Having read what the party goers saw and the story they assembled from their various vantage points and perceptions of the protagonists, what about those two main actors?
How did the evening pan out for them as it happened?
Chris’ story next.
Chris hated evenings like this.
He’d had to turn up of course. What was the point of a liaison officer who hated parties? And generally speaking he was up for most work related socials, from the raucous Channel Nights at sea as the ship returned to home port, to the sophisticated and measured diplomatic dances of embassy functions.
Nights like this, faux social gatherings of work colleagues, were however, mind numbingly dull. It was difficult even to enliven the affair with a liaison of the more carnal kind. Alan, the branch head was quite old fashioned about things like that and made life difficult. Not impossible, but certainly difficult. Sometimes that made the thrill of the chase even greater, but frankly at this level of seniority the pickings were a bit outside his target age range. From his vantage point on the landing that stretched the width of the place, he surveyed the scene in what he had to admit was rather a swanky reception room.
He was trying to decide whether Hilary would be worth the candle if he could separate her from her partner, whatever his name was, or whether he should just have a few tots more and work on his career by schmoozing up to Alan. The mental coin was still spinning when a new arrival walked into the room and all his plans went on hold.
Chloe Macalastair! Hilary and Alan dropped right off the evening’s things to do list. There was one object in mind now. To renew his acquaintance with the delectable Chloe. True they hadn’t parted on quite the terms he would have wished for. Actually he wasn’t certain there were terms on which he wished to part from Chloe Macalastair at all. That in itself was a warning light. Chris had always had very clear moral principles on this. Never get involved with a woman who made you feel as if you might want to stay close to her for more than twenty four hours. Not that he had a problem with being with a girl for a long time, just not on consecutive days. It removed the mystery and the fun and Chris liked fun and variety. It was why, he told himself, he was a great liaison officer and a fun guy to be around. That was enough introspection he decided.
No harm in renewing the relationship for a bit. They had spent a lot of nights together but he had to admit not in the way he wanted to have spent them. Lurking in various safe houses, bushes, dodgy housing estates and backs of panel vans had not been the series of romantic interludes he craved with Ms Macalastair. Still, they had been very close, if only physically at work, and now was the chance to put right that rather clumsy tryst at the end of his tour. They would both, he was sure, relish the opportunity to relive that experience with a better outcome. And he had a head start on anyone else here. They had both spent months in extreme front line circumstances and it would do no harm to remind her of the dangers they had faced. Danger was always sexy.
He checked his look in the mirror at the top of the stairs. Perfect as always, and he timed his descent to arrive just three steps above her as she passed the foot of them.
‘Chloe! How are you?’ he said in his best rolling brogue. He knew women couldn’t resist his warm rich tones, it was he decided hardly fair, but then they got to be with him, so the benefits evened up in the end.
He saw the leap of recognition in her eyes as she looked up at him. He loved women looking up at him, such a great feeling. She played it cool of course as you would expect from a professional in such matters. You didn’t go all girly just because the mark had walked in the pub did you? Neither did Chloe. That was what made the prospect so much more fun than usual. Desk types knew the score of course but couldn’t play the game. Civilians were okay but just too easy to be worth it most of the time. Most of them didn’t ever realise there was a game being played.
‘Hello Chris, how are you?’ Chloe said, a little bit too fast Chris decided. Not quite as cool as she’d hoped for no doubt. Well if that was the way it was, no need to complicate matters, Charge!
‘Darling! All the better for seeing you.’ He said, projecting so she could hear the delight in his voice. ‘Where have you been hiding yourself dear heart?’ he concluded and glided down to greet her with a peck on the cheek. The crowd was staring at them now and well they might, the two best looking people for miles he knew. She radiated a smile at him.
‘I’m in Alan’s branch.’ she said indicating the onlookers who had to be here at Alan’s command. She linked arms with him and steered him somewhere more intimate out of sight of the gawping office workers who resumed their murmuring as the two beautiful people slipped from view.
‘And what are you doing here?’ she whispered.
‘Liaison old thing. Though I’m not sure why I was supposed to be here until you showed up.’
She laughed at him in that way that had always excited him when they had been up close together on surveillance. ‘And why are you here?’ he asked.
‘I’m a Section head in the branch’
‘Really? Isn’t this a bit tame for you? I mean last time…’
‘I don’t think we should discuss that here do you? I mean they don’t need to know.’
‘Not everything, but why end up here? What we had was so much more fun.’
‘Fun? You remember things differently from me.’
He leaned closer and ran a finger down Chloe’s glass.
‘I didn’t necessarily mean the work Chlo. I remember some bits of that tour being a lot of fun.’
Around them the people in the room were edging closer, trying to look elsewhere as they listened to what was being said.
‘Chris, I don’t want to talk about that now. No-one here knows about where I’ve been or what I did, that and they don’t need to know. It’s a security thing? You remember that?’
‘Of course I do sweetie, but we don’t have to have this reunion so publicly. Alan’s kids have a playroom that’s off limits to the hoi polloi.’ His smile widened. ‘We always did like to play didn’t we Chloe?’
Chris could see the memory made her flustered and realised that it would be difficult for her. He wondered if they should leave now and go straight back to her place. He was in hotel accommodation which was okay for some things but lacked the space and privacy he felt their reunion demanded. He realised she was saying something else.
‘… or I’d have got Alan to sort this out earlier.’
‘It’s okay Chloe. I’m general liaison to the Division head and I don’t spend a lot of time with Alan’s branch, but I’m hoping to spend a lot more time with parts of Alan’s branch in future.’
He realised she needed time to sort out in her head how this would work out in practice.
‘Right Chris. Let’s get this straight. We were friends but I need to concentrate on getting myself back into desk work for a bit. You’re some sort of Ian Fleming figure to the nerds round here and that isn’t going to help me keep a low profile. So keep your mouth shut and let’s have a nice quiet twenty minutes before we leave. All right?’
The faces of those closest to the pair flickered with increased interest as they tuned in to Chloe’s voice. Chris looked round. Could he control himself for another twenty minutes? He didn’t think so.
‘Why wait? We could go now.’
‘Chris, we aren’t going anywhere together. For form’s sake, stay away from me and we leave separately. Okay?
‘Come on Chlo. All those days together? All those nights? I don’t think I can play it cool now I’ve found you again.’
‘We’re not talking about this here Chris.’ Chloe shook her head. She turned to go, but Chris reached out to take her elbow.
‘Come on Chloe, just because we were in…’
He realised what a confused state of mind she was in, how much it must mean to her too, as she swung round in panic. The people in the room were staring now, the ones closest straining their ears to catch the revelation of where Chris and Chloe had spent ‘all those nights’. There was no way he wanted to hurt her or her career, but he suddenly knew he wanted her very much. Wanted to be with someone who actually knew what living that long on the edge was like.
As she pivoted to face him again, she stumbled and threw out a hand to steady herself on his firm shoulder, but he had taken a step to catch her, and her hand caught him a glancing blow in the throat instead. He coughed and choked with shock as much as anything, and staggered. Chloe dropped her glass and threw out her hand to steady him but caught him instead full in the face with her open hand. He sat down on the deep pile of the Axminster carpet blood pouring from his nose.
‘Oh Chris! I’m so sorry.’
The bloodied figure on the floor nodded as the crowd began to gather and ask if they were all right.
It must be love he thought. With that thought he could understand why she made her excuses and left with the East German desk guy. Good cover. He’d see her tomorrow and pick up where they had left off.