‘Chloe! How are you?’
Several people looked up as Chris drawled the words out for longer than their syllables required. Most of them had heard him do that when he wanted to make an impression, particularly with women. It usually meant that he wanted, or at least believed he ought to be seen to want, to have sex with them.
Whether it worked or not was open to question. He certainly managed liaisons with some women, but whether that was because of what he imagined was his irresistible, come to bed voice, was anyone’s guess. He presumably believed it worked as he refused to cease using it. Exchange of views by those who had been on the receiving end, suggested that it was not necessarily an asset. The judgements passed in the ladies’ rooms, bars and gymnasiums of the locality concluded however, that the lounge lizard sound only added a minor degree of repulsivity to his already odious character. That he was at all successful in his seductions was probably, so the consensus went, down to his supposedly mysterious past and inability to hear the word “no”’.
How much Chloe knew of this was unknown to those present at that initial exchange of the evening. They knew she was a new section head. That she seemed energetic and engaging, keen to get to know her staff and understand the nuances of the role she had taken on, was clear. Everything else was murky. She had appeared in the job virtually unannounced. No-one had seen her turn up for interview. No-one was sure where she had been until the day she arrived. Warwick, the Royal Marine from the East German desk seemed to know her from somewhere and they appeared quite thick. But when asked where she had been recently, he shrugged and said they had lost touch. No he didn’t know what she had done in between. In another division at least. Maybe she had been on secondment somewhere?
There had been a quiet word with key personnel, suggesting staff did not ask her directly, as it would be awkward for all concerned. Senior management knew people would understand.
They did. Of course they did given the nature of the work. And given the nature of the work everybody tried that bit harder to find out where she had come from. Just not directly.
One had to admire their discretion until you realised they didn’t want to be reported and dragged in for an interview without coffee, or worse, a security appraisal.
So Chloe found herself the centre of a social whirl of invitations to dinner parties, squash evenings, drinks parties, hashing events, birthday parties, lunches, wild parties, quiz nights, boring parties, skittles evenings and more parties. She even gave some herself. Tonight was not one of hers however, and it was certainly not being given with the aim of revealing her immediate past.
Alan had decided it was time to entertain and bond his senior team a little closer. The invitation had been to anyone and everyone in the branch of course. As the venue was his house, it was understood that not all were required or even expected to attend. Section heads and above obviously cleared their diaries, and aspiring or precarious sub section heads put on a brave face and donned the smartest casuals they had. Below that level one had to be very confident of a glowing future or too dim to realise there were limits to aspiration in order to turn up. At that level one had to be content with a certain amount of low level servitude as well; serving drinks, distributing snacks, making small talk with wives, partners and seconded low ranking allies, all on an entirely voluntary basis of course.
So when Chris stood half way down the sweeping central staircase and greeted Chloe with his well developed drawl, there was a fair sized audience of mixed ranks, genders and nationalities, waiting for the response. They were intrigued as to how they knew each other. Chris had been with the office on secondment for about a year. While he had not fitted in with accepted gender equality expectations in the modern nineteen eighties government service, he had proved himself to have as sharp an analytic brain as any there. His home department would no doubt be looking forward to his return at the end of his tour. The prospect that Chloe and Chris may know each other from the latter’s exploits with his own agency was too delicious for the assembly. He was another apparent cipher without a past.
‘Hello Chris, how are you?’ Chloe’s reply came in about a quarter of the time of Chris’ greeting.
‘Darling! All the better for seeing you.’ He boomed ‘Where have you been hiding yourself dear heart?’ and with that descended to the room below.
‘I’m in Alan’s branch obviously,’ she waved her glass in a gesture encompassing the room and the members of the branch assembled. She linked his arm and steered him into a corner of the room. The murmuring began again as the main focus shifted.
‘And what the hell are you doing here?’ she hissed.
‘Liaison old thing. Not sure I’m supposed to be at this gathering really. And why are you here?’
‘I’m a section head here now.’ She said.
Isn’t this a bit tame for you? I mean last time…’
‘I think we can leave the circumstances of our last meeting in the past where they belong, don’t you?’
‘But it was so much more fun than what happens here.’
‘Fun? You remember things differently from me.’
He leaned closer and ran a finger down Chloe’s glass.
‘Well I remember some bits being a lot of fun.’
People were edging closer, pretending to be looking elsewhere while straining to hear what was being said. Chloe ignored them.
‘Chris, I don’t want to talk about that now. No-one here knows about that and they don’t need to know. You know; security? You remember that?’
‘Why don’t we go somewhere a little quieter then? Alan’s kids have a playroom that’s off limits to these bods.’ His smile widened. ‘You know me Chloe, always up for a bit of play.’
‘Stop playing silly buggers Chris. I didn’t realise you were anywhere near here or I’d have got Alan to sort this out earlier.’
‘I’m here as general liaison capacity within the Division but I spend a lot of time in Alan’s branch and I’m hoping to spend a lot more time in parts of Alan’s branch now.’ Chloe took a half pace back.
‘Right Chris. Let’s get this straight. We weren’t friends like that. Shit, we weren’t friends. You were and are a complete arse, and while the desk pilots here may think you are some sort of Ian Fleming type, I know you’re more Captain Pugwash. So keep your mouth shut and let’s all have a nice quiet twenty minutes before you piss off. All right?’
The faces of those closest to the pair flickered and they exchanged glances as Chloe’s voice rose in volume.
‘Why wait Babe? We could go now. Your place or mine? Probably best yours, I’m in a hotel at the mo.’
‘Chris, get it in your thick head, we are not going anywhere. Certainly not together. If you must stay for form’s sake, stay away from me. Okay?
‘Come on Chlo. You mean all that time together meant nothing? All those days? All those nights?
‘We’re not talking about this here Chris.’ Chloe shook her head. ‘We’re not talking about it anytime.’ She turned to go, but Chris reached out to take her elbow.
‘Come on Chloe, that excitement wasn’t just because we were in…’
The people in the room were staring, the ones closest straining their ears to catch the revelation of where Chris had spent ‘all those nights’ with the new section head, where Chloe had disappeared to off the radar.
No-one was any longer in doubt that Chloe was aware of Chris’ approach to women. What happened next scotched the idea that her last posting had, as some unkind souls had suggested, been with freight and mails.
Chloe pivoted on her heel as Chris grasped her elbow and with the side of her free hand delicately chopped him across his throat, silencing him before he could reveal the location of their tryst. As his hand loosened on her arm she dropped the glass she was holding and smashed the heel of that hand into his nose. He sat down with a satisfying thump into the thick Axminster, sputtering the blood pouring out of what was left of his nostrils over his shirt front, gasping for breath.
‘I told you to shut up Chris. Speak about where I was again and it won’t be an informal reprimand.’ She stared down at him. ‘Understand?’
The bloodied figure on the floor nodded.
Warwick stepped forward and quietly asked Chloe if she was okay.
‘Well you aren’t going to have any insubordination problems from now on. On the other hand your social diary suddenly developed a lot of space.’ He smiled, ‘Shall we leave them to it?’
‘I’ll just make my apologies to Alan, and then we can go.’