© Sir Will 2005
Lisa looked around her at the big dimly lit room. The dark bookcases, the pictures that hung from one wall, the heavy velvet curtains pulled tightly shut and all but deadening the sound of the heavy rain which fell outside. How had she got herself into this bizarre situation. Oh how she now wished she had listened to her friends, to her husband, even her children All had told her that it was just stupid to go searching for your ancestors in the middle of winter in Scotland.
Twenty-four hours ago she had been with her family in their small hotel suite on the outskirts of London. They had a nice evening in the West End of London, put the kids to bed and she and her husband of fifteen years had enjoyed one of those all too rare evenings alone. Love making, that quiet, assured, pleasant activity, had developed over the last fifteen years. The raw early emotion and passion of their relationship had long ago begun to ebb. Lisa believed herself to have a happy marriage. Todd and she had been childhood sweethearts and the whole township knew that they would marry as soon as it was seemly. But now, passion for Lisa came in two, non-physical, forms.
First was the passion for romance and excitement. A passion which had found a constant fuel in the cheap novels which she bought at the local Seven-Eleven. She enjoyed the intrigue, the deceit, the powerful love and, yes, the raw passion that always brought the main characters together. She had always wondered, fleetingly, about the true passion, the erotic encounters which went un-mentioned in these stories. The female usually melting into the hero's arms, a deep smouldering kiss, the close embrace - the next chapter!
Second was that passion which had brought her to this forbidding place. It was the passion to learn more about her mixed ancestry. Her parents had both passed away relatively early; the task of sitting down to talk (and write down) those childhood stories about the "Good 'ol Days" had remained undone. Now she was trying to remedy that; to learn more about that Scots, Irish, Afro-American cocktail which had formed her genes and her being.
She had spent hours on the internet, using some of her allowance to explore genealogy web sites to trace her roots, especially the Scots line of her maternal grandmother. They intrigued her, the family was well documented and she had been able to go back three generation and find the birth records in the mid-18th century baptismal records in Mallaig. She had copies and they showed the home to be Glen Alder but where was this place? The place name did not exist. Of course she had found Mallaig, the small port in Western Scotland from where the steamers went to the Western Isles. She had ordered and received a detailed map of the area from Borders but nothing of the name Alder was to be found in this part of Scotland.
She had given up hope.
Then a visit to a local second-hand bookshop had produced the find she was looking for. A slim volume "Ramblings in Western Scotland" had a small fold-out map at the back and there, as plain as anything, was the words "Glen Alder House". There could be no mistake it was there and just off the main road. Perhaps the house had been renamed? Lisa didn't care. She had found what she was looking for and now this working trip for her husband come holiday had provided the opportunity to see for herself.
An early flight from Heathrow, a hire car at the airport, all the maps she had and Lisa was off. She had barely left the outskirts of Glasgow and found the A82 when the sky had turned grey, then black as rain, increasingly heavy, started to fall. She stopped for lunch at a roadside inn and then for coffee and some cake at very small cafe just north of Fort William. She had asked if anybody knew of Glen Alder, but only blank looks and a shrug of weary shoulders had been obtained from the lady behind the counter. It was now getting dark, but she resolved to press on. Could she find the road to Glen Alder before heading into Mallaig for her pre-booked overnight at Mrs Armstrong's B&B. She set off again peering through the windscreen, past the wipers now on full speed.
What was that on the left? A road, well more like a track, but wide, leading off between two high stone walls, built like the gateway to some large house. It was the right area, it was on the right side of the road. Could it be? She pulled the wheel and turned in. The gravel road stretched before her into the darkness, the first 20 yards illuminated by the car headlamps. She could see no house, no buildings, nothing. She drove on. How far, a mile perhaps two and then BANG.
The wheel lurched in her hands, the car veered. She was powerless to stop the slide into the ditch. She remembered hearing the rain and the engine racing and then all was silence. A black silence.
"Miss; are you OK?" She nodded; her hurt head. She heard the rain, but no engine. She looked around. This was not her car. It looked like the inside of a farmer's vehicle, plain and austere. In the pale light she could just make out the shadow of a man. "Are you OK?" The shadow spoke again. She was aware of his dress, camouflage fatigues, a dark woollen ski hat pulled down over his head, his face painted in black paint. The figure moved towards her and reached out to touch her, she recoiled, and then fell back against the side of the vehicle as it started to move.
"We will take you to the house. They will check you over before the boss has a chat with you." The shadow did not wait for answer, but turned to look out through the front windscreen and the two pale beams of light which illuminated the road. She could not ask a question, her brain was still foggy and. in any case and she thought it better to wait until they arrived at wherever they were going.
The journey did not take long and soon she was being led through the imposing doors of a large house. Few lights seemed to be on as she moved into a well lit hallway. Suits of armour stood at the foot of a long wide staircase, large oil paintings - portraits of long dead people - hung from the walls which were panelled in a dark oak.
She followed the shadow to a small room just off the main hallway and was ushered in. "Somebody will be with you in a few minutes" and the shadow was gone. The room was well lit and looked for all the world like a doctors consulting room. A large desk, an examination table, some small chests and a screen were virtually all that was in the room. She looked around the walls - no oil paintings here, just the wood panels and ....... She looked higher. Near the ceiling was a small camera, the little red light seemed to wink at her. What was that doing in a doctor's room? Was somebody watching? Her feeling of unease was cut short as two people entered the room by a side door in the panels. Both female, one was dressed in a crisp nurse's uniform, the other in a simple tweed suit.
"Good Evening" the tweed suit asked breezily, "How's the head?"
"Fine, just a bit sore" Lisa spoke softly, still unsure of her surroundings.
"Lets have a quick look at you, sit over here please and let me examine you" the tweed suit spoke with a level of authority that Lisa was sure came from years of ordering people around. No bedside manner, just cold efficiency. Lisa sat on the chair while she was examined, pencil lights into her eyes, a finger tip examination of her scalp, reflex tests on her knees. the tight bandage around her arm as her blood pressure was taken. All performed in silence except for various figures spoken by the tweed suit and written onto a clip board by the nurse.
"Nothing to worry about; just some mild concussion from hitting your head. You will have a bit of bruise and a headache but that's all. Be fine in a day or so." For the first time the tweed suit smiled at her. An almost reassuring smile that at another time, and in another place, would have put her at ease. Now it just lowered Lisa's sense of anxiety.
"Go with the nurse and she will get you some coffee and the boss will see you and explain." Not waiting for an answer she disappeared through the panel door. Lisa felt the nurse behind her and rose from the chair to follow her out of the room, back down the hall and off into a much larger room near the front door. Lisa looked around, unaware until she heard the click of the door that the nurse had turned on her heels and left her inside the room.
This room was much grander. A large desk in one corner was augmented with several large comfortable looking sofas arranged in front of a fireplace in which a log fire was burning. Book shelves filled two walls, pictures a third and large windows behind the desk the fourth wall. Heavy velvet curtains were pulled tightly over the windows, but the light from the fire and the dim room lighting gave the whole a warm comforting glow. In front of one settee was a small tray on which a pot of coffee, a cup and some biscuits had been placed.
Lisa moved over and sat on the sofa. Carefully, with a hand shaking slightly, she poured herself a cup of coffee and settled into the sofa to await "the Boss".
Lisa shook herself, aware that she was on the point of dozing off and stood up. The log fire still burned in front of her. She felt the coffee pot - stone cold. She had fallen asleep. For how long? What time was it? Even, what day was it? She could hear the sound of the rain still against the windows. How had she got herself into this bizarre situation? Oh how she now wished she had listened to her friends, to her husband, even her children. All had told her that it was just stupid to go searching for your ancestors in the middle of winter in Scotland.
Lisa heard the soft click of the door and turned to see a man approaching her across the room. She was immediately drawn to his smile - a broad smile which spread across his face and lit up his deep blue eyes. As he reached out his hand to shake hers, she was aware of his height, over 6 foot she imagined and his build, broad shoulders and the bearing of somebody who obviously took care of himself and his fitness. Her hand was lost in his as he squeezed it gently. "Please take a seat" the smile showed her the way to chair now in front of the large desk and held it for her as she sat down.
"I expect you are wondering what all this is about?" the smile changed to a questioning look.
"Well yes" Lisa started, "I can remember turning off the main road and then nothing much apart from being brought here and being seen by the doctor . Then I think I must have dozed off for a few minutes on the sofa." Lisa blurted it all out, anxious to get her story across.
The man smiled "Quite a long nap I would say, but you are safe and no harm done" the smile slipped slightly as he went on "we don't get many visitors here so we need to know what brought you to our little corner of Scotland." He raised an eyebrow - that quizzical look again. "I'm Peter Sanders by the way Lisa, but Peter is fine." Lisa, the word hit her like a thunderbolt - he knew her name, she became aware for the first time that she did not have her bag with her. Of course, he must have her passport. She relaxed slightly.
"So, if you can, tell me in your own words, what brought you here." Lisa sensed that the cheery disposition had slipped slightly and that Peter had shifted into a more official, authoritative mode. She started to explain how her mixed ancestry had driven her to search out her roots and how she had taken this opportunity to try and trace her grandmother's line which was based around this part of Scotland. Mention of her visit made her pause - her family her husband, they would be missing her. She should call.
Peter looked up from the pad on which he was writing notes "What's the matter?" asked with just a hint of real sympathy.
"My husband and children" Lisa replied with concern and some panic in her voice "they will be missing me." "I should have called."
Peter wrote something on his pad "we will look into that and put their minds at rest if needed." Lisa wondered about the "we," who was "we" and how would they know how to contact them.
"My bag - it has ....." she started to look around but Peter stopped her to simply say "we have the information. Don't worry, they may not even be worrying about you yet."
"Oh my husband will" Lisa almost snapped back, "he is so possessive, he would be expecting me to call. Perhaps if I could just call ....... leave a message?"
Peter looked at her, his eyes seeming to be a deeper blue now "Possessive you say?" Lisa quickly nodded "I am surprised he let you come here alone then. In the middle of winter; leaving him in London."
Peter's words rang like alarm bells. He was right; it was so unlike Todd to even let her out of his sight for more than a few hours. Now here they were in Europe and he had let her go to the west of Scotland, alone. Why? How did this man opposite know where Todd was? Of course her bag, the hotel name was there. Had he already made contact? Lisa could feel the situation becoming more unreal, like something from a Le Carre novel!
"Please continue" Peter's voice interrupted her thoughts. She looked back into those eyes once more; they seemed so deep, impenetrable. She could feel them looking into her as if he could read her mind, her thoughts. The smile, the disarming smile which spread over his face, a face full of sympathy, as if he knew he had touched a raw nerve and then retreated from the consequences.
Lisa did continue, but her narrative lacked concentration and she started to stumble over her words. She explained about her search for Glen Alder, the fact that she could not find it on the map, then the second-hand book with its amateurish hand drawn map.
Throughout, Peter looked at her still wearing that sympathetic smile, occasionally looking down at his notes until she stopped. Lisa looked back at him, looking for some sign that her story was to be believed, that perhaps she could continue her search and return to her family in London. "So you came here searching for somewhere called Glen Alder did you? Mmmmm." Peter looked down and turned the page. "Tell me about your husband."
Lisa was startled. "What? Um why?" she stumbled unsure of this new, unexpected turn in the conversation. Peter smiled that smile again "Please" the politeness gave away that this seemed to be an instruction, an order even.
"Well" Lisa began, "he is a good man we were childhood sweethearts and he has been moderately successful and looked after us well." "We have two children and his work brought him to London and we tagged along for the ride." Peter was making notes, Lisa was unsure if this was what he wanted to hear or not. "I am sure he loves us" and then added, with a flashback to his possessive nature, "I am sure he loves me."
Peter looked up from his notes and into Lisa's face once more. That soul searching look "I am sure he does." Peter's comment direct to the point but perhaps with a hint of knowing that this might not be the whole picture.
"When are you due back in London?" Peter's change of direction once again catching her off guard. "Ermm ... day after tomorrow." "Which is?" Peter was looking down again, didn't he know the answer? "Friday" she added quickly, "we need to move on to Europe on Saturday."
"OK" said Peter finally, "I just need to check on a few things and I will be back. I will get some lunch sent in for you and be back as quick as I can." He rose from the chair, picked up his note pad and headed for the door "Don't worry" and he was gone.
Lisa turned around. Lunch? What was the time? She rose to go to the window but was interrupted by a noise behind her. A door opened and a thin man dressed like a butler entered with a small tray which he set down on the desk. A chicken salad was revealed when he lifted the lid. She was about to say "Thanks - my favourite" or something equally trite when he bowed and said "We hope this has been prepared the way you like it." She was shocked - no speechless! How did they know she liked chicken, salads, CHICKEN SALAD?
That feeling of unease swept over her again. She picked at the food and then, surprised that she was hungry, ate more heartily until all had disappeared. She drank the tall glass of fresh orange juice (another favourite) and sat back in the chair. All was quiet, even the rain seemed to have stopped. She went to the window and pulled the curtain.
The disappointment that the window was shuttered was almost too much. She looked more closely and could see through a broken shutter. A vast lawn opened out in front of the window. It seemed to go on for ever, framed by flowering shrubs of some description, all bathed in a weak sunlight. Beyond was the grey outline of some mountains, still swathed in dark rain clouds.
"I must get the shutter fixed." Lisa jumped out of her skin at the sound of Peter's voice. "Come and sit down I have some news for you." The smile had returned, reassuring but somehow, well Lisa could not quite work out what but there was something; a something which she found intriguing but mysterious.
She followed Peter over to the sofas and they both sat down, but on different sofas facing each other on either side of the now dying fire.
"We have made sure that your husband and children are OK" Peter began, "they have been enjoying themselves visiting the sights. They don't appear to be expecting to hear from you until tomorrow. They obviously think of Scotland as a foreign land with little communications." He smiled at his comment, that warm smile again. "So, no need to worry."
"We are still checking a few other things but I am sure we can let you go in the morning." Peter was looking as though this comment should reassure Lisa, but for her part she could not understand what there was to check. She was just a simple girl from the mid-West trying to trace her family tree after all.
"What are you checking?" Lisa began to get agitated and not a little worried. What if they found out something about her which might stop her being released? 'No that's silly' she thought 'there is nothing.'
"Well" began Peter, "you are here and you have no right to be here. The public are not allowed here and certainly not a foreign national." Lisa started to worry about the type of place this was. "We have to be very careful and you appear to know some things which you should not."
"What things? I don't know anything about this place. I don't even know where I am." Lisa was now starting to panic.
"You know this place as Glen Alder" the words rang like alarm bells "but that is classified information." While Lisa was trying to take in these words - classified = secret - Peter continued, "You also come from an interesting part of the US as well."
Interesting? What was interesting about her home state? "I don't understand."
Peter looked at her, those eyes again seeming to bore into her mind; reading it. "Well," Peter's eyes now bored into her, looking for some reaction, "your government has a number of installations in your neighbourhood which are ..." a pause, still looking for a reaction " are shall we say not very well known."
Lisa was even more confused, she knew of no military or government establishments anywhere near her home except for the state guard barracks just down the road. "I I I don't know anything about that" her voice now pleading "I'm just here to search for my ancestors. I'm not some sort of spy."
Spy - the word made Peter smile, why did people watch all those James Bond films, nobody in his job ever used the word. "I'm sure your right, but we just need to check. It will take a few more hours and then, tomorrow morning, we will take you back."
Lisa was both relieved and concerned. Why would it take until tomorrow? "She started to ask the question "Why ...." But was cut short by Peter raising a hand.