Richard Pierce

Poetry, Writing

Day 325


Kett’s spectres, on a 21st century November
Evening, in the quicksand wet gloaming,
Falling leaves and the remnant of days
On the forest floor, chasing around the trees,
And across the uneven roots and sliding mud,
The cold mist a thread across an invisible path
Through a maze of hedge and heath and slope.

They whisper, not unkindly but indecipherably,
A weft of words half a millennium old through
Pits and troughs of soil and bones alive with
What will not die and cannot die. The peat
Sounds hollow under this relentless rain,
Graves so deep, so unknown, even secrets
Forget where they were made.

Shapes driven by a gust of sudden cold lift
Their arms, open their indistinct eyes, glad
To see the living in their domain. They do not
Reveal themselves in the sun. It’s not just the
Wind in the trees, nor the rain on what’s left
Of the leaves. There is a presence alive in these
Hollows that doesn’t want to be forgotten.

R, 21/11/2022 18:40



The kitchen falls silent as Aggie tells them everything that’s happened since she left for Washington, what happened there. She tells of the tunnel from Blair House to the White House, of the girl without a brain, of Valentine’s robots, of the dead one in the Heathrow hotel, of what she nearly did. And all the while she stares at Lily at the other end of the rectangular table, here eyes never leaving Lily’s, and in her peripheral vision the spire of the Cathedral, that stone sign that she’s at home. And at the end of it, her coffee cup empty, her mouth empty of words, she just sits there and lets the torrent of questions wash over her.

‘But where’s Cassie?’ Robert.

‘How can Valentine do such things?’ Katharina.

‘Why does he do such things, you mean.’ Marit.

‘How did you manage to get away?’ Anna.

‘He’s here, in Norwich?’ Robert.

‘Why wouldn’t he be?’ Marit.

‘He’s been watching us all this time while you’ve been away, hasn’t he?’ Katharina.

‘Then why hasn’t he attacked?’ Robert.

The only thing Aggie hasn’t mentioned is the million pounds, and her pact with Valentine, however uncertain it is that she’ll ever fulfill it. She realises, has always realised, that the money probably isn’t safe from him, that every transaction, no matter how hidden, will always leave a trace. That her trip was never a secret from him. Even Cassie must have realised that. If she’s still alive. She said she’d be here, and she isn’t.

Aggie looks at Robert. ‘I don’t know where she is,’ she says slowly. ‘I’m sorry. She said she’d come here, but she’s not here. I was expecting here to be here before me.’ She shakes her head. ‘I think I’ve been taken for a fool by everyone.’

‘Not by me,’ Lily says, her low voice sliding across the table, reaching Aggie like a comforting and weighted blanket. ‘I never would.’

Aggie looks at her again, just mouths thank you rather than saying it out loud.

‘None of this is your fault,’ Robert says, asserting control over himself, his wrinkles ever deeper. ‘I just don’t understand.’

‘Have you been in touch with the Service?’ Zav says.

Robert shakes his head. ‘Have you?’

‘Persona non grat by now, I should think,’ Zav says. ‘Not even worth trying. Not if I want to stay under the radar.’

Anna smiles at him, grabs his hand under the table.

So many different aspects to this, Aggie thinks. When all she wants is peace, just moments, hours, to stop thinking, just for once. Just to rest, just for once. Being at the Cathedral hadn’t helped, thanks to Valentine. She sighs. ‘What would you do, Robert,’ she says. ‘And what news of Martin?’

‘Ach,’ he shouts with exasperation. ‘Martin has just been Martin. Sitting at home in his stately pile, his wife too afraid or unwilling to do anything. The status quo and all that. She doesn’t want to rock the boat. He’s not going to be drawn. He knows which side his bread is buttered on. He knows we’ll have implanted something. Too clever by half, the old bugger.’ There’s a remnant of affection and admiration in his voice.

‘Is it worth you getting in touch with old colleagues?’ Aggie says in a far more conciliatory tone than Zav had managed.

‘I’ll give it a try,’ Robert says. ‘Although, as you will no doubt have guessed, they’ve got their hands a little full right now, what with this interregnum in the Sates and in Russia.’

‘Things are still moving,’ Zav says.

‘On the surface,’ Robert says. ‘On the surface. It doesn’t mean things aren’t afoot, doesn’t mean that everything’s fine. Just like that.’ He snaps his fingers, angry at himself and everyone else. ‘Hopeless,’ he mutters. ‘Hopeless and helpless.’ He gets up, shakes himself down. ‘I’ll go and make that phone call from the burner phone. Other room.’ He nods and lets himself out of the kitchen.

Just as the door closes, Aggie hears the click of the lock downstairs.

And then they all hear Robert’s muffled voice calling down the stairs. ‘Cassie?’

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