Thursday, 6 October 2016

Blackening Church (part 6)

Previously: Georgia Callahan and her team of spies were sent by their boss, the man called Uncle, to execute a Russian sleeper agent. Upon returning to the hotel, an assassin delivers a bottle of poisoned champagne. A gunfight ensues as the spies come to the incorrect conclusion that someone in the room has poisoned the fizz. After discovering that her girlfriend Alicia is a sleeper agent and witnessing the death of her two friends, Callahan falls asleep, to wake up the next morning with no memory. On her return, the man called Uncle sends her after a red herring to Strasbourg where she survives an attempt on her life and regains her memory. Organising a meeting with her assassin’s employer, Callahan finds herself waiting in church, a rendezvous point, wondering how the evening will end…

There was an eerie coldness in churches. In England, pretentious vicars try to combat this cold by the sheer will of denial- the application of shorts and sandals regardless of season doesn’t have the required effect and instead increases the assumed hostility radiating from such centres of pointless obedience and hopeless belief. The eerie coldness seems to seep into you, to infect you like some terrible disease. In this case, the only noticeable symptoms are a lack of surprise over the cobwebs clinging to the walls and an imposed reverence that made the sufferer wish to whisper regardless of their company.
Georgia Callahan buttoned up her black blazer and walked between the rows of pews until she reached the altar. It was a place of God, a place of holiness, but that kind of thing hadn’t bothered her since childhood. At the age of seven, Georgia had had the incredible realisation that religion was the worst thing to have ever happened to humanity. If something bad happened, it was humanity’s ridiculous mistake. If something good happened, it was the success of the Gods. If you wanted to be horrible, you could practise the will of the Gods and if you wanted to be nice, then that was the bare minimum that the Gods expected of you. Religion, to Georgia Callahan, was an excuse for humans to be put down and oppressed. Fate, destiny and the will of imaginary friends was a patchwork of your own decisions and the quicker you could accept that, the quicker you could actually achieve something with your existence. To Georgia Callahan, God wasn’t so much dead as having never existed in the first place.
Despite this, she said a quick prayer.
There was the tap of footsteps behind her. They echoed through the church like an ancient cavern. Her gun was in her hand between one echo and the next. She spun, the gun raised, the silencer fixed on the man in front of her.
“Hello Georgia.” Said the man called Uncle. “Fancy seeing you here.”
Georgia didn’t lower the gun. Her mind raced, connecting dots, making connections. “I assume you received my message which means you also sent the assassin to kill me. First in Compiegne and then in Strasbourg. Question. Why? The working theory was that it was to avenge Petrov but you sent me after him. So why? Why did you send the assassin to kill me?”
“The simple answer is, I didn’t.” His voice was scarred and crackled from years of smoking. In the light gleaming through the nearest stained glass window, his double chin looked larger than usual. His shadow was pompous and round, from many years of state dinners and Sunday roasts. “I didn’t send him to kill you. Didn’t you ask yourself why the poison in the champagne didn’t kill you? No? Too busy jumping to conclusions, Miss Callahan?”
“Why didn’t it kill me?” Georgia asked.
“Because it wasn’t meant to.” He stalked forwards a few steps, pointing to the row of seats to his side. “Take a pew. Literally.”
“I don’t want to.” Georgia said.
“I insist. My knees aren’t as good as they used to be.”
Georgia kept her gun trained on him. The two of them walked over towards the nearest pew, taking a seat. He turned to her, looking at her face as if he hadn’t seen it for years, then turned away, back towards the large dome in the roof. “It’s not a proper oculus, you know? It has to be a full circle to be an oculus. That just lets a little light through. An oculus lets in a full beam of light, as if we’re staring up at the Angels.”
“Or they’re staring down at us.” Georgia said. “Why wasn’t the poison meant to kill me?”
He sighed. “My father taught me golf. The serenity, the silence, I think it was a preferable option to him than actually engaging me. It was how I met the Home Secretary, in the same golf club, the one where a memorial picture of my father hung above the bar. It was where he spoke to me. The Lords’ Club. Where he told me he wanted Military Intelligence fixed. I took over, investigated and that was when I realised the truth. This country’s security is a shambles. I mean, it’s hardly surprising. Every secret we have is trusted with employed spies. And, obviously, some of them don’t work for us. I knew there were moles. I knew there were two. A little investigation revealed Petrov; he’d tried to hide it in plain sight but failed miserably. The other spy was harder to find. What method would you resort to?”
“A fake information trace.” Georgia said. “Different files for every possible suspect. Whichever one gets back to Mother Russia is the one which we deal with.”
“Except, the results produced a problem. Both your file and Alicia’s file made their way back to Russia where my own mole registered their appearance. I didn’t know which of you was the mole. My plan was simple. Get you to deal with Petrov and then invent a scenario where Alicia would have to leave the Situation Room. Once she was out in the field, you’d be drugged with the champagne, a new drug that not only knocks you unconscious but makes your recent memory a little hazy too- the boffins are proud- and then thrown into a mock Russian torture situation. All four of you would be interrogated for information by our ‘Russians’ and whichever of you blabbed to be a mole would be shot, before we released the others. Simple.”
Georgia looked at him and shook her head. “There’s a man who used to live down the road from me. A policeman. Twenty five years he walked the streets, a police constable. He was the cleverest man I ever knew, yet he was never promoted from the role of constable. I asked him once, in that blunt way that kids do, why he wasn’t a detective or an inspector. He taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. He said, only fools are promoted. That way they can’t do any harm.” She put out her hand. “Congratulations on your promotion.”
He looked at her hand and slowly, tentatively, raised his signet ringed hand. It wrapped around Georgia’s, shaking it. She gave him a harsh tug towards her, jabbing the tough metal of the barrel into his roast dinner swollen stomach. She pressed her lips up towards his ear, so close she could feel the bramble of his facial hair against her cold flesh. Her breath was hot inside his ear. “It’s a good job there’s no oculus in the floor. You wouldn’t want to see where you’re going.”
PFFT. PFFT. The gun jerked twice. The man called Uncle tumbled back, his eyes wide, blood pouring from his stomach. He tried to speak, tried to express his surprise, but he couldn’t. His jaw simply opened and closed like he was a goldfish's. Trying to stand, he tumbled backwards and hit the cold stone floor. His head bounced, the skull fracturing. It knocked him unconscious, despite the terrible wound in his gut. Georgia took his gun and threw it to the other side of the church. Then she marched down the aisle and out of the church. A black blazer over a white shirt, a gun with a silencer in one hand. The doors swung out as she kicked them. She crossed the pavement, past where she and Delon had sat with the laptop. Her Jaguar was parked across the road. She didn’t know where she’d go next. Maybe Switzerland. It was meant to be a neutral zone after all. She still had friends in the Service, or at least she thought she had. Maybe they could bail her out. It would depend, she supposed.
Of course, sometimes, running away was the best option. She remembered when she was little, halfway to Guilford, nothing more than a Duke of Edinburgh rucksack stolen from school, a rolled up copy of 2000AD and a can of Dandelion and Burdock to her name. The future had seemed wide, it had seemed like anything was possible. She could be a princess or a scientist, a composer or a knight. Instead she became a spy and look where that had got her.
It was at this exact moment that she was hit by a car.
It came out of nowhere. The sudden gleaming of light, the blackening church like a shadow in contrast, and then the most excruciating pain of her life. She was knocked a fair way, her gun clattering out of her hand. Her head bounced off the tarmac. “Crap.” The driver whispered into his phone. “I’ll have to call you back. Oh bloody hell.”
The door of the car flew open, the man called Uncle’s driver leapt out, running over to her. He reached her, pointed his gun at her and said, “Oh crap. You’re still alive.”
Georgia’s eyes were rolled so far back into her head, they were almost back out again. He kept his gun trained on her and ran back to the car. If Callahan was there, that meant the man called Uncle was dead. And if the man called Uncle was dead, it meant he was screwed.
He opened the car’s boot and pulled out a bottle of champagne. The last one; the boffin’s had only made three prototypes. He’d knock her out then put her in the boot before taking her back to Britain for trial. Or execution. He popped the cork and ran back around to the front. The glow of the headlights formed a circle of white in the centre of the road. And that circle was empty.
He heard the click of a loaded gun behind his head and then the soft press of metal against his bald spot. Georgia Callahan, slightly dazed, blood pouring down her head, said, “Road safety. I know they’re lax on using your phone in cars over here but that gives you no good reason to run me over.”
“Miss Callahan, you’re a traitor and a fraud-“
“No.” Georgia said. “I’m a spy. Now listen close, punk. Take a drink.”
The driver did nothing.
“You have no choice here. I have a gun pointed to your head. If you want to try anything funny, the insides of your head will become intimately acquainted with the pavement.” Georgia replied.
The driver sighed, knowing he was beaten. He raised his bottle and took a healthy gulp. In such a high concentration, the chemical must have been disgusting.
“Take another sip.” Georgia smiled. “I want you to have a headache in the morning.”
He did just that, gulping on it.
“Good.” Georgia said. “Now, get in the car. We’re taking a trip.”

The next morning, halfway down a motorway, the driver burst awake. He was sat in the passenger seat of his car, a woman with blonde hair and a bloody face driving. He felt cold metal in his hand and looked down, to see a Walther PPK with silencer. “What the hell’s going on?” He asked. “Who the hell are you?”
“The name’s Callahan. Georgia Callahan.” She smiled. “British Secret Service. You’re Jerome, aren’t you? Sector Chief of the Franco-German Office.”
“How… how do you know about the Franco-German Office?”
She’d found files in his boot. She hadn’t known that the weapon smuggling there was so much of a problem, but evidently its severity was enough to require a specific office. Compartmentalisation at its best. “I’m British Secret Service. Of course I know.” She lied. “Jerome, do you remember the case we were working on last night?”
“No.” He said. “My memory is hazy.”
“As I feared.” She said. Now for the big lie. “Uncle has been secretly aiding an International Arms Dealer. He sent Anton Petrov, the Russian mole, to retrieve specific files from extremist Catholic Father Jean Thomas in order to get the jump on the Dealer so that he could strike a better deal. When I and my team stumbled too close to the truth, he had them assassinated and an attempt made on my life. I fled to Strasbourg in an attempt to provoke him into revealing his true game, which he did by attempting to take my life himself.”
“Where do I come into this?”
“I explained my findings to you, believing you were at the right distance to be trusted, so he kidnapped you. I came to rescue you only to discover he’d drugged you with the poisoned champagne- the one that knocks people out and hazes their memory.”
“I remember it.” He nodded.
“Good.” She smiled. “You killed Uncle using the gun in your hand whilst I distracted him, then you dropped unconscious from the drugs. We’re on our way to London to explain the situation now.”
“You’re not looking very good for it.” He looked at the way her right arm was slung over her chest, indicating it was broken. It was a good job the car was an automatic. 
“It’s a dangerous life.” She shrugged despite the pain that must have caused her. “Now, it’s imperative that we tell the truth, the full truth and nothing but the truth to the people back in London. Nobody can argue with the truth, can they?”
“Do we have proof?”
“Yes.” She nodded. “I found Uncle’s laptop in the boot and it’s full of incriminating information. He wasn’t very tech savvy.”
Or rather, Lucas Delon was bloody brilliant at planting a fake trail on it.
“Right. I understand. Nothing but the truth.”
“Apart from in regard to your drugging.”
She took her eyes off the road to look at him, but she was completely in control. It was as if the car was an extension of her body. “If the company discover you’ve experienced experimental, mind altering drugs, everything you say instantly becomes doubtful. It means your credibility will go straight out of the window. If we going to have any hope of saving our Service, you’re just going to have to emit those details from your report and support my story. It’s the only way.”
Jerome sighed for a second. It didn’t all add up but, then again, he’d been drugged. He couldn’t expect everything to make sense. He turned to her and said, “Run it all by me again.”
Georgia Callahan smiled. Piece of cake, or as the Russians said, “легко.”

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