Just Another Normal Operation (Normal Days II)

Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Ros was starting to fear she might come down with a case of extreme paranoia. The moment she had learned that there was a traitor in their very own "little fruit bowl" practically everyone had become a potential traitor and nothing anyone said could be taken at face value anymore. And Ros hated that. Outside of work they could never be really honest with anyone, not even their own families – those who had them, that was – and colleagues were the only ones they could be open with. That principle however had now gone right out of the window. All of this, combined with the crisis they were still facing and Dolby making himself comfortable in Harry's office, made her snappy and ill-tempered. For goodness sake, Merlin and Mordred seemed to be thinking this was the best time to start playing at interrogation, of all things to do. Had Arthur and Merlin perhaps magically taken each other's personality or something?

But it didn't matter now. What did was that they were just as close as to finding out what Borkhovin's death had to do with the missile defence shield crisis as they had been when they set out on their quest of finding answers. Answers had not been found, frustration had.

Don't you dare give up, Myers, she reprimanded herself. They're looking to you so you'd better keep that head of yours and do something. And there was a small ray of light on the horizon. Lucas was fishing, for a big fish that, if she had interpreted his message right, would get all of them out of trouble. Not an excessive luxury, more like a bloody necessity of life. If she was very lucky, he may even identify their traitor. If the FSB doesn't get to him first.

Well, that was the reason she kept her mouth well and truly shut about what she knew. Ros could do silent like the grave. The thought that she had come dangerously close to being in one she banished to the back of her head. She didn't have time for sentimentality. She had leads to chase and however gloomy it may look, they were not yet defeated. With any luck Arthur would get something useful from the CIA and Lucas was still out there too. Since he would not exactly be volunteering for another eight year stay in one of the FSB's five star resorts, he would take care. She didn't need to ask it of him. It didn't stop her from worrying though.

Stop it! she snapped at herself. He's a grown man. He doesn't need you to hold his hand every step of the bloody way. Ros blamed the friendship. That was the problem with them: they made her care too much and she could not afford it, not while she was the only thing keeping this place from falling apart.

To distract herself she demanded a progress report from Connie, who reported that Borkhovin apparently had been complaining about his heart for months, so his heart attack may still be natural. It could be. Then his death would just be a coincidence. Only the mere thought of the word made Ros's skin crawl. Coincidence did not exist, not in this line of work. There was more here and she needed to find out whatever the hell it was.

I wish Harry was here. The thought sneaked into her head again and she had to squash it before it could take up permanent residence there and cripple her indefinitely. Well, he's not, so deal with it.

Her sense of unease at hearing the word coincidence, even if only in her head, was justified as Malcolm announced that the man who had recently upgraded Borkhovin's IT systems, someone by the name of Chandra Paturi, had also died of a heart attack three days ago. He, unlike Borkhovin, had lived in Britain and that opened up possibilities, even if Ros inwardly fumed at having yet another possible avenue of investigation cut off at the same time. Whatever this Paturi fellow had seen or done, it was worth killing for and Ros would have given a month's worth of salary to find out what that was.

'Another coincidence?' she asked sarcastically.

Connie tilted her head. 'You can artificially induce a heart attack.' Apparently she was thinking along the same lines as Ros.

'Adenosine,' Jo understood. 'You can dose the victim without them knowing, by putting it on a pillow case or a phone receipt…'

I know. And ten to one that it was used to kill both Borkhovin and this IT man. 'Well, we're never going to see Borkhovin's blood reports.' But even the Russians could not prevent them from investigating their Mr Paturi a bit closer. Malcolm had come across him only by chance, so the FSB might not even know yet they were onto something, which Ros liked to keep that way for now. She turned to Jo. 'Find out where Chandra Paturi was treated and get hold of his post-mortem reports. See if he was ever given toxicological analysis.'

To her surprise however it was Connie who nodded. 'I'll get onto it.'

'No.' The refusal had left her mouth before she could even start to think it through and it was only a second later that her brain caught up with her and provided her with a reason for her behaviour. However much she disliked it, Connie was still on the list of people who could be the traitor and her eagerness to see to something that could be a major lead had set Ros's alarm bells off straight away. Post-mortem results were easy tampered with, as she knew from experience. She needed someone she could trust for the full hundred per cent on this. When all this was resolved and the intelligence analyst's name had been cleared, then she would apologise. Until then, she needed to keep her guard up. 'Jo, you do that,' she ordered. To try and take the edge of the harshness of her command, not something she particularly excelled in, she handed the personnel files to Connie. Nothing in there anyone could do something with, she hoped. 'Connie, take this lot back downstairs. Make sure Dolby doesn't see it.'

Everyone walked back to their desks, but Ros followed Malcolm. 'Adenosine is a naturally occurring substance,' he stressed. 'There's no reason for a pathologist to find it suspicious.'

Ros almost froze into place. What the hell was going on here? Was the technician now trying to make her believe that this was nothing she should be paying attention to? Like a traitor would do? She hated herself for her suspicion and instant wariness, yet another approach to this might cost her dearly if she trusted someone who might be working against them. Colleagues had suddenly ceased to be okay and Ros could feel the poisonous air of distrust infecting the Grid again. And she hated it with a passion.

'In fact, it might not even show up if the post-mortem was more than twenty-four hours after death,' Malcolm went on.

If he was the traitor, which Ros sincerely hoped he was not – her hopes were still firmly pinned on Dollophead Dolby – then the slightest slip-up could give her away. So she settled for a relaxed tone of voice as she replied. 'Well, we'll just have to only hope it wasn't.'

'Swindon General are sending over Paturi's post-mortem report,' Jo called. It was a good thing she called then, because Ros was about to lose it. Normally she would have relied on Malcolm and Connie in the absence of Harry, but now they were the very people she strongly suspected of treason. In this case, she truly was on her own.

Malcolm turned at her, eyes pleading, even if the rest of his face was just as composed as it usually was. 'You don't believe any of this, do you?'

Ros could only just suppress the urge to snort. 'What do you think?' Harry, a traitor? No, there were many things she could accept and there were even less things that took her by surprise these days, not after so long in the Service, but if Harry did turn out to be the mole, then she just might go into shock. And after that, she would probably resign. If she had been fooled so much by the man who was almost like a father to her, then it would be time to stop, because the job she did would not make any sense anymore after such an event. But she didn't think Harry really was a traitor. He must have been set up. 'You go on,' she told Malcolm. 'I'll be right behind.' When he nodded, she called Merlin over. No matter how reluctant she would be to treat Harry as a mole, she needed to be sure and there was no way she would be allowed anywhere near that interrogation room. But there were more ways to skin a cat.

'Ros?' The warlock sounded a bit nervous, obviously suspected a dressing down for his unprofessional behaviour earlier, as he well should.

'Harry's being questioned in one of the interrogation rooms downstairs,' she informed him. 'I need to know what is going on in there.'

Fortunately she didn't have to spell it out for him this time. Understanding already dawned on his face. 'How am I going to do that if Dolby can't know?' he wondered. Well, at least he realised that Dolby should be kept out of the loop as much as possible, even when he demonstrated a remarkable inability to think a solution up for himself. Well, clearly one couldn't have everything.

'None of my business,' she told him. 'I don't care if you have to go to the bloody loo or that you'll have to lock yourself in some broom cupboard or other to get some privacy. Just do as you're told.' She knew she sounded too dismissive. Technically he wasn't even one of her subordinates and he was doing her a favour by helping them out as it was, but she couldn't help herself. Tension never did do her social skills any good.

Merlin nodded, but was clearly not ready to leave her alone. 'Where's Arthur?' He almost sounded accusing now, a tone of voice Ros never particularly cared for.

'Fishing,' she replied curtly. 'He'll be back.' And when she saw this was unlikely to do the trick of reassuring him, she added: 'For heaven's sake, Merlin, he's a grown man! He's not in any danger. The main risk he's in is that he'll be bored to death. Or annoyed to death. Either one. Miss Werner always did lack originality.'

She could see he got it, because he nodded and then turned around to do what he had been told to do. Ros marched over to Jo's desk, who held out a sheaf of papers for her to read. She explained that he had been given a full post-mortem after the heart attack and that the pathologist had been having suspicions, because the level of adenosine was four times what was normal. Murder. It was bloody murder.

She was just having this light bulb moment when Richard Dolby poked his suspicious head in, demanding what was going on.

A tea party, sir. The sarcastic remark was on the tip of her tongue, but she bit it back only just in time. 'We think we have a lead on what really happened to Borkhovin,' she answered, not bothering to look at him as she did so. Dolby may have taken control of Harry's office, but that didn't mean she would treat him with the same respect that she showed her real boss. The fact that he was practically radiating smugness did not make her like him any better.

'Good,' Dolby said. 'Because I've just heard from the Home Secretary. He's on his way. So we have very little time left to work out what the hell we can tell the Americans about what Moscow are going to do next.'

Ros was about to bite his head off for even suggesting that they were just here to do the CIA's dirty work for them. Heaven knew Ros was well aware that the CIA had a few tricks up their sleeve when a situation asked for it, so they must be desperate if they didn't think they could handle it themselves and sent in MI-5 to work it out instead. And we are even more fools for giving them what they want, the Section Chief thought venomously. She wouldn't make the mistake of operating with a group like Yalta ever again, but that didn't make their objectives any less true, just their methods wrong. We're acting like bloody lapdogs for the Americans, playing go and fetch for them whenever they choose.

But that sentiment would have to stay inside her head for now. Harry wouldn't be helped with her losing her job over such a stupid thing. Instead she relayed the information they had learned about Chandra Paturi's death from between clenched teeth with an icy edge of politeness that everyone in their senses knew was just a prelude to trouble.

'So, the Russians are lying,' Dolby observed. 'They did kill Borkhovin.' Ros never thought highly of Dolby's intelligence, or rather lack thereof, but today he seemed particularly slow on the uptake. As if there had ever been any real doubt about Borkhovin's death. There hadn't been in her mind.

The urge to reward the dollophead with a scathing put-down for his efforts might have been too strong for her if at that moment Ben had not come in, announcing that Borkhovin's file had been requested an awful – and therefore suspicious – lot of times. And the man who signed it out every time was named Hugo Prince.

She could not show her reaction to the world, but for her more and more pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. Hugo Prince had been one of the men who had worked on the Sugarhorse operation. He had been the one to request the file on Borkhovin. Could that really mean that he had been a Sugarhorse asset?

Hold your horses, Myers, she told herself. After all, it did not have to mean what she thought it meant. She knew the trap of connecting completely unrelated dots just because it was convenient. They needed proof before she would allow herself to float this idea, and even then she would only do so reluctantly. Dolby, after all, could still be the mole she was searching for.

Aforementioned proof was promptly provided to her by Malcolm, who had dug up a photograph of Borkhovin's post-mortem the Russians had posted on the net. There was something on his shoulder, which would make for the most important element in the photo, apart from them seeing that Borkhovin was really dead, which was old news to all those present. One of them may even have known about it before the deed was actually done.

'What's that mark on his shoulder?' she demanded, since no one else did. 'Can you get it closer?' A feeling in her gut told her this would turn up something she might not at all like, but shying away from the bad things in life had never been known to help them catch the terrorists before.

Malcolm did as she asked and the screen threw up something that vaguely looked like a horse, standing on a pedestal of some kind. A chill went down her spine. 'Closer still?' she asked. The tension was seeping through in her voice, though. She may be eager to connect some dots, but it would be quite difficult to not connect them when everything pointed in one direction only.

Her worst fears were confirmed when they got a better look at the tattoo on Borkhovin's shoulder. A rearing horse and not just any horse: Sugarhorse. Borkhovin was a Sugarhorse asset.

It was somewhat of a relief to slip back behind the mask of his persona, Arthur found. For one thing, Aidan Parker was a lot more at ease in the world of spies and intelligence than Arthur Pendragon. Aidan knew what to do, how to act and he could conjure up put-downs of which Ros Myers might have approved, reluctantly though, mind. He also was nowhere near nervous about meeting with Laurie Werner.

That was one of the few things he actually had in common with Arthur. The king of Camelot was very much not impressed by the CIA liaison officer. Ros had once summarised her as consisting of crisp suit, silly smile and very limited intelligence with a touch of fake friendliness perfume and Arthur was not yet convinced she was wrong. Laurie Werner did have an incredibly big mouth though, but she was no match for Arthur, who at least could pride himself on having an even bigger one, according to Merlin. No worries on that account then.

Heaven knew there were plenty of other accounts to worry on; Harry, Lucas and that whole Sugarhorse business being right on top of the list. And the big question of it all was why he cared so much. Well, why he cared about Lucas was rather obvious. The man had almost gotten himself killed for Arthur's sake. Harry was a trickier case. But the spooks boss had been nice to him, had offered him aid in times of dire need. Therefore he should care and about the operation that was now exposed just when it was needed most. He owed a debt of life to these people. To turn away now would be a betrayal. And Arthur had seen far too much of that in his life already.

Arthur had not been in London as much as Merlin. He'd been here during what the spooks called Operation Camelot and only one time after. He was not as confident as Merlin about moving through London traffic and he sure didn't like all the crowds in the street. It made him feel like there were too many people packed in too little space. And here he was thinking that Camelot markets were crowded.

Fortunately the area the safe house was in was relatively abandoned. That of course would be because the houses there had clearly fallen into disrepair and nobody seemed to care enough to change anything about that. At least it would mean that he would not have any eavesdroppers and that was a welcome thought.

This time Laurie Werner had beaten him there. Last time, Arthur recalled, he had been the first in. Clearly Miss Werner had felt she would be at a disadvantage if she would be the one to arrive last. Arthur could even see the truth in that. For some reason she made him feel like a little boy being late for some important appointment, which was certainly not the case. In fact, he was ten minutes early.

'Mr Parker.' The fake friendliness surrounded her like a cloak. 'I do hope that this is important. As you may be aware, my country has a major diplomatic crisis to deal with.'

Which Arthur by now knew all about. He had spent his ride on the bus familiarising himself with the whole missile defence shield issue, with some helpful notes from Connie stuck in. Others never seemed to forget that he was not from here and used to either make fun of it or treat him like an invalid, but Connie was often the only one who made an effort to help him understand and Arthur was grateful for that. Ros was all good and well when he was in need of an ally and Lucas even remembered to stop and explain his words and actions occasionally, but if the intelligence analyst hadn't taken pity – even if Arthur hated the word more than he could say – on him early on, he'd be lost still in this day and age. Now, he was getting by. He was still feeling like he was playing a game that was too complex for him and he was on his toes all the time, but with some effort he might just manage. And Laurie Werner would take effort, quite a lot of it.

'Which your country has been so kind as to start themselves,' he countered. If she was trying to make him feel for her, then she was sure to be disappointed. This mess was of their own making. They should have thought about it a bit more. Arthur snorted. And here Merlin was saying that Arthur never stopped to think about the consequences of his actions. 'What's more, you're trying to get us to do the dirty work for you. Hardly fair, I would say.' His temper was urging him to give her his best Ros Myers imitation, but that might be bad for the relationship between Thames House and Grosvenor Square. He had caused an uproar already last time with his threats of exposing the American involvement in the station bombing and he had strict orders from the woman he would imitate not to annoy Miss Werner too much. As it was, it was probably best to listen to her this once.

'We have been informed your intelligence on the Russian plans is unsurpassed.' Laurie neatly dodged the first accusation and threw the latter back at him. Arthur corrected his assessment of her: she was not stupid, she was shrewd and far more experienced in this game than he was.

'Surely an agency such as yours won't have no intelligence at all to go on,' Arthur pointed out to her. 'And if my colleagues are going to do your dirty work for you, we'd like to have access to all the information you have in order to work more efficiently.' He'd hung around Ros and her particular brand of diplomacy for too long, he feared. He didn't even sound like himself anymore. The words were all Ros's.

Laurie seemed untouched by this as well. 'Are you telling me you don't have anything to give me?' There was a righteous indignity in her voice that vexed the king of Camelot to no end.

But two could play that game. 'I was under the impression I would be the one getting something first,' he said, leaving the ball in her court, which the woman did not seem to like at all.

'Excuse me,' she said indignantly. 'But I'm afraid you have not yet understood what special relationship means.'

'Well, it would seem that a special relationship means that intelligence is shared on both sides and that help should go both ways as well. How remarkable though that there only ever seems to be a special relationship when it suits your country. When we require some help, say in acquiring a certain file, or getting anything that might be of use to work out what the Russians are currently doing as a result of your actions, I feel obliged to point out, then the special relationship suddenly experiences a few minor blips.' He sincerely hoped this wasn't her country's policy, but it seemed to be Laurie Werner's and Arthur did not like it one bit.

'Are you accusing me of obstructing your investigation?' She got angrier all the time.

'I don't know,' Arthur said, using a trick he'd used before. 'Are you?'

If anything, he'd gotten right under her skin. 'This just gets better and better!' she exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air in exasperation. 'Now you're what? Telling me we're responsible for the lack of progress you've been making?'

Arthur's first impulse would have been to ask how she knew that there was next to no progress, but he could stop himself at the last possible second. This could just be guessing and this meeting might indicate that they were in need of help, or they wouldn't have asked for it. 'You are proving to be extremely uncooperative,' he said instead. 'And I cannot help but wonder why that is.' He used the tone of voice he used on Merlin when he wanted to be certain that the servant knew he was in deep trouble, topping it off with the threatening smile he saved for occasions such as those. 'And you can hardly blame my team for not dealing with a crisis that was not ours in the making. You should have known what kind of reaction the missile defence shield plans would have on the Russians.'

She side-stepped that as well. 'I thought you were a specialist on the Middle East, Mr Parker, not Russia.'

'Even a child could have told you the foolishness of such plans,' Arthur said dismissively. 'I am gifted with a brain and capable of using it. I would advise your government to start doing the same.' The last remark had quite escaped him, for he certainly had not meant to say it. Ros's warnings were still vividly present in his mind, but controlling his temper had never been a strong point of Arthur's. And he got the uneasy feeling the woman was hiding something. The fact that he could not work out what it was, was not doing his mood any favours at all.

'I'm sorry, are you insulting me?' Her voice got higher the more agitated she became.

If only you were sorry. 'No, I think you're not telling me everything you know about the Russian plans. Is there something you don't want me to know?'

He was quite sure that was the case in fact. If Ros's rants about Americans had taught him one thing, it was that they were not very eager to share what they knew. Their reluctance to hand over Bob Hogan's file and their all but refusal to give them anything now just proved it to him.

'Mr Parker, I think you are forgetting yourself.' Laurie seemed to be in a fluster.

And that made Arthur wonder. She was reluctant to share anything, yes, but there seemed to be something else as well. One could only take reluctance that far before it was starting to get suspicious. 'You don't know anything,' he said. It was a guess, but one he thought would be worth the risk of taking. 'You're not telling me anything, because you don't know anything about what the Russians are planning yourself. I think you're desperate for good intelligence now that the Russians are running amok far worse than you had expected over your precious missile defence shield, so desperate that you're even involving MI-5, when it is clear that you don't want us involved in the first place. We're your last hope, aren't we?'

One look at Laurie's face told him that for possibly the first time in his life, he had been absolutely spot on. That might shut Merlin up when he was accusing Arthur of having no intuition again. Today proved that he did have it, and apparently he had quite a lot of it as well. To be honest, he felt rather pleased with himself. He was doing something useful for a change, even if this still meant that another avenue of investigation was shut down, rendering this visit absolutely meaningless. It was a waste of his time.

'Mr Parker…' Miss Werner began. This time he was capable of detecting the bravado in her voice. It was more pronounced now that her mask of indignity had been taken away from her. Arthur considered it a job well done.

But Arthur was done wasting time. 'Next time, Miss Werner, you might want to say that right away, instead of making me waste precious time here trying to acquire reliable intelligence. Why do you not have anything to give me?' If he had been ben informed correctly, then the CIA knew something about everything, even if it wasn't very much. To have no information at all, that was strange.

'Because all our contacts have gone dead.' Laurie sounded a bit exasperated and reluctant at the same time. And Arthur thought he may even understand that. After all, it didn't take an expert to establish that this was unlikely to mean well for anybody.

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