Jordyn Janet Montrose was buried on a spring afternoon in a Midlands village when the sun was warm, the clouds were puffy white and crocuses ruled the fields and pathways. She was sixteen. The church was old enough to have seen Montroses before – weddings, christenings and funerals – and big enough to hold the entire family. And there was room for family friends as well. (JJ’s own school friends were in Italy, trying to understand grief with carefully placed flowers, candles and teddy bears.) It was a small village and everyone knew the family, so besides grandparents and cousins, there were a grocer, a gardener, a number of others and Ms. Janet Miller, Lady Perry-Turner and Dreyfus Sinclair — who all sat near the front. Plus, there was an older gentleman who sat by himself at the back.
The service was well-appointed — without a flaw — until Ms. Miller’s eulogy stumbled over a memory and she started to cry. Dreyfus guided her back to her seat, and Lady Perry-Turner ad-libbed the rest, finishing with a like-mother/like-daughter story that tempered the mood. Then, with two fingers, she kissed the sky and went back to her place. There was a poem and a prayer and the vicar thanked everyone on behalf of the family, and then everyone stood and waited their turn to leave.
At the door, JJ’s parents, Monica and James, who were too young for this (Monica was only 32) stood like duty — accepting without hearing the sympathies and condolences. There were a few hugs and some wooden handshakes but no more tears. They were for later when everyone had gone and the doors were firmly closed. Monica pulled Janet aside and clung to her arm, James thanked Dreyfus too much and wouldn’t let go of his hand, and Emily stood awkwardly until he did. Then the two of them walked a short distance away and waited as Mr. And Mrs. Montrose went through the motions – numb with loss. The last person out was the older gentleman who stopped, leaned down and spoke solemnly for a few sentences. As he spoke, he took Monica’s hand, placed it in James’ and patted them together. Then he turned and walked the several steps to where Emily and Dreyfus were standing. He reached inside his jacket and brought out a crinkled package of foreign cigarettes and offered it to Emily. There was a second of hesitation. He shook the package.
“Go on, then.”
Emily selected one, straightened it slightly, and Michael Elliott produced an old-fashioned silver lighter and flicked it into flame. He cupped his hands out of old habit and Emily leaned forward. “Cheers,” she said, exhaling.
Michael lit one for himself and leaned his head back, blowing smoke into the sky.
“Family liaison officer,” he answered, without a question. “Keeping the family aware of the progress of the investigation.”
Dreyfus almost laughed. Michael Elliott prowled the halls of power; he didn’t wander the shires reassuring the locals.
“And how is the investigation progressing?” Dreyfus’ tone betrayed his disbelief.
Michael Elliott ignored him.
“Actually, I was able to inform the Montroses that, working with the Italian authorities, we were able to identify the men who injected their daughter with heroin, but unfortunately, they were killed by British law enforcement officers while resisting arrest. It was in a villa just north of Florence. You might be familiar with it.”
Dreyfus did smile at that. Michael pointed a finger.
“Don’t,” he said, slyly. “Your little adventure stirred a few pots that were best left alone. The Italians are particularly keen that no one thinks they can make a meal of this. So …” Michael shrugged. “… we need to make certain everyone sticks to the script.”
There was a pause.
“Leave Janet alone, Michael.” Emily said cautiously.
Michael Elliott tapped his cigarette.
The pause was thicker. Dreyfus chuckled softly to break the mood.
“You didn’t leave hearth and home to have a quiet chat with Ms. Miller, Michael. She’s perfectly fine, and you know it.”
Behind him, the people from the church were thinning, walking away or going to their cars. Michael took another inhale from his cigarette and, as was his habit, twisted the burning end off and stepped on the embers.
“I won’t be going to the reception. Give my regrets to the Montroses. Duty calls and all that.” He twisted the cigarette butt in his fingers – flakes of tobacco falling to the ground. “Officially, the drug network that killed that girl has been dismantled and the perpetrators are – uh – gone. Everyone is satisfied and the case is closed.”
Dreyfus’ eyebrows showed sceptic. Michael smiled and put the tiny, wadded cigarette paper in his jacket pocket.
“But I’ve always thought it was good practice to let the villains know that Her Majesty’s government has sharp claws and won’t tolerate the killing,” Michael turned his head slightly towards Emily, “or kidnapping — of British citizens …”
Suddenly, Dreyfus understood.
“And you’re here because some of those big bad boys are watching.”
Michael tilted his head without agreeing.
“At the moment I have two Albanians scared witless that some licensed-to-kill somebody is going to come and finish the job, and they’re telling anyone who’ll listen their sordid little tale. It helps that I’ve taken a personal interest in their dilemma.” Michael lifted his hand to signal his driver, then pointed his finger at Dreyfus, “You’re not to go near the Kovaci brothers. Are we clear on that?”
Dreyfus opened his palms. Emily dropped her cigarette on the ground and crushed it angrily with her toe.
“For God sake, you two! This is a funeral. Can’t it wait?”
Caught by surprise, both men stammered to apologise (perhaps explain) but Emily was already gone, walking the few steps back to Monica and Janet and poor lost James. In their world, a young girl’s death was sad and senseless – not a tactic. And as much as Emily didn’t know about … she stopped and looked past her friends to the quiet, old stone church … on that day, she knew more than she wanted to.