Cornell Wilding settled in the easy chair, lit his first cigarette of the day, then said, “If seeing her niece nearly killed by that madman at the lake didn’t bring anything back, nothing will. Jill Garvin’s hysterical amnesia is there for good, and that’s a two grand professional opinion.”
The man in the expensive suit laid both hands on his desk top. “Do you have to do that in here?”
Cornell glanced at his cigarette then smiled. “This office isn’t officially part of the building, so the no-smoking rules don’t apply. Let’s be fair, Boss.” The man sighed and tapped the report. “And are you recommending we leave it alone?”
Cornell nodded. “Brookes protected Garvin and killed our agent by the station because whatever passed for his mind had decided our surveillance man was up to no good. The CCTV camera footage shows Brookes clearly enough now we have the body. There’s no evidence at all that any other person or group was in play, and I’ve been over every word in the reports about a thousand times.”
“Is that a ‘yes?’” the man asked.
“It’s a ‘yes.’” Cornell f licked ash on the carpet. “Look on the positive side. If we don’t bury it, somebody at top level is going to start asking questions about the surveillance. Brookes did twenty-six months for assaulting a security guard in a supermarket right after killing our lad so your eyeball crew had nothing to keep them interested. But they missed him every time he broke surface over the past few weeks. And he wasn’t exactly melting into the background. Our masters might wonder if your surveillance crews were still following Garvin or maybe sitting in some pub writing out fantasy reports. Maybe even moonlighting for one of the Met or army crews, and if so, why you didn’t know about it.”
The man stared at him. “Umm…that’s an uncomfortable possibility, bloody third-raters.” He frowned at the new expression on Cornell’s face. “We didn’t need a grade one staff team since the surveillance was high profile to scare Garvin into a move.”
“That could only have worked if she were guilty of conspiracy to commit treason,” Cornell said. “Which you sort of assumed was a given, Boss, right from the off.”
The man sighed again and raised both hands, palms out. “All right, have it your way. Bury this fiasco.” He touched the beige folder. “What about Preston?”
Cornell shook his head. “Our tame psychiatrist wants Garvin killed. Said all the messing around we made him do, pushing and pulling on those memories, might come back and bite him in the professional arse if she’s left to wander free. I’m paraphrasing, naturally.”
“Naturally. I take it you informed him we are not murderers?”
Cornell nodded. “Yup, suggested that if we started cutting off loose threads, who knew where it would end?” He shrugged, adding, “Preston is a complete self-serving toss-pot with the moral outlook of an alley cat. Still, he predicted Garvin’s catharsis almost to the week. Minimal time for me working as office boy under that creep Dayton, so I’ve recommended we keep the good doctor on the books—a very strong recommendation.” He grinned without humour. “And talking about Dayton, if it’s still okay with you, I plan to piss on him from a great height in the last week of next month. I have a girl lined up.”
“I suppose after the way he publically humiliated Garvin when she went back to her old office, he’s lucky to be alive. But spare me the details.” He pushed a stapled fold of paper to his left, stared at the photograph it revealed, and went on; “It’s sad Garvin’s daughter died, though. Nice- looking little kid. Somebody should have picked up she was going to be with them that night.”
“It happens.” Cornell f licked more ash. “It’s a bigger pity that Garvin had to find out the car crash wasn’t an accident. But at least she isn’t blaming us.” “Why didn’t we know there was a witness?” the man asked. “That was an experienced crew.”
Cornell pointed at the file. “It’s all in the report. Brookes was a clever paranoid psychotic being super-furtive, watching Garvin, ironically enough, probably looking for the best place to kill her. Our crew’s experience was cleaning, not surveillance. They were focused on a quick in-and-out kill.”
The man said, disgust heavy in his voice, “And they screwed that up. Bad incendiary and that bloody incompetent seat belt thing—fixing it to open, then leaving evidence for the police.” He drummed his fingertips on the photograph, frowned at them as if they weren’t doing it right, then said, “We used to be able to afford teams that could manage both cleaning and watching, and manage well.”
“The good old days.”
“As you say.” The man touched a third file on his desk. “Your agent in place will continue to report? Garvin losing her job won’t make a difference?” “He’s on a retainer and fees, and they’re friends,” Cornell said. “He can stay in contact without rousing her suspicions.”
“You couldn’t find someone in the new workplace?”
Cornell shook his head. “My influence doesn’t stretch that far. Blowing in the right ears to get her recruited by that charity; with minimal back-checks after she was asked to resign from the other one, was all I could manage.”
“Your field operative isn’t on staff yet?” “No. Budget cuts,” Cornell said.
The man thought about it for a few seconds. “He’s trustworthy?”
“He’s terrified that I’ll set the police on him over that rape, so he wants to keep me happy. Will that do?”
The man said, “It will have to. So we wish Garvin good luck and goodbye.”
“She’s earned it.”
The man said, “And no more ghosts for her, unlike the rest of us.”
“She has her own demons.” Cornell stood up. “So do I pencil you in for a contribution to the ‘Congratulations you’re no longer red-filed’ present?”
The man smiled. “Bugger off. If I was going to buy anything for Garvin, I would get on to Interfauna and send her a dead guinea pig.”
Cornell moved towards the door as he continued, “You’ve never liked her, ever since she hooked Paul and they got married. I’m still a little surprised you’ve agreed to let her live.”
The man sighed then touched his stomach above the knot of pain. “As you have been telling me all along, there’s no proof he shared anything with her about his treason. If she did know and her amnesia was brought on by that supposed ‘intolerable knowledge’ as friend Preston thinks, it’s now buried for good.” He looked into Cornell’s face. “And, of course, you’ll make sure this nasty little episode reaches the right ears if I go against your recommendation.”
“There is that.” Cornell dropped his cigarette into a small silver box and shut the lid. Slipping it back in his pocket, he said, “Pity we couldn’t find the money Paul got from Tarasov’s people. It would have made a nice slush fund.” The man closed his eyes slowly, pain lining his face, then opened them again. “Go back to the office and get on with your pathetic clerking. Leave me in peace.”
Cornell looked at his watch. “I’ve been on leave for the past fifteen minutes, Boss. I have a month to catch my breath before I go temping at Goldbridge.”
The man’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “They’ve put you on the McKenzie woman? That’s somewhat light for your talents.”
“Coasting towards retirement, what can I say?” The man waved a hand. “Just go. I need to think.”
“Right you are. Have a nice evening with the Minister.” Cornell winked as he moved across the thick carpet. “A knighthood would still please Jennie if the subject comes up. No pressure of course, but she really fancies being Lady Wilding in her old age. It would do our cred no end of good down the pensioners club when we qualify.”
The man touched his stomach again, face losing colour, then opened the top right drawer of his desk and punched in the door-release code.
Eleven months later
Jill Garvin had been promising herself a skinny dip all week. Now that her sister’s children spent more time with their mother’s new boyfriend than at the villa, wearing the bikini seemed dumb, veering towards old maidish, especially in this heat. She looked down at herself. Her body was still okay. Nothing sagged too much, so there was no excuse really. In fact, none at all. Sarah walked past her to the pool’s edge. Jill glanced up as the girl dipped a toe in the water. Then of course there was comparison, but her niece’s bare bottom would make a monk sob, so that wasn’t realistic.
Sarah turned towards her and asked, “Are you coming in?”
“Maybe later.” Jill pointed. “You’ll give yourself a rash if you keep on.” Sarah peered down at her sculpted pubic hair. “It looked crooked from this angle when I got undressed. I’m still not sure.”
“It’s not crooked,” Jill said. “It wasn’t yesterday or the day before.”
Sarah rubbed at the crease between groin and thigh, grinning. “If you’d let me go to that salon in the first place, I wouldn’t have all this aggravation.”
Jill shook her head. “That was never going to happen, kid.”
Sarah offered the innocent face. “They’re professionals. It’s just like going to a normal hairdresser, only a bit lower down.” She put a finger under her chin. “Pretty please with a cherry on top?”
Jill sighed. “I’m not doing this again, my little ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt.’ Now chuck your skinny self in the pool before the f lies smell that nasty body oil you bought. We don’t want them carrying you off to their lair again.”
Sarah pulled a face, saying, “You are so gross,” turned, and jumped into the water.
Jill raised a hand against the spray. The mobile phone on the small white plastic table beside her, made its three-tone demand. She picked it up, read the display, and pressed the unit alive, realising that she didn’t want to bring her employers into their life right now but had no choice. And while Creel was just a higher-up employee than herself, he was at the sharp end of minding billionaires and felt like management.
In answer to her “Hi,” Creel said, “Hi yourself. How’s tricks?” “Tricks is tolerable.”
“It’s been a while. Has anything interesting happened?”
Jill watched her niece swim across the pool using a strong, confident breaststroke. “Not really. Sarah and I are sunning ourselves a lot. My sister is off with the illustrator more than she’s here and Prue’s made a new friend. We don’t see her much either. In fact, hardly at all over these last two weeks.”
“A new friend?” Creel asked, voice a long way from casual.
“Of the horizontal persuasion: French, gorgeous and of course, female.” Creel’s “Oh” lasted too long. Jill smiled but didn’t speak. Eventually, he dropped words into the building silence, tone uncertain. “Is that a problem?”
“Are you asking if I’m jealous?” “Well…”
“We were never a couple,” Jill said. “I thought about it for a while after we left England, but decided my feelings towards Prue were mostly loneliness and reaction to all that violence and fear. You know, needing to cling to someone for comfort; looking for an adult to love who would love me back. I’m glad she’s found a partner.”
“Fair enough.” Jill could almost hear him thinking. Then he went on, “So how many tickets to England will you need now?”
“Rachel and the kids will be staying in France for certain if all goes well,” Jill said. “I don’t know about Prue, but I can tell you for sure by the end of the month. Will that be a problem, leaving it late?”
“No, not at all,” Creel said. “The house is ready now. Sarah’s university course is set and I can buy plane tickets right up to the day.”
Jill watched her niece climb the pool ladder, water glistening on her slim body as he talked.
Creel asked, “What was that?” Jill frowned. “I didn’t speak.” “You said something about law.”
Jill shook her head, took the phone from her ear to look at it as if that might help, then put it back. “The sun must be getting to me. I was watching Sarah climb out of the pool, barefoot, as they say, from the neck down and I was thinking there should be a law against looking that good. Guess I said it aloud.”
“Oh… all right.”
Jill wanted to laugh at the caution in his voice but said, “I talk to myself sometimes, always have. It’s not PTSD over nearly losing Sarah and my sister, or dwelling on the spooky past or anything like that.”
Sarah turned towards her and waved. For a moment it looked… Jill shivered; blinking hard then closed her eyes tight.
Sarah called into the spark-edged darkness, “The water’s great! Get your cossie off!”
Jill opened her eyes with an effort. It was just Sarah, the beautiful, funny, life-filling girl who kept her heart warm.
Jill said into the phone, “Sarah wants me in there with her. So if there’s nothing else?”
“No, can’t think of anything. I’ll call you again in a few days.”
Jill disconnected on his last word, dropped the phone on her lap, and lay back, feeling as if she might need to hang onto the lounger to keep from f loating away.
Sarah yelled, “No sleeping! Get in here!”
They seem to be in a lot of places but the main one is Amazon and the Musa home site.
Back in the day I was a mental health community counsellor and most of my books have aspects that come from those years. I also wrote self-help books for my employers and field tested them with clients – a great apprenticeship for novel writing.
More about D. W. Carver (liberated from his website):
I have been writing virtually since I learnt to read. The ‘Jill Garvin’ books described on my opening page draw heavily on my experiences as a mental health community counsellor working in West Essex and East London, England in the eighties and nineties. I specialized in OCD. My organization dealt mainly with ‘the resistant wounded’ – people who, for one reason or another were not receiving support or treatment from the UK National Health Service. This has given me a slightly different outlook on mental health and a belief that there are vast numbers of people out there who would benefit from a small amount of skilled, practical help if only they could find it.
I recall one client whose persistence while I ran a weekly support group was daunting. She didn’t want to sit down in the group but stood behind my chair and asked questions every time there was a moment’s silence and sometimes when there wasn’t. I didn’t want to be rude as I was aware how hard it could be for some people to enter a group situation, so I gave her very quick, very short answers about an exposure programme for excessive washing. A few weeks later she returned to the group and declared to those present that I had cured her when everyone else for years had failed. Of course, it wasn’t true, she had done it herself, simply by committing to a recovery attempt that she had chosen to undertake when all previous treatment had been imposed upon her.
An anecdote – people who know me will tell you that is very much my style of ‘treatment’: that and laughing over the vagaries of life that present sometimes as insurmountable problems when in reality they are not.