Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Ros was not at all at ease with telling her colleagues about Sugarhorse. With a traitor on the Grid itself that had to be one of the most dangerous things she had ever done, especially since Dolby had explicitly forbidden her from briefing the rest of the team. One of the persons in this room could be the traitor, she was only too well aware of that possibility.

She looked at Connie first, composed as always. There was nothing that seemed to be able to throw the intelligence analyst off balance. No matter how bad the crisis, she always kept her head. It was something Ros modelled her own conduct on, because it worked. She admired the other woman for her sometimes nonchalant ways of dealing with bad situations. But it could work both ways. Connie could be hiding something behind that mask of calm and she would never know for sure by just watching her.

Malcolm looked a bit more stressed. He usually was calmness incarnate, but today he was badly shaken, although most of it seemed due to the invasion of Internal Security and Harry's arrest. Ros could hardly fault him for that, not with her own peace of mind being currently non-existent, but there could still be another reason why he was upset. And while Ros did not in all honesty want to contemplate that possibility, she knew she had to.

But anyway, her cover was already blown the moment she had so stupidly let it slip that she was aware of Sugarhorse. Most of the team members would not have understood what she meant, but one of them would have. By now she had let go of the ridiculous assumption that either Harry or Lucas was the mole. Lucas was ruled out in that role after what Merlin had seen and Harry? Ros didn't think she had ever believed treason of him. It was, to say it in Connie's words, just too absurd. But this only left Connie, Malcolm and Dolby. So which one is it?

That was the question and one she would have to work out sooner rather than later, preferably before that horrible man downstairs did God only knows what to her real boss. Ros wished she could scream and pound the walls like an angry child, but the fate of the operation was in her hands, she knew. If she went to pieces, the operation and, consequently, Harry and Lucas were doomed. And Ros Myers was nothing if not a perfectionist. So she kept a calm façade as she relayed the fact that both Borkhovin and Korachevsky had been part of the sleeper network Sugarhorse. 'It was designed to keep Russian nuclear capability under NATO control,' she explained. 'That network is now being destroyed just as Russia plans to turn the missile defence issue into a global crisis.' Bloody brilliant of them too. 'So, unless we can find out who betrayed the Sugarhorse names and stop them before anyone else dies, we stand to lose any edge we ever had over Russia and any protection against any future attack.' So, no pressure at all.

As dangerous as it was to inform their traitor that she was onto them, it was also a relief to share the burden. There were still people she could trust unconditionally and she would use those. Arthur and Merlin were not such burdens as they had once been. Arthur brought his loyalty and sometimes remarkable intellect – should he feel in the mood to bloody well use it – to the table and Merlin had shown initiative and independent thinking as well. Although Ros was never going to admit it, she was grateful that the warlock had taken the time to make sure Lucas was still all right. It did not stop her from worrying, but it helped some.

She found herself looked at by a lot of serious faces. There was shock, but confusion as well and it was Jo who voiced the last sentiment. 'Why don't you just give us a list of names so we can pull them out and debrief them?'

'The network was designed to be unbreakable. Only certain names are known to certain individuals.' Harry Pearce, Hugo Prince and Richard Dolby. With Hugo Prince being dead, that only left two people, who should have been the only people to know the names. But there were a lot of ways to ferret out things one wasn't supposed to know and all of them were spies. Anyone could have found out the names if only they had enough time and determination to do it. 'But no one has the full list,' she added. They certainly didn't.

Ben frowned. 'But Hugo Prince is a link?' He could hardly conclude otherwise, with Hugo Prince signing out Borkhovin's file so much.

Ros nodded. 'Yeah.' One of the three.

Connie's face was instantly indignant. 'Hugo and I were lovers,' she said, glaring at Ros. 'I know he wasn't a traitor.'

I beg your pardon? That was something Ros had not been aware of. It certainly had not been in the personnel files she had been digging through half of the morning. It certainly did add food to the thought that Connie was the traitor, if she had been so close to Hugo Prince. It were his assets that were being murdered now, after all. It just disagreed with Connie's obvious and much voiced dislike of Russia and the KGB.

Ben was the one to reassure Connie that this was not what he had intended. He was the one to drop the next bomb on them though. He had done a little digging of his own and had thus found out that the last time Mr Prince had taken the file on Borkhovin was on September twenty-third 2003. The only problem with that was that Hugo Prince had died on September twenty-second. Ben didn't need to state the obvious, that this person who was not Hugo Prince could be the traitor they were looking for.

Ros had never even liked the junior officer – too much history there – but right now, if she were a more spontaneous and affectionate woman, she could have hugged him for providing her with an avenue to explore. She'd had more than enough of chasing shadows and suspicions for which there did not seem to be any ground. This, however, was something they could actually check out and that was a very welcome change.

She ordered him to get down to the archive and find the authorisation slip used to access the file then, after which he was to take it to Malcolm, so that he could unleash his machinery on it. Malcolm was still on the list for being a traitor, but no one else knew how to manage that machinery in the way Malcolm did. Like it or not, they needed him and Ros had every intention of keeping a close eye on him.

'Needle in a haystack,' Connie commented with a pitying look at the junior officer. 'I'll come with you.'

'No.' For the second time that day Ros found herself slapping down an offer of help from the intelligence analyst. If Connie was trying to not look like a traitor, then she was doing a very poor job of it. 'That's not your job,' she pointed out sharply. 'I'll need you up here. There'll be an avalanche of chatter once that second death is announced. I'll need you listening in, find out who the Russians might hit next.' There, now she had at least made it sound like a normal order, not as if she was suspecting her of doing anything but her job. And that was a good thing, because Ros was not even sure Connie should be suspected of anything. So far she had not really done anything she wouldn't normally do. It was merely Ros's attitude that had so drastically changed. Spooks paranoia. Sooner or later they'd all succumb to it, like Connie, who saw Russians lurking behind every corner. Her behaviour could mean nothing. It probably meant nothing. But Ros was rather safe than sorry.

It spoke for the intelligence analyst that she didn't protest. She merely nodded and stalked off back to the Grid to do what she had been told to do. Ben got up as well and Merlin followed suit. 'I'll go,' he offered. 'I can try if my magic is any help.'

Merlin was full of surprises today, Ros observed wryly. Earlier he had given every impression of not being very eager to put effort into this operation. He had even gone as far as to start a conversation with Mordred – where was that lad? – about only God knows what. He had been his usual annoying self, until she had sent him to do some magical spying. Apparently he had been so shocked by what he'd seen, that he finally realised what was really at stake here. Well, wonders never ceased.

She nodded her approval and waited until the warlock had left the room and had closed the door behind him. Then she turned to Jo. 'I want you to pull up everything related to Bernard Qualtrough and the codename Pilgrim.' She had heard Lucas about this when they were trying to piece together what little he knew about Sugarhorse and anything relating to it. It was something he recalled from his interrogation and Bernard Qualtrough had come up then as well, although they had not been able to work out what he had done then, if he even had done anything. But it was hardly a coincidence that Merlin had overheard Harry naming him as the one who'd forged the dossier.

Still, it wasn't their traitor. He may be the traitor's contact, but the mole itself was hidden somewhere in their own little fruit bowl. But there was more than one way to catch a traitor and Ros was determined to utilise every option she had. The more ways she tried, the bigger the chance was that one of them was successful.

Jo nodded and Ros turned to Arthur. 'You and I are going through a list of every Russian diplomat who has ever made contact with MI-5. If no one can give us the Sugarhorse names, we'll bloody well have to work it out ourselves.' Now there was a needle in a haystack job, but it needed to be done.

Arthur gave a curt nod as well, but then, he didn't know just how hopeless things were yet. The Section Chief found that she almost envied him his ignorance. If she hadn't known what a long shot this was, then she might be feeling a bit more optimistic too. As it was, she was rather tending towards very realistic pessimism.

And she just felt so bloody alone. I can't do this on my own. The world was collapsing around her and the two very people she would normally have used to lean on, draw strength from in crises like this one, were either interrogated or on the run from the FSB on the other side of Europe. But if she showed any of her unease, her world would not be the only thing to collapse. So, get back to work, Myers. Wallowing is not going to do you any good.

Jo looked doubtful. 'You realise that all this could just prove that Harry is the mole?'

Ros had to suppress the strong urge she felt to bang the junior officer's head against the table top for having the guts to even consider the possibility that Harry was a double agent. The very thought was ridiculous. But maybe her anger was only so near the surface because deep down she realised that Jo's attitude was, at least at the moment, more professional than Ros's. And that was a thought she couldn't stand. She was used to being the one who didn't let get emotions in the way of an operation.

But she did. Where her team, her colleagues, were considered, she found she was no longer able to distance herself from her work. And Harry had become close to being a father figure to her now that her own father was serving his sentence for trying to overthrow the government in jail. Families mess with your head. She had known the truth of that when she had first said that to Lucas and the truth of it became now apparent once again.

She kept her tone of voice calm as she replied. 'Yeah,' she said, still not willing to believe it though, not of Harry Pearce. 'But it's also our only chance to prove that he isn't.'

So, focus on that, she ordered herself. And get going. Worried for Harry and Lucas or not, there was still a major diplomatic crisis going down and the single most important operation of the last few decades was being betrayed to the Russians as they were speaking. Her first priority had to be to salvage whatever was left of Sugarhorse and find out what the Russians were planning to do about the missile defence shield issue. Sugarhorse or not, they were still very annoyed with the United Stated at the moment – Ros could hardly blame them for feeling that way; she wasn't the Americans' biggest fan either – and it was likely that reprisals of some kind were imminent. With the British thrown into the mix, they may even face reprisals on British soil. The Russians knew about Sugarhorse and were unlikely to be pleased with it.

Jo nodded and left, leaving only Arthur and Ros in the room. The Section Chief did not exactly look forward towards working with the king of Camelot, but no one would be able to accuse him of not being devoted to the job. He cared and sometimes he even gave the impression of knowing what he was doing. He wanted to help.

'You don't believe that Harry is a traitor,' Arthur stated, fixing her with a stare that was almost challenging her to contradict him, after which he might challenge her to single combat to the death or something like that. Arthur Pendragon was too trusting for his own good. It could have been the death of him when he initially refused to believe that his uncle Agravaine was a traitor. He had refused to believe it until he had then solid proof that Agravaine was indeed working with Morgana, plotting his downfall.

There was of course another side to this. he also had an unwavering faith in the people he considered friends and would rather die than let any harm come to them. He had not left a stone unturned when Lucas had been taken by Morgana and he had jumped to his defence when Dolby had started accusing Lucas as well. Harry must have ended up on the list of Arthur's friends somehow. It made her wonder where she stood.

'I should bloody well hope not,' she said dismissively.

Colleagues are okay, Lucas and she had once decided, and sometimes friends could be as well. They also annoyed you time and again. Arthur annoyed her to no end. Might he even be considered a friend sometime? With both Harry and Lucas gone, she found herself in need of them – even if she would rather die than admit to that out loud – especially now that mere colleagues could no longer be truly relied upon.

'Good,' Arthur said. 'Well, shall we?'

'You are aware I am actually the Section Chief here?' she asked sardonically.

Arthur shrugged. 'And I am the king of Camelot, so stop lazing around like Merlin on the morning after a visit to the tavern and let's get to work.' He marched out of the meeting room before she had a chance to reply.

Oh yes, Arthur Pendragon annoyed her to no end.

The kitchen wasn't difficult to find. The woman who had introduced herself as Katerina, one of the poor souls doomed to spend their days in this bar, had been very specific with her instructions. As he descended the stairs that would lead him to the kitchen, constantly scanning the room for any sign of FSB presence, he wondered who she was and why she did what she was doing. She didn't strike him like the kind of person who was too stupid to do better work. She seemed intelligent.

For a spook it was a very annoying thing to know that there were things he would never know and this was just one of those things he may never find out. He didn't even think he'd ever see the woman again. The FSB might find out who she was and what she'd done and then she might die the same way Maria Korachevsky surely had. It saddened him, because both Maria and Katerina had been kind to him, even though he was a complete stranger.

Eight years of Russian hell had made him appreciate small kindnesses, for in prison there were almost none of those. Maybe FSB hospitality had a way of changing one's views on the world; he'd never stopped to appreciate kindnesses like that before. He was more likely to give a curt nod in thanks because it was expected of him and then move on because he really took it for granted.

Stop wallowing, North. His mental voice had gained a lot of Ros Myers qualities over the past few months. You've got a job to do. Both these women had risked everything to save the information they'd found and help him in bringing it back to London and if he wanted to make those risks worth it, he had to man up and start acting like the Senior Case Officer he was, not the tender-hearted and vulnerable ex-prisoner Harry probably still believed him to be. It was part of the job description to take risks. People died sometimes, died for queen and country, died to protect others. No one would be helped by it if their colleagues and friends stopped doing what they did because of their deaths. Quite the contrary, only by carrying on with their work could they give their passing meaning.

And now was not the time to be wallowing anyway. He was still on an operation and the information he was looking for would be vital. If Arthur had been right and things were truly as bad as he thought them to be, there was no time to lose. Harry's fate depended on the things he was searching for and that was enough to sort his priorities.

The kitchen seemed abandoned as he entered. It didn't stop him from checking it out nonetheless. He wished he had a gun at hand, but he was unarmed. It might raise more questions than he wanted to answer if he had tried to bring a firearm into the country and he was trying to pass unnoticed. It didn't do anything to make him feel safer. He was out on a limb and he knew it.

Lucas took a deep breath and cast a glance around the kitchen in search for the drawers that had been mentioned. Katerina had spoken about them as if they were the only drawers in the whole kitchen, since she had not specified where exactly they could be found. At first glance it was rather hard to see them though. The kitchen was larger than he had expected and the panic was threatening to grip him by the throat, crippling him indefinitely. The man in the leather jacket is FSB, Katerina had said. They're looking for you everywhere. I saw him call for a back-up and they will be here in ten minutes.

That should have sufficed to make any spook worth his salt want to run for it. And Lucas was not just any spook. He was a spook with a solid eight years' experience with FSB nastiness. And he was not about to subject himself to a repeat performance, not while there was still breath in his body. He'd honestly rather die than go through that again.

But ten minutes was not a long time. He would need to hurry up if he wanted to find the package Maria had planted before he would have his tormentors on his heels again. His hands felt sweaty and at the same time he felt cold, chilled to the bone. His heart was racing and he felt like throwing up.

Part of him told him that going back to Russia had been a mistake, the worst one he'd made in many, many years. He knew the danger he would be in if he did go back and yet he had gone when Harry asked him to. And Harry needed him to, especially if he was now locked up and interrogated like he was a common criminal, which Lucas knew he was not. He was not a traitor and that package that should be hidden somewhere in this kitchen would prove him innocent. And they needed Harry to be proven clean. Without him at the helm, the team would fall apart. They would follow Ros's orders, but Lucas didn't need to have a very intimate knowledge of what exactly had happened with her before he had been released to know that the team did not follow her lead willingly. When it came to Harry though, they were fiercely loyal. It was simple enough really.

And he would make sure that he was not taking all this risks for nothing. Maria had died for a reason and he would make sure of that. He had not come this far only to throw in the towel and admit defeat when things got difficult. That was not who he was. It was not how he had survived those eight years in hell. He had flown back to hell, as he had written to Arthur, but he was bloody well going to come out of it again and with the information Maria Korachevsky had hidden here.

It helped to give himself a reminder of just what was at stake should he fail. It did not stop his hands from feeling sweaty and it didn't do anything to control his nerves and nausea either. It did however make him sort his priorities. And there were drawers, four of them. He needed the third one down and then he had to get out of this place. He was already feeling claustrophobic.

The drawer in question looked like it hadn't been used in decades. It was dusty, but the large envelope in it was not, suggesting that it had not been there for long. That would have been dangerous too. If anyone would have found it, everything would have been in vain. Now however, he had what he came for.

The envelope contained three things. An airline ticket folded into a fake, but very real looking UK passport, another envelope and something small. He picked that up first. It was odd to see, a relic from times past, but Lucas remembered a microdot document when he happened upon one. That was the information he needed? He could not be certain now, not while he was still in Russia, unable to read the thing. Priority would be to get back to England first and that was going to be hard enough as it was already. It went into his trouser pocket, along with the passport.

He cast a glance over his shoulder and found the kitchen still blessedly empty. The only thing he heard was the loud music coming from the bar. While it may mask the sounds he made in here, it worked both ways. He could not hear any intruder coming either and that made him feel jumpier than he already was. He had to get out of here, the sooner, the better. By all rights he should stick the envelope in his pocket as well and see what was in it when he was safely out again.

But he had spent too much time hanging around Ros Work-first-everything-else-be-damned Myers and her attitude was catching. That must be the only reason why he opened that envelope and pulled out the photograph in it.

It was a picture of three people. The picture itself was black and white and obviously long pre-dated his recruitment to MI-5. Two of the people in the photograph were men and they had practically written KGB all over their faces. They were talking to the third person on the far right of the photo, a woman in a winter coat, who seemed to be rather familiar with them, even if she did not look at all like the kind of person working for the KGB.

No, her face, unlike that of the two men, was familiar. Her hair had gone grey now and her face had more wrinkles than it had had in the eighties, but her face was basically unchanged. Connie James. Connie was the mole.

For a moment Lucas thought it well possible that he had stopped breathing. Of course he had known that one in Section D was betraying the Sugarhorse operation to the FSB, but it was something else entirely to see it confirmed. Harry had said that there was a traitor in Section D and Lucas had no reason not to believe him. He had narrowed the suspects down to three himself already. It would be Connie, Malcolm or Ros. And he had been right. It was Connie. She had been the one to betray Sugarhorse and frame Harry. But had that been all that she had done? Would she not also be responsible for his delivery into the hands of the FSB?

At the same time it didn't make sense. The intelligence analyst had always been kind to him. She wasn't a very kind type of person, but she seemed to care about the team and the officers in it. She did her job well, had both intelligence and experience. She was the kindly grandmother type, not the traitor material.

But she was. This photograph proved it. And as he stared at it in shock, a memory resurfaced and he was back on the Grid, only just released, in clothes he had worn for so long he could not remember when he had put them on.

'Lucas North, I presume?' the elderly woman had said when she had walked towards him. 'Welcome back.'

'Thank you,' he'd said, still hardly able to believe the evidence of his own eyes.

They had shaken hands. 'Connie,' she introduced herself. 'Connie James.'

Lucas had heard of her, of course he had heard of her. She had been in the Service for about as long as Harry, he imagined. 'Connie James? Stuff of legend.'

She chuckled. 'Stuff of nightmares possibly.'

Lucas had laughed it away, taking it as a joke. And Malcolm's arrival had soon taken his attention elsewhere. To be honest, he had completely forgotten about it until now, when he found himself staring at the photograph in shock and disbelief. Because that was it. He did not want to believe this. When it came down to it, accepting that someone he had trusted so much was capable of doing that to him was a hard blow to take. And then to think that she had been working alongside him and he had never once suspected her of betrayal. No one had. And she was still on the Grid, working to undermine everything his colleagues would be working so hard to achieve.

That snapped him out of his shock. Yes, Ros's attitude towards work was catching. And at the moment he did not care that it was. His discovery had driven any fear of being discovered here himself clean from his mind, at least for the time being. He should get out of here, but that was not what he did. Instead he dug up his mobile phone and practically stabbed Ros's number into it.

She didn't answer, was possibly on the phone herself. She would be on a day like today, when the whole world appeared to be coming crumbling down. He swore under his breath, but did not give up yet. There was always Arthur. There was no doubt that he would be on their side in all of this and with a crisis like this going down, he might hang around the Section Chief. Else he wouldn't know what to do with himself. He might also be with Connie, since she had more or less taken him under her wing. He could only hope that this was not the case today.

He would not find out if Arthur was. The king of Camelot did not answer his phone either. The bloody device switched to voicemail straight away. 'This is the voicemail of Aidan Parker. I am currently unable…' Lucas had ended the call before Arthur's voice could finish his explanation of why he was not capable of answering in person.

It felt like he was being obstructed deliberately. And time was ticking away. Every minute he wasted here, the risk of being caught grew. Lucas was in no danger of forgetting that anytime soon. But his colleagues needed to be warned and so he had to try again. And he was not yet out of options. If Arthur hang around Ros like a lost puppy, then Merlin hang around Arthur like they had been joined at the hip. They came as a package deal, Lucas observed wryly. Normally it annoyed him, but now it was a gift from heaven.

And his luck held. The phone rang twice and then he heard the warlock's voice. 'Hello?'

'Merlin,' he acknowledged.

'Lucas?' The voice on the other end sounded utterly bewildered. 'Where are you? What's happening? Are you…?'

Under any other circumstance he might have wondered how he was supposed to get a word in when Merlin didn't give him a chance to talk in the first place. Today however he had far more important things on his mind. 'Merlin, Connie is the mole,' he said forcefully. 'She is the Russian mole. I've got photographic proof! Shit!'

The man in the leather jacket walked into the kitchen. It was only because he had seen him entering from the corner from his eyes that he was able to react in time. And that made him forget about the conversation on the phone. It made him even forget that he had a phone in his hand in the first place. That man was not here to ask him if he could find what he was looking for and would he perhaps need a hand? That man was ready to fight, Lucas could see, and he was not the type to back off.

For a moment he feared that the fear and the panic might cripple him, but then instinct took over. There was no thinking, just the fighting. He was vaguely aware that his opponent landed a few blows, but he hardly noticed. He could not afford the luxury of being slowed down, not with his life on the line.

But he did not particularly care about his life. All he cared about was not getting thrown back in the hell that was Russian prison. If he could get back to England alive, then that was the most preferable outcome, but if he died, he would not be disappointed either. It was better than the alternative and he had given his colleagues the information they needed anyway.

Nevertheless he fought, harder than he ever remembered fighting. If asked later, he could not tell what exactly had transpired. The fight passed in a blur. He could not even say how long it lasted or what he had done in that time. The first conscious thought was when he looked at the dead body of the FSB officer, chained and drowned in the sink. Lucas was vaguely aware that he was responsible for his death, but there was no guilt to tell him this was unacceptable. There was only an overwhelming relief that he was still alive.

You won't be for much longer if you keep dawdling, his brain commented. And that was true; Katerina had told him that back-up was on the way. So he took the envelope with the photograph, checked if the passport and the microdot document were still there and practically fled out of the kitchen, out of the bar and back to the street.

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