By Stephen Whittaker
Highly intelligent, wealthy man, fighting with his alcohol issues. Compassionate, but can be ruthless when needed. He cuts a lonely figure after several failed relationships. Totally honest in his dealings and generous. Never knows when he is beaten. Something of an idealist, seeking perfection. Good looking, well maintained, but has had health issues down to his previous drinking.
An old friend of Gabriels, bonded by fighting in Bosnia. Physically handsome and a hard worker, but not as smart as Gabriel and knows it. Loves his wife Jen but worried about his adopted autistic boy. This was not expected and threw him at the time. A solid, dependable man but perhaps not the most exciting.
Very smart, attractive woman. A top lawyer who gave it up to look after her son. Short fused, impatient. No longer in love with Mike but has a sneaking attraction to Gabriel for which she hates herself. Fights with the conflict between stability and excitement.
Odd character with autism. Little speech and no literacy but possesses a unique talent where he can communicate and see things others can’t by touch. Exceptional artist. His comprehension of the world is limited to the ‘here and now’. Very sensitive.
A pretty Russian girl with a powerful memory. Saw her father executed on their door step and bares the emotional scars. Resourceful and clever, but cynical of this world, yet unflinchingly brave.
The biochemist. Mother of Lena. Attractive woman with a sadness in her eyes at the loss of her husband. Hated the regime she worked for and wanted her findings to go global. Idealistic, believed in peace. Develops an interest in Gabriel, knowing he was not indifferent. She caught him looking.
Chapter 1 – Over Dinner
“That was nice.” said Jenny.
“Yes thanks.” chimed in her husband Mike.
Their adopted, and as it turned out, autistic son, (a young teen called Jamie), stared around the restaurant. This was unfamiliar and he was clearly uncomfortable. He had barely touched his food. His mother had said not to worry as he could have his favourite, fish fingers, when they got home. “He seems to exist on them” she said. “That and cornflakes!” trying to raise smile she brushed hair out of her eyes, looking a little tired.
“So, how are you Gabriel?” asked Mike.
Gabriel knew what was behind this. This was not a polite enquiry. He gave a sigh. “How was hospital?” Mike asked, more with a kind of glee rather than genuine concern.
“I don’t remember much about it. Anyway, I am fine now.” Mike’s eyebrows rose at Gabriel’s reply.
“So, what’s wrong?”
“I show symptoms of psychosis.”
Mike and Jenny looked at me as if I had latent, murderous intent.
“So, you are psychotic?” asked Jenny.
“I didn’t say that.” Gabriel deliberately slowed his voice as you may do to a child. “Besides, it comes in many forms. Check it out on the net. I know you will.”
They both looked at each other as if in the presence of a demonic entity. Gabriel felt this was getting tiresome and replied. “Look, I said I am ok. In fact never better. Now let’s not carry on with this line.”
“Are you being treated for it?” Mike would not let it go. That was enough. Gabriel slammed the table.
“I said no more!” said Gabriel with undisguised annoyance. “And just for the record, you nosey p***k, the answer is no. I don’t want to be treated.”
“Sorry, sorry it’s none of our business.”
Gabriel’s right hand was next to the boy, palm face up. His parents looked truly shocked as he took Gabriel’s hand in his.
“But he never….. does that” his mother stammered.
Gabriel closed his eyes as he heard an unspoken voice.
He had been told the boy hardly ever talked and if he did it was difficult to understand. This wasn’t. Gabriel knew it was him as they were the only people there. The boy smiled and said “Come with me, I have something to show you.”
Chapter 2 – What Gabriel Saw
They were in a garden and behind them was the boy’s parent’s house, Gabriel recognised it from photos Mike had shown him. He had never been invited round.
Still holding Gabriel’s hand, the boy pointed with his free arm down the garden. It was stocked with the most beautiful flowers Gabriel had ever seen. More curious was it went on and on, well beyond vision.
“Did you do this?” The boy nodded. Then he spoke again. “It is my favourite place. I come here every day and hours go bye in a blink.”
“It’s magnificent in both colour and scent.”
“Thank you. I am very pleased how it turned out.”
They stood there in silence, listening to the drone of bees, twittering birds and the whisper of the plants brought on by a perfect breeze. Now both were smiling in what seemed a perpetual summer.
“There is something else I want you to see.” The boy took Gabriel into the house and upstairs to his own room. It was incredibly neat for a teenage boy. A well-made bed on the left and a small white desk on the right on which stood three large books. Once again he pointed, this time at the books. Gabriel went over to look. One was on Greek mythology, another on Egypt. Both had superb art work. “I can’t read” said the boy “but the pictures tell their own story.” The final book was called “The Art of Van Gogh.” He took the book from Gabriel. Turning the pages he came to the picture of ‘Starry Night’.
“This is the best” said the boy and Gabriel asked why it was and he said “because that’s how it looks, I know you have seen it this way too. Do you want to see my drawings?” “Of course.” Hidden away under the bed he retrieved a buff folder and handed it to Gabriel. While most were copies from his books the execution and draftsmanship was exquisite.
“You have a real talent here. Do your parents know about this?”
“No. You can shout and shout as much as you like, but if no one listens or does not understand……. I think you know how that feels.”
Then it was over. The boy’s hand dropped and Gabriel was faced with a sea of confused and alarmed faces; not just at their table but some other diners too.
“Jesus Gaby are you ok, what happened? I was about to call an ambulance. You were out for at least two minutes.” Mike looked panicked. His wife, wide eyed with astonishment, clutching the boy to herself as if Gabriel had committed some heinous act against him.
Gabriel replied “Seemed a lot longer, believe me. Just calm down. I have something to say to both of you.” He took a breath, they leant forward. “I think Jamie would benefit from a spot of gardening if you were to give him a patch at the back there that was just for him. And the books in his room on the white desk, he needs more, particularly art based. No doubt he will show you his drawings in due course, when he is ready. Just keep him supplied.”
The shaking of heads signalled disbelief.
Jennifer rose hastily. “We have to go now. I am sick of this b******t. You should see someone but I know you won’t.”
They left and so Gabriel picked up the bill, lost in thought.
Chapter 3 – Analysis
Jennifer stormed back to the car leaving Mike and Jamie some way behind. When they arrived she had already started the engine. “Get in” she barked and then they drove off. “Look, I know he is your friend, but please, come on. What was all that about?” She was clearly very angry. “Was he drunk?”
“No. he said he stopped some time ago.”
“Oh really. And how many times is that, I’ve lost count. Maybe you could fill me in.” Her sarcasm had slipped its leash.
“He has never lied to me. He always says when he is back on it.” But he knew trying to defend Gabriel was an uphill struggle.
“Michael, Michael, Michael listen to me. I don’t care whether he drinks or not, just keep him away from us. Look at the evidence. In and out of rehab centres, failed relationships all because of booze. If he stops, good. But the damage to his mind has already been done.”
Mike went quiet then said “he has never been to our house, right?” Jenny nodded. “Well how did he know about Jamie’s room, the desk, the books and the pictures we have not even seen? Do you have an answer?” Now Jenny went silent. Tears rose in her eyes.
“I don’t know, I don’t know” she slammed the steering wheel in frustration. “But I know he scares the s**t out of me.”
“He is not a monster.”
“How do you know? Tell me. He could have a basement full of dead prostitutes. I don’t think he would tell you about that. Do you?”
“He is not a monster. He doesn’t frighten me, nor Jamie for that matter. Maybe….”
“Maybe what Mike? You think I am the problem? Well f**k you! I am just trying to protect us all, even you d**k head, god knows why. What we saw back there was psychotic, an episode. You have told me yourself he sometimes has hallucinations. People in his garden in the middle of the night. A red eyed demon at his window. He may not be dangerous, but you must admit he is more than a little weird. These are classic symptoms you must see that.”
“I guess so.” But Mike remembered, when he lost his job, Gabriel stepped up. Covered his bills, even his mortgage and gave him a hundred grand to start his catering business. Sure, he could afford it, but still. He had never told Jen about any of this. Pride always got in the way.
“I suppose you don’t want me to see him anymore?”
“That’s up to you. This guy is looking for something and if he finds it you really, really don’t want to be around” Mike turned on the radio. They both started laughing. They were playing U2 ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’.
“Maybe he thinks he wrote this.” giggled Jen. The tension had been diffused.
Chapter 4 – Gabriel Goes Home
He got up from the table, leaving a substantial tip. At the door his waitress placed her hand on his arm. “Excuse me sir, can I get you a taxi home, we were worried about you.”
“It’s only a short walk. As you can see, I am fine now. Besides, I could do with some fresh air, but thank you.” He gave her a short, but noticeable bow and went out onto the street.
It had been a hot summer’s day in Oxford which had lapsed into a balmy evening. The students had gone home in the main so it was a little quieter than usual. He passed by the burger joint where the Asian proprietor was closing up and as ever, on sight, they waved to each other. He remembered a while back he had debated God with him (in who Gabriel did not believe), but the fellow behind the counter fervently did. It went something like this.
“Sir, it’s a beautiful day and I thank God for it.”
“God created all the wonderful things in the world,”
“What about the bad stuff?”
“Ah, sir, that is down to us.”
“Even starving African babies dying by the minute. What did they ever do? It is the valuable work of scientists that provide medical cures, not prayers to something that doesn’t exist.”
“Science can’t explain everything.”
“True, but more and more each day, helping to dispel mysticism and ignorance.” He handed me my order and we parted in smiles. No antagonism, just views expressed. You would not get that kind of conversation in McDonalds.
After about ten minutes he reached the front door of his house. A large, imposing structure, built on three floors with a capacious basement. He went inside. The decor and furnishings were a delight, pleasing to the eye. Many antiques and gorgeous fabrics procured by his interior designer, to whom he had given carte blanche. He always trusted expertise and when the bill came through he added twenty percent for her good work, for which she was grateful. He had rarely seen that in his life. If you have a lot of money people come to expect, often leaving him disillusioned with them.
He went to the sitting room, flopping on a wingback chair to contemplate the evening. He had not seen that coming. He understood Jennifer’s concerns, however much misplaced they were. The boy intrigued him though. This, he believed, was not hallucination. There were too many corroborative facts that the so called “sane people” could check out, weren’t there? But he did know the experience took him way beyond human empathy. Actually seeing life through another’s eyes was a whole new ball game.
Chapter 5 – Breakfast at the Robinsons. Mike, Jenny and Jamie
The three of them were round the kitchen table, radio three classics played in the background, but no one was really listening. Morning sunlight streamed through the conservatory windows just beyond the kitchen catching dust motes as it arrowed in. Mike put down his spoon, failing to finish all his Weetabix.
“The digger comes to day. I told them to turn over twenty square feet for Jamie’s new garden.”
The boy picked up his bowl, draining the sugary milk. His mother wiped his chin before it dripped on his clothes. If the idea had come from her, or Mike, she would have embraced it cheerfully. She could tell Jamie was excited. But it hadn’t, it had come from that nut job. Truth be told, she was angry with herself. How could she have missed such simple things? Was she a bad mother? Jamie had certainly perked up recently, but she could not help resenting Gabriel’s intrusion into their lives.
After choosing a book on surrealism at Boswells later that day, Jamie produced his own work for them to see. They went down stairs after looking at the pictures and sitting on the sofa tears fell from their eyes. Mike put his arm round his wife, kissing her head.
“We always knew he was special well……” Jenny sniffed back a runny nose.
“Yeah, guess so.” Regaining her composure, she thought back to when Jamie had first been diagnosed. Being unable to have children of their own, they adopted this beautiful baby.
“Do you remember how quiet he was?”
“Yep, he wouldn’t play or do anything much.”
“How did you feel when you were told?” Mike fished for the right words.
“Devastated I suppose.”
“It was more than that. It almost finished us. I felt, yes it’s unfair, yes it’s a cruel twist, but he’s our son.”
“Do you, do you really?” You practically disappeared for a year and buried yourself in ‘work’. Have you any idea how difficult it is to love someone who does not interact and often will not be touched.”
“Look. I know you have done a terrific job and I was very sorry how I behaved, but I came back didn’t I? I love you and Jamie, you must believe that. It’s been a long time coming but things are picking up. Jamie is developing new interests, business is going well.”
“I want you to speak to me about that.”
“I know he gave you the money Mike. We have a joint account for Christ sakes, do you think I am an idiot?” Mike looked sheepish. “Are you going to pay it back?”
“I tried last year, but he refused to take it.” Jennifer shook her head.
“That’s just f*****g typical of him. Did you see all Jamie’s pictures? You know the one he likes the best, the portrait of Gabriel. He has seen him twice in his life Mike, twice. It’s like a photograph.”
“I knew you wouldn’t like it but you have to admit it’s brilliant.” the doorbell rang. “That will be the digger. I will get it.” Jamie had already beaten him to it.
Chapter 6 – Gabriel Levi Wakes Up
Gabriel woke with a start as his eight o’clock alarm went off. He still felt tired, though he had slept through which was unusual. He hoped the times of staying in bed for days were behind him. He couldn’t be sure, in fact he wasn’t sure of anything anymore. During those periods he would not eat and he remembered wishing it was all over. The doctor had said he was depressed and was about to write a prescription for him.
“No, please don’t.”
“Why ever not?”
“Because they treat symptoms, offering no cure. They are addictive and I could be on them the rest of my life, unable to think a cogent thought. I need to feel this, I need to feel my life is authentic not dependent on pills.”
“Then why do you drink, isn’t that masking reality? You have to stop or I give you two years tops judging by your blood results Mister Levi. Sorry, but you have to know this.” That had been a wakeup call, a rude one.
He dragged himself out of bed, showered, dressed and went for breakfast in the high street at his usual place. On entering he did not need to order, it was always the same, Americano and a croissant with apricot jam which was brought to him. He looked around as he ate. Several young couples engrossed in each other, laughing at nothing, in love with life itself. There was a time he had been like that and he wondered if it could ever happen again. Probably not, though he had no answer why.
On his way back he pondered the nature of love and decided there were two types, pure and not. Pure love, he thought, was an act of faith in its truest sense. It required no evidence or facts to believe it was there. Religious types would argue the same applies to God. Not so. You cannot hold God, kiss God, sleep with God, the list is endless as to what true lovers can do. Faith in God is a waste of energy as he doesn’t exist whereas as faith between two people is a different story.
Faith can be lost by one or both parties and will never be the same again no matter how hard they may try. This can happen all too easily usually by events such as a secret discovered, an infidelity (hence the use of faith), an abuse, use of drugs or alcohol in Gabe’s case. Basically, anything that can cast doubt that what you see before you is not what you originally saw. So pure love then decays to being not so. People who say love means different things to different people do so to cover their nakedness and, deep down, their fear. Gabriel thought most couples lived in this state and made the best they could of it. It would have its moments which kept them together and there would always be room for kindness in this colder world. A love based on faith in each other is incredibly fragile, like a golden balloon, but a balloon none the less. Beware sharp objects. When you are cast out from Eden walk away and if you look back and can still see where you came from then you have not gone far enough. He now began to understand the true meaning of the story.
Gabriel looked back. What he had been through, no one gave a s**t. The rape and societies indifference. Left him cold. But so determined he did well at school, maybe this was his chance. To escape. The poverty he hated so much. See through shop windows what he couldn’t touch.
Was dragged away, and cried.
He graduated with a first in law. Not too easy but went to his tutor who said to him you cannot go into the City. Look at your background!
“Mrs. Close, I think you are wrong. I can be anything, go back to your Didsbury village. Don’t know anything about you. But I follow the money.” And she was wrong. Was she wrong!
He wanted something better. Better than the tawdry existence of putting meals on the table.
He must have written at least a hundred applications and got three interviews.
His best line was “I just want to make you, and me, some money. Lots of it” this was the 80s. Thatcher years. He did not disappoint. These were times of greed.
He took a post in the most ‘blue blood’ of city firms. Populated by Etonians, Harrovians. Nepotism gone mad. But he knew, if you are not there on merit that gave him a clear advantage. Because he was. Six were recruited and after one year only two remained. He married the girl. Very bright, a double first in economics and French. This was the princess he had always dreamed of but she crushed him on their wedding night.
“Gabriel, I don’t love you.”
“Then why did we go through this charade?”
“My parents had gone to such effort. I had a duty.”
“And your duty to me?”
The honey moon was sterile. As was most of the marriage after. They divorced.
He went a bit wild after this experience. Began to drink, take drugs. But somehow, somehow held down his career and wondered if he was trying to mask the pain he felt. He surely was and went back to his childhood. No point talking about it. No one would listen or give a d**n.
Packed in his work, already independently wealthy. Signed up for the army, felt he could make a difference. He was only thirty three. Still fit and a new crisis had arrived. Bosnia Herzegovina. Ethnic cleansing he knew all about. His parents and relatives had suffered the camps. This could not happen again.
“Attention!” The drill Sargent walked slowly by the assembled men. He looked in each of their eyes; they didn’t look back, but Levi did.
“Are you a yid Levi?”
“I am Jewish Sir.”
“All the same to me. Not sure I like your attitude. Drop and give me twenty. Now.” this was no problem to Gabriel. He did it on his knuckles.
“You think your tough don’t you yiddo?”
“No sir, but what you say to me makes me harder.”
“Good Levi. You get the message.”
But did he?
Chapter 7 – Bad Day, and the Girl
Gabriel had not slept or eaten in forty-eight hours. He had tried to eat but felt he would vomit and tried to sleep, but feared the nightmares that may follow. He had moved from room to room for no good reason trying to think of a memory beyond grasp. When did this all start? He knew latterly drink was a key factor, but he also knew the issues he faced pre-dated that. Ideas gathering momentum from the engine of a perceived and personal truth with unimaginable power made real. Dreamscapes populated by imaginary people you could talk to had always been a feature in his life. But what if he could no longer distinguish the real from the unreal, or be sure. All day he had seen movement in the corner of his eye. He could not tell what or who it was. More of a nuisance if anything. He answered the door on numerous occasions having thought the doorbell rang, but there was no one there. All fairly mild, unless a prelude to something bigger.
He decided to take a walk, despite the lateness of the hour and the rain. The streets were deserted and the church bell, more audible outside, chimed one. The gentle hiss of rain on road and pavement had a soothing effect on his mind, that and the fresh air. The rain grew harder and he headed home. On reaching his street he was caught by the image of a young girl about one hundred yards ahead. Everything was an image if not seen before until independently verified. As he approached his gate she ran towards him in obvious distress, crying and soaked to the skin.
“They have taken her, taken her. My mother!”
“Who has, have you called the police?”
“I can’t go back, they will be watching.”
“Please, can we just go inside? I have been out all night and I am frozen and wet.”
“Show me your arms.” she did saying “I am not a user if that’s what you are worried about.”
“Ok we can call from my house.”
“No, no you must not involve the police. I will tell you all about it in the morning.” She was exhausted. I took her upstairs to a bedroom, showed her the adjoining bathroom and picked out a suitably sized fluffy cotton bath robe. She was quite small framed.
“Leave your wet things outside the door I will dry them for you.” Before doing so he went through the pockets. Not exactly gallant, but deemed necessary on his part. You never know. Nothing turned up. After about half an hour she came down and sat in front of the fire he had built. She looked tired and clearly not up for conversation.
“Will you tell me who you are?”
“Do I detect a Russian accent?”
“Yes, but it’s too late for twenty questions. Do you have any cereal, I am very hungry?”
“Of course. I will join you.” they sat in silence eating their Frosties, each wondering whether they could trust the other. She finished quickly and took her bowl through to kitchen, washed it and stacked it.
“I need to sleep now. Your hospitality saved my life. Thank you. But I am going to need your help.
Chapter 8 – The Next Day, Father and Daughter
He slept well that night, no chaos in his dreams and when he awoke he felt refreshed. He robed, passed her room, the door was shut. All his doors were left ajar. He went down stairs, made coffee and waited. If this was psychotic hallucination he was definitely mad. About ten she appeared,
“Where are my clothes?”
“On the sofa over there.”
“You ironed and pressed them, thank you.”
“You are my guest” he gave a flourish of his hand. She smiled and went away to dress. When she came back he asked “would you like breakfast?” a vigoured nod said yes. “We will go to the café on the corner and don’t be afraid I will hold your hand, like father and daughter.”
They left the house. She was always looking around at cars, if she found someone in them she stopped, examined and then moved on. What was he drawn into, her delusion or his?
They went into the café. Aziz said “And your friend?” Wow, he hugged her. She was embarrassed, but he was over joyed. She was real. “Two full English.” They took their seats and waited.
“So, I know your name.’
“You don’t, it’s not Peterson, it’s Petrovitch, it changed when we came here.”
She had the bluest eyes he had ever seen, but they were ice cold and somewhat intimidating, rather than seductive.
“How old are you?”
“I am eighteen.”
Breakfast arrived and they tucked in and was soon finished. He asked “Where do you live?”
“On Leckford. When they came mother said run. I went the back way. Through gardens.” she pointed to scrapes on her arms.
“Who are they?”
“Rogue Russian agents, ex KGB, not Kremlin sponsored, out to make a quick buck.”
“But why you and your mother?”
“I will tell you more when we get home, ok?”
Chapter 9 – Her Story and Mike Calls
They walked back, holding hands. He actually felt happy. This was unfamiliar territory. They went into the library and sat opposite one and other.
“So many books” She said. “Have you read them all?”
He nodded. “Some two or three times.”
“Do you not have a good memory, mine is eidetic?” She picked a book at random, read a page then handed it to him. She repeated the words on the page without fault.
“That’s very impressive, but did you get the meaning?”
“No, but I remembered”
“What do you want to know?”
“Everything that brought you here.”
“My mother is a biochemist. She was working on a cure for radiation sickness but she also developed a vaccine which would stop the effects. She tested it on animals and it worked. She did not trust Putin so deleted the last part of her work. Told me to memorise it.” She tapped her head. “We contacted your embassy, not the yanks, (they are just as bad) and told them what we had. My father, on our doorstep, had been shot right in front of us for writing articles against the regime. She wanted the world to have it. They can put her to work, but I hold the key. It’s me they really want. Next day we were taken to the airport and on a private jet, flown to military base, given new identities and taken to our new home. I thought we were free. But we weren’t. We had been followed and they took Irena, my mother, god knows where. I, as you see escaped. But be on high alert, they will stop at nothing. What do say to that? What can you say?”
He said “I see”. There was silence in the room. She brushed away tears from her memories.
“You said you needed my help, what can I do?”
“I can see you are very kind, and a gentle man. I need to stay a while, not sure how long. Is that ok?”
“Of course” he leaned over and took her hand “Don’t worry, together we can sort this all-out.”
The phone rang, they both started. “I have to go now” she said “see friends”
“You will need some money” he pulled out his wallet and gave her fifty. “Is that enough?”
“Yes, thank you.” she gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek.
“Take my spare key on the dresser in the hall. I must get the call. Bye.”
“Hallo, Gabriel here”
“It’s Mike….. Look, something big is going on down here. I really need to see you. Can I come round?”
“Sure my friend, at your disposal.”
“Give me ten minutes.”
“Where are you?”
“In a bar, a block away from you. There is something I need to tell you.”
Chapter 10 – Mike
Mike arrived. A little the worse for wear. He slumped on the sofa. Gabriel had seen worse and been worse himself.
“So what’s up?” Mike twisted his fingers nervously and looked down. “I am going to leave Jen” he burst into tears. Gabriel asked why as he sobbed away. Mike recovered wiped his nose.
“Because it’s all been a lie, since Jamie came. Christ, he wasn’t even my blood and when he was diagnosed autistic I flipped. I had an affair with a girl in the office. I know, I know it sounds cheesy.”
“I knew.” said Gabriel. “Your behaviour changed and you are an awful liar. Does Jen know?”
“I never told her, but I think she suspects.”
“Mike, come clean. You owe her that, she probably knows in any case. Women sense these things.”
“Yeah, yeah you are right. But what if she wants to divorce?”
“Do you love her?”
“Then make it work with the truth. Love will survive. She is a strong, intelligent and attractive woman. They don’t pass by too often. You must fight for her, your only weapon is honesty. No more lies Mike.” Gabriel’s words struck a chord.
Mike said “but, but…”
“You roll the dice, see what comes up. But remember, the exchange is final. There are no more chances.”
They heard a key in the door and Lena entered.
“Gabriel are you here?”
“In here, this is Mike, a good friend.”
Mike’s jaw dropped. Lena left the room,
“Talk later.” she said.
“What the f**k, what the f**k is going on here?”
“Someone I met who needs help. It’s not what you think.”
“She is f*****g gorgeous, man you sly old dog.”
“Gabriel said it’s not what you think. Unlike you I keep my c**k in my trousers.”
“Well Gabe, she’s a babe.” He felt sick at the thought.
“Go back to Jen, tell her the truth. That is your gamble.”
Chapter 11 – Mike and Jean
“Look I have something to say. That year, after Jamie was diagnosed, I had an affair.”
“I knew, you weren’t f*****g me. I had one too.”
“I have needs Mike. Let’s just call this quits. A guy in my writing group. A doctor, but man did he f**k.” Mike was deflated.
“So, is it over?”
“Sadly, yes. He was married. She found out. Came around one day, while you were at work. She was vicious. But you know me, I don’t back off, particularly when I have too much to lose.”
“Was he better than me?”
“Oh yeah.” Even more deflation.
“Can we what Mike?”
“Rewind, go back?”
“I doubt it. I want a divorce. You cheated, I cheated. You are a nice guy. But the love has gone.”
He slumped in a chair. She was right, she usually was. Her instincts impeccable. No wishes granted or received. He believed her words and felt sad.
“Look, Jen,” he tried to touch her hand, she withdrew it.
“It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“But it does, it does.” A vehicle for mankind, was he just driving blind? He knew, he knew that it was all avoidable. But he could not evade the inevitable. His love for her persisted and he resisted anger.
“You know what? I’m glad you did, but just remember I loved you. More than he could.”
“So you say. But this discharge isn’t welcome anymore”. He was not refried, the kind of guy who tries to find a way out. Instincts tell him to do that.
He had to call Gabe.
Chapter 12 – Suspicion
“It’s nice here” said Lena, after Mike left. “You must be quite rich I guess. How did that happen?”
“Maybe I was lucky.” said Gabriel, in a guarded fashion.
“Don’t worry. I am not here to steal from you.”
“How do I know?” They studied each other’s faces, looking for what seemed a hidden truth about the other.
“Do you believe things happen for a reason?” asked Lena.
“No, they are guided by random action, without purpose.”
“I thought you may say that. What a cold world you live in. have you ever been in love?”
“I don’t see the relevance.” Gabriel began to feel under threat from this girl before him. It reminded him of the countless psychiatric assessment he had experienced in his life. Who the f**k was this with the nerve to dig into him, in his own house.
“You know my story, but I must know yours. What we have to do requires openness and honesty, or believe me, we will both be dead.” She had this way of speaking with a maturity beyond her years. It was calm, unemotional and for the first time in ages, Gabriel felt frightened. Lena went on. “You people have grown soft. Full of intellect, but no fight and you really have no idea what it is to live in fear.” She took out a cigarette, lit it and simply stared. The memories of a past best forgotten brought sadness to her eyes. The vulnerability, or what remained of it was still there, felt like a cry for help. Something had broken down at that moment. This girl had a terrible power and a terrible sadness that Gabriel recognised. He gave a polite cough. Her gaze rested on him. “I think you know what I mean. I think you feel the same.” If he wanted to speak, he couldn’t as language evaded him. When that happens, emotion fills the vacuum.
“Yes.” Was all he could manage, looking at the floor.
She nodded. A tear rolled down her cheek, and in that tear was pure humanity. A will, if you wish, for a better way. She said “We must fight for this.” The perennial call of all true warriors. Perhaps her mother was already dead given that it was her they were after. Her leverage was she had the secret, and would not give it up without safe passage for them both.
Chapter 13 – Abduction
Lena and Irena, her mother, finished supper that night and relaxed in their sitting room. It was late, and Irena looked fondly at the picture on the mantel piece of the family that was. Uri had been so brave as a journalist, highly critical of the regime. Perhaps too critical. It got him killed. The vivid memories of that night would never, could never leave. There had been a forceful knock on the apartment door and Uri answered. A loud shot rang through the corridor. Irena knew what had happened and ran to the door where Uri lay slumped, bleeding heavily but not dead yet. She said breathlessly “Lena, Lena, go back inside and call an ambulance. Can you do that?” Lena understood this was an emergency. Irena held his hand, but he had already gone by the time they arrived. She cradled him and cried while Lena stroked her hair.
The collective, dangerous madness that was Russia today, she thought, had always been there. A state governed and controlled by fear. She was a scientist, not a politician, but wondered why it had to be this way. It smacked of deep paranoia, acceptable in individuals, but not a heavily armed regime.
The doorbell rang.
Irena looked at the clock. It was past ten. Instantly Lena put down her book and headed for the backdoor. They had rehearsed this many times. No time for ‘goodbyes’. Nobody ever called at this time. Every instinct Irena had told her this was not good. All she could think, and hope was that Lena would find safety, but who knew where. That was the point. She did not want to know for then Irena could not give her up.
The bell rang again.
Irena opened the door and was faced by two men.
“Are you Irena Peterson?” asked the taller of the two.
“I think you must be mistaken.”
He took out a picture and held it up to her.
“I believe that’s you, wouldn’t you agree?” there was a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “Is your lovely daughter here?”
“Then where might she be? I’d very much like to meet her.” a salacious grin on his pockmarked face. “Search the place” turning to his colleague. After a few minutes he returned and shrugged.
“Oh dear, oh dear. Then it will just have to be you tonight. You know, we will find her. In the meantime, come with us.” This all seemed very matter of fact to him, as it was having ‘taken’ countless people before.
Irena was escorted down the street to a car, bundled in the back, then blindfolded. At least she was alive for now, but what did they have in mind?
As far as Irena knew, they drove through Oxford, sensibly paced so as not to attract attention, then she lost her sense of location. She asked where they were going, but it was met with silence. There was a stench of stale alcohol and cigarettes on the man next to her who gave a grunt of the corpulent at each imperfection in the road. These grew worse as they turned down some kind of track, she assumed unmade. The car stopped, and still blindfolded, she was roughly ushered out. After just a few yards she could hear their footsteps echo, suggesting a large enclosed space. A heavy door closed behind her and she heard a key turn.
The blindfold was removed and she was met with the astonishing sight of a close replica of the lab she had worked in as part of a military establishment in Russia.
“Do you like it my dear?” Asked the heavy set taller fellow. He seemed to be in charge, doing all the talking. She did not answer. “Well you had better get used to it. You know what we are looking for. Obviously we have most of your work, but the vital end piece seems to be missing. How do you account for that?”
“It was too difficult, I couldn’t do it.”
“Then, without warning, you come here. Why was that?”
“I was afraid. My husband had been recently shot dead at our home.”
“Ah yes, Uri Petrovitch. I really was only supposed to send a warning to him, but my enthusiasm for the work got the better of me.”
“So it was you?”
“Yes madam. Old habits die hard I am afraid, though Mr. Putin was not best pleased given the stink it caused.” He was almost laughing at her.
“You b*****d. You absolute b*****d.” Her anger almost choked her and now she knew who it was that killed her husband, she was intent on revenge.
Chapter 14 – Lena’s Plan
She sat him down. He felt like a child again. She stood before him, blazing blue eyes.
“Here’s what we are going to do. My mother wanted the whole world to have this, giving it to one nation confers a tactical advantage. Pre-emptive strikes and mopping up later will be a thing of the past if the people are alive. They will resist. Fight back. I have her whole work in my head.
Don’t you see? It must get out.” Gabriel, as ever, looked on.
“I understand. What do you propose we do?”
“We go viral. I want my mom back. They may call us spies or double agents, who gives a f**k. You have a laptop right?”
“Yes, in the library. What if she is already dead?”
“We don’t know that. Besides, they wouldn’t. The protocol is they want information.”
“Where do we post?”
“YouTube I guess. But I warn you there will be a lot of p****d off people who will come looking.”
“Let me deal with that.”
“Ok, let’s get to work.”
The doorbell rang. It was Mike and Jamie. They came in.
“Are you busy?” Asked Mike. Jamie looked confused. “Is she still here?”
“Yes, she has a name, Lena. Take a seat” Lena looked at the boy and he stared back. A connection made.
“So, you are Jamie. I need your help. Can you show me where my mother is?” he nodded. She brought him a pad. And took his hand, like Gabriel did. The magic of the kid began. He showed her a barn but no address and he drew it. Perfectly. She asked where it was.
“All I know is a small village, outside Oxford, called Boars Hill.”
“That’s enough” She let go. Woke up. The boy was on the floor, looked exhausted. He looked at her and her at him.
“You are dark.” he said. The boy spoke. Mike was amazed and so too was Gabriel.
Chapter 15 – Acceptance
“Is he ok?” Mike jumped up, immediately thinking this was some kind of epileptic seizure, the type he’d had before, albeit it infrequently. They got his still trembling body onto the sofa then he pushed them away. “Can anyone tell me what the f**k is going on here?” Demanded Mike. He was breathing hard, with a mixture of anxiety and anger.
“Sit down Mike, can’t you see you are alarming the boy” Gabriel said softly. Lena nodded her assent at his advice. ”Let’s all stay calm and give him time to recover.” Mike held his head in his hands.
“Gabriel, I hold his hand all the time and nothing happens. Why you and why, why her?”
“Perhaps you are not asking enough of him, not challenging Jamie. Perhaps you accept his condition too easily. You can’t listen to someone who doesn’t speak to you. Don’t you see that?”
“But this kind of stuff never happened with Jen either.”
“It’s clear his mind and thought processes are more complex than you thought, is it not? Puberty can cause profound changes in the way we think, I am sure you would agree.”
At that moment the door rang and Gabriel answered. It was Jenifer. She looked nervous and generally speaking always was around Gabriel. She thought he was freaky.
“Is Mike here? He said he was taking Jamie for a walk, but his phone is switched off and I don’t know where he is. I thought maybe he was with you.”
“Do come in and join us. We are in the sitting room, second on the right.” Said Gabriel politely, following her in.
Mike looked terrified and his fear deepened when Jen saw Jamie. He knew from past experience she had vast reserves of contempt for him, She loved the boy. He hadn’t a clue about her feelings now. Then she saw Lena sitting impassively in a chair by the fireside, staring at her.
“What’s going on Mike? Answer me right now.”
“I just wanted someone to talk to after, after…..”
“And who the h**l is this,” pointing rudely at Lena.
“She is a friend of Gabe’s.”
“Oh, why am I not surprised. This is obscene and you are an obscenity Gabriel Levi. Have you no shame. You disgust me.”
“It’s not what you think.” Gabriel tried to placate her.
“Then what is it?” almost shouting. He told her Lena’s story as it had been told to him, all the time looking over at Lena to make sure he got the facts straight. At the end of it, Jen gave an abrupt, snorting laugh.
“And you let my boy hold hands with this, this tart. How could you fall for this Mike?”
“I am not a tart “Lena said calmly. Jenifer went to strike her, but Jamie sprang from the sofa and pushed her back. The shock on her face was pitiful and she burst into tears and sat sobbing on the sofa recent events had finally become too much for her and Mike desperately wanted to comfort his wife. Instead it was Jamie who put his arm around his mother.
“I think you should go home and talk about all this” Gabriel said with usual diplomacy. How things would resolve between his parents Jamie had no idea. But for the first time in his life he felt important, valued and above all, powerful.
Chapter 16 – Unfinished Business
Irena was shown a windowless room with a cot bed, next to the lab with a bathroom adjoining.
“This is where you live ‘till you complete the formula.” She could smell his foul breath and noticed the camera in the corner. “Oh that, my comrade is something of a pervert. I will tell him to turn it off. But I must say, if you don’t deliver you will be ours before we kill you. A little extra incentive, don’t you think?” He went away leaving her alone. All she could think of was Lena, she hoped they couldn’t find her. Always a resourceful child she would not be caught and like her she would die with the secret. They could not have it and abuse it. Yet she felt her presence and a voice in her head said ‘I know where you are, do not worry mother,’ she slept well despite her incarceration. She would have to rely on subterfuge. Her notes were by her side. She looked at them, but knew them off by heart.
“Petrovitch, wake up my dear, you have to go to work.”
“Don’t you know you cannot win this?”
“But we must try or Putin will have our balls, it’s that simple. Don’t f**k about, both our lives are at stake. You may not care about yours, but I do care about mine.”
“Then why. Why work for a corrupt regime?”
“It’s what I know; don’t we all attach to the familiar? Russia has not changed. Tsars then corrupt oligarchs; and they pay.”
“We seek advantage, but I see you don’t. Admirable. But you know something we want.” She felt insecure. She loved the people. This would be s**t!!
As she dressed, Irena reflected on the life of a brilliant student. Always top of her classes and vetted from an early age by Kremlin officials. Never the same one twice. To get where she wanted to she had to say the right things to the right people and play their game. There was always a suspicion of intellectuals as potential dissidents even amongst the science community.
Her motivation for studying radiation and its effects came from her mother. She had died when Irena was in her mid-teens from cancer, but Irena knew it was the levels of the radio therapy that she had been receiving that actually killed her. She just wanted to make this treatment safer and less harmful for anyone else. And so her work began and quite by accident, as so often happens in science, her discoveries revealed more than expected. A cure, if caught quickly enough and the clear potential for a vaccine, both of which would be tactically advantageous in the event of nuclear war. Animal tests conducted in secret told her they would work. Having given Lena the last fifty pages to memorise she then destroyed that final part from her books and always told her superiors she preferred hand written notes to computers on grounds of convenience. Also, Irena did not want to be spied upon and when questioned, as happened often, she would deliberately feed them misleading information, impossible to check up on and containing just enough fact to sound plausible.
There was an insistent knock at her door and the fat man came in.
“Time to get to work my dear, you have unfinished business to complete.”
Chapter 17 – Reflections
That night in bed, Gabriel was trying to make sense of recent event. Having originally been dubious about the girl’s story, he had come to believe it to be true. He had taken a walk past the address she had told him and noticed two characters in a car parked a little further down the street. Perhaps it was coincidence, but it didn’t feel like it as he passed by and saw them watching him. By association he also had come to accept Lena’s story of her mother and their flight from Russia. She bore the scars of living in fear, old beyond her years and always listening out for that dreadful knock on the door which could lead to incarceration or outright murder like her father. He so wanted to help, this seemed like a wonderful humanitarian cause and he became aware, as he thought about it, of a distinct lethargy in that direction. With his pampered lifestyle he had helped many financially and this was easy for him.
He felt comfortable with it, but actually never really got his hands dirty and with some trepidation he wondered what he was getting himself into. Lena’s plan to ‘publish and be dammed’ sounded plausible, but it would have far reaching consequences that he simply could not compute. They would be big, and doubtless dangerous. He thought he was in some second-rate spy thriller, but this wasn’t fiction, it was fact. Lena rarely left the house in the few days he had known her, but he now thought she shouldn’t leave at all. Whether she would accept this imposition was another matter, but it was too dangerous. He would deal with that in the morning.
Then there was Mike, Jenny and Jamie. What an unholy mess that all was. What did he think about Mike? Gabriel had known him since school days. He was a good sportsman, on all the teams and Gabe supposed, a good-looking guy. The girls in the school next door to the boys’ grammar would always mill about him at the bus stop. He was hard working and solid but maybe not the sharpest knife. Gabriel often helped him with his homework and their friendship was based on honesty and integrity in all matters. That, and the fact he had never been jealous of Gabriel’s success had kept them in each other’s lives to this day. Of course, he had been stupid to have an affair when he could have talked about his mixed feelings about the adoption with his wife. Anyway, that was years ago and finished.
Jen on the other hand was very different. Extremely bright, she had a successful career as a lawyer before Jamie came along. She was devoted to the boy; so much she gave it up to care for him. More importantly, she detested Gabriel. Mike told him she thought he was arrogant and potentially dangerous. Why, he had no idea, but this had been her view from the beginning and had clearly hardened recently, probably because he had contact with the boy.
What an extraordinary child he was. A real talent for art and this weird ability to make you see the world through his eyes. Gabriel thought that if this was autism, with all the connotations that are associated with that label, it should be redefined. Who knows, there could be many out there with unique talents just waiting to be discovered.
Gabriel thought he was responsible for the crisis in this otherwise happy family unit. Was he a protagonist or merely a catalyst for the truth? All he could do was wait and see.
Chapter 18 – Jennifer’s Thoughts
She couldn’t sleep and just lay there, staring at the ceiling. She looked over at Mike whose back faced her. He was snoring gently. She began to wonder what she honestly felt about him. Did she really want to divorce him? That would be a big step and having asked for it, now she was not so sure. Apart from one mistake, quickly followed by her own infidelity, their marriage had been good. Solid, but not all it promised at the beginning. He was dependable, hardworking, but exciting? No. Their love making was perfunctory even when they desperately were trying for a baby. IVF had been tried several times at great expense but without success. Who was to blame, if that were the right word, was inconclusive after testing. But both had their suspicions and for a while they felt a distance had come between them. Jen thought adoption was their only option. They would be perfect candidates, but Mike was less keen, finding the whole process deeply intrusive, but Jen got her way. It was important to her and when she set her mind on something you did not want to get in her way.
She got out of bed, put on her robe, and headed downstairs to the kitchen. On the way she passed Jamie’s door. Despite all the difficulties and the original shock of learning about his condition, she felt the love only a mother knows for that boy. Her life had been founded on facts, the scientific and throughout her career, the legal. Gently, she put her ear to his door. Nothing. Until lately that is all she ever got from him. Locked in his own world she wondered what went on there. Was any of this happening? Was any of this true? Surely it was all fantastic nonsense. But no matter how she tried to dismiss it, it had become to seem real. Her anger at the situation grew.
F**k Gabriel Levi, who had started all of this and f**k that ridiculous girl who seemed to feed his fantasy. Jen could not fathom her agenda but believed it was money. He could always fall for a pretty face and hers certainly was.
But what if it was all true? Jamie was special, but not in the way she had grown used to and the hot resentment she felt that Gabriel had discovered it first made it all the worse.
She tried to examine, honestly, why this was. She knew all about his dissolute past; the drugs, the alcohol, the stays in rehab. There had been a few wives along the way, some of whom she had stayed in touch with. They said the same thing. He was generous, kind and never contested divorce proceedings which must have cost him plenty. Jen wished he had been an absolute b*****d but he wasn’t. Everyone he’d been with said he was strange, different but couldn’t say why.
She started to look hard at why she resented him so much and something came to mind she preferred to forget as is often the case. Sure, he was wealthy, extremely smart and good looking but that wasn’t it. Soon after she and Mike had married they had a party. She had been a little tipsy and had come on to him. He had rejected her advances. Perhaps it was as simple as that. Throwing herself at her husband’s best friend; he had actually made her feel cheap and foolish. She had to say something. “Your ex-wife says you’re gay.”
“Well I am not, ask her.” He looked over at a stunning coloured girl surrounded by men who smiled back at him seductively.
“I bet she’s a prostitute.” said Jen.
“You know Jen, you can be quite unpleasant when you have had a few drinks. I assure you she is not. She is, in fact, a governors’ daughter I met in the Caribbean who wanted to come to England. I said she could stay with me.”
Jennifer had run out of insults and whispered in his ear “F**k off Gabriel.” Then gulping her wine took her embarrassment and confusion away. He could be so infuriating.
Chapter 19 – Irena
She made herself look busy, not difficult when her overseers were a pair of semi-literate thugs who had no idea about her work. Her only concern was how long she could stall them for before they killed her. The fat man was the only one whoever spoke while the other merely stared at her with a lascivious look in his eye.
She could not take her mind off Lena and somewhere deep down knew she was still alive and, at least for now, was safe. Irena had no idea if it was day or night. Ugly fluorescent strips in the lab and her room were the only form of light. She ate and slept when she needed to and once while sleeping she had a strange and vivid dream. She heard a voice saying “don’t be afraid, we know where you are and we will try to find you soon.” It was the voice of a boy. “Do you have a message for Lena?”
“Yes, yes. Tell her not to go public with the work as they would then have no need for me. Who are you?”
“I am a friend and I believe she thinks the same already. She is safe and comfortable and is living with a man called Gabriel. I think he is good. My name is Jamie.” Then he left and she awoke feeling very odd and more than a little confused. It had seemed so real, but the scientist in her dismissed it as just wishful thinking.
Her two guards were waiting in the lab when she appeared and as usual the fat one spoke.
“Bad news I am afraid. Colleagues of ours have found your daughter and are holding her. You don’t seem disturbed by this.”
“I don’t believe you. You would give me photographic evidence to prove it.”
“Ha, you know our ways all too well Petrovitch. We were only trying to incentivise you. But we will keep looking and long after you are gone, god forbid, we will carry on. Remember, we do not forget and bare grudges to impossible lengths. Your poor husband would not listen and so we had no choice.”
“There is always a choice between what is right and what is wrong.” She replied.
“Forget that western b******t. The Russians are always ungovernable without force.”
“They have never had the chance to be any different. No free press, no free speech, no democracy.” He waved her comments away with a dismissive gesture.
“Just get on with your work. Time is running out then you are gone. We cannot allow this technology to fall to another state.”
“And if I fail?”
“As far as you’re concerned the outcome is the same.” She would have to think of a plan either to escape, which seemed unlikely, or delay, perhaps more probable. Lena would not have gone to the police with something so vital knowing that government branches would already be aware of her abduction and already be looking both for herself and Lena. She thought hard, very hard.
Chapter 20 – Mike
That day, a Saturday, Mike woke quite early and sitting on the edge of the bed yawned and ran his fingers through his thick dark hair flecked with grey. Standing up, he looked over at Jen. She looked even more beautiful asleep, peaceful, but he was all too aware of her waspish temperament when awake. He wondered what she ever saw in him. The perfect academic record, unlike himself and a wonderful legal career. All he had wanted to do was protect and look after her. Perhaps she no longer needed that.
He went into the bathroom and disrobing looked at himself in the mirror. Still in good shape and his face remained handsome. He had always relied on his looks where women were concerned, but he also had real drive and ambition. Maybe that’s why she fell for him. He knew however, appearance would inevitably fade. Then what could he offer? He knew he did not have the intellect to compliment Jens and that his greatest fear would be realised. She would grow bored of him and leave.
Not a man for self-pity, all he could do for her was his best and hope that was good enough, though he understood their marriage was hanging by a thread. He dressed and went downstairs. Jamie was already in the kitchen eating cornflakes as usual and Mike made himself some toast and coffee. “Jamie, should we take a drive, see if we can find that barn you drew?” Jamie gave a slow nod of consent but looked a little apprehensive and uttered one word, “dangerous”.
“We are not going to stop, just find it. We can pick up Gabriel and Lena on the way”. At the mention of Lena Jamie’s face visibly brightened. He had no real idea why, but when he thought of her sensations he had never had before came to him. They felt nice.
Mike rang Gabriel and informed him of his plan. At least this would take him off his personal issues. After writing a note to Jen their search began.
Chapter 21 – Surveillance
At MI6, Granger entered the office of Mcloud who politely told him to take a seat. He put down his pen and sat back, his hands clasped behind his head. “We have a problem. The Petrovitch woman and her daughter have gone missing.”
“If I knew that it would not be such a problem.”
”I thought they were under surveillance.”
“They were but it had been reduced after two years, there being no sign of trouble.”
“Who knows about this?” Mcloud gave him a sharp look.
“No one but us, and no one can. Our budgetary pressures increase daily and something like this makes us look incompetent.” Granger folded his arms taking a deep breath, staring at the fine corniced ceiling.
“Do we have any idea where they are?”
“No. but they undoubtedly left in a hurry, leaving personal belongings and even passports behind. I believe they were taken.”
“Who the h**l do you think man?” He said testily.
“The Russians. They are the only people who knew of her work besides us.”
“But she never completed her work was my understanding.”
“We were never sure about that. The woman is an idealist. Who knows what she held back.”
“She could be in Moscow already.”
“Unlikely. Our best placed agents in the Kremlin report no abnormal activity and GCHQ have not detected any internet traffic based on key words concerning her science. This is a matter of national, international and global importance. In the event of nuclear war survival rates for those who have this technology would be thousands of times greater than those who don’t. Put simply, they would inherit the earth.”
“Can’t our men develop something like this?”
“They have most certainly tried, but the key lies with the last three phases of the process and so far, nothing. Granger, your priority is to get them back, the woman at least. We cannot fail.”
“I understand sir, I will do my best.”
“You will do better than that. You will succeed or…….who knows what will happen.”
Chapter 22 – Psychotic Episode
They arrived at Gabriel’s to be met by Lena who looked panicked.
“It’s Gabriel, he just collapsed in the kitchen.” They pushed their way past.
“Have you called for an ambulance?” Mike asked. Jamie looked on at the shaking body.
“Gabriel said under no circumstances was I to do that if this happened.”
“But look at him, he’s convulsing.”
“Do not intervene.” Lena said firmly.
“How long has he been like this?”
“Soon after he put the phone down from you.” Jamie stepped forward and kneeling, took
Gabriel’s hand. His head snapped back and he let out a piercing scream and let go. Mike took his son in his arms. Jamie had been shocked at what he had seen.
“What did you see? “Lena asked.
“His dream. Very bad.”
“Like a nightmare, but real.”
“Things of the past or yet to be.”
Gabriel felt the room spinning and the light seemed so bright. He watched himself falling slowly. He heard a distant scream from Lena, then everything went silent and dark. He knew, as he stood up, this was a dream and he knew that he must follow. He had no choice.
The river beside him flowed red and body parts bobbed gently by. The trees blackened, leafless, dead. No birds sang in the dreadful silence. The only sounds came from overhead where fighter jets shrieked across the leaden sky and distant gun fire.
From behind a tree two figures emerged one quite young, the other older, dressed only in rags and covered in grime. The younger of the two spoke.
“Gabriel, is that you?” he moved closer and to his great joy saw it was Lena. She took out of her ruck sack a small medical case. Opening it he saw several syringes and bottle of clear fluid.
“Take this, it will prevent the effects of the radiation.” The older woman nodded in agreement. By the resemblance, he guessed this was her mother. Lena put the needle in the crook of his right arm.
“What the h**l has happened?”
“The Russians managed to catch Lena, threatening to kill her if I did not deliver the formula. I could not allow it. Once they had it they signalled Moscow. It was detected and decoded then the race was on to get into production. Everything happened so fast. We were left tied, thank god they didn’t kill us, but they had to be sure it worked. Your scientists were too far behind. Then h**l rained down. The building we were in collapsed, burying our captors, and so we walked into the new apocalypse.”
Gabriel woke up, concerned faces looked down at him. He went over to the sink and splashed water on his face to revive himself. He was unsteady and Mike held his arm.
“Gabe, what happened just now?”
“I don’t know, I am not sure, but we must protect Lena and find her mother as quickly as possible.” There was desperation in his voice “Or….or.” he slumped onto the sofa. His right arm began to itch and rolling up his sleeve revealed a red puncture mark.
Chapter 23 – Searching
Gabriel just sat there, his eyes staring intently at nothing. The images of what he had witnessed in his dream occasionally causing him to visibly shake. His dreams had begun to bleed into his personal reality as he rubbed his arm where the injection had left its mark. This was how it used to be when he was coming down from a high. Hallucinations, unexplained injuries he thought he was over. Perhaps it was the stress he felt at the situation he was in, he didn’t know. He had no faith, no belief in destiny that he couldn’t shape himself, even his close friends of which there were few regarded him as “odd”, but now he had an overwhelming feeling that he had to act, lose his usual reserve and actually do something rather than living in his head.
He rose from the sofa and took Lena and Jamie both by the hand saying to them
“I think we know what we must do.”
Mike looked on slightly bemused but felt something big, something extraordinary was taking place. What the outcome was he had no idea, but there was an energy in the air that almost crackled with electricity. He was reminded of that extraordinary night in Barcelona for the European Cup Final, United versus Bayern, which began with Mike losing his ticket which must have fallen from his wallet while buying a scarf. They retraced their steps but there were thousands of ticket stubs on the ground making it virtually impossible to find. Gabriel suddenly stopped and clearing away the detritus came up with the ticket, to Mike’s amazement. That wasn’t all, heading towards the last few minutes of the game and one nil down Gabriel had turned to him and calm as you like said we were going to win and lo and behold United did. In injury time. Walking down Las Ramblas after the game Mike had asked him how he knew about the ticket and the unlikely result. Gabriel had laughed, saying he was just lucky like that. Mike felt Gabriel was not telling him everything but let it go.
He had a similar feeling now and knew he had to be part of this, whatever and wherever it may lead.
They went to Mike’s car. Jamie sat next to his father while Gabriel and Lena sat in the rear.
“Are you ok?” he replied that he was and, held her hand.
At that moment Jen’s car came speeding round the corner. She pulled up, got out, and looking furious stomped over.
“What the h**l do you think you are doing? Putting my son in danger. What’s got into you?” she answered her own question giving Gabriel a blazing look. She went around to Jamie’s window which he wound down. “Don’t worry, everything will be just fine.”
“I know, said the boy”, leaving her slightly nonplussed. “I will follow you in my car. Is that ok Gabe?”
“The more the merrier old boy, the more the merrier.”
Gabriel had a plan and Mike knew it.
Chapter 24 – Finding
Gabriel sat between Lena and Jamie. They held hands. Lena, a little uncomfortable, looked at Jamie, but he stared out the window. Gabriel appeared to sleep, but he wasn’t. This is fugue. In his case, a heightened sense of everything. Gabriel spoke.
“Jamie, direct us. I know what we must do.”
They drove for about ten minutes when Jamie said “It’s there.”
Nothing could be seen from the road. Mike slammed on the brakes.
“No, drive on a little” said Gabriel “then pull over.” Not wishing to alarm anyone, Gabriel broke touch with his young friends.
“What the f**k is going on here?” asked Mike. They all got out, Jen had pulled up behind.
“I need you to do something” said Gabriel looking at Lena and Jen. “Go up that track and knock, tell whoever answers you have a problem with your car. I will be behind.”
All this time, Gabriel had his hands in his pockets. A deep WWII overcoat. It was his fathers.
Mike looked at him. A close friend but…..
“What’s that in your pocket?”
“You don’t need to know!” He drew out a gun. The one his father had when “fighting” overseas. The one he shot himself with. Gabriel had witnessed it all.
Mike said “No you are risking your life!”
“What life is that?”
Chapter 26 – At the Barn
“It doesn’t look much.” said Jen.
“Remember Jamie’s words” replied Lena,
“I am not getting involved in Gabe’s phantasies. Just act helpless and dipsey, flirt a bit, you can do that.” Jen gave her a cold look.
“It’s obvious you like him no……?” Old enough to be her mother, but felt like a school girl.
Gabe watched from the hedge. No one came to the door as the women approached. No CCTV, couldn’t see any cameras. Whatever was going on looked hasty, ill thought through. Couldn’t hear but, saw a short thick set man come to the door. He pretended not to understand English, got the other guy to come.
“So terribly sorry” said Jen in her most plummy voice. “Our car seems to have broken down.”
The smaller guy obviously enchanted by the damsels. The taller more suspicious.
“Can I call emergency services?” Issued orders the short guy goes to see what he can do.
Going back in, feels the muzzle of a pistol to his temple.
“Where is she? Get her!”
“You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I think I do.”
Chapter 27 – Aftermath
Gabriel walked back to the car. Slow measured steps like a funeral march. Fully aware of what transpired. Blood and brains spilt on the floor.
Mike asked why?
“I could not let them live, we killed many men. But no executions.”
“Ten thousand Muslim men and boys died that day. In Srebrenica. What happened to the daughters and wives god only knows. You settled down with Jen. I didn’t, but for me, the war never ended.”
“But Gabe, you just killed two men.”
“Don’t you think I know that? No one tells me what to do and how to borrow. The past is your last escape. What if there’s no tomorrow?”
They got into the car. He was the passenger. Gabriel felt angry and frustrated, he turned to Irena and said “Can you handle that?” You will need to. I am not gonna fake it. I am authentic, the real deal. Not gonna be placated.
Chapter 28 – Next Step
They reached Gabriel’s home. The whole journey conducted in silence.
“What can we do?” asked Lena. “Yes, what will we do?” Lena added. They sat around the kitchen table. Their eyes could not meet. Everyone looked somewhere else, but not at each other. Gabriel lit a cigarette with a cough for attention. And then spoke.
“We have two choices. We can let this happen, or we can act. I suggest strongly we publish your findings.”
Mike with exasperation said “Surely they will come after us?”
Gabriel took a long drag on his cigarette. “Undoubtedly, but by the time they do, these proofs will be global. They wish to hide, we do not!” Irena looked on as indeed did Jen. The approval in both women’s eyes did not go unnoticed.
Mike was angry. “Why do you always have to play the hero Gabe?”
“Because I am not.”
“But we, you, took us into many conflict zones and always came back.”
“Is killing heroic? I don’t think it is. True heroes are those who expose the corruption of vile states and bring the world closer to peace. Whether you agree or not. People like Irena’s husband. They are the brave ones. Both Lena and her mother had shed a tear for their past husband and father.
Jen piped up “I think what you are saying Gabe may well be true, but there is risk, surely?” She had noticed the glances between Irena and him and could not explain why she felt a little jealous. But she had discovered a newfound respect for him, having for so long despised this odd man. She held Mike’s hand. He was a rock, he was safe. But she could see the difference between being trained to kill and having something to die for. That was Gabriel’s point.
“So” said Gabriel “We need to get this out there and we need to get a move on. Chop chop.”
Chapter 29 – Afterthought
For the next 24 hours Irena and Lena were working on Gabriel’s computer in his study. Irena had her notes, Lena typed them rapidly on the key board. They did not sleep or eat. Gabriel had prepared food but it was ignored. He had no Russian himself, but found the voices of Irena and Lena melodic and enchanting. He contemplated their courage and outright bravery.
After he had ‘dealt’ with the two agents at the barn he had gone through their pockets. No wallets, no passports. But he found a number on the taller man. A mobile number prefixed by M. He assumed this was a direct link to the British handler McCloud. This would be their insurance.
Gabriel was not without pity for the lives he had taken. They probably had families who cared for them but sadly for them they were just ignorant pawns in a geopolitical game. Any chess player knows pawns are often sacrificed.
Jen, Mike and Jamie had returned home each bemused by events that they had witnessed. Jamie clutched his head as he went to his room then collapsed on his bed in tears. He knew he was different from an early age and thought he would be a force for good. But he now realised this world is more complex than he thought and bad things can happen for good reasons. This made him feel sad and had no words in his head to describe it. He had heard his parents talking of ‘justification’. He had no idea what that meant. All he wanted was to live surrounded by art, beauty and peace and this ‘justification’ had nothing to do with it. He wept silently.
Jen and Mike sat in the kitchen.
Jen said “I am sorry Mike, I don’t think I can handle this, please, please tell me what’s going on.”
“You know as much as I do.” He replied.
She said “He killed two men Mike! Was he like that when you fought with him? Is he a psychopath?”
Mike replied “Look, I know he is capable of unspeakable brutality but he saved my life out there when I was captured. He was the only one who came looking for me. I was bound and caged in some garage, but I heard the gunfire outside. We went out together. There must have been a dozen bodies on the ground. One was still groaning and Gabe put him out of his misery, so to speak. All he said was “Let’s go my friend.” Gabe does not take prisoners, for him the very idea of war crime is irrelevant as if war has rules. It shouldn’t happen in the first place and to go through it and to come out the other side even half decent is a f*****g miracle! I asked him how he had found me. He tapped his nose saying “because you stink like s**t.” I know he is strange but I like him, more than that, I love him.”
Jen raised her eyebrows. “So did you two ever……?”
“No, absolutely not. I am surprised you even asked”
Chapter 30 – Finale
Irena approved Lena’s writing following every syllable and the exactness of equations she had written years ago. Gabriel came in when it was almost over and asked for her bank account details. She believed it was because he wanted to transfer some money to her. He just said it’s much bigger than that.
“Who do we send this to?”
“Here is a list of embassies with websites, and then social media.”
“But, but what if….?”
“Do not worry. I have seen to that.” He pressed a finger to her full lips. They stared into each other’s eyes.
Then Lena said “get a room.”
“Sorry” said Gabriel. “You have the addresses, now press send and let’s see.”
Gabriel withdrew and called the number on the slip of paper retrieved from the agent. It rang a while and then picked up.
“I thought it was you.” said Gabriel coldly.
“Who is this, what do you want?” he had seen the news. His plan had failed.
“Do you have a pen?” asked Gabriel. “Take down these details.” He gave him Irena’s bank account numbers.
“Now. I will tell you what happens next. Deposit ten million into that account by tomorrow or I will bring you down for the fraud, liar and cheat that you are.”
“But I don’t have that sort of money!”
“I think your Russian allies do.”
“What evidence do you have?”
“At the moment just your number, taken from a Russian who abducted Irena. How do you account for that?” McCloud was clearly flustered. “As a civil servant, in your position, you would forgo a substantial pension, possibly a knighthood. I can make that happen if you wish. I must be clear. I could finish you in a phone call to the press. Think about that.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“My name is Gabriel Levi and I have got you by the balls. Would you like a tighter grip?”
“Indeed to think about this.”
“Well, you don’t, you just have to act on my instructions. It’s that simple. I am sure GCHQ can track your calls. It will not look good. Suppressing vital information for personal gain. Goodbye McCloud.” “Oh, by the way I have recorded this conversation.”
Levi sat back with a cigarette and pondered the situation. By now, scientists were conducting experiments to confirm Irena’s findings. He was troubled and for the first time in a long time took out a bottle of fine malt. He couldn’t do it however good it felt. Perhaps the ladies would like some and he could glean some vicarious pleasure in watching them drink.
He asked them to join him.
“You have done so much for us” said Irena.
“Thank you, but there is more to do.”
The three were in the sitting room, reading. It was getting late. Gabriel did enjoy their company, but missed being alone. Since his last divorce (some years ago) that was how he had lived, alone, but not lonely. There is a big difference. He revelled in his own space. Not that his guests were a nuisance in any way, but he was not the most sociable. He missed the boy Jamie and hadn’t seen Mike in months. Jen, as far as he knew, still was suspicious of him.
Security services had recommended they stay under one roof as it was easier to guard them, though Irena said if Putin wanted to kill them he would find a way and reminded them of the Skripals and novichok. Putin regarded betrayal as the greatest of sins; punishable by death.
Two men in a car 24/7 watched the house. If they went out one would follow, while the other patrolled the perimeter of the house. Both were armed.
He closed his book, (an early copy of Paradise Lost) bid them both goodnight and mounted the stairs to his room.
After a shower he sat in his chair and read some more. Strange how Lucifer was the most sympathetic character, while God appears a babbling fool.
After about a half hour there was a gentle knock at his door.
“Come in.” It was Irena, in a white bathrobe and looking particularly beautiful this evening, perhaps some light make up had been applied.
“Gabriel, you have been particularly quiet tonight, in fact all day. Is something wrong?”
“I think I know. You miss having this place to yourself, surely.”
“Look, Gabriel, nobody wanted it to work out this way. I feel the same. But here we are.”
She wasn’t angry, maybe a touch of sadness in her voice.
He gave her his usual weak smile. “Then we better make the most of it. Now I am the off to bed.”
As she was leaving she turned and looked at him. “Perhaps I can join you?” said with candour. Casually, like it was the most normal thing in the world.
He closed the book and stared back at her, detecting a slight blush to her cheeks. “I hope I haven’t said the wrong thing?” she added with a delightful smile.
“No Irena, you said the right thing!”
They slipped into bed, robes on the floor as he turned the lights lower.
It had been years since he had been near a woman, not since his last divorce, and thought this aspect of his life was over.
Irena had not had a man since her husband’s untimely murder. Holding each other they felt the strength and courage that existed in themselves. For a brief moment Gabriel wondered whether he was “match fit.” As it happens, turns out he was.
Sweat stained sheets lay testimony to the passion shared that night. They lay on their backs and laughed as teenagers do.
Psychosis is not disease or malady. It is a state of mind. In few cases does it lead to violence. Yet Hollywood thinks so.
I am not violent, but I accept the diagnosis. I don’t like labels like mail for a Pigeon hole. You may well be different, celebrate that.
Just don’t do what they want you to do. You are better than that.