one hand, leaving the other hovering just above her curls at the junction of her thighs.

‘I want youse to be in control, it’s so much better when youse take over but I do want to have some say over what I do to youse’ she blushes again.

‘Ok minx I think I might let you have your wicked way first how about that, do you want to explore me?’ I take hold of her hand and guide it down to touch me ‘that’s it, touch me, gently, feel how hard I am for you, can you feel that, that’s what the thought of making love to you does to me. Move your hand slowly up to the tip and then back down’ I manage to just about groan out the instructions, I want her to not be embarrassed by what she is doing to me, I want her to know that doing what we are doing is not dirty or sinful. ‘Ok, now move your other hand lower, feel how tight my balls are, that’s all your doing. It’s natural, I want you and that’s what it feels like when a man wants you. Go on explore, use your hands or mouth whichever you feel comfortable doing, I want you to touch me, make me want you so much. Do whatever you want to do to me, show me that you want all of me.’ I’m trying to make things easy for Charlie, I want her to get to the point where she is so turned on by my body that she loses her guilt and enjoys going down on me. I want her to be able to finally put the past behind her, I know she’s forgotten what happened but I want this to be special for her, I want her to enjoy a man’s body possibly for the last time.

I can feel her tentatively touching me and exploring with her hands and then I’m enveloped in the wet warmth of her mouth, it feels beyond description, knowing that she is doing it willingly and hopefully without any feelings of guilt. I’m finding it hard not to thrust, I don’t want her to be shocked so I keep as still as possible until I feel her get into some sort rhythm ‘I need to move minx, will you let me thrust gently I promise?’ I gasp as she does unspeakable things to me, she nods and all of a sudden she relaxes her throat and takes me in right down to the root. It feels amazing and as she swallows she runs her tongue around the tip of me and I have to count backwards to stop myself from coming. I try to let her have her way with me for as long as possible but I want to give her as much pleasure as she is giving me before it’s all over for me. I reach down and tap her on the shoulder ‘hold on, if you don’t stop it will all be over before we’ve started’ I can only gasp. ‘Lay down let me return the favour, I think it’s your turn now don’t you?’ I look at her flushed face and neck she is so turned on and I think she finally enjoyed what she has just done for me, another time I’d let her take me all the way but not today. I want today to be all about Charlie Price and what she needs.

I get Charlie to lay down on her back again, totally relaxed, then I lean in and begin kissing her softly, working down her neck and back up the other side, hands gently caressing her soft skin. As I kiss her down her chest to her nipples I am far enough away that she can’t see my expression as I take in her once sleek body. Where once there was muscle, she is almost skin and bone, it breaks my heart to see how fragile she has become. I push those thoughts aside and concentrate on her pleasure, I take first one then the other nipple in my mouth and suck each of them in hard peaks. I carry on down, still kissing and caressing until I reach that sweet centre of hers, I part the soft curls, which surprisingly are still jet black unlike the hair on her head, with my tongue and run it across her sensitive lips. She is wet and smooth under my tongue and I gently circle round her clitoris applying pressure as I do and I slowly slip a finger into her, only one to start with to let her get used to the sensation. I try to think, when was the last time we made love and I find I can’t remember, it must have been weeks ago, possibly when we stayed at Peter and Jenny's I’m not sure. Actually, as I concentrate on her pleasure it comes to me, after her little display at the boat hire place at Richmond, we cut the day short, came back here and spent the afternoon making lazy love. I can hear Charlie softly moaning and I concentrate on taking her higher, I add another finger and move them slowly in and out in, she is getting wetter and I’m finding it hard to control my arousal. I want to plunge my rock-hard cock into her and take us both as high as we can go, I start to move my fingers quicker and then she is coming, I ease her down gently, keeping my movements slow and soft.

‘How do you want to do this minx, on your back or side by side spooning?’ As much as I want to watch her come I think I will be too heavy for her if I go on top and she doesn’t have the energy to ride me so side by side seems the best choice to me.

She is panting heavily but manages to gasp out ‘youse behind, spooning Will, I can’t manage any other way’. I can see she is tired but she is determined to enjoy this so she rolls on to her side, I curl up behind her and slowly ease my way in at the same time I reach round with one hand and continue to tease her as I gently thrust in and out. She is so lost in herself that she has hit that place where one orgasm seems to just roll on and on and I can feel myself being carried along with her. Suddenly she stiffens as a huge one hits and she takes me with her, I feel as though I will never stop coming and I just hold her as we both try to catch our breath and come back down to earth. I stay inside her for as long as I can but eventually I soften and slip out.

‘Feeling better minx?’

She turns and looks over her shoulder at me, no more than a couple of inches from my face so I know she can see me, I smile at her, she looks so happy and peaceful, I lean in and kiss her. ‘I feel amazing’ she grins shyly at me.

‘I don’t know about you minx but I could do with a bath to ease out the kinks, stay there and I’ll sort it out then I’ll come back for you, don’t you dare move madam.’ I soften my words with a long kiss, then slip out of bed to run the bath, thankfully it is more than big enough for the two of us. While it is running I wander back into the bedroom and gather a sleepy Charlie in my arms and carry her to the bath, carefully I step into the water and sit us both down. ‘Don’t you go falling asleep, we won’t be in here long and then you can go back to bed and have a good rest.’

Charlie lays back in the warm water between my legs and leans against my chest whilst I wash her, all too soon the water begins to cool, I pick her up and climb carefully out of the bath then wrap her in a large towel. When she is dry I carry her back to bed and tuck her up making sure she is near the middle of it so she can roll over and not fall out. ‘I’m going to get a drink’ I say as I pull on my sweatshirt and sweatpants ‘do you want some juice?’

‘Just a small glass’ she replies drowsily.

I wander out to the kitchen and put the kettle on to boil for a coffee while I find a glass for some orange juice for Charlie. Just as I reach into the fridge to pick up the carton of juice I hear the unmistakeable sound of a single gunshot, the carton slips out of my hand and explodes all over the floor. I stand in the kitchen, shocked by what I have heard but part of me had been expecting something like this to happen. I know there is no point rushing into the bedroom, Charlie is too good a shot to have not meant what she did and I know she will have made it as quick and painless as possible. I stand and gather my thoughts for a moment and almost on autopilot I walk into the living room, pick up the phone and dial Murphy’s number. He answers almost immediately ‘Murph, it’s me, it’s over’ I say and hang up. I know that Murphy will have got the message and he will call those that need to know, such as Atkins and Cowley.

Phone call made, I make my way to the bedroom, I’m not afraid of the sight that awaits me, I know Charlie is at peace and that she did not suffer unduly. On the bed beside her is a letter with my name on it but what surprises me is there are another two letters on the bedside table, I look at the names – Cowley and Murphy. I turn and look at my wife, she looks so peaceful and apart from the Browning in her hand and the inevitable mess on the pillow she finally looks happy. I don’t care about forensics, it’s all too obvious what happened and I climb into bed and pull her into my arms for the last time, she is still warm and I can smell her unique smell, I kiss her hair and settle down to wait for the intrusions that I know are to come. Now I know why she was so keen to spend this afternoon the way we did, it was her way of saying goodbye without actually saying the words and I hope that I made her happy for her last hours. I sit back and close my eyes remembering the good times that we have had over the years and not the last couple of months, although on the whole things were good the threat of death coloured those days since she came back to me. For now the flat is peaceful and I’m able to say all those words that to Charlie that I couldn’t while she was alive, I hope she can understand that although I didn’t tell her constantly, she was the only woman I ever loved and that I will carry on loving her until I join her. As I talk to her I caress her hair and lean down to kiss her, she looks so beautiful in a way it’s hard to believe that she’s gone.

All too soon I hear a key in the door and I know that our peace is about to be shattered. I apologise to her but explain that this has got to happen and although she is going to leave me I will be with her for as long as I’m allowed to be. I can hear voices as the door opens, it appears than Atkins and Kate have arrived with Murphy, to be honest I’m glad in a way that they have come but I wish that none of them were here. I want to spend as much time as possible with my wife in my arms before the real world intrudes and takes her from me for the final time.

Protocol dictates that, although it is obvious, Atkins has to come in and pronounce that Charlie is gone. I can feel his sadness and pain, he makes it as painless as he can for me, he merely checks for a pulse and notes the time then leaves us alone again. After that everything seems to pass in a blur, I know Murphy came in and asked if he could say goodbye to Charlie, I merely nodded and he gave her a gentle kiss then he too left. I can see Kate hovering outside the bedroom door and I know she wants to come and comfort me but she has seen so little of violent death that she is wary of intruding. She looks at me with tears rolling down her face, she is struggling with what she can see, for someone like her it must be upsetting, a violent and bloody death especially a self-inflicted one.

‘Please Kate’ I say gently ‘don’t be upset, she is at peace, there’s no more suffering for her now. Just understand that this was how she wanted to go, don’t judge her for what she’s done. I’m glad her suffering is over. She knew it was time to go and she choose to go on her own terms. All I can do is accept her decision and mourn for the woman I loved, as hard as that will be. I understand why she chose to leave the way she did, she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, least of all me. How could she be a burden to me, I would have gladly died for her, Kate.’ I bury my face in Charlie’s hair as my emotions get the better of me and I hear someone pull the bedroom door shut to give me some privacy before the people who deal with death arrive to do what they need to do.

Monday 17 October 1988

I come to slowly in the big empty bed, still half expecting to roll over and find Charlie there, warm and welcoming but her side of the bed is cold and always will be from now on. I realise as I lay there in the early morning darkness, that today marks the day that I have to say a permanent goodbye to my wife and leave her in the cold, dark earth all alone until I can join her. I climb wearily out of bed and pull the curtains, it looks like the weather is going to match my mood, it is dull and grey out there with the hint of rain. As I head for the bathroom I hear a movement from the other room and I remember that Murphy refused to leave me on my own last night, he said he owed it to Charlie to keep an eye on me. Murphy has been running around organising things that I have found overwhelming, such as somewhere suitable to hold a celebration of Charlie’s life, a wake is far too sad an affair to remember her by.

Although she is to be buried in a graveyard I have requested a simple service, neither Catholic nor otherwise, I want it to be as non-Church like as it can be given where it will be held. I believe that Charlie would be happy with my choice, she had too much of the Catholic Church in her life and it was reflected in how she dealt with so many things, not just life but personal things and I think she regretted that part of her upbringing. She is to be buried in that stunning blue velvet evening dress that she wore at Hereford, it summed her up perfectly – the beautiful but flawed woman with her many scars, whom I’m proud to have called my wife. The only things I cannot bear to be buried with her are her wedding and engagement rings that I gave her seven years apart, so I had a new wedding ring made and engraved with the same words. I placed the ring on her finger as I did the original one and said my final goodbyes to her privately, today is a chance for our friends to say those words.

The Church is a pretty little place out by the new training centre, I happened to pop in there one day not long after Charlie came back into my life. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just somewhere quiet to try and sort out my feelings when the vicar, minister, I’m still not sure what he is came and sat down in another pew. For some reason I began to talk to him, I think just to try and understand in my own head what I was going through, he sat and listened to me but the only advice he gave me was to love Charlie and do whatever it took to keep her happy. I’d been expecting something more Church like, I don’t know what exactly but he didn’t try to preach to me or tell me it was God’s will or anything like that, he spoke to me the way a friend would. I came away feeling happier in my mind that I was doing the right thing by Charlie and it became a habit to pop in on the days I was training, I think he was genuinely concerned in what was happening in my life. A couple of times I wandered around the peaceful churchyard, just enjoying the birdsong and being out of London, although to be fair you can see the city from there and then one day I realised that this is where I wanted Charlie to be laid to rest. She will be near me when I’m working and I hope she approves of my choice for both of us when my time comes to join her, it also means I can come and see her whenever I want without the fear of being disturbed by others.

Andrew, that’s the vicar or whatever he is, knows some of Charlie’s history in that she was born and brought up in a staunch Catholic family with all the trappings attached and how she has always tried to rebel against what she sees as sin. He has assured me that none of that matters, she will have a simple service with none of the things she would have hated, he can see how much that means to me, although I’ve not known him long, he understands what I want for Charlie. The only thing I haven’t been able to tell him is that in the end she took her own life rather than be a burden to me, mind you if I have learnt anything about Andrew, I don’t think he’d be that shocked to be honest but I won’t tell him, what happened is between us. The other thing about being here is that there are no others from CI5 buried here so I know that whenever I come to see Charlie, it will be just the two of us and I can talk to her without worrying about anyone else overhearing.

Finally, the time has come to meet Charlie at the church, there are four of us who are going to take her on her final journey – me, Murphy, Peter and Kevin. I don’t know how Murph got hold of Kev but I know Charlie would approve of the four of us, all of us have seen her at work both here and in Belfast, so it seems fitting we are the ones to escort her. She and Kev were close during her Belfast days, they worked together on so much over the water that it is only right he joins us for her final journey. As we wait outside the church for the hearse to arrive the sun makes a fleeting appearance as it pulls up and stays out as we escort Charlie into the church and then after the service as we come back out to take her on the final part of the journey. Standing at the graveside I watch as the others say their goodbyes and drop the traditional handful of dirt on her coffin but I can’t join in. I will wait until they have all gone before I drop the single red rose and say a private goodbye. Although I said a goodbye a few days ago, when I placed the ring on her hand, I find that I need to tell her things that I couldn’t then and I’m glad that I have the place to myself. Murphy, Peter and Kevin are waiting in the car as they understand that I need this time by myself.

As I turn and go to walk down the path on my way to thank Andrew for the service I spot someone I had hoped not to see today of all days, Doyle. I walk past him and leave him outside the church door, I am hopeful that by time I come out he will have gone and I won’t have to speak to him, I am afraid that if I speak to him today so much hurt and anger will come out. I don’t want anything to spoil today, today is all about Charlie and her life, how she made so much difference to our lives, especially mine. I resent the fact that he is here, after he caused so much heartache for Charlie. It seems that someone was listening to me as when I come out of the church Doyle is gone, where I couldn’t care less but I guess he will try and turn up at the wake.

By the time Murphy drops me back at the flat it is the middle of the evening and I am finally alone. Kev and Peter are staying at Murphy’s tonight and if I feel up to it the four of us will meet up tomorrow and have our own private goodbye party for Charlie. I loosen my tie and hang the suit jacket back in the wardrobe, where it hangs next to the suit carrier containing Charlie’s dress uniform. I undo the protective cover and slowly stroke the pristine uniform complete with its medals. It’s hard to believe that the docile Irish girl who shared those last few weeks with me was the same one who earned those medals and mentioned in despatches ribbons. I remember the last time I saw her wearing her uniform, it was a cold and windy Remembrance Day back in ’81 at Hereford and even I was surprised when I saw the medals she had been awarded. On that day Charlie laid a wreath in remembrance of all those who had lost their lives in either the MRF or 14 Company during the Troubles, I felt so proud that my wife had been given that honour, as she had served in both units in Belfast. I recover her uniform and can’t help but notice the longer suit carrier hanging now empty beside it, the two were always hung next to each other in the wardrobe as if one was needed then it followed that the other would be too. The empty one had contained the midnight blue velvet dress that fitted Charlie so well and that I chose to have her buried in, part of me regrets that it is no longer here but I believe she would have been happy to be buried in it. I can just hear her saying to me ‘I’m nothing special, just some Irish lass, a small cog in a large machine, no one knows me name’ but on that day back in ’81 everyone knew her name Sergeant Charlie Price, my wife.

I wander back into the lounge and pour myself a scotch, the flat is eerily quiet, not that it has been noisy for the last few weeks but it feels empty and unloved, Charlie, no matter that she was dying seemed to make the place come alive. I will ask for a move when I finally get back into the swing of things, somewhere that I haven’t been rotated to before or that Charlie might have used. As I stand and look around my eye is caught by the envelope that someone must have picked up and placed on top of the stereo for safe keeping, I know I didn’t move it, so someone did when I left with Charlie. I know immediately what it is and I wonder if I can face reading it tonight or whether I should leave for a while longer. Part of me wants to know what she had to say to me and part of me doesn’t. I pick up the envelope and turn in over and over in my hands, debating whether I’m strong enough to open it. Eventually I make my mind up and slowly prise the seal open, it seems fitting to read it tonight – this is Charlie’s goodbye to me, just as I said my goodbye to her today.

17 August

My Dearest Darling Will

The first thing I want to say to youse is how happy youse have made me over these last few difficult weeks and I apologise now for breaking your heart, it seems I’ve made a habit of doing that over the years. Youse have been the only man I have ever loved and I love youse more than life itself, I would gladly die for youse if it came down to it. Please don’t be sad, I know that’s easier said than done but I’ve had a good life and lived far longer than I deserve to have done. By rights I should have been dead years ago, buried in an unmarked grave, one of the disappeared and mourned by none. Youse have saved me more than once and taken me on, demons and all, shown me love and shown me that life was worth living.

Today I have re-read the file that contains me life, did youse know that I have a copy, going right back to the day I signed on? I have to re-read it to find out who I am, how old I am and what I have done with me life. There is so much that I don’t know about, youse can only learn so much from the written word. There is no description of the person Sergeant Charlie Price or this other person Charlie Duffy, what was I like, I get the impression that Duffy was a right bastard, to be avoided at all costs, am I right Will? I don’t understand how I could have done the things that my file says – I’m not a bad person Will am I?

17 September

I can’t remember what happened yesterday and I know by tomorrow I will have forgotten today, I don’t tell youse what is happening in me head, not that there’s a lot going on to be fair. I don’t want to upset youse but I know I am, every time youse look at me I can see the sadness in your eyes and it hurts me that youse are hurting. Today I know I’m dying but by tomorrow that memory will have gone and unless I read this letter again I won’t ever remember. I haven’t told youse but I have turned down the treatment that the consultants offered me – all it will do is prolong me suffering. Every day I get a little bit weaker and more reliant on others, I will not put others through the heartache of looking after me. Let me decide when enough is enough and let me go knowing I made the decision with as much free will as I have. I can’t say when it will happen but even if I’ve forgotten everything apart from youse I know I will be able to do what I have to do.

According to other papers I have it says I left Belfast when I was sixteen but there is so little information that I don’t know why I left, was it to find me family I wonder, it says they left me behind when I was four. How can a mother and father leave a child behind, was I that much of a monster even then?

I also have copies of me medical notes, again as far as I’m concerned they could be written about someone else as I can’t remember any of it. It says that I had a back-street abortion and then lost a baby when I was involved in a hit and run followed by a shooting. The file clearly states that you were the father of that baby but I don’t know Will, there’s no memory of any of it. Since re-reading those parts I have prayed for forgiveness, it says that your sins will come back and be repaid, I guess that’s why I’ve got this thing in me head slowly killing me.

All of me memories have gone now, all I know is that youse are me husband and we have been married for seven years, I hope they were good years, as I have no recollection of them at all. Do youse have any idea of how much I love youse Will, youse are me whole life and I wish I could leave something behind for youse to remember me by but according to me medical notes that was not going to happen for us. Youse would have been such a good father, I can just see youse – if we’d have had a boy youse would’ve been playing football and heaven help us if we’d have had a girl. Poor girl wouldn’t have been allowed out unless youse were her chaperone. I wish things had been different Will, I feel cheated that I couldn’t be a proper wife to youse and give youse the family youse deserved.

Writing this letter is so very hard to do, as I have to keep stopping and checking me file to find out what I’ve done and what has happened to me. Youse are so understanding, youse rarely lose your temper with me and reading about meself I wonder how youse can be so patient with me. Everything is a bit disjointed and rambling, just like me thoughts, I have to put down things as they come into me mind otherwise they’re gone. If I leave this letter and come back to it another time none of will make any sense to me as I’ll have forgotten what I was writing about.

There are some notes that Atkins left for me in the medical file, I don’t know if he did by accident of not but I know what is left to come. My eyesight is starting to fail Will and over the next few weeks it will get so much worse, as it is I can hardly see out of me left eye now.

1 October

Time is short Will and I know that I only have a very limited time left now before I get beyond the point of being able to do what I need to do. I’m sat here trying to write this but I can only see what I’m doing with my head almost touching the paper. Youse are asleep and I have managed to crawl in here to write this, I can’t stand anymore but youse know that. I hope youse haven’t realised just how little I can see, the only time I can see your face is if youse are just a few inches away. I’m tired Will, I have got to the point where I want to sleep and not wake up, my head hurts so much and nothing seems to help, the only time I can find some comfort is when I’m in your arms, I feel safe there. I know by time youse read this your heart will be in million pieces but I hope youse can understand why I’ve done what I’ve done. Suicide is one of the worst sins but seeing as I’m going to hell what does one more sin matter?

8 October

This is so hard to write, Will but I want to thank youse for this afternoon and the gift youse gave me. I can go with your love in my heart, the taste of youse on my lips and the smell of youse all around me. Youse will never know how much it hurts me to leave youse Will but I will be with youse always by your side in all youse do. I won’t tell youse to find someone else, like me there is no one out there, we found our soul mate in each other. Try to be happy and remember the good times we must have had. Promise me youse’ll think about the houses we talked about and maybe buy one for us to be happy in.

Goodbye my dearest Will, yours forever

Charlie

xxxx