Thursday, 1 September 2016

Blackening Church

Outskirts of Compiegne. A forest houses a leaf strewn path, winding back and forth until it leads to a modest, if not run down, country house. The panels were once white but long since has the paint flecked and the wood rotted, the shutters above every window hang loose from their wind rattled nails and the tiles on the roof wait for unsuspecting passersby to crush. Not that there would be many passersby. The property was owned by one Jean Thomas, a French catholic priest turned extremist who wanted to take the fight to other religious extremists in a battle of God’s righteous men. Normally this kind of hate crime would be dealt with by the French Police, Interpol at a push, the French Secret Service if they got bored maybe. Everyday life was far from normal, however, and so, due to Jean Thomas’ potential connections to a leading International Arms Dealer, the situation was being dealt with by the British Secret Service. I use the term lightly.
Anton Petrov smiled at the three blokes before him. They were all wearing the white tabards of Christian crusaders, two of the gentlemen carrying machine guns and the third carrying an axe. All three of them had a silver crucifix hanging around their neck and all three of them had the honest belief that they were working in the name of God. Petrov continued to smile at them, despite the fact that the one with the axe was no longer smiling at him. Eventually, the sides of his face began to hurt, and he said, “Why the long face?”
The one with the axe didn’t reply. Petrov decided that he was either not the chatty type or playing bad cop. He turned to the other two guards, the two carrying machine guns, and decided that they couldn’t be playing good cops. “Tell you what, lads,” Petrov said, “how about you light me a cigarette and the four of us can have a good smoke and a chat about the old days? Back when religions were about school holidays and singing, rather than mindless, bloody murder.”
The one with the axe dropped the back of the axehead into his hand, allowing the soft thud it made to reverberate around the basement. 
“Yes, I rather thought not.” Petrov replied. “Are you going to brutally murder me?”
They said nothing.
“It’s just I’ve got a list of sins I’d like to confess before the Promised Land and, to be frank lads, I think I’ll need to start now lest Father Thomas thinks I’m stalling when it comes to my pre-execution absolution on his return.”
They continued to say nothing.
Petrov sighed. “Look, do any of you three speak English or have I managed to get myself trapped in the basement with the only three Frenchmen who don’t?”
“I’m from Grimsby, so I speak English rather well.” Said one of the men with machine guns. 
“You’ll be Kenny, then.” Petrov smiled. “I’ve read a file on you. All of you in fact. The majority of people who get radicalised in schools aren’t attending Sunday School and I don’t think any of those who are happen to be the teacher. One of a kind, huh, our Kenny?”
“You could say that. My bullets aren’t one of a kind though, and I’ll prove that to you when I bury a magazine of them in your head.” He replied. “We don’t talk about pasts here. I’m Brother Frankie now.”
“If you bless me, can I be Brother Bertrand? I’ve always fancied being called Bertrand.”
“Bertrand is my name.” The one with the axe said.
“And what a lovely name it is.” Petrov smiled. “Look, chaps, are you sure I can’t go and confess? There’s got to be something in the Henchman Handbook about religious practises.”
Kenny- or should that be Frankie?- looked at the man between him and Bertrand. The man nodded. “We will take you to confession, Mister Petrov, but if you try anything funny, we will have you shot.”
“Sounds no different to the last church I visited.” Petrov smiled.
He allowed them to drag him upstairs; he would have offered to walk but why waste the effort when other people are so happy to waste it for you? There was a confession box set up in the dilapidated living room of the French country house, next to a box of explosives, and Bertrand did a wonderful job of sitting Petrov down. The other man, the one in the middle, stepped into the other side and said, “Mister Pretrov, begin your confession before my patience runs out.”
“Well, old chap, I just thought I’d confess firstly about the way I snooped around your house before you fellas caught me. Not sure which of the commandments that breaks but, you know, I thought I’d confess nonetheless. You might want to do some confessing yourself, now I come to think of it.”
“Oh really?” The man said. “Why is that?”
“Firstly, you’re an armed terrorist with over twenty confirmed kills on your plate, Monsieur Tulip. That is your name, is it not?”
Tulip didn’t answer, which was answer enough.
“Secondly, I found a bottle of Scotch in the kitchen at a height that Brother Frankie couldn’t reach and Brother Bertrand wouldn’t sink too. Further more, it was obviously opened by a south paw, that is to say, someone who is left handed. As it happens, you’re the only person who held his weapon the wrong way down in the basement thus it must be you who secretly likes a drink. Want to know something that isn’t a secret?”
Tulip said nothing.
“Thought so. I like a drink too. What say we go have a drink together, huh? Just as buddies, though. I know how you religious types feel.”
Tulip said nothing for a second and then, “Okay, Mister Petrov. Let’s drink.”

Twenty minutes later, the four of them were sat around a table in the country house’s equally dilapidated kitchen, a shot glass of Scotch in front of them all and a deck of cards at the ready. Tulip’s handgun waited on the table next to Bertrand’s axe, a permanent reminder to Petrov not to try anything funny. In all honesty, the spy was more interested in Frankie’s gun, ready to be picked up.
“Any of you chaps ever played Rummy before?” Petrov asked, the deck of cards rippling from one of his hands to the other. 
“It isn't a gambling game is it? We're not allowed to gamble.” Brother Frankie warned.
Tulip, noticing the way Frankie’s eyes glanced towards the door, said, “Father Thomas is funny about it.”
“Don't worry. It's not gambling. Just fun. Some might say it's the same thing,” he realised his company, adding, “some might not. Now, chaps, listen here. You each have seven cards, then you have to make sets or runs.”
Bertrand raised one, meaty hand. “I can't run. Not since I hurt my leg.”
“Maybe it'd be best if you sit this one out, right?” He dealt three hands rather than four, pushing them out to Tulip and Frankie, keeping one for himself. Then he placed down a set in his hand. “Now, pay attention, you try to make sets or runs like these. The winner is the person who does it first.”
“I don't know if I feel comfortable playing this.” Frankie said. “If Father Thomas gets back…"
“You're not scared of him, are you?” Petrov asked.
“I wouldn't say scared…"
Tulip realised what Petrov was attempting. He interrupted Frankie with, “We have a healthy respect for his wishes. Simple as that. Brother Frankie is right. Let's not play this game.”
“Oh come on, chaps. Don't let the big bad bishop scare you out of a bit of fun! Just one game. Just for a laugh, if nothing else.”
“No.” Tulip sounded definite. “We're not going to disrespect the boss in his own house.”
“Look at that. The Butcher of Barcelona. Frightened by a vicar.”
“These files of yours.” That has seemed to get his attention. “How detailed were they?”
Petrov laughed. “Oh, the stories I could tell you guys. About your work as an assassin, Monsieur Tulip! Quite exceptional, coming from one trained killer to another.”
“Those days are behind me. I am at peace with them.”
Petrov raised an eyebrow. “Are the souls of the forty eight men and women you butchered? And you, Bertrand, I've read your file. How your father used to beat you. Is that why you cling so desperately to Jean Thomas; because he's finally a father figure who might love you back?”
Bertrand frowned. “I not like little man. Little man bad.”
“And you Brother Kenny. Oh the stories I know about you.”
Frankie turned to Tulip. “Let’s put him back in his cage now, Tulip. Let Father Thomas deal with him when he gets home.”
“Hit a nerve there, Kenneth?” Petrov interrupted.
“My name is Frankie.” He said, softly. “Brother Frankie.”
“Sorry. I know you preferred Kenny.
“Shut up!”
Tulip and Bertrand frowned. They’d obviously never seen Frankie express any majorly strong emotions before.
“That's what you got the kids at the Sunday school to call you, right? Uncle Kenny.” Petrov continued.
Slowly, calmly, Frankie picked up his gun and pointed it at Anton. “Mister Petrov. I want you to stop talking. Now. Please.”
Petrov ignored him. “Those poor kids. Ten of them. I suppose, however, it had been your mission all along to bring them closer to God.
Frankie jammed the gun in his face, knocking the table with such force he spilt some Scotch. “I’m warning you!”
Tulip’s gun went from lying on the table to being pointed towards Frankie in the blink of an eye. “No, I'm warning you. Father Thomas wants him alive and he'll have all our asses if we don't deliver him that way. I will not be made to look like a fool.”
Petrov continued regardless. “The first three kids, you shot them, didn't you? Straight through the head. They were lucky. Weren't they, Kenneth?
Frankie stared at him, gun raised, silent.
“You then lost the gun and tried other methods, didn't you? Stabbings. Drowning. You even kicked one of them to death. I wonder, did you wear loafers like you are now or did you use steel capped shoes? I wonder, hm.”
Frankie screamed, jerking the gun towards Petrov. His sweet, Sunday School teacher from Grimsby voice was gone, instantly replaced by a gruffer, grimmer tone. “You shut up right now, or I'll stab this gun into your eyes and shoot your brains out!”
Bertrand stared at the proceedings, confused. Tulip’s gun didn’t waver. “This is your final warning.”
Frankie stared straight at Petrov, eyes unblinking. “I changed my name. I made my retributions. I confessed my sins to God. I am purged. I buried Kenneth years ago. Just as I'll bury you.” 
Tulip sounded calm, as if he’d lived this a thousand times. Monotonously, he said, “I'll kill you before you get that chance.”
“Is that so?” Frankie asked. His eyes were afire with rage and, strangely, pleasure. He turned his gun towards Tulip. “Try me. I'll kill you.”
“I not like this,” warbled Bertrand.
Petrov used this opportunity to remove his revolver from his sock, its hiding place since he’d retrieved it following his trip to the confession box with Tulip earlier. Hiding your weapons in places you suspected you could get back to was an old trick and he was glad hiding it there whilst snooping around the house had paid off. He clicked the hammer and got ready.
“I’m warning you. Try anything, Tulip, and I will kill you.” Frankie said.
Tulip let his poker player face smile. “Course you will, Kenneth.”
Frankie pulled the trigger of his gun, Tulip’s head exploding, but not before Tulip could pull his gun. Both of them fell off their chairs, what remained of their heads bloody. Bertrand reached for his axe, turning towards Petrov, but the spy had already aimed his gun.
“Terribly sorry, old boy. I guess the game just wasn’t dealt fairly.” 
Bertrand fell off the chair too, his head smashing against the floor and blood beginning to ooze into the cracks between the tiles.
Strolling back to the living room, Petrov picked up some files he’d spotted earlier, slipped them into his grey blazer jacket and then headed towards the entrance.
Anton Petrov grinned to himself, feeling rather smug. He’d go back to his hotel room, go through the file, take out anything that would endanger Mother Russia or the International Arms Dealer it was supporting and then send everything else back to London. You see, this dapper gentleman turned isn’t the hero of our story. The lady who promptly shot him through the head is. 
The lady, named Georgia Callahan, knelt down and took the files out of Petrov’s jacket, slipping them between her white shirt and black suit jacket. She wiped down her gun with a rag she kept in her left pocket and then slipped both away into her jacket. Looking down at Anton Petrov, she sighed. He’d always been such a nice agent, such a lovely amenable person. A shame that he was a Russian mole after all. The kill order hadn’t been easy to follow but it was her job and so she’d done it. Britain had demanded it of her.
She wandered over to her car, a Jaguar XK120 Roadster parked around the corner. The perks of the job, she supposed. The engine roared into life, a powerful growl of petrol and aluminium. Before long, she was accelerating away.
Once she’d got out onto a quiet public road, she kept the car at a steady speed of sixty, one hand slipping towards her pack of cigarettes. Some people in the Service insisted on custom blended fags. She, however, was perfectly happy with whichever she could get for cheapest on the ferry. A silver lighter from her pocket produced a healthy flame with which she lit it. As it hung on her bottom lip, she pulled out her mobile and speed dialled a number. “Jack? I assume you haven’t been compromised?”
“No, Georgia.” Jack replied. “I assume the job went well?”
“Wonderfully. Tell Lexi to crack open the fizz. I’ll be back shortly.”
“We’ll have a double Bourbon waiting for you.”
“Excellent. Send in the clean up teams, if you wouldn’t mind. Our good friend Anton decided to kill a Frenchman, a Spaniard and whatever the hell you call someone from Grimsby before I had the chance to kill him.”
“Sounds like the beginning of a joke.” Jack said, before whispering some orders to Alicia across the room. “No one we liked, I hope?”
“Oh no. They were bad men. Bad, bad men. The world can cope without them.”
“Amen to that.”
“Crap.” Georgia said, upon glimpsing in the mirror. “I’ll have to hang up. Got a couple of rozzers coming up behind me.”
“You realise you’re allowed to talk on your phone in this country whilst driving, don’t you?”
“And there was me thinking Britain was the best.” Georgia smiled and began to accelerate back to the hotel. They’d celebrate a mission accomplished like they always did: by getting very, very drunk.

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