London - England
In his pin-stripped suit and double-breasted coat the man in the back of the taxi could have been any banker or broker, the clothes as much a uniform as the one he’d left slung over the back of a chair in a different country. Jack Harkness stared at his own reflection in a rain-spattered window-pane and wondered when he’d last worn civvies.
A month ago? Six?
The navy wool coat was narrower in the shoulder than his usual Great Coat and, devoid of its counterpart’s history, a lesser protection despite its weight. Maybe that was why Jack's fingers were restless - for a gun, a tazer, a light. He'd given up smoking in the late seventies (when he’d last refreshed his skills with the SAS) but still missed the taste of nicotine. For him it was vaguely reminiscent of a spice that could only be bought off-world, in the Pleiades sector. Beyond turning ones field of vision blue Jack couldn’t actually remember what the spice did, but he was sure there was an orgasm in there somewhere, or would be when the spice was harvested and sold, several centuries from when he was sitting.
“Still have to cross Park Lane,” Jack muttered to himself, fingers drumming against one of the plastic hand-grips that jutted into the taxi’s dim interior. Rain had brought out the traffic, so the taxi he was sat in inched and idled through Hyde Park, its meter ticking like an old incendiary device. “How much longer d’you think?” he asked, raising his voice.
The booking was for 1.00pm, the minute hand on Jack’s watch inching ten past. Mannerly was both a stickler for punctuality and convention. But then, that was why Jack had denuded his suit from its garment bag in the first place.
The plexi-glass partition separating driver from passenger slid open. “Talking to me Guv?” he asked, before bemoaning road-works and street closures.
Jack let his attention drift: Why had Mannerly chosen The Connaught for their rendezvous, rather than some place closer to Whitehall? That was as intriguing a question as why Mannerly had asked him to lunch in the first place. Then again, unlike its showy sister The Savoy, The Connaught, had always been a nest of political intrigue.
Legs crossed, Jack plucked at the ironed crease in the trouser length and felt a momentary nostalgic pang for the hotel, for the original blue shirt, braces and suit-pants that had long since been donated to the Salvation army, only to be replaced by close copies. For the War years that he’d lived through twice, and almost settled in once.
‘Settled is but one step from sloppy old boy,’ he thought to himself. There was something about taking the slow road to the future that lulled even the sharpest mind into a rut. “And before you know it you’ll be sliced open like sushi…”
“What was that Guv?” the driver asked as the taxi pulled into Carlos Place.
Up ahead, through the windscreen, Jack could see the Union Jack fluttering over the hotel’s entrance.
He’d wrapped a ruined debutante up in a flag much like that one, fifty or so years back. A brunette - if he remembered correctly - who’d cried into her brandy glass as he’d held her hand and promised her that virginity was an over-rated commodity in wartime. Not that he’d plucked that ripe cherry. No, some ham-fisted sailor on leave had left her bruised, with more than the eye-hooks on her evening dress ripped. Three days later, when Jack had seen her home that flag had made quite a snazzy evening dress. Whistling at that memory, Jack paid the driver and sauntered up the steps into the hotel.
The ornate entrance and low marble steps led into a warm reception area, heavy with wood panelling. The Connaught had always been a home away from home for the establishment. People Jack had fought with, or bedded, during the war had stayed here, as had their mothers and their mothers before them. Jack wondered what it said about him, that it felt so much like home.
“Good afternoon Sir.”
“Hi.” Jack smiled at the young man behind the desk, and swallowed the grin as he saw him flush slightly. “I’m meeting a Mr. Mannerly in the hotel restaurant. He here yet?”
“Mr. Mannerly? Ah, yes Sir, he’s already…”
“Thank you.” Remembering his way easily, Jack headed towards the right, walking through a corridor that narrowed before opening out into the main room of the restaurant.
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His thinning hair as brilliantly white as ever, Mannerly was sat at a table in the centre of a room almost devoid of diners, his gaze focused on a leather-bound menu. He rose as Jack weaved past tables laid with crisp linen and polished silverware.
“My dear Jack.” His handshake was as forceful as ever.
Reflected in the side of a sliver water jug, they made a dapper picture. Judged purely on externals, they could have been father and son, or mentor and disciple. But then, how many people knew that Jack would never age past his late thirties in appearance? Or that if he was marking his linear age he was - roughly - three times Mannerly’s age. It was Jack who had inveigled Mannerly into positions where a word here or there could have best influence. Yet, it was Mannerly who held a position of recognisable power.
“Trains unpunctual as usual?” Mannerly asked, reigning in Jack’s wandering thoughts.
“Nothing beats flying, though these days that has just as many delays.” A wide grin hid Jack’s curiosity. “How are things at the ministry?” he asked, breaking a breadstick.
“Overseeing projects is much as it ever was. But I didn’t call you in to rap those knuckles over Torchwood’s finances - the ones you’re siphoning off for your own purposes.”
Mannerly’s words were a surprise and an unpleasant one at that. Jack turned his focus inward for a moment, recalling meticulously careful hacks and piggybacked bank transactions. Had he been careless? Grown complacent? Was there a discrepancy? Or was Mannerly fishing for intel?
“I don’t suppose you’d expect me to tell you anything other than you must be mistaken,” Jack said. “That I just mosey along in Cardiff; as my father did before me.”
They ordered Dover sole, asparagus and baby potatoes, Jack delighting in anything that wasn’t nuked Chinese food or beans on toast. He’d been living on that kind of fare for the past five months, all the money he’d siphoned off from Torchwood One going to a training program that was, and would remain off-book.
“Your father.” Mannerly smiled thinly and lowered his voice. “My dear Jack, deny it all you wish but we both know what we both know. Though I still think you know rather more than I, no matter where an entry level position at the ministry all those years ago has led.”
“And if I told you,” Jack quipped.
“Yes, quite. I still remember the look on my father’s face.” A wrinkled hand buttered a triangle of toast briskly. “Winter of forty-six, do you recall? We were so cold in Somerset, water froze in the pipes. Still stretching out half-rations and there you were with that jar of orange marmalade.”
“I did wonder if you went from house to house wooing people’s wives with that treat,” Mannerly said quietly. “It was another year before the weather balloon fell in New Mexico, a lifetime until I understood the toll your warnings placed upon my father.”
They waited, silent while a waiter refreshed their glasses.
“Has the project progressed further than anticipated?” Jack asked, once the other man had departed.
“To my knowledge the time-table remains the same.” Mannerly’s tone was so low, it barely carried across the table. “But in terms of information and power, my dear Jack we are marginalised, despite my better efforts.”
“Which is what you wanted to see me about?” Jack asked between forkfuls of fish.
Jack derived little comfort from the slow, thoughtful way Mannerly sipped his wine. “What was it you need exactly?”
“I’m not asking for your direct participation,” Mannerly’s words were measured in tone and pace. “I appreciate your need to protect the status quo and the fact that you maintain true danger from our… foe is still to come, but…”
Fish cooling on his plate and curdling in his gut, Jack waited.
“Deep cover is the only option. And one shouldn’t trust those… yuppies supposedly controlling things over at One. One never knows what they overlook: banking errors, RAF medical reports…”
Jack nodded once, slowly.
“I’ve heard you recruited a young man.” Mannerly continued. “American. Came over on a Fulbright I believe? Brilliant. Resourceful.”
And that was when Jack knew the cover price for lunch. His fledgling team ripped apart, his... He hadn’t had a chance to make Alex his and now he’d be consigning him over to someone else’s care. “He’s… special.”
“To you?” Mannerly raised an eyebrow.
“I’m not fucking Alex, if that’s what you’re asking.” Jack said, jabbing a potato with his fork.
Jack hadn’t bedded Alex Krycek. There’d been little opportunity and even less privacy as he’d pushed the fledgling team to gel. But the young man’s green eyes packed a punch stronger than absinthe, and Jack found himself wanting to lick the sweat off Alex’s belly every-time he caught the other man doing those endless sets of abdominal reps.
“According to the SAS boys, he’s a crackshot.” Mannerly pressed his point.
“Britain no longer sanctions wet-work.” The twist of Jack’s lip was a smile distorted.
“I don’t need a mindless thug Jack. I need someone to reign in Fox Mulder, before that impossible boy destroys everything, we’ve worked for.” Mannerly sipped his wine, waved the desert trolley away, and took his time choosing a cigar. “Intelligence is a pre-requisite, as is needing someone who can get the job done, no matter the job.”
“You want someone closer to your smoker friend.” Jack said, damning the fact that Alex hadn’t had the benefit of further training, of experience. Of covert-ops with a team to watch his back. “Where do I come in?” he asked finally, his mouth full of the taste of the other man’s cigar. “Contact? Toys?”
“For daily matters dealing with the project, I thought I’d handle Alex, spare you the burden as it were,” Mannerly said. “I will of course keep you appraised.”
By Jack’s watch it was 3.20pm. He’d been forced to barter one of his boys for the fate of mankind, in under two hours.
It never got easier.
“We all have to make tough choices,” Mannerly’s words carried across the table on a puff of cigar smoke, “If we’re to prevent the future that could come to pass.”
Nineteen eighty-nine. The next century, while still a good decade away, was fast approaching on a wave of technology that would usher in contact and possible annihilation.
“The twenty-first century is when it all changes,” Jack said, knowing full well he sounded cutting.
“Dear boy, I do hope that’s not your sales pitch,” Mannerly chased down his words with a final swallow of wine.
“I usually put more zing into it.”
To Jack, the dregs in Mannerly’s glass suddenly seemed a deeper, darker red. He waved over a waiter and ordered a brandy. A long moment later and he could almost fool himself that its smooth taste was enough of a balm. He cupped the delicate bowl-stemmed glass the way he probably wouldn’t get a chance to cup Alex’s jaw, bicep… ass.
But the past is just the same - and War's a bloody game ... Jack muttered, his mind chasing down a fragment of a poetic line. At Mannerly’s raised eyebrow he continued: “Sassoon. Did you know his men called him Mad Jack?”
Mannerly let his slim fingered hand rest atop of Jack’s, just for a moment.
“Cowards, Mannerly.” Jack raised his glass in a mock toast. “We make the best survivors, don’t you know?”
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