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A Deadly Eyelid
Max Maxwell laid perfectly still. He always did, when matters came to an end.
Three minutes went by and nothing.
Not like Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service to make mistakes. Another three minutes and again nothing. Then out of the blue, a body appeared. All stretched out as he liked to put it. Lycra swinging everywhere, the bugger was a cyclist. Not the top of priorities as far as he was concerned. Why didn’t they get a job or something, instead of making life difficult for all other road users? Why indeed. He had been warned. Bloody obscene as far as he was concerned, he looked like an elongated stretch of contested rubber having a bad day but there we are.
The cyclist sat down on a step leading up to the house and took a swig out of a water bottle. No one knew what he really got up too. He was too smart for that, thus the lack of any bodyguards. Max paused for a second or two, hesitated, before looking down the sights and squeezing the trigger. He took the shot and quickly packed up the sniper’s rifle – it was one of the best in the world. Accurate and certain. Job done and another pain in the arse for the Government disposed of.
Not a bad day, although he wondered how long he could go on. That was age for you. Creeping and insidious wrinkles that swayed the body into a false sense of security. Not so where he was concerned, at least he liked to keep fooling himself and he knew it but what the hell.
He made his way back to the car, thinking as did so of the Lycra covered chap. All steam and sweat, all intent and working out what he was going to do next. He was a true villain. Not that these thoughts would bother him again.
He was dead. End of story.
Max brushed the leaves away as he left, no sign that he was the shooter. No indication, no trail. He drove off and started thinking about his book. He wondered what the literary agent thought about it. He had only tried one, the name came to him from a source. He liked the word ‘source’, meant so much or so little to anyone’s ears. Anonymity anyway.
He arrived home late the following evening and quickly lit up a cigarette, poured himself a neat whisky and sat down. The sitting room, with all its books and manuscripts, remained calm and deliberate. He had made it this way. He had wanted an elegance mixed with a roughness that would have made a midnight whore looked happy. The standing, erotic statues placed on the fireplace with their grimacing faces always made him smile. The books? Well, they had pride of place. There were books on every subject, although he had to admit history and politics took up more space than the others. Science, the arts and just about everything else. Poetry took up a bit of space but not too much. Books, they were his reason to be. Bookshelves covered every spare space in the sitting room and bedroom. They were the one precious gift from the hectic life that he led.
Once again, age appeared in his mind. Max was getting too old for this; it was time he called a stop to the whole bloody charade. He had paused before taking the shot. Why? Conscience? Or a deliberated act of contrition? Sorry for what he was about to do? He couldn’t be certain but one thing he did know, he was at the end of a lifelong career in espionage. Twenty-eight years and the time was beginning to take its toll. It was running out.
He sipped his drink and thought about making a call on his mobile. No. Now was not the time, give it a few more days. He put on some Wagner, the music depressed and uplifted, that was Wagner for you. The jazz could wait for now, he wasn’t in the mood. This was Max for you, a changeable character, when he felt like it. He picked up a book, a biography of Pol Pot and started read. He would forget the thoughts for now, hopefully forget. Pol Pot would certainly do this for him. Starting a calendar from the year zero was certainly something new, this and all the other Killing Fields of man’s insanity. This was good coming from him, he had just executed a man for being a threat to the public good. This was reasonable, he justifiably concluded.
Max, everybody called him ‘Max’, read but his reading was disturbed. He was fifty now and had been fortunate to reach this age. He knew now why he had hesitated. He felt as if his luck was running out on him. It was time to retire.
Retire and out.
Vicky Strablinski hobbled from the bathroom to the bedroom. She was used to ‘hobbling’, barefoot anyway. That useless young one in a car, drunk or doped up probably both, had struck her with the front of his vehicle. Thinking she was a car side mirror apparently, God these youngsters certainly thought all adults were cretins didn’t they just.
A ‘hit and run’ driver, smashed up foot and one-year suspended sentence, there was no justice was there? The foot was permanently deformed which meant that Vicky had to use insoles to repair the damage – she walked fine with these, but bare foot, forget it. Flat shoes or nothing. She sat down on the bed and put the black bra, knickers and tights on. A little make up, stroke of lipstick and a ham-fisted layer of eye colouring was all that she needed. Satisfied with this, she put on a body curving black trouser suit, scarf that she hung around her shoulders and a white coat. The shoes which she left until last. Now these were a problem. She dug around in the wardrobe and found a pair that might just fit the bill. She placed her insoles in the shoe, and it worked. Same for the other one. Balance is all one needed. She looked in the mirror and sniffed at the sight. At thirty-nine she could still turn heads and cause the odd dribble. Older now but somehow age had refined her. Her long blond hair flowed around her shoulders, intimidating yet soft. Her bold green eyes, shocked and defaced any man who was likely to make a play. Her face looked in the mirror and returned a glow that was unmistakable. She was not all the eyes could see, there was a depth to her that only the early morning hours could ever discover. There was a beauty to her face, it remained uncorrupted at least where men were concerned. There had been men, lots of them but until now no-one had ever been able to get close. Not close enough.
A day at the office was called for, so she picked up a bag from the hallway and left, leaving a house that was too big for her in all its heaps of decorum. Fine china, carpets, curtains and all that one would expect from a woman of means.
Strablinski & Strablinski were literary agents of the first order. They took recommendations and nothing more. The pile of nonsense that came through their email account was not for them. No doubt they were missing some talent, but their profit margins were holding up and their reputation second to none. They held offices in New York and other parts of the world and Vicky went to work with a merry step in her left foot.
‘Strablinski’ was her mother’s name and she had become the second. Her mother had worked hard in the early seventies, so her only daughter could prosper – along with the London house and office, stocks and shares and all the money that her mother accumulated over the years. She was a shrewd woman; some would say mean but there was no accounting for taste was there? Father? He left when she was five and she had heard nothing from him since that day – neither had her mother, who had died a clean death a few years before, if ever death was ‘clean’?
Chelsea was an attractive place; it was easy to hail a taxi providing you liked a persistent noise. The noise went on for twenty-four hours, but you got used to it or otherwise move out. The moving out had become an option, not an easy one for Vicky but an option, nevertheless.
Vicky hailed a taxi and got in, giving the driver instructions as to where she wanted to go. Soho. She sat back in the seat and watched all the people passing by: God what a mess it was, people of all shapes and sizes, leading lives that depended on a work syndrome.
Pitiless, and she was one of them! London, a hurly burly of wealth and poverty.
As the taxi manipulated its way through the traffic, she thought about the manuscript she had received from Anthony Bellamy. A contact she had first discovered at a dinner she was attending. The name was familiar but that was about all. It was dynamite. Written by a professional and it needed no editing. The name of the author was Michael Meredith, it meant nothing to her but was probably a pseudonym anyway, thus the lack of any kind of background on the author. It had simply arrived on her desk for her to have a look at it. She had read the first few pages and she had to go on reading it, the manuscript was spectacular. Mind blowing.
It took her twenty-four hours to make a decision. Now she had to get on with the fact of meeting the author. The manuscript had been written by someone who knew how the security services worked, there would be questions as to this and answers required.
Vicky arrived at her office, ignored the “Good mornings” and went straight for her desk. Books surrounded her as did the buzz of a busy office. It was all female, this had nothing to do with the great ‘equality’ fandango, it was just that the female operated better than the male when it came to choosing the right book. Apart from anything else, women read more than men full stop. She had to look for Anthony Bellamy’s number as quickly as possible. The manuscript had to be represented by Strablinski in quick order. It was undoubtedly a winner.
As she shuffled around the paperwork, her personal assistant walked in. Vicky had a large office on the main floor of the building, the two other floors were rented out, rent coming to Strablinski – her dear mother had thought it all through, bless her.
She looked up and saw her PA standing there. “There’s someone to see you, Vicky. A Mr Meredith. I told you him that you didn’t see anyone without an appointment and he simply sat down. He didn’t say a word. The cheek of the man. We’ll have to call the police.”
Her PA was a formidable woman, anyone who ignored her did so at their peril. What was this Meredith like, she pondered? Not put off by the middle-aged Amazon Jamila, a Sikh warrior who was still fighting the good fight, heaven knows who she was fighting with, the mysteries of religion again.
“Never mind the police. Show him in, Jamila.” No need to ring Anthony Bellamy, it would seem. She would get back to him later. “But——–breaking all the rules again.” Jamila said. “What are we going to do with you!”
Vicky got up from behind her desk and walked to the door. It was open. Meredith was sitting down looking bored to tears. He looked like a man who had seen too much of life.
“Ah, Mr Meredith I assume…….my name is Vicky Strablinski.” She said, catching her breath as she did so. He was a handsome devil, face slightly scarred with the changes that life had thrown at him. God, imagine what it would be like being married to him. It didn’t bear thinking about. He came up to her and shook her hand, firm and yet gentle. He fixed his eyes on her as he said, “Yes, I am Meredith. But the name needs some explanation. May I close the door?” His voice was deep and had an effect of deliberation about it.
“Yes. Please do.”
“Very well, Miss or is it Mrs Strablinski or Ms? I’m not sure how to address a member of the opposite sex?” He closed the door quietly. No fuss or bleating about the doors being closed on account of confidence etc.” You’re very busy here. Far too, shall we say remote, to peruse my novel? Plush offices I note.”
“Miss will do nicely”. She couldn’t be bothered with all this ‘Ms’ nonsense. “Before you go any further Mr Meredith, I have read your novel. And I must say I’m impressed. It’s written with style and an exactness that is unusual. I’d like to sign you up with us.”
“That’s quick for an agent and one whose reputation proceeds her.”
“We do read all our submissions, that’s why we are who we are, Mr Meredith.” There was a smile on Vicky’s face, she couldn’t help it. The novel had caught her out, interest had turned into fascination.
“Twenty-four hours or maybe a little more, Miss Strablinski?”
“We read everything.” Vicky continued. “Your novel is unique; shall I say true to a certain extent.”
“The truth,” he said, “that is what I called in for. My name is not Meredith, it is Max Maxwell.”
Max’s lips moved with a certainty that could not be challenged. His greying, light hair mingled with a face that had seen some action. He was stall, about six foot two and light on his feet. He dressed with a particular attention to detail, his almost black eyes missing nothing. The cut-away white collar, open necked shirt, gave way to a cloth that that had been worked by tailors. Dark blue and at the ready. The suit sat in an elegant insult to propriety. His eyes were dark brown, there was sensitivity there, but it was difficult to fathom. He was not the norm; a hybrid of some inconsolable matter which Vicky could not understand yet.
He continued, ‘I have been a civil servant for many years. The book has been checked by the powers that be, everything in it is permissible. No difficulties, I assure you. The locations and events are beyond anything I would know. A work of total fiction. I’m not here to haggle, I’ll sign the paperwork and leave everything to you.”
“You say that it is a work of ‘total fiction’ and no questions?” Vicky answered back. “That’s not the feeling I get. Enormously credible. That’s what makes it so good.”
“I have a vivid imagination, Miss Strablinski.” Was that a smile? God knows.
“Vicky, please. I have no need to ring Mr Bellamy, it seems.”
“That would be unnecessary ——–.” Max replied. There was no argument. He had said no or as good as.
“It’s a plot well- constructed, Max. Meaningful. And the ending is —well, beyond the pale. I haven’t read anything like it in many years. Took me completely by surprise. The assassinations, the workings of the mind. Incredible.”
“That’s the way it is—-I think. Now, I’ll call in at 11 o’ clock to sign any paperwork. Good day.” He got up and made for the door, before opening it he turned around. “The pseudonym is Michael Meredith, I don’t wish to be known by my real name, outside your personal office space. Not to your staff or anyone else. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Max. A civil servant? That’s what you want it to be, that’s fine. I’ll get the contracts drafted by tomorrow morning. But Max——-.”
He walked out as if nothing had happened. As if he just walked into a newsagent and bought a paper. Max Maxwell. She had wanted to know more about the man. Who was he? Where had he come from? What was his life story? Was he married, was he in a relationship, was he gay? She couldn’t quite see him dancing the gay fandango but these days who knew. No, that’s pushing it a bit. All these questions raved around her mind, without any answers. Not now at least.
Vicky wanted to know him. He was an attractive brute. She had not encountered such firmness in a man in long time. It was refreshing. He was sexy in that reserved sort of way.
“Jamila, get in here right now!” Vicky wanted the contracts drawn up immediately. “Get some contracts drawn up, fast. There is no time to lose on this one. His name is Michael Meredith etc.” There wasn’t a minute to lose. To hell with sending the manuscript to all and sundry. She knew the editor she wanted to speak with, a quick call and that should be it. She picked up the phone and dialled the number, here we go!
“Hilary, its Vicky here. How are you?”
“Fine, fine. And what can I do for you, something no doubt?”
“Ah you read my mind, Hilary!”
“Come on, let’s have it.”
“Well, I’ve got a manuscript here that I’d like you to look at. It’s good Hilary, very good.”
“Look, I’ve got my hands full here. Novels coming out of my ears. What is it?”
“Read, Hilary. I promise you; you will not be wasting your time!”
“I’ll try, that’s all I can say Vicky. Give me a month, in fairness it has be something quite special coming from you.”
“Ok, give me a couple weeks then, and I’ll let you know. You know the form. I’ll recommend it and see what happens.”
“Alright but try and make it quicker. I’ll send it over this afternoon. Bye.”
Vicky placed the phone back in its cradle. This was one of the big publishers, if they went for it, then Max Maxwell was made. Let’s see what Hilary comes up with, she had better not recommend refusal!
The phone went again. It was Rudolph. Vicky told Jamila she was in a meeting and she’ll ring him back. She needed time to think, be fully aware of her position, not where Rudolph was concerned but where this Max fellow fitted in.
Where men were concerned, they never ceased to be a riddle to her, and they had trouble understanding women. She had had many a relationship with the opposite sex and none of them had come to anything. She had tried the fly by night sort and the marrying type, but not one of them had hit the mark. That was her luck. At first, she had wanted their bodies and let’s see if anything came of it. Nothing, precisely nothing. She had put with a lot from those who reckoned that she was fortunate to be with them. Well, stuff that. She had to admit that the nights were getting lonelier, more contemplative.
Vicky played with her long blonde hair; it was something she always did when she was feeling slightly nervous about something. Unsettled. And that Max Maxwell had certainly hit her with more force that that bloody car. Rudolph could wait, if she ever got back to him. They only saw each other every couple of weeks. It was diner and sex. That was all it was. Irrelevant.
She stood up and walked to the window. Her green eyes taking on a dark summary of events. Her mind was twitching about who this Max was, was he married? Was he single? She had to find out and fast. Wouldn’t any woman be curios? There was a coldness to him, a veneer that couldn’t be breached. At least, that’s what he thought. Or unmitigated protection? Vicky couldn’t make up her mind which, but she would she find out.
As she stared out of the window, she failed to notice a woman who was looking up at her. The woman’s blue eyes had a distance about them, a distraction. She was full of adoration and longing.
Vicky was the answer to her prayers.
Jane Davis went back to her house. It was in Finchley and sat in a Gordian splendour of Victorian might. Well, that’s what she liked to think. It was shared by three other girls and kept neat and tidy. God help anyone who left a toothbrush lying around. Anyone who thought that the girls lived in an adulterated tip, needed their heads examined.
She thought of her name. Jane Davis. Tedious, that was it. A name that could be applied to anyone and meaning nothing. That’s what her life had become. Dull. Her parents had been inventive in choosing her name and that was it. ‘Inventive’. Jesus Christ. There was still that distance in her eyes, as if she was thinking about other things, probably like all the other passengers sitting aimlessly on the train. All going nowhere and with nothing to do, apart from travelling the nightmare of life.
Jane looked like everybody else on the tube. Deliberate with yet no purpose. She has the look of someone who is innocent of all life’s misdemeanours. She was neither a good looker nor a plain old soak. Her brown hair cut in a bob and thin body made her inconsequential, a paragon of being female in a male dominated society – well, that was the feminist view anyway and to hell with that. She thought about Vicki, God she thought about her. Far away and yet more involved in her life than she could ever imagine. Vicky Strablinski, she had not known why or what attracted her, she just knew. The office where she worked, a publisher’s office, was how she met her. Vicky’s eyes had caught her, just for a brief moment but this was all that needed. That look, it seemed to demolish her, sent her on to another plain of existence. Ever since that first meeting, she had found out about Vicky Strablinski. Everything. She had followed her from home to work, knew her habits and the disgusting contact she had with men. Men, all that was wrong in the world.
Jane stood in the hallway of the house, as she removed her coat. Music blasted her eardrums as the kitchen clattered with activity. This wasn’t her. She ignored the music and joyous sound of the kitchen and made her way upstairs, to her room. She opened the door and sat down, looking as she did so at the delicate furnishings. It was her alright. Light colours with an air of distinction – she liked to think this anyway. It was a fancy offering to anyone who knew her. Not that anybody knew the real Jane Davis. Hairbrush placed neatly on the dressing table, nothing out of place. It was neat and tidy.
She was a lesbian, by birth and by nature.
Tim Hawkins was sitting down at a table contemplating a coffee cup. Not the venue of a John le Carre novel but it would do, nevertheless. The café was situated in a posh part of London, which meant that the coffee was overpriced, despite it coming from a part of Africa that no-one had ever heard of.
He was an ugly, balding, fat man and badly dressed, his jaws moved around his face like a whale on a diet of pork pies. His dark blue eyes gave nothing away. His shortness added to the general look of distaste that appeared on the faces of those who glanced in his direction. No one could put an age on him. Some thought sixty others thought seventy. God knows. He did not watch television except news broadcasts, if he did, he wouldn’t be so bulbous in conversation. But these desperate qualities did not mean that he was brainless. On the contrary, he was one of the top operators of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service. Brain as sharp as a needle and just as offensive. He twiddled with the coffee cup, thinking as he did so that it cost the price of a journey to London from some part of Africa that he knew nothing about. Fucking coffee beans. The noble coffee hunters took their new profession to the streets. Carrying takeaways in hands that were sturdy and gripped the coffee cup with a firmness that he wished some of his agents had. Nowhere was the temperature impermanent, nowhere was the double take of caffeine to be seen. Semi-skimmed milk didn’t come into it and as for the full-blown exercise in full fat, forget it. No chance, it had to be of the ‘skimmed’ variety. On the way to work the sludgy mess had to be right.
Tim took a sip of the expensive coffee and just waited for a zing of untenable pleasure. Did he hell, it was just coffee and that was it. All these flash cup of coffee holders were walking around as if their life depended on it, they’re a load of twats, full stop. He waited, flicking a piece of fluff from his lapel. Must pay attention to detail, even if the suit looked as if he had just picked it up from a low life charity shop.
“Ah, Maxwell. How good it is to see you.” He didn’t put down a copy of The Times that was too much even for le Care. Max had walked in and sat himself down opposite the man.
“Hawkins.” He grunted, not pleased to see him at all. He was a prize bastard with an attention to detail that annoyed everybody. “What do you want?”
“Charm as always, I note.” Hawkins replied in that uniquely sarcastic way of his. “I want you to have a read of these documents if you would. Just read, that’s all I ask. That last job you did for us went well. No comebacks. Just the way we like it.” He handed Max a large brown envelope.
“I’m thinking of retirement, Tim. I know the Government will see to a pension for me, after all may service to it.”
“That’s all very well, Max. But have a look at the papers, will you?”
Max took the envelope; he didn’t know why.
“One thing Max, how is that manuscript going?”
“I’m talking with a literary agent at the moment.”
“I’ve had a look at it. Nothing that bothers me. Feel free, providing you don’t make any changes to it.”
“I won’t, don’t worry Tim.”
“Oh, I never worry. Life’s is far too short. Retirement? You look far too fit to me?” Hawkins asked.
“Yes, retirement. My body is getting too old. My movement’s too slow. It is the time now.”
“A pity, but I suppose there’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing at all. Look on this last job as a retirement pension. I’ll see your well looked after.”
“I’m sure you will, Tim. I’ll look at it but that’s all. I’m not saying yes to anything.”
“Fair enough. Get in touch with me as soon as you have an answer. As soon as. Time is of the essence.”
He knew what this meant. It was in the next twenty-four hours.
Tim Hawkins got up and began leaving the café, with just one brief word to Max, “I’ll leave you to pay the bill. Outrageous prices in here for some coffee beans.” This was typical of his Master, if you could call him that. Too mean to buy a suit and too tight fisted to buy a cup of coffee.
As Max was walking away from the coffee house, he took his time and wondered about the crush of people that were ever present on the streets of London. New York, London it was always the same. All the cities had become a nightmare of young ambition and get go to the top as soon as possible. He couldn’t understand why he felt like this. For years he had accepted it all, without as much as a bye your leave. Now though, after fifty years, he had come to hate it. Retirement again. A move to somewhere less fraught. The internet had changed everything, its tentacles teaching the young how to misbehave, social media had become the new swinging sixties. He didn’t bother with this newness. Couldn’t bring himself to communicate ‘on line’. It was all a waste of time and energy. He kept a mobile phone but there was only one number stored in it. Tim Hawkins. Another, a Pay as You Go machine he only kept for personal calls and there were few of these.
He pushed and shoved his way through the City, thinking that this was a new beginning. Like hell.
He arrived home and breathed a sigh of relief. The flat in Baker Street, apart from the sitting room and bedroom, looked ready for an Estate Agents beady eye. It looked as if no one had ever lived in it. Apart from the sitting room, it was all incredibly new. Not surprising when one considered that he only ever spent a few nights here. Everything in its place, everything just right for a viewer. It was a major element of his life, all things had to be in particular order.
He looked at the envelope that Hawkins had given him. A termination of somebody, he had no doubt about it. He opened the envelope and read. “Jesus Christ,” was all he could say. If Tim thought he was taking this on, he could go and take a hike. It was fucking suicide. Retirement, that’s all he could think of right now.
Vicky arrived home late. Well, it was late for her, about twelve o’clock. She had spent the evening in the office. Alone and what could she say, reflective. She hadn’t spent so much time on a manuscript for ages. This Max Maxwell demanded some consideration. The book was a maelstrom of unmitigated disaster and yet there was hope in its pages. Hope. She curled the word around in her mind. The man was good looking and yet there was a thoughtful process going on in his mind. He came across as virtually uncaring, detached and yet there was something going on in his brain box.
What was that something?
She poured a glass of wine and sat down in the kitchen. She looked around the room. Her mother shouted at her from every angle. It was a mess, but she didn’t care. There was a pile of dishes, knives and forks all stacked up to be washed. And she didn’t care about this either. This Max had her mind going in all kinds of directions. He seemed totally cut off from any kind of mutual connection. No charm and he didn’t even seem to notice that she an attractive soul, bugger him, apart from the gammy foot but you couldn’t notice anything when she was fully dressed. And yet she couldn’t stop thinking about him. The bastard. No man had ever got this close to her. It was worrying. But why after only a brief short meeting had he pinged her interest. Had it been the manuscript or was it just that she fancied him. She thought about both and came to the obvious conclusion that it was a mixture in equal measure. If you want to know someone read their work. Her mother had always gone on about this from dawn to dusk.
She had read his work and she felt that she knew him, in part anyway. He was a kind man and yet there was a hardness in his action. He was undoubtedly the assassin but did the Secret Service didn’t get up to anything like that. They had always said that assassination was not part of their game plan, all the public interviews by their bosses had maintained that but it still left many questions.
Was the work a piece of fiction? The places and names certainly, otherwise it would not have been passed by them – that’s assuming they had passed it? This was something she would look into before any publication date was arrived at. That’s if the publishers went for it, and on this count she didn’t really have any doubts, well she reckoned on the rubbish and the good, they always published.
She got up from the table and rinsed the glass. A rare exception to the mind of Vicky Strablinski. She stood still for a brief moment, thoughts were going in and out of her mind as she stood there, glass in hand.
The next time she saw this Max, it would be a different tale of this she was certain.
With this last decision she went up to bed. She stripped off, leaving the shoes until it was absolutely necessary and went to bed naked. She never bothered with a nightdress or anything, they kept her awake. She didn’t have a good night’s sleep. Her mind was controlled by this man who had a CV like a bloody criminal. He was a real bastard!
She arrived at the office early, it was seven am. She needed to get hold of Max Maxwell. She dialled the mobile number and surprisingly he answered. At this early hour. His voice sounded deep and educated, there was no banter, no amusement.
“What is it, Victoria?” No one had ever called her that in years.
“What’s with ‘Victoria’, I haven’t heard that name for a long time. Its right of course, but everybody calls me ‘Vicky.”
“I don’t like shortening names. It was the name you were christened with, so that’s it, Victoria.”
You like to start things off on a friendly note, don’t you? Vicky thought.
“Victoria it is then.” God forsaken Wally, she thought again. She didn’t have to like all her clients, some were the most annoying sods under the sun but this one………well, hold on to your hat, Vicky.
“I repeat, what is it?”
“Now I know you’re around at my office at eleven Max but I want some confirmation from you that your employers are up to scratch on it. I know you can call me a fuss arse and all that, but it is necessary. For my reputation and all that. I would be perfectly happy if you could give me a telephone number or an address that I could write to?”
“So, I can get a reference that all is ok with the manuscript!” She was getting annoyed now, silly sod. What was the matter with him?
“I’ll bring something around to you later, Victoria. Now goodbye.” And the phone went dead.
The cheeky bastard! No one treated her like that, but this wasn’t the point. Christ, he didn’t care much about good manners, did he? How dare he? It crossed her mind to tell him that he could go and get stuffed, but her anger quickly subsided when she thought about this man who had a dark past and a book that was sensational.
Max walked into her office bang on time. He was punctual, she had to give him that. A moment later he was sitting down opposite her. He managed to say “Hello” and that was it.
“Max, I’m glad you could make it.” There was a hint of sarcasm in her voice, just for him to know that she wasn’t some damn push over. No reply.
“Here we are, everything you need, Victoria.”
She took the paper and noted the Foreign Office plastered all over it. The Foreign Office? Secret Service? She thought it would have been MI5 or MI6 but she said nothing. She would go around there personally, just to be sure. This wasn’t a job for an intern, this Max demanded her immediate attention.
“Now, here are the contracts, Max. It’s par for the course, nothing to worry about, no sharp practices or anything, in case you are wondering.”
He took the papers and sighed them where indicated. He didn’t even read the print on them. He wasn’t interested in the percentage the agents were taking, or the publishers. Money obviously meant nothing to him. There was no need for her to mention that he should keep his job going, just in case.
“There we are. All signed, sealed and delivered.” He said.
“But don’t you want to read them? I’ll leave you alone if you like, Max?”
“No, that’s fine. Your reputation goes before you.”
That’s something. Her ‘reputation’ give me strength. He didn’t give a damn about that on the phone. Max got up and said, “That’s all for now. I’ll leave you to get on with things. How long this will take I just don’t know. It’s not my territory. I’ll leave you to get on with your job.”
“I have a feeling that this book will not take a long time to get published, Max. I don’t think we’re in the market for five to ten years. Just be patient.”
“Victoria, I am an extremely patient man, so do not worry on that score. Well, if there is anything else?”
“No, not for now. I have your address, it’s on the manuscript. I’ll be touch soon; I suspect. Now before you go, would you like to come out for a drink with me? I need to know more about you.”
Max looked at his watch, “No, not at the moment. Another time, perhaps.” And he was gone, like a will o’ the bloody wisp.
Vicky remained seated. She couldn’t believe this man. No member of the male community treated her like this. It was outrageous. She sat in her chair flustered and angry but yet there was an attraction to Max. No man had treated like this and got away with it, but Max could.
That was the most frustrating thing about it all
Vicky made her way to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it was a domed a spectacle of British Empire that was. There was certainly no empire to speak of now, it had all gone down the tubes as it were. A dome didn’t actually exist, but the building always reminded her of a supreme ‘dome’ of supremacy. She saw a man begging and for once she paid him more attention than the Foreign Office. She gave him a tenner, what he’d use it for heaven knows. Drink, drugs or food. It made no difference to her. It was the giving that counted. She moved away from him as quickly as she could, imploring thanks were not part of her game. It never had been. She walked on thinking that this would be the first time she had walked into the office of such political temperance – well, temperance was putting it mildly. The Empire had come in for a lot of criticism lately. Modern times and modern hell for leather wails of liberated openness. Fair enough, she thought. Everything was open to question and everything was to be depilated in the best way that one can.
She didn’t notice Jane Davis who was following her. She’s taken a day off from work at the publisher’s and decided to put it to good use. She had waited outside Vicky’s office and lo and behold she had come out of the doors filled with a high octane of intent. Where was going in such a hurry, Jane thought? She carefully followed her; this was interesting. Vicky always filled her with curiosity no matter what she did, she couldn’t help it. It wasn’t a wasted day off, far from it.
Vicky had used the number that Max had given her. There was a name on it. She had rung up early that morning, so let’s see if the name and Max had come up to scratch. She walked into the Foreign Office and asked for the name at reception. She waited.
“He will be down in a minute.” The receptionist said, as she curled a manicured fingerer tip around a posh pen. Her neatly plastered lips nearly smacked Vicky in the face, along with an upper-class drawl of indifference. The Foreign Office was keeping up an appearance after all –powerful one up-man ship to all you low down miscreants.
No harm in trying, Vicky thought, we’re living in the twenty first century now dear. Next minute a young man appeared.
“Vicky Strablinski, I assume.”
“It is.” He was wearing a tie. A monstrous catapult of blue and yellow designer clap-trap. He was smooth that was sure. He had the figure of a Greek God, an alive one at that, if you were in for that sort of thing. He had the face to match. He looked perfect, tie and collar straight, dark suite and shoes that looked as if he had had a deep clean from some unsuspecting nerd who had nothing better to do. “And I am sure you will tell me your name…in due course.”
“Ah Vicky….my name is Howard. John Howard.” He was into first names, unannounced. This was the modern way. “Come with me, to somewhere more private.” She hadn’t been expecting Mr Howard, at least that not the name of the piece of paper Max had given her. This was getting darker by the minute.
He led the way up the ornate stairs and into a small room. The lights were on and Vicky concluded that the Foreign Office didn’t care much about electricity bills. It wouldn’t, would it? The room looked as if it been a mere extension of the past. All wood and chairs that had been stolen from some Louis XIV’s dining room – after he was dead of course.
The young man began his speech. He looked young anyway, mid – twenties.
“Thank you for getting in touch, Vicky.” She hated by being called by her first name without her consent. It drove her bloody mad. They hadn’t even met, for God’s sake. They didn’t even know each other.
“Now, hold on there. I’m not Vicky, to you. We don’t even know each other. So, Miss Strablinski will do nicely, until I tell you otherwise. Have you got that?” She couldn’t care less what he thought. “Yes, Miss Strablinski. As you wish. Of course, Mr Cairns had sent me to speak with you. He is very busy you will understand.”
“I’m sure he is, what with Russia calling the shots etc”
“Now, this confirmation you are looking for, Miss Strablinski? Everything is fine with us. No problem. We would just like to see the last draft for publication, if that’s alright.” Here was another one. ‘No problem’. As if the world worked that way. She had ‘problems’ every day at the office. Where are these daft sods coming from?
“No problem then.” Just to add insult to injury. “Fine, Mr Howard. I’ll just walk off and try and find some problems I can deal with. Good day!”
She left the young man, looking dishevelled and beside himself. He didn’t know what he had said. More fool him.
She stood on the pavement outside the Foreign Office and decided she wold go for a coffee somewhere. She had always harboured a rebel inclination. Ever since being a student. Somehow, she rejected her mother’s self-made wealth, treated it with a bizarre contempt. On her death, Vicky had left all the money to charities and so on. She worked hard for the standard of living she maintained but it didn’t come easy. The dilemma of treating her mother with respect and honouring her own principles was hard to achieve. Sometimes she felt like giving it all up, but there was the question of literature. She didn’t want to do away with having sight of the first bombshell. She loved it. The word. That was why her language was so terrible. So tricky dicky. Vicky had come to see everything in the light of amusement. A classic tale of comedy. Everything. She didn’t take to Thatcher’s individual persona, not quite. There was a leftist steak in her, but she wasn’t a Marxist or Leninist. She believed everyone should be allowed to move on, but by how much, this was the question. She nearly cried when she saw so much depravity lying around her. The have’s and have nots. But she also knew that the situation was complicated, there were no easy answers. She saw the Sally Army do their best and the vicars of a religion now long past its sell by date. She gave substantial sums to both, in an anonymous way, so that no one could find out. It was the other half of her that she kept a secret, known only to herself, and that’s the way it should remain. She was middle class, upper middle class, working class and so many other ‘classes’ in the class structure of Britain. She didn’t know which class she fell into. Deference and doffing a cap were not in her psyche at all. She couldn’t see herself curtsying to the Queen. What right do these people have? Birth and a bloodline. Bollocks to that. She considered herself as just Vicky Strablinski. It didn’t come down to class these days, it came down to money. How much you had and how much you controlled people around you. There was something about the middle classes. Had they seen an early death? What with the banking crises and all that? They see themselves fighting for the best schools, the lovely houses, they see themselves struggling to obtain a life that their parents had. Middle class? As usual the result was the same. She simply didn’t know.
She had money, too much for a single girl and she controlled people around her. Not good. Max Maxwell was another matter. She knew she couldn’t control him, and that’s what made it so exciting. He didn’t seem to give a shit about the money. How much on each book, how much the publishers were taking, discounts and so on? He just couldn’t care less.
She took a cab back to Soho, got out and went to a coffee shop. She was considering what she was going to do with other manuscripts when all of a sudden, a ‘Vicky!’ interrupted her thoughts. She looked up and there was Jane Davis standing before her – she didn’t know who the woman was. She didn’t have a clue.
“Hello, um……” Vicky said with a quizzical look on her face.
“Ah, you don’t remember me. Jane Davis, we met at my publisher’s office.”
“I’m sorry, but I get to see publisher’s all the time. Do forgive me.”
“May I sit down; it is rather cramped in here.”
“Do, please.” Vicky said, more polite than she had been at the Foreign Office.
The woman who sat down opposite her, she had shiny brown hair and a long nose. About mid-twenties or near enough. Not attractive to anyone who was a little bit choosy? Her clothes were not inspiring but there we are. A brown cardigan over a long but colourless, stretched dress. The dress was immodest to say the least, her more than full breasts were straining to get out. She could pull a few men with these measurements, Vicky thought.
“Are you busy then? No, don’t answer that. I know all about the trials and tribulations of an agent’s work.”
“Well, I’m ticking over. That’s all one can say at the moment.” Vicky replied.
“How are you finding the eBook sales?”
“So, so.” Vicky replied, as she went for her bag. “Anyway, I must be off now. The office will be waiting. Cheerio, then.”
And with that, Vicky left the hurley burley of a coffee shop to its own devices. She didn’t like talking shop to a stranger that was for certain and there was something not quite right about the way she looked at her. It was too intense, too profound. It made her shiver; she didn’t know why. She would give this Jane Davis a wide birth in future, it was best for all concerned. Well, better for Vicky anyway.
The first operation had been a success, Jane could congratulate herself. She had got in close. Talked. Not for long but at least she had spoken with the woman. Her day dreams were being committed to reality. Vicky was a true woman, the woman who was just waiting to be seduced. Seduction, it was all waiting for her and her gentle hands.
That night, Jane could not resist the movement of her fingers. Lying in bed naked and willing, she brought herself to a massive climax, murmuring as she reached the top of the mountain, ‘Oh Vicky. Vicky……’
Tim Hawkins was waiting on a bench facing the River Thames. It was always like this in films and televisions. Flustered joggers were going past in a state of self-satisfied innuendo and ‘how great I am’ in this life of fitness and well- being. It made him sick. Any sense of physical attribute made him ill, all this running around had a bad effect on his eating habits and general demeanour. He watched and nearly walked away. The stupid devils could jump in the river for all he cared.
Ten o’clock before midday and Max turned up. All coated up and looking a fine specimen of an agent. He was the best he had, although he grudgingly admitted it.
“Hello, Max. Sit down.”
“How are you, Tim?” There was no enthusiasm in his voice.
“Fine, my boy. Fine. Now, have you read the documents I gave to you?”
“I have. And it’s a no. Any damn fool taking this on, will be dead at the scene.”
“I thought you might take that attitude Max, amusing though it is. Never mind. It was a forlorn hope.”
“Here’s something else.”
He handed Tim a letter.
“My resignation. I’m out.” Max said, with a determination in his voice.
“Oh, I take it you have thought it all through.”
“Yes. And it’s non-negotiable.”
“I see. There is nothing I can do to persuade you, Max?”
“I shall see to your resignation. Terms and so on. It will take me a few weeks, Max. You won’t be leaving just yet, I assume.”
“No. I’ll serve whatever notice you require of me. I’ll keep to my side of the bargain, just make sure you do.”
“Oh, do you doubt my integrity? Dear me, Max.”
“Tim, I just know what Governments departments are like. That’s all.”
“Very well. You have served your country with impeccable fortitude. I shall see that you get what is rightfully yours. Don’t worry.”
Max got up and said as he was leaving, “I will report to you. As always. But know this, if there are any tricks on the Government’s side, I will come after you Tim.”
“Fine.” He didn’t like Tim, but he trusted him, as far as one could trust anyone in the Security Service. His boss was an objectionable soul and one that didn’t inspire kindness from anyone, but he did his job. By God did he do his job!
He left, leaving Tim with a somewhat inconvenient problem. Some heavy thinking was needed here. He got up and moved his bulk toward Whitehall. Running was out of the question; it wouldn’t do his waist line any good at all.
At eleven he had a meeting.
He walked into a room that was stuffed with high ranking Ministers and officials. There were ten of them.
“Here we are then, ladies and gentlemen. Or should that be women, I just don’t know anymore. Well, enough of this political correctness, let’s get down to business” This raised the odd giggle, from the women and men. Tim Hawkins was the master of all he surveyed. He was the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI 6. He was the ‘M’, in all but name. He held several files which he distributed around the table. Cases such as Iraq, Syria and so on. All the files held information that was highly confidential, ‘Eyes Only’ as it were. People read and remained silent. Suddenly one of them spoke up.
“That was nice job in Mexico, who did it?” The Minister of Defence asked. Tim had been expecting this.
“We haven’t got a lead on it yet, Minister.” Tim responded. “A clean shot by all accounts. It will put the drug trade back a couple of months. But as you know, these terminations are anything but permanent.” He knew precisely who had pulled the trigger. Max Maxwell. He worked on the principle of ‘Need to know’, there were always those who were prepared to leak. Just look at Philby & Co.
The meeting went on for a couple of hours. Tim was cautious in what he said, no one knew otherwise. He charmed and put all nerves to rest. That was the art of intelligence work, keeping everyone happy.
He eventually finished up the meeting and everyone went their separate ways. He still had one problem, the assassination that he asked Maxwell to do. Max was out now. Retired. He hadn’t informed the group, this matter was none of their business, so to hell with them. This was personal. He didn’t like the word ‘assassination’, termination was a better fit. He would have to find someone else, in short order too.
Intelligence work was secretive. No one needed to know what the other one was up to and Tim Hawkins was a fine example of this. He traded information like a cat on amphetamine. The Yanks knew only what he wanted them to know. A special relationship was for the birds. He was an expert in casing the information that he was prepared to let on, this was special. And only known to him.
He walked to his office. Thinking. Max Maxwell, the bastard.
As Tim Hawkins contemplated his strategy, Max was washing the dishes. It was strange how domesticity straightened everything out. Well, he thought so anyway. This was a constant demand on his time, washing up. This was pushing it a bit, but he liked fooling himself, every now and again. It made an extraordinary bedfellow to what he normally did. Washing up. He finished with the domestics and pondered around wondering what he could do next. Tim had not got back to him yet. He took only orders from him. No one else. He had never been an office boy, mingling with others on his nights off. He wasn’t aware of anyone in MI 6 knowing of him, not in a personal way anyway.
No doubt Vicky Strablinski had been doing some checking on him and this was only right. He wondered if he would miss the thrust of intelligence work. No, he didn’t think so. He wasn’t the only one who dismissed rogues and threats to the State. He carried out other work too. Research and so on. Only on rare occasions did taking someone out ever hit his agenda. He thought of his training, as a young post-graduate student. It had been rough and constant, no letting up. That was years ago, and many things had happened since then. He had matured in some quaint ways, he had to admit.
He felt for people. Which was why he was so good at his job. Squeezing the trigger was one way he could bring justice to a world that needed his cold attention to detail. It was an inexact science, but he travelled it with a common cause.
He knew what he did, and he achieved a degree of balance.
Two weeks went by. Max hadn’t heard anything form Vicki or Tim. It had been a time spent on reflecting over his past. Women. There had been too many to mention. There had been one, who hit his memory like a cricket ball always bouncing back into the hands of a bowler. It had been a period of love and well-being. The memories of her still enthused his dreams with an overflowing sense of what if. He had known love, the only time in his life and it was not to be. A bullet from someone unknown had seen to that. He remembered her now, looking remarkable even in death. The thought brought pain and resolution. That had been over ten years ago, ten years of an agony only he felt.
Only he knew.
The phone rang, his phone was the Pay As You Go insanity again. He picked it up, it had to be Victoria Strablinski.
“Yes,” he said, in that impersonal way of his.
God, he didn’t half like laying on the ‘How are you, how have you been’ etc, Vicky thought.
“It’s Vicky……or Victoria if you prefer.”
“Yes Victoria, what can I do for you?”
“I need to see you. Something has come up; a publisher wants your work.”
“That was quick.” No indication of flawless delight at such good news. Typical.
“I need to see you. As soon as possible, Max.”
“Well, lunch time? About twelve o’clock?”
“That will be fine, I’ll see you then. Goodbye.” She put the phone down, leaving him holding the baby. She felt in a good mood after doing that. Max was left holding a phone with no one on the line. She had been a bit abrupt for once, he couldn’t understand why…….it was probably his manner again.
As twelve o’clock arrived, Max was sitting in the waiting area of her office. It was one of those places that was open plan and everyone rushing around doing something or other. Computers jacked out knowledge and the girls just tapped away as if their lives depended on it. God help us, he thought. He’d picked up a copy of Country Life and started reading it. The garbage some of these people read, he thought.
After a few minutes, Vicky walked out of her office. “Max, come on in.”
“You were abrupt on the phone.” He said, not bothering with the niceties of conversation.
“Was I? Must have been busy then. Now, I’ve checked with the Foreign Office. Everything is fine, if you don’t change anything. They’ll need a last look, but I’ll deal with that.”
“Nothing will be changed.” He replied in that terse way of his.
“And the business with the publisher. They’ll be sending a contract over in due course. I’ll take a sharp look at it and see where we are. The bastards will try anything, given half a chance. I’m thinking here of film rights and so on.”
“Film rights, Victoria?”
“Yes, that’s right. The book would make a good film.”
“I see. I feel I may have been a bit rude in the past. So, may I take you out on that drink you talked about?” Vicky was nearly taken aback by this. He was all apologetic for once. Blow me down with a feather!
“I……well, yes. I need to get to know more about you, catch up on your past.”
“Now, if you wouldn’t mind?”
“Just take a seat back in the waiting area and I’ll be with you shortly. I just have something to do. I won’t be long.”
He went out, sat down and waited.
Vicky eventually turned up, looking as if she had just stepped out of the shower. All fresh and clean. What had she done? Max wasn’t high on the scales of complimentary gesture, but he did take a second look. Women, they never failed to mystify him. A stroke of make- up and all was well, at least where Victoria was concerned. He had to admit though, she didn’t waste time on applying a surplus of lipstick and so on. There was very little difference between the day Victoria and the night time version. There were no hidden shocks first thing in the morning. She was quite a beautiful woman, not that he had noticed until now. Her face was perfectly featured, nose, eyes and cheek bones all in the right place. Her green eyes were a shock of temerity. Strong and bold.
“Max, shall we go? There’s a pub around the corner we can go to. If that’s alright?”
“That will do. Lead on, then.” He replied.
The pub was a busy conglomerate of people satisfying their inner need. Shouts of G&T and a packet of crisps crept across the bar in a maelstrom of activity. Some kept to their phones, leering over what the next Social Media thing had to offer. Self-harm, suicide, social sacrifice, mixed in with a false sense of advertising for the perfect body. It was all a manifest example of man’s crazy willingness to outdo himself.
What happened to chat up lines? Max thought. You didn’t need to bother these days, just click in to your mobile phone and there it was. The girl was caught hook, line and sinker. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all you needed. There was no need to talk anymore.
“What would like to drink, Max?”
“A whisky. No water or ice.”
“Right then. Sit down, I won’t be a minute.” It took her a few minutes to get the drinks and finally sit down.
“Well, Max. You’re finally here. Tell me about your past?” As she put the drinks down on the table. Whisky for him and a red wine for her.
Straight to the point. This was Victoria all over.
He paused before answering. “Why do you need to know all this? I thought an agent’s job was to sell a book. Or am I wrong in concluding that?”
“No, you’re not wrong but it is necessary to know something about you. So far all I’ve got is that you are a Civil Servant and you know as well as I do, that this can mean anything. You’re tanned and have a scar on the bottom of your chin. Now forgive me for being presumptuous here, but your ‘plot line’ in the manuscript leads me to conclude that you are rather high up in the Secret Intelligence Service. What is it, MI5 of MI6?”
“I’ve told you am I Civil Servant. Nothing more, nothing less. I deal with immigration matters. That’s all there is to it.”
“Bollocks to that.” Not one to control her mouth, which was Vicky for you. Her rebellious student days were never far behind her. “There’s much more to you that meets the eye. How did you get that scar?”
“A boating accident.”
“And bollocks to that too. Well, I’m not going to get anywhere here, am I?”
“No, you’re not. Let’s try another topic of conversation, shall we?” He smiled. Jesus Christ, he smiled! As his face had just woken up from a long sleep, it was incredible. God, if he smiled just one more time, Vicky would get hold of him and drag him to the nearest bed! She swallowed hard.
“You smiled then, Max. I didn’t think you were capable of such a charming expression.”
“It happens now and again.”
“Come on Max, tell me more about yourself……please?” She got close to begging, but this wasn’t on. Not for Vicky.
He took a deep breath in. He hadn’t spoken about himself in years. He didn’t know here to start. “I’ve worked in the Civil Service as long as I can remember. I went to a University in London and graduated. There are so many of them now but for the sake of argument UCL.I studied Law and the Civil Service beckoned. My family is mainstream middle class, not that I have seen any of them in years and here I am. That’s it, the history of Max Maxwell.” He didn’t mention the real Max, which was for another time. If a time ever came about.
“Oh, that that’s way it is? Like hell but I’d better not keep going on and on! I’ve no doubt you know all about me, the internet and everything. So, I won’t bother to bore you with my life story.”
“Yes, I have. Your mother left you everything from what I could tell. A generous woman.”
“Yes, she did. Despite my own efforts to defy her. Female angst I suppose.” Vicky laughed at this. When at Cambridge University (saying ‘up’ at Cambridge caused her extreme irritation!) she had thought about doing all kinds of things, apart from English Literature. She had travelled though. Being taken for a ride in India by some chap selling an island. She had fallen for it, bloody fool. This had resulted in her making a begging phone call to her mother for more money, difficult times to say the least.
She lit up when she laughed, and Max noticed it.
“You have followed in her footsteps, it seems.” He commented.
“Yes, Max. In the end I decided that it was best for me. The challenge. The unknowing. Looking at the authors mind and how the written word compels him or her, to write. Fascinating. I don’t why I’m telling you all this. I haven’t done it before. Quite unlike me.”
“It doesn’t do any harm to explain why you do things, Victoria. The human interaction is genuine, which is more that I can say for the idiots using their mobile phones.”
“You’re not keen are you…on mobile conversation?”
“No, I am not.”
“I notice you don’t do any Social Media or anything on the internet, come to that.”
“Again, no. I prefer conversation in all its profound complexity. You can tell so much about an individual.”
“How much can you tell about me, Max?”
“That is better to wait until another time. I think.”
They talked for about two hours more. Max was extremely well read, more so than Vicky and she was the expert. She had managed to get him to open up, more about himself that anything else.
She left him, feeling more attracted to his mind that anything else. The physical would take on a more natural inclination and she was determined that in time, her will would succeed.
“Max, you have got here before me.” Tim said, as he placed his enormous backside down on the park bench.
“It’s a pace well used by all in sundry. The view is extraordinary, if you like dirty water and a means of killing yourself.” Max said, a trifle irritated.
“Now, now dear boy. Let’s not get too emotional about things. Here we are, your retirement details. It’s a pity you won’t consider the plan that I gave you but there we are. I’ve been considerably generous with you; you will be pleased to know. You should be alright for the rest of your life.”
“When do I retire, Tim?” Max said as looked over the document. He had been generous, provided he lived that long.
“As of now. You are now a……. retiree. God, don’t you find that our language is changing every day? Heaven forbid. No office leaving party for you, I’m afraid. No one knows who you really are. Oh, and before I forget, that agent of yours was around the Foreign Office the other day. Just checking on the manuscript and so on.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Jolly good, then. Well, that’s it. I will say good luck to you, and I’ll be on my way. Just remember the Official Secrets Act, there’s a good fellow and I’ll bid you a fond goodbye. Thank you for doing a sterling job for Her Majesty. I don’t suppose I’ll see you later but who knows in this state of terror we constantly live in.” With that he moved his fat body into the mass of other people, long gone and out of memory.
Max was left alone. After a while he got up and walked off. What was he to do now was, he wondered? All those years of service gone up in a whirl of smoke. He hadn’t expected anything less, but he still found it uncomfortable. He felt detached, somehow. He belonged to no one. There would be no comforting arms at home. Nothing.
He had been a fly in the terrorist ointment for so long. A fly who refused to give in or be smashed underfoot. He had been stubborn, where his expertise was concerned. In control. Following events to their natural conclusion.
All that was now gone.
He continued walking and thought about going away for a while. Somewhere quiet and non-intrusive. He knew enough about this country and come to that the rest of the world; it would take some thought. His mood lifted as thought about it. Yes, let’s go somewhere and decide what to do, in this world of a retiree. He was only fifty, but that wasn’t the point. The next stage of his life was to be different, that was the conclusion he drew anyway.
Vicky was struggling with a shoe. She sat on the end of the bed and contemplated throwing the shoe out of the window. Fucking shoe! There were times when her frustrated arrogance got the better of her. In the end, she ended up shoving the shoe at a glass figurine and shattering it into a million pieces. Fucking left foot!
She limped over to the shoe and began putting it on again. This time it slipped on like a glove on a disabled hand. Thank God for that! She went downstairs and found a brush and dustpan and went back upstairs to clean the mess up. ‘Sorry, mother. Temper getting the better of me again.’ She cleaned the glass up, put it in the waste paper basket and finally sat down.
This Max Maxwell was on her mind again. He always was. What is this? She was falling in love, no it couldn’t be. She had never loved anybody in her life before, apart from the odd crush. She had loved her mother, but this was different, all children loved their mothers, they were supposed to anyway. No, love was for romantics and nothing more. And yet, she couldn’t believe this was happening to her. Why now, why at this point when she had everything under her fingertip?
Why, why and why?
She went downstairs to the kitchen. It was the usual mess. She made some coffee and waited for it to blend its usual taste bud concoction. It would be time to go into work soon, and she couldn’t be bothered with any breakfast. The coffee percolated, she drank and then left for her work.
Vicky arrived at eight o’clock sharp. Ready and willing. She went into her office and looked at various papers. All important, all requiring her immediate attention. Her phone rang, and she picked it up, whilst looking at sales figures of a particular book that she had commissioned.
“Yes, Camilla.” Camilla was the receptionist she had recently recruited.
“It’s Michael Meredith on the phone.”
“Is it? What’s he doing ringing me this early for, still I suppose nothing waits in this day and age.” She could talk, she had rung him in the early hours.
“Put him through, Camilla.”
“Hello, Max.” She had quickly changed his name from Michael to Max. Without really having to think about it.
“What are you doing over the next week or so?”
“Well, I have some important work to get on with, Max. Why?”
“Meet me at Heathrow Airport at ten o’clock, Victoria. On Saturday morning. This should give you plenty of time to delegate and so on. It’s Thursday to day, so time enough.”
Max had noticed the look she had given him in the pub. That was enough.
“What?! Saturday morning Max, you have got to be joking. Who do you think you are? Casanova with a carrot stuck up his arse!”
“No, just a break……you really are a crude specimen. Saturday morning, at 10 o’ clock. I’ll see you then.”
“Hang on, Max. Where are you? What are you……?”
The phone went dead.
The stuck-up bastard! Who did think he was? Saturday morning my arse. He’d be waiting a long time for Vicky to show up, that was for certain.
Saturday morning arrived and Vicky showed up as expected.
“Ah, you managed it then.” Max commented. There no note of surprise in his voice.
“I just about managed to ‘delegate’ as you so quaintly put it. I’ve got a manuscript in my bag, just in case I get bored or anything. A week off, that’s bloody asking for it. Jamila will be complaining for a month or two now. Why I’m here, I just don’t know. You had better have a good reason. You gave me no details or anything. You’re just a bastard, that’s all there is to it.”
“I just thought a little break. Somewhere peaceful.” There was that smile again. It nearly finished off Vicky.
“I hope so. Where are we going, Max?”
“It’s a surprise. So, don’t go asking any questions. Now, they have called our flight, so we had better get going.” He took her bag and off he went. Vicky followed; she wasn’t used to this but what the hell. Her student politics could go to hell, for now anyway. He was too intriguing for her to put her foot down.
A few hours later and Greece was the destination. They took a small boat to Greek island and were met by a burley chap called Achilles. He looked as if he could handle himself, in a bar room brawl anyway or any other scrap come to that. He gripped Max with an affection that was genuine, said ‘Yasou’ (Hello) and Max replied in the same tongue.
“You speak Greek?” Vicky couldn’t help herself.
“Yes.” Max replied. God he could be so exact with his words, but she didn’t push it. Immigration, my arse. Achilles took them to a beach hut on a sandy coastline that looked as if it hadn’t been touched by human hand since the time it came into existence.
It was perfect.
Sea splashed nearby and the sun had just about given up its nasty brightness for the day. There was a smoothness to it all, a light touch of sea and sun that left anyone with a slight air of forgiveness. It soothed and it had a calming influence. It whiled away the hours in a state of reflective oneness.
The ‘hut’ wasn’t a hut at all. It was luxury, pure and simple. Vicky eyed up the king size bed.
“I’ll be sleeping on the settee, then.” She announced with a glow that was struggling to get out. Max came over to her and out his arms around her. He kissed her, a full-blown kiss. Tongues everywhere. Before long they were in bed and his tongue moved from naval to between her thighs. It was extraordinary, delightful. She couldn’t talk. Murmuring was all she could do. Before long she reached a climax, it demolished her.
“That…was something, Max.” Her breath finally came back to normal. “That was fast, quickly into bed and down to business.”
“Now, it’s time for us to join hands……” He said, with a reflection that almost devastated her.
He entered her with slow strokes. He was precise and exact. Each bodily movement brought Vicky to a point of no return. She thought the first orgasm reached was gloriously shattering but this one was something different. Max manoeuvred her body into state of union. It was ecstatic, a piece of deliverance. Vicky now knew, she was in love. It left her in as state of shock. These feelings left her bemused and bewildered. So, this was love, in all its trifling and wonderful emotion. It was inexplicable and downright confusing!
They passed the next few days finding more about one another. Their likes and dislikes. Their political persuasions. Neither of them was particularly right nor left. They were centrist, whatever that might mean. They agreed on some things but disagreed on others. They were both searching for answers, explanations. Victoria’s vulgarity amused Max but he was aware that she could both be erudite and have a light sense of humour. They both explored and reached conclusions. Neither one being disappointed.
At night, they began to illustrate what indeed their bodies liked. They entered a calm extraction of what love-making was all about. They touched and presumed. Their needs coming to an explosion of wanton desire. The week went by in a prosaic mention of love. What the future held, but they did not dare think about it.
Arthur went about his business in a normal way. What the hell his parents thought about calling him Arthur nobody knew. He was stuck with this name whether he liked it not. Sounded like something from the Middle Ages, as far as he was concerned. King Arthur here we come. It was a name from Hell and that’s it.
Arthur Bryant – named after an ancient historian apparently, not that his parents knew anything about it. Sir Arthur Bryant was a favourite historian of Harold Wilson, Maggie Thatcher wouldn’t have liked that at all, and the historian equated democracy with ‘fools’ and ‘knaves.’ The present Arthur was forty-five and liked to think of himself as a bad boy who had worked hard and lifted himself out of the penury of a disestablishment environment. Well, this was his story anyway. The truth is, he was from a working-class family, father on the bins and mother a cleaner. Both worked hard and both were decent law-abiding people. His parents had loved and cherished him. He had a good upbringing, full of care and a display of affection. His parents had even bought their own Council house! When God had declared their lives were over, the Council house had set Arthur on his way. A few quid to start his own business – a cleaning business, like mother like son, only he owned the business.
He had been working in a night club, cleaning floors etc when an idea had come to him. He had asked the manager if he could take over the cleaning contract for a smaller sum of money than the present cleaning company. He had said yes and that was the start of Bryant Cleaning Company. And it had done him proud. Now he had contracts all over the place.
His place on the juvenile delinquent society for petty theft and general bad behaviour was over. He had earned his position on the working ladder. Job done. Not so it could be said of marriage. He was divorced now with two young boys who loved him to bits. Wives didn’t take too kindly to affairs of the heart – well, make that a common shag of one of his cleaning personal. Not kindly at all, the wails of self-righteous torment had finally done their trick. He was out without a by your leave, at least she hadn’t kept the children away from him. He could see them whenever he wanted to. Small mercies, he kept telling himself. He kept her arse in the lap of luxury, ‘small mercies’ like fuck!
Arthur Bryant was not a man you’d run away from on sight. In fact, he was a good-looking sod. Tall and blondish, that would be the way to describe him. Slim build and ready for action. His green eyes made women want to immediately devour him – well, not all women, just the odd few. Attractive and downright sexy. He had spent some time on his speech too, making it more ready and pleasurable to those around him.
He had spent time trying the get the new razor out of its packaging. Fucking things, it was like all the other new items he bought. Bloody packaging! Modern day frustration he called it. As he put some shaving foam on his face, he thought about the one bollock he had. He wasn’t deterred in any way. This was Arthur for you. A simple risk of cancer and that was it. Goodbye to one ball and sod it. He wasn’t sensitive about it, it just raised a point of discussion when he went at it, the sex that is. One testicle is better than two, he kept telling the women he was with. Less pain when you got hit in the nuts, he wasn’t used to this, but it kept a conversational attitude to things anyway. Conversation and sex? Who had ever heard of such a thing! He finished his ablutions and went out to begin a day of money making. This was how he referred to it anyway.
He had spent the morning trying to find someone who would fill in for the cleaner who was supposed to do this Strablinski house. She had a baby coming and had gone into hospital. Could he find anyone? Not likely. He had nearly one hundred and fifty cleaners on his books and all were on jobs that were important – everything was ‘important’ as far as he was concerned. Well then, he would just have to the job himself. A change of clothes was needed. He had all the details written down and for once he would have to get his hands dirty. Normally he would stay in the office but today he was out doing the job of one of the cleaners. ‘Small mercies,’ he said to himself. Christ on a donkey, what a bloody day.
He took one of the vans and made his way to Chelsea, swearing all the way as he did so. He found the house and let himself in. All the cleaners had keys, at least all those who were committed to domestic duties and Arthur had picked up a spare set from the office.
Right here we go, he had all the nonsense in two carrier bags. The rest was on the house, hoover etc He laid in to the work like a good ‘un. Bathroom fist, bedroom second and then the kitchen and living room. All the other bits could wait until later. He put on a work coat declaring ‘Bryant Cleaners’ and set about his duties. His ‘duties’, God what a come down!
He was busy in the bathroom when he heard the door being opened. He had better introduce himself he thought, strange men running about the house and so on.
‘Hello, I’m Arthur Bryant. You’re cleaner for today. A woman will be in next week to cover for Beatrice, whilst she has her baby.”
“Arthur Bryant?” Vicky couldn’t help but let a giggle escape from her lips.
“Yes. Arthur Bryant.”
“Are you related to the late Sir Arthur Bryant?” She started to laugh now. Bryant kept his patience intact. He was used to this.
“No. No relation. He’s dead now anyway.”
“Well, that’s Good to know.” She said, still amused by his name.
“I’m the boss. I’m only covering because I can’t find anyone else to do the job. And you are….?”
“The woman who pays your bills, Vicky Strablinski. How do you do.”
They shook hands. This was all very well, but he found the humour distinctly unsettling, even if most people didn’t know who Sir Arthur Bryant was anyway. Vicky put down her bag.
“It’s a pleasure meeting you, Mr Bryant. I’ll leave you to get on then.” She couldn’t help but let out another smile, Arthur Bryant for God’s sake! His parents must have been pissed or something.
He left her in an amused state of pleasurable mirth, meanwhile she sat at her desk and mused upon this different manuscript. The one she was supposed to read on holiday, fat chance of that! It needed some strong editing, and the diction wasn’t right. No. It wouldn’t do. Tell Jamila to send a rejection letter. She knew it would hurt the writer; she was sorry but that’s just the way things panned out. No doubt he would find an acceptable agent somewhere else, although she wouldn’t bet on it.
She sat back and thought about the trip to Greece. It had been an experience. Battling between the bedroom one minute and coercive intellectualisms the next. Max. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about him. His body has been refined by a knowledge that only he knew about. She had learned something about his past, but it was a something that she knew very little about. Was he the person in the book? Was he a killer so profound, that it didn’t bear thinking about? Again, the questions came in a rush. She had to find out, she had to. It was perfectly a presentable character that he let her see. Was it the true, Max? Or was it a personality that he wanted her to see?
These were questions that she wanted an answer to. An answer with certainty. She couldn’t love a non-being, a fraud. He was a gentleman, there was no doubt it. In public anyway. In the bedroom he was an ideal. For her anyway. Anyway, anything was up for grabs, and she meant anything!
She would have to tread carefully, of this much she was sure.
Later that evening whilst Vicky thought about Max, she didn’t see Jane staring up at her window. The longing, the complete annihilation of her steadier thoughts. Jane had read all the machinations of a lesbian love. All of it made sense. She was just normal, if a little different. The articles she had read made utter and practical reading on a matter that hitherto had remained secret. It was all out now, so be it. What was loving a women’s body any different to a man’s? What indeed.
In a short while the curtains closed. She caught sight of an arm. A female arm. Vicky. She had gone away for a week, had gone somewhere with a man no doubt. The bastard she had seen Vicky with. She begged to whatever God was out there, she could caress and touch that arm of freedom. She hoped. Hope, with a determination that she never knew she had.
Arthur returned home that evening feeling exhausted. He didn’t realise how hard ‘cleaning’ was. He was knackered. His flat had everything in place. Not a thing out of kilter. He sat down and lit up a cigarette. He felt guilty about doing this, but it was the first one of the day. All these adverts about giving up etc got right on his tits. Lozenges, a quick squirt of nicotine and to beat it all they had cigarettes that give could you a puff of a common or garden fag. All rubbish. If you were going to give up the nasty habit, then give it up. That’s all there was to it. He enjoyed the smoke and eventually stubbed it out. No more for tonight, leave it that. He was quite disciplined when it came to smoking. And when it came to that his flat, it looked as if a sergeant major had had it in his sights.
He got up and went to the mail. Not there was much of it these days. The internet again. He picked up three envelopes and browsed through them. Nothing much, advertising again. The letter he was looking for wasn’t among them. He’d contacted the agency and he was waiting for a reply. He didn’t know why he had come to this point; it was just curiosity as far he was concerned. He had seen a programme on it. Still, there was nothing in the post today. He wasn’t in any rush, but it would sate his curios nature if nothing else.
He decided to take a shower. Stripped off the jeans, tee shirt and pants. Put the shower on and went in. The hot water was the highlight of his day. As the hot spay belted his body, he thought about the fancy offices and the welcoming flat. He had come a long way, since being bust up by the police. He had never done any time for his wanton breaking of the law but being locked up in a police cell had taught him a lesson. Never again.
He had started the business and watched as the money came in. He had expanded and filled his bank with money. It was a pleasing sight, not that he ever kept track of what was in the accounts, he had staff to do that but now and again he would take a look.
He stepped out of the shower and looked at himself in a wall mirror. Not bad, not bad at all. That Vicky Strablinski was something to cast an eye over. Highly attractive and well, friendly. He had no idea of what some of his staff put up with. He didn’t bother with zero-hour contracts, he liked staff to say on and become a part of the Company. They could buy shares and so on. It had worked too. His Company was thriving, and he had no problems with his staff. If any of them had a complaint they would come straight to him. He had an open-door policy, despite the media making a song and dance about it. What did they know anyway?
Arthur had seen some drama recently on the television. Some cleaner had stolen a mobile phone which gave her the details of insider trading. Made her a mint too. Well, if anyone tried this on in his Company they would be out, forthwith. No dishonesty. He had learnt enough about this in a police cell!
He got dressed and had some supper. Some haddock and beans, the green stuff. All healthy and he enjoyed it. He didn’t bother with a desert, he never did. A banana and a pear and that was it. He sat down again and wondered what he would do with the rest of the evening. Janine came to mind, should he give her a ring? No, too clingy. What about Clarissa? Yes, she would pass the evening away in a physical jamboree. He’d give her a ring instead. No complications and sex were a matter of fact with her anyway.
He picked up the phone and dialled her number.
There was a strange smell. Sweet and bitter, as if anything smelt like that. It lingered in the nasal cavities like some stench on a pig farm. Max sniffed a bit more and the smell took on a somewhat familiar note. Max didn’t know why but he exercised a certain knowledge of the smell and what it might have been. Odours, he had built up a recognition of the stink. The years of training had seen to that. No one else in the lift noticed it but he could.
He was on his way up to his flat. The doors of the lift opened, and he got out. The smell followed him. He arrived at his door and he didn’t put the key in. He waited. The odour had stopped at his door. All his life he had been waiting. He stood still. He didn’t move. He turned around and went to the emergency stairs, at least to the entrance. Half an hour went by and suddenly his door opened, and a man went out and toward the lift. He didn’t quite catch a full glimpse of him, in full frontal as it were. He was tall and dressed casually. Jeans and a coat. All expensive. His eyes couldn’t follow that man around the corner to the lift. Max waited a few minutes and the lift came up to get the man, he went in and entered the space that would take him downstairs. In an instant he was gone.
Max paused at the stair well. Who was the man? What was he doing in his flat? He went up to the door and unlocked it. No sign of forced entry. He must have picked the lock, a true professional. Max took his time as went in. Nothing disturbed, nothing out of place. He checked the gas and electricity mains, nothing. He looked for any trip wires and again nothing. He did all the things that came naturally to him. Again nothing.
He sat down and did some thinking. Who could this intruder be? He was too much of a pro to be a common burglar. What did he want? Could he have been someone from the Secret Intelligence Service? No, if that had been the case, he wouldn’t have broken in. Max felt a sense of urgency, he had to act now.
He got up and went to the bedroom. He took a suitcase from under the bed and left, the suitcase was always packed and ready to go. He took the underground to a railway station, bought a ticket and left London, always checking that he wasn’t being followed.
He was in for a long journey, but this didn’t bother him. He sat down and thought who the man could be. What was the man’s intent? Murder? That could be the only explanation and yet he had left no indication that this was his main purpose of being in his flat. It was odd and profoundly disturbing.
A few stations later and some changes, Max got out of the train and looked around him. He was the only passenger to get off the train. Full stop. It was a deserted platform, not like the crush of London. The turmoil of energy and wasted ambition. He saw a station that had seen a better time, a time when the energy of water spas and tourism had drawn people from around the country. It looked glad to see him, in some unfortunate way.
He picked up his case and off and he went through a rusty gate that nearly fell apart from his yanking and pushing. All was well, then. It hadn’t changed then since the last time hand he had arrived here. Wales, a land of the wild. Where fifty thousand creatures, big and small, roamed an unspoilt landscape of beauty and terror. It was a cup that filled over with a natural splendour. For an instant it took his breath away, he couldn’t’ speak or lift up his arms to touch. He just stood there and took in the majesty of it all. After a while, he set off to find the hotel.
He’d arrived at a Welsh village in Mid-Wales. Llan… or something or other. He had given up trying to pronounce it years ago. It was safe. He had about half a mile to find the hotel he was looking for. He hoped it was still open, judging by the station one could never count on it. He set off, determined to find the hotel. It was an excellent place to stay. In the county side and isolated. Walks and fishing were the order of the day.
After some time, he found the haven of common rectitude. It was a flash country house. People still came here to enjoy the peace and quiet – good for him, he thought. He walked up the steps and noticed the croquet lawn in front of the house. Civilised living. Made a change from London and up-market cities he was used to. He walked in and up to the reception area. Well, it wasn’t a ‘reception area’ as such, it was just a desk with a few pens on it. The pens were all runny ink and stable in their writing. All for generations past but not new to Max. There was a brass ringer on the desk, he pressed it and waited. In a couple of minutes, a girl came up and asked him how long he’d like to stay. She was a pretty little thing and smiling too. She wore that blue and white of a matron waiting to be called to administer life or death or the next best thing.
He said a week or maybe shorter. She just wrote the name down and asked him to sign the register. He did so, not in his real name of course. He paid in cash for five nights. She asked him what room he would like and handed him a key. A porter popped out of nowhere and took his case for him. He was young and full of an energetic tirade just waiting to be called, just like Max when he was of no determinate age.
“No twenty-five please, Ronald.” The girl said. “I hope you will enjoy your stay, sir.”
“Thank you.” Max replied in that staid way of his.
“Oh sir, would you like to do any fishing, or walking whist you’re on holiday with us? We have plenty of equipment to hire.” She had noticed that he had just a suitcase with him and that he had just walked from the station.
“I’ll be doing some jogging. I have everything with me.”
“Thank you, sir”
“Is the restaurant still open?”
“Yes, sir. Until nine thirty. It’s the same for breakfast, sir. That is, seven to nine thirty.”
“I’ll be coming down before they close. Thank you.” He nodded to the porter and up the staircase they went. There was a lift nearby, but Max ignored it.
He was let into the room and handed his key. Max looked around and seemed satisfied. He had a sitting room and a bedroom with a bathroom leading off. All done with an eye to perfection. It was luxury in a place that no one heard of, apart from the usual guests. It was a place that had its own secrecy, its own spot of unheard-of fortitude. It was pleasant, and unspoilt. The red and whites of bedcovers and curtains added a little largesse to a room that had seen many events of unbridled passion and hatred. The room had seen it all.
He laid the suitcase down and shivered. Not like him to shiver, he was changing. He decided that he must ring Victoria, she had no idea where he was or what he was doing. He picked up his mobile phone and dialled her number. It was answered after two rings.
“That was quick, Victoria.”
“Hello, Max. I saw it was your number.”
“I’m away at the moment. I will be in touch in a few days. Sorry, I can’t stay on the phone, but I will get back to you as soon as I can. Bye.”
And the phone went dead.
Vicky put the phone down. No information, that was Max all over. Damn him. He really was infuriating at times and deliberately so. She couldn’t work him out. Where was he? Work again but he had said that he was retired now. She had to wait and there was nothing she could do about it. He didn’t know it yet, but she was in love with him, the bastard!
Max put his phone in his pocket and went downstairs. He hadn’t eaten all day and his stomach ached like a Rank film chap hitting a gong with a sledge hammer. He needed to eat.
He found the restaurant and sat down. It was elegant and full of personality. Lions roaring, medieval battles and Owen Glendower fighting off a threat to independence. It was all nonsense of course but another way of fighting for devolution. Spitting up the Union was not the way, but the poets loved it, well they would, wouldn’t they? He ordered a rack of lamb with some vegetables and a half bottle of wine. The good stuff. Whilst he sat down and waited for his food he thought about Tim Hawkins. He would ring him later. He had to find out who had entered his flat and what for. If someone was after him, he needed to know who it was and where they had come from. It could have been anybody. In his line of work, the Russians, the Chinese, any number of terrorist organisations and so on.
None of it added up but why now?
He finished his meal then went up to his room. He used his mobile again.
“Tim, why has someone gone into my flat and why haven’t they taken anything or……left a bomb to explode?”
“Now, now Max. I don’t know what you are talking about. If it was one of us, I’d know. I can assure you that Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service in not involved. Would you like to tell me what exactly has taken place?”
Max went into a rundown of the man on the landing. Nothing altered, nothing left out. It was unusual, he had to admit.
“Sounds a pro, as you have said. Could be anybody, you do have quite a reputation it seems. Although it is no one from my end. Leave it with me, I’ll get back to you soon as possible.”
Max cut off the line and went to sit down. He took out the Plainfield Model 71 pistol from the back of his waistband. He didn’t believe in taking any chances. The Secret Service didn’t know everything about him, although they liked to think that they did.
He put pillows under the quilt of his bed, plumbed them up a little and went to the back of his sofa. He took a pillow to use as his headrest. He didn’t undress. He lay down at the back of the sofa and fell into a light sleep. He was used to hard services, so it didn’t bother him. His sleep was interrupted by dreams of silver mountains and slippery fire arms. They made no sense of what was coming in his direction. He awakened twice in the night, full of attention and alert. Pistol at the ready. On both occasions it had been a false alarm. He fell back to sleep and dreamed, he couldn’t make much out them the following morning, but then it was always like that. Some bits, but not all.
At six am he got up and used the shower. He dressed in firm but warm clothes and put on a pair of running shoes. He left the room and walked downstairs. He avoided lifts, particularly now. The Hotel was deserted, apart from the odd clang and bash from the kitchen.
He went through the main doors and jogged his way through the early morning air. It was fresh and exhilarating. It lifted his mind up and bore down on the boredom that was making him tired and moving in a sense of false hope.
Excitement reached through him and made him ready to take on the world.
It was farming country, and the sheep and cows couldn’t care less what these stupid human beings got up to. Some of them lifted their heads in acknowledgement of a passer-by and that was it. They were simply were not interested. Carry on and good luck to you. He went under a canopy of trees; they shook in a moment of exasperation at what this idiot was doing and gave up. Humans again. Silly sods.
The countryside called him, and he answered. The tranquil peace of it all took him by surprise. He was not used to such a trouble-free environment. He stopped for a moment and just took in the calm and stress-free surroundings. It was so beautiful, it could be touched by a fingertip and left in its magnanimous glory. It’s a pity that mankind could not learn the same lesson.
He jogged on and eventually returned to the hotel. It reached out to him somehow. In all its old-fashioned temperance. The oak beams, the whitewashed walls and the general oldness of the place, left him warm and feeling it was indeed time to get out. Out from the trauma of death and out from the coldness.
Victoria crossed his mind and he wondered what if?
He went back upstairs, showered and changed his clothes. It was time for breakfast. Victoria was still playing on his mind. She was challenging and fraught. She had a mind of her own. It would make a change from all the other women he had slept with. Two-bit honeys that came from a disaster hole. This was being unkind he knew, but it didn’t make any difference to the fact that for some time he only used women as a one-night stand. Nothing more and nothing less. He still felt a certain guilt at his sexual prevarications, ten years ago and his mind was still grieving. In many ways she was just like Victoria. Demanding attention to her thoughts. She had been a rebel too, always going against the common thread of the political mind set. She had been intelligent and cursory with it. Too intelligent, he smiled briefly at this.
He had had ten years of solitude and trying to see the things that he could have done to save her. He always drew a blank.
When had finally dressed himself he looked at his mobile phone? Two messages. These bloody phones, he had not taken it out with him on his jog on purpose. He hated this modern form of communication. The messages had to be from only two people who had the number. Tim Hawkins and Victoria. He dialled Tim first.
“Ah, Max.” Not waiting to see who it was, Tim had immediately recognised the number.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“How fortuitous. I was just speaking about you to a colleague.”
“Look, stop the old tripe Tim, have you found anything?”
“Well, Max, to put your mind at rest, it’s no one from here. I can assure you. The after shave, now that’s something that is known to us. A Russian concoction, not Chanel you can be certain of that. The smell. From what you describe of his looks, not much I grant you, he’s a Russian from the embassy. He is known to us, some people saw him going into the building, where your flat is. I’ve investigated this in no uncertain terms and all I can say is that he is no threat. Apart from the assassinations that have going on as of late. Our sources tell us he was looking for your manuscript. God knows how they know about these things but there we are, we’ll look into it. The Russians don’t give up, do they? Hoping to find something that would place our enemies in a bad light, I suppose. Anyway, you can take it from me, that there is nothing to worry about.”
“Thank you for that, Tim. Goodbye.” And that phone went dead. Typical of Max Maxwell Tim thought, he could be an ignorant bastard when he wanted to be.
Max tried the second number. It was answered after only three rings. He couldn’t stand texting, another one of his pet hates.
“Hello, Victoria. It’s Max, here.” He felt compelled to ring her, just to speak with her.
“Hello, Max. Where are you?” Straight to the point, as always.
“I’ve already told you, I’m away. Manchester. I’ll be back in a few days.” Lies all, but he couldn’t help it. No one needed to know where he was, at least for now.’
“What are you there for?”
“Just tidying a few things up. I’ll see you when I get back. Perhaps we can go out for dinner or something.”
She wasn’t going to get anywhere by her questions, so she decided to give up.
“That’s fine then. I’ll see you when you get back. You are a bastard you know! Not answering any of my questions! No details or anything.”
“Well, there are some things that just go out of my mind. I’m sorry. I’ll see you when I get back. Bye for now.”
“Goodbye, Max. I’ll see you later.”
She put down the telephone and thought what a life this must be. He was the assassin for the Secret Intelligence Service, she was sure. There was a conscience in his writing, he was trying to put right all the wrongs in this despicable world that we live in. He was an enigma. A therapeutic tool for all that we do in a society that had gone off the wall.
He was a good man. A man with a considerable morality, that had to judge wrong from right. He would be a formidable partner but an equal one – in her way of looking at it. As she thought about this, her heart went out to him. She no longer wanted to be a side kick, or a lover when he felt like it. She needed to be his and his alone. There were no complications, she had made up her mind. She had a fight on her hands, but she would not be remiss in her goal.
She just had to find a way to bring him into her arms – permanently.
Max went around to her house in Chelsea. He stood outside for a few moments, observing the lumps of bricks and mortar. It was an old-fashioned property, typical of the location it was built in. It was a three storey and too big for one adult. He thought about the housing crisis in London. What’s new?
It was worth a few bob that was for certain.
He rang the doorbell. Victoria answered looking like she had just received an invitation to a ball or something. She looked superb. Long black dress with no back, make up finely tuned and a grace that would have done the Royals proud. He didn’t give a damn about ‘Royalty’ but that wasn’t the point. She looked as if she was about to slay any man who had the courage to make a move on her.
“You look like someone who has been asked out on a fancy date or something,” Max said, as stood in the doorway.
“Now, now Max. Don’t spoil the evening with your petty insults. Come on in.” Vicky said with her usual aplomb. The cleaner had been around today, so she didn’t have to fuss over the tidying up of the place.
He followed her up the stairs, noting as he so the original paintings of landscapes and sea battles. A mixture of the aggressive with the benign. He stopped to look at a landscape that caught his eye. “Have you bought these, Victoria?” It didn’t seem like Victoria, but one never knew.
“No, I haven’t. Everything here is my mother’s. The only daughter, so you can imagine. She’s dead now. God rest her soul, whoever he is anyway.”
“An atheist. You will never cease to surprise me.” He wasn’t taken aback by her comment, just amused.
He followed her into the sitting room. Comfort and dignity met his eyes. The Persian rugs, the laid-back settees and general demeanour of the place, made him think that this would be a good start to a drinking binge that would go on forever. Not like his flat anyway.
“Sit down, Max. Would you like a drink? And before you start, I know its whisky with nothing in it.”
“That would be fine. Thank you.”
“God, was that a ‘Thank you’? I must be bringing out the good side of you, Max.”
“It’s always there, Victoria. Just needs some coaxing out sometimes.” Before she could turn around, Max was behind her and kissing her neck. She just gave in, what else she could do? The kiss led to a fangled mess up on the settee, a quick bout of lust and a mummer of exhausted satisfaction.
Once she had recovered, she blurted out, “Are you just after me for sex?”
“Just ‘no’, Max”
“That’s what I said. You are far more of a delightful creature for it to be just sex. You are lovely, I really mean that.”
This was something that Vicky couldn’t quite take in. Delightful? Lovely? He had caught her unawares again.
“Let’s have a look at that left foot of yours. I notice things like this. Your shoes are off.” He leaned down and took her left foot in his hands. His touch was gentle, just like the rest of his body. “What happened, Victoria?”
“A drunk driver. His car that had me in its sights. It makes me limp each time I walk on it barefoot but there we are. I could have been killed outright, so I mustn’t complain.” Max soothed the ankle joint.
“Pins in it? It’s a bad smash. Although the surgeons have done a good job, all things considered.”
“Yes. Pins. I have to say that I’m a little self-conscious about it. But with you……”
“No need to be. I’ve seen worse.”
“Right Max there’s dinner to see to. Have you chosen anywhere that will put up with my expensive tastes?”
“I have. Although your ‘expensive tastes’ doesn’t come into it.”
“Oh, by the way, I haven’t had any sex before dinner in a long while. It was unusual to say the least.” She disappeared, limping as she went. It didn’t bother Max, it made her more human.
The restaurant was down one of the back streets in Chelsea. A small little haven, with food that would do a Greek proud. They ate a potato Greek salad with Dolmas, and Tilapia to finish off. The waiters were attentive without being intrusive. The décor was red and whites all the way through. Greek music played in the background, which added a new dimension to Max’s and Vicky’s conversation.
They toyed with their drinks and as usual they were with each other on equal terms.
“Why do insist on staying in your mother’s house, Victoria.” Max asked.
“Convenience, I suppose. I can’t be bothered with all that moving things around. I wouldn’t know what do with it. My mother was a bit of hoarder. Cupboards full of stuff. I’m just lazy.”
“It’s not a part of you, is it? The writing, the books are you, but not the gracious living.”
“Yes, you have that right. I’m too much of a socialist maniac to go in for all that.” She laughed at this. And Max however much he tried, began to laugh with her.
“You’re laughing again, Max. Whatever we will we do with you!”
“I can laugh, now and again.”
They looked into each other’s eyes and that was it. The ideal, the purpose. They both knew that they were travelling the same path. It didn’t need to be spoken about. It didn’t need to be explained. They both knew that was going on between them went further than words, further than expression.
It was a journey that they were both prepared to undertake come what may. For Vicky, it was a new experience. Something she had never thought possible, not in her life. But now, love had become a part of her. It was what she existed for. To love Max, she was entitled to see it through. To the finish. For Max, he didn’t quite know where he was. To love again, was a tall order. He hadn’t yet fallen for Vicky, but he was close. So ultimately close.
That night, when darkness fell and the overruling light went out, Max touched the female form with a slowness that defied gravity. Vicky responded with a vivacity that went beyond reason. His movements were slow and exact. Hitting every nerve in her body, every sensation. There was no rush, no uncertainty. He took his time over every stroke of his fingertip. There was a gradualness to his responses, a time when he relaxed and thought about the next move. Vicky in turn, watched her reaction, there was none of the urgent playfulness of the earlier bout of sexual gratification. This took hours, in pleasuring each other’s bodies. They rose and hit, climax after climax. Their love making went on and on, until the early hours. Until a sharp light shot through their natural inclination. They fell asleep in each other’s arms, touching as they did so. Gripping as if this was the last chance they had. Sleep, the final frontier of satisfaction. They each held on to this moment as if nothing else mattered. The complete art of union had been accomplished in a dance of mutual sexual satisfaction. There was nothing else to add a shade of doubt to their relationship.
It was six thirty in the morning and Max got up from the bed in Vicky’s house. He felt tired, if not exhausted. He had been out of action for a long time, the night bought him a new start. A new beginning. He looked down at Victoria and stared for a few moments. For some unknown reason he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was asleep and had that look of contentment shining all over her face. There was no makeup on, and this didn’t distract from her natural beauty.
She bounced his senses all over the room.
He got dressed and made his way downstairs, passing as he so, all the vivid pieces of furniture and things that would make a collector fall about himself with joy. He went through the front door and made his way down the quiet street. There were no milk carts or newspaper men cluttering up the streets. No passers-by. He walked on and looked on at everything that now confronted him. The noise and the traffic went on, the general shouts of activity would hit his ear drums in a second or two. He compared it to the countryside he had just left. It was London, that’s all he could think of saying to himself. In all its ecstatic perchance of living
Just as he was about to join the main road, he saw car coming at speed. It was a Jaguar, fast and intent. The windows were blacked out. All of a sudden, a window opened, and a silenced gun appeared out of the window. He didn’t have any time to think as reaction took over. He didn’t have any firearm to respond, God help him. He dived behind the nearest car as a hail of bullets shattered its glass and panelling. The Jaguar went on as if nothing had happened. He crawled on to his front, no damage that he could see right now but a piece of glass had cut him on his shoulder. He waited for a few minutes then got up. No witnesses, nothing. He looked at the cut on his shoulder. It could have been much worse. Fear did not grip his body, for now anyway. That would come later. The police? The Secret Service would step in, no case to answer and that was it.
He gripped his shoulder for a few seconds and made his journey back to the main road. He hailed a taxi and headed for his flat, that’s if no one was waiting for him. He got back and made his way to the front door with a degree of caution. He looked at the door handle and the lock. Nothing. He went in slowly and looked around, checking for booby traps. Again nothing. Old habits die hard.
He immediately went to the phone and rang Tim Hawkins.
“What the fuck is going on, Tim?”
“Max, you sound a little flustered.”
“I am. Someone’s tried to kill me. A shooting spree in Chelsea. What’s happening here?”
“Now Max, calm down. I’ll get on to this right away. The police will be involved, don’t worry about it, I’ll pull rank on them. Great in an emergency but anything else forget it. Get out of your flat, right now. Do need a safe house?”
“No, not at the moment. You had better see to this, now!”
“We shall meet up. The usual place at ten o’clock. Have you got that?”
“Yes, I’ll see you then.”
“Right, Max. Get out of the flat, now.”
Max did as was told. He grabbed a passport and a few things and got out of the flat fast. Someone was on to him but who? He couldn’t make any sense out of it. He had come this far; he had avoided all attempts on his life. No one had ever got this close. He walked out and made for the stairs; pistol packed in his waistband. He carried a hold all with all the immediate nonsense enclosed.
It was time to get out. His life depended on it, and Victoria’s.
Tim Hawkins was sitting down on his normal seat. He was thinking about this evening’s entertainment. Young boys, well not so young for it to be illegal, that wouldn’t do at all. About seventeen to eighteen years of age. This one had a clever look about him. Something thoughtful, he supposed. Tim Hawkins was asexual. He didn’t fancy men or women, not on a sexual basis anyway. He liked young men; he saw them as a challenge to his secretive profession. Possible recruitment in a future filled with excitement and possible death. His senses mingled on the excitement part, which is what finding a secret service agent was all was about. Do you dare or don’t you? That was what intrigued him more than anything else, finding the adventurous spirit. The new against the old. Like him he thought, the old codger against the new millennium.
“Ah Max. How good it is to see you.” Max sat down next to him on the park bench, how he always got this seat was a mystery to him. “Not ‘Goodbye’ after all, it seems. Now, I can tell you one thing. It’s not the Russians. They have only had a cursory knowledge about you. As far as they are concerned, you’re a desk jockey, nothing more nothing less. Only two of us know what you exactly get up to, unless there’s a leak or something. Perish the thought, but being the brute that I am, I can’t rule anything out. I find it impossible but there we are. Get out of London and don’t use your real name…anywhere. Is that clear? Only use bank accounts that are in a pseudo name.”
“Tim, standard operating procedures then.”
“It is. For now, until I can sort this mess out.”
“Who’s trying to kill me and what risk is my literary agent in.”
“The honest answer. I just don’t know. Your scratch isn’t bothering you, nasty things guns and cars. Your agent isn’t the target, but you are. That’s all I need to know, at the moment anyway. Get a Pay as You Go mobile, Max. Ditch the one you’re using now. Ring me on that number tomorrow.”
“And Tim, what have you done about that other job? I can’t help feeling that there is connection somewhere or other. I don’t know why, just a gut feeling. None of this happened until you made me aware of the termination or should I say, a suicide attack? Taking that man out was a consummate attack on the well-being of the shooter or whatever means he should decide to use. The leak I’m certain, comes from this plan and now where else. Dig into it, Tim.” The assassination Max was referring to had been put on hold. For now, anyway. He didn’t ask why the man was on top of Tim’s hit list, these were not question’s that normally concerned him, but he had a nagging doubt. The man was a Chinese industrialist, he had security coming out of his ass. No matter which way you turned he was covered by security. Not amateurs but professionals, all of them. The papers he had been given had told him all he needed to know. There was something there, something, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“I will look into it, Max. But I can’s see there’s any connection.”
Max stood up. “Well, that’s its Tim. Your investigations should pay attention to the Chinese man. See what you can find out. I’ll be off now.” With that, he walked off in the direction of the Embankment. He needed to contact Victoria, as a matter of urgency. As soon as possible, despite what Tim had said, she could be a means to exercise undue influence on him. She was in danger.
A very real danger.
As he walked across a bridge, he threw the mobile into the River Thames. An hour later he was buying a couple of mobile phones and had stopped at a coffee shop. He went in and ordered a cup of coffee. Americano and no milk. He was sitting in a coffee house dreamworld, well sod all that. He sat down and dialled Victoria’s office number. He was put through to her immediately.
“Hello, Max. You left quietly this morning. I didn’t hear a thing.”
“Yes, I didn’t want to wake you. Victoria, I want you to leave the office, now. Don’t ask any questions. Just leave and I’ll let you know what’s going on. I’ll meet you outside Victoria Station. Now Victoria, now.”
He disconnected and left Vicky in a state of shock. She got up from her chair, swiped a coat and did as she was told. A warning from Max was not to be treated mildly.
“Where are you going, Vicky.” Jamila asked as she was leaving.
“Just out. Something urgent.”
“But when will you be…….”
And she had gone. In a rush.
Vicky met Max at Victoria Station. He took her arm and led her to the nearest bar, away from the station.
“What’s all this, Max. Just tell me.”
He stopped in mid-step on the pavement. He turned around to look at her. “Look Victoria, I work the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.”
She was right, at the same time she noticed an awkward moving of his arm.
“What’s this?” She took his hand and in hers. “Your arm?”
“On the way home from your house this morning, someone tried to shoot me. They missed fortunately. Don’t worry about the scratch, a piece of glass, nothing serious.”
“But…but Max. What is going on? What about the police?”
“I don’t know. And that is the truth. It could be connected to a job I was asked to do. On the other hand? Look, Victoria I have to ask you to come with me. There’s danger…for you. Seriously. As for the police, forget it.”
” But what could anybody want with me, for God’s sake?”
“To exert pressure on me.”
“Jesus Christ! But what about work? What about my home?”
“It will be only for a week or so, even sooner. Just delegate. This all I can ask of you. Please Victoria, I wouldn’t have asked you to come here if I didn’t mean it.” She looked at his face, it was concern and genuine worry. “You’ll need a passport. So, home it is, not for long though.”
“I mean it.”
“Max, you are a real bastard, do you know that? Come on, I need a real drink, then you can explain to me what this is all about.”
They went to a bar and Max explained what he did in the Security Service. Research and the occasional trips abroad. She could guess what this all about, he didn’t need to tell her. Keeping the general populace safe whatever. He didn’t use any names, but he told her about the job he had turned down, no details. This could well have something to do with all the recent activity. He didn’t give too much away – there was the Official Secrets Act. He was retired now but this seemed to make not one jot of difference to the circumstances he found himself in. He was answerable only to one man and this was the long and short of it.
“What are we going to do now? What about clothes. Toiletries?” Vicky asked.
“I’ll see to that; I’ll pay for everything you need. So, don’t worry. You can’t use your credit cards or bank. You must do nothing to say where we are. Give the office a quick call, from a public telephone. You must get rid of your mobile. Post it back to your house. Leave the rest to me.”
Vicky was looking frightened now. Terrified.
“Max, I’m scared. Bloody scared!”
“Don’t be. I’ve got everything under control. Come on, let’s find a public telephone and a pub.”
Jane Davis made her way home. Well, ‘home’ was putting it mildly, it was the place where her parents lived. In Basildon, in coq a hoop of self-destruction. That’s how she put it anyway. She arrived at the front door and got her keys out. Before doing so, she looked back at the estate where her parents lived. It all looked the same. Windows, doors and cars, everything a duplicate of the ‘man next door’ syndrome apart from the colours, but this didn’t add any majesty to the general outlook of crass ignorance. She was a new breed of woman. A graduate and ready for anything. She took life by the horns and sod anybody who got in her way. Stuff feminism, she didn’t need it. She was fine all on her own. Her employers had taken on equal pay and were coming around to equal maternity leave for men. All was well, and she found no reason to argue with it.
She was home and God had better be grateful for it. Not that she believed anything that religion spouted, in all its religious pomposity.
She went in and said, “Hello Mum, Dad’s at work I suppose.” Her mother was sitting down having a cup of tea with some old soak from the up the road. The two of them looked like Macbeth’s witches digging in to some evil or other. It was bloody awful.
“Oh dear, Jane. I wasn’t expecting you home now. Meet Mrs Hinds.” The other woman got up and shook hands with Mrs Davis’s daughter. “Hi. We haven’t met. I’ve heard so much about you!” No you haven’t you daft old cow, no one knows about my sexual habits. No one, not even my parents.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs Hinds.” Like hell it was. “I’ll just go up to my room and get unpacked. I won’t be long.” Hopefully long enough for the old boot to go home. God, her mother!
She went upstairs and into her room. Chintzy again. She wasn’t a butch lesbian, more on the female side of things. She didn’t seek out the lesbian scene or take part in it. She was happy in her own condition, in her own field of play. She sank down on the bed and let her mind wander back to Vicky Strablinski. As she lay back her eyes dropped off to a pleasant afternoon doze. She dreamt of Vicky, stars and moonlight and all the other tosh of a happy ending. After half an hour she woke up and stirred herself from a delightful experience. In an instant she could only tell that it was only a dream. A disappointment, an illusion that held sway over her mind for the briefest of moments. The feelings of guilt quickly passed her by, and she went downstairs.
“Mrs Hinds has gone then, Mum?”
“Yes, she had something on.”
“Oh, a pity I missed her.”
“Never mind dear, another time. Now sit down and tell me about your life in London?!”
“It’s all bright lights, parties and work at the publishers. I’m getting on well there, Mum. It’s a good job.” She was one of today’s graduates, knew fuck all and didn’t want to know either. At work it was all computers and passing this or that on. Kept the mind active though. “It’s super-fast working in London, and everything is by yesterday, if you can understand that. It’s a world I love and well I don’t to leave it yet. Maybe in twenty years’ time but who knows.” She had been telling a load of lies on the social front, but she didn’t care. Her mother had no idea of her obsessions where Vicky was concerned. She had kept her sexual proclivities quiet from both her mother and father and everyone else. She was not one of those, ‘Come out and tell everybody,’ sort of girl.
“Is there any boyfriend, Jane?” She asked in that way of hers. Her face was always drawn, letting nothing on. Even if she was awaiting execution or her head was about to be lopped off. She was fickle woman, non-descript in that old way of hers. ‘Old’ Jane contemplated the word for a moment. Wrinkly and decrepit applied to anyone over forty.
“No, I’m not into a long-term relationship at the moment, Mum. There a few, now an again. But long term, I’m not up for that yet.”
“Very wise. Take your time, dear. That’s all I can say about it.” There was a note of rejection in her voice, but Jane couldn’t be sure about it. Her mother was a frail woman, not used to taking knocks.
They talked about her father who was working hard in some dumbfounded job in a private company, looking after the books apparently. The house and how soon the garden will be starting to need the delicate touch of a woman’s hand. All dross but Jane played the game well. All loving daughter and kind with it. She was the only child her parents had. They were proud of her. What they would have done about her lesbian inclination’s heaven knows but, in this day and age it was nothing to write home about, gayness, lesbianism was nothing to get excited about, was it?
They ate a light tea and Vicky talked about this and that. All was well, according to her mother. Not that she had expected anything less. Her father would be home soon so Vicky could have a ‘nice’ chat with him then. God he was as daft as her mother, God help her!
All was as anticipated in the Davis home.
Arthur Bryant sat in his office and fiddled with a cigarette. He always fiddled with something when his mind was pre-occupied. He wasn’t aware if his fiddling, he just did it. On and on it went. It annoyed everyone around him but so be it. If he wanted to fiddle, then fiddling he would do. It was his office, so fuck everyone.
He put the cigarette down and stopped fiddling. Thank God for that. He got up and put on his coat and went to the car. A green Range Rover – the car was the all rage amongst successful people. He couldn’t see this but there we are.
His son, Adrian, needed to see him. Money again no doubt. He was in one of those London Universities, wasting time and money. Actually, he was quite proud of him, but he wouldn’t let this on. The little sod cost him more brass than a tart on the pull. He wouldn’t allow him to get any student loans etc. It was all down to Daddy, for Christ’s sake. He was all for the individual, all for effort and by your leave independence. No loans for his son.
He found the University, hopped out of the car and went to look for him. The refectory, he said. Why couldn’t they just use café was beyond him. Bloody students always have to be different. He passed his son’s confederates in arms along the way to the refectory. Gone was the long hair of his day, it was short now and slightly spiked. God knows how they did that, hair gel or something. The girls looked slightly better. Short and long skirts, hair all colours of the rainbow and boots that were rather civilised. Some wore charity shop clothes, and some wore a rather wealthy apparel. It was hard to tell who came from the rich families and who came from the poor. Clothes could tell you nothing. The charity shop merchants could have come from a wealthy stock, who knows.
He found his son sitting down on his own. His younger brother was eighteen and doing his ‘A’ levels. He hadn’t decided yet what he’d want to do. University? God help him.
“Well now, Adrian, how much?” He sat down next to him. ‘I don’t why you don’t clobber your mother. She gets enough from me.”
“Well Dad, it’s a bit embarrassing asking Mum and all that. You’re easier.” Jesus, there was slight smile on his chops. The cheeky bastard.
“That’s all very well, how much?”
“£500 quid that’s all. Well fuck me. Sorry about the language. What’s it for? I gave you the same last month, over and above your allowance.”
“To tell you the truth Dad, it’s about this trip I’m going on next month. You know the one, I’ve told you about it. They want the money now.”
“Right I’ll see to it. I’ll put the money into your account and don’t ask me again, Adrian. The next time it will be no. Got it?”
“Thanks, Dad. I have to be off now, lecture to go to. See you soon.” And that was that. The ignorant bastard was off to some lecture or something, well he wasn’t off doing some criminal damage, so that he could be grateful for. The little shit. Lecture on what? He was doing some kind of psychology degree or something. All bollocks as far as he was concerned. Psychology? What a waste of time. Treating the thinker how to think. Bollocks to that.
He left the haven of freedom of thought and went back to his car. Freedom? He had heard lately that the Universities were putting a block on thinkers they didn’t like. Some freedom. He had always thought that different ideas were a natural part of education. How wrong he was. The liberal left was taking over the Universities now. How far will they go, he wondered? His son was going to be a ‘professional’, whatever that meant. Everyone and their dog were ‘professional’ these days. He was a professional and so were his cleaners, what a bloody nonsense.
He found his car and got in. He used it as a work car and was aware of the bad publicity it was getting. Well, tough on them, no one was going to tell him what to do. Not a lefty, not a righty, not anyone.
He drove back to his flat. He looked at the post, no letter again. He wondered should he give the agency a ring. No, it was too soon. He poured himself a drink, vodka and tonic and sat down. That ex-wife of his, why didn’t she get married or something? Fat chance of that, she knew where her bread was buttered, didn’t she just. In fairness, she wasn’t a bad old soak. Hadn’t taken him to the financial cleaners, which she could have done if the lawyers had had their way. A good settlement and a fine fee, legalised crooks all of them.
He still felt for her somehow. Wouldn’t see her down and out. She looked after both his boys and that was enough. They still saw each other now and again, everything was fine, but she still held a certain grudge about his philandering. Never mention it was his motto, but he couldn’t avoid it when she brought it up. Not in front of the boys but it still had a certain traction, where he was concerned anyway.
Men and their cocks, no forgiveness was there?
Venice was sinking, at least that was all the building works going on in the City were all about. The City of Canals were doing it and the financial problems, pollution and the overwhelming difficulty of tourists. Most of the original Venetians had moved out, the property had become too expensive for them. Cruise ships were another problem, moving too close to buildings, another unholy mess that the inhabitants had to put up with. The City had become a profound eyesore on the landscape, but it did have some art to speak of, especially of the Renaissance period. Once a glowing City of history but like everything else, it was starting to deteriorate. Well, Max and Vicky were too preoccupied to think about all this. They arrived at a hotel, got into a room and tired out, they fell asleep.
Max woke up first and looked out of the window. Venice. He had seen it all, the towers, the ancient rock and paintings and it all bored him silly. That was the thing when you travelled all over the place, it became a tedious example of seeing the beauties of a City come and go like a dull light from a landscape lantern. At first, he had been intrigued, now he was plain indifferent to it all.
He continued to look out of the window. The hustle and bustle of a tourist state. He could understand why all the locals had taken off. There were people running around, looking for this tourist trap or another, taking ‘selfies’ of their glib smiles and standing in an opaque way just for the camera. It was all ridiculous. It was like a circus with no one in attendance. Nothing.
He turned around and looked at Victoria. She was sleeping in that innocent way of hers. She could look this when she wanted to. All placid and unthreatening. She was a beauty, make no mistake. He found that his heart pounded a little more when he looked at her. Love? He didn’t want to commit to this outrageous feeling yet. He felt a certain reservation in an admission of such a powerful emotion. It had been ten years since his heart had been captured and delivered to him on a plate. He could not go there unprepared. He was not sure that he wanted to. But he couldn’t help himself. He was falling in love.
Vicky stirred and opened her eyes. She looked at Max. Her eyes said so much.
“What are we going to do, Max.” She said as she woke up, wiping sleep from her eyes. No makeup on her face and she looked just as lovely as if she was going to a party somewhere or other.
“Nothing. We shall remain here in this hotel and wait for someone in work to get back to me. There’s nothing much we can do at the moment.”
“Well, that’s a good start isn’t it, Max? We do nothing. I’m going to get have a shower, get dressed and we will go out and have some breakfast. Do nothing, my arse.”
“You are crude Victoria, do you know that?”
“Yes, and it’s just the way I like it. Now and again mind you.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you coming to have that shower, Max? I always feel a trifle randy in the morning. It’s surprising what you can do with a bar of soap!”
Max wilted. He always did when confronted by this little houri. He could object but there was no point in this. He knew she would have her way in the end. He slung his dressing gown on the bed and followed her in.
“My, my Max. I see you are ready and willing.” She reached down her hand and started a gentle manipulation of his manhood. The water spray added to their mutual pleasure and wantonness. This was love, as much as he tried to denounce it.
Once they had finished washing themselves and getting dressed, they stood on the pavement outside the hotel. It was one of those places that didn’t attract, the hotel that is. The building didn’t stand out from the rest of the street. It was comfortable and had all the amenities and this was enough.
“Come on, Victoria. We need to find some breakfast.” He was ordering in that offensive way of his.
“Now look, Max. I’ve been here before you know. And stop bloody ordering, will you?”
“Sorry.” He was forgetting himself again.
“Come on then. Let’s go and find this damned breakfast of yours.”
They found a café down some back street or other. The crowds nearly pushed them both into a canal, but a smile hit the lips of Max. It was a sight she had to admit. It was pushing and pulling the whole way there, listening to the various languages and exclamations of joy. The people were fools, Max thought. Bloody fools.
They had some coffee and rolls, he hated using the word ‘croissant’, it sounded so pretentious. They hadn’t eaten since the night before so they both had a good appetite. When they finished, Vicky said,” That’s breakfast over, so what are the plans, Max.”
“There’s something I have to do, if I can find him that is. If he hasn’t moved to another country, he’s a canny individual.”
“And what are you going to see this man about, Max?”
Jesus Christ, this was serious.
“But what about——-? Vicky started but knew better than to ask. Trying to find out what he would need a firearm for was a bit stupid. Protection was the word that first came to mind. Silly.
“All we can do is go the last address I have for him. It’s not far away, a few streets. So, stay close to me. Have you got that, Victoria?”
“Yes, I have and stop treating me like a cretin.”
Max ignored the insult. “Good, then come on.”
They left the café and made their way through the crowds. They went through the Piazza San Marco and down some crushed streets. Everywhere in Venice was in a state of ‘crushed’, ambition. Like most cities. The locals fed their shops with items that no tourist could ignore, and street merchants plied their trade with an ignorance that no shopper could tear apart. It was a fantastic shamble of humanity.
They went down a small side street and to a door that looked like it had seen better days. Max didn’t bother to knock, he just walked straight in and Vicky followed. In a crumpled room full of machine mechanics sat a man at a table. He was an old ‘un and looked the part. Spectacles hanging on his forehead, a tight-lipped air of concentration and ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ just waiting to pounce from his lips. He looked up, his crinkled smile giving nothing away.
“Mr Turner. What are you doing here and……… your companion?” He asked in that indifferent way of his.
‘Mr Turner’ was yet another false name, Max had plenty of them. “I want a gun. A pistol with accuracy and no jamming. Untraceable. What about a Walther PK 380 Black? Small and reliable.”
The man stopped what he was doing. “I shall see what I can do. Come back tomorrow. In the morning. Cash on delivery.”
They left the premises and the old man in a state of calm deliberation. That’s the way he always liked it. No trouble, no police and no hang ups. He would find the Walther Mr Turner wanted just by a phone call. Easy. He wished all his requests could go this smoothly. Nothing about speed, velocity and body comfort.
Max and Vicky made their way down another side street. They couldn’t be bothered with the canal boats; they were slow and outrageously priced. Max treated them with a nod of contempt.
“That’s the gun sorted out, Max. I can’t believe I’m seeing all this. It’s a nightmare. What are you going to do with it? Kill someone or what?’
“Now look Victoria, it’s just protection and nothing more. So, stop getting worked up about it.”
“Oh, I sure as hell won’t get worked up about it. Here I am with a man who just ordered a gun. Fascinating, I must say.”
“You are being stupid now.” Max said.
“Well, isn’t that a surprise? Stupid? For God’s sake, you’re the stupid one. Walking around Venice trying to buy a gun!”
“Look, leave it be. For now, anyway. Will you, Victoria?”
“Anything you say, Max. When will this be over?”
“Soon. That’s all I can say for now. We’ll go back to the hotel and make a phone call. This should tell us something. I chose Venice because I could get a firearm quite easily, untraceable, and we can get lost without any difficulty. It’s only for the next few days, so stop worrying.”
Vicky did as she was told. She gripped Max’s hand tightly. “I hope you are right, Max. I really hope so!”
“Come on, let’s get back to the hotel.”
When they arrived at the hotel Max made an immediate phone call. Tim answered.
“Well Max, I’ve made some enquiries. No go, I’m afraid. We can’t find anything that pinpoints the attack on you. Absolutely nothing. How could they have got the information on you, that’s the thing that surprises me? There must be a leak in my communications or something. It could be someone from your past. I’m looking further into this. I don’t want to know where you are, keep that confidential. I’ll keep trying. No doubt something will break soon enough. For now, keep out of the way. That’s all I can say.”
“How long?” Max asked.
“Not long. A few more days, if that.”
That afternoon his phone went. It was Tim.
“Listen to me, Max. That’s all I can say is that someone is following you. In this country and elsewhere. Their good. Not amateurs. They are professionals. How they could have escaped your eyes is impossible for me to speculate. It could be the Russians, the Chinese or anybody else. It impossible to say. I have a feeling this is someone from your past. This all I say.”
“That’s conclusive then. We don’t know who the bastards are or where they come from.”
“No—–we don’t but let’s see what comes up.”
“Well then Tim, I’ll just have to find out for myself. I’m off your books now, so I can do what I like.”
The phone went dead.
Max looked around at Vicky. She was sitting down, looking agitated. He went up to her and held her hands. “It’s just you and me, now Victoria. We have to find out who is targeting me. We have to.”
She just looked into his eyes. She saw the pain that was hitting him. All for her, she had no doubt.
“Max, don’t worry about me. Please. If we stay together, we’ll get this thing sorted out. Once and for all. We’ll get your book published and see where we are then. Alright?”
“I hope so, Victoria.”
Just at that moment as he turned around, he felt something. He dived across Vicky protecting her. In an instant a bullet ripped through the glass and ricochet off the dressing table. Another bullet. He pulled Vicky down on the floor, out of the rifles aim.
“Stay down! Stay down!” He shouted. Vicky trembled, unsure of what to do next. In a split second all went quiet. The bedroom had just seen a sense of devastation. It was not used to it.
Max got up slowly. He looked out across the street. A window had been opened. That’s where the shots had come from. He picked Vicky up and hurried to the door.
“We’ve got to get out of here. Now!” He yelled. Vicky followed him, what else cold she do?
They ran down the stairs and out onto the main street. Max pulled Vicky along to the open window, two storeys up. Max ordered Vicky to stay behind on the ground floor and made his way up the stairs. He came to an open door; his muscles were flexed and ready. He pushed it open, knowing what to expect. No bullet cartridge, there was nothing. The room had been emptied for a prospective holiday let. The man had left the window open. A calling card perhaps?
Max went downstairs, he’s been fired at before and got the scars to prove it. But this was different. Out of character. All the other firefights he had known who he was up against. But this one? A Mexican drug cartel? A Russian or Chinese? No, this was right off the scales. No one knew where he was or what he was doing. A man from his past? This could be the only explanation. No one was invisible anymore. Satellites, mobile phones, computers, all left a trace. It must be someone from his past, he was sure of it, but someone who had the means to track him down.
“That’s it, Victoria. We have to get out of here. No planes or anything like that.” She looked frightened but determined.
“Whatever you say, Max. Come on, let’s go. We’ll have to hire a car. Where are we going too? What about calling the police?”
“The police? No chance, this is Secret Service stuff, anyway what would they go on? The man left no evidence that he was the shooter. Back home, Victoria. After I’ve made a visit to the —-gunsmith. An untraceable firearm, all his guns are of the untraceable variety. Anything will do, as for the Walther forget it, we can’t wait until tomorrow. This place is getting on my nerves now.” He smiled as he looked at her. A smile that made him even more human, more the Max that she knew him to be and bugger the hotel, they could pay for the damage!
A tall man watched the hotel. He saw them spend only a couple of minutes in there. They left carrying a couple of bags. He couldn’t be seen by either of them. He was invisible to the naked eye. Shadows lurked around him and a possible reflection couldn’t determine exactly who he was. He had become a figment of the imagination. A man of uncertain personality. He had no features that could define him. There was nothing on his face, no scars, no indent and no obvious character. He was an exact replica who he wanted to be on any given day.
He followed them to a car rental place. Ideal. He watched Max go in and come out with the key’s to a car. He watched him point to a car and go back inside. The man moved. He looked like a normal pedestrian walking along without a care in the world. Unnoticed and not likely to catch anyone’s eyes. He paused for a brief moment and quickly made a move on the car. He placed a tracker device underneath it and left. He hadn’t been seen by anyone. This was just as he liked it, which is more than can be said about the shots he had taken earlier on. He rarely if ever missed. Max was a pro, what gave him the instinct to get out of the way was mystery to him.
The man moved off in no particular hurry. He would know what they were up to. Remarkable thing technology. Another opportunity, another chance. Sooner or later he would get Max in his sights, although there was something still bothering him. He’d missed him on the first attempt at the hotel. Not good but there was no rush.
He went back to his hotel and waited. A call came through on his mobile. He said the termination had not been carried out yet, but it was imminent. He didn’t know who the caller was and this suited him. Half the money had been paid and the other half on completion. He put the phone down and then went out for something to eat. A light meal with single glass of wine. He would need to check his computer later on, find out where his target was heading. He thought about the woman. Good looking but it was tough if she got in the way, which was his job anyway. Collateral damage as it was called. Just as the gunsmith was collateral damage. He would kill him with an ease of eating coq au vin. The old man wouldn’t struggle or make a fuss. He wouldn’t see the bullet coming his way. Good for him, the tall man thought.
They drove for hours, after stopping off at the gun supplier. A Glock was all he had available, and it was tucked into his back-waist band. And just as hunger and thirst were getting the better of them, Max stopped at the same car rental firm.
“Come on, we need to get another car.” He said.
“What do need to get another car for?” Vicky answered in that quaint way of hers.
“Just a precaution. Victoria, the man who took the shots knew where we were. I’m not taking any chances.”
They both went in to the car rental offices and in a few minutes, they were off again. This time the car was clean. Max had not thought about checking the car in the first instance. He didn’t think anyone would have a chance to plant a tracking device on it. How wrong he was.
They found somewhere to eat. They were in France now and Vicky had to give Max credit, his French was impeccable. Faultless, just like his mastery with the Greek language. He ordered omelettes and wine. Both went down a treat.
“You speech French, don’t you and…..Greek?”
“That’s not speaking French in a touristy way. That speaking it like a local, the same with the Greek chap. It’s perfect. I speak it as well and I’m not that bad, but it’s certainly better that mine.”
“What about Italian? You didn’t speak it while we were in Venice.”
“Venice. There was no need, English is acceptable everywhere you go.”
“Can you speak it?”
“I try, when circumstance merit it.”
“Hell you try, you’re probably perfect in that language too.”
“Not perfect.” Max said.
“God! You’re such a deliberately contrary idiot. I can’t get anything out of you, can I?”
“You can, Victoria. You’ve got more out of me that most.” He grinned this time, and Vicky ‘s heart nearly smashed against the table. Her eyes nearly went blind. That grin! She knew why she had fallen for him. As she finally got over the shock, she said, “Right, Max. What are we going to do? It’s all very well carrying on like a couple back baggers around Europe but what is the plan. You’ve already had someone trying to kill you on two occasions that I know of. What’s going on? And don’t try and tell me you’re not the main character in that book of yours, please.”
“I won’t. I thought you had already got that.”
“I have, you’ve virtually already told me.”
“Yes, Max. A plan.”
“Yes, you have a right to know what’s going on. Being as you are involved in this mess as I am. My boss, if you can call him that, Tim Hawkins, thinks it is someone from my past. I am rapidly thinking that he may be right. Whoever it is, he knows what he is doing. Adept at his sport, if you like. No mistake. We have to try and find out who it is. It could be a team, judging by the car incident at your home. I just don’t know.”
“That’s it then, Max. We’ll just have to find somewhere to stay for tonight, then its carry on, if you like. Fine, I’ll leave it all to you. Come on then, let’s go.”
Vicky showed a remarkable resilience he had to admit. Quite remarkable. As they walked out of the restaurant, she gripped his hand. It was a comforting gesture and he remembered the last time someone had done that. It seemed so long ago now. He wasn’t used to it. Time made mistakes; it also could detach one from reality. And yet this was real, the touch of a woman’s’ hand. She had touched him many times but in this moment the feeling of her skin was all that was needed. He squeezed her hand back, as if to consummate the union of two people.
The tall man looked at his computer. The car remained stationary. He did a computer check. The bastard had swapped the car for another at the same car rental business in France. He had been warned. This time he was dealing with a man who knew what to do and when to do it. It made the game all the more precious.
He looked at the location of the car rental business. He had no time to lose. In a few minutes he was in a car and driving at speed. He had lost his quarry.
After a long drive he arrived at the rental business. It was 8.30 am. Most businesses opened at 8 o’clock and this was no different. Modern times, you could say. He went into the business and said he was looking for an old friend of his. He had lost him somewhere between here and Venice. He was with a woman, an attractive piece of stuff, in French of course – he was talking to a young man, and so political correctness didn’t come into it. He had rented a car from this business. Could he help?
The man looked on his computer and confirmed that they had rented a car yesterday. They would drop it off in Paris, in a few days’ time. He thanked the man and went off to his car. Paris, which was the destination. He set off, at a slower pace than before. He knew where they were going.
A day later Max and Vicky dropped the car off at the rental office. They didn’t see the tall man waiting for them. They then made their way to a train station. It was a train to Calais that they were looking for, they booked some tickets for the following day. Calais was the destination, but they weren’t going there. Another false trail.
Jane Davis did not give up. She had called around to Vicky’s house on more than one occasion over the last few days. She was nowhere to be seen. She had taken a week off from the office and she hadn’t been seen there either. It was s a good job she worked for a publisher’s, it always opened doors.
Where was she?
She was standing now near to Vicky’s front door. It was a Saturday and she should be in. She had knocked twice and no answer. This was unfortunate. She had been psyching herself up for this meeting for a week now. She was disappointed. A man no doubt was the order of the day. More fool her.
She turned around and made for the Underground. It was stacked with tourists and people of unknown origin. London was a melting pot of different nationalities. All came from places that she never even heard of and all with a shenanigan of backgrounds. As far as she was concerned, she couldn’t care less. A different colour made no sense of personality. It was all as one as far she was concerned. She didn’t understand all this racism that was going around. Politicians, whether they be left or right. She couldn’t comprehend it. It was all nonsense. She didn’t have a racist bone in her body, probably had something to do with the way she was brought up. They had black neighbours too and Asians down the road. Everybody got on so well. Bollocks to racism, was all she could think about it. Her only friend had been black that was until they went along different paths. Both had gone to separate Universities and both had chosen different courses. They kept in touch though. It was the only friend Jane had ever had and she didn’t see this one too often. Friendship was dangerous, it could eat your heart out. Which is why she rejected ‘friends.’ They were not a part of her chosen lifestyle. Not now, anyway.
Jane looked at all the faces on the Tube. They all looked stricken, well, that was the way she liked to describe them anyway
Fed up, was all she could conclude. Some were getting their news via social media; some were getting all frustrated at a dating agency and some were just annoyed at the whole thing. A remarkable insight in to a modern man or woman. She wondered what a historian would make of this, not impressed at the union of man and his social media beast. She wondered how many of these people had suffered hate mail. Not many, she assumed, but then they were not in the public eye. This would do the trick, no doubt about it.
She got off at her stop and wandered up the stairs and out. Finchley was waiting for her, in all its London perspicacity. It was cold and added to a new dimension to her feeling of internet hate. She didn’t do any social media thing, and she didn’t do any computerised friendliness. She was inert to such things. And yet she felt a freedom, a freedom from becoming a fool to technology. So many people had become victim to the angst of technological sightseeing or in her book, technological death. It made her shiver and grip her handbag like Margaret Thatcher about to thump someone, well someone who went against her policy decisions, might is right and all that.
Jane arrived back home and thankfully there was no one in. She breathed a sigh of relief, happy go lucky ‘Hellos’ were not for her. She went up to her room and quickly got hold of her diary. She scribbled some notes down, all about Vicky. She was obsessed with her and yet she couldn’t see it. She was ill, and she couldn’t see this either. She finally finished and sank down on her bed.
Vicky, what am I going to do with you, she thought?
A few minutes of thought, then she picked up a book from the bedside table. It was all about the killings in Northern Ireland. A rotten read but fascinating. All the tensions, the hatred that ran riot on this part of Gt Britain. It was quiet there now, but it wold only take a breaking nutshell to rejuvenate the violence and terror again.
The following morning Jane arrived at work. She was always on time, anything else would not be good enough. She said ‘Good morning’ to those who mattered and got on with her work. Piles of files lay in front of her, but she was not put off by this. They all required answering in some form or another. The Boss left her to it, come to think of it, he left her to it on most things. She didn’t mind, as she knew she would be a ‘Boss’ one day.
She went through the files in an organised way. Putting the ones for immediate attention to her right and the ones that she could delay to her left. Everything was organised in Jane’s world. She used the computer in an efficient way, all work and no play. Well, she didn’t quite know what ‘play’ meant but she got on with it anyway.
After an hour or so, a workmate came up to her. She loathed the word ‘workmate’ it had connotations of friendship and this would not do at all.
‘Jane, it’s my birthday tomorrow and we thought we’d go out and celebrate. Twenty-six years of age! Would you like to come?”
“Er———-that sounds nice. When are you going?”
“Ok, I’ll be here then.”
“That’s great! See you then, Jane.”
Jane had every intention of going. She had to show willing to all her other ‘workmates’. She an expert at this, putting on a correct demeanour to everyone. She was liked at work, not to everyone’s taste but a damn your eyes to all who didn’t like her. She knew who they were anyway. Men. The masculine sex who maintained they did like lesbians after all but couldn’t make up their minds which side of the fence she had jumped over, lesbian or straight. Times had changed, but she wasn’t so sure where some man were concerned. She went back to her work. Keep it up Jane she said to herself, keep it up.
After a hard day at the publisher’s she went home and relaxed. Reading always did this to her. She went back to the Northern Ireland book and read with a feverish intensity. The book would be finished soon, a day or so perhaps, then she would get on to the next one. Hard copies for her and it was so easy. On to Amazon, a couple of clicks and it was done. A hard copy was on its way. No more trailing the books store for her. Wasting time and energy. She never liked wasting time, it did away with life, a life that would be so complete with Vicky at her side.
Where would she be without her?
The tall man waited for the phone call; it didn’t take long. He received his instructions loud and clear. He followed his prey and waited outside the hotel where they were staying. He had received orders that he was not to do anything yet. He was still angry that he had missed the shot in Venice. It wouldn’t do. He had a reputation to keep. He couldn’t be seen by the passers-by, he kept watch from a side street. It was about waiting. Waiting until he had the orders to dispose of the man. He would make it clean and efficient. This was his style. He only did what he had to do for money. Money was the whole objective. He neither gleaned a satisfactory delight in killing nor did he have a sadistic enjoyment from a termination.
He was indifferent to the whys and wherefores.
Max and Vicky came out of the hotel. It was a small place filled with the Parisian nightmare of weekend visitors. It was shambles of chaos. Breakfast was a quick cup of coffee and a croissant – that bloody word again. A hardboiled egg finished things off. Exact and attention to French detail. Max had chosen the place well, convenient and less obtrusive.
“What are we going to do now,” Vicky said.
“I’m going to make some enquiries. Let’s just say, I’m going to look up a contact and see where we are.” Max replied.
“Right then, let’s go.”
They went off in search of someone who might know something. Max didn’t say what his name was, and Vicky knew better that to ask. They took the Metro to the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris and walked up the steep hill to the Cathedral. It was being reclaimed after a fire had set it alight, scaffolding everywhere. History would not die, it seemed. The ancient marriages of the royal blood of France would go on, albeit that that it would be of an historical reference. It was a climb that took the breath out of them. On the way Vicky observed the painters and tourist catchers waiting for the easy prey of a friendly face that couldn’t wait to be diddled out his hard earned. It was a typical tourist trap, all in good faith though. That’s if you liked being conned out of your money. C’est la vie as they say.
At the top of the hill they reached a religious sanctity of overwhelming dignity. They didn’t bother to go into the Cathedral, a domed spark of freedom in all its might. Freedom was putting a casual reference to it, but it was inaccurate to say the least. Catholics had ruled in Paris for centuries but not now it would seem. The sex obsessed priests and had done for all that but never mind, the faithful still flocked to touch a stone or relic. It was all about faith and good luck to them.
They walked around the Cathedral and down a backstreet. They went through an old door which led to a flight of stairs. This was so typical of Paris, ancient buildings with rotten staircases that led to a multitudinous array of flats. Some small, some large. Some luxurious, some in need of urgent renovation. Max walked with a determination that countered Vicky’s reluctance. She was wasn’t going to show it, though. In truth she was scared to death. They eventually found the door that was Max was looking for. There was no number on it. There was nothing. Max knocked and waited. No answer. He knocked and waited again. No answer. Finally, he yelled out, “Curtis, come out, will you?”
There was shuffle behind the door and finally it opened. There was a man about Max’s age standing before them.
“Bugger me, its Max Maxwell!” He was an Australian judging by his voice. Cropped hair, big build and a handsome face. He beamed a grin in that Australian way of his. “Jesus, I haven’t seen you in a long while. Come on in and who’s the pretty Sheila with you?”
“This is Victoria.”
“Victoria, a pleasure to meet you.” They shook hands. He liked to take on the way of an Englishman when it suited him. They walked into the flat. Everything was a mess apart from his place of work. There were three computers lined across a huge desk and umpteen software cables running everywhere. It was a technological dream come true.
“What’s the problem then, Max? You wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“I have someone trying to kill me. Check on your computers if there is anyone from my past.”
“Come on, Max. Your past? I’m not too clear about that, no one is.”
“I’ll give you some details and you can go from there. This technological stuff must be able to dig out something. You are the expert at finding things out, at least the things that Governments don’t want us to know.”
“Well that may be mate, but I can’t guarantee anything.”
“No, I know you can’t. But at least try.”
Max gave him the details that he needed. He had to find out who was trying to have him killed. He had known Curtis from way back. He could trust him. He had used him before on many occasions and he had never breached that trust. He watched as Curtis punched in the details. There was a whirring from the three computers and nothing. There was no indication of anyone try to end his days on this planet, then suddenly a name came up. It was a name that the Secret Service had been after for years. ’Longshanks’. It was Edward I’s nickname. The Secret Service hadn’t come up with a real name. The man was tall, that was all they had. Max breathed heavily. He had come across such a man on an operation that he had been involved with. He hadn’t actually seen him, just a tall figure from the shadows.
“Longshanks. Long legs.” Max said slowly.
“You know your history, Max. That’s the only name the computers can come up with. Mean anything to you?”
“Yes. It’s only a memory, Curtis. An operation I was on a few years ago. I didn’t see him, just a tall man hidden by a wave of shadows. I think I shot him but I don’t know. In the event I let him go.”
“This should give you something then. Something you can shift your arse on.”
“Let’s see. There is nothing else? Just this nick name then?”
“Max, if there was anything else my wizardry with these electronic speed machines would have found it. No, there’s nothing.”
“So, that’s all I’ve got. A name and a false name at that. Well, thank you Curtis, at least it’s a start.”
“I’ve managed to get you something. Not much but something and don’t worry, nothing will get beyond these four walls. Now, how about you and this attractive Sheila having a drink with me? Come on, let’s get pissed!”
They got back to the hotel in the early hours of the morning. Both were intoxicated – well, Vicky was, but Max was still in control. They both fell into a deep sleep and dreamed the night way. Sleep, it had become a snatched few hours here and there. They hadn’t been able to grab a prolonged unconscious state of sleep, apart from a single night in Venice. They didn’t bother with sex; they both just had to lie down and think of nothing. They curled up on the mattress, fell into each other’s arms and just let fatigue run and run.
They were exhausted.
It was early. 6 o’clock to be exact. The tall man or Longshanks turned up at Curtis’s door. He knocked. He could hear the beaten-up movement of a man who was suffering. It didn’t do to drink too much, there were always consequences. Curtis had thought it would be Max, forgetting something or other. He opened the door, and this was the last conscious thought he had. A bullet hole appeared in his forehead and he fell backward on to the floor.
Longshanks pushed him further in and closed the door. No one would discover him for some time yet. He didn’t have many visitors, his ‘research’ had told him that. He walked quietly away, unscrewing the silencer on the firearm as he did so. What an incredibly stupid man, not checking who was knocking. A man of his background too. Silly sod.
There would be no loose ends, this should keep the man happy. Not that this man Curtis could have found anything on Longshanks anyway. He was just making certain, that was all. Certainty was how he remained alive for so long. He had no idea of the nickname he had been given. No idea at all. Come to that, he knew that the Security Services had no further information on him. This was how it should be.
Small world isn’t it? And this Max. He had been so determined to complete his task but that was without him knowing the true identity of the target, Now, he knew who he was, he was slightly confused. Well, confusion didn’t come into it at all. His mind raced along the lines of memory. He didn’t like it at all. Memory, it upstaged all other events.
Max woke first. He lay down and wondered about the future. He glanced at Victoria. She looked so damn lovely first thing in the morning. For a brief few seconds he couldn’t take his eyed off her. He looked at the smooth contours of her face, the lips and cheekbones. Everything was in proportion. No nose looking as if it had had an operation on how to smell, it wasn’t long and fastidious. Not objectionable. A chin that was unobtrusive, and a delight to kiss and touch. She was all woman, in every way and every sense. He felt his heart was moving in her direction and there was nothing he could do about it. He moved his body closer to hers. She said something but he took no notice. He was hard, hard for her moist triangle. He entered into her slowly. The strokes were mild and certain. Then he built up to a fight for survival. It was the end, the beginning. There was nothing in between. He moaned as he reached a climax. Vicky joined him in an experience that was made alive by the piquant time they live in. They came together, in an explosion of likeness.
This was it, the moment that they both knew that they would never be apart again.
“They’re all a load of cunts, that’s what they all are. A load of cunts! Don’t talk to me about politicians, their all self-serving bastards!”
Arthur had just walked in to a team that was working in a factory. They were having a tea break—–or so it would seem.
“Ah having a tea break, are we?” Arthur said, with a gentle tone in his voice. “And I thought it was bad manners to talk about religion, politics and money, or something like that anyway.”
“Oh sorry, Arthur. Just a little banter that’s all.” The man who had been swearing piped up. He was a good man, worked hard.
“Let’s see what you have been doing then. Shall we?” Arthur commented.
“Right away, Arthur.”
All the work was fine and nothing that could find fault with. He left them all to their political meanderings and went on his way. It was the missus house now. Fuck it, he thought. He drove up the drive, got out of the car and went up to the front door. He didn’t need to knock; it was already open. Open and waiting. Here we go.
“Janice, I’m here! Can I come in?” He stood in the hallway. Must be respectful, he thought.
A woman’s voice came from the kitchen. “I’m in here. Come in.”
The voice sounded pleasant enough. No sparks or flying plates.
“Hello, how are you?” He said, showing a genuine concern. He might be divorced but he was still fond of her.
“I’m fine. Now, the thing is what about this trip our son is taking, Arthur?” She always called him ‘Arthur’ these days. It was one of the results of the divorce. Clean and non-negotiable they called it. She was standing at the sink. Looking all devastating in that way of hers. He wanted to bend her over and give her one but thought better of it.
“What about it?”
“He tells me that it’s a course trip. Who goes on a course for psychology? I’m not wearing it, Arthur.”
So much for not telling his mother anything.
“Look, it’s a course their being taken too at another University. A load of professors’ doing the talking or something. Nothing to worry about.” He knew differently, however. It was more like a booze up in Spain or somewhere else, knowing his son, the little shit and he was paying for it. Who’s the fool now?
“I’m not giving him any money for it. I’m too suspicious now. He’s probably going on some drinking jaunt. Like father, like son. Isn’t that so, Arthur?”
“Now you mention it, Janice—–“She couldn’t help it but she smiled at this. It was smile that made Arthur love her all over again. Cocks again. “Probably, but I wouldn’t take advantage of the fact. Maybe just an educational thing?”
“You’re full of ‘maybes’ Arthur. Maybe if I hadn’t shagged that piece of crumpet or given this one a good going over. You’re so full of ‘Maybes’ it makes me want to throw up.” She said this with a slight smile on her face. He wanted to leap over the table and slip her a donut her one there and then.
“Well, I’m so full of ‘Maybe’ I thought I would become a politician. Now there’s a ‘Maybe’ if ever I’ve heard one. They lead their whole lives saying ‘Maybe’, the buggers.”
“Oh Christ.” Janice exclaimed. “A politician now. Jesus what will you think of next?”
“Only joking, my lovely.”
“And don’t ‘my lovely’ me. I’m not anyone’s ‘my lovely’. I am independent woman, got that?” On my money, but forget it, he thought.
“Listen to me, Janice. He’s going on educational holiday. Let him be. And anyway, there’s nothing much you can do about it. He’s twenty now, and he can tell you to fuck off. Well, not using those exact words but you get my drift.”
She went to sit down on the chair. “I get worried about him. He’s still a child in my eyes” Arthur went to sit down next to her.
“I know, I worry about him too. It’s called parenting. Unfortunate but there we are.”
She sniffed back the tears. “Alright, I know I can’t stop him but there we are. Case closed.”
“Listen, you’ll have a lot more worries along the way. There’s his brother for a start. He can’t make up his mind what he wants to do. The shit. Worry about him for a bit.”
“Yes, you have a point. But he’ll be gone soon, I don’t doubt it. Then where will I be. On my own.”
“No, you won’t. There’s plenty of men out there. Just pick a good ‘un that’s all I can say – with plenty of money. He’ll need it, if he wants to look after you!”
“Very funny, Arthur.”
“Now, I have things to do.” She got up from the table. For a moment there, Arthur thought she would take his hand lead him up to the bedroom. No chance of that. Divorce was divorce, in her book anyway.
“Right then, I’ll be off. Now don’t worry about that boy of ours, Janice. He’s on a journey and let him complete it. Get to the other side, if you like.”
“Ok, Arthur. Now shove off, before I get stroppy with you!”
Arthur got into his car and drove off. Janice was left in the doorway thinking to herself, if only ‘if’.
She still loved the bastard. Loved him and hated him.
Max checked the gun. It was all in working order. He placed it in the back of his trouser waist band. Victoria was getting ready in the bathroom. They had had to get clothes quickly. Victoria was good at that, he thought. A quick visit to a boutique and she came out with clothes that were suitable for the occasion. Jeans and tea shirts. Nothing fancy. She still looked as she was just going down a model footpath, but what the hell. She came out of the bathroom and stood still.
“What are we doing now?” She asked.
“We try to make it back home. It’s this ‘Longshanks’ that worries me—-or this ridiculous name the Secret Services have given him. Not renowned for their imagination. The person who gave it to him must have been a history graduate or something. Edward I, for Christ’s sake.”
“Yes, I know Max. I’m not that bad at history.”
“I didn’t think you were, Victoria. Come on, let’s get out of here. Go to the car and make our way to Calais.”
Max had changed the car again. He was ultra-cautious that was for certain. A Volkswagen now. A fast one.
“Come on get in. We have to be on our way, Victoria.” They sped off as if the whole French police force were after them. Again, he took no chances.
What they didn’t see was the Audi that trailed them. Not too close but not too far away to be noticed. He had checked on their directions and there was no hurry. He didn’t want to lose them, not this time anyway. The tall man kept a check on his laptop and followed the tracer that he put underneath the new car.
They arrived at Calais and dumped the rental car at the organisation’s office. They were on foot now. They took a bus ride to some small port east of Calais and looked for someone that Max knew. He kept an eye open at all times. He was checking for a tall man. This was all he knew. He looked at all the passers-by. Nothing. As he watched he became more concerned. He couldn’t see any sign of danger, no threat. He got up and looked around. He then looked at Victoria. If anyone tried to harm her again, they would be kissing ‘Hello’ to God’s arse. He checked the back of his waistband, just to be sure.
The tall man watched and waited. So, they were off to England. He was out of the sight of Max. This was a good thing. He knew that Max was a professional, like him. He also took no chances. He had followed their movement. Not the car itself. This would have been a death-trap. He also knew that Max was armed. The tall man had followed them to rental car place and then watched them get on a bus. To a small port, he assumed. He had lost his tracer at the car rental place. What was he going to do now? He couldn’t be seen following them, this would have given the game away and confirmed his identity. He would have to contact his ‘supplier’. There was nothing else he could do.
They got off the bus and made their way to Max’s friend. A middle-aged bastard with a fag hanging out of his mouth. Well, le looked middle aged but Vicky couldn’t be sure. He was all wrinkled and had a look that said, ‘I saw you coming, you old buggers.’ He didn’t give damn about politeness or courtesy. His face looked like a squashed prune and his body, well it was best left unsaid. He looked a wreck, but he seemed to enjoy life all the same. He was sitting down on an old bench. Outside a building that looked as if it had been around since the War. Dunkirk here we go. The building was old and battered. He carried on smoking and said, “If it isn’t, Turner. How are you?” He spoke English, which was surprising. He looked like a frog who was having difficulty getting through the day.
“I’m fine, Pierre.”
“That’s good, glad somebody is. Looking for a ride across the water?”
“Can’t do anything now. Weather is getting a bit churlish.” This was long word for Pierre. He came up with them on a regular basis. Not as uneducated as one might think.” About 5am, suit?”
“That’s grand, Pierre. We need to have a rest. Inside?”
“You know where everything is. Help yourselves. And who’s the girlfriend? You’re usually alone.”
“Just someone along for a ride.”
“An illegal one at that. Dropped off at the usual place?”
He shifted on his seat, dragging the jumper and worn corduroys into life. “Payment in the usual way?”
“Yes. Now can we go and have some rest. We’re tired?”
“Go on, sleep like a couple of babies.”
They went into the old building and it was remarkably tidy and clean. Not like the chap outside at all.
“This is a turn up for the books, isn’t it Max? I thought we’d be scratching around looking for somewhere to sleep. We’re do we go?”
A spare room had been made up. Everything was in its place. It was as though they had been expected. Not likely, knowing Pierre he was used to incoming visitors, expectation didn’t come into it.
“We need to get some sleep, Victoria. Don’t bother getting undressed. Not for now anyway.”
“That is unfortunate. I thought we could have some gentle sex along the way, Max. But if it’s not on, so be it.”
“Jesus, Victoria. I might manage something or other.” He came up to her and kissed her. It was a start of another bout of sexual impulse. That’s what starting a relationship is all about, sex, sex and more sex.
It was 4am. Max was the first to wake up. “Come on, Victoria. Wake up.” He pushed her shoulder. She stirred and went back to sleep. He prodded her again. “Come on, we have got to go!”
She finally woke up, dragged herself from the bed and started to dress.
“What’s all this? An early morning wake up call, or what.”
“We have to go. Pierre will be waiting for us.”
The sea coast was calm and not in a mood for some unlikely storm or other. The weather was as Pierre had predicted. There were no lights on the horizon, apart from a small shining beam coming from the yacht. And what a sea going vessel it was. All slick and new. Not like Pierre at all.
He was bungling around on the yacht. Making things right, he knew what he was up to. They walked along the gangplank and threw their bags onto the deck.
“Well, five o’clock, I said. You’re early, Mr Turner. Just sit yourselves down and we’ll make a start in a few minutes.”
After about half an hour, with the waves making a churning sound, Max turned around to Vicky. “Well, we won’t have long to go. Pierre will drop us off at quiet spot. No people, no nonsense.”
“We’re still on the run, aren’t we Max?”
“At least until I can find out who this Longshanks is, or whatever his bloody name is.”
“What will do, when we get ashore?”
“We seem to have lost him for now, Victoria. You can’t go back to your house or go into work. Not now anyway. It’s too dangerous. I’ll need to check my flat. I won’t take any chances. What is it, five days? For now, we’ll be safe. Only for now. I have to find out who this man is.”
Vicky looked at him. If anything should happen to him. Oh God it didn’t bear thinking about.
“Well, that’s normal life seen too. I’m not his target. You are. What about your flat. I don’t like the sound of you going there?”
“I know, Victoria. As I’ve said, I won’t be taking any chances. It’s time I really turned on what I am trained to do. So, don’t worry. We’ll just have to put up with another for now. Well, I don’t suppose that will cause any hardship.” He smiled again. That smile, it could devastate any feelings of ill-will she felt for him. Ill-will, not likely.
“I know, Max. I know.”
“Right, let us get prepared for a landing and take it from there Victoria. Just be patient.”
“I’ll try to be, but you know I’m not used to any of this. Any of it. In some ways its quite exciting, in other ways it terrifies me. All this you take in your stride. You are used to it. But me now, its like something out of a Mission Impossible film. Fiction and that’s it. I never knew for certain that all this lot went on.”
“You do now, Victoria.”
Arthur was in a right royal mood. His ex-had him on the go. His boys were giving him grief and top of all that, staff were ringing in going sick or something. ‘Going sick’ or ‘there’s a bug going around’. Christ! That bloody bug, bullshit and he knew it. He sat in his office and played with the paper clip holder. He really was in a bad mood. His PA knew not to disturb him. He was best left on his own to brood and be a miserable bastard. He wasn’t horrible or anything, just downright ignorant. He could be a right cunt when it suited him, well, a slight one anyway.
Arthur had had half an hour to feel sorry for himself, which was time enough. His PA walked into his office.
“Are you going to be in a mood all day, or what?” Zoe asked.
“No, I’m not in any mood.”
“Like hell. What’s the problem?”
“Just domestics and the staff getting on my tits.”
“Well, that’s nothing new, then. I’ve farmed around all your staff and you have nothing to worry about. As for the ‘domestics’ I can’t do anything about that. You’ll have to carry on, I’m sorry but there it is.” Zoe grinned as she said this. Her Master was looking all fagged out. It served him right, shagging all night and expecting to be on the ball the following morning.
“Right then, there’s no need to sound so pleased about it.” Arthur said. He wasn’t in the mood for arguing with Zoe, she always got the better of him anyway. Cheeky sod. He should have sacked her years ago, but his heart just caved in. Actually, it wasn’t his heart, he just knew he could not do without her. She was all things to all men and that was that. She stood over him, like a burnished Colosseum. Middle aged and bossy. She had that look of don’t mess with me on her. She was as soft as lights really, but she never let this on.
Her firm chin stuck out in a determined look. She was about to go to war.
“You’ve got to sign these papers.” Zoe said. “ Now, I mean it. So, don’t argue. They’re just for material orders.”
“Oh, they’re just for materials, are they Zoe? Well, the mistress has asked for various signatures, so I had better sight them, hadn’t I? Fuck me, Zoe!” He signed the papers he had been given. He always did as he was told where Zoe was concerned. ‘Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d’. He always liked to quote accurately, Congreve would bounce around in his dilapidated grave he found himself being misquoted. Can’t have that can we?
“There we are, Zoe. Now, I’m off now. Check on a few contracts. If you want me to reach me, you can get me on my mobile. I’m off.” With that, he grabbed a coat and left Zoe to her own imagination. God knows what that would be.
He thought about the letter again, as he walked to the car. Heaven knows why he thought about it. It was taking them a long time he had to admit. Well, just the way the agency worked, he supposed. The letter went out of his mind as he saw two young ‘uns eyeing up his car. Fat chance of nicking it, he thought. It had all the modern gadgets on it.
“What are you doing, you bastards!” He was angry before he left the office, it just needed a prod or two for it to turn into a real fury. “Eyeing up my motor to see if you can nick it. You little sods.”
“What’s it to you?” The younger one asked.
“I’ll tell you what it is to me.” He slung his fist in the direction of a jaw and missed. He ended up on the bonnet of the car. “Oh Christ”. He couldn’t even do that properly! The boys ran off laughing and throwing ‘V’ signs at him. He got up from the bonnet and thought, Jesus I can’t even tell a couple of young fuckers where to get off, can I? He climbed in his car and drove off. As he drove off, he thought about the boys, they’d be having a good laugh, wouldn’t they? He grinned, stupid bugger.
As Arthur went on his travels, the tall man arrived in good Old Blighty – the term was of Hindu origin, but he didn’t a damn for all that. Historical reference meant nothing to him. Neither did much else come to that. He rang the number he had been given and waited. It answered.
“I’ve lost track of them. They’re in the UK now, I suppose.”
“Leave it with me. I’ll be touch.” The phone went dead. Half an hour later the tall man’s phone rang. “Make your way to London. Check out his flat. If you see him, kill him. Stay there until further instructions.” The phone went dead again. It was brief and to the point. Just as the tall man liked it. He would kill him if he arrived at the flat, simple. If not, he would wait for another telephone call. It would not take his employer long he knew that. There was a hint of urgency to this termination. He didn’t want to know what it was, he avoided complications at all costs. It had saved his life on more than one occasion.
He rolled down the window of his rented car and made for London. He was calm and deliberate. The purpose of his visit made clear to him. One way or the other the man, Max, was dead.
He went to the flat. A modern conglomerate of unspoken rendition – well, that’s what he liked to call them. It was an old house done up to look like a twenty first century creation. All full of glittering steel and corruption, as far as he was concerned. Not that the physical appearance meant anything to him, he just noted the blasé condition of the place. He went in and noticed how clean the place was. The entrance hall was an advert for some housing magazine, if anyone could be bothered reading the things. He passed the stairs and made his way up to No 21. That was address he had been given. He found the door and knocked. No answer. He took some implements out from his pocket and finally gained entrance, it was easy really, not like Max at all. He went in and sat down.
Max watched. He didn’t move. He was placed at a corner of a side street. Not far from his flat. He continued to cast a careful eye over the home that had been his, until now anyway. For a moment his thoughts went to Victoria. She had brought a certain meaning to his life. He could not understand why; it was a just a feeling. She had replaced the grieving of a widower’s angst. Widow, that was putting it out of context it some ways, but he felt like a widower anyway until she has come into his life. She had given him purpose, a reason to be. He had felt a stress at leaving her. Stress that he had not felt since that woman long ago. He knew he was in love, but he not going to mess this one up. He had left her in a hotel room, alone and vulnerable. He had not wanted to do it; he remembered the blood on the woman’s chest. The death. He had to leave her alone, for this time anyway. One thing he was sure of – she was safe, and this was all that mattered.
He moved away from the street corner and toward the flat. He went in and moved up the stairs to the front door. He stopped. Looking. The door clock had been tampered with. How did he know this? He left some putty in the key lock, a small piece but sufficient. He moved from the door and went around the corner and waited. This was a waiting game, and he was good at it. There may be no one in there now. He would give it one hour.
After half an hour a man came out. Max had his gun at the ready. Cocked and ready to fire. He was tall, Longshanks. He had finally caught up with him.
“Stop! Or I fire.” Max yelled.
The tall man stopped in his tracks. He put both his arms down to his sides. Max rushed up to him and placed one hand over the tall man’s body. He found a silenced gun in a hip holster on the man’s chest. There was also a knife strapped to his calf muscle.
“Oh, you’ve come prepared, I note.” Max whispered, “And who has sent you?” He kept his pistol pointed at the man’s head. Far enough away to counter any movement. The man didn’t turn around.
“I’m only acting on orders.” The tall man said. “The origin of the organisation or individual, I simply don’t know.”
” Down on your knees. Now!” Max insisted.
The tall man did as he was told. Max was a pro, there was no messing about but as he began to bend his knees, he did a practiced lash with his arm across the leg of Max. He saw this coming and stepped away, it was not quick enough to avoid a glancing blow. He gritted his teeth and went for the tall man. He was not quick enough. Age was catching up on him. ‘Longshanks’ went hell for leather down the stairs and out onto the main street. Then he disappeared, a fast as a dessert on a baking tray.
Max hadn’t taken the shot. He could have taken the tall man, but he would not have got the answers he wanted. He could have been telling the truth, but Max knew nothing about him. Nothing at all. He had a quick glimpse if his face. It was unremarkable. There was no indication of character, no slight adjustment of nose and jawline. His face was a blank tableau of indiscriminate likeness. The tall man could have passed him in the street, and he wouldn’t even notice. He was a man without history, a past. Anonymity, which was his way and that was his past.
Max dropped the gun to his side and said quietly, “Christ, I’ve let him get away. What to do now then?”
He went back to the hotel and saw Vicky. She was sitting an armchair, looking at the door and hoping he would open it. He came in. He looked tired and worn, “What have you been up to, Victoria. I know it’s not pleasant for you but it’s only a couple of days more. I promise you.” He didn’t know why he said this, but he was damned sure he would end it come what may. He had seen the man., he knew what to look out for. He was prepared.
“A couple of days more! Hell Max, I’ll be at the end of my tether by then.”
Max was waiting for this; he knew her well enough to expect a barrage of abuse. The godforsaken woman could be a pain in the arse when she wanted to be.
“What’s the matter with you? It’s only for a day or so, so keep your hair on!”
“Keep my hair on, Max! I’m going out of my mind with worry. Not knowing whether you are coming back. Not knowing where you are and even worse not knowing if you are going to have a bullet thumped into you. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Jesus Christ, you’ve got a nerve!”
“Hang on, Victoria. I haven’t got a nerve telling you that you have to remain with me. It’s for your own safety.”
“My own safety! Fuck that.”
Max knew she could be a feisty bugger. It was all go and that was sure. “Look, calm down, will you?”
“Calm down! I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. I’ve been shot at and heaven knows what else, and all you can say is ‘Calm down’!”
“Victoria, it’s not for long. That’s all I can say. I’ve seen the man, who is after me. He was at my flat.”
“What was he doing there?”
“Waiting for me to come in.”
“And then what? Don’t tell me. Waiting to shoot you, no doubt.”
“Something like that.”
Vicky had calmed down. Her temper had got too much for her. She was tired of it all. “What now. You’re retired or what that has to do with anything I just don’t know. Retired, my arse?”
He ignored that last point about retirement. “We shall just have to wait and see, Victoria. I know what the man looks like, I need to draw a trap. To get him in. This is the only way. He could have been telling me the truth, about not knowing who his master is. I felt that he was not lying to me but then this is the talent anyone has, working secretively that is. I’ve got to get to him. Somehow this meeting was not the last. I feel it in my bones. Someone is after me. I have to find out who it is.”
“Well, what are you going to do?” Vicky asked, in that demure way of hers. She could change moods whenever it suited her, like all the opposite sex!
“Drag him out into the open. This all I can do.”
“That’s a risk, isn’t it?” Vicky was concerned again; she had a right to be. As she asked the question, she looked at Max. A look that said it all. Panic, confusion and above anything else, love. Max leaned over to her and took her hand. They’re eyes met.
“I’ve been in far more dangerous circumstance than this, Victoria. Have faith, in what God only he knows. We’ll come through this. We have too.”
“I really hope so, Max. I really do.”
Jane sat in her work and wondered what to do about Vicky. She kept all thoughts of Vicky to herself, just to add a little confusion to the office gossips. They couldn’t make up their minds which way she would sling her hook. Male or female. She had known this had gone on for a long time but who cared?
She tapped away on her computer oblivious to those around her. She did not want to take part in their idiot conversation. Load of twits all of them, but she didn’t show it. She was a class act at hiding who she was. She wasn’t obvious about it, just a word here or there. Leaving everything to their imagination. It was a play, with an uncertain ending. She chose to interrupt the conversation every now and again, just to show an interest. Interest didn’t come into it. She was just a showbiz queen, everything on stage and nothing divulged. Nothing about her personally, that is.
She tapped away and continued to think about Vicky. She would have to address her face on. Let her know her true feelings.
At the end of the day, she put on her coat and made for the exit door of her office. She paused for a moment and turned around. The office was empty, no one else was around. Before she pushed the door open, she thought how wonderful it would be to obtain a promotion. Working late was a sure way of ensuring this. Determination and will power were the two most important things an employee could display and she showed plenty of these two characteristics. She was on her way, no doubt about it.
Instead of going home she went to Vicky’s house. She knocked on the door, no answer. She stepped back onto the pavement. There were no lights on, nothing. They had told her at Vicky’s office that she would be unavailable for the next week. So, where was she?
She tossed this question around in her mind for a few moments. That man again. If only Vicky could taste the true love of a woman. Her touch, her meandering fingers. A kiss so full of love and desire. The bodies reaching for a final and breath-taking climax. She couldn’t believe that Vicky had gone off with another man. If she would just give her a chance, a chance to sleep with her, to hold her and let her lips stretch every being of her consciousness.
She would not want to know another man again, his touch or simplicity.
She turned around and left for her own home. She would have to do with her own touch for now. It was not the same, but it would do. Her fantasies would play a part of her imagination. Her being. She just wanted Vicky, in all her profound sensitivity. God did she want her.
She started to walk to the Underground. Obsession and a devout feeling of completeness favoured her personality. She wanted Vicky, now and forever.
Arthur went back to his flat. His mood had brightened up somewhat. He had his two boys creating havoc, an ex-wife causing misery and not enough staff to see to his contracts. All was well then. Another day in the life of Arthur Bryant.
He poured himself a drink, a vodka and tonic and thought what he might do for the rest of the evening. Now there’s a thought for you. What could he do for the rest of the evening – fuck knows, was the simple answer? He sat down and contemplated the complexity of his work. Contracts and terms and conditions filled his mind like a heaven-sent opportunity. As if, he thought. Bastard lawyers, they kept drinking champagne on him and hitting him for everything they could. Some of them were not worth a light these days, Blair and his education for all, my arse, just make the exams easier and be prepared to pay for the good ones. Christ, did he pay!
His mind went off into Blair’s government. This was an exercise in thought, he liked these moments of political nicety. He didn’t go in for the Iraq war, every leader makes mistakes and he didn’t go in for Blair bashing – he wasn’t a lefty. The present shadow Labour government made him want to puke, young amateurs and inexperienced. To hell with them and their Marxist ideology. He had to admit he liked Blair, he was more of a centrist, the son of Maggie’s Thatcher. He wouldn’t vote for him, but nevertheless making howls of political ranting was not his way, actually, he quite liked him. He favoured some of his political moves. For some unknown reason, Lord George Brown came into his mind. A voice from the past. In the 50’s and 60’s as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, his fat and jowly figure crashing out of a car and on to a pavement, in other words he was drunk, albeit that he was a top drawer politician. ‘Tired and emotional’ was how Private Eye called it. In other words, he was pissed, as usual. As Anthony Crosland called the leadership contest ‘a choice between a crook (this was Harold Wilson) and a drunk’. George Brown died in political obscurity, having abandoned his wife, politics and the church. This is the only way for politicians, Arthur concluded. Just as his mind was about to go into some political fandangle, the phone rang.
“Hello, Arthur here.”
“Arthur, its Janice.”
“Oh, what do you want? Ringing me up to give me some grief where the boys are concerned?”
“No. Not exactly. I was just wondering if you were doing anything tonight. There’s something I need to have a word with you about.”
Arthur was immediately on his guard. “What is that ‘something’? I’m not coming on a wild goose chase to sort out the boys’ holidays and all that crap.”
There was sigh of frustration on the other side. “No, it’s not that, Arthur. It’s just something I need to talk with you face to face.”
“And you can’t tell what it is about?”
“No, not over the phone.”
“I’ll be around in twenty minutes. This had better be good, Janice. Bye.”
In twenty minutes, he was around the house. At one time it was his own home, now it was in the name of his ex-wife. No justice was there? Actually, he didn’t give a monkey’s hoot for all that. In many ways she deserved all this for putting up with him for so long. And she had the boys to consider too. After all, it was only money. He couldn’t understand why these mega rich people tried to hide their money from the tax man. It all seemed so blazingly puerile. How can you spend all that money? Billions. They were crazy people and greedy. He had not instructed his accountants to hide any money in off-shore accounts. No thanks, he felt a lot safer being as he was. No one could come after him, full stop. He was a millionaire himself, but he wasn’t after all he could get. It made no difference to him whether or not he made any more money. He had enough and his ex-wife and the children had more than enough (he would keep an eye on the boys, there were no handouts for them, apart from the odd booze up!). He couldn’t understand the attitude of the filthy rich, you could after all only sleep in one bed and sit in one armchair. It was all so ridiculous.
For him it was the business, money now meant very little to him. Not now, anyway.
He rang the doorbell and waited. Was it going to be triumphal dressing down or a relaxed conversation? Who knows? Janice came to the door, she looked well, and sexy. That was it. What was she up to? The question whirled around his mind.
“Come on in, Arthur.”
They walked into the kitchen. A big affair leaving nothing to the imagination. Pots hanging down from the ceiling. White panels all over the place and a fridge that looked as if it was going to the moon. As for the cooker, well he let that run riot with the machination of grand opulence. She had designed it, and it looked like something out of a spacecraft. Not to take too fine a point on it, she was a good designer. Everything in its place and everything in order.
“Now, Janice, what’s this all about?”
“Nothing. That’s what. I am feeling as horny as hell. I haven’t had any sex since we split up. So, it’s your lucky day. Come on. Up to the bedroom.” Her backside looked insurmountable, and her tits looked something derived from Heaven. She was wearing a tight jumper and jeans. Nothing left for him to fantasise about. This would be renewing an old love affair. Well, what the hell. He knew what she liked, and he didn’t give a fuck for his divorce. Arthur went over to her and kissed her on the lips.
“God, it’s been so long!” She said provocatively.” Come on, Arthur. Up to the bedroom. Now!”
And that was the last coherent thought that he had for the evening. The bedroom and sex. It was an almighty sexual harassment of no known limitations. He knew what he was in for and didn’t object for one solitary moment. She bounced him around the room, she took him backwards and frontwards, on top and below, sideways and crossways. There was no end to her desire. Jesus, he ought to get divorced more often! It was a panoply of impatient wanting, here, there and everywhere. At last he fell back on the bed exhausted.
“Well——–that was something, Janice.”
She let out a deep breath. “Only you can manage that, Arthur. Only you——”
“I’m glad you think so, Janice. Divorced and all that. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Is it worth it? Forgiveness comes at a heavy price, doesn’t it?”
She didn’t answer him. She had fallen asleep in his arms. An out of mind and resigned sleep. She was in a state of comfort and Arthur reached out to her, a touch that was still full of warmth. He still loved her, still wanted her.
If only he could turn back the pages of his life.
“Come on then, we have to go.” Max said. There was no argument.
“Where to, Max?”
“Bloody hell, Max. I’m getting fed up with this!”
“Just another night. That’s all, Victoria.”
“It had better be, that’s all I can say. I want my own bed and my own shower. God its like living with a gypsy being with you, well actually they have more certainty than we do. Travelling is their raison d’etre.”
“Come on, let’s go.” He picked up their bags and left the hotel.
He didn’t see the tall man following them. No one saw him.
They arrived at another hotel and booked in. Max looked out of the nearest window. “All is quiet, it seems.”
“That makes a change then, Max. I’m expecting the door to be shoved open and troop of cavalry to come in.”
“No need to be humorous, Victoria.”
“Humorous, God forgive me!”
“Look, I’m trying to keep us alive here. So, no jokes.”
Vicky realised she had taken the situation a little too far. She was all hyped up about it. The tension, the frustration.
“I’m sorry, Max. It just that all this drama is getting the better of me.” He went over to her and put his arms around her.
“It’s not for long, Victoria.” He kissed her and allowed her feelings to flow into him. “Now, I’m going to go out now. Try and see if I can do something about this Longshanks. Sit tight.” With that, he left leaving Vicky to plan her next move, whatever that may be.
He took a taxi to Belgravia, an affluent district of Central London. He found the house he was looking for. Typically, grand and opaque in that London sort of way, He rang the doorbell and waited. He heard the shuffling of feet and the door opened.
“Ah I was wondering how long it would take, come on in. Max Maxwell, no doubt?”
“Well, let’s go into the study. I take it is business. Not social or anything like that.” His blue smoking jacket and beige trousers didn’t look as they were under any duress. His balding head didn’t look strained or anything, he was downright calm. Not that Max had expected anything less. He moved with a constant eye to attention, always alert, always primed. The study was remarkably modern. No books and no files hanging around anywhere. It was stark. The seating was modern and uncomfortable – for a purpose Max thought. There was no personality in the room, unlike the contender who worked here. It was bland and left one with a feeling of emptiness.
“No, not social.”
“Sit down Max, now tell me all about it. I know that you have been attacked on a couple of occasions. I may be retired but not much escapes me. The Secret Intelligence Service, you know. One is never retired, never.”
“How did you know about the attacks on my life?”
“Word travels. And Tim is one of my old contemporaries. Well not in my class, but old nevertheless.”
Sir William Battersby was an old dog of the Security Service. ‘Old’ had not yet crept up on him yet. He looked like a wrinkled prune who experienced difficulty in looking edible, but his brain was as fast as ever. Max had met him only once during his career and this was a quick briefing for those who should know, if there was anything like that in the Service. Max had had no initial contact with him, Tim was his superior and nothing more.
“Sir William, I want to pick your brains.”
“Well, I’ll try. But as you no doubt know, I am retired.”
“Retired is only a word and you know that.”
“Go on, Max.”
“Who is this Longshanks sod.”
“Now, now Max. Let’s leave the language at the front door, shall we? You think that he is the cause of your problems?”
“I don’t think. I know.”
“Umm……Longshanks? He is a particularly nasty sort of fellow. Not much is known about him, Max. You do realise that the Official Secrets Act applies to all this, but you do have a, shall I say, unquestionable background.”
“Yes, yes——-but do go on.”
“I know a little about him, more than most, I suspect. He has been involved in a couple of operations—–not for public attention that is. We have tried to identify him; nothing has been forthcoming on this. We believe he could of Eastern European nationality, but this could be speculation of the first order. He operates so that no one, not even us, can pinpoint what his intentions are. He is a master of skulduggery. An expert. He was trained by Russians, we think. He acts totally alone, which is why we cannot get a grip on him. ‘Grip’ being the operative word. He takes his orders from people who wish to take this life of ours and ruin us as a nation and any other sovereign State as we know it, Max. He is dangerous. We’ve been trying to have him terminated for some time, but no one has ever managed to get close enough to him. Apart from you.”
“Why hasn’t Tim told me all this?”
“He doesn’t know anything about it. Not that I do anyway. Just little pockets of guesswork, that is all.”
“It seems that I am the only one in the whole Secret Service that knows what he looks like.”
“That is correct, Max.”
“How much of a threat to Victoria is he?”
“Anything goes. A woman, a child, anything. His actions, such as we know them, make no deliberations where victims are concerned.” Sir William took on a more serious note. “You Max, are the only one who can make a difference.”
“I’ve retired.” Max said, with a note of uncertainty in his voice, he knew that what Sir William had said was true. No one ever retires from the Service. Not completely.
“What did I say about retirement, Max?”
“Yes, I know. So, it seems that I am the only one who can protect Victoria from Longshanks.”
“It would seem that way. Are you armed?”
“That’s a personal trait of yours. Very commendable. I won’t ask where you where got the gun from. It’s none of my business. All I can say Max, is be particularly careful. He’s a man who is extremely capable. Take care.”
Max got up and said, “Right, I’ve got the message. I’ll be off now.”
“I hope I’ve helped. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. Good luck.”
Max walked out of the study and toward the front door. He noticed as he went the plush paintings and decoration. It was all Sir William, and yet his study was the exact opposite. A strange man, Max thought, but was anything ‘normal’ in the eccentric world he lived in? All of it was covered in smoke and blind alleys, nothing was certain, nothing was exact. He walked out of the house and made his way back to the hotel.
Walking the streets of the city, he wondered how he would react to a country life. Looking ahead again, Victoria did this to him. A country cottage with roses hanging over the door, it was all bollocks and he knew it. Something out of a novel from Julian Ruck, he thought. All winsome delight and nothing sturdy in the words. He watched the people go by, all sorts. All kinds of clothes and all with a blank expression on their chops. He loved the countryside, in all its innocence and unspoilt by human hand. Well, at least there were places that farmers hadn’t belittled with their tractors and combine harvesters. In his dreams he had dreamt about taking off, packing up and disappearing. Where to he had no idea, well not in a conventional sense anyway. He had thought about that place in Wales before, but it was an untouchable to him somehow. Not in the present circumstances anyway. Life had a unique time span on it. Here today, gone next second. He wondered what the next second would mean. He was tired of chasing a fantasy, a surreal nincompoop of reality.
He passed people going about their daily business and for a moment he felt sorry for them. Sorry for their lives of beaten up mortgage rates, rent going through the ceiling and for some, a weekly visit to the food bank. But could it be any different from years gone by? There were always the poor, the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. Britain had made a great escape in modern times. Gone were the slums, they were replaced now with tower blocks of mangled humanity. Some had become incinerators of the blind, the hopeless. London for all its upbeat nonsense, had become a haven for the rich and the people who couldn’t find a penny to scratch their arses with. It was a hostile place, a funny farm of contradictions. It held the unanswerable might of the powerful who stepped on the downtrodden weakness of those who couldn’t shout back. It was a season of immigration, that was how Max thought about it. If time would grant him an opportunity, he would take it.
Of this he was certain.
He finally reached the hotel and made his way up to the room. He opened the door. No Victoria. He saw a piece of paper on a table. He read it and his heart stopped beating, only for a moment as he tried to take in the words. ‘If you want to see the woman again, meet me at the Shakespeare Arms at 7.30.’
Max knew the pub, it used to be his old local. Whoever had written this, he knew Max’s movements. He held the piece of paper and remained calm. His hand went to the back of his waistband, all present and correct. Was this Longshanks? What was he up to? He had kidnapped Victoria, and for this he would pay. Max had a couple of hours to kill, so he went out of the hotel and stretched his legs. He could ring Tim, but this wouldn’t do any good. He could ring the police, but this was even more hopeless. They were too tied up in their fucking anti-terrorist plots to be concerned about Max and his woman. It was an impossible situation.
He would just have to go to the meeting and find out what had happened to Victoria. He kept hoping to a God that she was not harmed in any shape, way or form.
He entered the pub early. No sign of Victoria and the man who had left a piece of paper for him. He ordered a drink. This time of the soft variety. He sat down in an alcove and waited. About fifteen minutes passed and man came into the pub. He was tall and incognisant. He saw Max and came to sit down opposite him.
“Vicky is alright. She is just sedated.” Longshanks said, in that non-committal way of his.
“That’s good to know. Who are you and where do come from and what are you trying to do by killing me? Who’s your employer?” He kept his hand firmly on the gun in his waistband.
“Nothing ventured and so on. I have something for you. A release from these circumstances that we find ourselves in.”
What was Longshanks on about? A release? What…….?”
“Now look Longshanks……” Max said firmly, trying to keep his temper under control.
“The name your Secret Service has given me, I assume.” Longshanks said. “Amusing, if nothing else. I’ve come to a decision. A benefit both to you and me.”
“And what would that be?”
“I’ll call your termination off and immediately release Vicky.”
“But—–why?” Max said a little bemused.
“Reasons. Max, we are both professional hunters. Let’s just say, I have foibles about who I work for.”
“You? Have foibles about who employs you? Fuck me, I’ve heard it all now.”
“Here are the keys to the hotel.” He handed Max a room key. ‘The Belvedere.’ You know it.”
Max remembered an incident at the hotel, but he didn’t go into any detail. This man was rather short on coming forward on anything. Max looked at the man. His face told him nothing. It had a Slavic tendency as was his speech, but that was about all. He was bald and thin, about early forties and his movements were accentuated by an attention to detail. He was well dressed in a dark suit and tie. Tailored. The man said nothing else. He got up and went out of the door. Not a ‘Goodbye’ or ‘Cheerio’.
Max got up and tried to follow him, but it was no use. He was gone.
What was this man’s game? What was he trying to do? Max didn’t immediately take his offer of a truce seriously. It was all too soon. Too soon after the events. He thought about the past week, nothing added up. He ran for the hotel not thinking about much apart from the general confusion that surrounded him. It was all a bloody great shambles. He found Victoria’s room and went in. Gun raised. All was quiet, apart from Victoria sleeping on the bed and making a damn great racket with her snoring.
“Jesus Christ, what next?” Max asked himself. He went to her and shook her.
“Not now Max, I’m tired.” She mumbled. God, she thought he was trying to give her one. “Now come on, Victoria. Get up.” She didn’t move.
He decided to leave her sleep; she wouldn’t be in a much of a state to do anything else. He took a half bottle of wine out of the drinks cabinet and sat down. He had to give Longshanks this, he didn’t scrape on the accommodation. Kidnapping? Why? To get hold of Max, that was all. Why had he given him Victoria? Why had he reneged on his contract to kill him? All questions and no answers.
What was he going to do now? Victoria was asleep and he needed this time to think. To think hard. If Longshanks was true to his word, then all was well. But could Max trust him? Only time would tell.
As Max contemplated his future, Longshanks was on a plane taking him to another destination. He still had work to do. Nothing to do with Max Maxwell. He was off the agenda.
The night marched through its grim touch and daylight gradually began to dawn. It wasn’t light if you could call it that, it was just a typically grey with an overwhelming curtain hanging over everything, London revisited if you like. Max woke up, not from a deep sleep but a from the hammer blows of a light but fractious unconsciousness. He got up from the chair and went over to Victoria. At least the snoring had stooped.
“Victoria, you need to wake up now.”
She moved ever so slightly and then opened her eyes,” Max…. what happened?”
“You were sedated and left in here. Longshanks I’m afraid. It’s all fine now, he’s off the books, well I hope so anyway. I’ve seen him and he gave me the keys to this room. You’re not harmed, are you?”
She slowly got up. “No, nothing. Just tired.”
“That’s the sedation for you. Take your time.”
“I will, don’t worry Max. He took me from the hotel. Made out he was an employee or something. He held a gun at my back, so there was no arguing. We came here and then knockout time. I don’t remember a thing after that.”
“You’re alright Victoria, that’s the main thing. Come on get up and I’ll make you some coffee.” She got her mind together and stretched. She got up from the bed and went over to an armchair.
“What now, Max?”
He brought a cup of coffee over to her.” I don’t know, that’s the simple answer. Everything has worked out, but I still have my doubts. Longshanks? Well, he seemed genuine enough but why would he stop trying to kill me? He wouldn’t give me any explanation that stood up. ‘Reasons’ was all that he gave me. Have we seen the back of him? You? That’s reason enough, I suppose.”
“He wouldn’t go all that trouble if he wasn’t serious though, would he? Would he, Max?”
“I know, I’ll still keep an eye out for him. There’s nothing else we can do. Now, it’s back to work for you and you get on with my manuscript.”
“Yes, it’s back to work. You know Max, I still find all this frightening, even horrific but there is a little mixture of excitement about it all. Come here and let’s start the day with a bloody good shag!”
Max gave in, as he always did. The woman was out and out whore when she wanted to be.
Vicky was glad to be home. It had been a week of ultimate satisfaction – that’s putting it mildly, more like a week of terror but never mind it had its good points. Like Max, for instance. She was in the kitchen and thought about this man. She was in love with him. His looks and his personality. Personality came first. She had been tired of all these modern men, with their attention to after shave, deodorant and generally smelling like a piquant rose. What roses had to do with anything she was at a loss? Men these days had become women, she was not having any of this. She loved Max for everything he was. His book, his face. He was abundantly clean and fastidious about his person and that was just how she liked it. No fussing around with advertised beautification. The tirade of modern man. Bollocks to it all. They spent hours in the bathroom and for what? To smell like a bloody day out at the Chelsea Flower Show!
She went to the sink and started washing up a plate and a glass. It was something she had had to eat earlier on. Pate or something. She went to sit down and finished her glass of wine. She thought about Max again. Damn the man, he wouldn’t leave her mind alone! Love. She had avoided it all her adult life. There had been plenty of sexual thrills, but she had avoided ‘love’ at all costs. It was a distinct non-runner as far as she was concerned. Now look at her. In love for the first time. She didn’t know what to do about it. Every time she thought of Max a warm feeling ran through her. Not of a sexual nature but just to be with him, feel his body close to hers. To touch him, hold him. She concluded that there was no other person she wanted to be with. Only Max, scars and a past that she no longer was scared about. She wanted him, cared about him. In a particular way she had become part of Max. She was reluctant to love, it went against the grain of her own personality but being the pragmatist she was, she knew when she was beaten. Beaten into a hard pulp of realistic knowing. She had no defence. No armour to fend off the likes of Max Maxwell. His book had been a recommendation of how morality would always prevail, against a backwash of violence and corruption. He had succeeded where most of us would have run hell for leather down the nearest street. Valour was a thing for the birds, for cowardice, for being human.
Vicky wondered what he would be doing now. She was left with the business of selling books to publishers. It was hard task, being as her mind was so distracted. She had worked from home for a change. Not ideal but at least it left her mind free to wander into the uncertain world of love and its implications. She thought about it and she shuddered. She believed Max felt the same way, although he hadn’t said yet ‘I love you’. This in fact disturbed her, made her feel vulnerable and alone. Had he been playacting? No, this was not the man from the book he had written. She quickly pushed this notion aside. It was an affront to the man she loved, an insult. She would get it out from him soon enough, just wait Vicky. Just wait.
Thinking about these things forced her to look back into her past. She thought about being a youngster. She could remember the good times and the bad and as time goes on the memories flicker between the softer but more memorable instances of our experience. She thought about going to university. She had been dropped off at the train station, cheque book in her bag filled with all the rubbish that you could think of, a suitcase with more nonsense and told to get on the train and get a degree. That was her mother for you.
No fuss or bother. And so, began a life of booze, men and song. The young ones think they know it all, everything about skullduggery and so on, well they have got a lot to learn. Haven’t they just!
She looked back now, and would she have done anything differently? No, she didn’t think so. The good, the bad and the ugly all make up what we are. What we are supposed to be. Along the way, she learnt about kindness and understanding. The unbent streak of knowing a few things – well, some might argue with this, on Facebook and Twitter! The unholy nonsense of modern-day communication.
She might have seen some but not all of the interaction between human beings and all she could say is, good luck to you all and have a good life. In whatever way you choose to live it and let’s face it, we live, die and forget that we were ever on this planet in the first place. And don’t go along the wine, men and song antics. It’s exhausting!
She went back to the kitchen sink, well Max, what are we going to do with you?
Max had gone to his flat and poured himself a drink. He like Vicky was thinking about the last week. There were so many uncertainties. So many things that he just could put his finger on. Longshanks. A man of ruthless character and yet he had spared him the final bullet. Why? A couple of shots at Venice and his own flat. Max knew why he didn’t finish it then. He had his Glock pointed at his head. Information. He had wanted to know who had taken out on contract on him but in that moment of hesitation Longshanks had struck.
He sat down and was mindful of the fact that he didn’t have much, if anything, to go on. Retirement that was a laugh. He hoped he could prove Sir William wrong. He was looking forward to a quiet life, without wrongdoing and without trauma. Fat chance of this. He thought about Vicky. She really put a spanner in the works, didn’t she just. He was hopelessly joined to her. He hadn’t been seeking this relationship, but she had caught him, hook line and sinker. He had to realise that this was something far more serious than ‘love’, in a juvenile sense of the word. He was committed to her and hoped he would live long enough to see to that. He loved in his own way, not in the normal sense of the word. It was far more complex than that. He wanted to be part of her, together as one. He hadn’t told her that he loved her. He would have to see to this somehow. The words were far too difficult to imagine, but he would try. After ten years of suffering, she had brought him hope. A reason to be, he hoped that he wouldn’t disappoint her by ending up dead. That really would be too much. He dreaded the thought.
He started to contemplate his existence. His life. What was the point in living if you had no feeling in your heart? What was the point indeed? Now he had a chance to live with Victoria, a chance to fulfil a happy ending of where he had no idea. But there was an opportunity at stake. He had to make this happen. He had too.
He looked across at the Gluck, sitting on the table. It lay there in all innocence, until a man or a woman picked it up and pulled the trigger. It looked so fine and inoffensive, a work of art. But it could be deadly in a hand whose fingers could squeeze the trigger. The pistol was almost hypnotic, so powerful in its capacity to create chaos. For once it made Max tremble. This was a sign of age, age that crept up on him so slowly, so determinately. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind.
Was it over? He hoped to God that it was, anything else would mean turmoil in a complete
cycle of idiocy. He wanted it all end now, so that he could begin a life with Victoria. Anything less would just mean that his life had been a worthless existence of killing and getting up to mean tricks for a government that he had little respect for. The government was a waste of time. Look at how ‘politicians’ had behaved in recent times. They couldn’t make up their minds after having been given a national mandate by the people. They were an appalling mess of in-fighting children who had had their toys taken away from them. They made him want to crawl back into a benign dictatorship – well, that was putting it a bit on the extreme side, but nevertherless they were all crackers. Self-serving bastards who cared for their careers and nothing else. A few directorships when they were finished, and the people could go to hell.
They were our servants. Nothing more, nothing less.
Max’s answer lay in a general election. If they didn’t carry out the will of the people, then vote them out. The usurious bastards could go and sing and if Max had anything to do with it, they wouldn’t get one penny of charity in their paper cups. Let them beg for a living. Politicians? They could all go and get stuffed.
He’d read enough on the subject of politics but now he had become disillusioned with the whole damned chaos that existed in Parliament. MP’s were acting like spoiled little brats, unable to reach a conclusion on anything. Get them out, was his version of things and get a new centrist party in. This was the only way.
He stopped grumbling to himself and got up. He poured himself another drink and thought about Victoria again. He wanted to see her, her cheeky face laughing at him. He put down his drink and picked a telephone. Victoria wold pull him out of the blues. He was certain of it.
Jane sat at coffee bar and deliberated for an hour or so. She finished her cup of coffee and went out, heading for Vicky’s house. She had better be in, not out with that man she had been seeing. She had waited long enough. Days in fact. It was now or never. She waited on the doorstep before ringing the doorbell. She could see that Vicky was at home. At long last.
She rang the bell and waited.
Vicky came to the door and opened it. “Er——-hello.” She said rather taken aback by the woman who was standing before her. It was the woman or girl, she didn’t know how quite to describe her, from the coffee shop, worked for a publisher or something.” What can I do for you?”
“There’s something I need to talk to you about.” Jane said. “Something of a personal nature.”
“Well, come in then. What this ‘personal nature’ could be, I haven’t got a clue.” That bastard Max hadn’t been up to anything, had he? No, one look at the women confirmed this. There was that strange look about her again. Vicky had noticed it when she had last seen her. A week ago, or something. “Let’s go into the sitting room. Shall we?”
Vicky led the way and when they were sat down, she asked, “Now, what’s this about?”
Jane swallowed hard. This was it.
“I love you.” Jane said with a firmness that little doubt in Vicky’s mind.
Vicky remained seated. She tried not to blush at such an outrageous comment but thought better of it. Jesus Christ, if Max had been here then? Well, she didn’t know what he would do. She remained calm, not wishing to upset the woman who was obviously smitten with her. The truth be known she didn’t know what to say. Lesbian love, God it didn’t bear thinking about. She had never been in this situation before. There had been one or two girls in the past who had tried it on but that was it and in those circumstances, there had always been plenty of people around. This time she was on her own.
“Oh, I see. Jane, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I think about you at night. And all day. I can’t get you out of my mind. I love you Vicky. I really do.”
Oh fuck, this was serious. “Jane, I’m not that way inclined, loving another woman that is. I do love someone, of the opposite sex, as it were. I can’t love you. It is impossible.”
“But you could try, couldn’t you. I dream about touching you all over. Every inch of your body, Vicky.”
Shit, this was serious. She got up and made for the door. “Come on, Jane. You have to go now. I’m so sorry but this isn’t for me. There’s plenty of women out there who enjoy their own sex. You’ll find someone, believe me.”
Surprisingly enough, Jane got up and went to the door. “I’ll not give up, Vicky. Loving your own sex can take a bit of doing. I’ll not give up.”
Then she went through the door and was gone.
Vicky sat down in the living room and tried to get used to the situation she had just been confronted with. Jane had fallen in love with her. Preposterous, she didn’t even know her. Well, this was a situation she had not expected. How had she got her address? She worked for a firm of publishers so it wouldn’t be difficult. Lesbian love? For God’s sake it was just not her. Never had been. The woman had an effect on Vicky, she realised something was wrong. She didn’t know what it was. Difference in sexuality? It could be. She walked into the kitchen and the phone rang. It was Max, thank God for small mercies. He would be round later on. Should she tell him about this Jane or not? No, it was not the time. He’d got enough problems of his own.
Later on, Max rang the doorbell. She answered it and gave him a deep hug. He pulled away and said, “What is the matter with you? Everything is alright, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Max. Everything is fine. Just lovely.”
“That’s fine then.” He took her hand and they went into the kitchen. Wine all round and laugher rocked the ceiling. Well, Vicky’s laughter anyway.
In the morning Max went home. He decided he wanted to speak to Tim again. He got home and made the call. Tim answered immediately, for such a busy man how he did this he couldn’t figure it out, attention to detail he supposed.
“Max, how are you?”
“Fine, Tim. I’m just ringing to let you know that Longshanks has got in touch.”
“Has he now.”
“After abducting Victoria and forcing my hand. But here’s the thing. He’s pulled out of the contract to kill me. I don’t understand why. He wouldn’t give me a reason.”
“That is strange. Never mind, all is well. You can relax now. My end of things has been busy. What does he look like? Can you tell anything?”
“Eastern origin. In looks, nothing definable, in fact nothing definable at all. He’s a bloody ghost.”
“Well, that sounds about right. He’s a clever man, our Longshanks. Very clever. Are you sure you can’t tell me anything about him?”
“Tim, he is Slavic. His face would seem to confirm that, although I couldn’t be too sure. No crags or crannies. Nothing. His speech? Nothing distinguishable, but he could be Eastern European, but on the other hand he could be from Iceland, for all we know. His hair, probably a wig. He could pass for anyone in the street, full stop.”
“Well, that’s helpful.”
“No need for the sarcasm, Tim. He’s just a nobody, that’s all.”
“A ‘nobody’ that we have to keep an eye on. A careful eye I might add, but how do we keep tabs on a person that doesn’t exist? A challenge, you might say.”
“It is your challenge, Tim. Nothing to do with me. I’m retired now, so I’ll be off. See you in another life. Oh, by the way, that was a generous retirement allowance you allowed me. Good lump sum. Thank you.”
“Not at all, Max. Enjoy your retirement.”
And the phone went dead.
After putting down the phone, Max looked around his sitting room. Books and music everywhere. How much longer he would have it, he wondered. Years or months? Victoria had been a deciding factor in everything now. He could keep the flat and rent it out, or he could sell it. For now, he wouldn’t do anything with it, just think about the prevarications of a sale or not a sale. Victoria came into his mind again, she always did. He put some music on, Puccini’s, Turandot. He picked up the book, Pol Pot, and started to read. He had nearly finished the book, but circumstances had intervened. He carried on where he had left off. The music relaxed him, the book on the other hand made him think of man’s inhumanity to man. People learn from history, fuck this for a statement of philosophical genius. They should read the book he was reading now!
He continued to read until he fell asleep in the chair. In was deep sleep, a sleep that was not retarded by difficult thought. For the first time in a week, his sleep wasn’t disturbed by a troubled mind.
In the morning the phone rang. It could only be Tim or Victoria. He picked it up and said ‘Hello’.
“Max, I’ve had the contract from the publishers. Nothing untoward in in it. Can you come to my office this morning, at around ten to sign it? Oh, by the way, the pseudonym is accepted.”
“I will see you at ten, Victoria. Goodbye.”
As usual the phone went dead. The ignorant bastard! There were on or two things in the contract that she would need to discuss with Max, but she didn’t tell him over the phone. He was a rude bastard for all that but a loveable one!
Arthur looked at the contents of the letter. A sheet of paper with a birth certificate attached. He looked again, just to be sure. Bloody hell! His mother went by the name Strablinski, Literary Agent. Oh God, this would cause a stir in the Strablinski household, wouldn’t it just. He remembered how he spent a morning cleaning, filling in for one of his staff. What was he to do? He just remained in a state of shock about it all. He remembered the woman he had seen. Attractive and with a good heart. That must mean she was the daughter of the mother. His half bloody sister! She would confirm the mother’s name of that he was sure. Martha Strablinski.
He sat down trying to take in the shock. His mother must have been starting out then, all those years ago. Her daughter had carried on the business. Wealthy and no debts. What a life. He felt neither optimism nor congratulatory clapping. His curiosity had finally been sated, but he had no way of knowing that this would be the conclusion of all his efforts. He simply couldn’t believe it. He just had to work out what he was going to do. Would the daughter be happy about this revelation? Would she object? He knew exactly where she lived and what she did. His files on her let him know exactly what she did for a living. His curios nature hadn’t expected this. It was a bloody bombshell.
He tried to let the shock pass. He would sit on it for a while. Allow himself to absorb the contents of the letter. He would not act now. These things take time to come to terms with. Martha Strablinski. Who the hell would have thought it? Not him, that was for sure.
He was unsettled for a while. Thinking of this and that. He was not a dishonest man. He never believed in taking advantage of someone, anyway why should he? He had enough money for himself and family. He wasn’t greedy or a man with malicious intent. The fact that Martha was his real mother, gave him an instinct of well-being. He didn’t know why; it was just the way he felt. It explained so many things. Why he hadn’t he turned to crime? Why he had picked himself up from the gutter? It could all have something to do with Martha’s blood, he just didn’t know. Equally, his parents were good people, they gave him a direct link with a moral duty and a care for the community. These were all questions that there could be no answer to, at least where any certainty was concerned.
His father? There was no mention of paternal fatherhood in the Birth Certificate. He didn’t know who the hell his father was. No doubt Martha had had a quick shag and didn’t want anyone to know about it. On the other hand, Arthur might well be the product of a forbidden love, who knows? His curios nature didn’t go as far as finding out who the father was. He was satisfied with the information he had.
Vicky Strablinski might know some of the answers. He thought about her. He had to tell her, if only that he was her half-brother. This would take a little mind-bending consideration but he would have to tell her, it was only right. Right is might and all that. Here we go, getting all philosophical again. He stood up and poured himself a drink. Neat whisky this time. It had to be neat anything else was not under review. He swallowed it in one go, nearly retched and poured himself another, just for good measure.
There was nothing he could do for now. He had got over the shock of it all and wondered what he would do for the rest of the evening. He would stay in and contemplate his future. Not that there was anything to contemplate really, apart from seeing Vicky. This would be an unholy meeting, where would he start for Christ’s sake?
He just didn’t know.
Jane left Vicky’s house determined that she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She was aware that lesbian relationships could take on a more subtle tone, she believed it anyway. Woman to woman could be chancy. Alternative sexes didn’t come into it. She thought about her own sexuality, but this didn’t help. She wanted to get hold of Vicky and to never let her go. The obsessiveness of her desire didn’t occur to her. She just kept going, no matter what.
She walked to her house and considered the options. There was only one, she had to force Vicky to see how much she loved her. She would be unmistakably smitten by then. She went into her house and up to her room. She got ready for bed and lay there in a state of uncommon love. She loved a woman, what was wrong in that? Nothing, precisely nothing. Her hand moved down between her legs and she played with herself until a climax reached from her toes to the top of her head. Vicky, oh Vicky, what am I going to do without you?
Vicky stood looking out of the window of her office. She often did this; it was somehow conclusive of who the property belonged to. Her mother, when it was all said and done. She didn’t like the situation as it was, if she was honest about it. The office, the agency, had all been her mother’s creation, she had just carried it on. She hadn’t worked for it or done her level best to develop it. It had all fallen into her lap. Not good, not good at all. She worked hard to keep it going, trips to New York and generally flying around the world, all to make sure that things were running properly. The office in New York was doing well enough, all things considered. The e-book market was having an effect, but this didn’t bother her. Why publishers kept their prices for an e-book so high was a mystery to her. There was no printing or paperwork involved. Market forces she assumed, and before too long the eBook would take over, so keeping the prices high not was such a bad idea. Whatever they decided to do, it was alright for her, at least where profits were concerned. The future? Well, there was a lot of indecision here. Newspapers were going to the wall and before long publishers would have to go with the flow. The next generation would see to that. All youngsters needed to know was how to press a button and that’s it. She was saddened to see how reading was becoming an old reality. How books were becoming old fashioned and out of date. There would still be some readers who bought books, but they would be in decline as time marched on. It was all the internet now. God help us!
There was a knock on the door and Jamila walked in. “There’s a Mr Meredith to see you, Vicky. Shall I show him in?”
“Yes, Jamila. And what’s that funny look on your face?”
“Yes, there is. There’s nothing going on between us, I assure you.” She couldn’t help but stop the smiling face. “Nothing at all.”
“Yes Vicky, if you say so.” And with that she was gone.
“Victoria, how are you?”
He was standing before her, all suited up and looking fantastic. God, she wanted to drag him into bed right now!
“I’m fine. Now sit down, Max. We have some business to discuss.”
“Yes, mam. Whatever you say.”
“No need for the sarcasm. By the way, you’re a rude bastard on the phone. You just put it down without a by your leave.”
“The job, I’m afraid.” He liked to see her get all upset, in her office too. He smiled. That damned smile of his. Vicky grinned back; she couldn’t help it.
“Now, here is the contract. Look over it and tell me what you think?” He didn’t bother to take the offered paperwork.
“You’re the agent. I pay you 15% on home sales and any other percentage basis on world sales. I’ll leave it to you, Victoria. Money just doesn’t come into it. I just want to make a point that is all. I’m comfortable financially. I don’t need the money.”
“Well, that’s all very admirable but there’s just one point. The main point as far as you are concerned, Max. All the others I can deal with.”
“The publisher’s want you do some publicity. That is book signings etc. There’s a two-week clause in the contract.”
“No” Well, that was a certain answer to her mentioning of the clause.
“Now Max, it’s in the contract. I know it’s not what you want but…….”
“No, and I mean no publicity.”
“Right then, that clause is out. I don’t know how I’ll explain it to the publisher’s but that’s what I’ll do. Alright Max, you win.”
“You’re the agent. I’ll leave it to you.”
“How very gracious of you. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“No need. Now, what are you doing for lunch?”
“Hard luck, Max, I’ve got an appointment to handle. Some publisher’s and an author.”
“That’s fine. I’ll see you tonight?”
“Yes. Alright Max. Come around to the house. About seven.”
“Will do.” And with that he was gone, looking amazingly attractive in the process.
Vicky was left to her own devices. She had an hour or so before the publisher’s meeting, so she sat back in her chair and thought about the woman last night. She didn’t tell Max about it; she might do later on. She was a trifle upset by the woman. There was something not quite right about her. Lesbianism, no way. The sudden declaration of love really had unsettled her. Who was this woman? What was her history? She felt like ringing up the publishers, but she thought better of it. What was she going to say? That one of their employee’s had come around to her house and declared undying love for her. They would laugh their socks off. She hoped that she had taken the brush off without any anger, but she couldn’t be too sure about this. There was something deadly about her eyes. Something she could not put her finger on.
Vicky allowed the thought to go out of her mind, she hoped that she wouldn’t deal with it again. God knows, she had had enough of death and destruction with Max. Anymore would be selling his stuff at too high a price.
She got up and went for her coat. Out now for the publisher’s meeting. Jane, whoever she was, could go and get stuffed – not by her though!
Max was walking to the Underground. His mind wouldn’t leave Longshanks alone. Why had he even given up the contract on him? Who had wanted him dead? He couldn’t answer any of these of these questions. And they plagued him like a nightmare that just wouldn’t go away. He walked on and went to catch a Tube. A nonsensical mishap of humanity, he thought. Who was trying to kill him? Who?
He arrived back home and stared to make himself a sandwich. He didn’t need to see Victoria until later on, no doubt they would go out to have something to eat. He stared to eat a salami and pesto conglomerate. It tasted good, not one to mix business with pleasure. He ate with delicate swipes at the food and sipped a beer taken from the fridge. God knows what salami did for him, particularly with a coating of pesto but he couldn’t care less about that. No doubt some TV chef king would upbraid him for it, but he could go to hell. Not that he ever watched such crap anyway. He finished eating the sandwich and sat down in an armchair.
Longshanks, what are you up you, he thought?
When Vicky arrived home, she quickly showered and did her nonsense. There was not much make up to put on and her hair just fell into place as required. As she was drying herself, she thought about that Jane again. Would she tell Max about it? The answer had to be yes. After all, he had become a personal point of contact, hadn’t he? This was putting it rather simply, but she liked the take on words. Made her feel clever. Not really, but the point made her absolutely certain that he was the one. She smiled to herself. Making astute remarks to Max, always entertained her. He would react with a vision that was extraordinary. Sometimes stupid but extraordinary in itself. He was a match for her, and she liked it. Not many men had been able to meet her even in a halfway house. This Max certainly did, they’re intellectual battles were a thing that stuck I her mind. Pleasantly, of course.
She finished getting dressed and made her way downstairs. She poured herself a drink, a gin and tonic and looked at her watch. Three minutes to seven. Just right. At seven o’clock the doorbell rang. It was Max. Always on time, she thought briefly that she would give a key to the house. It was easier. She went to the door and opened it. Max was standing there with a bunch of flowers.
“For you. And don’t say I don’t do anything romantic for you!” He laughed this time. It was an absolute delight. He handed her the flowers and went in. Vicky was beside herself. She had had plenty of flowers before, by the bucket load, but these were from the man she loved. There was difference. A bloody big difference.
“Oh God, Max. I don’t know what to say.” A tear or two leapt from her eyes, the flowers were not from a local garage either or supermarket either!
“Nothing, that’s what. Put them in a vase and sniff them before you do. They smell lovely.” She put her nose to them and smelt as instructed. There were carnations of all sorts, must have cost him a fortune. They smelt like paradise having a tea break. All relaxed and enjoying their time together. Infusive and overwhelming.
She said to Max, “Come here. I want to give you a big thank you.” With that, they gave the kitchen sink a big ‘Thank you’ in an alternative body part that it had never witnessed before. Such was domestic bliss!
Longshanks got off the plane and out of the airport. He sat in the taxi and thought about why he had let Max Maxwell off. It was the first time he done this. Respect. This was the reason he had let the man off the hook. Max had had no idea that once he spared his life. A bullet wound in the leg and no firearm, but this Max had let him get away. It was a slim chance of survival; Longshanks had been at his mercy. He didn’t plead or beg for such mercy. He just waited for the bullet that would end his life. It didn’t come, Max just walked away. He remembered that evening so well, it had been dark and inconspicuous. Incognito. Max would not have recognised him. He was as ignorant as flowers growing in a storm. When he had found out who his ‘employer’ had contracted him to terminate, Max had played heavily on his mind, unlike him he had to admit but it did play a part. He went through the motions of carrying out the job out, but the truth be known he had missed his aim. On purpose? He would never know.
He had not reached his employer again and he had no way of contact him. He didn’t know who he was anyway.
The taxi arrived at his home, in Bucharest. He got out and paid the driver. He had changed on the plane and looked like a middle-class executive, glasses and all. For once his face shone with an element of character. Long chin, and handsome features. Two children ran up to him and shouted ‘Daddy’. He hugged them both and went into his home. They knew nothing about his other life, the life of an assassin. His wife knew nothing either. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. She was in the kitchen and said, “Nice trip, darling?”
“All went well, my love.”
He kissed her on the cheek, then went upstairs to change. Longshanks had become Marius again; it was comfortable and pleasant. Longshanks was a name quickly deleted to his past.
They were in bed the following morning. Vicky lying across his chest like a piranha trying to take the first bite of human flesh – well, it wasn’t really like that, but his imagination was running riot. It always did, first thing in the morning. What with giving the kitchen sink annihilation and all that, it was a good thing there were no plates lying down on the draining board, God help them if that had been the case. He was between sleep and a wakeup call. A sense of the impossibility, if you could call it that.
Vicky stirred and gradually woke up. It was a Saturday morning, so no office. No authors giving her grief, apart from the one lying next to her. He could cause as much consternation as he liked, within reason of course. Just as she managed to think about this, the woman of the night came into her mind.
“Yes—–not now, Victoria. I’m trying to sleep.” God, why did all men think that a wake-up nudge was an urge to have sex? In some ways they were all alike! “Wake up, |Max. There’s something I want to talk with you about.” He stirred from his slumbers, finally waking up.
“What’s up, Victoria?”
“Nothing really. I had someone come around to the house the other evening. Jane somebody or other. She had met me at one of the publishers I was doing some work with. I don’t remember her at all. Anyway, the point is, she told me that she loves me.” She waited for a response from the man she loved.
“She told you what?” Max answered somewhat surprised.
“That she loved me.”
Max sat up at this. “Jesus, that’s a bit hot, isn’t it, are you serious?”
“Yes, I am. She had that look in her eyes. Deadly eyelids. She looked pretty serious too. She can’t get me out of her mind, apparently. Nice try, if I were a lesbian. But there was something disconcerting about her. Gave me the creeps.”
Max held her hand. “You know where she works?”
“So, you can’t do anything there. She has made a pass at you and you’ve ignored it. You weren’t too brutal, I hope. You know what it’s like these days. Say anything about same sex relationships and you’re in for the high jump.”
“No, Max. I was understanding. I said that I was not that way inclined. She left without a by your leave. There was something in the eyes though. Like I said, deadly eyelids. If you must know it scared me a bit.”
“Well, coming into your home is a bit strong. And you didn’t know her?”
“I thought it was some business of the publisher, how wrong I was. I bumped into her at a coffee shop. She introduced herself to me.”
“She’s keeping tracks on you then, Victoria. How did she get your address?”
“Oh, that’s easy enough. From the publisher’s, I suppose.”
“What we have to do now, is let me know if she makes another move. I’ll think of something then.”
“Not violent, Max.” Vicky knew Max, he could pull a gun out at you if necessary! Well, in civilian life, he was nothing but an angel, albeit with wings that didn’t show themselves very often.
“Don’t be silly. We’ll just have to do something that will get her off your back.”
“Alright then. We’ll do that. And there’s another thing too.”
“You need to have some keys for the house. I’ll get you a spare set, Max. Can’t have you waiting around the front door. The neighbours will begin to talk.”
“What neighbours? They’re all Russians and Chinese.”
“Well, you know what I mean. Come on, we’ll get a set today. We’re going out to have some lunch on me. My treat, Max!”
“Alright, keys it is. I don’t know why I am taking a set of keys from you, but if it will make you happy, then so be it.”
“It makes me extremely happy Max, so just shut up about it.”
“Far be it from me to disturb your joyful disposition, Victoria.”
“Good, now come on then. Hurry up!” They both had a shower, got dressed and made for the door. Who said that Vicky was never in a hurry!
Later that day after they done the shopping, they made their way to Hyde Park. They walked hand in hand, Max wearing a long tweed coat and Vicky an upmarket, well it was an upmarket something or other. Two young people came up to them and said, “What a lovely couple you make. I hope that we could look like that when we get older!” There was no sarcasm in the voice. No insult. The young girl was genuinely impressed.
“And I thought no one spoke to you in London. How wrong I was. It just goes to show that there is some pleasantness knocking around. Don’t you think, Victoria?”
” I do. I’ve always known it. You don’t like London, do you?”
“Not now. There’s so much poverty around. People are so determined to get on. Another life I suppose. I have no doubt that it is great place if you’re young but for old farts like me, it is the last call of a dysfunctional world.”
“You’re not old. Enough of that, Max.”
“I feel it sometimes. Only sometimes.” They sat down on a park bench and remained silent for a while.
“What would you like to do, Max? Where would you like to go?” Vicky questioned. She was always like this when her curiosity was given a kick up the arse.
“I’ve been thinking of moving away.” Max mused.
“Not without me, you don’t.”
“There’s a decent place in Wales, Victoria. Only a thought, that is all. Peaceful and quiet. You get a chance to think. Away from this hoi polloi of city life. No one speaks Welsh either. The Welsh language is only spoken by fifteen percent of the population and they are in the north. Not that you would think it, the Welsh Assembly is on a do-gooding exercise in nationalism. Bloody twats.”
“Wales? God, you pick your places don’t you. Well, Wales is a healthy place to live, I’ll give you that, Max.”
“Just a thought, Victoria. Just a thought. I could start on another book, how would you like that?”
“Now you mention it, I was going to bring that up. Now looks as good a time as ever. In order for me to secure your anonymity, the publishers are after two more books from you.”
“I thought you had been a bit quiet on that one. Two more, is it?”
“Two more it is then.”
Vicky was taken aback at this, she thought that Max would have given her a hard time. Far from it. “You had better start writing then. As soon as!”
They got up and left the park bench. Two people embroiled in themselves and no one else could get a look in. They walked and talked, nothing else seemed to matter.
They were in love.
Arthur was in his office. Contemplating his next move. He was after a cleaning contract in new office block. Worth a bloody fortune. He had put a tender in and was waiting to hear from the management, they would take their time, they always did. He had finally decided what to do about the information he had on the Strablinski Affair, he liked calling it the Affair, God knows why.
He would leave work later that day and go around to her house. He was not excited about the business, but she had to know. She being Vicky Strablinski. How would he look standing there on her doorstep? He had taken special care with his clothing and shoes. More careful than usual. He wore a black suit and white shirt with a striped tie. His shoes were gleaming like a Guard on duty at Buckingham Palace. He looked the part. She had only seen him in a work outfit, this wouldn’t do at all, not for what he was about to tell her. Telling her? This filled him with dread. What would she do? Throw him out? Call the police? He didn’t know how she would react.
The time finally came, and he left the office. He got in the car and drove to Chelsea. He parked outside. That is a traffic warden didn’t spot him; it was seven o’ clock in the evening, so she should be in. He got out of the car and walked up to the front door. He waited for a moment, girding his loins. They had never been in such a state, even the police officers had not poleaxed him like this. He finally knocked and waited.
Vicky answered the door. She looked like a vison from Heaven, this would be ever harder.
“Oh hello. What can I do for you?” She said. “You’ve not been paid, or something have you? That bloody office of mine.”
“Well, no. It is a personal matter.”
Vicky eyed him up and down. She hoped he wasn’t another bugger trying it on. He looked serious enough though. He certainly looked smarter that when she had last seen him.
“Personal? Oh well, you had better come on in.” She led the way to a sitting room. “Would you like a drink?”
“No thank you.”
“You don’t mind if I do. Hard day at the office.” She poured herself a drink and sat down. “Please sit down, Arthur. Now what’s this personal matter that you have to discuss with me?”
He handed her the document he had been sent by the Agency. She read it and said after a long pause, “Christ on a donkey, this—–is my mother, we’re bloody siblings. Of the half-blood! Martha Strablinski, for God’s sake. A literary agent. It’s my mother…and yours. This document proves it, its black and white!”
“I think I’ll take that drink now.” Arthur said, a trifle upset. He hadn’t realised this would cause so much trauma.
“What will you have?” Vicky asked, calming down a bit now.
“A whisky, please. Neat.”
Her hands shook as she passed him a drink. She then asked, “How did you come by this information? You are adopted, going by the letter.”
“Yes, I was adopted at birth. Just curiosity really. I wanted to know who my parents really are. There’s no mention of a father, as you can see. I was brought up by decent people, right thinking, and working class and so on. I had no problems with the adoption, nothing really. My parents told me about it when I was fifteen. Had a few scrapes with the law, but nothing serious. Shop lifting and so on, that was when I was young and stupid. Now I’m successful. That’s it really. I thought about telling you, thought long and hard. And I just decided to come out with it. To you, of course.”
“There’s never a dull moment around here.” Vicky said, “And that’s a fact. There’s me just struggling to make a living selling books.” ‘Struggling’ was a bit out of bounds, she had had it all handed to her on a plate and she knew this but nerveless she worked hard. Particularly hard, it was why the literary agency was one of best in the business, both here and internationally. Vicky managed to control herself in few minutes. She was always like that. “God, I don’t believe this.”
“I’m sorry if I have upset you. That was the last thing on my mind. I just thought we could get to know each other. Find a common ground.”
“We have two very different backgrounds, but I don’t see that as a hindrance.” Vicky said.
“If you want to be certain, I could do a DNA test,” Arthur said. She looked at him and there was no doubt that they had shared their mother’s blood. They were both good looking and had the same chin and eyes. There was no mistake.
“Well, is that all you want? I mean look around you. Mother left a few bob, all to me. The furnishings in this house must be worth a fortune. There’s the business, property, stocks and shares and so on. Come on, Arthur, you’re a business man. You must be after something?”
Arthur couldn’t help but be offended by this. He hadn’t come around here to be insulted.
“No,” he said as firm as his voice would allow, “I haven’t come around here for anything. I’m a wealthy man, so you can forget anything like that. I don’t need your money!!” He got up to leave and was going for the door.
“Hold on, Arthur. I’m sorry, I really am.” Her voice too on a softer note, “I just thought you would be after something. It was crass for me be so bold like that. We are more alike than I think you realise.” She smiled at this last remark, and Arthur couldn’t help himself, but a twitch of a smile crossed his face. She was a hell of a woman. No doubt he would react in the same way. Some bugger coming around to the house claiming to be my half-brother. Nonsense. But he had the evidence.
“That old tart of a mother of mine. And she lectured me on what to wear and do. The silly old trout had a son and put him out for adoption. God knows who the father is, she was right old banger. The slapper, it doesn’t bear thinking about. You’re about five years older than me, so she must have had a ding dong before I was born. Cheeky bugger. Wrong for you and right for my mother. It’s difficult to judge these things, who knows what the circumstances were? I do feel for you, Arthur. I really do. And by the way, that speech of yours isn’t very working class. A slight hint of it, but nothing obtuse.”
“Don’t worry about it. Anyway, that’s a big word you’re using Vicky.”
“Come off it, you know exactly what I mean Arthur. Like knowing who Sir Arthur Bryant was, you won’t fool me when it comes to reading.”
“No, I wouldn’t have thought that I would. Look Vicky, I have no family now. Both my parents have died. There are no brothers or sisters. It would help if I knew there was someone on this planet who at least I am related too.”
“I can say the same thing. So then, let’s make this a meeting of minds. Let’s go to a restaurant and haver something to eat? How is that?”
“That sounds like a good idea. I’ll ring you about the restaurant, Vicky. I’m buying.”
“Do you mind if I bring someone along?”
“No, of course I don’t. I’ll bring someone as well.” And with that he went out of the front door and closed it behind him. What a way to meet a half-bother! Vicky thought what next?
Jane watched things outside Vicky’ house. She saw the man going in and coming out. He was too quick for a ‘bout of how’s your father but who knows. He looked like a business man and got into a Range Rover. What was he up to? She wondered about this and saw Vicky through the downstairs window. She was holding a drink and seemed to be deep in thought. Another man? Maybe, more competition? She cajoled the fact and was slightly bothered. Vicky would be hers, of this she had no doubt. As she watched, she fantasised about what she would do to her in a bedroom. The bodies mingling and touching. The oneness of it all. Vicky would beg her to stop, she wouldn’t, and she would just keep going on and on bringing her lover to an explosive orgasm. The job was complete, finished. Vicky would thank her for being so generous with her body. So, giving.
Jane was not aware of her insane delusions. Outside she was a gal about town but inside she was a theatre of the most dramatic characters ever described by a nonsensical maniac. She had lost it. Her parents and work colleagues know nothing about this craziness, this holding on to someone totally out of her reach. Someone who had told her no way. Common sense did not make a blind but of difference to her, it simply didn’t exist. Her mind had gone from a deliberate existence to obsession.
She’d gone fucking mad.
She stood looking at Vicky’s house. Yet another man showed up. She was busy tonight that was for certain. She hadn’t been bothered by the competition; it was all grist to the mill but she was becoming unsettled by it. Two men in a spate of a couple of minutes? She hadn’t cared much about the first man, he looked remarkably like Vicky she had to admit, but the second man? A man she knew had Vicky on a pedestal, well so she believed anyway. He was a threat, an adversary. So, he would have to go.
She watched as he entered the house, with his own keys no less. This was getting really frustrating for Jane. Her temper was beginning to flare, and no one wanted to be near Jane when this happened. Her hands gripped nothing in particular as she felt totally betrayed. She was losing it. The curtains were drawn and that told her one thing, imagination or not. They were getting down to some tawdry sex. This was too much. She left where she was standing and marched off down the road. In a tumultuous feeling of hard done by derision and total unfaithfulness. She would get back at Vicky for this. No one made a fool out of Jane.
As Jane walked away, Vicky said, “He’s my half-brother, for heaven’s sake.” Vicky said.
“You’re sure about this?” Max answered, ever so levelled.
“Of course, I’m bloody sure. Knew my mother’s name and had all the documentation with him, not to mention that fact that you can see my mother’s blood in both of us. God knows who his father is, the birth certificate didn’t mention it. That randy old sod of a mother of mine didn’t mention a thing about it. She went to her grave carrying this burden, come to think of it, it wouldn’t have been a burden to her, different times, different morals.”
“He’s a handsome devil, is he?”
“Very funny. I have got to recognise he has a certain charm about him. A true Strablinski, and the funny thing is, I accused him, quite wrongly, of being out for he what could get. He nearly marched out of the door at this. I realised my mistake when he turned around and said that he wasn’t after anything. He had got enough money and so on. He runs the commercial company that does the house cleaning for me and so on. Not so long ago, he was here. In this house, covering for somebody. I thought then that there was familiarity about him, I didn’t know then that I was looking in a mirror! I have to say, that he was decent. Honourable. Told me about his adoptive parents and so on. He’d just wanted to find out where he had come from and guess what? My mother, that’s what. I liked him, Max.”
“So, what’s happening now, Victoria. You Strablinski’s are full of secretes, aren’t you?”
“Tosh! I knew nothing about him. That mother of mine was a right crafty bugger, if you ask me. He’s ringing me. With a restaurant. You and I, all-inclusive and he’s paying. I’m looking forward to it. I have a family after all.”
“Well, that’s good news. Now, shall we go out?”
“Yes, let me get into some more comfortable shoes. These ones are killing my foot. Hang on, a second or two Where are we going?”
“Nothing fancy. A local pub.”
“Fine, I won’t be a minute, Max.”
As they walked down the road, an individual would have noticed two people in a happy reunion. They argued a lot but according to a recent psychological survey (who believes psychologists anyway?), rowing was all par for the course. Underneath the spit spat of personality there was a deep love between them. They enjoyed the toing and froing of intellectual debate. Sometimes Max won, sometimes Vicky. They delighted in the seeing how powerful their debating skills were. Who could get the one up man ship? An individual would also have noted that there was nothing unkind or horrible going on between them. They argued in a respectful way, short of the swearing and so on, but this was just the way they were. It was relationship that was full of angst and love, but they both enjoyed the love that existed between them.
As they stopped at the pub doors, Max stopped Vicky. “I haven’t told you yet, have I?”
“What?” Vicky said.
“That I love you. Well, that is fair admission, isn’t it?” His words were so matter of fact. Boring. This was nothing new to Vicky.
She let out a sigh. “I’ve known that, all along. I love you too. My heart reaches out to you every time you’re hurt, every time you suffer. Now, come on, let’s go and have that drink.”
They walked into a crushed bar and ordered some drinks. They tried to find a table but gave up. It was chaos. That was Chelsea for you. They drank up and Max said, “Come on. I’ve had enough of this. Let’s go back home. See what I mean about the rush?”
“I do, Max. I do.”
They walked out of the pub and made their way back to Vicky’s house. London, it was still full of steam and arrogance.
A woman passed by Vicky’s house. She glanced at the front door and walked on, not that her brief appraisal of the house would have meant anything. Just a passer-by, taking a curious look. Nothing untoward.
She walked on. She had booked a room at a modest hotel. Nothing outrageous or over the top. She was all modesty in spades and trumps, this was the way she played the game. A mobile call came through to her. She had given her account number and half the money had been sent, a good payer, if it had been anything less, she would not have undertaken the contract. A file had been uploaded to her phone. The target was a professional, she had heard his name on the grapevine. Turner, if that’s what his real name was.
As she walked back to her hotel. She thought about the man she had been instructed to kill. A challenge, she had to admit, not the usual target. He was not the uncanny dumbo sitting there waiting for a killing stroke. She would have to be careful and exact.
The person giving her the instructions, anonymous. Most of her callers were like this, her mobile phone was unable to extract a number. Fair enough. She walked on thinking what was the best way to fulfil her contract? Personal or impersonal? She knew that he would be constantly aware of his situation, a dangerous one. A personal attack seemed the best way, certainly in ensuring his death. She was aware of a Secret Service connection, but this was only rumour and she couldn’t count on it. Either way, he would be a different target. Her senses must be spot on.
She arrived back at the hotel and went into her room. A drab conglomerate of a person who was there one minute and gone the next. Just like her. She smiled at the fact. A beautiful smile that left men incapable of discerning what was right or wrong about her. She had built up a career on her smile. Her body was lithe and taught. Full where it matted. She stood and looked in the mirror. Her face was a thing of passion, untold capacity for the wanton will of men.
Yes, she knew which way she would kill him. A thread of certainty and unmistaken death. It was the only way.
The Italian restaurant was not the usual game of Italian opera and crispy decoration. It was somehow different. Vivaldi’s violin concerto met them at the door, it was a pleasant piece of music, but Vicky did not want to be reminded of Venice, not at the moment anyway. They saw the two people that were meant to meet. Arthur and a woman who was highly attractive. Long black hair and a face that men would die for—–well, if they could get their hands on her anyway.
The woman got up first out her seat, funnily enough. “Hello, I’m Janice. The ex-wife of Arthur here, who can’t keep his cock in his pants whenever there is a woman about. So, look out, Vicky isn’t it?” There was smile on her face, as Arthur lifted up his eyebrows, he had been expecting this.
“Hello.” Arthur said. “Ignore her, she just getting her oar in while she can.” Janice sat down and grinned at Arthur. “Now then, who is this gentleman with you, might as well get the intros out the way.”
Vicky felt this was going to be a fine old rummage through the past. There was no animosity between the two people facing them. No insult. It was just them. She smiled. “This is Max, my——partner.”
“Good. Now that’s out of the way, we’ll order some grub.” Arthur said. He didn’t do what everyone else does. ‘What do you do?’ etc This irritated Max no end. People had no imagination, did they? On second thoughts, if only they knew!
The evening went well. The food was good, and the conversation titillated and was funny. Max and Vicky enjoyed themselves, so did Arthur and Janice. They found out about each other, what they did and where they hoped to go. Janice was in love with Arthur, they could see that. Divorce was only as long as it lasted. Max, the Civil Servant, let everyone crush him. Civil Servants were not everyone’s cup of tea! He kept a brave face on it all. Governments should do this and that. He was used to it. Vicky was used to a life of books, this intrigued Arthur who was remarkably well read for a man who cleaned, and Janice was trying to get a business on the road by designing houses, the interior not exterior.
“So, then Vicky, what’s it like dealing with all these manuscripts then?” Arthur was intrigued. Not many people knew about the agents’ job, what they did.
“That’s a hard one to answer,’ she paused thinking about it.” We don’t take a on lot of manuscripts, like a lot of agents do. We only look at referrals, that is manuscripts that come from someone we know. They have a look see before we get any eyes on it. Some we take on, some we don’t. Its particularly hard for a new writer. There are not many of us, even less when you consider that we only take referrals. If we decide to take someone on, then we try our very best get the book a publisher. Sometimes it can take years. We have contacts all over the world. America and so on. It’s a tough game, believe you me.”
“So, it’s a hard task getting an agent.”
“It is,” Vicky said, “but luck plays a part in it. You can get an agent on your first try and hopefully success will follow. J K Rowling made a huge amount of submissions on her Harry Potter book, but no go. Then one agent spotted her book and she’s had enormous success. And good for her. But it is difficult. Normally it takes a writer going through the list of Literary Agents. For our agency, we don’t get into this area, we stick with people we know. Sometimes a good book doesn’t get a look in, but I say to all writers keep trying if the work will sell. You will get there in the end.”
There was no mention of Max’s book. It was the deal they had and Vicky had kept to it. As they walked out to hail a taxi, the woman watched them. This Turner was a sturdy man, no doubt about it. For his age he looked in fine fettle. Her action needed to be certain, no near misses. She watched them get into a taxi, going home no less.
She walked on, seeing him had raised her expectations. She needed to be precise. Her method needed to be a measure of absolute killing.
Tim Hawkins went about his business in the normal way. Giving orders, he didn’t wonder if they were carried out, he knew they would be, such is being the master of all he surveyed. He sat back in his leather chair and looked around him. Bookshelves containing the great works of humanity and solid wood surrounded him, he felt comfortable in this haven of ancient splendour. He moved to pick up his cup of coffee, at least there were no coffee house illusions to grandeur to put him off drinking it.
He sighed to himself. What was he going to do with Max Maxwell? Agents, albeit retired ones, always gave him problems. Max had refused the job he had been given, all is fair in love and war, he supposed. War being the operative word. Now though, there were people trying to kill him. What next, he thought. He had been one of his best agents, not only in the killing but in everything else too.
He got up from is chair, this took a degree of effort, but it was of no importance to him. He was fat, but he couldn’t care less. The television and newspapers could go to hell and back. He walked over to a window, he didn’t look out, what people did in the great unknown was a burden to him. They did as they pleased but some of them were a risk. A risk of explosive mentality. He pondered this for a moment and then went back to his chair. He was seated behind a desk that full of clutter. He liked clutter, it made him looks as if he was busy. Well, he was really but he could take a couple of minutes to think about things. He wondered what to do about Max. His brain went into overdrive, he would have to do a little more exploring, find out the facts. It was a Wednesday. At eight o’clock he had to be another residence. Time for a little bit of diversion, of a perverted nature. He liked his women to be thin, there was more one could do with them. Violence was the name of the game, a cool thrashing was his raison d’etre. Of him it must be said, and a few masks into the bargain. The young and the old, thin and fat. He could take in the odd orgy, he liked watching other people at play. It exhilarated him, made him feel alive, he would even have the odd boy, young and fresh, more handy with the whip than the girls. Something to do with the change of sex he supposed. There was a difference in the boys, they acted on his mountain of flesh with a certain determination, or exactitude and they seemed to be more pliable. Young boys were the best he had to conclude, they know what he liked, something to do with them having the same male appendage he supposed. They never stopped pulling on their dicks, or giving it a good polish. He could recognise other participants, politicians’, men of wealth etc. The Madam or keeper of a whore house knew how to keep a secrecy at a premium. The human condition, it was such a bloody mess. He looked around his study then made for the door. He walked along the pavement and a cyclist nearly ploughed into him. “Fucking fat bastard!” the cyclist yelled as he ducked and dived passed the fat man. Must be a football hooligan. An abuse of civilisation again. Riding a bike? Well, it took all sorts. Tim Hawkins was used too such insults; it didn’t bother him. He loved his over- extended weight, sod the football fascist or whatever he was. How things had changed, albeit this didn’t include his enthusiasm for sexual perversion.
Whist Tim concentrated on Max’s position and other matters, Arthur and Janice were at her home – well, it was his home, but he didn’t make an issue about it. They were getting on quite well, surprisingly enough.
Once they had disposed of the boys and no problems for once, Janice asked, “What did you think of the other night? I thought it went well.”
“I agree with you. Nothing like finding out what a literary agent actually does. Its one of those strange professions that only writers and agents actually know about.”
“Well, we do now.” Janice said.
“Indeed, we do.” There was a pause in the conversation, as if Janice was waiting for the right moment.
“Look, Arthur, there’s something I need to ask you.”
Look out, it always comes down to money, Arthur thought.
“You know, that there is this designing work I’ve been doing. For relatives and such like. Well, I’d like to expand. Employ a few people and go out there and see what I can do. Look at this kitchen for instance? I have a talent and I’m sure of it. The thing is, I need some money. Not maintenance or anything. Some real money. I know you’re going to do a ballistic but there it is.” For a while, there was silence, complete and utter silence. Janice was waiting for the bomb to go off.
“You have no qualifications. Nothing.” Arthur said quietly. No tirade of abuse or anything. “Having said that, I can see you have a talent for this kind of thing. So, how much?”
Janice nearly fell on the floor at this. He was not going berserk or anything. “I will need to check my figures, but I can’t say ‘how much’ at the moment. It will be thousands anyway, Arthur.”
“Let me know and I’ll credit your account with the money.”
“God, are you feeling alight?”
“Fine, Janice. Just fine.”
“Well, fuck me. I thought I would be in for a battle on this. I’ll pay you back.”
“No, as you say you have a talent. I’m taking a risk but then all of life is a risk. Now there is something I want in return, Janice,”
Oh, here we go, Arthur was trying to get something in return. Typical business man.
“And what’s that?”
“Well, we just try and see each other more often Janice. I still feel for you, you know.”
“I—–er—-I just don’t know about that. I’ll have to think about it. We are divorced you know.”
“I know and actually the money is not dependent on it, Janice. I might have said this, but the money is not the issue. I should watch my mouth again.”
“I will think about it, that’s all I’m saying. Now, how much I’ll let you know in a couple of days’ time. I have a lot to think about.”
“Right then, I’ll leave you to it Janice. I’ll go now but have a think about what I’ve said. No conditions, I promise you.”
“Alright, Arthur and thank you for being so good about it all.”
“No trouble.” And with that he was gone. Oh God, he was a bastard, she thought as went out from the door!
As he drove back to the office he thought about love. All its complications and trials. She had supported him throughout his business career. She had been there, always. He still loved her, and he couldn’t away from the fact. He had tried to get back with her, but it was all dependent on how much she was capable of forgiving. In the end it all came down to his pants, why didn’t he keep them on for God’s sake. Bloody fool! Like most men, he allowed his dick to rule his head and bugger the consequences.
“I’m getting fed up with the city life. And the people, they spend their lives being trying to be someone they’re not. It’s a pitiful existence.” Max said.
“And what do you want to do about it?” Vicky said, knowing the answer. She had been listening to Max. What he said, what he did.
“I want to leave it.” He said in a voice that meant business.
“Well, that will be bit difficult for me. The Agency and everything. Although I see your point. I have been thinking about living somewhere quieter myself.” Vicky agreed with him.
“How about that village in Wales? You can do most of your work on the internet, speak personally if you like. Or just stay in Wales for the weekend or longer, and pop over to London when you want to.”
“God Max, you make it all sound so simple, don’t you? Wales appeals but this sort of thing needs to be sorted out. There’s the language too consider.”
“Balls to the yuck y yuck tongue. Good luck to a minority who want to speak it, but the vast majority speak English. All this Welsh Nationalism, post devolution I may add, is all a minority nonsense. I get on perfectly well there and I don’t speak a word of Welsh. It’s all the North Wales merchants that are the extremists and I’m not suggesting that we go there.”
“Well you say that, but the Welsh government is pushing on Wales being bi-lingual, Max. One third of the population by 2050.”
“It will never work, and that’s it, Victoria. English is the main language of Wales, not Welsh. Anyway, three million people which is the population of Wales, you must be kidding me. And the Welsh government? It’s populated by a load of councillors, its nothing. And you know what councillors are like. Wales needs to open its borders. Get into the global economic zone. Fast. Its lagging behind the rest of Europe, and this includes England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Lava bread and cockles, that all it’s got. And Carwyn Jones, the ex-leader of the Labour ruling class at the Welsh Assembly, is dressed in Druid blue costumes at a festival for the Welsh arts. Where they get the Welsh arts from is a mystery to me.” Max grinned at this. “Therefore, I am against devolution. It’s a license for nationalism.”
“Alight then, Max. Take me there for a weekend then. And I’ll see what it is like.”
“Fine. We’ll go this weekend then. How about that, Victoria?”
“That’s sound fine. You book it.”
“I’ll get on to it right away.”
And as with Max, everything was done in a flash. Typical. Grass would never have a chance of growing under his feet when he was around.
On the Friday, they were going to the village that Max had been going on about. They had hired a car which made the journey far easier. None of the changing and inconvenience of a train. They arrived at the hotel in quick order – unusual for Wales, Max had to admit! He had booked the same room with its usual comfort. A four-poster bed and all the trimmings.
“God, this is a bit much for Wales, isn’t it?” Vicky said, with a look of excitement on her face. I don’t much about the place, but this is a good start.”
“We English are really rather ignorant about Wales. The wildlife, the good hotels and walks that would blow your mind. Now I thought we would go to Builth Wells, I’m not going to say much about it, you can see for yourself. By the way, the ‘Wells’ bit, it was a spa town. Lots of history to go with it. Come on then, let’s leave for Builth”
Vicky followed him out of the hotel and into the car. They were about eight miles from the ‘town’ that they were going to. When they arrived, Vicky was impressed. The car park overlooked the River Wye, there was a bridge stretching over it. Its history was militarily and economically important for centuries. The ancient Lords fighting over it added a certain mystique to its modern bricks and mortar. The River Wye flowed in an inexorable beauty through the weeds and old- time players of history. It was a place that took your breath away. Vicky just stopped in her tracks to look at it and feel the history of it all.
“Elystan Glodrydd ruled the place in times gone by, most of the local gentry claim to be descended from him. He was at war with the Kingdom of Powys, for most of his time.” Max said this with a look of disappointment. War, it never stopped, did it. “Now though you have the Royal Welsh Show here. A fine conglomerate of farming showmanship! There’s a castle here but only the earthworks remain, built by Longshanks of all people.”
“There’s oodles of history here, and that river. It is so magnificent in its twists and turns, its flow and look over there, there is a fly fisherman.” Vicky pointed at a lonely man, in a stretch of shallow water, casting a salmon fly. He lived in hope and expectation. The salmon might just be crafty enough to dive below his yellow fly, hope distinguished yet again. But he would go on, living the dream.
They walked up a small hill and onto the main street. All the old shops had gone, Max remembered a WHSmith at one time. His father had bought him a history book then, thus began a journey into the past that had never left him. The old bastard could have some uses he thought. The past, it was a happy time, until drink had ruined all that. He remembered his father, who had liked Mid-Wales, he had even bought a cottage there. Lying on his death bed in hospital, his last words were, “There is a bar over there, get me a large whisky, will you?” Tragic and unstintingly a last call for imminent inebriation. Well, that was the way to go, Max thought. Even in death, the booze never gave up.
They both stopped at a pub for some light refreshment. They bought some drinks and ordered something to eat. The staff were kind and welcoming. This was the true Wales for you. Smiles all round.
The modern sandwiches arrived. Lumps of bread, crisps, salad and ham and cheese that wold keep an army on the move. The filling spilled out onto the plate and a knife and fork were used to pick up the pieces. Some sandwich, it was a meal in itself.
“Like the sandwich, do you?” Max asked, with a tinge of humour in his voice.
“I’ll not eat all of it, that’s for certain.” Vicky replied, as she tried to get her mouth around some of her bread.
“What do you think of Builth Wells?”
“What can I say?” Vicky replied.” Its lovely and the hotel. History, the river. I can tell you like it.”
“What about burying a cottage here?” Max asked.
“Its not so good for travelling back and fore London, is it? But as a holiday base, I’m all for it. I need to get away from London. My chest is feeling it. The air pollution and so on.”
“Ok then, we’ll think about it. We’ll go back to the hotel after this. Have a shower and get ready for dinner.”
“And nothing else?” She asked.
“Well, we could explore the intimate parts of our bodies, I suppose.” Max smiled. “If that is your wish?”
“God, let’s eat up and get going. I’m feeling randy again, why don’t we stop off at a layby or something, I’ve got a thing about doing it out in the open.”
“Whatever is your wish, madam. My cock will stand to attention. No questions asked.”
“Right then, eat up and let’s go and have an open-ended shag. That’s a crude way of saying it, but what the hell, Max!”
They eventually got to the hotel, a slight meandering off the main road for a bit of rumpy pumpy and all was well. They showered and got dressed for evening dinner.
Vicky was wearing a backless green evening gown and a matching shawl. She looked an absolute delight. Hell, what had he done to deserve this, Max thought? She was an abomination to all male eyes that looked at her. He was dressed in a dinner suit and looked the part. They were two manifest examples of what life should be – elegant and yet with a shaving of the impossible.
If only people knew the half of it.
The woman hated driving on the left-hand side of the road but then when in Rome etc She didn’t give a damn about Rome but there we are. She was not a British national. She had come from a part of France that was rural, thus her contempt for the general surroundings. She bought a camper van and found somewhere secluded to park it. The track looked unused, no tyre marks. She drove her van into a wooded copse and turned the engine off. It was easy to follow her target. Technology could do incredible things these days.
She went into the back and reached for a pair of binoculars. These would do. She then got out of the van and then made her way to the hotel. The flora and fauna didn’t bother her, she was used to all this be fangled chaos. It simply bored her to a tearful chaos of the mind. A mess, just waiting for a farmer’s scythe, if they used them anymore.
She pushed he branches out of the way and soon she had a perfect spot. Overlooking the hotel. She moved the binoculars from side to side. Just making sure. She sat down and waited. It was early, about five o’ clock in the morning. The dark side of night didn’t matter, the binoculars saw to that.
At about eight o’ clock a man came out of the front main doors. She looked down at the photo she held in her right hand. This was her target. He looked fit, able to look after himself. This much she had appreciated from the details she had been given. She watched him move into a jog and then he was quickly out of sight. A jogger. On his own. No inconvenient bodies to distract her.
She moved back to the camper van. Tomorrow morning would be the time of execution. She had no doubt that she would execute the plan she had in mind. Quick and fast. No comebacks. She let down her black hair, it had been tied in a bun, binoculars caused a certain intrusion into her vibrant facial features. She always kept an eye out for looking as sensational as possible. It worked in her job. Beauty always put men at a disadvantage, then she would strike. Death would come in an instantaneous moment of relief. Well, she thought so anyway.
She sat in the camper van and waited. It would be a long day. She picked up a magazine and read. Afterwards she would go out for a walk. No one would see her; of this she was certain.
She got up early the following morning and washed. She put on a light pair of jogging shorts, a tee shirt and running shoes. She looked the part. She got out of the van and made her way to the hotel. She remained out of sight; she would catch up with her target as they were both running.
Then she would kill him.
Whilst the woman mused in her camper van, Max and Vicky were on their way to Llanwrtyd Wells. It was the smallest ‘town’ in the UK. Some eight hundred and fifty inhabitants. Or so it goes anyway. It was one street and load of quaint buildings, something like a small cry off of Builth Wells. Max had wanted to go there to remind himself of his childhood days. His family had stayed at a hotel in the heart of the town, along with a solicitor and his wife from Cheshire. The solicitor had two children, about the same age as Max and his sister. So, it all worked out well.
The Neuadd Arms Hotel (try and get your tongues round that then!). Max remembered he and his friend getting up early and pinching a packet of fags from the bar. No one was around at that time in the morning. They would go off to the park and smoke themselves to death. The warnings about smoking had not reached the public eye then. Halcyon days!
They found the hotel and went in. Nothing had changed in the forty odd years, apart from the reception desk that sat in the main hallway. Max and Vicky went to sit down in the lounge bar and ordered from a menu, there was also a board with chalk on it, telling them all the delights on offer. Vicky looked around the place.
“My God, this is not the Ritz is it?” She said in a quiet voice. “The chairs are battered up, no carpet on the floor, but I have to say it’s very clean. Spick and span as they say.”
“You can certainly say that again. Never mind, what wold you like to eat?” Max replied.
“I’ll have the chicken and pasta, please Max.”
Max went up to the bar and ordered some non-alcoholic drinks. The barman and owner as Max was about to find out, was polite and well-mannered. He was English, none of the tickling Welsh humour out here then. Max was able to discern a great many English folk had come to the area. To get away for the conglomerate mess that existed in the big cities. That would do the Welsh Nationalists in, that was for certain!
Max waited for the drinks to arrive.
“Don’t bother to wait, I’ll will bring them over to you, on second thoughts, my wife will. She is a lazy sod!” He chuckled to himself and with that an attractive women appeared behind the bar.
“Oh he is off again, he is an insulting bugger, “ She said with a glint in her eye. .
The drinks arrived and the food thereafter. It was delicious.
“Something has changed after all.” Max said. “I don’t remember the grub being like this at all.”
“Oh shut up and eat, will you!”
“Hardly anyone speaks the language, not around here anyway.” Max mused. He was good at ‘musing’. “Good luck to them who do. We live in multi-racial country now. Most of the Welsh speakers are lovely people but there are some, like these Welsh extremists, are not. Welsh nationalism, give me strength.? See what I mean about devolution.”
“You get extremists wherever you go, Max. The people who are full of ideology and angst. They are a minority, a small minority.”
“Never mind about that. They just make me angry. They give the Welsh a bad name and they don’t deserve it. They are a kind people, but these bastards make them all out to be ignorant and backward. This is not true. They can get on in a world that is full of corporate nonsense. They should be given a chance, Victoria.”
“You have a point. Now, where do we go from here?” Vicky said as the last mouthful of food slipped down her throat.
“Let’s go and explore. See what the main street had to say.”
They passed a sturdy cottage on the bank of a river and decided to go in. It was friendly and all hail fellow well met. There was homemade cake and scones, and well potted tea of all descriptions. It was a fancy tea shop. Max and Vicky and ordered some tea went to sit out on a bridge that overlooked the river. It was a view that impacted the senses. They both watched and took in. It was a lovely sight. The river just twiddled the rocks and said a fond farewell, it had other things to do. It went on and on, not caring for the past or future. It had its own life, filled with objectives it had to carry out. So, cheerio and see you in another life.
“It knows how to stop one in its tracks, the river I mean. “Max said, a little belatedly, as the river passed on its merry way.
“It is moving with a certain glow; it must be said. “Vicky answered, “There is a certainty about it. It knows where it is going.”
“That’s true.” Max replied. “Well, we’ve seen the high street, if you can call it that, nothing much going on, I suppose there wouldn’t be, all farmers and people trying to find sheep and tractors so on.”
“Right, let’s eat up and go back to the hotel.” They laid into the tea and thanked the staff for all they had done. Max left a bloody great tip tucked under a saucer. Good for them, he thought as he walked out.
They went back to hotel, glad to be back. After a kindness that would have made Hitler cry – Max doubted this would happen! They passed two farmers as they walked back speaking Welsh. They both smiled at these English interlopers, but the smile was full of good cheer. Max said ‘hello’ and passed them by. Anyway, they arrived back in the swansong of money made everything possible, or so it seemed anyway.
The following morning Max went out for a run. He took his usual path, down a track and up again, not caring much about the swish of branches that kept thrashing into his body. He noticed he had a follower, woman. Where had she come from, he wondered. She soon caught up with him.
“Hello!” She just about managed to get the word out. She huffed and puffed the next few words. “Can’t keep up with you, you’re going too fast.”
Max said nothing, he was concentrating on the running. Then it clicked. The woman. Good looking and smart. The assassin. She reached around around her waist and pulled out a garotte. She threw it around Max’s neck, but he was too fast for her. He pushed his arms up and curled around in one monstrous movement. The garotte went slack for brief send or two. He pushed his knee into the woman’s groin. He held her head up, in backward slash and twisted it. Crack! The neck broke. She went limp and lifeless.
“Christ! He muttered to himself. He pushed the body into the undergrowth and made his way back to the hotel. Before he did so he rang Tim, he always kept his mobile on him. For just such an incident. He never left anything to chance.
“Someone is at it, again. I’ve killed a woman, who tried to put me out of action, permanently. A garotte. There’s only one person I know who uses this method and she’s lying in the undergrowth now. Dead. I recognised her, a beautiful woman, with a dark past.”
“I take it she didn’t complete her contract, then?” Tim asked, in that usual way of his. Anyone would think Max had rang him up to ask him if he would like to come over for some tea and cakes.
“No, why do you think I’m ringing you then?”
“Alight then, I apologise. Just a slip of the tongue. Now, leave everything to me. We’ll get on to the police and sort them out. The body will be discovered in due course, I have no doubt about that. Now, get out from the hotel you’re staying at. I’ll ring as soon as I have anything, Max. This has got to stop, now. This is ridiculous. I’ll find out, so God help me. You must vanish, for a short time. Now, where are you?”
“At a hotel in mid-Wales.” Max gave the directions and the place of the body. “Into hiding—again. And where do we go?”
“The safe house in Birmingham, no arguments this time. You know where it is.” With that he ended the call. He disliked speaking to Tim on the most important matters. The supercilious bastard.
He went back to the hotel, bracing himself for a downfall of abuse from Victoria. This was not going to be easy. She was sitting on the veranda, drinking a glass of coke. Looking all pretty and at peace with the world.
“You look as if you have been a right mess, fall or something did you?” She was right on the mark. Falling was a good guess.
“Not quite, Victoria. Come on, we have to go. We have to get out of here quickly.”
” Go? What are you talking about?”
“Look, someone s had just tried to kill me. No arguments. Pack your bags and let’s go.”
Vicky got up and didn’t say a word. She followed Max up to the room and packed. They left the hotel in a hurry. Taking the car in a direction that she nothing about. It was all hell bent for leather. As they were driving, she asked, “What exactly happened?”
“Someone just tried to kill me with a garotte. A metal one at that. A woman.” Vicky was in a state of calm deliberation. She had been here before. She paused for a moment.
“Is she dead, Max?”
“The Secret Service will see to the police and so on.”
“That’s another body.” Vicky said. “Intent on killing you. When will it end?”
“I don’t know, Victoria. I just don’t know.” As he said these words tears just rushed down her face.
“Oh God, Max. I just want this to stop.”
“So do I.”
They made their way to Birmingham and finally found the house that Tim had mentioned. Vicky remained in the car. A man answered. He was of middle height and looked as if he could look after himself. He was about Max’s age. He smiled on seeing Max and asked him in.
“I’ve got a woman in the car, can she come in?” Max asked.
“Certainly. Bring her in.” Max called Vicky in. She came up to the door. “Come in, both of you.” The house was old in that used type of way. It was on the outskirts of Birmingham, in the more salubrious part. The rooms were big, too big for a man living on his own. There was something odd about him.
“Now, I’m Cyril. What’s this all about? Tim has given me the brief details.”
Max went into a brief amount of detail. Not too much. He didn’t trust anyone now. Least of all the Secret Service. Hopefully not too long. Tim seemed to be going off his top, over all this.”
The man had a bald patch, intentional Vicky assumed, and a long nose. She said, “Look, I’ve got to get in touch with my office. Is there a phone here?”
“Yes,” Cyril answered, “but your call will be monitored, so don’t I repeat don’t, give anything way. Where you are, what you are doing. I’ll be listening on another phone, operating procedures and so on.”
Vicky picked up a phone and made her call. Cyril was listening on another phone. She gave her instructions to Jamil and that was it, no mention of when she would be back in the office. No hint of where they were or what they were doing. She was getting quite good at this.
“Right,” Cyril said. “Very good. Now, we’ll just to sit and wait to see what Tim comes up with. Anybody fancy a game of Monopoly?”
Nearly two days went by and then the phone rang. Max picked it up.
“Max, my boy. You can now go on to enjoy a gentle retirement. We have discovered who is trying to kill you. A partner of that man you terminated on that last operation. He’s been killed now. Motive? Revenge. He was not put out by the money he lost, that was a small consideration but raw revenge. You were spotted by two men, not far away from the villa. They had a good look at you. You had got out of the car to stretch your legs or something. You know what these high-flying drugs dealers are like. Nothing is beyond them. And Mexico is rife with do-gooding compatriots. So, there you have it.”
“And how did he know where to find me?” Max asked.
“Ah that is a matter under review. A breakdown in communications I assume. They breached our security. I know you thought that it was only you and me where operations were concerned but I did make notes. It’s all a right mess, but not one that we can’t sort out. You’re trolling around London and elsewhere makes it possible; technology makes all things permissible there days, I can only have my suspicions. Breaking into our security is something else though, I have to admit.”
“Admission? Christ, it nearly cost me my life!”
“Now, now Max. Don’t get all worked up about it. You’re safe to leave the house now. So, get on with it and have a good life. Cheerio.” And the phone went dead. Vicky heard all the conversation. She had picked up the other phone.
“Come on, Vicky. It’s time to go. The coast is clear. No more threats.”
“You called me ‘Vicky’; things are looking up Max!” He smiled at her, and nearly cut her to pieces. They went to the car and drove off, in the London direction.
“By the way, I’ll have to see to getting the car back.” Max said.
“All is going well now, then.” Vicky said. “I heard the conversation on the other phone.”
“Bloody hell, you are getting good at this, aren’t you?”
“Trained by the best, I’ll have you know Max! Anyway, I’ll have to see about this book of yours. Its due to be published, so I’ll have my work cut out from here on in.”
Whilst the two drove back to London, Arthur was contemplating the fifty thousand pounds. That’s all she wanted to start her off. Fifty thousand pounds. Arthur did not like getting these emails begging him for money –on principle, but it was his ex-wife so he couldn’t complain. Actually, the money was too small, in considering the costs she had worked out in an email sent to him. Employment, computers and so on. He would have to go around and sort her out. Most likely she would sort him out, the truth be known.
He got in his car and made his way to the house. He went up the drive and got out of the driver’s seat. Hang on here, going in as mad as hell wouldn’t work. He was not mad anyway; it was just that he had to fork out the money. He had not thought about it at all until now, more fool him. He knocked on the double oak doors and waited. He stepped back and looked at the house. It was a big brute, he had to admit. No mock Tudor beams and no pillars. They made him want to cringe. It was his wife who had designed it all. Made a good job of it too. Inside, was all an exercise of delicacy. The rooms seemed to move into one. It was a master stroke of design genius. Bloody Janice!
She came to the door and opened it.
“You got my email, then.” No ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ Typical.
“Yes, but it’s too small.” Arthur said.
“I repeat, Janice. Its too small.
“Don’t be stupid, Arthur. Come into the study or should I say your study?” She went along the hallway and into what had once been Arthur’s place of work. It was immaculate. “Sit down. No doubt you want some details and so on.”
“Only how much you are considering giving out on wages? You will work from the house for now. I thought I may be able to help you on this, Janice. You have to have a three-year plan. The banks will demand it and there are taxes etc.”
“Who said anything about the banks?”
“If you do well, borrow the money, Janice. Don’t gamble on your own wealth. Set up a company. I’ll give you two hundred thousand pounds to start with and there’s a condition. I have to a partner. A sleeping one, but nevertheless a partner.” He was waiting for the anger, but it didn’t come.
Janice sat back and did a little thinking. Arthur was well placed to be a sleeping partner. He knew all about business, the ins and outs of financing.
“Alright, you become sleeping partner and I’ll let you in on doing a business plan. You know a bloody sight more than I do.”
“Very well. I’ll do it. Now, what about you and me?”
“Arthur, I said I’m still thinking about it.”
“Look, forgiveness is an easy thing. I don’t expect you to forget, at least not now. Forgive Janice, that all I ask.”
She went quiet. All in to herself. She didn’t say a word. Eventually she spoke. “There’s the children and all the other things.”
“Well, they will come around soon enough. I have no worries there. Janice, I’m only asking that we try again, There, that’s out then. We can make it work.”
“Can we? Make it work, Arthur? I just don’t know.”
“Oh Christ Janice, I’ll be dead by the time you make up your mind. I’m off now, to do this business plan. Goodbye.” And with that Arthur just went out of the house. Bloody woman, she couldn’t make her mind if her arse was on fire. Business yes, but anything else was for the birds.
He drove from the house in a bad mood. What was wrong with her? He knew that she still loved him, she had shown that in the kitchen the other day. She just couldn’t forgive, not without a rant of his betrayal. He loved her and he wouldn’t give up. He would keep on trying, until she at least gave in. He didn’t know who was the stronger of the two, she could be a right cow when she wanted to be. Like all women he supposed.
He got back to the office and didn’t say a word to Zoe. He just walked straight into his room, sat down and turned on the computer. He would work the frustration off. A business plan for Janice. Dear God, he wondered if he was going off his trolley now! The woman got him working even though she could be right bitch!
This was money he could afford, damn him. She had better be grateful and sooth his tirade of misery. Fat chance of that, he thought.
Arthur had walked out of the house in a temper. Well, it wasn’t quite a temper, but he was rattled all the same. Janice sat in the study and smiled to herself. He would learn that dipping his wick into other women would not work with her. She loved him. It had taken her a bit of time to be sure of this. He made her feel so horny, just looking at him. He would learn, the hard way. She wasn’t a woman who gave in easily. He would have to fight; fight for all he was worth. The bastard, just because he had made a success in the business world, he thought he could do anything, well, this wasn’t quite right, he could do anything with women full stop. Janice would put a deliberate stop to this, right now. She knew he loved her and this was what she played on. Men were such idiots.
All of them.
On this thought she got up and went upstairs, for now the Rabbit would have to do. Seeing Arthur had made her feel all sensitive to his touch. In her imagination anyway. She slipped out of her trousers and knickers and the vibrator did the rest. It was good but not as good as Arthur. He was sexy bastard for all that.
Max and Vicky dropped the car off at the rental place and then made their way back to the house in Chelsea. It was a familiar sight, the Chinese carpets, the ornaments and the flashing pictures. It was home. Max was as familiar with the house as Vicky was, it was strange that he fitted in so well.
“So, what happens now Max?”
“As far as I know, we are all back to normal. Nobody trying to kill me. The dogs are off, as it were.”
“That’s something then. All this drama is nearly killing me too. On the run. Safe houses. It never stops. Now at least, the pressure is off. Thank God!”
“Vicky, come here.”
He took her face in his hands and kissed her. “Thank you,” It was the simplest of words but meant so much. “I’ve got to go now. Back to my flat. Check that everything is alright, Vicky. I’ll see you later.”
When he was gone, Vicky sat down and thought about the events that had taken place since he had first walked into her office. It was dangerous and yet exciting. Would she go through with it again? She didn’t know. Death was such a complete ending. She had thought about the deathly syndrome time and time again, but she could not come to any conclusions, apart from the final act of mental contrition. That’s if she had time to dwell on it and with Max this couldn’t be guaranteed. Her personality welcomed the exquisite hell-bent nature of it all, but at the same time it had frightened her. She put these fears aside as something else occurred to her. She had not taken the pill for few months. She had told Max and he was careful but there was one incident when lust had taken over from common sense. She was late for her period. This was not good.
She got up and rang the office, giving certain instructions, she would be in later, first she had to do something. A trip to the chemist was called for.
Max arrived back at his flat. He checked he kitchen, pots had not been moved, he had stuck a couple of hair strands underneath them just to be sure. The cupboards had not been touched either. He looked around his siting room and nothing had been moved. For the first time he felt relaxed. At ease with himself.
He went to the laptop and stared to write. The past events made this an easy task. He didn’t rush not did he be incautious with the facts – he had to change the names and places of everything, but this didn’t demand too much of a mental mish mash. He found it all so o easy, he couldn’t understand why writers felt a need to express the dark side of writers’ block. They had run out of ideas to write about, as far as he was concerned. He written four thousand words, and this was enough, for the first day anyway. He read out what he had written and liked it. He would make a good writer, he decided. Well, if the reader liked it anyway. At the moment what could he say. His first book might hit the tracks in an ignominious way for all he knew.
He got up and put on his coat. Time for Vicky’s. He didn’t know why he had changed her name from Victoria. Everything came down to guesswork, including his writing. He went out his front door and made his way to Chelsea. Another trip down memory lane, with all its wham bang of London in its wake.
He arrived at the front door and let himself in. There was no one about, Vicky must have gone to the office. He went into the kitchen and made himself a cup of coffee. He then went into the sitting room and looked through her collection of CDs’. He picked one out and put it on. Benny Goodman’s ‘I thought about you.’ They had the same taste in music, he mused. The shattering trumpets and clarinets jumped through the room and turned it into a space of self-awareness and satisfaction. It was all a blissful and triumphant sense of well-being. Just the way Max felt at the moment. He was humming to the tune just as Vicky walked in.
“Benny Goodman, is it? I like him.”
“He is just what we need!” Max said, as he broke into song.
“Jesus Christ, you can sing as well! I mean it” She listened, and it was fantastic. He jumped around the sitting room like Fred Astaire doing a gymnastic performance. She couldn’t believe it. “Well, well, well Max, your full of surprises, aren’t you?”
He stopped to catch his breath.” I can’t do what I used to do. Age or whatever you want call it.” He grinned this time. That grin, it almost made her want to blush. He sat down next to her. “How has your day been?”
“Fine, Max. Everything is under control, including your book. We’ll get a publication date before long. I’ve had all the arguments with the publishers and so on. It just a question of waiting now.”
“I try but I have never had an author like you, that’s for certain.”
“Maybe you can explain that upstairs.”
He took her hand and led her up the stairs. Stopping hallway to kiss her. It was a moment like no other. She felt virginal, as if it was for the first time. She had something to tell Max, after the wrapping around of bodies and the exchange sexual juices. God, they went at it. He was digging wherever he could, she screaming encouragement, it was all an exercise in sheer sexual play. Eventually they lay back in each other’s arms, exhausted.
“Dear God, that was a performance, wasn’t it?” Vicky said, all out of breath and thoroughly satisfied.
“Well, that made the birds sing, sure enough!” Max laughed, in between breaths.
“There’s something I want to say to you, Max.”
He was already starting to fall asleep. “What—-what’s that, Vicky?”
“I’m pregnant.” There was silence for a brief moment. The world had just crashed into unspeakable feelings of joy. He turned around and looked at her.
“Your pregnant?” He said, “Are you sure?”
“As pregnant as I’ll ever be. I’m a bit old, but it must have been that time when we got above ourselves, and there it is. I’m pregnant. I’ve done two tests, just to be certain.”
He took her face in his hands. There was a love, a belief in what she was saying.
“Isn’t that a turn up for the books, You’re pregnant.” He grinned. “I’m going to be a father.”
“Yes, you are Max.”
“Come on, let’s get at again. Just to be certain.” He confirmed all her doubts and they went at it like two bulls in a china shop, well Vicky wasn’t a bull, but you get my drift – just to be certain. Sex played a funny part in all these proceedings, didn’t it just.
In the morning, they both got up and their relationship had taken on a different tone. There was a love that they both knew was there. They both attracted each other in a different way. The female was more pronounced, the male had given his all. They were two people in love and the world could go and sing. They both felt complete and certain, in a funny kind of way. They had both reached a point that there could be no argument about. A baby was on its way, a bundle of expression and life. The end game was a trial that they both enjoyed. A trial with all its complications and all its scrumptious endings. The most important thing lay in the fact that they were together. They would fight together, and they would make up together. It was all as it should be.
Vicky went to her office and Max went home to write. He knew what he going to do scribble out a few lines written down on a piece of paper confirmed that. He found writing easy, he had so much in his brain to write about. Experiences and the such like. He wasn’t a genius with a pen, not that he used one these days. All hail the honest computer. A genius was someone who took a paintbrush and slapped a red line down a wall. It was all bollocks to him. Genius, God help us. He appreciated fine art and all the modern crap could go and take a hike. Rubbish and more rubbish. The people who paid for this crap must have too much money, that’s all he could say.
He started to write and went into his own world. A world of fiction based on fact; it wasn’t a case of fact being stranger that fiction. It was how it was, in a bizarre sort of way. He scratched his head for a few moments and then began. Fifteen to two thousand words a day – well, it wasn’t a day, more a morning. He would have it finished in a few months, all things being equal.
Vicky arrived home at seven o’clock. She was tired after a long day at the office. Staff playing hell and authors getting upset that their books had not demolished the ‘Bestselling’ lists. All works of unmitigated literary propensity, so they claimed anyway. All an average day, then.
She went into her kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. A Cabernet Sauvignon. She took three gulps of it and sat down. Nothing like a hit of alcohol to put her right on track. She was about to make some food for herself and Max when the doorbell rang. It was an unusual time for a visitor, it must be Max, who had forgotten his key or something.
She went to the door and opened it. Jane barged passed her and went into the kitchen. Oh Christ! Jane Davis. What was she going to do? She followed her into the kitchen.
“What do you think you are doing here?” Vicky asked, her voice was full of anger.
“You will love me or no one else.” Jane answered. Vicky could see the madness that was in her eyes. The deadly eyelids again. She paused before saying anything. This situation demanded some tact. She immediately cooled down. “Now, what do want?”
“I’m not a lesbian, Jane.”
“It doesn’t matter. You soon will be, after I have made your body ache for mine.”
“Look, why don’t you have a drink and we’ll talk about this?” Vicky replied as calmly as she could.
“No. No drink. Can’t you see that I’m I love with you?” Jane had that determined stare that Vicky had encountered once before.
“I know you feel that way Jane and I’m sorry but there is a man in my life, whom I love very dearly.”
“Love? What can you say about love? You know nothing of it.” Jane was getting into a state now. She grabbed a knife from the knife rack. She went up to Vicky in a flash and gripped by the throat. “Love? That bastard you have been sleeping with. He’s a man, for God’s sake!” Vicky could feel the blade cutting into her neck. Oh fuck, not now, with the baby and Max. Not now!
Just at the moment she felt the blade biting, she heard the front door being opened. It was Max. He came into the kitchen and just stopped.
“Hers’s your man Vicky, the bastard. Let’s see what he is going to do now. Don’t move, you shit.” Jane was in a state of insane madness. She was bloody well off her top.
“Well, if you are going cut Vicky’s throat,” Max said, “I suggest you use one of the bigger knives. Far more effective.”
“You what?” Jane said. “He’s a good man, another knife.” She turned to the knife rack. In that split-second Max moved. He gripped her arm holding the knife and broke it. Snap! And it was all over.
“You had better call an ambulance, Vicky. We shall have some explaining to do. The silly woman. An amateur of the first order, she should never have glanced at the knife rack. Go on, phone an ambulance and I’ll call the police later. Tim is no good in this situation.” Vicky went off to the phone. She was still in shock and Max, he hadn’t broken even into a sweat, the bastard. Max picked Jane off the floor, she was moaning and gripping her arm.
“Not to worry, a broken arm won’t take long to heal.” Max said and nearly added your brain will take much longer but thought better of it. Now was not the time.
After all the authorities had been dealt with and Vicky and Max were cleared of all charges, Jane ended up in an institution for mental health. She would be there for a long time. Vicky felt saddened by it all but there was nothing she could do. As they walked from the police station she remarked, “You didn’t even get angry over the woman. Why is that? I was nearly falling apart.”
“All in a day’s work, Vicky. Nothing to worry about. More to the point are you alright, what with the baby and everything.”
“I’m fine, now.” And they walked on, Vicky knew there was no point in asking anymore questions about his past misdemeanours, if you could call it that. “And there’s another thing, have you thought about marriage, to me that is?”
“No.” Max made a curt reply.
“Well, I’m going to arrange it then.” Vicky said, there was no argument in her voice.
“Carry on then. I’ll look forward to it.” There was that inimitable smile again. God, what would she do without it! “A quiet one would be appreciated,” he added.
“A quiet one?” Vicky asked.
“Its about two people coming together, isn’t it? Commitment and all that. We’re not going into all that crap of gowns, off the peg tailored suits and a dinner that suits everybody, are we?”
Vicky looked at him. Sod it, he could be a trying bastard when he wanted to be. “No, I agree with you. Its about commitment. So then, it’s a Register Office and two witnesses. Happy days then.”
“I’m glad you agree.” Max said as if he had won on the day. Not so, as far as Vicky was concerned. She would arrange things as she intended and bugger Max. He could be so miserable when he wanted to be. It’s the highlight of their relationship for God’s sake. A bit soon she had to admit, but what the hell. Better to be too soon than too late. There was baby on the way, so he could shut up, the bugger.
“I’ll see to it then. Leave everything to me.” She concluded. She would have to get things done and Max wouldn’t know a thing about it. All’s well that ends well. If he thinks he was going to win this time, he could forget it.
Max walked on, marriage. He had only thought of it once. That was a long time ago. He was getting on now, he had held off for too long. Children, being with someone. It all sounded as if it would fit, somehow. The time was now, with Vicky and all her hang ups, well he couldn’t say too much about this, he had plenty of them too. They went well together, arguing and crooning and letting everything go to a state of complete breakdown. He smiled at this. It was just the way they were. Together, in an eternal wish wash of argument and love. This was fine with him. There was something else that was bothering him.
“Vicky, where are we going to live? Hopping between our homes isn’t right, is it?”
“No. It’s becoming a bit tiresome. What do you suggest?”
“I’ll sell mine, and we can live together. How’s that?”
“You are taking the piss now, Max. Let’s think of something practicable.”
“We are both fed up with London, agreed?”
“What about we look for somewhere outside London, but close enough for you a get into the office. A couple of days a week, say. The Cotswolds, I was thinking. I’ll still sell my flat though. Can’t be a kept man and all that.”
“Oh, heaven forbid, a ‘kept’ man, Max. We can’t have that now, can we.”
“No, we can’t.”
“Technology makes everything so easy. I like the idea, Max. The air around here isn’t doing my chest any good, that’s for certain. You find things out, dig around if you like. Let me know what you come up with. I like the idea. Getting away from this, all this pollution. Its death to stay in London. So, see what you can come up with.”
“Alright then, Vicky. You see to the wedding and I’ll see to a move. We agree on something then.”
“Makes a change, doesn’t it? Agreeing on something?”
“We always agree, it just takes a bit of fight to get there.” Max laughed at this. He was laughing a lot lately.
When Max got home, the first thing he did was check his Glock pistol. He might have been all smiles with Vicky, but there was still a serious side to him. There had to be. His profession had demanded it. He retrieved the pistol out of the drawer on his desk. He checked the mechanism, cleaned it and put it back in the drawer. There was no need to take it out with him but——he wasn’t sure about this. Self-protection? Vicky? He still had to make up his mind. As of late he hadn’t bothered tucking it in his waistband but being the pro, he was, he had his doubts. He would think about it. He didn’t have the protection of the Secret Service anymore, well not in an overt way anyway.
He’d finished Pol Pot, what human kind did to each other never failed to surprise him. He had killed but it had been to protect the living, not wipe them out. He fished another book out of the bookshelves. Stalingrad. Yet another example of man’s inhumanity to man. He read for a couple of hours and then gave up. He was tired of knowing the incapable rush of man’s killing power. He sat at his computer and started writng. All his knowledge of how to terminate a man or woman came out. The writing was sensational, it gripped the reader. Made him read on.
When he had finished, he sat back in his chair. He pulled a cigarette out of a packet he kept on his desk. He was alert, waiting for something. He didn’t know why. Just at that moment there was a nock at his door. He stirred, conscious of danger. He got out the Glock. There was another knock. He got up and went to the door. He didn’t bother with any of these peep holes, they were too dangerous. He said, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, you idiot.” Christ, it was Vicky. He had given her his address a while back. He opened the door. Glock in hand. “Having a party, are you?” She said with a glint in her eye. “Guns and everything.”
“Look, no one calls around here, Vicky. Come on in. How did you get away from the office?” The tension eased out of his face.
“I’m the boss, aren’t I. I can come and go as I please, Max. Let’s have a look at this place of yours. I’ve always been curios. A woman’s touch as it were or lack of! What’s with the gun?”
“Just a precaution. Nothing more.”
She accepted this, in her own inimitable way, which was one of the reasons why Max had fallen in love with her. She said, “I hope this is not going to be a habit of a lifetime.”
“It isn’t. Old habits die hard. Harder than most, it seems.” He put the gun away.
Vicky looked around the flat. It was all neat and tidy. The landscape pictures were everywhere, along with pieces of china. Max was a collector, a collector of the old and new. He had taste too. His living room was a mixture of a curmudgeon trailing the up to date in design and modernity. It went well. She looked at the landscapes, cajoling and yet inviting a gentle touch. They hung on the wall, oblivious to the human eye. The stacks of books, all politics and history and everything in between. The music, mostly classical with a touch of Sinatra and Benny Goodman – again! Max was a man of the first order. And yet there appeared to be a sensual nature to him, a character that could be touched. She knew her hand had felt his spirit, his reason to be. This was fascinating, demanding love and well-being.
She went into the kitchen. It was all as it should be. Not one knife out of place, or cup hanging around waiting to be washed. She opened the fridge, food again. Lots of it.
“You have been shopping, I note.” She said with a hint of surprise.
“Yes, I went over to that Tesco’s. Crooks all of them, Vicky.”
“What shall we do tonight?”
“Stay in. I’ll cook us up something or other, Vicky.”
“Can you cook? I suppose that’s a stupid question, taking in the décor of your flat. It is really lovely, it really is.”
“Now, now. Don’t overdo the compliments, Vicky. Sit down and I’ll prepare something. Something simple, I think.”
Vicky sat down in a chair that was bloody comfortable. Her house was all her mother’s. Nothing really of hers. The white walls gave off a certain belligerence that somehow was tempered by the pictures. It was all so exact. Like Max.
“That sounds like a good idea, Max. I’ll leave the cooking to you. I’m not much good at it.”
“Everyone says that. There’s not much to it. Shove a few things together and that’s that. What all these TV chefs go on about beats me. Like everything else, they’re playing the television game, all things for the viewer and nothing else.”
“I notice, you have no television in here Max. Don’t you watch it?”
“I do, but on the internet. I have a choice then. The rest is rubbish. The commercial channels are a no go. They are for brainless buffoons.”
“There we are then. So, that’s the TV out then. I’m going to enjoy being with you, aren’t I?”
“Enjoy every minute of it. No really, I have no objection to a television. You have one and watch what you like, Vicky.”
“As it so happens, I don’t watch much, if anything. I’m too busy. Talking about computers, let’s go and get a property search on the internet. You say the Cotswolds, it’s a nice place. Get me into your computer Max and I’ll do a search, while you do the cooking.”
Max made a couple of clicks on the computer and went into the kitchen and started to cook. Pasta, with pesto, dried tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and whack of hot pepper sauce, not to mention the salami. Milano at that, and bloody great lumps of it. It was simple and a delight to eat, all mixed up in a confusion of an Italian mess.
The food interrupted her computer search. Vicky stared to eat. “This is good, Max. Very good.” She said in between a mouth full.
“I hope I didn’t put too much hot pepper sauce in it.”
“No, this is fine, Max. I like it hot. An able cook as well!” After they had finished eating, Vicky said,” Look Max, I’ve found a place that might just suit us.” She was letting rip with her own imagination, this time. Her mother could go and get stuffed. She was fed up with her mother’s taste.
It was an old house. One hundred and fifty odd years, in need of ‘updating’. Take that for a demolished wreck. It had gardens to the front and back, and an orchard as well. It looked ancient by modern standards. Max could see why Vicky had chosen it. It had a hell of lot of potential. Work needed to be done to it, a lot of work.
“It’s a beautiful house, Vicky. Four bedrooms and ample living space. It will need a lot of work, to get it up to scratch.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, Max. Why don’t we try Janice, for design and all that?”
“That’s a thought. The Cotswolds is a busy place for house buying, we need to get in quick.”
“We need to have a look first. I’ll book an appointment. What about this flat, Max?”
“I’ll have to sell it. It shouldn’t take too long, what with London prices and so on. I’m not going to be kept man, you know that.”
“Agreed.” Vicky said. “But what happens if you have to buy a property in the Cotswolds first?” Max had to think about this, for a minute or so anyway.
“Well, you have to buy the house first and I’ll give you half the money when this one goes. You would be surprised at how long it takes to sell the flat. Not long, I’m sure of it.” He was as sure as he could be
“Right then, I’ll arrange an appointment, Max. Apart from anything else, it will give you something to do while you’re in retirement. Old sod that you are.”
“Enough of that. And just to prove it, we’ll go along to the bedroom and ty out my old bones. Come on then!” He picked up Vicky and made off for the bedroom, where he tried out his ‘old bones’ once and for all.
When they had finished exercising their lust and debauchery and lying down exhausted, Vicky asked, “have you thought about getting a dog? It will you keep you on form for our sexual exploits, you must be able to fit enough of these in.”
“No, I haven’t. I’ve often thought about having a dog. But my job doesn’t allow me to have pets.”
“In the Cotswolds and the fact, you’re retired now, doesn’t put any conditions on you. Does it?”
“No, Vicky. It doesn’t. I’m not having one of those prickish dogs that you have to pay a fortune for though.”
“Well, go down to the lost dog kennels. They will be bound to have something.”
“I might just do that. When we’ve found a house that we both like, Vicky. This one has some credibility though; I grant you that. Let’s just wait and see, shall we?”
The thought had been placed in his mind. The job was done, as far as she was concerned. Now, she just had to wait, apart from anything else she fancied a dog too.
“And by the way,” Max asked, “how do feel about that Jane?”
“Oh, I can’t help feeling sorry for her. And the violence, gives me the creeps. I am not used to it. You are. Despite everything that has happened to us, it still comes as a shock. I’ll never get used to it. Never.”
Max grabbed her hand. “Sometimes you know, we all never get used to it. It’s a part of life, an unhinging part, nevertheless. I broke her arm because I had to. To protect you. You were so close to death. So very close. You were lucky that I was involved. Anyone else could have balls it up and then where you be? Death doesn’t take prisoners you know. I am saddened by her being put in a mental home, but this is just way it is. The State protects, it has to. Maybe, in some time, she will recover from her illness. I sincerely hope so.”
“I hope so, I really do, Max. She was a lesbian, and nothing wrong in that but she got misguided in her same sex attractions. She will be alright though, heaven forbid. I’ll never know, will I Max?”
“No. She will be kept in the hospital, until she is well. Let’s hope that this is not for too long. Anyway, you are alright now. That’s all that matters.”
The following morning Vicky called in to see her solicitor. He was a right typical lawyer. Straight and too the point. Well, she didn’t know about lawyers these days, she hadn’t come across the legal fraternity in all its modern might and ignorance. She would have had a bombshell go off under her arse if she knew that some of them couldn’t even speak the Queen’s English. Tony Blair had seen to that. Books in exams, it was tantamount to making it as easy as possible to qualify.
The solicitor was about sixty years of age. He had qualified in the old school, where books were not allowed, and you had to know the law. He got up from behind his desk and said, “Hello, Miss Strablinski. Sit down and make yourself comfortable. What can I do for you today? Not taking a look at a contract I hope.” She looked around the office. It was smart, panelled wood, ornate furniture and a price tag that wold make a homeless guy plead for mercy.
“No nothing like that, Mr Pascal. It’s a personal matter. I just want some amendments made to my will. I will sign nothing until I am married. A Will is void on the exercise of marriage; I believe.” She had come close to death recently and didn’t believe in taking chances. She was like Max in this respect. She was not sentimental about making changes to her Will, it needed to be done, full stop. Death was going to come, like it or not. It was a certainty, with no holds barred.
“Quite so, Miss Strablinski. What amendments would you like to make?”
Vicky explained what she wanted her Will to do on her death, after marriage of course. He would send her the draft amendments in due course. She said her ‘Goodbyes’ and then left the office. She had to go back to her own office and deal with some problems that her agency was facing. It never ended, did it?
Three months went by. Max and Vicky had settled into a relationship that was fraught and sometimes loving. She was pregnant and this added a certain nuance to things. They both argued for all they were worth, but inspite of this they were happy. They enjoyed the battle of wills. Sometimes Max would win, other times Vicky. They both deliberated on the fight. They both took no prisoners. In the time that had passed Max had virtually moved into Vicky’s house. They both got along together, without entering into a legal and emotional scrap with each other. This was the nature of their relationship. It was never personal. They always kissed each other goodnight and more often than not, they finished this with a wham bang happy ever after sleep.
They were both exceedingly content with being with each other.
They were sitting down having breakfast one morning. “How is the re-building on the house going?”, Vicky asked.
“Fine, it’s taking a bit of job, but the builders are just operating according to procedures. I just like using that word. It reminds me of a job I used to do.”
Vicky looked at the man. She could trust him; she had no doubt about that. She had bought the house, the one she had picked out on the internet. All Max’s stuff had been put in the basement of her house. He was due to complete on the sale of the flat any day now, his solicitors had been instructed to pass over half the money on the house in the Cotswolds to Vicky. No nonsense. She had bought the house jointly, they had no one to leave anything to. No one of consequence anyway.
“And what about the money, Max?” She couldn’t resits winding him up, even if it was first thing in the morning.
“Jesus Christ! You will have it as soon as I complete, my solicitors have been instructed. God, you don’t half like pushing the boundaries, don’t you?”
“Just making sure you don’t forget.” She smiled at this. He grinned back. They were playing again. “I must give Janice a ring, today. Its time we had her around the property. To look things over. Most of the construction work is done now, isn’t it, Max?” She had to go down and see it, see what the work was like. And there was the marriage too, if she could find the time off for any of it!
“Not far off.” He said. “But there are still some things that need to be done. Call her and get her around the renovated house.”
“All right, I shall do that today. Now, I’m off now. See you later, Max. Oh, by the way, your book is due to be published. So, don’t go and arrange anything. Have you got that?”
“I’ve got that, my darling. As if I should ever forget. Have a good day, God I hate sounding like an American, I’ll be voting for Trump next.”
“Bye, bye. Max. I’ll catch you later. And get on with some of your writing too. You’ve nearly finished that book of yours. So, get on with it.”
Max groaned as she left the house. God help anyone who was betrothed to a literary agent! He wondered why he always used ‘God’ as a self-expression of abject frustration. He was an atheist of the first order. So was Vicky, in her conversations with him. He kept using the word ‘God’ in all his deliberations, what for, it was all a load of tosh. He hadn’t used it then, on purpose. It was a mystery to him how anybody could believe in such a myth. There was no evidence to support the Immaculate Conception, the Son of God, or all the other crazy manifestations of a holy misconception. It was all a matter of Faith, well, good luck to anyone who had it but to his mind, they must be thick or something. Or deluded. He gave up on ‘God’ and went to his computer. Writing, this was another holier than thou concept. He just diddled some things on paper, pressed a button and that was it. No trouble, although, he did do some thinking about it, he had to admit this. Maybe, it was harder after all.
He typed and he wished he didn’t have to. But that was the thing about writing, you did it because you had to. Perhaps, this was the genius of it all. If you could call it that.
Vicky arrived in her office. She was bludgeoned by Jamil, who spoke of problems with publishers and authors. All in a day’s work, she concluded.
“Not now, Jamila. Give me a few minutes, will you.” Vicky said. Jamila went off, a disgruntled woman. She was always in a mood about something or other. She looked through her address book. Arthur had given her Janice’s telephone number; it was in there somewhere. She found it and gave the number a ring.
“Hello, Janice. I assume I’ve got the right number?”
“You have. Its Vicky isn’t it? How are you, after that horrendous incident?”
“Best left in the past now, I think. The woman is being taken care of in a mental institution. Hopefully she will be alright, at some stage or other. I hope she gets well; I really do.” How the hell she knew it was her, only the Fates knew. On second thoughts, it could be the voice and all that. Public school is never forgotten. It was all a load of bollocks but there we are. “I’ve haven’t been in touch lately, busy and all that. Now, you’re a designer. Fancy a job doing some work on a cottage we’ve just bought.” Straight to the point as always.
“I’m busy at the moment, Vicky. Just starting the business off. And that sod, Arthur, is being his usual awkward self. We’re trying again. Lifting a marriage that was, out of the doldrums. He’s here on weekends only, for now.”
“I appreciate you’re busy, like us all, but this a big job. Look, I’ll send you some photos of the place then I’ll ring you back. Tomorrow, if that’s convenient Janice.”
“Well, I’ve got a lot on, Vicky. I can’t promise you anything.”
“Just look at it, and maybe you would like to take a personal view. I have to go down there myself soon. Just take a look.”
Janice was taken back by her persistence.
“Send me the photos and some background on the property. And I’ll take a look. That’s all I’m promising.” Janice was not going to tie herself in to anything, not at the moment anyway.
“Fine. I’ll send the details off today. Goodbye, Janice.” She put the phone down. She would catch her no matter what. Adoptive brother and so on.
The emails arrived a few minutes later and the photos. Janice looked at them. She was right, it was a substantial job. The kitchen needed a complete going over. At the moment it just looked like a bomb had hit it. The same goes for the rest of the house. But it was a beauty, she had to admit. All beams, nooks and crannies. At the moment it just looked like a building site, all planks and cement. Everywhere. She was the half-sister of Arthur. So, keeping it in the family as it were. And apart from this she was a literary agent, God knows what she did, apart from a brief conversation at the restaurant. It would help to get her name out there, she wasn’t desperate, but it all helped.
Yes, she would do the job, she decided. Just at that moment, she heard a car come up the drive. Fucking Arthur. It was Friday evening. Always on time, always punctual. The bastard. She really didn’t mean all the swearing, she liked to think that nothing had changed. Well, it had but forgiveness took a reasonable length of time. A bloody long time where Arthur was concerned.
He came in, all smiles and charm. You’d think he had just won at the races. No, that would be a bit too ambitious for Arthur. He never bet anyway; it was a game for fools. He kissed his wife and sat down. They were in the kitchen.
“How are you, my lovely ex-wife. The business going well?”
“Very well, thank you. After you have a made yourself a sleeping partner, damn you.” Her face took on a slight smile as she said this. “I’ve had a phone call from Vicky. You now that sister of yours, well, half-sister anyway. She wants me to do some design work on the new property that’ve bought in the Cotswolds. It’s a builder’s wreck at the moment. It a big job.”
“Can you take it on, Janice? You do have a lot of work on at the moment. Profits coming in thick and fast.”
“Yes, I’ve decided. I’ll fit it in. Money doesn’t seem the be the object. It will be a good chance to explore my skill set. I’ll do the job and a bloody job at that.”
“Right then. Go and do it.”
“I will and don’t you worry about anything, Arthur. This is my turf, got it?”
“Far be it for me to interfere, my love.”
“What’s all this ‘my love’ nonsenses. Give it a rest, will you?”
“Just being my normal affectionate self. I apologise.”
“Christ Arthur, you don’t give in, do you.”
“By the way, she’s a persistent bugger, that Vicky of yours.”
“That’s being a literary agent for you. Never give up. Like me I suppose. It runs in the family.”
“You can say that again. You’re only here at the weekend at the moment. So, don’t get any ideas, Arthur. This a just a trial run.”
“I know, Janice. I know. Now, come here and let’s make it a weekend to remember.”
She couldn’t resist, no matter how hard she tried. She went to him and they kissed. “Just the weekend, Arthur.”
“Just the weekend.”
One week later, Vicky picked Janice up and they were on their way to the Cotswolds. Vicky was wearing a baggy shirt, so the pregnancy wasn’t obvious. “I’m pregnant by the way.” She said, “A mistake, but Max seemed pleased with it, and I certainly am.” They went on and on about having a baby and Janice finally said, “You know, I’ve taken back Arthur. The silly sod that he is. Not on a permanent basis, you understand. I have told you that.”
“Well, er…….?” Vicky said, without a note of surprise in her voice.
“Well, he can’t keep his plonker under control. Well, just one move, one move and he’ll be out again. For good this time.”
“That’s very forgiving of you, Janice. I don’t know what I would do if Max put his man thing somewhere else. God, it doesn’t bear thinking about. We’re getting married, as soon as I can find the time to make the arrangement.”
“Good for you. I hope that Max isn’t like Arthur. He’s a real plonker. That’s the thing. Forgiveness. I don’t think I’m there yet. We’ll see.”
“You do love him, you know.” Vicky had noticed the eye contact between them both when they had gone out to have something to eat.
“Oh God, is it that obvious.”
“To the female eye, Janice.”
“Yes, that is the problem. He’s so considerate and all that crap. He’s a good father too.”
“Let’s see how it goes. It might just work. Weekends first and then he’ll be moving in!”
“Jesus, the thought of it. Arthur morning, day and night, Vicky.”
The rest of their journey went with a thorough emasculation of men. But the whole point is, that they loved them, bastards that they were. Such is the experience between men and women. There is nothing like it.
They arrived at the house. Janice was surprised at the impact it had. The builders went about their work, not like the Council workers, every time Vicky and Janice saw them, they were drinking tea or having a fag and standing around gossiping like a couple of old trout’s. Councils who needed them. A workplace for dossers.
Max was standing up looking at some plans with the boss builder. “Hello, you old trollop. How is the tummy?” Vicky ignored the ‘old trollop’ bit, she was used to it. He always said these insulting words with a smile on his face. It was just Max. No one else seemed to notice, or if they did, they were not saying anything. It was that look Max had about him, dare you or dare you not. The boss went off to see that the work was done, to Max’s high standards of course.
“It’s a lovely house. Gardens too. There is a long driveway up to it.” Janice said. Taking in the overall certainty of the place. It really was a clash on the eyes. She could see that it would demand a lot of hours, designing and so on.
“Come on then, Janice. I’ll show you the inside.” Vicky said.
The inside was a disruptive mess. At least, builders’ tools and what have you. Janice remembered the words of a builder, ‘Clean site, happy site.’ Although there appeared to be a constant disruptive mass of builders around the place, there was an element of tidiness to it all. Oak beams were being restored, along with new doors and skirting boards. Plaster was going everywhere as with the brick work. Janice looked into the kitchen. It had all been done. A great space to do something with. It would challenge her designer capability. It came as rush to her. The whole house was empty of household clutter and domestic tittle tattle.
“What do want to do with it, the house that is?” Janice asked the question, she waited for a response. Vicky looked hard at the surroundings.
“The kitchen is yours. Simple design. Nothing too ornate. Blank surfaces, it’s got to work. None of your B&Q stuff. It has to look elegant too, in a rustic sort of way. Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the house.” Vicky led the way through all the nooks and crannies of the house. Upstairs and downstairs. Janice looked out from a window of one of the bedrooms and saw an absolute delight in the back. One could call it a garden of sorts, but it was far more than that. It wold send a gardener crazy, its infinite attraction, just seeing the apple and pear trees in an orchard with plants both old and new, surrounding them in a fool’s error of compliance. It hit the senses, torrid and yet pronounced.
“Look at that!” Janice said pointing at the garden. “It’s so soothing, so peaceful.”
Vicky had come up beside her and followed her gaze, “That’s one of the reasons why we bought the house. It will take some work, Max’s choice I may add, doing all the work that is. Now, the kitchen is a first. Get that done. And the rest, you can think on. Come up with some ideas, that’s if you will do it?”
“Right. I’ll do it. I’ll get on with it. Leave it to me, Vicky.” She couldn’t help showing some enthusiasm for the job. It was a designer’s dream. They went back downstairs while Max was having a row with the builder. Nothing new here then. They went out to the car and drove off, to a pub where no one, knew them. They really got to know one another. Their likes and dislikes. They had something in common too, they were both with men who had certain delusions. Well, they thought they had, anyway. This was putting it politely, unmitigated maniacs was more to the point. The civil servant bit didn’t quite ring true with Janice, but she didn’t say anything. Far too fastidious with her manners!
They finished eating their Ploughman lunches and set off for home. As they went Janice couldn’t help but feel a certain envy for Vicky. A house in the country, it beat London any day. She would give this more thought; convincing Arthur would be the next step.
As Janice went through the door of her house, Arthur was waiting for her to come in.
“What are doing here?” she asked. “It’s not the weekend.”
“Just popped in to see how your house visit went. Besides, I had an hour to kill before seeing my next client, So, I thought I’d come around to see Janice. Isn’t that nice of me?”
“Balls to that. You’re just here to see how it went. God, you can’t leave the business affairs to me, can you?”
Arthur smiled. He just wanted to know what was up. “Come on, Janice. How did it go?”
“Well, it’s a house. Big. Gardens that would take your breath away. The interior is being done up to scratch. There’s no nonsense there I can tell you, that is what with Max keeping an eye on things. It’s a remarkable property. Genteel, if you can call it that. Sizeable rooms and a kitchen that one would die for—-after I’ve designed it, of course. As for all the other work, I will have to think about it.”
“So, you’re doing it then.”
“It would be a pity if I didn’t. It’s a beautiful house, make no mistake about it, Arthur. Made me feel quite envious. Getting out from London and all that.”
“Well, I’ve got my work to see to. That’s out, for now anyway.” Well, we’ll see about that, Janice thought. Better leave it for now. Gently, gently.
“Ah well, you’re here now. How is work going?”
“Fine. No difficulties that I can see at the moment anyway, Janice.” That’s just what she wanted to hear, not letting on to Arthur though. She had it in her mind to buy a cottage somewhere. Anywhere. Tranquillity was the name of the game, as far as she was concerned anyway. She would have to put their relationship on to something more permanent though. She had wanted to do this at the outset, but she just wanted Arthur to know that he couldn’t pop his wick somewhere else. That was all.
“Arthur, I think it is time you move back into the house. We’ve allowed a period of adjustment, if you can call it that. Move in, whenever you are ready.”
Fuck me! He was wondering how long it would take. She was finally moving in his direction. Game set and match! He hadn’t knobbed anyone lately, so he had been a good boy. He said, “Nothing like keeping me waiting, is there?”
“No, nothing like it. I think you have learned your lesson. I’ll forgive, but do not, I repeat do not, make a habit of your indiscretions. Have you got that, Arthur?”
“I’ve got it, Janice. No ‘indiscretions’, I assure you.”
“What are you going to do about that flat, you have moved into?”
“I don’t know. Sell it. Keep it as an investment. Rent it out. I just don’t know.”
“Well, I would sell it, if I were you. We don’t want to keep a lot of properties lying around. Think about it, if I were you.” She just wanted to get out of London. This was her first move on seeing a life of comfort and stability.
“Yes, I’ll think about it. Selling in London is quite easy. Now, how about consummating this new relationship, then.” His pants were being stretched beyond recognition. God, this Janice got him going, didn’t she just. This time she went up to him and grabbed the crutch of his trousers.
“Yes, it certainly seems like the time, doesn’t it? Come on, up to the bedroom. You can give it to me from behind. I like that position, it’s so bloody sexy.”
“Lead on, Janice. Lead on!”
Vicky was working in her office, when Jamil walked in.
“There’s two detectives, have come in to see you. They’re waiting outside. Shall I show then in. It’s probably got something to with that Jane Davis.” All the staff knew about it. The newspapers had gone berserk about the incident. Lesbians, God help us. Most of the time they had got it wrong, but there we are, that was newspapers for you.
“Yes, show them in, Jamila.”
They came in, one female, one male. The woman looked a hard bastard, all severe and strict. About forty, but she looked much older, that was the police for you. A tough life.
“Hello Miss Strablinski,” The man said, “I’m Inspector Jones and this my colleague, DS Smith.” You have to be kidding me, Vicky thought. Jones and Smith, she had to put her hand over her mouth to stop her laughing. He looked extremely straight, something about the shirt and tie did it. Striped shirt and a plain tie. Cufflinked cuffs, all neat and tidy. He was about fifty. He didn’t look as intolerant as his partner did. Quite good looking too.
“Please sit down, won’t you officers? Now, what is all this about?” Vicky said.
“Jane Davis has escaped.” The Inspector said. “We have an armed guard on your house. We believe she will come straight for you. At least that’s what the doctors have advised us. How she has done it, we just don’t know. The unit is extremely secure. Anyway, we’re looking into it.”
“She’s got out! How the hell did she manage that?” Vicky said, amazed at what she had just heard.
“At the moment, we simply don’t know.” A typical police response. The Inspector went on in his usual diatribe of police efficiency. “The best thing that you can do, is not go back to your house, apart from collecting some things for a few nights. We shall have in her in our custody in no time. But she is cleaver. Too clever.”
Jesus, it never stops does it? First there’s people trying to kill her and now Jane bloody Davis has escaped. Jesus Christ! “Just hold on, will you.” Vicky picked up the telephone and dialled a number, she hoped he was in. The telephone on the other side answered. “Get around to my office, right now. Jane Davis has escaped.” She put the phone down.
“Would that be, a retired agent of the Security Services?” The Inspector asked. “We know all about him. From up the top as it were. Hands off, we were told.”
“Never mind who that was. It’s none of your business.”
“Quite so, Miss Strablinski. We know a few things though, albeit on the surface.”
“Well now, isn’t that good for you.” Vicky said. “You will let me know as soon as you have her in police custody, I presume?”
“You’ll be the first to know, Miss Strablinski. You can count on it. In the meantime, can you give me your mobile number? I’ve got it on file somewhere, but it’s easier if you give it to me now. Saves messing around. I should be touch, very soon. We have the police on every road etc, she will not get very far.”
“I do hope so, Inspector. I really do.” The police officers got up. The Inspector stopped and looked at Vicky. She had just received a blow of the first order. “Don’t worry love, we’ll catch this woman, as soon as possible. The armed guard is just a precaution. We have got the police doing everything they can. Now, as I say don’t worry.” And with that they both just left Vicky on her own, sitting down looking all upset and beside herself.
Max had quickly got his Glock in his waistband and left the flat. The press had left his name out of the reporting of the previous attack by Jane. Tim did his job, he had to give him that. Obnoxious bastard that he was. He made for Vicky’s office as quickly as he could. There was no time for thought or what might happen. This Jane Davis was a right clever bugger. How she got away from her secure unit was a mystery. Now though, he had to make sure that Vicky was protected. He had to. No harm must come to her, if she was left in a mess, he had to sort it out. Quickly.
Jane watched the office. Where Vicky did all her author manifestations of publisher and the reader. She had sneaked back to her home. There was no one about. She had got to her room and found a bank card. The banks not satisfied with lying about their financial transactions couldn’t even get their personal cards sorted out. They hadn’t even cancelled Jane’s card. She was in luck. She left her houses, her room hadn’t been touched, apart from the police making their usual untidy mess. All in the name of supervision, she had been told. Supervision? Be fucked.
She had got the bank and withdrew a large sum of money. She then went to a hardware store and purchased a long knife. This should do it. Vicky was not going to be with anyone this time. That old man could take a hike. Referring to Max as an old one, was a characteristic of the young. Anybody over thirty was ‘old’.
She was hers, not anybody else’s. After she had done her trick on Vicky, she was next for the slash of the knife. It was all decided in that insane way of hers.
She watched in that mad way of hers. She saw Max go in. He was looked fit. No problem here then, her knife didn’t have any expectation on whether someone was fit or not. It was the same result, whichever way she looked at it. They both came out, in a hurry and made their way to Vicky’s house. Jane followed them, making sure that she could not be seen. She disappeared in the long shadows of city life. She watched them go into the hose. Max was turning around every so often, looking for something. Looking for her. She kept hidden down the road, there was no chance of him seeing her. Max nodded at the armed police officer as he went in, no doubt the back was the same. Armed and dangerous. Jane watched the house and, in a few minutes, the two came out and hailed a taxi. Jane did the same and told the driver to follow it. It was like something out of a movie. Jane felt exhilarated by the fact. Movie? A movie from hell, she thought. She smiled at the fact; her face became twisted in the far from real irony of it all.
She followed them to Max’s flat. Upmarket and refined. It would be, wouldn’t it? Only the best for Vicky. They got out of the taxi and Vicky made her move. Jane made a strike for her, the knife poised in mid-air. She was not fast enough. Max turned around and saw her coming. He quickly pushed Vicky out of the way and in a second or two had shot Jane, two in the chest and one in the head.
Vicky went up to him and put her arms around him. “God, Max.” He kept her eyes away from the body.
“It’s over now.” Max said, in a miserable sort of way. “She’s gone now. Her mind was in turmoil, at least she had a chance where she was. Everybody’s wrong, the powers that be. She should not have got out from the secure unit she was in. She had a chance of getting well, some day or another. Come on, let’s get you upstairs, to the flat. There will be enough questions to answer once the police get started. They’ll be here in a minute.”
He gave Vicky a key, while he waited for the police. One phone call was all that was needed. They would come, in this instance anyway. Max rang Tim and told him what had happened. They should sit tight and answer any questions, be co-operative, the Gospel according to Tim Hawkins. He would deal with the rest.
Max looked at the corpse lying there. It was the end of a real life. A life that could have been so different. If only she had held on to her sanity. Found another woman who would give as much she took. She made the wrong choice and her manifestly unhinged brain could not take it all in.
A pity, and one that led to her death on the streets of London. What an end.
Some weeks had gone by and Janice worked hard on the design work of the cottage, that’s if you call it that. She had an assistant with her to bounce things off. She had come direct from University and was learning the trade. Well, ‘trade’ was not the right word for it, but she couldn’t think of anything else. The assistant was bright and keen to learn. She hadn’t come cheap; all jobs were supposed to be on the minimum wage and that was that. Not for some employers though. No employment contract being offered. Jobs with limited hours, you will get the work when we want you. Janice didn’t mind paying for the help, up the working classes as far as she was concerned!
She had read about Vicky’s attack and spoken to her on the phone about it. She was plainly upset about it but didn’t dwell on it. This was Vicky all over. Just like her brother, half bother, she must get it right! They didn’t get depressed about things. They did get angry from time to time but that was it. It didn’t last long. That was the thing, depression and everything. Everybody gets ‘depressed’ these days. It was a national sport. Children were the next best bet. The schools were full of children with mental health issues, all of them were poleaxed with their insane state of minds. All fruitcakes, all nutters. All being bullied until kingdom come. Made you wonder how anybody gets through school these days. It was an insidious foul up. Like hell, Janice thought. It was all a load of total media bollocks. Her school days had been perfectly happy, there had been the odd bully, but a well-aimed clout usually did the trick. Hit them where it hurts, this was her motto and it worked. School days were full of learning, learning how to beat a bully! They were the idiots, just like the teachers, God bless them!
When Arthur came home, she stopped messing around with computer and left the girl get in with rest of the stuff. She was good, she had to give her that.
“Arthur, I need to talk to you.” Arthur was just pulling off his coat.
“What is the matter. Janice?”
“Nothing much. I just wanted to hear what you are doing about that younger son of ours?”
“Nothing much. He’s studying for his ‘A’ levels I assume. English, history and economics. He’s got his second-year exams this year. Then he’ll have to make up his mind. Let him get on with it, Janice.”
“Well, will you have a word with him, Arthur. Just to make sure he’s doing his work. You know what he’s like, he just won’t listen to me.”
“Alright, alright Janice. I’ll go and have a word him now. He’s up in his room?”
“He is. Go along now and do your fatherly duties. You’re very good with both boys, I have to give you that.”
“At least I’m good with something then.” He left the kitchen and went upstairs. His son was lying on the bed reading Beevor’s book on Stalingrad. So, what was all this business going around that youngsters didn’t read books? He must have pinched it from one of his bookshelf’s downstairs. He was studious boy, far more than the elder brother.
“You’re reading Stalingrad, son?”
“Yes, I am. It’s a good book.”
“How are the studies going?”
“They’re going fine. Lots of reading though. I don’t plagiarise anything. Not like some of my mates do.”
“Have you thought about what you want to do, once you’ve done your exams? If you get the grades that is.”
“No, I haven’t, Dad. Let’s wait and see.”
“Fair enough. That’s all I wanted to hear. I’ll leave you to it then.” He went out of the room and went downstairs. “That’s all-in hand, Janice. He’s a reader, that’s all I need to know. He’ll do well in his exams. Trust me. I have not put any pressure on them to become business men. Not like me anyway. They can do whatever makes them happy.”
Janice looked at her husband. She understood why she loved him so much.
“That’s that, then. Now, what would you like to eat, Arthur?” Once they had got supper out of the way, Janice went back to her work. The girl had gone home, and she was on her own. The kitchen she had just about finished, the left was left to Vicky and Max. Would they like it? She hoped so anyway. She added a few finishing touches, looked at the computer and decided to send it off to Vicky. It had taken a lot of hard work.
She would just have to wait and see.
Almost immediately an email reply came back. It was a wonderful piece of work; the design was extraordinary. Vicky added her thanks to Janice.
Janice went off that night to a settled and deep sleep. She had earned it, after telling Arthur that the kitchen had been completed to her satisfaction. All was well in the Bryant house hold, apart from Arthur thinking about Stalingrad, a Second World War of attrition and defeat. A nightmare of death and destruction, never to leave the minds of the Russian and German people. This was war for you, the memories could never leave the distant mindset of those involved and those left behind. It was the most complete annihilation, humanity killing humanity—-again.
It was all political, man would never learn. He would go and on, massacring and destroying, until there was nothing left to fight over. Man would tear his soul into oblivion. Religion and power were the absolute goals and there was nothing left in between.
“I’ve been asked to go and give a talk at a book festival. It’s one of the big ones. Near Exeter. We’re going, both you and me.” Vicky said in that no argument way of hers.
“What?!” Max responded; this meant a big row could possibly be on the cards.
“I’m not going to any festival, and that’s that.”
Vicky took a different line. She knew how to handle Max Maxwell. “Look, I’ve been asked to give a talk on book publishing and you, and your precious anonymity will remain just between you and me. You won’t come into any limelight, and anyway you haven’t had the book published yet. Imminent, I’ll grant you, but there’s nothing for you to be seeking any publicity and all that.” She nearly added ‘not for now’ but thought better of it.
“You know Vicky, I don’t want to attract any publicity. None.” He was rising to the bait.
“Yes, I understand.” She touched his cheek. “Anyway, I’m going to do it and you had better come with me. I’ve booked us into a hotel, plenty of parking. You won’t get any parking on the first day or any other day for that matter, while the festival is on. We’ll take a taxi from there.”
He looked as if he was going to explode. The detonator nearly reached the explosive. Silly sod that he was. He remained silent. The calm before the storm.
“Look Vicky. I’m not going with you. I don’t like Festivals and I don’t like all the TV nonsense that goes with it.”
“Don’t be stubborn, Max. You’re being a consummate bugger. Do you know that?”
“I do. And I’m still not going with you.”
“Christ! It’s only a Festival for God’s sake! What’s wrong in that? I would have thought you would like to see me strutting my stuff and all that!”
“I get enough of that, living with you Vicky.”
“Right then. I’ll go alone. Sod you.”
“You do that. And I’ll see you when you get back.” The silence between them nearly crushed their arrogance. They were both in fighting mode. Nothing wrong with this. It was just the way they were. Vicky allowed the silence to rejuvenate her tactics. She knew Max, the hit man that he was. Underneath all that, he was a gentle man. He was full of feeling and tried to everything he could for the human condition.
“Max, let’s not allow this to turn into a common spat, shall we? I only want you to see me in action. That’s all. Call it egotistical, call it what you like. I just want you to be there. By my side, I have no one else, well, at least no one that’s this close to me.” Feminine charms again, men will never learn, will they? He looked around at her lovely face. God, she was breaking all the rules again.
“Alight, Ill come but don’t expect me to be hovering around like a bloody hollowed out fan. I won’t do that. I’ll watch you and that’s it. Have you got that?”
“Yes, Max. Jolly good. We’ll set off next weekend. If that’s alight with you?”
“Oh God, it had better be alright with me. I’m going under sufferance again. But if it will make you happy, then so be it.” Max gave in, he always did. And women were supposed to be the disadvantaged sex. Like hell.
The weekend came and they found themselves surrounded by producers and people who clicked on their mobile phones for a camera shot. Max wondered why they needed producers, with all the social media attention. TV he supposed. The media was becoming obsessed with the click clicking brigade. Vicky did as she was supposed to, no reason to argue with anybody. She stood at a lectern and spouted all the riff raff of publication. Max had to admit she was good; she knew her stuff. After a long applause she went off stage and was happy that it went so well. Max was waiting for her behind the stage. She came up to him, all confident and full of herself. This was Vicky, well, on a good night anyway.
“What did you think, Max?”
Max clapped his hands. “All good, my lovely. Come on let’s go and get a drink.” She took his hand and followed him out of the theatre. “I can’t stand these author ménages a trois things. People going on about the written word and so on. Look at the fans, I can’t make out what they are doing here. They are either the idle rich or wanting to be a bestselling writer. It’s all beyond me, ignorant cretin that I am.”
“Be happy with what you’ve got, Max. You may be one of the bestselling chaps when your book is out. Be careful what you wish for.”
“You have a point, Vicky. You have a point. Maybe I should try and understand what this writing is all about? I don’t do all this rehashing, redrafting and so on. Maybe I’m just stupid, who knows.”
“Your certainly not that. Well-read and educated and you have a flair for things as they are, You’re fine, Max. People have all kinds of reasons for writing, sometimes personal, which is you, sometimes total fiction. Sometimes psychologically. But they always have a reason. Always.”
“Well, I’ll bear that in mind, Vicky.”
They found a tented bar and he got a couple of drinks in. It was a place that had a civilised ring to it. Not the normal drinker’s paradise. Writers and fans again. There were some people he recognised from the television. Holding court as it were. He watched them. Some were entertaining, some were as boring as hell. All were in the television limelight. Was it false? Or was it genuine? He didn’t know. He knew one thing. He didn’t want it, the television thing that is. There was something so out loud about it. Something not quite right. When a person has a camera on them, look out. They became another individual. Another being. Max looked on and didn’t like what he saw. It was so impersonal. So, introverted to the naked eye. They were people and yet they didn’t seem to function in the normal way. It was all a fraud. A confidence trick to the eyes of dumbfounded ignorance. It was not for him.
“Vicky let’s get out of here. I don’t like it.” She had noticed his mood. Not first the first time a writer had resented all the fliff flaff of ‘look at me, I’m a writer!’. It was all a load of bollocks as far as he was concerned.
“Ah Vicky! I saw your talk. Inventive. I must say!” The man who had interrupted them, looked small and sly. Nevertheless, he had an imposing way about him.
“This is Ted, Ted of the literary agency Ted Howell.” She left introducing Max out, on purpose. She eyed the little man up and down. “Now, what do you want, Ted? You must be after something.”
“Vicky, as if I would? Now, I hear you’ve got a new author on your books. Quite a writer I hear. What’s his name?”
“Come on Ted, you know I’m not going to give you that. He’ll be published in a couple of weeks, so you can find out then.”
“Oh you are a little tricky dicky, aren’t you?”
“That’s all your going to get from me. Confidentiality and all that, Ted.”
“No harm in trying, I suppose. Well, see you soon Vicky. And bye to your nice chap here. Very firm in muscle I must say!” And off he went.
“Is he gay?” Max asked.
“Put it this way.” Vicky replied. “He’s never made a pass at me, unusual you may say, but he’s as gay as a bent ten bob note. That’s if you get my drift.”
“Fair enough. Its hard finding a heterosexual these days. Thank god you’re not of a lesbian inclination!”
“No, thank you. I’m as straight as they come! Come on, then Max. Let’s go. I can see you’ve had enough. I’ve done my thing, so let’s go.” They both crept away, form the television and film chaos and made their way back to the hotel. In the taxi, Vicky said, “Thank you for coming with me. I was a trifle nervous; I know you won’t believe me, but I my nerves were jumping around like a demented puppet.”
“I believe you, so don’t worry. You know you can be a false cow when you want to be. All confident and in control. Underneath, well, that’s another matter.That’s women for you. Tougher than men, I can tell you. You went up there, on stage, and spouted like a good one. I was impressed but I did note the nervous tick on your lips. That’s natural. There would be something wrong if you didn’t feel slightly upended, in that celeb sort of way. I don’t know how you manage it, I really don’t. You were good, my lovely.”
They got out of the taxi and made their way to the room Vicky had booked. It was a typical hotel room. Tedious pictures and an even more tedious bed. They were both tired and exhausted. Sex was out of the question, they would make up for it in the morning, that’s if Vicky had anything to do with it!
Before going to bed, Max went to the toilet. Better keep the toilet seat down after he had finished. Vicky, the things that they would nag about mystified him. Women, they were all bloody bonkers.
As he fell asleep, with Vicky draped across him, he thought about this common conundrum called life. He was fifty now, coming into the end of being. Well, that’s what he thought of it anyway. He had spent most of his adult life making ‘assumptions’ about this and that. Not good, he had to admit. There were always no conclusions to it. He thought how he had learned from history; it made his job more difficult. More demanding. He considered it a mark of inane insanity, those who didn’t know their history that is. Man learned from his mistakes, for all that the UK had arrived at a better place than Victorian times. This couldn’t be applied to the rest of the world, well part of it anyway. Man would never learn and that was that. Terrorism, suicide bombers, killing on sight, were all part and parcel of a word that was going nowhere. Nowhere that he could see, for all his historical knowing. Mankind was a blight, a destructive force just waiting for its comeuppance. He fell into a deep sleep, a sleep that was dreamless. Inconsequential. He was in a state of nothingness. It’s a pity the world couldn’t be more like this.
Max got up at his usual time. It was six thirty in the morning. He had had a good sleep. He went downstairs to make a cup of coffee, leaving Vicky splayed out and snoring. Why women did this snoring business was beyond him. It was so masculine, at least that’s what the experts said. He damned ‘experts’ to hell, the world was full of them. The television didn’t broadcast anything without an ‘expert’ being in tow. They were all a fucking great basin full of bullshitting maniacs, as far as he was concerned.
He left his love, snoring and content with the world. He smiled at her, looking at her laid out and content. He had got up without his body being purloined by her avaricious yeaning. This would put her in a bad mood. He had smiled at this too. It was all a game of one up man ship, and he liked playing it. It was just them. He went down to the kitchen and started to make a cup of coffee for himself. She hadn’t mentioned the marriage as of late, unusual. He had left everything to her, he would have to ask her about it. He wanted to know when the vows were taking place. No doubt she had arranged something or other, in her own inimitable way. Don’t ask Max whatever you do. He’ll just say a Register Office and that’s it.
He managed to get a full cup of coffee and sat down. It was peaceful, quiet, just the way he wanted it to be. He looked around the kitchen, it was all a tidy mess, everything in its place though, he had to give her that. She could be untidy but always kept an eye out for a lack of cleanliness. This was another of her quaint mannerisms. Clean but untidy. If you can work that one out. He thought about past events, they were all part and parcel of his job, well, at least they had been, until retirement that is? Retirement? That was a laugh, wasn’t it? On the present circumstance he could be alive now but the next second, dead. This was pushing it a bit, dead next second. What was the matter with him. He drank from his cup and thought about the future. With Vicky. She was pregnant now, all things changed. He looked her in a different light, a more compelling one. As she lay in their bed, he saw a woman who had turned his life upside down. A woman of remarkable courage and insight. A woman whom he could be happy with. He thought about Vicky and things in the past. She had overturned his grief. His mental agility to deal with the loss of someone he loved. That was the whole point, someone he loved, a past and fulling period in his life. Now, it was time to move on.
A new baby and a new love. A baby filled him with a complete sense of joy – he didn’t quite know about this! A baby? He would wait and see. No doubt he would be filled with a sense of accomplishment, he had yet to realise this, but it wouldn’t be far off, not if Vicky’s tummy was anything to go by. Fatherhood, God it would be unusual for him. An experience of an untold consequence. He held the thought for a moment, what’s knew he said to himself. Plenty that’s what.
Vicky walked into the kitchen. She looked good, first thing in the morning, he had to give her that. Hair all over the place, not a scratch of makeup on and a general look of bodily negligence about her. She looked bloody sexy and the tummy was beginning to expand. All is fair in love and war, he said to himself. God forgive him for using such a banal comment. She fumbled with her hair as she said, “Where’s my coffee then?”
“In the pot, where it always is.”
“Oh, a pleasant mood you are in. Anxious and nasty, for a change.”
“There’s nothing nasty about it. I’m just being my usual charming self, Vicky. Hold on there, sit down and give your tummy a rest. I’ll get the coffee for you.”
She sighed. “Its not my tummy that’s needing a rest. Anyway, it hasn’t got too bulbous yet. I’m feeling all randy. Come on, forget the coffee, let’s go up to bed. Now, Max.” He did as he was told, anything for peace.
As she took his hand he said, “What about the wedding and so on?”
“I haven’t got around to it yet. Busy. Don’t think you’re getting away with it though. I’ll get on with things today. Now come on, I want that cock of yours!”
“Anything for you, dear. Lead on!”
Christ Vicky thought, he doesn’t let up, not for a moment. She let out a smile, he was a bastard no matter which way she sliced it. A loveable one, but a bastard all the same.
“Tim, how is that Max doing? Retired now, isn’t he?” They were sitting down in one of those Gentleman’s Clubs in Pall Mall. Tim was on the brandy, it was after six in the evening, so time for one of his extravagances, if you call it that. If a bomb went off in the place, no would notice. It was that sort of club, royals and the such like frequented it. It was a place of ultimate discretion.
“Yes, it would seen so. I’ll miss him.” He was talking to one of the Heads of security. Not MI 6. He left most of the detail out but gave him the gist of things. “How did you know, anyway?”
“Well, you know how it is. Eyes and ears everywhere.” The man opposite him made a non-distinct reply. He was a distinguished soul, about fifty odd, and looking extremely right for the Club. He was all secrecy, and yet his eyes watched everything. His face was that of an aristocrat, pointed nose and stern chin. “He caused you some indeterminate problems, I gather.”
“Yes, he did but everything is sorted out now.”
“How is that book of his coming along? We’ve had a view. Nothing that breaches security and so on.”
“That’s Max for you. Makes attention to detail all and everything. It’s why he has lasted so long. A pity, he’s gone, I must say Percy. How do know his name anyway? I thought that was between he and myself. “He smiled as he said this. “Don’t tell me, eyes and ears everywhere.”
“Quite so, Tim. Quite so. That Mexican drug lord and his partner are let’s say, terminated. I wonder who ordered the hit then? Very professional, I hear.”
“Quite so, Percy. Quite so.” They both knew who had done the dirty deed. Some things were best left unsaid.
They went on to discuss matters that were of national importance. Terrorism and the such like. They discussed things like a game of chess. No personalities involved. Just moves and if this move had a certain certainty to it, the all was well. They both neither exchanged the secrets that they were involved with, not all the details anyway. They both knew their place, albeit that it was a secret. What place that was had yet to be determined.
Tim finished his brandy and went to leave. “Well, it was instructive talking to you, Percy. All knowledge serves the greater good and all that. I’ll see you at the next meeting.”
“That’s fine, Tim. Look forward to it.”
Tim left the club and made his way towards Max’s flat. He had already planned on going there. He just wanted to see how he was getting on. Retirement and such like. He was fond of the man. He had expended a lifelong service to the secrets of the state. He was to be cherished, in a sort of secret way. He was sad that he had gone. This was a deliberate state of mind that he wasn’t used to. He would never get used to a feeling of emotion. So be it.
He took a taxi and all the chaos that surrounded him passed him by. The State was all that mattered to him. Keeping the citizens safe and protected. He was comfortable in his bulk of adulthood. He felt secure in his glob of overindulgence. He felt as if no one could touch him. No one who was highly intelligent anyway. What did the terrorist think? They had minds that were in a state of indoctrination. They saw only the right way, and nothing else. He sighed to himself, there was nothing but destruction when against this mindset. Chaos and the loss of life.
The death of the innocent.
As the taxi drove past a London that had changed, in so many ways. It was multi-cultural now, multi state infraction. All nationalities lived here, a different skin colour, a different set of values. All in all it worked rather well, considering. He saw the drunks and the pimps, all cities had them, including London. There was no escaping it. He thought about Thomas Hobbes and his state of nature, it was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. He’s got that right. It was all about the rich getting richer, more undue wealth. They’re young certainly did better. Living longer and so on. It was disgusting really, all this manifest dialling up of consequence. But was it?
His quick mind mused on this last point as the taxi pulled up outside Max’s flat. He paid the driver and made his way in. He’d been told that Max would be there this evening. It was just as well, he disliked paying for taxis at the best of times.
He went up in the lift and found Max’s door. He knocked and waited. The door eventually opened.
“Oh, it’s you.” Max said, he was terse, in that usual way of his. Tim hadn’t seen him with Vicky.
“Ah, a warm welcome I see.” He was a little puffed out after the walk from the lift doors to the flat, it was only a couple of yards, but Tim took it seriously. “Shall I come in? It’s good to see you, Max.”
“Yes, come in. What do want me for? You had better sit down, otherwise you will fall down.”
“A kind spirit, Max.” He waddled his way to a comforting armchair. He sat down, the cushion underneath his gargantuan arse, nearly squeaked into oblivion. God knows what his office chair looked like.
“I only called to see how you are. Retirement and what you are doing with your time. A kindly employer/employee relationship, I think Max.”
“Fine, Tim. I’m enjoying writing and seeing to my love life.”
“That would be the literary agent, wouldn’t it? A pity, Max. A pity.” He reached down into the briefcase he had been carrying with him. He pulled out a silence Glock and directed right at Max. “As I say, that is unfortunate. You refused to see to that Chinese industrialist for me. He went ahead and signed a contract with another company. I lost a great deal of money, nearly went bankrupt over it. Not done when working for the Secret Service, not done at all. It was a hopeless task I grant you, terminating him, but you would have got the job done. You were my best agent. It was would have been a shame to lose you, but then people come and go. You see, I had to see that my retirement plan coming to—-fruition, if you like. The Secret Service is not over generous with its retirement plans?”
“Mine has been alright, Tim.” Max stayed calm and collected. It was not the first time he had a gun pointed at him. He didn’t show it, but his gut was turning upside down.
“Well, I had some influence as you know but never mind that. The point is Max, you nearly bankrupted me, I am still not sure whether I can get out of it and you have to go. I’m sorry but there it is. All the contractors I employed were not up to your scratch I’m afraid.”
“So, it was you?!”
“Yes Max, committing an act of revenge. It does feel rather satisfying though, I must admit.” The gun still played a part in this argument about life or death. There was no argument at least where Tim was concerned. “Now Max, get on the floor and kneel, would you? It would make life easier, less messy.”
Max got up and knelt on the floor. He had already cleared his mind; He knew what he had to do. Tim made an effort to get up from the chair. Now, now! He caught Tim on the shins with his right fist, then with his left he crushed his jawbone. There was no shriek, he had been too fast. He gripped the hand that was holding the gun and turned it on Tim, there was shudder in the pistol and the body went limp.
Tim was dead.
Max sat back and let his breath out. This Tim had been responsible for all the bloodthirsty chaos that had presented itself to him. All the threats to Vicky. The following, the knowing where he was, the technology must have been immense. But he could do it, the fucker could do it. Max stayed where he was. Why hadn’t he seen it coming? Why? He knew the answer to this. For all his dislike of Tim, he had trusted him, come what may. Trust, that was a word so often used by people and so often abused by them. He thanked God that Vicky hadn’t been hurt in any way, he thanked God that he had a baby coming along. All because he had been a trained killer. People often thought that he was an exception to the rule of common humanity, but he wasn’t. He sat on the floor thanking that he was able to draw the distinction between wrong and right.
And right had won.
Max and Vicky had got married. It was a low-key affair, on Max’s insistence. Just close friends and people who mattered. He couldn’t put up with all the niceties of marriage vows. He held Vicky at the dock, all prevarications gone. He couldn’t help a tear pass down his cheeks as he said, ‘I do’.
Max had come to the decision that all was well that ends well. This is what he kept telling himself anyway. He was still coming to terms with the fact that Tim was a traitor of the first order. He felt disappointed that he had been taken in, but he worked for him for a such a long time. It was funny in a kind of distracted way, how people could turn at the switch of a one-armed bandit. He didn’t ponder on this; it was just the way it was. Money, that incomprehensible delusion. Tim had been tested and he had failed. All for looking at the right amount on retirement. It was pitiless.
The book he had written was a major success and he was now a bestselling author, although he didn’t much like the publicity that came with it. He would carry on writing though, just to kick everyone up the arse!
The cottage was finished, and they had moved in, married in a subdued kind of way, well quietly if you could call it that. It was a delightful place to live. It was surrounded by countryside and when they got up in the morning the views out of the windows were all fields and trees. A marked difference to London! Max and Vicky had gone back to nature – well, they kept telling themselves this! Max had saved enough money to put in half of the purchase price and half of the renewing expenses. So, everybody was happy, most of all Max. He didn’t want to be dependent on Vicky, love yes but money no.
Max was seeing about getting a dog, not of a particular species, he couldn’t be bothered with all that crap. It was choosing the right dog charity that was the thing. He would a find a pup and take it from there. A cross between a Welsh sheep dog and a Staffordshire bull terrier, seemed to do the trick. A bitch. He already seen one. Eighty pounds to do all the vaccinations and he was done. A small amount of money for loyalty and love. It was a pity that Tim couldn’t be so cheap.
A baby girl kept them awake at night, Max usually saw to it. Changing nappies was an exercise in toleration but he didn’t mind. Vicky went off to London three days a week, so it was clever division of labour. He saw to the shit, whilst she saw to books. Very clever! They continued to fight but this was a true indicator of how happy they were. They always made up at night, before any action started. Vicky had made adjustments to her Will. Half her estate would go to Arthur (it was only fair in light of her socialist background!) and the other half to Max and the children. She was planning on having a brood, if her body would allow it.
Arthur and Janice showed up at the cottage every so often and they had a grand old time getting drunk and telling filthy stories Janice was still intent on seeing her country living coming to fruition. Something like the cottage had immediately come to mind. She would continue with her plan, if she could get Arthur behind it!
All the events of the past gradually filled a hole that was full of memory. Some tricky, some to be celebrated. All would not be forgotten but they fade with time. The human condition was good at that. It was an expert.
Max gripped Vicky’s hand as they went to bed that night.
It was a holding of complete love. Commitment and a leading of life together as one. The baby screeched in the other room just to confirm it!