It is easy to imagine there are invisible sprites on the garden swing on these sunny windy mornings when the seat gently sways backwards and forwards, and the plants under the seat have narrow paths drawn through them by unseen feet and legs. What are they talking about, those sprites, as they sun themselves on that seat and let themselves drift gently forwards and back by the wind? My shadow leans against the wall next to them, my back squarely in the sun, trying to catch as much early-morning warmth there is. I can always be found, even in the evenings, unerringly drawn to whatever sunny patch is left in the garden, in search of the natural heat of the sun, just to catch moments of it before it disappears again.
Every morning, every single morning, I wake up with the thought in my head that anything I’ve written is no good, that it needs to be discarded, that living would actually be easier if I didn’t have this constant craving to write, if I just put a line under it all and said I’m going to be normal now, just another human being who plods from day to day with no other thoughts in his head than just to make it through each day without examining anything that’s happened, without thinking what might be if this or that happened, what shape life could be. It’s a very tempting thought, not to be bound constantly by words spinning round in my head. THe thing is, though, that stopping writing wouldn’t stop those words or that spinning.
I am constantly searching for something different, something to cure the physical and mental aches. I found my old copper bracelet in a box marked Civilisation that I used to keep all my smoking paraphernalia in, and bent it tightly round my right wrist again in the hope that it might help me overcome the back problem and feel fit to play sport again. This morning I took it off because my back is aching more than last night. I need to have more faith. When I go back into the house I’ll put it back on again. If nothing else, I like the look of my wrists when they’re decorated. My forearms and wrists have always been the one part of my body that I like most. Thoughts are ironies.
The sprites are still swinging on the garden seat. I ask myself if they’re laughing at me or encouraging me. One day I’ll see them and talk to them in windy whispers.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 71
‘And she married him and stayed married to him because you told her not to kill him?’ Marit says. ‘That’s too weird.’
Aggie watches Robert’s lips move, hears the rustling of the plastic sheets from those weekends, tries to remember if she ever say Cassandra pulling a plastic sheet with some shape or another in it down the stairs, through the back door and out into the garden, if she has any memory of holes being dug and secrets covered with the fresh and black soil. She can’t. Was that all imagination? ‘And she helped him with everything he did?’ she says.
Robert shrugs. ‘I don’t know. When her leave of absence became permanent, I left as well. Used my age as an excuse. They kept an eye on me, of course, but I already had my connections, and I’d made my money. I cleared out the flat in London, sold it, and travelled.’
‘But why would she not just have killed him once you and she didn’t see each other any more?’ Zav says. ‘What was there to stop her?’
‘Maybe she did actually love him’ Aggie says.
Robert’s grey eyes bore into her, and she understands his sadness more than ever. ‘Maybe she did. Maybe she does. She’s always been a mystery to me.’
‘How did she find you again?’ Marit says. ‘That can’t have been coincidence.’
Robert sits back in his chair, ignores his glass of sherry. ‘She went back to the Service, as you probably know, and they knew where I was when I came to York ten years ago. That’s when she got back in touch. Just the odd call now and again on a burner phone. To let me know she was alright, to let me know what he was doing.’
‘Why hasn’t she given him away to the Service by now?’ Anna says. ‘I thought …’
‘Because he controlled it by then, and still is, and no-one knows what he is, and now no-one would believe her or me if we said anything. We missed our chance back then.’
‘But the Head of MI6 is always being quoted on the news, and gives interviews,’ Zav says.
‘I didn’t say he was the head of anything, did I, young man?’ Robert smiles that headmasterly smile again. ‘All I said is that he controls it.’
‘And Putin controls him?’ Aggie says.
‘I doubt that very much,’ Robert says. ‘If anything, it’s the other way round.’
‘We’ve got photos of Cassandra with lots of heads of state, behind the scenes, informal, unofficial pictures.’
‘I don’t doubt it.’
‘And a secret communication from Putin to Valentine telling him to get her out of the way.’
‘I don’t doubt that either.’ Robert’s face is set again. ‘She was always his honeytrap.’
‘Putin’s?’ Zav says.
‘Valentine’s, dear boy, Valentine’s. Do keep up.’ He rubs his hands on his trousers. ‘Always led them just to the brink where they thought she was theirs, and then he had them instead, in the palm of his hand.’
‘So he took all those photos,’ Aggie says. ‘That makes sense now.’
‘Of course it does,’ Robert says. ‘Because the best thing about intricacy is that it’s actually very very simple. Intricacy is just an illusion wrapped around one central truth. And we’re so easily distracted by decoration and beauty. That’s how magician make their magic, by distracting us.’
‘And she just went along with all this?’ Katharina says. ‘I can’t believe it.’
‘He had leverage over her, too,’ Robert says. ‘He told her he’d have her killed if she as much as breathed a word to anyone. And for years she was afraid that he might just do that, that he was powerful enough to do that. She knew he’d never get his own hands dirty, not with her death anyway.’
‘And then what happened?’
‘She realised she loved her daughter ore than she was afraid of him. That’s why they came here and met me. The whole roundabout route. He was away. His grasp on things has started getting shaky. That’s why he persuaded Putin to start the invasion, even before all the logistics are in their proper place. Putin will lose face. And if Valentine loses Putin and Cassie, nothing will be able to save him. So yesterday, she just managed to vanish, and he doesn’t know where she is. And that’s why she hasn’t told me where she’s gone. And I may never see her again.’