Thursday, 15 September 2016

Blackening Church (part 3)

Previously: After a routine operation to take out a Russian mole, Georgia Callahan's team of British spies were assassinated in front of her. Despite this, she has no memory of the occurrence. After the funeral, she drunkenly beats up a group of lads and is arrested for her troubles. Whilst in prison, she is visited by the man called Uncle, the head of her branch of Military Intelligence. He gives her a chance for redemption by sending her after Julian Gielgud, a suspect in the murder investigation who fled to Strasbourg shortly after the murder took place. We pick up the story as Callahan arrives in France...

The Jaguar let out a healthy purr as Georgia pulled to a stop in the outskirts of Strasbourg. In the far distance, the city’s cathedral loomed up from the square it was situated in like a cliff of pure shadow. The buildings clustered around it were confused, some in the dress code of medieval Italy, others looking like they’d come straight from Bavaria. The part of the city that Georgia was in, overhanging the river in the glare of light reflected from the European Parliament, seemed to favour the architectural style of early twentieth century America. She didn’t have any complaints; having grown up in a terraced house in Accrington, she found it all rather beautiful.
The hotel was marked by a large neon sign declaring its business. A small sign on the door mentioned it had only received three stars. She’d stayed in better but she’d also stayed in worse. Life was one hotel after another when you were a spy.
Inside was a brief reception. The woman behind the counter spoke good English, handing over Georgia’s room key and explaining the bar was just through the doors at the back. Georgia thanked her and went up the stairs to her room, unlocking the door and placing her bag on the table. She locked the door, slid the chain into the place and then began to unpack.
Hotel rooms don’t have cameras. This isn’t a particularly surprising truth but it was an important one. It meant that you could do whatever the hell you wanted and nobody would know. Georgia opened her bag and took her gun out, studying it to make sure there was no damage. She gave it a wipe down with her cloth and then stored it in one of the bureau’s drawers. She then quickly hung a dress in the wardrobe next to a clean shirt and an extra pair of trousers before stashing the suitcase on top of the wardrobe and checking herself in a mirror. She picked up her jacket, a purple great coat that wasn’t overtly practical but would keep her warm against the cold outside, and pulled it on. The splash of rain grew louder as she buttoned it so she grabbed her umbrella and carried it quickly downstairs.
“Out already, Miss Callahan?” The girl behind the reception asked.
Georgia nodded, smiling at her and continuing out into the streets of Strasbourg. The umbrella was black, quickly extending and protecting her from the worst of the downpour. Around her neck hung a velvet scarf  and she reached up a hand to straighten it as she walked. There was a tough wind that played with her umbrella and her blonde curls. She was beginning to regret not driving.
The police station loomed up soon enough and she walked in, shaking off her brolly and sliding it into a box by the door. The desk sergeant looked up immediately and frowned. She looked as if she should be attending a mobster’s funeral, not gracing the lobby of a police station. He said something in French to her.
She replied in English. “The name’s Callahan. I’m looking for a missing person.”
“Name?” He asked, switching languages effortlessly.
“Julian Gielgud.” She said. “Mid twenties. Carrot top.”
The desk sergeant frowned.
“He’s ginger. He should have washed up just under a week ago. Hails from Compiegne.”
“We haven’t had any requests for anyone of that name. I can add him to the register, if you’d like.”
“I’d appreciate that dearly.” She replied. “If I give you my phone number, would you mind calling me should you hear anything?”
“Yes of course. Why are you looking for him?” The sergeant's eyes drifted up from his keyboard.
“He killed some of my friends.” She smiled and strutted out of the station. Her umbrella opening back up again, she set off in the direction of the underground. 

Georgia found a bridge crossing the river towards a C&A. There was a drunk on the bridge failing to direct the traffic but he wasn’t as interesting as the people beneath it. She plundered down some rain drenched steps and joined the group of hooded youths smoking weed in the rain protected shadows beneath the arch. One of them whistled when he saw her. She smiled at him and broke his nose with her umbrella.
“Any of the rest of you try something funny, you’ll receive much worse.” She said. “I’m looking for someone off grid. Who should I talk to?”
The hooded youths continued to stare at her.
She sighed. Maybe breaking the lad’s nose had been a little too strong. She pulled a cigarette from her pocket, let one of them light it for her, and took a deep drag. “Ginger guy. Mid twenties. You seen him?”
When they didn’t answer this time, she repeated it in French. This seem to snap the teenagers out of their trance. “You should try Lucas Delon.” One of them said. “He knows everyone.”
They told her where she could find Delon. She thanked them, finished her cigarette, and then flicked it into the canal before flicking her umbrella back up and marching on.

Lucas Delon could be found in a shady internet cafe so far into the back streets, it was almost out of Strasbourg. The Spice Girls played on a radio from the early two thousands and computers running Windows XP brought up the temperature of the room by about ten degrees. A Chinese woman behind the counter offered her a cup of coffee but Georgia ignored her, instead stepping over towards the only other occupant of the claustrophobic space.
Lucas Delon sat in front of one of the computers, staring at an email opening page. He was wearing a grey hoodie which Georgia pulled down with the tip of her umbrella. He turned around, pulling white earphones out. “What the hell do you want?”
She frowned. He was the first person that day to have greeted her in English.
“What?” Despite his English words, the French accent was strong. “You might as well be wearing a Union Jack in those clothes. You scream British.”
“It’s only called the Union Jack if it’s on a boat.” She replied.
“I know that, you know that. The general public doesn’t. I don’t wish to alienate them just because they’re stupid.”
“You don’t want to alienate people, you say, sat in an empty internet cafe with more grime on the windows than the average abandoned building.”
“That’s only because of the average abandoned building’s windows are smashed out. What do you want? I’m busy here.”
“You look like you’re buried head deep in work, aye.” Georgia said. “I’m looking for someone. Ginger. Mid twenties. Goes by the name of Julian Gielgud. Went off grid here about a week or so ago. Heard of him?”
“Got a picture?” Delon asked.
She reached into her pocket and gave him the hasty print out the man called Uncle had given her. Evidently this guy was a professional; he was the first person to have asked for a picture too. He studied the image for a second and then handed it back to her. “Yeah. I’ve seen him.”
“Morgue. Police fished him out of the river two days back.”
“They didn’t mention that when I spoke to them.”
“That’s because he had his head shaved. Your average uniformed grunt can’t look at a bald guy and a hairy guy and realise they’re the same person, but I can. I promise you, Gielgud is dead.”
“Which morgue?”
He wrote her the address on a sticky note. “That’ll be twenty euros.”
She flipped him a note. “Don’t spend it all on sweets like you youngsters are prone.”
“Funny.” He said in a voice that illustrated it wasn’t. “I didn’t catch your name?”
“Callahan.” She said. “Georgia Callahan.”
“Well, Miss Callahan, anything else I can do for you? I don’t just sit at a computer, you know. I can use one.”
“When I want a higher score on Pacman, I’ll come find you.” She said, and walked out.
The downpour had died down to a light drizzle, but such a drizzle was just as apt to soak her clothes and so she kept her umbrella up. Her flat shoes delivered her through the streets as she thought. There were a few workable possibilities. One was that Gielgud had thrown himself into the river shortly after arriving out of guilt. It was possible he’d shaved his head to avoid detection then realised he didn’t want to. She didn’t know how much she believed it but it was possible. Another option was that whoever had sanctioned the murder had killed Gielgud on arrival to tie off loose ends. The final possibility was that someone was framing Gielgud and that this murder was to stop him from being able to convince her he was innocent. Whichever way it was, she’d be able to tell better once she’d seen the body.
There was a school of thought that said you could buy your way anywhere you wanted to go but Georgia didn’t subscribe to it. Her school of thought was that, seeing as she was the good guy, she might as well try to act like it, and if that meant booking a ticket to the morgue for the morning so be it. She could enjoy the the wonderful weather whilst she passed the time.
She got back to the hotel and shook off her umbrella, stepping inside and peeling off her drowned jacket. The rain had begun to move diagonally towards the end of the trip so her umbrella had been unable to protect her complete. The same young woman was still on reception duty. She had dark brown hair and a lovely French twang to her English words. 
“Miss Callahan,” she said, “are you quite alright? You look drowned.”
“Nothing a towel and a stiff Bourbon won’t fix, I assure you.” Georgia smiled. “What time does the bar open?”
“When my shift ends in five minutes.” The young woman smiled.
“And I don’t suppose there are any other visitors to the hotel who you suspect will come down for a drink?”
“I don’t imagine so, Miss Callahan. You’re our only guest at this current moment.”
Georgia frowned for a second and then let a smile cross her lips. Alicia would understand, up there. She’d probably have done the same. “Would you like to have a drink with me, then? I find drinking on my own wonderfully miserable.”
“I, well,” the receptionist looked genuinely surprised. “I would love to but my other job begins in five minutes.”
“The pay here not very good?”
“Not really. My other job is to man the bar.” She said with a smile.
Georgia let out a laugh. “Well then, I’ll get changed and see you in five minutes.”
The receptionist smiling, Georgia set off up the stairs towards her room. She walked in, chained the door, stepped into the small bathroom and hung her jacket over the bath. She was giving her hair a rub with the towel when there was a knock on the door.
“She’s eager.” Georgia frowned, wandering over to the door. She flicked the chain off and pulled the door open. A man in a Bell Hop uniform smiled at her. His red velvet uniform looked recently dry cleaned and his pillbox was straightened on his head. He had a trolley in front of him, hidden beneath a white linen cloth. It held a bottle of champagne and two glasses. 
“I didn’t order anything.” Georgia told him.
“On the house, madame.” The man in the Bell Hop uniform said. He looked far too muscular and tall for such a costume. His accent was British.
“Hm.” Georgia said. Then she caught a glimpse of the champagne brand. Frowning, she looked up at the man and saw he had realised what she had seen. He looked worried. She shoved the trolley into him, forcing him against the opposite wall, and then slammed the door shut. Before she could slid the chain into place, however, he had kicked it open and sent her stumbling back.
She scampered across the room as he reached to his side, drawing the gun concealed there. She reached out and took an empty coat hanger from the wardrobe, hitting him with the wooden side and then trying to dig the hook into his eye. He forgot about his gun for a second and tried to swat it away but she ducked under his swings and jumped behind him, hitting him from behind. The small hotel room was much better suited to a woman of her stature than a man of his and she intended to make use of the advantage. As he turned, she caught his ear with the hook of the coat hanger and pulled it forwards. His tragus tore clean off, blood running down the side of his face. She dropped the hanger and threw out three quick punches, her thumb on the underside of her index and middle fingers, her nails digging deep into his face. She felt one of his teeth moving but it was as she considered this that she lost her advantage. He hit her hard and, as she stumbled to the floor, he jumped on her and began to strangle her.
Amateur. He wasn’t even trying to restrain her arms! She picked them up and began to hit his ears, applying lots of force to the one that was bleeding. It took three punches, by which point her smoker’s lungs were burning, but eventually he let go of her neck. It was at this point she swung up her knee and hit him straight in the groin. He rolled backwards and she jumped up, kicking him in the face and running towards the bureau at the front of the room. She reached for the drawer containing her gun when she heard the clicked of a gun being loaded.
“Stop where you are.” The man said.
She paused. “Who sent you?”
“I've been ordered to make it look like you killed yourself.”
“Well, I can tell you something, mate. I won’t have shot myself through the back.”
“I have poison on my trolley. You'll drink it.”
“Or what?”
“Or I will blow your brains out from under your chin and make it look like you shot yourself.”
“That sounds pretty effective.” Georgia nodded. “Go fetch your poison then.”
“No funny moves. My trigger finger gets nervous.”
She shrugged her shoulders in a way that said, “Funny moves? Me? As if.”
As she backed across the room, she gave the drawer the smallest tug. It seemed quite loose. If she pulled it with enough force, she could probably manage it. She’d have to be quick though, otherwise her would be assassin wouldn’t give her the chance to complete her spin. She’d have to very quick.
“No funny mov-“ The man began. Georgia didn’t give him a chance to finish his repetition. She pulled back with all her strength, tearing the drawer from the bureau and swinging around. The wood connected with his gun, knocking it out of his hand and clattering towards the floor. She grabbed her own gun from the swinging drawer, kept in place by centrifugal force, and fired a shot straight into his shoulder. The Walther, with its black silencer protruding from the front like a Victorian factory’s chimney, let out a soft thud and a spray of red jumped from the man’s shoulder. She stuck the gun into her waistband whilst he tried to recover and ran forwards, swinging one leg up and kicking him with such force, he broke down the bathroom door. It fell against the bath and he rolled off it, leaving a bloody smear after him. She ran towards him, clambering over him, reaching towards her gun when he grabbed her legs and knocked her down. He tried to leap onto her, to start strangling her again, but she didn’t give him the chance. She kicked him straight in the face, dislodging another tooth, and rolled backwards across the floor. They leapt up together, facing each other. The only difference was that, as Georgia Callahan stared at her would be assassin, she had her gun pointed at him too.
He ran forwards. She fired but he was at too close a range, knocking the gun. The bullet flew over his shoulder and hit the pipes connecting to the shower head. Water began to spray everywhere; even over her drying purple jacket. She was a little preoccupied, however, to notice.
The man slammed her into the white tiled wall, bashing her against it so hard a tile cracked. She managed to duck a punch, so his fist smashed another tile whilst she hit him once more in the groin and then in the wound in his shoulder. He screamed and she used this chance to knock him back, dodging another punch before slamming his head in the sink until his nose broke. She brought her knee up to his stomach, smashing her hands onto his back in an attempt to weaken his spine. He tried to knock her away but she wouldn’t let him, bringing punch after punch to his back. When he finally began to weaken, she threw him back into the bath tub and grabbed her gun from the slippery floor. 
The water spraying both of them, she leapt into the bath tub and dropped the gun on his stomach. She used her legs to hold down his arms- because she wasn’t an amateur- and then grabbed hold of his head, smashing it over and over again into the space between the taps. He began to slip in and out of consciousness, blood oozing from the back of his head. She then grabbed her gun from his chest, water spraying over them both, pulled back the slide barrel and stick it against his forehead.
“Who sent you?” She demanded.
He shook his head. “I can’t say.”
She held the silencer against his ear and shot the tap. More water sprayed as he screamed. Her face didn't waver. “Answer my bloody question!”
“I can’t!”
She shot him in the other shoulder. “Tell me now!”
“The Lord!” He screamed. “That’s all I know! I was sent by the Lord!”
“Thank you.” Georgia said and then shot him through the head.

She climbed off the body, her shirt bloody and wet, clinging to her sweaty skin. She took a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself. Her hands were shaking. She dropped her gun onto the floor of the hotel room and wandered out into the corridor. The trolley was on the floor. She knelt down and picked up the fallen bottle, reading the name of the brand. She’d read it correctly. Champagne Compiegne. The address beneath was the hotel she’d stayed at just a week ago.

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