Well, it seems this corner of the forum is a little quiet, so in the ardent hope that posting two scenes in 3 months doesn’t constitute spamming , here is another extract from the same project as my first post.
The whole of the second paragraph is, I think, very contrived and I’m still pondering over how best to solve that. The reference to the baroque painting is important, but at present is included in the text in an awkward fashion, so please consider it a placeholder for whatever it turns into later. Suggestions on that particular point would be especially welcome.
I am also using the date as a placeholder. As my timeline becomes more cohesive than it currently is, this will undoubtedly be adjusted.
[February 23rd, 1965]
Situated in the heart of London, the Westminster office of a little known division of the Admiralty was as good an example as any of the kind of overspend often associated with government. A substantial eight-storey stone building, it contained a labyrinth of panelled corridors and a liberal assortment of offices. Above the fifth floor the density decreased, the top storeys housing the higher ranking officials and well appointed meeting rooms for the very important.
Shortly before 8:30am a lift arrived at the seventh storey and a young woman emerged. She crossed the corridor, heading for a room opposite. In doing so she noticed a painting on the wall by the door she was approaching, a painting that had not been there the day before. The work itself was of no particular significance but the baroque-style frame immediately drew her attention. After a momentary pause she punched a combination into a keypad, opened the door and entered.
Despite the cold and rainy February day the high-ceilinged room was almost uncomfortably warm, symptomatic of an establishment unconcerned with matters financial. Elizabeth reflected on this briefly as she removed her coat and scarf. Leaving them hanging on an old-fashioned hatstand in the corner of the room she took her usual place behind a huge mahogany desk, highly polished and extensively carved but unencumbered apart from a bronze inkstand, two telephones (one red with no dial, one black) and a leather-bound blotting pad. Thus had it been for the three months since her employment there. Memories of cluttered offices full of paperwork and chattering women flickered through her mind. How she preferred the reserved atmosphere of this environment!
Glancing at the blotter she saw a message scrawled at an angle and immediately picked up the red telephone. With a wry smile she placed the receiver on her shoulder and angling her head to hold it in place she reached down and opened a drawer to retrieve a small black case. She placed this on the desk as her call was answered.
“Good morning Admiral.” She spoke quietly with a respectful tone.
“Good morning, Elizabeth. Lord Bainford’s office has requested a meeting. Please schedule something for this afternoon.” The Admiral was well spoken, polite and direct.
“Of course. Is there anything else?” she said.
“Not right now.”
“Yes Sir.” She replaced the red handset with a gentle click.
Elizabeth opened the case in front of her, revealing an alphabetical card index. Each card bore two pieces of information, a name and a number. Removing the card marked ‘Bainford, Christopher (Lord)’ she noted the number below. She knew this was not a telephone number in the conventional sense but entering it into the black telephone would nonetheless result in a connection to the appropriate party. She had no idea who would answer and nor was it her place to know. This was a typical start to the day for a Personal Assistant to Admiral Morgan-Mayberry.
Three months was not enough time to fully adjust to the way that the Admiralty worked. After two years working in the pool at an insurance firm Elizabeth had become used to being just another typist in a large office on the ground floor of a nondescript office block in one of the less glamorous parts of London. She had hated every minute of it. Not for her the inane chatter and irrelevant gossip so beloved by her erstwhile colleagues, eagerly exchanging juicy titbits regarding the wardrobe preferences of the royals or collectively fantasising about going on a date with some rock star she’d never heard of. Her somewhat unusual upbringing had taught her that maintaining reserved silence was as effective a means as any of handling most situations.
Elizabeth Ivy Woodrow was 25 years old. An only child, despite humble origins she was academically gifted and being a diligent student in addition had managed to obtain an assisted scholarship to Oxley Grange. Set in the South of England it was a private boarding college for girls, all of whom had come from far more affluent backgrounds than she.
Eight years had elapsed since leaving Oxley and she held no nostalgia for the place but the new picture frame outside her office had rekindled the memory of just such a frame prominently positioned in the entrance hall of the college. It was strange, she mused, how something so mundane could transport one back in time so vividly. Her attention returned to the card she held in her hand and glancing once more at the number printed on it she took from the desk a large diary and placed the call. Unusually, the response was not immediate, the phone ringing several times before being picked up.
The voice at the other end of the line was male. Her impression was that of a young man possibly in his twenties sounding somewhat out of breath, which may have explained his delay in answering. Not that it mattered in the slightest but she had an observant mind and noticed such things whether they were important or not. The conversation was short and formal with no introductions.
“I’d like to schedule a meeting between Admiral Morgan-Mayberry and Lord Bainford this afternoon.”
“Sure. Would 3:30 at the Admiral’s office be OK?”
The accent was unmistakable. Oh God, not another American, she thought.
“That’s fine, thanks.”
Before she could hang up he said quickly “Hey, have we spoken before?”
Elizabeth sighed inwardly, noting that his voice had risen slightly in pitch, a generic sign she knew well. The chances were that he was new to this kind of thing and therefore probably not cognisant of the protocol governing conversations of this nature. Not that she would have responded in any case, at least not in a manner that would have furthered any aspirations on his part. It was nothing personal but she had limited interest in flirting at the best of times and now especially. Anyway, he was American. Her answer was quick and calculatedly formal.
“I don’t think so. I will inform the Admiral of the agreed time. Thank you.”
Disconnecting before he had a chance to respond further she updated the diary and relayed the appointment to the Admiral. It was unusual but not without precedent for anyone to stray beyond the few words required to co-ordinate meeting requests and similar administrative tasks. It wasn’t the over familiar tone that she found unsettling. Realising the truth was that his voice was reminiscent of a certain US officer from an uncomfortable recent history she felt almost sorry for the young man but did not dwell on the thought.