Saturday, March 24, 2012

Flower Killers (Part 4 of 4)

Continued from Part 3

"What happened?" Stanhopestares intently into Jones’ salacious eyes, and is clearly not going to be  dissuaded.

Jones is sitting smug as a sleezebag on a second date, and pondering whether she has a right to know the truth given all the time taken to subvert it.  He'd been the one with her in the indoctrination room and eliminated her memory, creating a new one instead.   Easy when you know how. Why should he let her yank his chain this time. Then she’s a pretty young thing. Nice legs.

He rises and moves to the front of his desk. Her  crossed legs haven't escaped notice and he's wondering what he can get in return. Her hair's pulled back but he's wondering what it would feel like across his belly, what his hand might feel like on her ass. She's a good looking piece of meat, almost worth losing your job for and they're the stakes if he's to tell her the truth. Then once she knows, she's dispensable. Yeh fucking her would be like a shot of heroin to the jugular and he's decided to take the risk.

She's on the verge of giving up before the sleezeball makes a move, "Jones, please....What happened? Who am I, what did I do?"

She unbuttons her blouse, knowing by his undue attention that this is the way to open him up. She swears she sees him salivate as his hand marks their curvature. She's repulsed but martyrs to the cause have faced worse. She's no Joan of Arc. It's him who'll burn if he doesn't fess up.

She lets him slide another hand between her crossed legs before making an excuse to hit the bathroom. Again as she fumbles in her bag and withdraws the gun. He immediately realises he's pushed too hard.

"Crazy bitch . . what's that for?"  Any hope of relieving the 'pressure' between his own legs now clearly quashed, she's holding the gun to his neck.

"Who am I?" she asks as she grabs his crotch, his eyes are watering now as she cocks the pistol and puts her face so close to his he can smell her sex, feel the violence.

 "Can I sit?" He whimpers.

Still with the gun to his skin, she ushers him into the chair still warm from her own body. "Finish the story, all of it."

***
Kerry pays the taxi driver and picks up the attaché case wedged behind the driver’s back seat. It’s not unusual for business to be conducted at these ‘friendly’ affairs since it’s an eclectic collection of who’s who in the zoo comprising military, diplomatic, local dignitaries and businesses people. Receptions and such events are often the only time society here homogenises. Deals are struck, treaties discussed and campaigns decided.

She’s nervous with the weight of her load.  "Think of something else," she talks to herself for distraction and focuses on trivial things such as "Where do Afghan women get a bikini wax or American nails."  She enters the reception milling with people and heads straight to the bar and orders a Cabernet Merlot, before strolling casually over to the Afghan and making her introductions, totally aware of the enormity of the swap she is about to make.

The children are safe, reunited with their mother but he doesn't know. He thinks she's delivering an address, a location and a wad of cash in exchange for his finest Afghan Brown. He thinks he's getting his progeny back. She thinks she knows what's in the bag. She knows that timing is everything. She knows she's a spy out in the cold. If the military find out, she's dead. If the Afghan finds out, she's dead. If she can't get out of the soiree in time....it's over for everyone.

This is a lone mission and no good can come from being discovered. Fail, and might as well take a bullet now. There will be no rescue until she can get back to the hotel and meet her rendezvous and escape this mad country and its miscreant justice.

He's an ugly man, and she wonders what the young American had found attractive in him. He's bearded of course and greets her with an outstretched palm but not before bellowing into a handkerchief, making her reluctant to shake his hand, but she does.  She sits next to him placing her bag next to one identical at his feet, then sees Jones and Co. milling in the room. It's a surprise. She's supposed to be a lone operator and it irks her that they're tracing her steps, keeping an eye on her or perhaps at the ready to eliminate her if it all goes pear-shaped.  It's nearly over, she's about to see the back of it.  The back of the desert, the charade, the dangerous game; the back of this unruly outpost, and back into the land of ice and snow where she belongs.  She has a brief flashback to a Massachusetts winter and she swears she smells Thanksgiving dinner before she returns to the moment and focuses on the task at hand.  There's little more to do than make the switch, bid farewell and exit.

The taxi is well into the D-3 district and out of earshot when the ground vibrates and a pall of dense smoke rises above the building she's escaped. Tomorrow, she goes home, knowing that the Afghan is now a pile of chunked flesh and broken glass, and he’s not the only one.
"I blew up the club and everyone in it?" she releases her hold on Jones. "I was that woman? I made the switch?

Jones nods, "Fake money  and a slab of C-4 for dead flowers . . . killer flowers."

“We set up a purchase. A  shipment in exchange for the kids. We wanted the keys to stop him flooding the market, to stop him selling to the cartels. We buy a shitload of that stuff from him and a million others, then destroy it. Only there wasn't just money in that bag. We blew the bastard to smithereens. You blew the bastard to smithereens. Along with everyone else. You don’t remember? Did my job well then didn't I? We had to cover it up, blame an insurgent bomb. Something went wrong with the timer. It wasn't supposed to go off until he was heading home. You killed some of your own as well as theirs. Damn nearly killed me."

Her heart skips a beat. She slumps back into her chair, no true recall of what happened but a 'feeling' that she'd led a double life, saved a life, taken a life, now she's rattled with the knowledge that she took many lives.  Innocents in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

For once, she’s speechless. She also realises that he won't let her get away now that she's been told the truth. Her gun arm falls limp and the weapon slips from her fingers. She's shattered.

Jones pushes a button on his desk phone, "Harley, I think we're done here now."

A man dressed in a white lab coat walks into the room and begins to remove something from his pocket. 

She's quick enough to suspect something untoward, "Oh no you don't!" 

In a flash, she retrieves the weapon. No time for negotiation as two sharply aimed shots spit from the barrel.  She pivots on one foot taking Jones by surprise then spins, the white coat now seeping red. Clean kills, minimum blood. Some things remain in the subconscious only to surface under pressure. She  grabs her coat. Pockets the pistol and leaves, locking the office door behind her.

 ***
Slipping out of reach was easier than she thought as recall begins to emerge. She hurriedly returns to her apartment, makes a call to the only man she trusts before removing the attick cover and retreiving a long-forgotten suitcase.  Passports, fake ID, it’s all coming back. Selecting those that most suit her purpose she hurriedly packs before slipping silently into oblivion. She remembers deep cover, how to give them the slip. She remembers evasive action and the art of necessary disguise. She remembers everything except smuggling the children, perhaps that didn’t happen, she doesn’t know. She doesn’t care.  Charles is supportive and the level of trust she’s put in him dangerous but warranted, his car pulls up in the street below, her wheels to freedom for now.

“Remember I told you I had connections?” He announces nonechalantly as they drive towards the airport.

“I used to be an operative. Worked editing documentation, hiding anything that might incriminate the agency. Never saw any action though so no need to erase me or my memory. I was a desk jockey but I know how to get what we need to expose the truth. Are you interested in helping me expose this? Go public.”

She's reluctant, it’s all too fresh and her memory and might not be totally accurate, “Perhaps, but Ineed to go deep. Stay down for a while. I’ll do some digging. We can’t bring this up without hard evidence.”

She passes him a mobile phone, “Here, I’ve changed the IMEI and the SIM in this and in my my phone. It can be traced if the call is longer than 2 minutes but you can message. They won’t be able to find me or link you."

He smiles…it’s bittersweet but better than nothing. “I’ll be in touch Kez. Trust me, I’ll be in touch.”
With that, she opens the car door and is gone in a swirl of suitcase and overcoat. She doesn’t look back.

The Agency began pursuit but she’s slippery and by the time they’d realised what had happened, who’d eliminated Jones, she’d boarded a plane, several planes and was well south of the border.
She's changed her name. Dyed her hair.  Even had a nose job, surprisingly cheap where she’s hiding. She’s immersed herself in the place and the culture. Her only regret that she’s alone in an open prison, far from home. As prisons go, it’s not bad and she can cope.

Charles, ever the concerned friend, the lover, keeps in touch. For now, short messages, and communiqués. Limited contact from public computers all with dynamic IPs. He feeds her information while she works on her memory and documents it all, everything…she’s waiting for the right time to release it to the press. 

He loves her more the longer he stays away, but keeps her close in heart and mind. For now it’s too dangerous to be around her.  She misses him like a limb but knows there’ll be a time when she can come out of the cold. 

She also knows now, why she cut the flowers from their stems.

Flower Killers (Part 3 of 4)

Continued from Part 2

She takes her time showering, it's where she thinks. Shaving her arms and legs gives her time to cogitate and formulate a plan of action. Feeling exfoliated and smooth provides a physical freshness that manifests itself in a mental cleansing.  Yesterday she wanted normality, today she needs to know.

She needs to talk to her interrogator now that she has renewed strength. She needs to speak to Jones and find out who she is, what's she's done. She passes through the nauseating and almost symbolic revolving doors at headquarters and asks the receptionist if she can see Jones. He's unavailable at first but she's persistent and he finally deigns an interview. She asks him how he knows her and receives little more than a blank stare.

"You don't remember?"

"No"

He hurls an envelope in her direction and instructs her to take a look. There are photos of her, looking different, but definitely her, in places she doesn't remember being. She's never been to Paris or London but there she is, known landmarks in the background.

"You'd have been a good operative if you'd had the gall to continue," he tells her.

"You just let fear get the better of you and after the last exchange . . ."

"What happened?"

"Got scared, lost your nerve, wanted out."

"What was my last mission?"

Jones figures he might as well tell her. She can be 'reconditioned' and released back into the community in time. He starts at the beginning.

***
Harji Kalil's business has not been as profitable since the war. Damn troops tramping his plantation, workers wanting more since the Taliban had taken a relatively back seat. His buyers are hungry and a heroin drought making the end users desperate. Poppies were once a lucrative income, these days they lay waste as they're burned to the ground by the invaders.  The Middle Eastern market had dried up since the morons in Iran clamped down on trafficking. The market's there but getting the shit out of the country damned near impossible.  They'd tried to get him to replace the crop with Maize or canola.

“Feed your people instead of killing them,” he'd been told. But it’s not his people he’s killing, It’s western kids sticking the needles in their arms, he’s just growing flowers.

Heroin is a vicious circle that needs all participants to close the ring. The grower, the manufacturer, the seller and the user.  Damn the infidel's and their right-wing Christian views on morality and use. They're killing his industry and he resents their presence.  What's worse, if he wants to retain his freedom, his lifestyle, his fortune, he has to deal with the two-faced bastards. While they burn his fields with one hand and talk liberation out of their arses. But Kalil’s smart and plays both sides.

The players are in place, the scene set. The gear all ready for export. It's the final direction he's waiting for. Getting this last shipment out and getting what he wants, that which was lost to him three years ago . . he wants them back . . . and soon. If it means trading with infidels, he'll do it.

***

Ken Jarmon ducks as the incendiary pushes dry desert 20 feet into the air and tiny stones shower his camo suit.

He's sick of burning poppy fields. He came to fight a war against the Taliban and free the oppressed, not harass locals for their unorthodox farming practices.   He knows the way to win over the country is to drink many cups of tea, listen to their tales and songs of war, become an ally not an invader. It's all so fucking hopeless and he just wants to go home. They've been here for almost two years, burning fields, dodging roadside bombs, making friends with the natives, even putting up with embedded journalists and intrusive cameras in their faces. It's not a war, it's a fucking TV show only the players run the risk of not being renewed for another season.

He's gone from Marine to flower killer in the space of 12 months. From being a highly honed soldier to destroying the livelihood of those who simply put in a hard day's work, albeit with a deadly crop. Berated at home for wasting their time, the stone-throwers don't understand what it's like over here. Fuck their glass houses. He's sick of taking the high moral ground, rehearsing the same rhetoric. "It's for your own good, we're here to help," knowing full well they're not making a difference, not to anyone.

This isn't a theatre of war, it's an invasion of a country so disunited, so alien to anything they know that they're merely treading water. Nothing's changing, nothing ever will.  No matter how many parle's on soft cushions with hard men. This country is not going to change, not any time soon. Bullets don't work, they understand the rule of the gun, they've been controlled by it long enough.  No amount of Christian indoctrination, "Love they neighbour" or encouragement to desert Mecca and embrace Christ will turn this godforsaken population from their current course.  He's not just dejected, he's angry.

He sticks it out by letting his mind wonder way beyond the dust, the goats, the minarets and prayers. He sticks it out by remembering what's waiting for him at home as his mind imagines the barrel of his own gun lifting her short skirt and revealing the lack of underwear beneath it. Of course, she always wore underwear but he can imagine . . .those brown legs, to die for! Him with her, playing out their own little version of 'good relations' while the Jesus and Mary Chain play Psychocandy in the background. Hard to find a good woman when you're hard in Jalalabad.  The only woman he’d been in contact recently wanted to run as far from the place as possible and he had no idea what her legs looked like.

Her name was Marian Kalil. She said her real name was Marian Rubens and she'd asked to leave.  At the first opportunity, she'd asked them to take her.  
"I'm American, please, take me. Get me out of here. And my children, they are American." Her accent certainly had a ring of the midwest about it as she slipped a note into his hand.

Jarmon was convinced that there was something to rescue here. She wasn't the first 'Afghan' woman to ask to be liberated from her husband or father but she was the first to declare that she was American. What's more, after several phone calls and clandestine meetings, it was established that she'd come to the country willingly after making the grave mistake of believing she was in love and the naivety not to believe she'd be incarcerated once she followed her US educated Afghan lover back into Jalalabad.

No sooner had she landed and the love of her life had imprisoned her in blue. A beautiful home, clothes, jewellery but she'd become nothing more than a bird in a gilded cage, all freedoms revoked.  At first he'd been a good and attentive husband but as the Taliban imposed Sharia law re-emerged, he became much like the others, a man's man, playing both the east and the west. Selling junk to the Americans, bribing the Taliban and living a life of sweet selfishness.

Jarmon took it seriously and referred the woman to his superiors, they brought in an operative to arrange a covert escape.

Marian had just picked up her children from school and the threesome walking nonchalantly home was accosted by a small group of patrolling soldiers, Jarmon and Stanhope among them. This was no chance meeting.

When they finally met, Kerry Stanhope was dressed in Army fatigues, barely noticeable as a woman and surrounded by militia. Chest flattened and bound, head shaved beneath her helmet, the dust of an Afghan summer on her face, hiding her feminine complexion. She looked for all the world like a Cherry - young and eager to do his/her thing in a new and strange theatre of war.

"There's a safe house," Kerry tells her. Neither woman makes eye contact. For all intent and purpose, it's just a routine patrol, questioning a local, and the interrogating soldier going through the motions while Kerry speaks to her from behind.

"I can't write anything down or text, you'll have to remember." She instructs the woman, in muted tones while Jarmon pats her down.

The Burkha lowers her head in acknowledgement. Kerry can see her shoulders begin to heave, imagining the tears welling in the woman's face and wonders what the fuck she's doing in this job. Whether it's fear or relief she doesn't know but her heart's pounding for the safety of a fellow female.

"Don't cry, don't do anything that looks suspicious. Carry on as normal but when the time comes, you'll have to be brave." The woman nods. "Pick the children up from school as normal but go to the Hamesha Bahar Hotel and ask for Lt. Jarmon. Tell the Concierge you're there to plead for your husband's plantation.  You don't want them to leave you destitute by burning his fields.  There's a patrol heading over the Kabul river as usual at 1500, they'll meet you there and arrange for a decoy to leave the hotel half an hour after you arrive.  There’ll be a Zodiac waiting to take you far enough downstream to meet the Chinook and we'll take it from there. Do you understand?"

"Do you understand Ma’am" shouts the male soldier during his faux interrogation. The Bhurka nods, "Then go home to your husband. On your way!" She turns and flashes a glance at the woman standing behind the soldier. Kerry can't see it, or hear it but the woman mouths 'thank you', takes each of her children’s hand, bows her head and retreats. Kerry feels her heart in her throat. It's a pathetic departure for a countrywoman swathed in blue. Imprisoned and desperate to escape.

***

The field once again is burning as the Afghan watches. This time a wry smile crosses his face he's a prodigy of the new order and making 'connections' with the right people. This field isn't worth shit. They can trample over it, these Centurions in fatigues instead of red capes. He's making waves with the Patricians while the plebs do their dirty work.  He's massaging the genitals of higher ups, metaphorically speaking, while the gunslingers burn his fields.

It's taken time. Like good sex, it's been slow to reach it's climax but he's now made contacts. The shipment's ready, the trade set in stone. His tactics once dirty and unmethodical, he's become slick in subterfuge. The shipment for a fortune and the return of his children and his traitorous wife. He can’t wait to see her punished. It’s all set. Perfect, he can hardly hide his smile.

Next week, he’ll hobnob with the top hats at a reception, and they'll bring the money and kids or at least an emissary will tell him where to find them. For Harji Kalil, it's the culmination of years of hard work. Year's of sleeping with the enemy.  He's machinated his way to the top, into a position of trust -  a local loyal -  a high priest with a shotgun, it's set. They can burn his fields, in a month they can kiss his ass. He has what they want and he’ll have what he needs. This is as easy as getting a blow job from a whore or taking candy from a baby.

Continued in Part 4

Flower Killers (Part 2 of 4)

Continued from Part 1

She's feeling like a fish out of water in the small green tiled room.  CCTV's spy overtly from two corners, and what she knows to be a two-way mirror dominates the wall in front of her, although she's never seen one before in her life.

He comes in. Friendly, warm, shakes her hand. "Evening Ms Stanhope, been an exciting day I hear?"

She figures this is the ‘good cop’ angle, "Is this a friendly interview or are we going to fall out at some point?" She asks,  "…and my name's Damjanov, not Stanhope."

She’s still amazed at this false bravado. It’s her speaking, but where does this confidence come from?

“We know who you are Ms Stanhope. What we don't know is why you're still active.”

She has no idea either - not what 'active' means, nor why they think she's this Stanhope woman. Did she sell her soul? Submerge some memory? Look like someone else? She tries to convince them that they’ve made some mistake, until they identify things unseen. A birthmark, a scar, in places only someone intimate with her would ever know; this is beyond perplexing.

Special Agent Alan Jones comes in burning hot. The complete counter to his friendly partner and slams a fist on the table.

“We want to know why you're active!” he screams. Little veins on the side of his temple elevate from his red complexion. He’s genuinely furious.  “We can't have our ex-operatives out there playing gunslinger and bringing fucking unwanted attention to themselves. You're supposed to be deep cover and staying there!”

 She's getting pissed at the assumptions now, it's all out of control.

"Look, I didn't come down with the last shower but I haven't a clue who you think I am or where I've been. I'm just a secretary for a legal firm. I work, I eat, I fuck and I sleep . . I'm no missionary, no angel, no demon no bloody 'operative' whatever that means. And the only activity I've been engaged in lately is stalking a man I fancy, and nailing a couple of thieves in a bookstore that just happened to be blown to hell.

She does however, surprise herself with what comes out of her mouth and the confidence colouring its delivery.

"You've forgotten? Everything? Are you sure? I mean that was the intention but you were supposed to disappear, get the hell out of Dodge and here you are, in a very public fracas with men shot? Talk about being conspicuous; we can't afford conspicuous."

She's back in the water this time, the white horses crashing over her head, breath evading her and looking for a helping hand. Amid the maelstrom, someone, something offers a lifeline.

As if a merman plucked her from the confusion of the waves, she has a distant memory of this man bullying her. She remembers him, speaking softly, injecting something, playing hypnotic music, massaging her mind. Still without full recall, something happened at that facility, something that helped her forget who she was and all that she had done.

The big issue is that she doesn't want to be resurrected. She doesn't want the truth. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and now it's opened up a can of worms. She's tuning out to the interrogation. It's like the incessant mewing of a stray cat, whiny, whingey and incomprehensible. She just wants them to shut up.  She wants to go home, be with him. She wants her life back and for it all to be over.

She zones out and just wants to drown in something mindless. A bad movie, bad sex, drunk talk before sleep. She doesn't care, she just needs to escape. She doesn't want a reminder of the beginning, how it started, how a fall from grace might have brought her here, how a single incident has branded her a killer and given bud to investigations beyond her understanding.

"She's got bail," a voice pipes through the intercom.

"Does that mean I can go?"

"Yeh for now but don't travel."

He's there, the guy in the brown suit and the blue eyes. Her bookstore hero and sexual fantasy. Looking calm and cool and suave. All of a sudden she's anxious that he's bailed her out. But he is attractive, she’d chased him. This could be interesting. Becoming involved was the primary aim, but after their little 'encounter' at the book shop, could be a double-edged sword. Still, he's bailed her out and she’s more than grateful.

"You OK?"

She feels like she's been run through the mill. Her eyes are tired, her brain addled and so she lies,
"Yeh, I'm good."

"Dinner?" He’s not hopeful until she replies.

“And a bath?" she asks.

He coils a reassuring arm around her waist, curls a devilish smile around his lips, and walks her through the revolving front door and into the warm evening.

"My place or yours?"

"Yours."

He's pleased with the emphatic response. She’s surprised once again at her forwardness but she needs respite somewhere away from familiar surroundings.

His apartment is neat, bookish and smells of leather and wood polish. A cat greets them  and rubs affectionately against her slender ankles. She smiles, or smirks at the Charger's jacket hung nonchalantly on an old fashioned coat rack near the front door.  Not the best choice of football teams but it's a pretty grey and blue, fleece-lined and she rather admires it.  It feels good to be somewhere different, where nobody knows her, where she doesn't live. After today, she just wants to be invisible for a while.

He pulls a bottle from the fridge, "You like white or red?"

"That's fine," she says, nodding at his upheld bottle of merlot although she can't recognise the label. It's a stylistic lightening flash, kind of cool.  He pours two in fine Reidel and they clink -"Cheers"
"Well done you,"  he congratulates, " you taught those bastards a lesson."

"Well done you too . . you kept me sane when I was confused."

They congratulate each other on what was a Herculean effort bringing down three perps on their own as they sink into the Chesterfield, his arm around her. Her head nuzzled against his neck, his hair smells of raspberries and is soft and touchable. This is what she needs.  This was her strategy all along but it took  an event out of her control, personeal beyond her choosing to find her way not only into his apartment but also into his arms.  The bath forgotten they exchange a kiss. Slow, sweet and she feels the heat between her thighs.

"C'mon," he rises and takes her hand. " She smiles a tired smile and follows him into the bedroom.
She is shy and asks him to draw the curtains. It's been a long time and she's a little alarmed by the artistic, but very dramatic photograph of two women in a passionate embrace above his bed.
 "Friends of mine," is all he offers as he begins to undo his belt.

She sheds her Catholic guilt as quickly as she sheds her clothes. He smells sweet. His skin's smooth. Hands move as his lips connect with her decolletage and mouth the tiny gold crucifix around her neck.  They sink easily onto the bed and allow carnal pleasure to take over the events of the day before rolling into fitful sleep for him, disturbed nightmares for her.

She dreams of funerals. Black horses with plumed bridles. Black roses thrown on the coffin of someone she knows but cannot name.  And a woman, strangely familiar and menacing. Someone who looks like her but different as she stands firmly  planted, unable to move her feet within an invisible ring as if waiting for her receiver after taking the three legal steps required when playing a game of netball. Throughout it all, she's vulnerable and unable to move until someone rescues the play.  Rescue comes in the form of another explosion. More red, yellow and orange and she jumps to a sitting position in the dark.

"Charles?" he's sleeping deeply, "Charlie?" she shakes him and he rolls over groggy, reluctantly wiping the dream of her gyrating on top of him, from his eyes. It was a good dream interrupted.
"I think I had a different life. One before this. Everyone today seemed to think they knew me, that I was back in the game. I don't get it, I don't like it. Some guy even said he knew me and called me Kerry Stanhope!"

"Do you want me to find out? I have contacts, I know people?" She's curious as to how he can but doesn’t pursue it.

"Dunno, could be a double-edged sword, I'm not sure I want to know."

"Can't cut it? Are you afraid of the truth?"

She nuzzles into his shoulder and dozes. They'll discuss it tomorrow.

Her dream of tea and cigarettes becomes reality as he reaches for the Twinings English Breakfast.
"I think I may have been a spy or something."

He laughs, "Hope you were on our side after seeing you with that SKS."  He likes her in one of his business shirts, the blue suits her and it’s oversized tails reveal just enough of well-muscled, tanned and shapely legs.

She wonders, was she angel or demon? On the side of good or playing both? Guardian of the worthy or the serpent in the garden?

Continued in Part 3

Flower Killers (Part 1 of 4)

She's daydreaming and watching the macaws attack the coconut palm beyond her window. Not concentrating, she snips off the buds of a bouquet of bright poppies and puts the naked stems in a spaghetti jar. They stand like headless prophets with nothing to say. Snapped back into reality, she scoops the petals and stuffs them into the kitchen tidy,  cranks up the radio and hears a familiar song; one that takes her back to a voyage of discovery, a past forgotten and remembered.

The first time she saw him, he was in a bookstore, one with a coffee shop attached.  He was relaxed, slouched over an old oak table and sipping a cappuccino. He was sitting there, brown as the table he was leaning upon as people milled through the cafe, but her focus was planted firmly on him. She sees glimpses of him, punctuated only by flashes of red, orange and yellow as the uniformed staff flitted in front and behind clearing tables. He was lost in another world, immersed in his reading.

A friend had once told her that bookstores were the ideal places to meet men.

“Just stand near the volumes you’re interested in, and strike up a conversation.”

Today, she’s putting his advice to the test. Tired of loneliness and willing for romance, she’s seen him here before and makes her move. She orders a skim latte and sidles onto the wooden bench opposite him. He looks up briefly and she smiles.

“Good book?” The lameness of the question immediately embarrassing, as if he’d read a bad one.
He nods, smiles, and returns to his reading. She’s barely sipped the froth from her latte, the heat from the glass  burning her fingers when hearing’s pierced by noise and the smashing of glass which precedes the blast, launching both drinkers and coffee from their table.

She remembers being brought to her senses, him leaning over her and whispering, “Are you OK?” His hand behind her head. She's been flung flat on her back amid the shattered glass of the bookstore window. Hundreds of pages flutter surreally and gently to the floor.

“What happened?” She's groggy but otherwise unhurt. The ringing in her ears testament to what can only be described as a massive explosion.

“I don’t know but keep down,” he whispers amid the mêlée.

They both scramble behind the table, now balancing precariously on its side, peeking to its side, observing the situation around them. People crouching, men shouting, women screaming but all she hears is the tinnitus in her ears.

The only time she'd experienced this sensation was when dumped in a raging surf and the swirl of foam had muffled all sound, terrified her actually, as she was tumbled like so much linen in a washing machine before emerging above the white horses to suck in much needed air.

That particular event proved to be a rehearsal for the sensation she's currently feeling; muffled noise and partial deafness. Surely lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice - today it has. She's confused and stunned, he pulls her back to the floor behind the safety of their makeshift screen and his body covers hers.  Her panicked gaze meets his and she’s surprised to see the gentle concern on his face. The moment freezes as the weirdest thoughts run through her head, and his hands run through her hair. "Does he like blow-jobs?" Dumbest question on the face of the planet she thinks, yet she's surprised that in a moment of destruction and panic, all she wonders about are his sexual preferences.
What seems like minutes, is in fact seconds and both are sobered instantly from any lascivious thoughts or concerns for personal welfare, as three Balaclava's on legs swing through the broken plate window. Each is heavily armed and firing automatic weapons into the air.

"Stay down, shut the fuck up or we'll show you the way to glory!" one yells as everyone complies.
Her rescuer finds himself blanketing her more closely. Those blue eyes are piercing hers.  And while she can barely hear what the Balaclavas are saying, their intent is clear and concern turns to terror for them both.

The bullets quiet as patrons lie on the floor, their hands behind their heads. He whispers, "It'll be fine, think of something else, think of something quiet and peaceful. Stay calm."

In stark contrast, the remaining thugs divest every punter of their large and small change and clearly feel that there's not enough violence in their intrusion, and so begin tormenting terrified customers.
Still she focuses on calm and imagines being with him. She feels his body warmth, his breath on her neck, warm and comforting. It reminds her that it's been a while, a long while and she imagines the morning after the night before. They're sharing English breakfast tea and a cigarette. She hopes he's not the kind to run. It's then she's brought back to the moment as a balaclava motions him to move off her with the muzzle of a gun.

She's permitted to bring herself into a sitting position purely to access her purse, and fumbles through the huge Dolce and Gabbana bag, pushing aside a folded magazine with the smiling supermodel and burying the small bottle of 'medicinal' vodka, before finding her wallet.

She can't see his face but she can see his eyes. He's smiling beneath the balaclava. She fumbles and hopes he'll do the right thing as the muzzle of his weapon drags slowly along her leg and lifts her skirt, her rescuer looking agitated. She musters cold reserve from a place she didn’t know existed and pulls the fabric across her knees. Her demeanour changes from fear to frenzy. She's had enough of this army of assholes.

The other two are harassing a young cashier and she's now cognisant enough to take a chance. Still fumbling in her bag, she grabs the gun she's never used, flicks the safety whilst it's still harboured in the shelter of her bag and jumps to her feet, the barrel of her own gun now firmly planted against the jugular of her abuser.

"Lick my ass fucktard… " She whispers with hot but venomous breath into his ear. His eyes cease to smile and she foists the gun from his own hand. Her rescuer also jumps to his feet among the prone punters and disables the balaclava by pulling his right hand hard against his back. The once cavalier intruder now groans in pain, "Shut the fuck up lapdog, what happened to the Rottweiler within? You chicken shit piece of ass!"

"Gone" gasps the now less confident balaclava, with a gulp that makes his Adam's apple rise and fall beneath her grip.

Charles passes her a quizzical look and a momentary smile at this surprise aggression.
Jesus!" cries one of the two harassing the cashier, "They've got Tom!"

The remaining two thugs have their attention distracted, she takes control.

 "Jesus is dead boys, ain't gonna help him or you now, drop your weapons and hit the floor."

Charles has a firm grip on the smiling eyes and she's snatched the asshole’s weapon and is now pointing his SKS at the remaining men.

 "Move away from the girl, hit the floor!' she screams, killing any carnal thoughts once held by the cashier’s harassers. The girl stops crying inches backwards, ducking below the counter.
She's poetry in motion as she strides towards them. Strong, armed, dangerous and deaf. They're not used to confrontation, let alone by a woman in a short skirt.  The concussion has awakened something in her, memories of letters and ballistics, a past life a different history. Even as she moves towards them, she's remembering something so long buried its empowering even if it is unclear. Now so close she can feel their breath, their hands in the air, it's her turn to trace their thighs with the muzzle of the SKS as she lifts the gun between the legs of one and presses hard against the softness in his crotch. It’s her turn to strike fear as she puckers her lips and blows an air kiss in their direction before firing and slamming each so hard back into the counter they linger like marionettes before dropping to the floor, little more than two piles of used clothes, stained and unwanted, riddled with red leaking holes.

She comes up for air, much the way she did in the surf, as she did after the explosion. It's exhilarating and frightening as if God's tried again to show her that life is a rehearsal and she can keep playing new parts until she gets it right. An odd feeling of déjà vu grips her as the role she plays is strangely familiar but long forgotten.

The sirens fall silent as the police finally arrive. One perp hostage, two dead and the punters slowly rising, shocked and bewildered from the floor. She drops the SKS in hand, and it clatters on the polished tile as another is pointed at her head.

A voice from behind commands, "Hands behind you where I can see them!”  She lowers her head and complies. The voiced grabs her shoulder and turns her round to face it.

"Kerry? Kerry Stanhope?" he appears to recognise her but she hasn't a clue who he is.

"No, the name's Damjanov, Dana Damjanov . . . . who’s asking?"

He remembers her from back in the day. She was indeed a hot thing at the agency but he'd never had the courage to approach her. He ended up in Special Ops and honed the art of sniping. She'd moved somewhere else, nobody knew where, but there was talk of her being 'placed' overseas. He lowers his rifle.

"David Bryant. I went to the Academy with you. Well I thought it was you."

But for now pleasantries will have to wait, there is carnage to clear and a crime scene to seal. Another loose cannon enters and cuffs her.

"She's cool," says Bryant, still confused about the name change but sure it's Kerry. He'd had a hard-on for her for that year. Only shyness prevented him from acting upon it.

"She's standing here with a loaded gun in a veritable shitstorm Bryant, I'm bringing her in.”

His superior isn’t taking any chances. Bryant acquiesces to his senior's demands and applies the cuffs before scratching his head and muttering, "I'm sure she's Kerry Stanhope.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Cold Heart Cannot Dance

“Make love to me?"
She thinks it these days rather than says it, knowing full well he hasn’t the time for her that he once had. He’s drunk. He’s watching dancers on television and ogling their bodies. She washes the dishes and examines her reflection in the kitchen window.  She can’t understand why he’s been unfaithful. She has a lovely body. Sure, it’s marked by the imperfections that make a woman perfect, stretch marks from pregnancy, cellulite from age but her skin is soft, her shape curvy. 
The first time she found out about his lust for others, she never told him about the errant jeans she found...two sizes too small. She never revealed that she's seen the text messages and the photos on a friend of a friend's Facebook page. She loves him. Puts up with his philandering as long as he provides and comes back. Loving the narcissistis difficult but she made the commitment. "Always" means "Always" to her. She knows he can't help being what he is. Some would call her weak. She sees herself as strong...strong enough to tolerate his infidelity and love him anyway.
Things were so different when they met. They were two sides of the same coin, scales in equilibrium, yin and yang, together for ever. Dancers in the dark, two pieces of the same puzzle.
Everything soured after the birth of their daughter. Post natal depression for her and a lack of empathy from him saw him stray into the arms, and beds, of others. Not just one, but many indiscretions. She’d left him once but he’d pleaded with her to return. They meant nothing, he told her.  Men aren't meant to be monogamous, he told her and, beneath it all,  it was her he loved. It was her he came home to, returned to. She should be grateful, he'd said, and she swallowed it, hook line and sinker.
These days everything is unbalanced. She the doting wife and mother. He the careless lover, inattentive father. He sits on the couch ogling, or so she thinks. He’s not. He’s looking at her, never truly the love of his life but the mother of his children and wishing she looked like the girls on the television. He bears no guilt. He's oblivious to her wants. He's just a red-blooded man with needs and she doesn't 'complete' him any more. Lascivious eyes glide back towards the screen as bare legs tantalise, skin and gyrations beckon.
“They have awesome bodies these girls.”
She clangs plates and retreats. Tears fall. She wishes she had what they have. She wishes she could prance in front of him, seductive and rhythmic. She wishes the television would explode and he’d notice her pain.
She talks to the rising foam in a filling sink.
“Fuck you. I’ve tried. I love you but you're a selfish, impossible jerk!”
She stares at her reflection, fluffs her curls, removes her apron. She smooths her hands over breasts and waist, examines her derriere.
“I used to have a nice ass…Dammit, I still have a nice ass.”
She moves into the bathroom and fingers curls, applies some gloss to lips longing to be kissed. Bulgari White behind her ears, on her ankles and wrists… she changes into seductive lingerie.
“Honey come look this chick’s amazing….”
She sashays into the lounge. He’s lounging on the couch. His erection visible.
She sidles up to him and kisses his forehead. He waves her away.
“Not now hun…”
His eyes glued to the blue sequins and limber moves.
She sits beside him and rubs his back. He stares at the screen. Her hands moving between his thighs. Along his legs. He oblivious to the hint, ungrateful for the interruption.
“Honey…not now….”
She rises, walks into the kitchen. Pours a glass of wine and cries. Tears unheard over the Tango.
“Fuck you…” she sobs. “See me..feel me…” Tears pour into the glass. Lingerie wasted, is covered with a dressing gown as the baby cries in an adjacent room.
His hands are moving south. The dancer a provocateur. He is oblivious to her heartbreak.

She’s still beautiful, wholesome, buxom, sexy, but he’s bent on a fantasy. He’s a watcher in the house when he should be holding her close, tending to her needs.
The baby quieted, she announces she’s going to bed. 
“Love you….” She laments and blows him a kiss. His hand still on his crotch, he mutters "’night".
Tears on her pillow her sobs muffled by fresh cotton and down. All she wants is his warmth. His hands on her body, his lips against hers. Her heart begins to break.
His heart begins to thump as his hands play. The sequins blur as the flood of pain in his arm and chest intensify. He sweats. The Tango continues, the television too loud. With the crescendo of the dance he shakes, vibrates, terror across his ashen face.
Her sobs inaudible. Despair across her once calm visage.
His cries muffled by fading breath. His heart infarcts, explodes.
“Kristy….kr...." Is all he musters before his life force departs. She begins to dream as the sadness renders her unconscious.
 

Posted hastily for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Right of Qi"