It was actually good to be out in the field again, Ros thought as the car sped towards the village. One thing was for sure: she wasn't made to spend all her time behind a desk. For the past weeks that was all she had been doing, digging through paperwork or interrogating Samir the I-really-don't-know-anything-else-I-swear-terrorist. He had told them everything they had wanted to know and now they were finally done with him, for which Ros was grateful. She didn't think she could stand his whimpering for a minute longer. He would now be transported to prison, but she doubted he would ever arrive there. By now there would be a price on his head, because Al-Qaeda didn't take nicely in general to people who went telling their secrets to MI-5. Well, Ros couldn't care less. She had seen a long list of things Samir had done or had ordered to be done. The world would be well rid of him.
She still wasn't sure if Lucas was right about the knights and she had meant what she said. If they wouldn't find any clues this afternoon, they would drop it and pass it on to Harry to let him make the decision. She wasn't exactly comfortable with going behind his back, but if this turned out to be nothing, she had much rather not disturb him. Another shouting match wasn't exactly high on her to-do list.
Harry had been different since Adam's death, she reflected He hadn't smashed an entire hotel room to pieces like she had done and for which she was still very ashamed, because Ros Myers didn't lose control, ever. Harry had reacted with a violent longing for vengeance, which he had gotten in the end. But, as Ros had half expected, he had found out that it didn't exactly change anything. Adam was still dead and now he had to come to terms with that.
She had been so deep in thought that she only half heard Lucas talk to her. 'Sorry?'
'What's wrong?' he asked.
'Nothing,' she snapped.
He raised his eyebrows. 'I thought I saw…'
Shit, there had been a few tears rolling down her cheek and she hadn't even noticed. Things must have been far worse than she had thought, because another rule of Ros's said that she did not cry in public, ever, unless it was required by an operation. This didn't technically count as an operation.
'It's all right,' Lucas said. 'It's okay to cry when you lose someone.'
She gave him a death glare. 'Has Jo been gossiping? Or was it Malcolm?' She could only imagine what those two had been telling him about her and Adam Carter, including how she had managed to ruin it all by getting involved with Yalta. If there was one thing she was sure she wouldn't want Lucas to know, it was that particular story. He would never understand. And how could he? He had stayed loyal to his country for eight years in that Russian hell, while she had willingly and knowingly betrayed it because she was pissed off with the Americans. They were as different as day to night in that respect.
He at least had the decency to look a little ashamed. 'Both,' he admitted.
She moaned. Now it was for certain that he knew everything she didn't want him to know. Jo wouldn't deliberately tell him all the bad things she had done, but Ros had more than enough experience with her younger colleague's attitude. Jo was convinced that the team should not hide secrets from each other, because that was all they ever did outside Thames House. On the Grid at least they should be open with one another. But since Ros's record wasn't exactly spotless, she was very much opposed to that.
'Don't be angry with them, Ros,' he pleaded. 'They didn't mean any harm.'
I know. 'It wasn't their bloody business whatever was or wasn't going on between Adam and me,' she snapped. 'And neither is it yours. So keep your eyes on the road and speed this thing up a bit. I'd like to arrive there before Christmas.'
'It's okay, Ros,' he said again. 'I lost someone, too, remember?'
She blinked a few times and then recalled that Lucas had only found out that his wife had divorced him when he had come home from Russia, when she had already remarried and gotten a child by her second husband. Elizabeta wasn't dead like Adam was, but she was still very much out of Lucas's reach. Maybe the situations weren't that different. Not that she would ever tell him that.
'I'm not suffering from amnesia,' she told him.
She looked at the road and realised they were nearing their destination. She was grateful for that, because this was becoming one of the most awkward drives she had ever made. She wasn't comfortable with anyone going all emotional on her, especially someone she didn't know very well yet.
Lucas finally kept his eyes where they should be: on the road. 'Look, Ros,' he said, pointing at a handmade board beside the street.
She looked. It was an announcement for some kind of medieval festival that was going to take place in two weeks' time. 'There's your answer,' she commented dryly.
'Might be,' he said. 'Doesn't explain the comms going dead.'
She was about to agree when her phone began to ring. She took it out of her pocket. 'It's Harry,' she said, before answering. 'Ros Myers.'
'What do you think you are doing, Rosalind?' came Harry's angry voice. 'Connie told me that Lucas and you just walked out to "go fishing." Do you care to explain what the hell you think you're up to?'
Ros cursed under her breath. Leave it to Connie to run to Harry to give them away. Sometimes she really was the strict schoolteacher keeping the naughty children in check. She must have gone straight to the headmaster of Section D. Maybe now would be a good time to remind her that Ros Myers was the Section Chief and not Connie James. She did so not need to answer to the senior analyst and it was about time Connie learned that lesson. She might be older and more experienced, but she was not in charge. It was difficult enough for Ros as it was. She didn't need someone undermining her authority as well.
'We're following up a piece of information that Lucas has found,' she replied as calmly as she could. Knowing there was every chance Harry would have Malcolm trace this phone call, she added: 'Concerning the day of Samir's arrest. There might be another reason than technical failure for us going off comms.'
'And you didn't think it would be a good idea to brief me before you were leaving?' Harry's voice was dangerously low.
'I'll brief the entire team tomorrow morning,' she replied. 'Right now we do not have enough to fill one minute of briefing.' She glanced outside and saw that they were already in the village and that Lucas was looking for a parking spot. 'I'll call you when we have found something.'
'If you don't, I'll make sure that you'll be serving tea for the next decade,' Harry threatened.
'Yeah,' Ros said, knowing very well that he would never make good on that threat.
'Oh, and Ros? No heroics. You hear me?'
She gave her 'Yeah' and then hung up. Lucas had found a nice spot near the centre of the town. She got out, looking around her.
'What do you think about a cup of coffee first?' he asked.
'Lucas, we're here to work!' she protested. 'We're not here to see the bloody sights. Not that there are any.'
'I know,' he said, grinning in that very charming way. 'But the owner of the village pub might know something.'
'Well, if it's a woman, I'm sure you can simply charm her into telling you everything you want to know,' Ros commented dryly. 'I'm going to have a look around. Meet me here in half an hour.' She had no ambition to watch how Lucas extracted information from people. It stung a little to know that he was better at it than she was and she knew exactly why that was. She wasn't a social person. If people gave her the information she wanted, that was because she had frightened them into it. If Lucas got information, it was because people wanted to tell him. In that particular way he reminded her of Adam. He had had a way with people too.
It would have made her search a whole lot easier if she knew what she was actually searching for. So she just walked around, checking for places where twenty men and twenty horses could get to unseen. She found out that there were none. She also kept an eye out for passer-by's that looked like the wanna-be knights, but no one that she saw looked even vaguely like them.
She came back five minutes early, only to discover that Lucas had beaten her there. He was standing in front of the board showing a detailed map of the village and surrounding areas, listening to an elderly woman who was talking to him. Lucas's face was showing an expression of faked enthusiastic interest in whatever she was saying. Ros bit back a smile. It looked like he had run into the village gossiper.
'Ah, Rebecca!' he called when he noticed her, addressing her by her agreed alias for the day. 'Come over here!'
She forced her face into a friendly smile, something some people whispered would surely take up all her energy, and joined them. 'Good afternoon,' she greeted.
'Good afternoon, my dear,' the woman said. 'You must be Leon's girlfriend.'
It took a lot of effort not to give Lucas a death glare and pretend that she was the girlfriend he had mentioned. 'First name terms already?' she said in a light teasing voice. 'Should I be jealous?' She laid a hand on Lucas's arm.
The woman laughed, patting her on the arm. 'No need to worry, dear.'
'Mrs Bishop was just telling me about the festival, Becca,' Lucas said. 'And I told her that we were considering to visit it.'
'Yes, I would really like to see that,' Ros told the talkative Mrs Bishop. 'My parents went to such a festival once. I think it might even have been in this village.' She made a face as if she was thinking hard. 'Don't you have such a festival more often?'
That seemed to be the trigger to start talking. 'Oh, yes, to be sure!' the old woman said. 'It's an annual event and a great success every time. There's music and dancing and everyone comes dressed up in medieval clothes.' There was a short awkward silence as Mrs Bishop took in Ros's appearance with her jeans, high-heeled boots and leather jacket, the thought clear as day on her face that she didn't think that Leon's girlfriend was the type to dress up for a medieval festival. Ros couldn't even blame her. She didn't think she was the type either.
It was of course Lucas who broke the silence. 'That will take a lot of preparation,' he assumed.
'Yes, everyone has been busy for months,' Mrs Bishop agreed immediately.
'A friend of mine was in the neighbourhood a few weeks ago. He says he even saw a few men dressed up as knights near the forest.'
'Knights?' she said, as if she'd never even heard the word before. 'We don't do knights at the festival! What if someone got hurt?'
Lucas shrugged. 'My friend just thought they were practising for the festival,' he said casually. 'It could be for something else entirely.'
'That must be it,' she said. She acted like the very idea of having knights who might have weapons had almost caused her to suffer a heart attack. 'I've never seen anyone dress up as a knight before.'
That must be one bloody boring festival, Ros thought. She would have to make sure that Leon Nolan and Rebecca Moore had other and better things to do in two weeks' time, because there was no way that she was going to go. She wasn't sure if she could keep up the pretence of enthusiasm then. There was a limit to even her acting skills.
She looked at her watch and pretended to be shocked. 'Oh, is that the time already? Leon, we really should be going.' She looked at Mrs Bishop, a false smile on her face. 'I am so sorry, but we must go. I hope you don't mind?'
'Of course not, dear,' she assured her. Her smile was as false as Ros's and she got a feeling the old woman didn't like her either.
Ros smiled again and then turned around, walking away. Lucas followed some seconds later. 'She's gone,' he informed her. The corners of his mouth were curling up. She didn't have to be a spy to know that he was trying and failing to bite back his laughter.
'Are you going to tell me the joke or do you want me to put you in an interrogation room?' she asked dryly.
His expression told her that was not funny and she remembered just a second too late that jokes about interrogations were never amusing to people who had been locked up, tortured and interrogated for eight long years. But at least it got that stupid grin off his face.
'Our dear Mrs Bishop reckons I should get myself a nicer kind of girlfriend,' he replied and the grin returned as he told her that, for which Ros was secretly grateful. It had really not been her intention to drag up memories that were painful to him. 'She thinks you're a cold creature who will drop me as soon as she has grown tired of me.'
Ros snorted. 'It's always nice to make an impression,' she said sarcastically. 'What did you tell her?'
'I stood up for you, of course,' he said, pretending to be offended that she could even think anything else. 'I told her that you weren't that good with strangers, but that you really are a nice person when she would have gotten the chance to get to know you better.'
'I would be touched if I thought you actually meant that,' she remarked.
'Oh, but I do,' he said, not a trace of humour in his voice.
Ros was trained enough in recognising lies and this didn't feel like one. Now she was actually touched. She had been snapping a lot at Lucas lately, because she didn't fully trust him yet, but they had also been exchanging quips and sarcastic comments. Most people didn't like that, but it would seem that Lucas North was one of the few who appreciated and understood it.
It was a strange experience to be called nice by anyone anyway. People said a lot of things about Ros, but the word nice was never among them. And she couldn't blame them either. Nice was not a word she herself would use to describe her. Nonetheless, it felt pleasant to hear someone saying it, knowing they meant it.
Get a grip, Rosalind, she told herself. You're not going to go soft here. You're still on a bloody operation. Focus!
'Let's go and take a look at that clearing again,' she proposed, not reacting to his kind words.
'Of course, Rosa,' he said, hooking his arm through hers, which would give the impression of them being a couple.
She pulled her arm back and this time she did give him one of her infamous glares. 'Call me that again and it will be you serving tea for the next decade,' she threatened. The last one who had called her that had been her father, who was still in prison for his part in the failed conspiracy to overthrow the government a few years ago, a reminder which she could have done without.
Lucas gave her a look that clearly told her that he didn't understand. 'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I didn't mean to…'
'I know you didn't,' she interrupted him. 'Let's go, Lucas.'
'At lease we know that no one here has ever seen those knights,' he concluded when they were out of the village.
Ros thought that was rather stating the obvious, but she appreciated that he was trying to change the subject, so she chose not to comment on it for once. 'You mean that if our Mrs Bishop hasn't heard of any knights, there's a good chance of them having not been in the village.'
He laughed. 'I'm rather grateful you came to rescue me. I thought it would be a good idea to pretend to be a policeman today, because that would make her more willing to talk to me, but…'
'Then there was no stopping her,' Ros finished.
'Something like that,' Lucas said, nodding. 'She was just telling me about her noisy neighbour when you showed up and I finally got the chance to tell her that I was not on duty today.' He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. 'Guess I've lost my touch a bit.'
'Nonsense,' she said briskly. 'You handled the situation very well back there. Police is a good cover most of the time. And she did tell us what we wanted to know.' It wasn't really in her nature to praise her officers' achievements, but she couldn't have Lucas undermining himself either. She wasn't telling him this because she liked him, she told herself. It was just a matter of efficiency. If he wasn't working to the best of his abilities that could threaten every operation he was involved with.
And Lucas was a brilliant spook, there was no denying that. His help had been invaluable to put an end to the Russian operation and it was his work that had put Arkady Kachimov in their hands. It was that what had put him back in Section D. No one doubted his abilities, Ros least of all. She hated to admit it, but if there was anyone who could replace Adam Carter, only on professional level of course, it would be Lucas North.
He gave her a warm look. 'Thanks, Ros.'
'Did the owner of the pub have something useful to say?' she asked.
He shook his head. 'He didn't actually like the whole festival, because that means he's working around the clock for three days in a row.' He grinned at her. 'I told him that I frequently work like that for weeks on end and that shut him up rather nicely.'
She snorted. 'Typical.'
She looked around her. It had been raining for two days and the small path leading to the forest was wet and muddy. It was only now that she realised that she was wearing the wrong shoes for this operation. Her high heels were sinking in the mud, which made it difficult to maintain her long decisive steps. She knew Lucas had seen it and she was glad that he did not feel the need to comment on it.
It was better once they were in the woods. If Ros didn't know any better she would say that it had not been raining here for a few weeks. The ground was solid and dry. There even was something different about the air. If anything, it was purer and cleaner.
'Do you notice something?' Lucas asked, frowning.
For a moment she was tempted to say that there was nothing she had noticed, because saying that it "felt different" sounded too sodding vague for her. Ros liked facts, things she could actually check, because that was her job. Feelings were not something she dealt with, but yet she had a feeling now that there was something not quite right with this place.
'The ground is dry,' she therefore replied. That was a fact. And it was also a fact that it had been raining only that morning.
'It's like we're in a different place altogether,' Lucas remarked, saying what she didn't really want to say. He pulled his mobile from his pocket, checking the screen. 'No signal.'
She looked at her own phone. She didn't have a signal either, but then there had not been much signal to begin with. The village was old-fashioned in the worst possible way. That was a surprise so close to London. Mrs Bishop seemed to be the example of the average age in this little town and there seemed to be very few other mobile phones at all. Ros had even half expected to run into Miss Marple. It was that kind of a village.
'No signal either,' she reported. Her hand crept towards her pistol. Because there had been a little signal in the village itself and this was the exact spot where the comms had stopped working two weeks ago. That was too much coincidence for her and apparently for Lucas as well. His hands were making the same movement.
'Do you think we should call the cavalry?' he joked, probably to ease the tension.
'Yeah, sure, do you have a hunting horn?' she shot back.
'What do you think?' He pulled a small whistle from his other pocket, the kind of whistle they usually used at football matches, that is. She cracked a smile. It did help to make jokes in situations like that.
A few minutes passed, in which they stood, guns in hand, waiting for something they could not put a name to, which vexed Ros. She was a bloody intelligence officer. It was her job to know! They could be standing here like idiots, waiting for nothing at all.
She was about to put her gun away and propose that they head back, because there was obviously nothing to be learned here, when somewhere in the woods someone sneezed, loudly.
'Merlin!' a male voice wailed. 'You scared it away!'
'I can't help it!' the other man defended himself.
'Yes, you can. That was the fifth time today,' the first voice stated.
Lucas frowned. 'Merlin?' he mouthed at her.
That had Ros frowning as well. What was this madness here? First there had been this guy who had introduced himself as king Arthur Pendragon and now she heard someone, probably a young man, being referred to as Merlin. She was pretty sure there was no terrorist organisation that had its members go by names from the Arthurian legend. Something wasn't right here. Ros wasn't opposed to heroics, but something about this made her wish for back-up.
'What do we do, boss?' Lucas whispered.
Ros grabbed her gun a bit tighter, pointing it in the direction of the sound. Part of her wanted to turn around and run away, but that was something she had never done before and she didn't intend to start now. Because there was one other thing besides nice that people never said about Ros Myers. No one had ever accused her of being a coward and that was something she was proud of. So she pulled herself together and shouted: 'Police! Show yourself!'