They were ready to leave, later than planned, cleaning up behind them took longer than they had assumed. It always did and for all Alan’s faults he was thorough, not in the least relaxed about that. He really wanted to make it back home, the ordinary comforts of family life perhaps acting as an antidote to the moral contaminants he feared he, they, had been exposed to over recent days. He had understood, had promised no more would be asked of them until they were ready, just their call.
The problem was the girl. Other than those few twitches of recognition when he had been here, she remained almost catatonic, having to be fed and watered by hand as if an invalid. At least she swallowed, if only by reflex. Sam almost seemed to have adopted her; he was nearer her in age than any of them, almost as if he were an older brother. Was he surprised? Not entirely, Sam was just surprising really, things from his childhood seem to rise up and sweep him in some unexpected directions. He knew a little about those things, but he suspected there was far more still lying in there: Sam wasn’t the talking type, more a watcher and listener, things that made him so good at what he was being asked to do.
Vehicles were a problem now; they had used all their disposable ones and would have to use either a van or the Discovery. Couldn’t risk purloining another for what should be just a routine home run. The Discovery had no boot to hold her, too risky then. It would have to be the van, but on a Saturday night, it might look unusual enough for any bored policemen to pull over to break his night shift tedium. Then what to do? Kill him, them, take him with them? More complications to be avoided like the plague. They had taken pains to avoid killing the innocent, no matter how blundering and he at least didn’t want to, Sam almost certainly the same, Art, probably, Georgy, hmmm?
No, they had to go tonight. It was probably safer to stay here, even if the relief team would make it crowded, but they had to get back some time. They were owed it. Sam carried her out in the dark into the back of the van. He had removed her bonds and gag, had almost snarled at the others when they queried the unnecessary risk. He had even hidden all the instruments of death they were carrying in case they had to shoot their way out, under seats, blankets, not to keep them from prying eyes but to shield her from any more terror they might inspire. She lay there in the back, swathed in blankets, him sitting next to her like a devoted guard dog, one hand lying gently on her shoulder, not moving, just resting. Neither said a word or moved an inch until the end of the journey.
The flight into Ankara from the Gulf had at least been on time. It was nice to be back on the Anatolian plateau of his childhood, away from the effete and stifling decadence of the coast. The air was cooling fast; it would be near freezing tonight, invigorating, energising; good. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day. They had, more or less, offered him a blank cheque, something a mountain peasant’s son could never spend they thought. Well they were wrong there, as bad as the westerners in some ways, their inability ever to learn, they all underestimated him, the others, those with the drive and vision. The airport taxi carried him to his home just on the outskirts of town. The first meeting would be held nearby tomorrow and there would be others in subsequent days, but the first would be the most important.
How to start, what to say. Mustn’t be needy, selfish or over emotional. He’s as fragile tonight as I’ve ever seen him, almost frightening, too heavily loaded.
They were still in the kitchen drinking coffee, Helena could see his eyes were fidgeting towards her wall clock, time running down, wondering how to bid her leave. Nothing for it than to lay at least her first card on the table. See how he plays it.
“I’ve been thinking, wondering about giving it all up.”
He looked alarmed. Did he think she was planning to let him down?
“Why, has something happened I don’t know about?”
“I’m not enjoying the work anymore, at least not like I did. Oh, no one’s noticed or said anything; we’re doing fine, really well. It’s just that I would have stopped several years ago, probably, if it wasn’t for you. There’s still a challenge there, and it helps fill the day, but I feel incomplete, as if I should be doing something else and not wasting my life just making money I don’t need or want really. I’m not having a breakdown or anything.” I think. “It’s quite common in my line; the intensity burns out the desire eventually, especially when money is no longer an issue.”
He looked at her as if she were speaking another dialect, if not another language, not fully comprehending what she was saying, recognising the words rather than their meaning. Why should he? He had probably never done anything for money, or much for himself, certainly not for status or position, in his adult life. How could he understand what made someone great in her world and why they eventually lost it unless they first surrendered their humanity, all compassion and altruism gone, and became a machine of pursuit and acquisition? Was he thinking she didn’t want to help him anymore, or worse, that she would be no longer of any use to him? The half-acknowledged fear reared over her, her fundamental insecurity with him. It was long overdue that she confronted that fear, killed the beast in its lair, regained the fortitude she had felt melting away as wax around a lit wick over past weeks. Then she might be free to choose again.
“I see. I’m sorry. It’s becoming a habit with you these days, having to apologise.”
She would normally expect that slight smile when he made a comment like that, but it was absent this time.
“I’ve been selfish, focused on things, things we have been trying to do, stave off, when I should have been concentrating on people, you especially who has given so much, too much I’ve feared at times, and asked for so little. I’ve let you down. What do you intend to do? Can I help in anyway?”
The beast shrank, shivering, back to its lair, bleeding, but not dead yet. The other was alert, preparing to rain hammer blows on the door that imprisoned it, hardly daring to breathe while it awaited the golden moment.
He looked ashamed she thought, back down where he was not so long ago. That chink was a gash now, any wider and his soul could flow out, but could she catch it or would it slip between her fingers and be gone forever? She cursed herself violently for her selfishness; what was she doing, piling more weights on him when he was already bending under the strain? That was the last thing she wanted to do; she wanted to relieve him of them, casting her own aside to do so. Play the final card or work through the hand?
“I’m not planning to do anything immediately, but there are some dates coming up which will enable me to cash in my carry… Sorry, that’s slang for my rolled-up investment in the funds we manage. So, I need to decide soon and work towards, whatever I or we decide to do.”
There it was, the beckoning card, lure him into the cave, not risk going out just yet.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I don’t just know enough about your profession to advise you what to do; it would be just empty presumption. There must be plenty of others who are much better qualified, why me?”
He was sniffing at the bait by the cave mouth cautiously, backing away, returning slowly and smelling the air.
“You’re still young enough to start a family, have children, build a new life, walk away from all of this… Is that what you want? I certainly couldn’t blame you. I’d be happy for you. There must be a queue of men begging for you, you’ve got everything, they’d be damned lucky.”
She snorted. “I’ve tried, you know that. They just want me for what I am, what they see, superficial things. They don’t want me for who I am. Maybe it’s my fault, I’ve been on my own too long, become odd, not used to compromising. Only you…”
Now we’re getting to the pinch, the decision to call or fold or turn again. “You know why.”
She looked at him brightly, emotions in check for once, those locks and bars were holding. She was willing him to spare her the agony of that big step into the merciless noonday light.
“I’d thought that was gone a long time ago. I thought you understood, knew… Things are comfortable now.”
The intensity of his concentration, eyes sweeping through her into the distance again, they were oiling and pulling the bolts, twisting the key.
“They were. I can’t express it, explain it. That’s still there.” She had to be honest, “But that’s not what this, this is about.”
He wasn’t taking the bait, playing with it almost, drawing her out, just looking at her with mournful tenderness, his eyes unwavering. Fold or call. No more cards to play.
“I hadn’t realised it, have probably ignored it for longer than I can remember. All this… I’m not frightened for me or the others really, but for you. If anything happened to you… I feel lonely, so alone, perhaps I’m getting old, burnt out, but I’m so alone, except when I’m with you, that’s the only time it’s different, like tonight.”
The bolts were pulled back now, eased by the tears she felt running down her cheeks, but the lock still resisted.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise I was making you so unhappy, hurting you, that’s not what…”
She almost screamed with frustration, the beasts were hurling themselves at the barely holding doors, last card hurled face up on to the table. “Why can’t you get it into your preoccupied, romantic James Bond head that I love you? I know you can’t be my lover, my husband: I swear I’ll never ask, but I want you with me, I want to know you will be there beside me when I need you, when I want a conversation,” The sobs were coming thick and fast now, oh Lord I’ve completely lost it, “someone to see some mornings over breakfast… Someone to work alongside with for things that matter. I’ll settle for that, and be happy. Don’t you see or am I going mad?”
His stillness seemed to intensify, as if frightened that the merest movement could puncture and deflate her. The emotion had been contained, so contained; he had known she was strong, quite exceptional he always said, but he had never seen this. It had been hidden, secreted so well from him that he had almost forgotten its existence and now it had become an unseen geyser under his feet, hurling him into the air, scalding him in its heat. He frowned.
“Anything but… It’s me who must be mad for not having seen. I just don’t see how I, my work, my life, can be what you want; give you what you say you need. You know as little of my world as I know of yours, and I have tried my best to shield you from it as far as I can, to protect you. But I promised and I will, let’s try to find a way?”
She felt exhausted, utterly drained. He got up and held her in his arms, inhaling and exhaling gently through her hair. She leant in close, pressing in, “One more thing, you promised whatever I need… One day, can you take me there, before we cross the Jordan?”
She subsided into bed. I’m getting too old for this. He had been gone a little time, pleading work tomorrow, needing a change of clothes, the usual. She could have demanded he stay, but she didn’t have the energy and it would have been unfair on him. He needed time to re-orientate, consider the consequences of those rash promises. He had held her in the hall for a long time, saying nothing. Later, when he had gone, she had realised that her hair was damp.
© 1642again 2018