Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Five

The laptop was open on the dresser, high-resolution images of Celia on the screen.  Morning light filtered through plastic blinds.  He was smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee as he studied the woman’s face.  He’d seen Celia naked as the day she was born.  He’d touched her skin; this writer, this brilliant but lonely woman.  He hadn’t intended to hurt the girlfriend.  He saw the fear in her eyes and pulled away from the pretty blonde who impaled herself on his knife. 
     After he left the house he called an ambulance for her.  He thought about the heroes and heroines of his beloved paperbacks.  Most of them shared a distinct trait; a moral code despite the hard choices and chaos of their lives.  The protagonists of these simple stories were damaged too, but compassionate and free to create the imaginary truth.  That was the deepest revelation of any fictional quest.  It was a hard pill to swallow, doing what he did.  He opened the diary at a random page. 
     ‘I fear that the fearless ones fear me now.  I am alone, and my daughter shall become an instrument of Christ.’
     The men that Alice Gray once feared, they were men who perverted every natural law.  They were far more subtle and organised than the sometimes rabid evil represented in the villains of his paperbacks.  But his employers were just as gleeful as those fictional villains.  He closed the diary and took it with him, leaving the hotel room.

Selini’s Café, King’s Cross.  The main road hummed with buses and cars.  Watching from the window, he sipped his tea.  He’d parked the car nearby and was fifteen minutes early.  A foreign-looking waitress smiled at him.  He returned the smile.  She had a wonderful mouth and masses of ebony hair tied back from her face.  He felt a pang of heavy desire, not really sexual, more an emotional craving to connect meaningfully with a woman again.  It had been a long time.  He wondered if perhaps he’d faded away. 
     Celia, now there was a truly interesting woman.  She looked like nothing more than an angry slip of a girl, but from the words he’d read in her books he knew better.  Powerful, naked words that made him think of all the things he tried to hide from himself.  Words that wanted to tear a hole in the sky.  He opened the diary, flicking through casually until something caught his attention.
     ‘They are a circle.  Circle-makers.  The masters of some are the puppets of others, forever, until Apocalypse.’
     He almost froze in his seat.  He’d thought those words himself.  A genuine chill settled on his shoulders.  He turned a page, suddenly vulnerable.
     They are Clockhost; the men of Renown.  Circle-makers.  I fear that these priests, these killers, have made circles of Celia.  I’m so terrified.  They’ve taken her twice already.  They may try to take her again.  I would turn to Christ, but, these men are his servants.  So I’m alone and I fear that soon I will come to despise God for all this.’
     This woman had written truth.  She’d been terrified for her daughter but she’d comprehended.  Masters of some are puppets of others.  What had they done to Celia? 
     In fiction he found that people like him were usually offered a form of pseudo-divine redemption, where even the most callous men and women could find freedom.  But in life people rarely changed.  They just found new ways to deceive, control, abuse and destroy.  Life was the cheapest commodity.  He thought then of Christopher.  Damn, he missed Chris.  Even now, as a grown man, he still missed him.  He shoved the tea away, fumbled in his sweatshirt pocket for his cigarettes and lit one.  He inhaled deeply on the smoke.
     The Day I Died, by David Myers.  A book he’d never get to write. 
     Death fascinated him.  Not bang-bang with a bullet in the throat, but the abstract of death.  Killing was easy, he knew.  Even children could kill.  They often made the best killers.  Honest killers.  The men he dealt with were steeped in lies and double-speak.  But death as a metaphysical thing, it obsessed him.  Death was an open circle.  The destruction of the human soul was only a myth, a Clockhost tale to enchant billions of people into believing they didn’t actually exist.  He suspected the moment of death was only a door.  The truth was always annoyingly simple.  His employers coveted great power through an extensive understanding of this truth.  He glanced through the window at King’s Cross, alive with traffic, people and commerce.  He knew he was a slave, and worse, a fool – if not these things, then what? 
     He took the diary, pocketed his cigarettes and left Selini’s.  He walked back to his car, a blue Vauxhall.  In the driver seat he smoked, watching the edge of the café.  Six minutes later a tall, muscular bald man entered the premises.  The man had been wearing a sleek black suit with no tie, open at the shirt collar. 
     Mr Finn.
     Moments later the bald man left Selini’s, walked across the road and climbed into the back of a silver Mercedes.  Myers glimpsed another man in the car.  He started his Vauxhall and followed them. 
     The silver Mercedes drove for nearly twenty minutes, until it pulled into a secluded Close with a large white house and another Mercedes parked outside.  He drove past them until he came to a side road, stopping the car and killing the engine.  He opened the glove compartment and removed a Beretta pistol with a modified silencer, slipping it inside his jacket. 
     He scaled the wall to the Close and followed it through the garden, to the back door of the house.  A cigarette had been dropped by someone.  It still burned on the paving stone.  Myers pulled the gun and tried the door.  It opened in his hand. 
     Inside he could hear Mr Finn talking with another man.  “…wasn’t there…if Celia…may be inevitable…”  He heard the front door slam.  The engine of a car as it reversed away.  He risked a glance.  Mr Finn and a shorter blonde man. 
     Myers stepped round the corner and shot the blonde in the back of the head.  A vivid ribbon of blood unfurled across the living-room.  The blonde fell were he stood. 
     Mr Finn turned, looking incredulously at the executioner.  “David, what the fuck are you doing…?”
     Myers aimed the gun square at Finn’s chest.  “No dice, mate.” 
     The tall bald man stared.  “You,” he said quietly, “are making the biggest mistake of your career.”
     Myers shot him twice in the chest.  He was thrown backwards into a glass coffee table that shattered as he hit it, collapsing to the laminated floor.  Finn spluttered, coughing up gouts of bright red blood.  Myers stepped forward and shot the bald man again.  He returned the silenced Beretta to his jacket, and left the large white house.


Celia awoke with a dull throbbing at her left temple.  She  remembered beating her head against the bedpost.  In the bathroom mirror she saw the bruise was an ugly bluish-pink, with swelling around the eye.  She looked like she’d been beaten by an abusive boyfriend.  She laughed. 
     She took two tablets, bathed, and drove to St Patrick’s. 
     The doctors told her that Louise’s condition was stable and slowly improving.  The respirator was still sucking and wheezing.  She sat with Louise for an hour, in silence. 
     Eventually, taking her hand, she brushed a few strands of strawberry-blonde away from Lou’s face.
She left St Patrick’s and drove into Kentish Town, chain-smoking from the window.  The dull throb in her head hadn’t eased up but it wasn’t any worse.  She dialled Thomas on her mobile phone and realised she was cringing.
     “It’s me.”
     “Yeah, I know.  Your name came up.  What do you want…?”
     “Are you home?”  For a moment there was silence on the line. 
     “Yeah, I’m in.”
     “I’m pulling up in a few seconds.”
     The block of flats was squat and drab.  She locked the car, and hurried inside the building.  In the hallway she watched the blinking display as the elevator descended.  The doors opened and there he was, dark-haired, willowy and pale.  They could have been brother and sister, people had said.  His jeans and t-shirt were flecked with red.  For a moment Celia froze but then Tom glanced at himself. 
     “It’s paint, Celia, red paint.  But I think the bigger question is what the hell happened to you?”  His eyes lingered on the livid bruise near her left eye.  She stepped into the elevator with him, doors closing behind her.  Thomas was scowling as they ascended.  “You gonna say something?”  She looked at him. 
     “I’m sorry, Tom.”
     He grinned, “Yeah, I’ll bet.  I know I’m sorry.  And apparently you’re sorry.  I guess the only one who isn’t sorry is the guy you…”  He didn’t finish and Celia could only nod. 
     “Tom…I don’t know what else to say.”
     He shrugged, “Maybe there’s nothing else to say.”
     They stepped into his flat and Celia could smell oil paints.  There was a half painted canvas fixed to a standing easel near the front room window.  Swirling blues and indigos, the face of a girl-child hidden in its centre.  “It’s nice,” she said.  Tom lit a cigarette and appraised her.
     “Not finished.”
     She sat gingerly on the edge of his sofa.  He was watching her; the peppery cuts on the left side of her neck, the ugly bruise at her temple. 
     “Just tell me,” he said quietly.  “You realise you screwed me over, right?  Don’t know how spun I was, Celia.  I kept calling you a whore.”
     Celia nodded, “I’m sorry.”  Tom laughed and theatrically shoved his easel.  It clattered to the floor.  He looked sideways at her. 
     “You know, for a woman you’ve got some balls, turning up here without – without even a real fucking phone call.” 
     “Louise is in hospital.”
     He kept looking at her, frowning.  “What…?”
     “She’s unconscious at St Patrick’s.”  She glanced away from him.  “She’s on a respirator.  Perforated lung.”
     He sat down in the armchair.  “Jesus…”
     “Someone broke into the house.  I chased him away but he came back and he stabbed Lou in the chest.  So…and here I am, unscathed.”  Tom leaned back in the armchair, his mouth agape. 
     “Fucking hell, I don’t know what to say…”
     Celia laughed suddenly, darkly.  “Maybe there’s nothing to say.”  Tom shook his head in silence. 
     Celia got up and went to the kitchen, fetching herself a Coke from the refrigerator.  Tom came up behind her.  “Are you okay…?”
     “No.”  She slumped to the tiled floor and cracked open the can, sipping it once, then let it roll onto the floor, cola pumping across the tiles.  They both watched the brown puddle grow between them.

They ended up lying together in Tom’s green bedroom.  He was holding her, and Celia wondered if he could ever touch her like he used to.  She kicked off her shoes. 
     “We’ve been sleeping together,” she told him quietly.  “For a while.  She loves me, she really does.  I love her too.”  He was silent.  “What’s the reason?  What’s the damn reason for any of this bullshit?”
     He sighed.  “There are no reasons in nature.  Stuff just happens.”
     “You really believe that?”
     “I’m not sure.” 
     Celia pressed her face into the curve of his neck.  “So I fucked him for no reason?”
     He laughed humourlessly.  “You did it because you wanted to.  With Louise you had no control.  You’re not to blame for that.”
     She realised how angry he still was.  She must’ve ripped him up inside, doing what she did and then dumping him. 
     They lay in silence for a while.  He still wanted her, she was certain, but his anger had strengthened his guard.  Celia had loved talking with him, about books and painters and movies.  She’d loved fucking him.  She’d loved watching him while he didn’t realise she was looking.  She’d thrown that away. 
     “Make love to me,” she said, perhaps too softly.  She felt him tense. 
     “I don’t think so.”  She touched his lips with her fingers and he pulled away.  “No.  I’m sorry about Louise, but no.”
     She sat up on the bed.  Perhaps it was way too much to ask of him.  “Ok,” she whispered, “I should go.”
     Tom watched her climb from the bed and put on her shoes.  She left his flat without saying another word.

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