Friday, 9 September 2016

Blackening Church (part 2)

Previously: Anton Petrov, a Russian mole in the British Secret Service, was dealt with by Georgia Callahan, an honest British agent working with her fellow agents Jack, Alicia and Lexi. After finishing the job with a single shot, Callahan returned to their hotel to celebrate. We rejoin the story a week later…

London still got foggy. Not as much as it did when dear stalker attired detectives strode its streets but enough for it to be significant. There was a church in the fog, hidden behind black railings, and despite the efforts of its lone bell ringer, the funeral toll couldn’t be heard.
Her head bowed, her hands behind her back, Georgia Callahan followed the three coffins. A light drizzle rolled in, clear splashes of water cutting through the grey clouds, and bouncing against her blonde curls. There were only six of them at the funeral, counting the vicar, the gravedigger and the bell ringer.
That was the thing about spies’ funerals. They weren’t generally very busy. 
Georgia helped the gravedigger and the bell ringer unload the coffins from the carts, carrying them down to the centre of the church. It wasn’t a big place, St. Brigid’s Church, but it was a fitting burial place. She knew because she’d been there before.
Make that seven of them. The Undertaker, a short woman who had a name Georgia didn’t care about, accompanied the coffins and laid a Union Flag over each of them. Then she reached into her box and began to position the pictures.
Georgia took a seat on the front pew. There were two columns of twenty rows. She sat on the left column. The other two people that the church didn’t employ were sat on the first row of the right column. She didn’t look at them. Her eyes were fixed on the pictures atop the coffins. They stared at her with their monochrome happiness, their eyes so young, so unknowing. Jack. Lexi. Alicia. An extra tear ran down her face for the last of those names. She looked once more at the photographs, for as long as she could manage. Her team for so many years and now they were all dead.
The vicar stepped behind his podium. She held eye contact with the photographs for as long as she could and then stood, padding towards the doors at the rear. The vicar watched her leaving. The two gentlemen on the right column didn’t. They could hear the squelch of her shoes against the grey stone of the floor. They didn’t need to turn.

The bell rung again, its monotonous toll loud in Georgia’s ears. The old wooden doors creaked open and one of the two men from the front row walked to join her. He was much shorter than her, so she had a full view of his bald head. Or, at least, she would have if she’d turn to him. Instead, she continued to stare out at the open graves where her friends would be laid to rest, the rain beginning to turn the grass coloured fabric on either side an altogether darker shade of green.
“It doesn’t get easier.” The little man said. 
“You don’t have to tell me.” Georgia replied, taking a deep drag on her cigarette.
“I’m here if you want to talk.” When she didn’t reply for a few seconds, he added, “It must haunt you each time you close your eyes.”
Georgia turned to him. “It would if I could remember it.”
The cigarette tumbled to the ground, the embers disappearing in a splash of dirty water. She began to wander away, down the path that led to the fog obscured reaches of the Great Beyond.
“I’m just trying to help.” The little man shouted. “I’m not the enemy.”
Georgia didn’t turn back, continuing to walk. As she reached the black chipped railings, she shouted, “Neither am I.”
Whether the little man heard her, she didn’t know. The fog, like some ancient phantom traversing the halls of a long forgotten manor, had swept across the path and now he was gone.

The wooden door creaked again. The other man joined the little man. This newcomer was taller but also wider, fattened by years of golf club dinners and expensive wines. He readjusted the buttons of his bulging waistcoat. “What do you think?” He asked. His voice was gravelly. Old, but not in the sense that it had been around for a long time. Old in the sense that it had experienced a lot.
“She doesn’t believe she did it.” The little man said. “But then, I don’t suppose she would.”
“Shall we pull her in for an evaluation?”
“No. We can carry it out without her. Let her drown her own sorrows. She’s no use to us like this.” 
“Where do you expect her to go?”
“Her file gives me the best estimation, Uncle.” The little man said. “I’d assume from her regularity that she has a lot of sorrows to drown.”

A red glow oozed through the fog like blood through a carpet. Georgia Callahan strolled up the street, the collar of her black trench coat pulled up around her ears, her eyes fixed on the cobbled floor, her cigarette giving off its own little cloud. There was a bleak nip in the air, a morgue-like chill which bobbled her flesh and reddened her nose. The intense warmth of her cigarette, like her neck itself was on fire, was almost therapeutic. 
She stepped through the fog towards the red light, like the back of a dragon’s throat, deep inside a cave of shadows. The red neon sign hurt her eyes to look at so she didn’t bother reading it, instead taking hold of the metal handle beneath it and pulling open the door. It was warm and loud on the other side, a contrast to the quiet gelidity of outside. Dropping her cigarette, Georgia stepped in. The door slammed shut behind her. The metallic clang was like a butcher’s knife reaching the worktop on the other side of a chick's neck. 
A few steps led her down into a densely populated hall. There were strobe lights on the roof and seemingly a thousand bodies on the dance floor. The beat of the music, some Yorkshire rock from the early two thousands, radiated through the floor, through the bodies and then through her. She felt her heart pumping slightly faster. 
Georgia wrestled her way through the crowd, the lights flashing on and off as the clientele threw themselves up and down. The floor seemed to shake every time they hit the ground. Some punk splashed his beer on her. Georgia threw out her elbow into his groin. He doubled over in agony. She kept walking.
Eventually, she reached the bar. It was abandoned; the dance floor obscured the parade of steps that led down to the bar so not many of the spaced out kids had found their way down there yet. Georgia strolled over to the bar and took one of the stools.
“Well, I say,” the bar tender said from across the room. He was sat in the corner, his feet up on the table, a newspaper hiding his face. He folded the paper up, swung his legs off the table and strolled towards her. “Georgia Callahan. What’re you doing in Soho? Last I heard you were across the pond.”
Georgia turned to him. “Double bourbon. On the rocks.”
The bar tender frowned. “Something wrong, sweet? You don’t seem your normal perky self.”
“I’ve never seemed my normal perky self, cause I don’t have a normal perky self. If you must know, I’ve just been to a funeral.”
“Who’s funeral? Anyone I know?”
She shrugged and waited for her Double Bourbon.
He shovelled ice into a glass and then doused it in Bourbon, pushing it over the counter towards her. She picked it up and drained it in one. “Another.”
“Hey, you may want to take it a little slower. That’s some strong drink.”
“Another, Jimmy.”
He obliged her. “Your friends not coming with you then?”
She took a smaller sip. 
“Just, well, I don’t like bringing it up but Jack owes me some money.”
“You should have come to the funeral.”
“Why? Was it someone from work? Was he there?”
“He was in the box.” Georgia said. “And Alicia and Lexi each had their own.”
Jimmy frowned. A woman wandered down from the dance floor, stumbling on the last step and swaying over towards the bar. She opened her bag and began to do her lippy. The bar tender leaned closer towards Georgia. “You’re telling me all three of them are dead?”
“I identified the bodies.” Georgia said. There was something about her eyes that terrified Jimmy. Like she wasn’t even present, just a human body speaking its tale of woes, fuelled by alcohol and grief. “Alicia should have been the hardest to identify because of the damage to her face, but I could recognise her body so it was easy enough. Whoever shot Jack was kind to him; he’d been shot in the gut at first and then put out of his misery by another shot to his forehead. Lexi was pretty quick; a straight shot to her heart is a good way to go.”
“How were they killed?”
“You see, that’s confidential.” Georgia laughed, the type of laugh that accompanies deep cynicism and depression. “Make me another drink and I’ll tell you everything.”
Jimmy took up the whiskey bottle from under the bar and poured away. She smiled and took another long sip. Then she gestured for him to lean closer. About six lads had just walked into the bar and she didn’t want them hearing. Jimmy was different. He was paid to gossip, making him the most trusted person she knew. Gossipers almost never told the truth; why tell the truth when you could enhance it? It was the same as putting a message through an encoding device; it came out completely different to the one that went in.
“You want to know all about how they died? How the tragical story of my friends’ deaths went down?”
“If it’s not too much trouble, honey.” Jimmy said, leaning in further.
Georgia looked over each of her shoulders. No one to the left but seven people to her right. The six lads were messing with a pool table in the corner and the girl with the lipstick was still sat on a stool, squinting into the reflective material that backed the shelves behind the bar. She turned back to Jimmy. “The big secret is, I have absolutely no idea.”
“You what?”
“I haven’t the foggiest how they died.” She grinned. “Isn’t it hilarious? I, the big shot intelligence officer, don’t even know how her three best friends were slaughtered in her hotel room!”
“They died in your hotel room?” Jimmy frowned.
“That’s right. I was on the way back to my hotel to have a celebratory drink, we’d just caught this mole you see, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up on my bed covered in their blood, my gun in my hand, completely unharmed with the three of them around me, dead.”
“I’m not being funny, Georgia honey, but is there, you know, any chance you killed them?”
After several moments of silence, Georgia said, “My boss thought that too.”
“And? Was he right?”
“I wouldn’t kill my friends.”
The lads at the pool table began to slap one of their number on the back, urging him over to the bar.
“And you can’t remember anything at all?” Jimmy frowned. “Do you reckon it was trauma induced amnesia?”
“You’ve watched the Bourne Identity too much.” Georgia said.
The single lad shrugged the others off him. He straightened his shirt and began to plod towards the bar.
Georgia caught Jimmy’s expectant eyes. She rolled her own. “I can’t remember anything at all.” She sighed. “Nothing in the slightest. All I know is that my friends are dead and by now they’re buried and by tomorrow the worms’ll be chewing into their coffins. Born in the blink of the eye and gone in the flash of a gun.”
“That’s real heavy.” Jimmy said.
Georgia pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “Life generally is.”
The lad began to chat to the woman.
Jimmy shook his head. “I remember one of my mates died. Ol’ Al. You remember him?”
“When was this?”
“About ninety four.”
“I was in the Middle East in ninety four.”
“Well, you wouldn’t know him then. Lovely chap. Just keeled over one day in the early morning. I came in a few days later, cause we were closed for the weekend cause of those riots, found him just there by the Jukebox, dead.” Jimmy went on but Georgia zoned out. Her ears were drawn towards the lad and the young woman to her side. The lad had offered the woman a drink but when she’d refused, he’d continued to nag her. The woman politely told him to go away a few times and yet he didn’t take the hint. 
“C’mon love.” The lad said. “One drink. What harm could it do?”
"And there I was, walking in with Pedro, the whole dive stinking to high heaven of Ol' Al." Jimmy said.
“Mate, what part of no do you not get?” The girl asked.
“If you really didn’t want a drink, you wouldn’t be staying at the bar, love. That’s your subconscious at work.”
“Excuse me Jimmy.” Georgia said, stubbing out her fag in the ashtray.
“Look, I’m telling you, I’m not interested.” The young woman began to regret not bringing her pepper spray.
“And I’m telling you that you most definitely are!” The lad grinned. Before he could utter a single beer stinking syllable, he felt a strong hand clamp on his shoulder.
“She’s telling you, pal, that she most definitely isn’t.” Georgia Callahan said. “Now, sod off punk,  or I will end you.”
The lad slowly turned around, staring down at the average height, middle aged blonde haired woman in front of him, frowning. The smell of alcohol was strong on his breath, hiding equally horrific halitosis. “You getting jealous, little lady?”
Georgia kneed him in the stomach, grabbed hold of his head and slammed it into the bar. His nose pulverised and he found himself unconscious before she flung him onto the beer sticky floor. The other five lads all turned and stared at her. Despite the horrible situation Georgia had just saved her from, the young lady still wished she’d brought her pepper spray.
“She just done in our gaffer!” One of the lads shouted.
Georgia rolled her eyes. “Jesus. Assault me with your fists, not your language.”
“Can we hit a woman?” Another one of the lads asked.
Georgia wandered over, picked up the cue ball from the Pool table and threw it with such force that it knocked its target straight out. “No, you can’t hit a woman. But a woman can hit you. Get the hell out of here before I reacquaint you with the floor.”
The four lads took the invitation and legged it. Georgia wandered back over to the bar, reached behind it and grabbed the bottle of whiskey, pouring herself another glass. She took a sip, lighted yet another cigarette and waited for the police turn up.

The response time was good so she was being processed within half an hour. They ran a breathalyser test and identified she was drunk then made her walk in a straight line and saw she wasn’t. They put her in a cell whilst they read her file and that was when the man from the church turned up. 
Georgia’s cell door creaked open and an officer walked her, unspeaking, down the corridor and towards the interrogating room. The officer’s hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and her stab proof vest sat strangely on her shoulders. She looked uncomfortable and the glance of impending doom on her face didn’t help. She pushed open the door of the interrogation room and gestured for Georgia to enter. There was something about her body language that said, “There’s no way I’m following you.”
Georgia walked in and took a seat in front of the table. The man on the other side stared at her for a moment. The folder in front of him was perfectly lined up with the packet of cigars to its side. They were a custom blend.
He fixed her with an almighty stare and then said three words in a voice damaged by years of smoking. “I’m not impressed.”
“I’m not surprised, Uncle.” Georgia replied. “But I had a lot of anger to let off and those punks happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The man called Uncle fixed her with a stare for a moment. Then his wrinkled hands flipped open the file in front of him. “You have perfect timing, Miss Callahan. We received the call of your arrest mere moments before the close of your Psyche Appraisal. The company psychologist is begging us to fire you. He closed his argument with a line about the safety of the free world being in doubt should we give you an assignment.”
Georgia didn’t say anything. The man called Uncle had paused because his cigar smoking lungs had run out of oxygen, not because he expected her to speak.
“This file paints as pretty a picture of you as a hack cartoonist. Thrown out of the Marines for drug abuse, rejected from joining the army under false identities twice; according to this you’ve attended half the Alcoholic Anonymous groups in West London.”
“So much for Anonymous.” Georgia said.
“This isn’t a joke, Miss Callahan.” The man called Uncle replied. “You are a physical wreck. The very fact that you can walk in a straight line after having consumed enough Bourbon to take down a small elephant is evidence enough. I was brought into this department of Military Intelligence to root out the weeds ruining our garden. Not to feed them on fertiliser.”
“I was of the impression you’d been brought into the company because you play golf with the Home Secretary.”
The man called Uncle flicked to the next page. The golden ring on the little finger of his right hand glinted in the lighting above. “Miss Callahan, you do not need me to explain to you that our fine world is in its biggest mess since the Cold War. There is a place for cynical alcoholics and that is at her Majesty’s Pleasure. You either do as I tell you or you are dismissed. Allow me to lay the situation out for you. I sent you and three agents to execute a Russian mole. Of the five involved agents, four were executed. Anton Petrov by your gun as ordered and, according to a report I’ve just received from Ballistics, our mutual friends Jack and Lexi by the same gun that killed Petrov. Alicia, on the other hand, was killed by a gun officially sanctioned by the Tech department, with your signature on the paper. Five agents. Four of them dead. One survivor, and she’s the one in possession of all the guns. Now, tell me that doesn’t seem odd to you.”
Georgia said nothing. The man called Uncle took another long drag on the cold oxygen.
“But, just in case any doubt remains, you were present on the scene of the murder... drunk. And it’s drunk that you’ve been arrested, after assaulting a group of ‘punks’. So, explain to me why I shouldn’t have you arrested for three unsanctioned hits and a spate of ruthless assault”
“Uncle,” Georgia began, “I can’t prove anything to you but I can tell you one thing. I don’t kill in cold blood. I murdered Petrov because he betrayed our country. Jack, Alicia, Lexi, they loved this country as much as I do. I am a capable agent- no, I’m a damn good agent! Whatever happened in that hotel room was not my fault. Give me a chance to investigate and I promise I will find the man who ordered this.”
The man called Uncle surveyed her for a second and then sighed. “This is your last chance. We investigated the members of staff working at your hotel on the night of the murder. All of them checked out but one. A Julian Gielgud. He quit the night after the murder, packed up his stuff and left. Kept driving until he reached Strasbourg. He’s been off the grid since. No bank transactions, no parking tickets, nothing. He might as well have stopped existing.”
“You think he’s gone underground?”
“Either that or Mother Russia has supplied him with a false identity in return for his service.”
“You think the Soviets ordered the hit?”
“It’s possible.” The man called Uncle admitted. He shrugged. “If they got word that we were targeting Petrov, they could have arranged the hit in revenge. It doesn’t matter what we suspect, merely what you’ll discover. And you bet hurry with it. If you don’t produce any results quickly, I can’t imagine this ending well for either of us. Patriotism is dead, Callahan. It can’t protect you from reality.”
“No, Uncle. I don’t suppose anything can.”
The man called Uncle opened the packet of cigars and took one out, hanging it on his lip and lighting it. He took a deep inhale then said, “Good luck, Mis Callahan. You will need it.”

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