Thursday, 22 September 2016

Blackening Church (part 4)

Previously: Georgia Callahan has no memory of her team of British spies being murdered, and yet it is almost certain she was present. Given a chance to prove her innocence by her boss, the man called Uncle, Callahan travels to Strasbourg on the tail of Julian Gielgud, a prime suspect. As she relaxes in her Strasbourg hotel room, an assassin attempts to kill her. She manages to kill him first but not before learning the man who has put a price on her head is known as 'the Lord.' We rejoin the story as Callahan recovers from the fight...

Georgia stepped back into hotel room, took off her shirt and grabbed a towel from beneath the fallen bathroom door. She dried herself down, realising that smashing her head against that towel had caused a bleed and stepped over to the First Aid kit on the side of the bureau. She put a few plasters onto the cut, wiped away the blood running down the back of neck, and pulled her other shirt on. She picked up her gun from the floor, stepped out into the corridor and swung the gun left and right, sweeping across every doorway as she made her way to the reception. The girl was nowhere to be seen, but the door behind the bar was open, letting in a chilled breeze. She wandered over to it and poked her head out. There was a splash of blood against the large plastic bin at the back of the hotel. Pulling open the lid revealed the girl’s dead body lying on the rubbish, a bullet hole in her cheek.
Georgia slipped the gun away, took a bottle of whiskey from behind the bar and walked back to her hotel room, stepping inside and putting her bloody shirt on. She lay the gun and the whiskey on the bed and stepped into the bathroom, taking another complementary towel and using it to tie up the burst water pipe. The cold spray stopped and the room seemed to become calmer. She took her purple coat from where it was still miraculously hanging and carried it out, hanging it on the room’s door. Then she took a deep breath, before stepping back into the bathroom.
Clambering onto the dead body, she patted his pockets down. There was a flip phone in his back pocket, so she pocketed that and then continued to search him. A pair of car keys and a wallet were her only other finds. She stood up, tore down the shower curtain and covered the body with it. Then she stepped over to the sink and washed her hands of blood. Having dried her hand on the final towel in the bathroom, she dried the sink then emptied the assassin’s possessions into it. The car keys were for an Opel of some sort, she recognised the badge, and there was nothing in the wallet except for a dry cleaning ticket. She picked up the phone and opened the most recent text; her passport picture and a caption reading, “Georgia Callahan. British Operative. Alive if possible. Suicide if not.” She looked over to the body slowly turning the shower curtain red and smiled a grim smile.
“Done,” she said as she typed, her fingers too big for the tiny keys. She noticed she’d written, ‘Dobe,’ rather than, ‘Done,’ so she corrected her mistake and hit send. There were no other text messages; he must have deleted them after having finished the job. Slipping the mobile, the dry cleaning ticket and the car keys into her pocket, she went to fetch the bottle of whiskey. Her eyes happened to glance the clock which said it’d been five minutes since the assassin had turned up. The police hadn't turned up yet, so she still had time.
Georgia put the contents of her pocket into her bag and stripped off, bundling her clothes into the metal bin in the corner of the room. There was a complementary newspaper on the top of the bureau, so she tore a few pages of that out, screwed them up and threw them into the bin too. Then she sloshed it with whiskey, carried the bin into the bathroom and placed it onto the bathtub’s floor, between the assassin’s legs. She lit herself a cigarette, hung it on her lip and then filled up the sink with hot water, washing the dried blood from beneath her finger nails and in her joints. The back of her head screamed with agony as she took off her plasters, which had turned crimson with spilt blood, but she ignored it, throwing the plasters into the bin and taking some cotton wool from the First Aid kit. Her teeth clenched , her face grimacing, as she pressed the cotton wool, after dousing it in whiskey, to the back of her head. “Crap.” She whispered, staring at herself in the mirror. She was getting too old for this.
Once she was sure the wound was sterilised, she took a scalpel and some surgical thread. Peering over her shoulder into the mirror wasn’t exactly NHS standard medical care but she managed it, no matter how much pain it caused her. She once more washed her hands of blood, using the water to pull crumbs of dried crimson out of her hair. Taking one final drag on her cigarette, she threw it onto the alcohol doused bin. It began to burn.
She walked out of the bathroom, taking the bottle with her, and poured herself a glass of whiskey. She drunk it all in one sip and so she poured herself another, which again she consumed as quickly. Once her nerves were settled, she pulled on her other pair of trousers and her other shirt and stepped over to the door where her jacket was drying. It was still quite damp, so she left it where it was and pulled on her black suit jacket. It was the same one she’d worn whilst shooting Anton Petrov. And probably whilst my team died. The milky darkness that existed where her memories of that evening should have been made her shiver. It was as if some God had taken control of her brain, messing with it as they wanted. She wondered if they’d changed anything else.
She slipped her gun into her inside pocket, put the phone, keys and dry cleaning ticket into another pocket and then hurried out of her hotel room, down the stairs and through the bar. She walked past the bin holding the dead body of the receptionist and over to the Opel parked next to it. It answered to the click of the keys and so she walked round to the boot. It was an Opel Ascona, known to the British as the Vauxhall Cavalier, and that meant that the empty boot wasn’t what it seemed. She pulled up the floor, revealing the assassin’s hidden cache. There were two handguns, surplus ammunition, cable ties, masking tape and a laptop. She took the laptop round to the driver’s seat, climbing in and turning it on. Whilst it whirred and loaded, she slipped open the glovebox and looked inside. There was a bulb repair kit, a driver’s manual and a logbook. That was about it. The driver’s side map pocket held a half empty packet of Mento’s and a half dozen toll road tickets. She checked them over. They seemed to paint an image of a drive from Calais to Compiegne last week and then, the night after, a drive from Compiegne to Strasbourg. The same route as Julian Gielgud had taken.
The computer loaded to the login page. She tried the obvious passwords, ‘computer’, ‘1234567’, and ‘password’ but none of them worked. Sighing, she closed the computer and climbed out of the car. She needed a friendly computer expert. Good job she knew one.

Lucas Delon was still sat in the Internet cafe when she reached it. He was watching something unsavoury on his computer but he closed that tab as soon as he realised he had company. “Miss Callahan,” he smiled, “nice to see you again. Need a higher score on Pacman?”
Georgia smiled at him patronisingly before passing him the laptop and the phone. “I need all the deleted texts returned to the phone and I need the computer unlocked.”
“You steal these?”
“I inherited them.” She replied, wandering over to the kitchen. “Do you think the lady would mind if I had a cup of coffee?”
“Don’t expect so. The cow will be glad someone actually drinks that crap.” Delon replied. He plugged the laptop into his desktop computer and, whilst he waited for Windows XP to notice the connection, he turned to the phone. He clicked about four buttons and then handed it back to her.
Georgia took a seat opposite him, a cup of coffee on the table in front of her and a cigarette already in her hand. “Easy as that?” She asked.
“Easy as that.” He nodded. “This model has a backup system.”
She checked the texts. There were only three other texts. One was the address of the hotel she’d stayed at in Compiegne, another was a room number. The final text was the picture of Gielgud that the man called Uncle had shown her, probably from his Driver’s Licence or passport. It was accompanied by the caption, ‘Julian Gielgud. Bellhop. Make look guilty.” The replying text, sent by the assassin, was the word, ‘sunflower.’
She slipped the phone away and took a sip on her coffee. “How long will that take?”
“About three hours. Depends on how new this laptop is and how antiquated my software is in comparison.” Delon replied. “If you’ve got other things to do, I’ll come meet you when it’s ready.”
“That’d be appreciated.” She replied, checking her watch. “It’s nine now so say, midnight? There’s a church on the river-“
“There are a hell of a lot of churches in Strasbourg. You’ll have to be more specific.”
“I think it’s Saint Paul’s.”
He nodded. “Two spires?”
“I’ll meet you there at midnight with your computer freshly hacked. I’ll have to charge you.”
“How much?”
“Call it a hundred.”
She gave him fifty. “You can have the rest at St Paul’s. I’ll see you then.”
“Where are you off to?”
“The morgue.” She said. “I’ve got a date with a corpse.”

The guard sat in the morgue’s lobby was at first reluctant to let her in but a fifty euro note changed his mind and she was able to prowl amongst the bodies in no time. Julian Gielgud’s corpse was being kept in the section of the freezers for unidentified corpses. There was a file in a pocket on his door which stated he’d been fished out of the river and that his Post Mortem was pencilled in for the next day. Preliminaries reported that the cause of death was drowning. Despite this, she had her suspicions. She pulled open the door and wheeled out the body. Delon was right; the head had been shaved. It was still recognisably Gielgud. He had the horrible smell about him that corpses generally do. That was partially why she’d lit the fire in the bathtub; so the smell of smoke would outdo the scent of corpse.
Bending over towards the body, Georgia pulled his mouth open and took a deep inhale. The smell was obvious; Gielgud had been poisoned with something that smelled like bitter almonds. Cyanide. She was willing to bet that the poison on the assassin’s trolley had been cyanide too.
She pushed the body back into the freezer, locked the door, returned the file and began the walk back to the assassin’s car. The assassin had been ordered to kill her team and then frame Julian Gielgud before throwing him in the river to fake his suicide. Then there had been the order to finish his original job and kill her. The orders had been coming from ‘the Lord’, whoever the hell that was. She decided that the answers to all her questions would lie with that man and that meant finding him. Her next move was a hunch but successes had come from less.
She gave the guard another twenty to wipe the security footage and then hopped into the assassin’s car. It wasn’t quite her Jaguar Roadster but she could hardly be driving that, considering she was meant to be dead. She pulled out the assassin’s wallet and checked the dry cleaning ticket. The address was printed at the top. She accelerated away, quickly.

The Dry Cleaners was open, which was strange considering the time of night. She parked the car a block away and walked the rest of the way, smoking to calm her nerves. She squashed the cigarette beneath the heel of her shoe and then pushed open the dry cleaners’ door. There was a chime as it swung open and so she walked in, over to the counter. A woman with short black hair stared back at her. In French, she asked if she could help.
Georgia replied in English. “I want to collect some washing.”
“Do you have a ticket?”
Georgia handed over the ticket from the wallet. The woman looked it up and down, glanced nervously over her shoulder and said, “I’ll just go get your item.”
She wandered into the backroom, disappearing for a second. Georgia heard her picking up a phone, typing a number and then hitting ring. Whoever she was calling picked up straight away. They conversed in rapid French for a second and then the woman put the phone down. That was when Georgia heard the cocking of a revolver. “Bloody hell.” She whispered and whipped out her own gun, shooting the woman’s shoulder.
As the owner of the Dry Cleaners fell to the floor, Georgia hurried around the counter and into the backroom. There were three computers, a fax machine, a printer and a dozen telephones. One wall was covered in clocks for different timezones. Georgia put the gun in the woman’s face and said, “Tell me everything. Right now.”
“They will kill me if I do!” She cried. Her accent seemed to intensify with her discomfort.
“Who will? Who will kill you?”
“My employers.” The woman said.
“Who are your employers?” When the woman didn’t reply, Georgia slapped her with the gun and demanded an answer. “Who are your damn employers?”
Still, there was no response. The woman seemed too transfixed with terror to be able to reply. Georgia sighed and stood, sliding her gun away. Kicking the woman’s revolver out of reach, she stepped over to the nearest computer and turned it on. No password this time, but there was an open dialogue box. The most recent message that been sent was signed L- for Lord?- and read in French, ‘Supply asset with necessary capture gear. Target is to be held until she divulges information.’
Frowning, Georgia took the gun from her pocket and looked down at the woman on the floor, applying pressure to her shoulder wound. “You have one last chance to tell me who your employers are.”
“I don’t know!” She screamed. 
“Shame.” Georgia said and shot her. She stepped back towards the computer and typed, ‘Complications. Meet at St Paul’s church. Half midnight. Come alone.’ 
Then she flipped the Ouvert sign to Fermé and walked back to her car. She had two hours until she was due to meet Delon but it would do to get there first, to have a chance to prepare. She didn’t want anything left to chance. This time, she was going to walk in and out in complete control.

London. Military Intelligence building. A soft knock on the door. “Come in!” Hailed a voice damaged from too many years of smoking.
The door swung open. Becky, a new technician, stuck her head in. “Uncle, we have a bit of a situation.”
The man called Uncle frowned as he looked up form the piece of paper he was reading. “What the hell is it?”
“Callahan, sir. We’re not quite sure what’s happened with her.”
“You said that the asset texted to say the job was done.”
“Well, yes, sir.” The technician said. She’d said they should tell the man called Uncle the truth but the duty officer had insisted they just told him Callahan was dead. “You see, the asset texted back ‘Done’ which implies the job is done but breaks with protocol. Normally assets text ‘sunflower’ when a job is completed.”
“Is that so, hm?” The man called Uncle pondered. “The fool is probably just a bit giddy. Probably enjoys killing women, French wretch.”
“The asset was British, sir. And that isn’t it. About five minutes ago we had a call from a French handler reporting that Callahan had wandered into the Dry Cleaners safe house in Strasbourg. She was apparently carrying the ticket given to the asset.”
“And we ordered the handler to kill Callahan but since then, we’ve had radio silence. Except for one text transmission.”
“Reading, ‘Complications. Meet at St Paul’s church. Half midnight. Come alone.’ In English.”
The man called Uncle glanced at his wall, heavily sighing. “Want a job done, do it your bloody self. Ready the plane. I’ll fly over immediately. And get me a gun.”

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