The doors opened, and two bedraggled wet tourists rushed into the pub. Despite their resemblance to a pair of drowned rats, they were in high spirits as they called out for, “Two pints of your best larger and a pack ‘o crisps.”
How the publican heard their order above the blare from the footy on the TV, or the chaos from the crowded county inn, was anyone’s guess.
“Eh up! Another lot that I reckon needs a visit to the nut house.”
Robert threw his partner a cold stare. The kid they shackled him with was not only loud, he was xenophobic, homophobic, dysmorphophobic—and any other number of phobic’s that solidified him as a first-class twat. It was beyond him how Damien had been recruited into MI5. However, the agency had changed over the years, perhaps Britain had run out of people with brain cells to recruit.
“This is the Lake District,” said Robert, “tourists come here to walk through the hills and valleys. They expect the occasional downpour.”
Damien chugged back the last of his ale and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Igits! Why would they pay that much dosh to walk? You can do that at home… for free.”
Instead of killing his partner in any of the two dozen ways he knew to leave no trace, Robert fingered his watch and made contact with the silver triskele medallion fused to the back. Whenever his mind was in turmoil he used the triskele as an anchor. Not only did this mission not sit well with him, but he’d been saddled with a cocky agent who wanted to make his mark—anyway he could.
Maybe it’s time to think of a new career?
Damien threw himself back into his chair and glanced at the clock above the bar. “Are you sure she’ll turn up?”
Robert’s jaw tightened. “Have patience.”
“I have patience old man; I just don’t think your intel’s right. We should’ve done the job at her place.”
Robert leaned forward and placed his arms on his knees so that his hands were draped in the middle. “You know as well as I do, the house has surveillance everywhere. Whenever she comes up, she always calls in for a pub meal before heading back to London. She’s about to head through the most dangerous road in the UK, this is the perfect opportunity.”
“I just hope you’re right.” Damien reached for his empty glass and made a motion to stand. “The guvna will be pissed if she turns up at that hearing tomorrow. She’s a traitor to the crown and deserves what’s coming to her.”
Robert was thankful for the temporary reprieve when his partner headed to the bar for a refill. This was Damien’s second sanctioned assassination, and his… he’d lost count. Robert had carried out his fair share of targeted ops over the years. However, this one felt different. While the evidence against her was compelling, it was in direct contrast to the background information he’d unearthed.
“That rain hasn’t let up. I think that could work for us.” Damien set an ale down in front of him.
Robert’s brow furrowed. “I didn’t ask for another.”
“I know, but it’s your birthday. My shout.” Damien raised his glass. “Cheers, old man.”
“You do realise I’m only in my early forties?”
Damien shrugged. “Yep, but in spook years that’s like one hundred.”
You’re not half wrong.
Robert took a sip. It wouldn’t do to be half inebriated when their target turned up.
Twenty. Robert sighed. How did two decades go by that fast?
While the sixth of September wasn’t listed on his birth certificate, it was the day used for each undercover false identity. Over the years, it had stuck, and he’d never bothered to set them straight.
For Robert, the date was sacred. It was the day a stranger had given him the strength to live.
“Crikey… get a load of the jugs on that one,” said Damien.
“Keep your voice down,” Robert hissed as he glanced around. “We are supposed to keep a low profile; not having you attacked for inappropriate behaviour.”
After he was sure no one had paid attention to them, he reached for his beer and took a long drink. A stranger may have given him life, but this imbecile was going to put him in his grave.
A short while later Damien stiffened. “Heads up. Showtime.”
Robert flicked his eyes towards the door. Sure enough, there she was. Jennifer Martin—Jenni to her friends–barrister to alleged terrorists.
As she crossed the room, he was fascinated by her chestnut brown hair which fell in soft waves and lightly touched her shoulders. A far cry from her usual dark suit and severe bun. In this light, she looked more like a football mum than a high-priced member of the legal profession.
Damien reached for his beer, finished the glass and thumped it down with a bump and a loud burp. He rubbed his hands together. “Right you are. I’ll text you when I’m done.”
After Robert watched his partner make his way out the door with an eager bounce to his stride, he saw an opportunity and rose from his seat. Quickly manoeuvring himself to the bar he ordered a coke and asked for a menu.
“Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.”
Robert swung his head around to discover a set of dark brown eyes peering over the menu she had hidden behind. “Pardon?”
“You looked like you were wrestling with the woes of the world.”
He smiled wryly. That’s one way of putting it.
Robert pointed to the menu. “I couldn’t work out what to order. Can you recommend anything?”
Jenni’s face softened and her lips curled into a warm smile. “Most of it’s tasty. Just keep away from the fish. Cook buggers it up—without exception.”
Robert glanced down to his copy and frowned. That only left a Beef and Stilton pie or a Tofu Salad.
Tofu Salad? The country’s going to hell in a hand basket!
The bartender took Jenni’s order. As she handed the menu back, her bracelet caught his eye—or rather, one of the charms had him riveted, unable to turn away. After an initial heart palpitation, he dismissed the familiar trinket as a figment of his imagination, pulled out a twenty pound note and ordered the pie.
“Good choice,” remarked Jenni once he had been given change.
Robert grinned. “Well, if it’s not, I’ll know who to blame.”
It took all his self-control not to take another look at her bracelet. It’s not the same one. It can’t be.
“Are you a local or just passing through?” he asked.
“I grew up around here. I’ve a place nearby and come up from London every now and then to get away from it all. What about you?”
He shrugged. “Just passing through.”
Jenni tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and his eye was once again polarised to the bracelet. In full view was a small silver triskele medallion. The exact replica of his.
Impossible. There were only three ever made.
Robert cleared his throat and hoped his voice didn’t falter. “That’s an interesting charm. It’s Celtic, isn’t it?”
She smiled and glanced at it. “That’s right, it’s a triskele.”
“It looks like an original.”
The smile she’d worn lost some of its shine. “It is. I made it a lifetime ago.” She fingered the triskele and looked like she was a thousand miles away. “Actually, I made three of them.”
Robert felt as if the world had just tilted on its axis and he was slipping over the edge.
A moment later, two plates were shoved towards them. “Serviettes and cutlery over on the sideboard,” said the publican pointing to their left.
Jenni reached for her order. “Thanks, Bruce.”
“No problems, Luv. A little birdie tells me it’s your birthday.”
Birthday! Robert broke out in a cold sweat.
Jennie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Ruby blabbered, did she?”
Bruce grinned crookedly and winked. Just then, a customer shouted from the other side of the bar and he smiled apologetically. “Gotta go, Luv. Mind yourself and be careful on the drive.”
“Will do.” She picked up her plate and scanned the area. From the way in which Jenni reached for her lemonade, she’d found a free table. She took a step before half turning to face him. “If you’re alone, you’re welcome to join me. The place is full, and the bar’s not exactly the nicest place to eat a meal.”
Robert tensed. This was against regulations. There was no way he should have any contact with a mark, let alone share a meal with her. His brain may have been fully behind the decision, but his feet were another matter entirely.
Once they sat, Jenni eyed up her plate. “I’m famished.”
Curious, Robert moved the conversation back to the triskele. There had to be a reasonable explanation. “You were telling me about the medallion.”
She looked up in surprise. “I was?”
“You made three of them?”
Jenni nodded and reached for her lemonade. “You know, the triskele harks back to ancient times and has been used in Celtic art for three thousand years.
“Why a triskele?”
Her face turned serious and the light in her eyes dimmed. “I lost my mum to cancer my last year at school. She died twenty years ago last January.”
“Don’t be. It was a long time ago.” Jenni rubbed the triskele between her fingers. “For the first few months after she passed I was a mess.
Her gazed dropped to the medallion. “My metal works teacher was a lovely old soul.” She laughed as if she’d just told a joke. “Actually, back then I thought he was a right plonker. But he kept on about the magic of the triskele. Somehow I became obsessed. I wanted to make something that would remind me of my mother. In the end, I had enough material to make three.”
A watery sheen clouded her eyes. “They took all the good people that year. My mum, Princess Di, Mother Theresa. You know, today’s the anniversary of Princess Diana’s funeral?”
Even though he’d never admit it, he did—in vivid detail.
“When she died in that car accident I was devastated. It triggered the loss of my mum all over again and I spent the entire day at the cemetry. Before I left, I buried one of the triskele’s I’d made by her gravestone. That way, we would always be connected through the one I’d kept for myself.” Jenni paused and took a breath. She blinked rapidly and focused on her plate. “When they announced that Princess Di’s funeral was on the same day as my birthday, I knew it was a sign. The third was for her.”
“What happened then?”
“We heard the news Mother Theresa had died.” Jenni sighed and leaned back in her chair. “The three strongest women I knew were gone. Each one of them wanted to make the world a better place—they did in their own way. After that year, the world was a little sadder, and I don’t think we ever got over it.”
“So did you leave the third triskele at the palace gates?”
“No. I made a promise that night to try and live up to their legacy and help those not as fortunate. That’s why I got into the profession I’m in. Instead, I wrote a letter and gifted the triskele to a stranger. I knew that mum, Di, and Theresa would guide it to the person that needed it the most.”
Robert’s chest began to thump. “And did you keep that promise?”
Her expression grew grim and her lips compacted into a thin line. “That depends on who you listen to. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is that the truth differs depending on who’s in power.” Jenni pushed her empty plate forward. “But to answer your question, I’d like to think I’ve made my mother proud.”
Robert’s phone beeped and he glanced at the screen.
Jenni’s doomsday clock had moved closer to midnight. For the remainder of the meal Robert was so distracted he’d only taken in every fifth word of the conversation.
Once they were done, Jenni pushed back her chair. “It was lovely chatting to you, but I’ve got a bit of a drive ahead of me.”
“Of course. I didn’t mean to interrogate you like that.”
She smiled and waved it off as she stood. “No bother. It was nice to talk to someone about something other than work.” Jenni slipped her bag over her shoulder and extended a hand towards him. “I’m Jennifer by the way, and thank you for sharing a birthday dinner with me.”
He took the offered hand. It felt tiny within his as they shook. Instead of letting go, he held it a moment longer. “Robert, and you are welcome.”
She raised her chin, and the corners of her chocolate brown eyes crinkled as a warm smile beamed up at him. With reluctance, he let her hand go.
There was an awkward silence before Jenni readjusted her bag and her eyes darted away as if nervous. “Um… yes… well… better get a move on. Cheerio.”
Robert watched as she walked away. Each step she took was one step closer to her fate. Not for the first time today, he questioned his superior’s motives. There were too many unanswered questions: Why did they not want her to appear in court tomorrow? Why did they balk when they’d discovered she’d scheduled a press conference?
The big screen caught his eye. Images of Prince William and Harry as children walking behind their mother’s coffin, flashed across the screen.
Robert’s throat tightened, and a bead of sweat broke out across his forehead. He was twenty-two again. The familiar feeling of helplessness washed over him. After a lifetime of absence, it rose in all its glory nearly crippling him in the process.
It was a coward’s way out—he knew it then, and was all too aware of it now. Too young and too stupid to think there was any alternative, drugs and alcohol were his weapons of choice. He intended to drink himself into oblivion and down a bottle of sleeping tablets to finish the job.
He’d rifled through his flatmates’ rooms and stole enough money to spend his last night at a decent hotel. Unfortunately, having the money for a room was one thing, being able to find an available one was a different story altogether. Robert hadn’t believed his luck when he found a room at a small hotel near Piccadilly Circus.
By the time he discovered the letter, he’d already finished half a bottle of the cheapest whiskey he could find.
6th September 1997
Today is my birthday. This year we lost my mother. Last week we lost charity. Last night we lost faith. But today I cling to hope.
I have spent the better part of this year angry. Angry at my mother for dying; angry at the world for not finding a cure for her cancer; angry at myself for being angry.
Today this ends.
Anger is not going to bring my mother back, nor will it return Princess Di or Mother Therese. I have no doubt that they have a special place in heaven alongside my mum. They stand side by side with all those who have given far more than they took.
We get so caught up in our own grief we fail to understand that others are suffering as much, if not more, than us. As I look out on the faces of the people passing by, I can hear their hearts breaking. For too long have I wallowed in my own grief and self-pity. I’ve been standing on the outside looking in. A spectator. Too quick to criticise, too quick to judge, too quick to anger.
The world is spiralling downward into oblivion because of spectators like me. My plea to you, dear stranger, do not be a spectator. Make what you do count.
You will find a silver medallion in the envelope along with this letter. When I made them, I had no idea what the triskele truly signified. One rests in the earth with my mum, another will be my constant reminder of her and my link to all that she was, and all she represented. It is people like her whose shoulders we now stand upon.
The third was to be Princess Di’s. I planned to leave it with the rest of the offerings at Buckingham Palace, in hope it would make its way to her final resting place. Instead, it is my gift to you.
Know that you are not alone. Even in your darkest days goodness can be found. We just need to look a little harder. All is not lost. We have faltered but will recover and see the sun rise on another day.
It is only now I understand the true meaning of the triskele.
Past, Present, Future.
Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Earth, Wind, Sky.
They all are strands of the threads that bind us. We need faith to guide us in our choices, charity to protect the weak, and hope to give us the will to carry on and leave this world a better place than we found it. None can exist without the other, and they bring balance to the universe.
My hope for you is that your life is filled with joy and love. May the triskele always remind you to not be a spectator. Make a difference.
The letter had resonated something in Robert’s half intoxicated, suicidal self. That day he chose life. He walked away from the depths of hell he had been born into, and enlisted in the armed forces. They educated him and gave him a purpose. While her majesty’s service had his gratitude, he owed Jenni his life.
But she’s a traitor! His rational self cried out in horror.
Are you sure about that?
Robert raked a hand through his hair. Right now, he wasn’t sure about anything. If he let her get in the car, her life was forfeit. Could he live with knowing that the very person who changed his life, and brought him back from the edge, was dead by his hands?
He glanced across the room. By now, Jenni had reached the exit after having stopped to chat. The moment her hand reached out for the door, Robert knew what he had to do—no matter the outcome.
Before she managed to fully open the door, Robert was across the room. He reached out, placed his hand over hers and pushed it closed. Her sudden yelp at his unexpected appearance turned a few customer’s heads.
“Do you know if there’s a back entrance to this place?” he asked with urgency. “We need to get out of here.”
Jenni’s surprise was mixed with confusion. “I think so. Why?”
Robert searched her face for any sign of deception. As he pulled his hand away from the door handle, the familiar grooves of his triskele brushed the back of his wrist. Words from the letter swam into his vision, and he briefly shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he met Jenni’s gaze.
“Because nothing is coincidence. Everything happens for a reason.”