“Captain Yates?” The man said from the doorway at the far end of the corridor, where Charles sat awkwardly, still nursing the damaged shoulder that had sent him to GHQ in the first place. He had been trying to type letters one handed, when he was summoned to a part of the building he hadn’t previously known existed.
“Yes sir, I am Captain Yates.” Charlie replied.
“Good, good, see you got a bit of a ding. Nothing too bad I hope?” Then, without giving Charles time to respond “Come on then old boy, got something for you, might be right up your street.”
Charles stood and followed the man into the adjoining room, which turned out to be a large, well appointed office. The man motioned a seat for Charlie to sit in, then sat himself down facing him across the desk. Without saying a word he slid a file across the table. It had Top Secret and Eyes Only stamped on it.
“Read that please.”
Charlie opened the file and began to read. It took him ten minutes to complete the dossier. He paused for a moment, then, looking the other man dead in the eye.
“I’m in sir.”
“Have you seen Father’s diary?” Thomas said as they walked towards the village pub.
“He hardly seems the type, too miserable and old for that type of thing.” Charles replied.
“Oh do stop being such a thickhead will you Charlieboy, it isn’t a diary of now, it’s from years ago, before we existed even.”
“Well, you obviously know I haven’t, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking me in such a swine of a way. Should I have seen his diary, is it full of Victorian gossip or some other dull ancient fantasy?”
Charlie hated the battle he had with his brother. It was an almost constant game of one upmanship, which he never signed up for and really did not have the time or inclination to play. The trouble was, the less he played along, the more his brother carried on the attacks, riding high on a wave of power over his elder sibling. It was most bothersome.
After a minute Charles gave up.
“Well do go on then young brother. I haven’t seen the diary and obviously it must have something good in it, please put me out of my misery.”
“Have you heard of Pale Clara?”
Charles stopped dead.
Charles snapped awake and saw stars, the stars, he was outside, but couldn’t remember where. He tried to sit up but was met with excruciating pain in his shoulder and a heavy weight on his legs. He tried again, this time just lifting his head up to look at his legs and was met with the gruesome visage of his sergeant staring back at him, dead. He reached down with his good arm and kicked and rolled the dead weight of the man from his legs. With the weight gone, Charles pulled himself up and examined his shoulder. He had a dark stain on his fatigues and had lost the feeling in his right hand.
He looked around in the darkness, finding himself in a shallow crater. He pulled himself up to the rim and looked over the edge. He was met with mud, in every direction, mud and the stillness of a battlefield the night after the battle. He had no idea which way was back to his own line and which was towards the enemy, he became very scared and cold. If he didn’t get out of this hole soon, he would be joining his sergeant in death.
The fire crackled in front of the old bastard as he sat and supped on the third brandy he’d had since dinner. The rest of the family looked on, polite conversation having run out sometime between the first and second brandy. Every night this Christmas had descended into this silent wait, with no one willing to go against the old man’s wishes, because cruelly, they all wanted the inheritance when he eventually fell off his decrepit perch.
“Father, don’t you think it is time to go to bed?” Charles, the eldest son spoke up.
The old man grunted then quietly “Charles, come here.”
Charles stood and went and kneeled next to his father, he hadn’t been this close to the old man for more than a decade. His father beckoned him to move closer, causing Charles to slowly become aware of how the man smelt, sort of dusty book, rubbing alcohol and urine. A heady combination. He was so close now, that all he could really see was a small patch of the side of his father’s face, crinkled and thin like an old piece of lace. His father shifted slightly, turning his head towards his son.
“Do fuck off.”
Charles kicked the bucket blocking his path. Unfortunately it was full of water and he was only wearing flimsy slippers, so he actually just smashed his toe into the tin bucket, which then splashed water all over the floor.
“Oh FUCK IT!” He shouted to no one in particular.
He hobbled down the once regal corridor, steering clear of the black mould patches growing ominously here and there on the carpet. He hadn’t been in this part of the house for several years and whilst he could see the remaining staff had been doing what they could, it was obvious they were losing the battle.
He turned a corner and was met with a sight that stopped him dead. He was facing a set of narrow wooden stairs, stairs that he had tried to push from his mind many years ago. With the sight of the stairs, returned the memory of an old ghost he had almost forgotten.
He backed up the corridor, a chill moving down his spine. He hadn’t consciously been coming this way and was a little shocked to find himself at the site of the story he had told the estate agent a few weeks ago.
Daniel was stood, collar turned up to the wind, on the corner, very much positioned under the orange glow of a streetlight. Unlike his usual M.O, he was trying to stand out and look as shifty as possible. Getting the nosey parkers on this street alert and sticking their beaks into what was happening later tonight, was his required outcome.
He lit up a Rothman, blowing a huge cloud of smoke into the February night air. He saw the telltale twitch of a curtain opposite him.
“Come on, come on.” he said under his breath, “Take a look at the odd man stood on your road.”
He finished his cigarette, waited another ten minutes, then walked noisily down the street, kicking a discarded can. He reached a suitable lamp post at the other end, stopped, lit another cigarette and repeated his act.
He had two hours before he knew the suspected mole would be on this street. If he could spook him enough to run, then he would have the evidence he needed to push on with the next step. He had no idea yet what this step would be, but he knew that it could be highly incandescent.
He waited as the machine buzzed and creaked its way through making his meal. Charlie had been working for twenty hours today and was glad to be back in his apartment, with a scotch and a hot meal slowly being zapped to life.
With a ding, the machine stopped doing whatever it was it did to magically make food. Charlie opened the door and carried the meal to his usual seat in front of the TV.
“OK Siri, turn on the tv.”
The screen flicked to life in front of him, opening up on the page of his great great grandfather’s diary that he had been on at the weekend. He was struggling with the handwriting, well he was struggling with handwriting full stop. He had never had to read cursive script before and it was slowing him down, although the insights he was gaining into his family history made it worthwhile.
He took a mouthful of food, burning the roof of his mouth in the process. The gulp of scotch he took to cool it down, made the whole situation worse rather than better and he was left coughing so much that Siri asked if he required medical assistance.