Chapter Ten

Maggie

Sunday, bloody Sunday!

Day 11

I have just returned from the local store with milk and bread and a paper. It is Sunday and I intend to slob it today. If I hadn’t needed milk and bread I probably would not have bothered to even get dressed. Emma has left saying it would be good for her to vanish for a few days. When I asked where she was going, she explained that her mum has recently moved to the Isle of Man into sheltered accommodation, and she has kept her address a secret. Once her boyfriend had succeeded in isolating her from friends and family, including her mother, he had showed no further interest in them, but Emma had managed to keep up a furtive conversation with her mum.

   Anyway, I’m sure you too have days where you just feel like doing as little as possible, apart from eating, catching up on reading and getting down to doing some much-needed housework. I guess that’s my agenda for the day. And it is going to begin with toast and marmalade, washed down with a mug of tea.

   I settle down at my kitchen island, perched on a high stool and glance at the paper I have brought back with me. It’s the Mail on Sunday. I was going to get the Sunday Times but there is just too much of it. I know I will never read even half of it.

   The front page has a splash about the Health Secretary resigning. Looks like he was having an affair with an aide. I sigh. Why can’t these guys keep their trousers on? A career ruined, and for what?

   As I turn the pages a page lead catches my eye. It is all about Chinese spying. Suddenly, I am riveted.

   I put the paper down. Is it really possible there’s a spy ring on my campus? I showed the memory stick to Sgt Bannon when he came to the flat yesterday. The files meant nothing to him either but one of them was headed by ‘The Department of Science and Engineering’ which obviously pointed to them having been copied. He said we should both go to the Dean of faculty and show him the files. I readily agreed. Anything to put an end to this nonsense. He decides to make an appointment for tomorrow morning.

   I have had an industrious morning. The pile of ironing has disappeared; the apartment has been thoroughly cleaned and I have decided to make an Irish stew, the way it should be made, with lamb I had in the freezer as well as onions, leeks and carrots, the way my old ma used to make it, bless her.

   It will take about three hours to bubble away slowly and so I decide to watch the mid-day news on TV and then to catch up on some reading I should have done a week ago.

   The news is depressing. It’s full of Covid and political shenanigans as well as the lifting of restrictions in tandem with the need to get both jabs. I must register with a surgery and get mine. I make a note in my diary to call the university health line in the morning and get advice as to which surgery to go to.

   I switch the TV off in disgust. It’s no wonder there are so many mental health issues around; people are just pissed off with bad news. I pick up a copy of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. It’s a novel that has intrigued me with the concept of a place where you can undo all your regrets and try out alternative lives; something I would have dearly liked to have done. At last, I can settle down for an hour or two and really get into it.

  I have just started the third chapter when the intercom buzzes. A feeling of extreme annoyance surges through me. Who the hell can that be? I consider just ignoring it in the hope that whoever it is will just go away. But then it may be something important or a delivery, so I wearily walk over and press the button, asking who is there. A man’s voice says his name is Button, Hugh Button, and that it is vital he talk to me about my recent experience. There is a slight emphasis on the last two words. I stay silent for long seconds until he says that he has spoken to Sergeant Steve Bannon of Merseyside Police. That persuades me and I buzz him in but tell him to wait outside my apartment because I need to get dressed.

   Ten minutes later I open the door to a smartly dressed man in his mid-forties wearing Michael Caine glasses and a Fedora. He even has blonde hair to complete the look-a-like. I suppress a smile as he hands me a card. It says he is an agent from Special Branch. I invite him in, and he removes his hat.

   He begins by asking about the encounter with the mystery man who dumped the memory stick in my bag, so I tell him. It doesn’t take long because it literally lasted seconds. He holds up the stick and tells me that the agency has an interest in it and then, almost as an afterthought, asks me if I would recognise him again. I know I wouldn’t because I only saw his back. I feel sure that what he really wants to know is if he was Chinese, so I tell him that my friend Emma did see his face and she said he wasn’t.

   Obviously, Sgt Bannon has given him the stick. So, who contacted who I wonder? I ask if this is connected to the story in the Mail on Sunday and Chinese spy rings. There is a slight pause, and he says it is entirely possible.

   I felt like giggling. Entirely possible. What a load of boloney. It’s a bloody cast iron certainty and then it suddenly occurs to me that the other reason he is here isn’t just to do with the memory stick.

   It could well be that Special Branch suspect me in some way.

Published by pod1942

I am a cereer journalist having worked for the London Dail Mail, Reuters and latterly the Liverpool Daily Post on Merseyside as well as the journalists’ leader in the region. I have experience as a crime reporter, feature writer, business editor and latterly, a senior sub-editor. My qualifications include a BA (Hons) English, from the University of Liverpool; a BA (Hons) Fine Art and an MA in Creative Practice both from Liverpool Hope University. I now divide my time between art and writing. I will shortly be publishing my first full-length novel, The Poseidon Files and as a taster I have written a short story which features the same central female character in which she talks about her world and her life. It is, however, essentially a ghost story.

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