"The End & A New Beginning"
This is the seventh book in the Tamara's Tales (formerly Tommy & Tamara) series. For the whole saga visit Tamara's Tales
Monday 22nd February 2016
"We are gathered here to celebrate the life of Elsie Mary McPherson."
On her own instructions, the service was short, Elsie had planned everything and had specified exactly what needed to be done.
Her passing had happened a week after Tammy's eventual return to London, the girl had wanted to head North immediately but her father, and employers, refused her wishes. Her father was an executor, as was Cathy, and they had matters under control.
Tammy and Suzie had arrived back in Thurso on Saturday morning, using the sleeper from Euston. They would have preferred to fly but the weather had left the local airports closed most of the past week.
So, Tammy had been at a loose end from the moment she arrived, she wasn't used to this at all.
Right now, however, as they left the crematorium, her eyes were scanning the area. There was an armed support unit present, as a precaution, but Tammy herself was carrying a weapon - something her father did not know about.
The chapel had been packed, but everyone there had been greeted at the carpark entrance by a plain-clothed officer; Martin Gore remained at large.
Thankfully there were no incidents and most people were unaware of the scale of the security operation. Slowly they returned to their vehicles, not everyone would be attending the wake, however.
For many, the destination was the school and there was a strict cap on the numbers there, this was dictated by the caterers but meant some hard decisions concerning the invited guests.
One or two parents of St Andrews boys had asked the Head if they could visit the school, in order to wheedle in on the wake, but all such visits had been politely refused. Life, wasn't fair and, seemingly, neither was death.
"Tammy, you can relax now."
"I know, Suzie, but I don't recognise half of who's here."
"They're all on the guest list."
"Yes, maybe, but I can't help thinking we've missed something."
"We? You're here as a representative of the family, nothing more; same as me."
"Sure. Anyway, I need a wee before it all starts."
"You've got a few minutes, do you know where your seat is?"
"Yes, next to Dad."
Naturally there was a queue in the only female loos near the hall, the cold air at the crematorium and outside the school had plainly affected many bladders. Byt he time Tammy returned, Cathy was impatient. Tammy whispered an apology.
Notably absent was John McPherson, Cathy's estranged criminal brother. His request to leave prison for the funeral had been denied on the grounds that he was a risk to the McPhersons and Smarts. Michael McPherson, Cathy's younger brother, was sat quietly by her side.
"Thank you, everyone, for coming. I'd like to make it clear that this is a celebration and not a solemn affair. I see that some of the men present read the instruction about your ties, black was definitely optional today. That wasn't my instruction by the way, but my mother's. She left quite a few."
Cathy held up a few sheets of paper, this generated laughter, although many still thought it was inappropriate.
"I'd like to ask Richard Smart to say a few words."
Richard stood to give a Eulogy. By Elsie's instruction, a very short Eulogy had been made in the chapel, by Cathy, but this was the main event. Many of those present, Tammy included, weren't aware of Elsie's history, including her work for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the 50s and the 60s before she had met her future husband.
"By all accounts, Elsie McIntosh was swept off her feet by William McPherson, then heir to the McPherson estate here in Thurso. As was common in the sixties, Elsie resigned from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and became the dutiful wife, or at least that's the official story."
That generated a restrained giggling.
Tammy wondered what this work with the F&CO was, knowing that it was used as cover for some intelligence agencies.
"William was a merchant banker and a shrewd investor, but transferred a substantial holding into Elsie's name when the tax rules were relaxed. Elsie became a successful businesswoman in her own right, where as William ended up as my second-in-command in the final years before his retirement. As many of you will know, we lost William six years ago and this hit Elsie very hard."
Richard went on to talk about Elsie's work in the community, her philanthropy and, naturally, St Andrews School.
He summed up: "Elsie loved life, loved children and loved a challenge. She was at her best when the three loves collided."
Richard reached for a glass of single malt that had been placed in front of everyone whilst he spoke.
"A toast, Elsie McPherson."
Cathy signalled for the caterers to begin bringing out the first course, a broth.
Between courses, a few invited speakers also took to recount their memories of the Elsie. Last of these, as the coffee was being poured, was Steven McIntosh, Elsie's younger brother.
"It was was sister's suggestion that brought me to St Andrews, or should I say back to St Andrews?"
He paused, for effect.
"Of course, I was ready to turn the job down - just because my sister recommended it! I didn't, however, and I have to thank her for that. This year will, however, be my last one at St Andrews. It's been a terrific job in a fantastic school but I'd like to spend a little more time with my wife."
There was polite applause, then Cathy rose and indicated that all present should do likewise. The organ, to the side of the stage, started to play 'Flower Of Scotland', whilst a screen dropped, with the words being projected - purely for the Sassenachs of course.
The meal, plus speeches, had lasted two and a half hours and the end of the anthem denoted the end of the proceedings. Tammy went in search of her former Headmaster.
"So it's confirmed, Sir?"
"Yes, Miss Smart, I'll finish at the end of the summer term."
"Who'll take over?"
"Mike Thompson has been persuaded to stay, but insists on a maximum of five years."
"He has plans to retire too, mind you, I also told Elsie I'd only stay for five years. That was twenty years ago."
Anne McIntosh steered her husband away, "Sorry Tammy, I need him!"
There was no bar and, apart from the tot, there had been no alcohol served. That meant there would be no issues with drivers, or at least that was the plan. Outside, Tammy heard a bang.
She grabbed her bag and quickly left via the rear exit to where the guests had been directed to park. Two vehicles had come together.
Tammy recognised the voice of Harry Davison, formerly the Chair of Governors of St Andrews. He had tried to pull out of his parking space just as the adjacent car attempted the same manoeuvre, with neither driver paying attention. Thankfully the damage did seem to be largely superficial. One of the caretakers was taking photos and making notes, whilst one of the police officers took an interest.
"Have you need drinking, Sir?"
"Just a tot with lunch, officer?"
"I can see a bottle in the passenger foot-well."
"Well, I haven't touched it today and, in any case, this is private land."
"Then I strongly suggest you leave your vehicle here. If you drive it out then you will be breathalysed, the public road is just a short distance the other side of the gates and a marked car is parked there, for your security."
"Fine! Tomkins, can you order me a taxi?"
The caretaker looked up, "Sorry Sir, I'll need your insurance details and then I need to secure the CCTV." He went to the other party, another older gentleman, and started to take their details.
"Damn, I left my phone at home!"
Tammy made a tactical retreat and was back inside before Harry could ask her for transport or telecommunications.
Only two students had been permitted to attend the wake, given that they were family. Florence and Daisy looked appropriately mournful in their matching black dresses.
"I didn't think you were attending school as a girl?"
"I'm not, but we're guests today and not students. We're going back to the house from here with Cathy."
The third element of the day was a family-only gathering back at the McPherson home. Tammy was considered family so all the Smarts would be there. Michael's long-term boyfriend was also invited, although he hadn't been at the service or the wake.
Tammy's car had been parked at the school that morning before the family members boarded their coach. She moved her car to the front of the coach and waited for everyone to board, it was four o'clock by the time they pulled out of the gate for the short journey to the McPherson Estate. A Police car slipped in behind.
The gates to the estate were shut but the groundsmen were waiting. Tammy led the coach in which the Police vehicle effectively blocked the road, leaving as soon as the gates were secured.
Whilst there wasn't a specific threat, there were enough members of the intelligence or defence agencies present at the earlier events for concerns to be raised, especially with Tammy's track record.
Most now changed out of their predominately black clothes, they had left a change in the house for that reason. The two youngest girls returned wearing identical white frocks with a tartan sash. "Grandma Elsie liked these," explained Daisy.
Tammy opted for a white blouse and a tartan skirt, as did Suzie, whilst Joan changed into an LBD, with a white shawl. Michael returned in jeans and Cathy went for a red frock, "because I can."
A couple of guests had also travelled on the coach as they were staying overnight in the house, Dave Brown of MI5 and a woman who Tammy hadn't managed to identify.
Looking around the room, and remembering the wake, Tammy was very aware that most people were paired up, why was she still alone? Even Suzie had a new boyfriend.
Thomas brought around a tray of wines, Tammy chose a Merlot.
"Could you come with us?"
Dave Brown was stood next to the unnamed woman, their destination was the study. The door was firmly closed.
"Tammy, this lady is Tina Waters, and she's from GCHQ."
"Oh, hello, did you know Elsie?"
"I didn't but my late father worked with her for a while during the Cold War."
"What was she doing?"
"I'm sorry but that's outside of my remit at the moment, except it was a joint unit with the MoD and F&CO."
"I see, so she wasn't a spook?"
"No, not in the modern sense. I'm here to represent my father, but I'm also here to speak with you."
"Oh, okay. Dave?"
"She's cleared, Tammy, but I'm not, so I have to leave you now."
They waited for the door to close behind Dave Brown.
"So who are you?"
"I'm a recruiter for GCHQ at the moment."
"Okay, so why am I here?"
"We've been asked to place you on a course."
"Is a recruiter necessary for that? I can normally just choose a course from the staff development page of the intranet."
"We don't advertise the courses, you have to be recommended or recruited."
"I see, what's the course?"
"I can't tell you, unless you agree and sign the non-disclosure order."
"I wouldn't take it that far."
"Okay, Tina, where is the course and for how long?"
"It'll be at Cheltenham and lasts for six months."
"What about my current posting?"
"It'll be held open, should you return."
"What are the options at the end of the course?"
"Many, but most can't be discussed ....."
".... unless I sign?"
Tammy hadn't been happy for the past few weeks, Jenny had left her with petty tasks and Tammy had barely left Thames House, even sleeping there a few times. It seemed they didn't know what to do with the girl.
"I'll do it."
"The paperwork will be on your desk when you return to London."
"Sorry, but I couldn't bring anything with me."
"I see, I have a safe available."
"I know, there's one in here too but it's not an approved one."
"Anyway, you cannot discuss this conversation with anyone?"
"You hardly told me anything!"
"Really, did I? Tell me what you learned from me?"
"I've been offered a six month course at GCHQ in Cheltenham, the home of Government Communications and cryptography. It's reasonable to assume the course is on communications or cyphers, or both."
"And if someone knew that you were doing to do that, you would become a target - and unusable by any intelligence agency."
"Okay, got it, don't tell a soul."
"So, can you now tell me where Elsie worked?"
"In the Admiralty and Hanslope Park, that's really all I can say, sorry."
Tammy left the room unsure what she'd just agreed to, although she had nothing in writing and hadn't signed anything.
Conversations were naturally about Elsie and her life, although Tammy stuck to what she knew personally. A buffet followed, Dave Brown found Tammy just before she went home, shattered.
"I'll be on the same train as you tomorrow."
"To ensure I catch it?"
"If you wish, yes."
"Can't I be trusted?"
"That's unfair, Tammy, you know there's only a few trains a day from here and we're both booked on the mid morning one. You are being trusted with information and access that others could only dream of, don't ruin it."
Tammy nodded then went out of the door to the waiting buggy.
"What kept you?"
"Sorry, Suzie, can't say."
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