The heat was relentless. Even under his straw hat, Phillips could feel his scalp burning. The locals stayed indoors during the middle of the day, when the sun was at it’s peak. That was why he chose to take his daily stroll at this time.
His cane slipped on the uneven cobbles as he wandered through the empty, narrow streets. Rounding the corner he took in the view of the Mediterranean beyond the cliffs. Across the inlet Sainte-Tropez sparkled.
He had settled into the relaxed anonymity of the French Riviera. Too settled. It would be time to move on soon. To where he hadn’t decided. Perhaps somewhere a bit cooler. A bit less blue. His thoughts turned to home. He missed the grey and mild climate of Britain. The leaves would be turning now, from lush green, to crisp gold.
Never being able to return to his country of birth was just one of the sacrifices he had made. Faces of those he had loved, lost, befriended and betrayed haunted his memories. In the glare of the bright sun he closed his eyes and saw the ghosts again. Pawns in the great game, and he was just another one.
He climbed up the rickety path to the small cottage, lying away from the main streets that made up the town of Sainte-Maxime. The cool air as he entered the kitchen was a welcome relief. He poured a glass of cloudy water from the tap and gulped it down.
A crunch of footsteps approached along the path. Old instincts die hard. Phillips reached for the small revolver he kept under the sink and moved to the shaded corner of the room. The footsteps paused as they reached the door. There was a knock. Phillips stood still.
The door was slowly pushed open. ‘Hello?’ The voice was thin, elderly and English. It had been a number of years, but Phillips could never forget it. He stepped forward, gun raised.
‘Chief,’ he said.
The old man, stooped, wiping sweat from his face with a cotton handkerchief, turned and saw Phillips step out of the gloom. ‘Phillips. You’re a hard man to track down.’
‘I find it’s better that way. Safer. But you still managed to find me. A social call?’
The old man smiled. ‘Always nice to catch up with an old ally, but as it happens, there’s a bit of business we might need your help with.’
‘I thought you had left?’
‘I have, of course. No need for old relics like us in the game anymore. Except when a piece of history from the old days crops up. A loose end that needs a specialist’s touch.’
‘What sort of old business?’
‘I’m sure you can guess. The same business that has kept you hiding and running since you retired.’
Phillips pictured the short blonde hair, the clear blue eyes, her cool pale skin. The wound on his chest and shoulder ached as he remembered lying in a pool of his own blood, his vision blurring as he watched her recede into the shadows, back behind the Curtain.
‘She’s still alive?’ Phillips asked.
‘And wants to make contact. We need you back in London,’ the Chief said. ‘If you’re willing, of course,’ he added, making it clear to Phillips that he would be willing, whether he wanted to be or not.
Phillips tucked the gun into his waistband. ‘As a matter of fact, there’s only one place I want to go, Sir. I’ll be a moment packing some essentials.’
‘Naturally.’ The old man took a seat at the kitchen table.
Phillips went into the bedroom and packed a bag with toiletries and a change of clothes. He smiled to himself. He’d had enough of hiding all around the world.
It was time to go back where he belonged.
Written as part of Friday Fiction Challenge, hosted by Simply Marquessa. The challenge is to write a fiction story based on the selected song lyric.
This week’s lyric comes from ‘Who Says You Can’t Go Home,’ performed by Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles: “I’ve been all around the world and as a matter of fact, there’s only one place left I wanna go…” More details here: “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
For more short stories featuring the British spy Phillips, click here: THE PHILLIPS SPY STORIES