It was no use; the waiting and the wondering were killing him. The police could be following him already, waiting to pick him up any minute. How much did they know? They didn’t seem to be playing by their normal rules anymore. He knew it was a Friday, but there were dispensations for times like these. Omar Lemani, the last free survivor of Badr’s group, was being eaten alive by the uncertainty. It was the isolation, sudden, dramatic and confusing that unnerved him; this was his first time and now there were no older, more experienced brothers on which to fall back.
Night was falling as he made his way to Badr’s house. He had to find the cache of memory sticks holding his leader’s links to the rest, the resources available, safe houses, money. There would be ciphers, encryption, but that was his baby and he knew most of them already. Ask Badr’s wife, his widow probably, what she knew and then vanish. The rain was heavy now, driving people off the streets. His superior had lived in a better area than the rest, mainly semis, not fully colonised yet, nearer the outskirts, with old white residents slowly giving way to the newcomers; those left had little means of escape other than by way of the grave or nursing home, they were the left behinds. But it was still mixed and people kept off the streets, avoiding their other, alien neighbours, especially on a night like this.
The street of Badr was deserted. He walked past the house, nothing unusual, curtains closed against the falling night and to protect the modesty of the women within from the eyes of non-believers. He went around the corner and sheltered for eight or nine minutes to see if anyone was about, or following him, as he had been taught. He headed back to the house and up the step to the door. He looked around. No one. His heart was pounding: the exposed, vulnerable moment.
He knocked. Seconds passed. He tried to suppress the worry, the slight trembling spreading through his body from his accelerating heartbeat. The light in the front room went out and the curtain twitched aside, someone was looking him over as he stood under the glare of the external light above him. Footsteps from behind the door. Someone must be peering through the fish eye aperture. He looked straight back and nodded. Bolts and a chain were unfastened and then the lock turned. His hand reached into his jacket pocket to grasp the comfort of the small handgun it contained.
The door swung black slowly, a burqa clad figure peered round and gestured him in. He walked past her as she closed and locked the door; she seemed taller than how he remembered Badr’s wife. His arms were grabbed from behind and a huge man in a balaclava and gloves, followed by another holding a pistol of some sort, came from the front room door and pinned him, while what was now obviously a man dressed as a woman pulled a gag across his mouth. His shock at the speed of it stunned him. Within seconds, it seemed he was bound and gagged, kneeling on the floor in a back room alongside a woman, presumably Badr’s wife, and a younger girl, the concubine servant Badr had brought back from Iraq, a devil worshipper he had said, borne to serve, supposedly now much more biddable than his wife.
Who were they? They didn’t speak, just quickly searched. They were in a hurry he could see, fearing every moment they stayed could result in their discovery and entrapment. They had clearly been rough with the wife, as her two swelling eyes showed, but the pile of laptops, phones, passports and memory sticks on a nearby sofa indicated that they hadn’t been wasting their time. In three minutes they were satisfied or felt they had to leave. Some sort of message was received on one of their phones; the one reading it gestured frantically to the others. There were four of them at least now he could see. They turned off the light in the room and motioned to their prisoners to keep silent. One raced silently upstairs, one stayed by the door; the giant retreated to the front room while the burqa-clad one went back to the front door. He realised they were repeating what they had done to him.
The front door was knocked on and he could hear a muffled voice. The door was unlocked and opened as before. “Sorry ma’am, Police from the local station. We hear a man, registered as dwelling here, one Mohammed Badr, may have disappeared. Your husband, yes, may we come in?”
The speaker clearly didn’t wait to be contradicted; he simply walked past into the hall followed by others. The door closed, “Oh sh…”, moments later three men, two in plain clothes and one Asian-looking and in uniform, were led into the back room at gun point. Three of the masked men, all armed, one with a small submachine gun and two with long nosed handguns, were securing and gagging them, relieving them of radios, two pistols and their official identification: all disappeared into the holdall with the computer equipment they had already gathered. The phone buzzed again. The man read the message and gave the others the thumbs up. They must have an accomplice in the street outside, spotting for them.
Two went out of the room, leaving the large man with the machine pistol. There seemed to be a muttered, rapid conversation. Two masked men returned, one holding a discarded burqa – he looked Mediterranean or possibly middle-eastern he thought – and a plastic jerry can. He felt fear, real terror, now. He could see the other prisoners, other than the young girl who looked utterly broken, goggling as the realisation dawned. The giant and the third one dragged out the girl and the uniformed officer through to the back of the house. They came back for the plain clothes men, who tried to struggle, but were powerless, and took them away too. The olive skinned one covered the remaining pair with a gun which he could now see held a silencer. ‘So, this is it what death looks like when it comes,’ he thought. ‘I didn’t do anything! I’m just the errand boy!’
The giant had removed the can lid and was carefully pouring it around the room, trying to avoid splashing himself. The dark one, the devil he could now see, came closer and suddenly turned and without a sound shot the woman beside him through the forehead. Her body snapped back, slumping against the now bloodied wall behind her.
The devil took off his mask and looked him in the eyes, “For their untold numbers, we remember,” and shot Omar Lemani through the right eye.
Art poured the rest of the can over the two recumbent corpses, and dropped it by them, as Georgy replaced his balaclava and left the room carrying the holdall. The smell of gas was becoming pervasive. They opened the back door, having locked the front. Good. Their transport was in the back alley. No one about. The four tied figures were pulled outside and the door shut. The girl was lifted by the giant and carried, lying limp as a rag doll in his arms, through the yard gate into the waiting vehicle. The boot swallowed her prone form as the lid was replaced. The remaining three, the discomforted policemen, were dragged up the garden path, rolled on to their fronts with their faces in the dirt and told in hushed, urgent tones to keep down. And with that they were gone.
The timer was set for ten minutes. For a short while people would think it a gas explosion in a poorly maintained house until they found the bound men who would almost certainly be badly stunned by the blast. With a modicum of luck they should survive it, if they kept their heads down as they had been told.
By the time the house went up, they were far away enough not even to hear it with the radio off and windows down. They had to risk the motorways this time, to put as much distance between them and the house in as short a time as possible. They were running out of disposable getaway vehicles; another twenty minutes and they would leave this one burning in a field, headed back to their away-from-home refuge. This time Alan was determined that nothing, no one, would stop him returning to his life, far away from this field of death. The mood had even seemed to prompt a subdued protest from Sam, the most laconic of them all.
“We nearly ran out of luck there Alan, those cops could have had us. We didn’t have time to get ready. Sure, that monkey thought he knew what he was doing, hiding around the corner like that, giving us time to get in and wait for him, but what if those cops had arrived ten minutes earlier? How many traces did we leave behind? We need to disappear for a long time or I’m done. What’s the plan for the girl?” Almost a soliloquy for him really.
“I don’t know, but we couldn’t leave her there like that. You know what’s happened to her at their hands. Where would she go?”
Art and the one known as Sam seemed to take that at face value. Georgios Tredare had no doubts other than about his leader’s ruthlessness; he had enjoyed it. Alan noticed he was smiling, that worried him most of all. To distract them he cracked a joke, “Well Georgy, that’s four blokes you’ve entrapped with your dark, come hither eyes this evening.”
She helped Martha get dinner, feeding her son and putting him to bed after a thorough clean: he was exhausted from the day’s thrills. Sally knew he would be up early, but that seemed to be the way here, as with all agricultural communities. Iltud had been noticeable by his coming and going, as if trying to avoid a conversation with her, and then his wife had mentioned causally that they had invited the Doctor, Gillian, around for dinner, along with her husband Petroc. Sally pretended to be pleased at the additional company, but it seemed they were stymieing her opportunity to ask any meaningful questions. Well, she wouldn’t be put off and anyway, as an incomer herself, Gillian would understand.
As Iltud went to admit their guests, Martha explained that Petroc’s first wife had died of cancer; there was no treatment for it here or even diagnosis until it became obvious. She had been looked after by Gillian, who later married the widower. She had been a little shocked by this, but Martha was clear that people living here were more practical in some ways about grief and life beyond it; there were none of the illusions conferred by the miracles of modern medicine that death was somehow beatable.
She was introduced to Petroc, a small stocky farmer, slightly younger she surmised than his second wife. He was quiet in her company, as old West Country farmers tend to be; it was hard enough to get some of them ever to leave their farms other than for weddings and funerals. Gillian was smiling, re-assuring; enquiring politely after her and her son, expressing her disappointment he wasn’t allowed to stay up with them. All very nice, but she seemed anxious, as if she knew she were really here to discourage their house-guest from being too inquisitive or excitable.
Fish on Fridays of course and it was Lent, Lenten grace first, then the fish, with last year’s apples, cheese and home-baked bread to follow. A little cider or beer, and then they were sitting drinking tea. Small talk, local matters, the air of evasion becoming more apparent with every passing moment, she was building up inside, frustrated beyond self-control, about to explode with demands for answers…
And then. “Now then Iltud, Sally needs answers and you can’t put it off any longer. It’s only fair, she’s my guest too and she deserves to be happy, so out with it!”
Martha was wearing a smile she could see, but there was serious intent in her eyes. The Doctor smiled nervously, her husband looked at his feet.
“But the Seigneur said…”
“Bah, he’s young, inexperienced, born into authority, he’s never been a stranger lost in another land. She found us, evaded them and brought a little boy. She’s meant to be here with us, but how can she feel at home if we shut her out?” Martha was working up a real head of steam here; Iltud was looking like he knew worse was coming. “If you don’t, I will, even if that means I get into trouble. Gillian here will help, won’t you? But you can do it better and avoid the embarrassment of the Steward’s wife being up before the Seigneur, so it’s up to you.”
He looked like a man walking out on to the icy surface of a pond. “You shouldn’t have taken her to the warehouse,” he heard the ice splinter beneath him, looked at his wife’s expression, it was cracking fast now, and fled back to the shore. “Oh, alright, as much as I can, but there’s some things…”
“I can tell you some of what I think you want to know, not everything, some I won’t be party to myself. I’m just a farmer and Steward of a small parish, not in the highest councils. You were asking about the warehouse?” He cleared his throat, as if embarrassed. “I believe Brother Peran has treated you to a poetic history of our land as he does all incomers who are unwise enough to ask him.” He was smiling thinly now. “So, I won’t waste your time on that any further unless he missed anything? No? Well, see if anything occurs to you later.”
“When we first started going back into Logres, seeing some of the wonders there which we wanted to bring back and also those we learned of from our new friends from the Middle Sea, we understood the importance of money to secure these things. We have little here of value, at least that the outside would trade for. We have barely enough gold and silver for our own needs, and no means to produce more. But we do have excellent fishing grounds, especially lobsters and crabs in the bay, finer than most available in Logres because they have never been over-harvested. So, we carefully began to export them, finding a local fisherman who became our agent on the outside; he secured a good income and as he had a relative here he thought he had lost, we knew he could be trusted. We tried to sell other produce as well, but there was little demand, so we were making some income from our fisheries, enough to start bringing in and constructing a railway, some modern inventions that could work and be maintained here, medicines…”
She couldn’t hold back any longer, “What about those weapons, they aren’t for hunting or pest control?”
© 1642again 2018