Thursday, 29 September 2016

Blackening Church (part 5)

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. It transpires that Gielgud was set up and murdered by the same assassin that tried to murder Callahan in her Strasbourg hotel room. As a local computer hacker attempts to gain her access to the assassin's computer, Callahan goes in search of the assassin's handler, sending a message to his employers to meet her at Saint Paul's church. Unknown to Callahan, the assassin's employer is her own, the man called Uncle. We rejoin the story as Callahan waits for him to arrive…

It was five to midnight. Georgia Callahan was sat on a bench outside Saint Paul’s church in Strasbourg with a cigarette on her lip. She thought over the events of the evening so far. Two attempts on her life, both failed, and here she was smoking outside a church. She supposed that was how this had all started, with her smoking outside a church, the company psychologist coming to talk to her. What had he shouted? I’m not the enemy. The words of a guilty man. She shook her head. No, it was a funeral. Everyone felt guilty.
She was on her third cigarette of the chain smoke when Lucas Delon turned up. A car was driving past, its headlights glaring against her eyes, so she was momentarily blinded. She told herself that was how he’d managed to sneak up on her. 
“I got it open.” He said. 
She reached out her hand to accept it.
He shook his head. “You promised me an extra fifty.”
She begrudgingly gave him the note, accepting the computer and flipping the lid open.
“What’re you looking for?” He asked. 
“I’ll know when I find it.” She opened My Documents, beginning to scroll through them. Then she realised Lucas Delon was still there. “Don’t you have feminists to troll?”
“Are you feminist?” He asked.
“I have common sense. I find that that’s mostly the same thing.”
“I’ll troll you then.” He smiled. “Who’d this laptop come from anyway?”
“A guy who tried to kill me earlier.” She said. 
“Didn’t succeed then?”
“Nope.” She replied. Her attention was directed towards the list of files. There were pictures of her team, pictures of Julian Gielgud, even pictures of her. Near to the bottom, the files became videos. The titles were a delicate code she couldn’t understand but the dates were all from the night of her team’s murders. She clicked on the first title. A video came up of the assassin walking from his car through the backdoor of the Compiegne hotel. She checked the time stamp and then opened the next video, fast forwarding it to that time. This video showed him walking through the kitchen in his Bellhop outfit. She followed his progress through the hotel, until he got to the lobby. Not because he stopped there but because there was another thing of interest.
Watching yourself do something you can’t remember doing is a wholly unnerving feeling. She had absolutely no recollection of entering the hotel that evening; all she could remember was driving into the town. After that it was a pool of empty blankness until she woke up the following morning with a banging headache and three dead friends. According to the video, she wandered into the lobby where Alicia was waiting for her. Oh, Alicia. She was so pretty, her hair short and black, her face so young. You couldn’t tell from her accent that she’d grown up in India but there was something about the way she carried herself, the way she acted that made Georgia believe it. 
According to the video, Georgia had run over to Alicia, shared a brief kiss with her and then the two of them had held hands as they’d walked across the lobby. It paused. Delon turned to Georgia, to ask her why she’d paused it, only to see a tear silently rolling down her face.
“Miss Callahan? Are you okay?” He asked.
“No.” Georgia said, staring at the frozen image of herself and Alicia crossing the lobby. “No, I’m not bloody okay. I’ve just remembered what happened next.”
The milky blank where her memories should have been was filled with the subtlety of an exploding rocket ship.

A week and two days ago. Centre of Compiegne. On the other side of a thriving lobby, this hotel wasn’t three stars, were two women. Georgia Callahan, still a smoking, alcoholic but one with a little more youth to her eyes, held hands with Alicia Mitra. The two of them spoke softly as they traversed the corridors.
“Don’t the others think it’s weird that you’re coming down to meet me?” Georgia said. “I mean, you wouldn’t normally.”
“They’re spies, Georgie.” Alicia smiled, squeezing her hand. “I bet they’ve known since the first time I stayed over. They probably have people who follow us around in our spare time.”
“Jesus, way to make me feel paranoid!” Georgia cried. “And less with the shouting that we’re spies. We’re secret agents for a reason.”
“Whatever you say, Mrs Bond.” Alicia laughed. No wonder she was excited. It was her first operation in the field. Normally she stayed back at their base in London running the Situation Room, covering every angle, but one night over dinner she’d told Georgia her wishes to go out into the field and so it had been arranged. A special favour from the man called Uncle; apparently he’d been considering it anyway. 
“Do you reckon the others would notice if I slipped into your room tonight?” Alicia whispered, leaning close. With a laugh, she added, “I could always climb out of my window, scramble across the balcony, and then sneak in through yours if that’d make you more comfortable.”
“You’re such an idiot.” Georgia smiled. 
Alicia pulled her tight and held her head in her hands. “You’re idiot, darling.” 
They kissed passionately. Although it felt as if they were locked together for an eternity, both women agreed it still wasn’t long enough. They continued the last few steps up to the room regardless, knowing that the others would be getting suspicious. 
Inside the hotel room, a cloud of cigarette smoke hung around a lampshade. Lexi was typing something into one computer whilst Jack was relaxing back into his armchair, a cigarette in one hand and a glass of Bourbon in the other. A phone and a laptop were next to him. “The wanderers return, hey?” He was Scottish, mid thirties and ginger. He also had freckles and a limp from his service in Iraq. As they constantly laughed about, there wasn’t much going for him. “Get lost on the way up, did you?”
“Something like that.” Georgia said. “Lexi, anything back from the clean-up teams?”
Lexi, a Polish computer expert, nodded. “All four bodies identified. Anton Petrov, confirmed dead on scene. Other three bodies belong to an assassin named Tulip, a mercenary named Bertrand and, get this, the Sunday School Serial Killer from Grimsby!”
“Jean Thomas really knew some lovely people, didn’t he?” Georgia said. “I got the files that Petrov had collected. They’re in the Jag. I’ll go get them later. Don’t want to be spilling champagne on them.”
“Hm.” Jack said, climbing up. “Will Alicia be going to get the files with you?”
Georgia could feel Alicia blushing from where she was placing Georgia’s gun back into the padlocked box on the other side of the room. “Just pour the bloody drinks will you, Jack?”
He grinned at Lexi and picked up a bottle of Bourbon from the minibar, filling a glass of ice with it. He passed the glass to Georgia and then poured two more glasses, one for Alicia and another Lexi. They all accepted their glasses and then, to a toast of, “To Petrov,” they downed the liquor.
“God.” Lexi winced. “I don’t know how you drink this dragon piss.”
“Years of headaches the morning after toughen you.” Georgia grinned. “Anyway, I thought I told you to open the fizz?”
“You can thank Jack for that one!” Lexi grinned.
Georgia turned, frowning. “Jack? Would you care to fill me in on the location of the champagne?”
“Aye, well, I don’t really think it’s important as such.”
“He forgot to pack it.” Alicia said.
“I bloody well wish you’d stayed in the control room, lassie!” Jack cried. He caught Georgia’s icy glare. “Look, I’m really sorry Georgia. I’ll go get some from the bar if you’d like me to.”
“Nah, it’s alright.” Georgia sighed. “We probably shouldn’t be celebrating this one. Petrov was a good man.”
“Aye, he was.” Jack nodded. “I mean, he was a blackhearted, treasonous, son of a gun and a lying, immoral, two faced traitor but he was a good man overall.”
“You know what I mean.” Georgia said. “We worked ops with him in the past, didn’t we?”
“Yes.” Lexi said. “I remember the case in Siberia. He came onto me twice. I nearly had to break his finger to stop him from trying it the third time.”
“And don’t forget the time he nearly blew the Berlin job so he could flirt with a waitress.” Alicia pointed out. “I enjoyed listening to that one fall apart.”
“Okay!” Georgia cried. “Maybe he wasn’t such a good man after all. But he did manage to deceive us all.”
“Just goes to show, you never can tell.” Alicia sighed.
“Isn’t that a song?” Jack grinned. “Anyway, I think what we need to take from this is the importance of honesty. Of making sure that everyone knows the full story constantly. Of making sure you’re not hiding anything from your team mates. Isn’t that right, Georgia?”
Georgia rolled her eyes. “How long have you known?”
“Since Alicia got the job in the situation room.” Lexi said. “We had a bet going.”
“Jesus! That’s real nice of you.” Alicia said. Then she began to frown. “Nothing was even going on when I got that promotion.”
“We know.” Lexi said. “The bet was how long Georgia would last before coming onto you.”
“I don’t know whether I should be offended or honoured you know me so well.” Georgia laughed. She put her arm around Alicia. “Okay, I suppose we can admit it then. It means you won’t have to sneak out by the balcony tonight, hey darling?”
“What?” Lexi laughed.
“Long story.” Alicia smiled. “We are very happy and very proud to announce we’re a cou-“
There was a knock on the door. Georgia rolled her eyes. “That’s just brilliant timing, isn’t it? Incredible timing.” She took her arm from around Alicia and wandered over towards the door, undoing the chain and pulling it open. There was a bellhop stood there, a trolley in front of him. At the time, she felt too loved up to think about how he looked too muscular for his costume. He pointed to the bottle of champagne on his trolley. “On the house, madame.” She didn’t register his British accent either.
“Fantastic.” She grinned, taking the bottle. “Give my complements to whoever is giving away free alcohol.”
The door swung shut, she redid the chain and then plodded over to the centre of the room. “Look at this! Free fizz!”
“God’s making up for your mistake, Jack.” Alicia grinned, patting him on the back. Georgia took the wire cage off the cork, unscrewed it ever so slightly and then forced it out. There was a loud bang and the cork flew halfway across the room. 
“Get some glasses, Jack.” Georgia grinned. Jack picked some off the shelf to the side and she filled all four with bubbling champagne. She put the bottle down, unfortunately there was no ice bucket, and took her glass up. “We need a toast.”
“We’re in France. They eat French Stick, not toast.” Jack grinned.
Alicia rolled her eyes and then held up her glass. “Love and friendship.”
Georgia smiled. “Love and friendship.”
“Love and friendship.” The other two cheered. 
They clashed their glasses together and then drained the champagne. For a second, they were all caught in the celebratory moment, drinking and laughing, smiling and thinking. Then Lexi frowned. “Somebody has poisoned the champagne.”
Jack spat the sip he was taking out. “What?”
“There’s something in the champagne. The aftertaste had a chemical flavour.”
Georgia frowned, sniffing her glass. “Crap.” She whispered. “There is.”
Jack said, turning towards the box of guns. “It must have been that bellhop. I’ll make him give us an antidote.”
“No. He has no motive.” Alicia said. “There’s no way he could know what our jobs are. They think we’re tourists.”
“Are you saying one of us must have poisoned it?” Lexi frowned. 
“I’m not saying anything. That just seems to be logical.”
“But who out of the four of us would want to poison the other three?” Georgia frowned. “We just toasted to friendship, for God’s sake!”
Alicia turned to Jack. “You forgot the champagne.”
“Aye, because I’m a bloody idiot, not because I wanted to murder you. You’re the one who went down to the lobby, and potentially the bar, alone, Alicia.”
“Yeah, so I could snog my girlfriend, not so I could poison champagne I didn’t know we’d need. Use your bloody brain!”
“Well, it couldn’t have been me.” Lexi said. “I haven’t been near the champagne once.”
“Then the only suspect left is Georgia.” Alicia said. “Baby, please. Please don’t tell me you poisoned it.”
Georgia could see the tears in her eyes. She wrapped her arms around Alicia, pulling her tight. “Why would I have poisoned it? If I wanted to kill you all, I could have done it walking into the hotel room when I still had a gun. Don’t be so silly.”
“Then the only solution is that the bellhop did it.” Jack said, continuing over to the gun box. “Just as I suspected.”
“What’re you going to do to him?”
“Make him giv- hang on. Georgia’s gun is missing.”
Georgia frowned. “I gave it to Alicia to put it away, didn’t I, sweet?”
“I’m sorry.” Alicia said. She pulled the gun from her pocket. “I got distracted.”
“You poisoned the champagne, didn’t you?” Jack said. He drew his own gun from the box and pointed it at her. “You poisoned us!”
“Calm down.” Georgia said. “Why would Alicia want to poison us? What motive would she have?”
“Why would she not put the gun away?” Jack asked. “It’s instinct! Muscle memory!”
"She's never been out in the field before!" Georgia cried. "She has no muscle memory!"
“C’mon, Georgia.” Lexi said. “Don’t you think it’s a bit odd?”
“She’s a Russian sleeper, you can tell.” Jack said. “Probably poisoning us in revenge for killing Petrov!”
“If I was poisoning you, why would I have drunk the bloody poison, you idiot?” Alicia cried.
“You didn’t deny being a sleeper agent.” Georgia said.
“What?” Alicia replied, frowning.
“You said you didn’t poison us but you never said you weren’t a sleeper agent for the Russians.”
Jack raised his gun a little higher.
“I’m, I’m not a bloody sleeper agent!” Alicia cried. “Why would I be? Why would I betray you guys to the Russians? Georgia, I love you!”
“Those words could just be a desperate plea.” Georgia said, tears rolling. “Prove to me that you’re not a sleeper.”
Alicia reached out with her empty hand and took hold of Georgia’s own. She squeezed it. “I promise I’m not a sleeper agent.”
“Georgia, you can’t be buying this crap.” Jack cried.
“I am, and if you’ve got a problem with it, I’m more than happy to argue it out. No? Good.” Georgia turned to Lexi. “Send a message to Uncle. Tell him we have a leak somewhere.”
“NO!” Alicia cried. 
“I bloody told you.” Jack said, raising his gun again.
“Alicia? Do you have something to contribute?” Georgia asked.
“There’s no evidence there’s a leak.”
“Poison has been sent to our confidential hotel room following our execution of a Russian spy.” Georgia said. “We have plenty of evidence. Lexi, send the message.”
Lexi stalked across the room, over to the laptop from which she could send the message. That was when a bullet cut straight through her heart. She collapsed to the floor, her head bouncing off the keyboard as she fell to the floor.
A pool of blood was beginning to soak into the carpet as Alicia spun from Lexi to Jack, shooting him straight in the gut. He was knocked to the floor, breaking the table his laptop and phone were on, his head bouncing off the floor and then settling back. He blacked out.
Alicia turned, facing Georgia’s gun at her. “I’m sorry.”
Georgia stared, dumbfounded, tears rolling down her face. After what felt like an eternity, Georgia said three simple words. “Was it fake?”
“Yes.” Alicia said. “Everyone knows you take confidential files home. Command thought seduction would be the best to gain access to them.”
“How long?”
“How bloody long have you been a spy?”
“Since before I was employed by the company. It’s why I got a job in the company.” Alicia replied. “I’m sorry.”
“And, the Soviets? Are they good paymasters?”
She shrugged. “They helped my parents. That’s payment enough.”
“And the poison? In revenge for Petrov?”
“The poison wasn’t me.” Alicia said. “I swear. I’m a sleeper agent, yes, but I’m not a killer.”
“Try telling that to Jack and Lexi.” Georgia said, tears rolling down her face. “You’re a murderer Alicia. You killed our friends.”
“That was… that was…”
“Business? Part of the job. That’s what I told myself about Petrov, about the people I killed but it isn’t. Murder can never be cold. To pull that trigger, to end a life, you’ve got to care. You’ve got to hate the person with every inch of your soul because if you don’t, if you take a life without true emotion, then there’s something bloody wrong with you. So listen to me, Alicia. As cold as the spying might be, as cold as the betrayal of everyone you know might be, that murder then is not.” Georgia crept forward, took hold of her gun and pulled it up, pressing it aginst her forehead. “Are you going to kill me, Alicia? Are you going to end my life? Because I know there isn’t that level of hatred, or fear, or misery in your eyes. I know that you’re not going to kill me. I know that deep down, deep, deep down, there is some remaining love in there for me. Because murder and seduction, they aren’t things you can just do. There’s emotion there.”
Slowly, she pulled down the gun, bringing her face towards Alicia’s. “Tell me you mean any of this, Alicia. Tell me.”
Alicia’s head exploded. A crimson spray coated Georgia’s face. She let out a brief scream, then turned slowly to the direction of the bullet. Alicia’s body slumped onto Georgia, pouring blood over her shirt and trousers. Georgia didn’t notice the warm liquid coating her legs. She was too busy staring at Jack.
He laughed, blood from his mouth joining the blood on his shirt. “You said you really needed to hate someone to kill them. Well, I just killed her.”
“Jesus, Jack.” Georgia whispered. She looked down at Alicia’s dead body, slowing bleeding over her, and stepped away. She picked up the gun and then began to crawl across the floor towards Jack. He was slumped against his armchair, blood oozing out of his gut wound. He looked in excruciating pain, but that was no surprise. Everyone knew a gut shot was the most painful wound there was.
“Always pictured working as a spy as a Bond movie, not a Tarantino flick.” He laughed, but his muscle movement caused excruciating pain to cut through him. Blood soaked his top more. A small tear ran down his face. “I’d make a joke about your relationship being a complete screw-up but I’m the dead one.”
“You’re not dead yet. I’ll get a doctor.”
“There isn't a doc in the world who can save me, Georgia.” Jack smiled a sad smile, extenuated by the paleness of his face. “You patch this wound up, I’m still going to die of poisoning or you forget about that all of sudden? Nah, I dinnae think so. Anyway, even if I survive the poison, I’m still gonna be on tubes for the rest of my days. I don’t quite want that, Georgia.” He reached out and took her gun, raising it up. “So, what do you think? Fancy putting an old wretch out of his misery?”
“No. Nobody else is dying tonight. Nobody.”
Jack grinned but it thinly masked the pain. “We’re all going to be dead by the end of this. Please don’t make my death any more painful than it has to be.”
Georgia looked at him and decided he was right. She owed it him. She picked up her gun, held the barrel to his forehead and said, “Are you sure?”
His hands reached up, his fingers slipping over hers. He nodded. “Do it. Now.”
“Get a Bourbon in at the bar in Heaven.” Georgia smiled.
“Double on the rocks.” He smiled back. Then he pushed on her finger which pushed on the trigger. BANG.
Georgia clambered away from the dead body, accidentally stumbling onto one of Alicia’s fingers as if what remained of her was surrendering to the floor. Jumping away from that body, Georgia found Lexi’s, bleeding out over a fallen computer. She cursed and then wandered over to the nearest hotel room. She took a few sips of Bourbon and then wandered into her bedroom. Despite the blood covering her, she lay down on the fresh new sheets and closed her eyes.
The next thing she knew, she was waking up with no memory of the night before and her gun in her hand.

Now. The glare of another car’s headlights. Delon looked at Georgia. “Miss Callahan, are you okay?”
She smudged the tears from beneath her eyes and checked her watch. Twenty five minutes past midnight. She pulled her gun out and prepared it. “Lucas, get the hell out of here. It’s going to get bloody. I’ve got a date with the Lord.”

A car disguised like a taxi pulled to a stop behind the church. “Wait.” The man called Uncle said, looking at his watch. “Let’s watch for five minutes. See if anyone comes in or out.”
He slipped another magazine into his gun and pulled back the slide barrel. If Callahan was still alive, he’d shortly fix it.

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