‘Chloe! How are you?’
She hadn’t been looking forward to this event. It wasn’t relaxing or exciting. Hanging out with the senior people from the office was never going to be either of those, but it got her out of the house. It also offered a chance to refine her knowledge of the pecking order. Coming back from such a long secondment was never going to be easy and she was way out of touch with who was on the way up, who was marking time and who was about to head to freight and mails. It wasn’t just the rankings that had changed though, the game had changed. Corporate infighting would always be bloody, but being away for so long meant you were playing by old rules. Her ‘broadening’ experience should have been a great asset and she had been assured it would be, but there was no evidence. It was all on a trust basis and anyone who trusted what HR said was mad. Not being able to talk about what she had been doing for the last few years sometimes drove her crazy anyway. She listened to the desk bound types spouting off about things she knew about from first hand experience, and had to bite her tongue instead of putting them right. It wasn’t that she wanted to go and do it again but she was beginning to wonder if she could put up with not doing it again. At least Warwick was in a nearby office. They’d done some mad stuff together in the field before he came here. Having someone who knew the score was great, that someone being Warwick was even more of a comfort, even if neither of them seemed certain where they were going.
The voice calling her name broke her train of thought and made her heart sink a little. Not Chris? Surely not here?
She scanned the crowd for the face associated with the voice. There he was. On the stairs. Posing.
Her colleagues, she could tell, were intrigued. Not even pretending they weren’t interested in how this person knew their new section head.
‘Hello Chris, how are you?’ She said, trying hard to make her voice neutral.
‘Darling! All the better for seeing you.’ He boomed ‘Where have you been hiding yourself dear heart?’
She cringed inside, but kept her game face on. As long as he didn’t want to talk about the “good old days” she might be able to keep this short and sweet.
‘I’m in the branch now.’ she waved her glass in a gesture encompassing the room and the members of the branch assembled. She could see the interest levels rising around her. She needed to stop being the centre of attention. She linked arms with him and dragged him into the least crowded corner of the room. The crowd noise resumed its random activity as they moved from centre stage.
‘So what are you doing here tonight Chris?’
‘Liaison old thing. Not sure precisely what I’m supposed to be doing at this shindig, but I’m glad I came now.’ He smiled that smile that had annoyed for two years of ops. ‘And you?’
‘Well I’m trying to fit in, so…’ she shrugged, ‘…here I am. Being a good section head, bonding and all that.’
‘Isn’t this a bit tame for you? I mean last time I saw you, we were…’
‘I think we can leave the circumstances of our last meeting out of it, don’t you?
‘But it was so much more fun than what happens here.’
‘Fun? I think we have different memories of it then.’
She shuddered at the thought of when she had been working with Chris. She shuddered some more when Chris leaned closer and ran his finger down her glass.
‘Well I remember quite a lot of fun.’
People were edging closer, eyes slightly glazed as they nodded to each other out of synch with their conversations, straining to hear what the pair were saying. Chloe remembered holding her breath as men with guns walked around in the rooms below the roof space she was hiding in. She remembered the decanting of brains from a splintered skull, oozing like half set pink blancmange. Fun?
‘I don’t want to talk about that now.’
‘Why don’t we go somewhere a little quieter then? There’s a playroom for Alan’s kids where we could have a chat if you want to let it go?’ His smile widened. ‘That might be fun.’
She realised the fun he was thinking about wasn’t anything to do with people trying to shoot them or blow them up, but the drunken disaster of a fumble they had had near the end of her tour. She didn’t want to relive that, and she certainly didn’t want to recreate it tonight. Not ever.
‘I don’t think that would be a good idea Chris, do you? Not exactly the way to establish my place in Alan’s branch.’
‘I’m here in a general liaison capacity within the Division but I spend a lot of time in Alan’s branch. I’m hoping to spend a lot more time in parts of Alan’s branch now. I could help. You know, discreetly. Put in a good word.’ Chloe took a half pace back.
‘Let’s get this straight Chris. We weren’t friends like that. We made complete arses of ourselves that night.’ She took a deep breath. ‘People here may think you are some sort of Ian Fleming type, but we know what it’s really like. So let’s keep our mouths shut and have a nice quiet evening and one of us can leave in twenty minutes. All right?’
It was no good. She didn’t know how much Chris had had to drink or if he was just being stupid about their one fling, but he didn’t want to let it go. He’d already made her life a lot harder. Everyone here was wondering how they knew each other. As long as he didn’t mention where they had been or what they had been doing, otherwise life could get very awkward, for both of them.
‘Why wait Babe? We could go now. Your place or mine? Probably best yours, I’m in a hotel at the mo.’
‘Chris, we are not going anywhere. Certainly not together. If you want to stay for form’s sake, stay away from me and I’ll leave as soon as I’ve done the rounds. 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…’
Time seemed to expand. The stupid sod was going to say where they had been. It had taken months to adjust this much and she was damned if she was going to have to start again. Everyone was staring, straining their ears to catch the revelation of where Chris had spent ‘all those night’ with the new section head.
She knew what she was going to do. She just hoped she could cover it with a good excuse. It was in all probability going to make the sojourn in freight and mails rumour look a little hollow. Chloe heard the first syllable of the location, whether for real or in her head she was never sure, but she pivoted on her heel and with her free hand slapped at his face. The shock stopped his speech but to make sure he got the message she slapped him with the other hand, dropping her glass first so she didn’t cut him. He sat down hard and she realised his nose was bleeding. She stared down at him.
‘Sorry Chris, but I did tell you to shut up.’
Warwick appeared at her side.
‘Shall I get the car? Do you want go?’
‘Probably best.’ She said.
‘All right, and don’t worry, half the office has been wanting to do that. I’ll square Alan. He doesn’t need telling what a prat Chris is, but it won’t hurt to remind him.’
Chloe smiled at him. ‘I can fight my own battles you know? You get the car. I’ll be out in a minute.’