Friday, 10 September 2010

Chapter Twenty-Six

When Jobe awoke the pain was gone, leaving only a dull headache, but the emptiness returned. He felt like a powerless child. He remembered the boy. He remembered passing out and plunging into a kind of blinding blackness. A flush of dread went through him. The bloodstained girl was sitting silently with Serima. All he could think to do was put his sister in her bed. Prayer seemed to gaze at nowhere like a painting. It made him feel sick.
Jobe, this isn’t happening. It can’t be happening.
But it was happening.
Serima was like dead weight in his arms. The bloodstained girl didn’t stop him, she only watched as he slowly carried his sister to her room, trailing silently behind him. He put her in the bed as gently as he could manage. Prayer watched. Jobe kissed Serima’s forehead and then left the room, forcing Prayer from the door. He closed it softly behind him. Grey light washed the corridor from the single window at the end, as rain pattered against it.
“She’s a really brave girl, your sister, but I think this has been too much.”
“Leave her out of this, you crazy bitch.”
“Can’t do that. She’s an important deliverer.”
He shook his head, ignoring the remark. “I’ve never felt something like that...”
“What was it like when you saw him?”
“You stride…into my life…and violate my mind with your psychic freakshow. That boy – he was real. That thing. It’s fucked.”
“But you’re different now. Isn’t that worth it?”
Jobe walked past his unwelcome visitor and down the corridor, into his bedroom. She followed him. He went to his dresser and lit a cigarette, appraising her carefully. He realised he was trembling. Something told him that he should take his sister and flee from this abomination at the first opportunity. But then another part of him knew it would be suicide. Things were coming. Bad things; changes that he and Seri would have no hope of surviving alone. Serima had known something like this was on its way. He had known too, though he’d tried to live in ignorance of that fact.
He couldn’t blame Maya Kistori for this anymore. His mother was merely a catalyst. And without this girl, Jobe doubted they would ever learn what had happened to her. She would slip through the cracks of the system, disappearing forever. He and Seri would be left with a genuine ghost for a mother, rather than the flesh-ghost that had been locked away. Jobe felt bound and caged by something that threatened to eclipse his fragile identity. He wasn’t even sure if he and Seri would survive the rest of the day.
“What the fuck is he?” The boy had been real. It had felt so damn real. And this girl, this spiritual aberration, had done it with just a kiss. Christ, I think my mind has finally snapped.
“What’s Akin, you mean?”
“Yes – Akin.” She didn’t die…she’s a harbinger, and you know it. What’re you gonna do now, King of Dreamless? He laughed suddenly, but Prayer didn’t seem to notice.
She glanced at Jobe’s white bedroom walls and at the small paintings and collages that dotted them. She stared at one in particular; two glowing figures entwined, a soft amber light emanating from them. “These are beautiful…”
“What the fuck is he, Rebecca…Prayer? He’s a demon, isn’t he?”
She nodded, tracing a hand across the collage, fingering the depiction of the illuminated lovers. Images torn from other magazines surrounded it, all dark in essence. “You’ve got a good eye for these things. Yeah, he’s a demon. It’s an adequate description. Not in the medieval Catholic sense…” She glanced at the small crucifix above his bed. “…In a more post-modern way. But then I guess the spirits of the olden days were victims too, of their time and their culture, just like the living, don’t you think?”
He stared, and then glanced at the crucifix. This girl…and I brought her into my home…what’s wrong with me? She’s a murderer. That boy…that thing.
“Akin isn’t evil, if you’re wondering,” she said. “He’s a strange guy, but he’s got the heart of a poet. All travellers do, in the end. Kind of like you.”
He nodded carefully, “I see.” I was insane to bring her here.
She laughed, “You will see, Jobe. You’ll see and then you’ll read. Then you’ll know. Nothing will ever scare you again, not truly, not the horrific mind-numbing fear that you live with now, that you accept as an inevitable part of your existence. Once it’s gone, you’ll feel like a child again. The mysteries will move you to tears. All your days will be filled with glorious inspiration, hearts will overflow with love for life, even its darker aspects. I’m going to take you into that place, I’m going to take everyone, kicking and screaming if I have to.”
He watched her through the drifting stream of cigarette smoke. Fear was shimmering in his stomach now.
He went to the bed, sitting silently on its edge.
Eventually he lay down on it. “I feel exhausted.” She walked over and lay down beside him, still streaked with her own blood. “What’re you doing…?” Jobe tried to shove her from the mattress but she just batted his hand away, drawing an arm around his waist, laying her head on his chest. The blood still hadn’t dried. He let the beautiful stranger hold him. Her hair smelled of lavender for some reason.
“It feels good to hold you,” she muttered. He didn’t say anything. “I could never have done this if my dad were still alive. Isn’t that fucked up?”
He didn’t respond. She lifted her head. “Your eyes remind me of his,” she said softly, “Akin’s eyes that is, not my dad’s. Well, not your eyes really, but what’s behind them. You have an ancient soul. By ancient I mean aware. Your soul is deeply aware.”
He laughed with courage he didn’t feel. “I’m not your demon-boy thing.”
She stared, a hand stroking his chest. “I know that. I’ve dreamt about you, Mr Vesson. You’re going to help me wage a war.”
This is nuts…
“You’re turning me on, so get the hell off me.”
She leaned in and kissed him. This time there was no burning and it was just a kiss. He couldn’t understand what was happening. He felt himself getting hard, and realised he wanted to be inside her. Jobe put a hand to the back of her head, holding her mouth against his. It felt good, taking away some of his fear. With his tongue in her mouth Prayer’s kiss turned into a smile, and then a laugh. She pulled away, looking at him and grinning.
I really have lost my mind, he thought blankly, wanting her in his arms. In a near whisper he tried to focus and said, “Tell me what you really want...”
Prayer kissed him again, to silence him, with a scowl in her expression.
The world felt like it was sliding away. He didn’t care, and he let himself fold into her, this magical, bloodstained beauty. He wanted her, and she seemed unlike any girl he had been with, especially Emma, who had taken away much of his self-hatred. He was afraid but didn’t stop, and he heard her laughing as she undressed him, as he kissed at her, weaving for her mouth like a moth to a red flame, her lips creasing into smiles against his. Perhaps she felt like she had won something.

Yielding, giving himself to her. It felt like being caught in a reflected glare, brighter than the ability to define it, like confusing many camera-flashes for a lightning storm. A deep hunger, consuming the moment. Perhaps it was that leviathan forest, or perhaps it was the boy, or the kiss the boy had given him. He came inside her and something had shifted. Now, Prayer held him in silence. The sheets were tainted with touches of scarlet.
Jobe… what the hell…have you done?
He could think of no reason why he should care, no reason why he should care about anything at all. She didn’t answer him, just pulled the sheets up over her bare breasts, her nipples glistening with his saliva. Silence for a while. A creeping fear began to inch through him. You’ve flipped… and you’d do it again, wouldn’t you?
She put her head on his chest and said, “You could have been my father, you know. You even moved like him, like you were trying to respond to my every gesture. Sweet and very strong, but innocent in its own way.”
The girl said it with such certainty that Jobe went cold, his flesh crawling at her words and the way she’d said them.
He glanced across the soiled bed and saw Serima standing in his bedroom doorway. Her eyes looked sleepy. Jobe felt his stomach drop; bizarre, guilty, unmasked. “Seri– ”
Serima wandered casually to the bed, looking down at them like she might keel over, swaying gently. Without a word she crawled into the bed beside Prayer, drawing an arm around her waist, her fingers just touching Jobe’s bare chest.
“Seri…are you okay?” Instead of answering him, Serima pressed her lips to Prayer’s. They kissed for a moment and then his little sister lay her head against the beautiful girl’s breast, closing her eyes.
“You two just fucked?” she murmured like she was already half asleep.
A soft laugh came from Prayer. “I guess you could say I coerced him.”
Jobe felt immediately sick and sat up, climbing naked over them both. Neither of them said anything.
He locked himself in the bathroom, sliding down the door to the linoleum. They were sliding back towards it again, towards hell. He began to really cry; a hard, pathetic sobbing, for the first time in a long time.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Dr Katherine Reece had wiped the blood from her nose with a handkerchief. It felt like her whole body was shimmering, though her heart had stopped slamming at her breastbone. She hastily dumped the BMW behind some road-works, aware that the vehicle was fitted with a micro-transmitter.
Just relax, Little Red, she told herself, You got him. You were better than him. You understand? You were faster and you were better. She wiped the tears away and lit a cigarette in a trembling hand, standing in the open bus terminal. Across the intersection on the lip of the bridge, MI6 Vauxhall Cross loomed up over the Thames, all sand-coloured stone and green glass, a modern homage to a Babylonian temple. She cursed it and spat at the ground, noticing some blood in her saliva.
She’d never been forced into genuine hand-to-hand before. She’d always done what she needed to do from behind a desk or a gun. It was nothing like her training. The guy moved so damn fast, but she’d been a touch faster. When she punched him his belly had been like stone. She hadn’t eaten anything. She would have thrown it up by now. The agent hadn’t seemed interested in talking her round, that was for sure.
“Jesus wept…” She tossed the cigarette and hurried into the Underground Station.
On the tube-train she sat with her Adidas bag between her legs, staring at her warped reflection in the curved window opposite her. A nauseous feeling in her stomach made tears well in her eyes but she wiped them away. She wanted to scream with rage in the carriage. Maybe some of the other passengers would turn and hurry to her, stroking and kissing her. Perhaps one of them would let her rest in their lap.
She needed to speak to Robert. She couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t in danger for simply once knowing her, once loving her. Christ, she was scared. She didn’t have the resolve to smile at the irony, but she knew this was what it felt like for them; the six she herself had done over the years. That look of recognition in their eyes, when all the puzzle pieces suddenly collided into a perfect whole, and they would stare at her, rather than at the barrel of the silencer, a slight frown on their faces. She imagined that their stomachs dropped and the universe unravelled a moment before she pulled the trigger.
Killing people had been disturbingly easy. Easy to do, and even easier to deal with. Locus protected her from any consequence, of course. And she protected herself from any doubt or guilt. Katherine couldn’t ever remember feeling consciously ashamed at what she’d done. She’d done it for her country, like any number of soldiers out in the field. Now, tears were rolling down her face. The world was so much bigger than she had ever suspected. Another passenger glanced at her. She had to look away.

The house was a renovated Georgian building in Gospel Oak, on a leaf-littered road with tall trees. Autumn shades dancing in the wind. The rain had stopped but she knew it would soon start again. When she closed her eyes she was still seeing the young agent with the military haircut, and the curious expression in his eyes after she had managed to break his wrist. Katherine rapped dutifully on the front door, wondering if this was the right house. She was about to turn away when she heard bolts being withdrawn.
An attractive blonde woman in slacks and a woollen jumper opened the door. She was drying her hands with a dishcloth and eyed Katherine for a moment.
“Are you Robert’s P.A.?”
“No. I’m…I’m Katherine Reece.”
She noticed the woman tense up. “Oh. Rob hasn’t shown me any pictures. I thought you’d be sturdier, you know, like an Amazon. I’m sorry. That was…”
Katherine tried a feeble smile. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t very important. Is Robert in? I need to speak with him.”
“Yes.” The woman eyed her carefully. “He’s in the den, in the basement.” She turned in the doorway. Katherine saw the pregnant swell of her belly through the woollen jumper. She froze, staring at the woman’s stomach.
The woman could see the pinched look in Katherine’s face and her expression softened. “He didn’t tell you…?”
“I’m…sorry. Please, come in.” She ushered Katherine into the lush hallway, pointing at a door beneath the staircase. “He’s…today is not a good day for him.” She winced at what she said. “You know that, obviously…uh…” She frowned, “This is really hard…”
Katherine rubbed her hands together. “Isabelle, right? You work at the Tate Gallery?”
“Yeah. Rob said that you’re a psychologist for the Army? Sounds very serious.”
Katherine nodded and smiled, placing a hand on the woman’s belly, and Robert’s new wife didn’t flinch. “Congratulations.”
“It’s a girl,” Isabelle said quickly, “So the doctors tell us.”
“Well congratulations. I mean that.”
A sad smile flickered across the woman’s face and she gestured at the basement door. “He’ll be down there for a while…can I get you anything?”
“Something with alcohol in it.”
Isabelle nodded sagely and disappeared into the kitchen.
Katherine took a breath, went to the door under the staircase and pulled it open, hurrying down into the basement den. It was furnished with a TV, stereo and old leather sofas. It was lit with a single lamp. She noticed Robert at a table in the corner, wreathed by shadows and smoking silently like some Hollywood serial-killer. Typical of him. Things he did like that, it used to break her heart. He had a glass of something on the table and took a sip.
“I knew it was you, Kat. Today being today; when I heard the knocking at the door I knew it was you. Weird, right?”
Katherine nodded, glancing around at the film posters on the wall. He called me Kat. Damn, I forgot how much missed it.
“How have you been?” she said, unable to look at him for too long. “You been okay?”
“I would’ve called later. I nearly walked out of a meeting yesterday. I almost lost it. Felt like smashing everything in that room to fucking pieces.”
Katherine glanced at a pool table with no legs leant up against the far wall.
“You got it all here, Bobby. It seems like a good place to start again. New house, new woman…a whole new person.” Robert didn’t say anything. She dropped onto the old sofa, lighting a cigarette of her own. “When’s the baby due?”
“It’s strange seeing you…”
Robert left the table, and in the light from the lamp she realised unmistakably that he’d been sobbing, his cheeks pink from the onslaught. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t…I thought it might break you.”
Katherine stared up at him, smiling thinly. “A few hammer-blows to my skull, that might break me. I’m letting him sleep.”
“Kat…tell me, because I want to know.”
“It just means I’m letting him sleep. He must be exhausted, all the attention we give him. He’s in a grave. I’ll love him in my heart but…I’m letting him rest. I owe him that at the very least.”
Robert nodded, thinking. “That’s a healthy thing.”
“I hope so. Isabelle seems nice.”
He stared and eventually sat beside her on the sofa. “She is nice.”
“Do you still blame me?”
“I never blamed you, I hated you for a bit. There’s a difference.”
Katherine managed a small wry laugh. “True. Do you love her?”
“Like you loved me?”
He glanced away. “Yes.”
“Good. You’ve got a second shot here, Bobby. Don’t fuck it up.”
“I won’t. I can’t…afford to.”
Katherine stared at him. He’d aged since she last saw him. Three years had ravaged his face like they’d been ten. He was still handsome, but now in a worn and beaten way. She touched a hand to his cheek. He nudged into it, closing his eyes. She wanted to kiss him, or at least cry and have him hold her. She couldn’t do that.
“You look so old, baby…”
He smiled. “I know.”
“Was it the medication again? Jesus, Bobby…”
“Yeah, partly.”
“You always were a weirdo, professionally speaking.”
“It’s not really the meds. Me and Isabelle have been fighting more and more. She doesn’t-” He stopped himself and took her hand from his cheek. “I’m making it pretty hard for her…” Katherine knew what he meant.
“Don’t put her through that.”
“I’m trying. Lord knows I’m trying.”
Katherine glanced and saw Isabelle at the top of the wooden staircase, watching them both, a drink in her hand. She awkwardly pulled her gaze away and said, “Scotch & Coke.”
Katherine got up quickly and went to Isabelle as she carefully descended, taking the drink she held out, touching her hand. “Cheers, my love. Look, I’ll be out of here as soon as possible. There’s just some very important things I need to tell your husband. Army business.”
She seemed slightly more reassured and nodded. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything.” Isabelle gave her husband a final lingering glance and turned, going carefully back up the wooden stairs, holding her swollen belly. The door closed and Katherine looked at him.
“Army business…?” Robert said, a soft apprehension in his tone.
She went back to the sofa but this time she didn’t sit, she began rubbing her hands together. “Bobby, I…I don’t know where to start…”
“What? Just tell me.”
She stared blankly at him. “I think your life might be in danger. And Isabelle…and the baby she’s carrying.” He stared back at her, silently, dark-eyed. “There’s a company with deep links to the intelligence community, and they’ve set me up…for a bad fall. They might take you down with me, as an example.”
“Jesus Christ, Katherine…what the fuck are you telling me?”
She couldn’t look at him. “Baby, I know it’s fucked. It’s all fucked but…you need to get out of London for a while, and I mean like now.” She downed the scotch & Coke in three large swallows, grimacing and closing her eyes.
“Is it bad…?”
Katherine broke into a ragged cry and then somehow stopped herself, chest trembling silently. She grimaced, “Bobby, I’m in some really deep shit. Oh fuck…” Tears rolled down her face but she pressed her lips together, trying to hold it back. Robert stepped forward, reaching for her but she backed away.
“Just take your wife and go…I mean it, baby – just get out of here. I’m not who you think I am. I lied to you the whole time we were married. I lied to you, I lied to Sean, and I lied to myself.” Her face became mask-like. “Oh Grandma, what big teeth you have…” She grinned at her ex-husband and saw the look of fear in his eyes.
“What do you mean…?”
“I’ve killed people, Bobby. I’ve killed six people whilst on active duty for Locus Point. I’m not just M.I. Locus is a seeker-cell; ghost-ops, beyond classified, totally illegal. I volunteered to be a part of this. How sick is that? I pointed my gun at other human beings and I shot them dead, then I went home and watched ‘Sex and the City’ on box-set DVD.”
She laughed. Robert was staring, horrified, hoping this was some very sick and ill-timed joke that Katherine was playing. “Remember the day after Frank and Maria’s wedding? You made love to me that night, after I’d shot a thirty-seven year old neurosurgeon in the back of the head.”
Robert pressed his lips together, squeezing his eyes shut.
“His name was Douglas Mien, politically well-connected. He was trying to sell a mobile kiddie-porn library on the Internet. Bobby…there were hundreds. Hundreds of kids, nearly thirteen hours worth of footage. From all over the world. Some of this crap went back to before portable camcorders, there was stuff there from the fifties. Deeply sick shit. I thought I’d have reoccurring nightmares but God spared me that little gem. I wished I could’ve seared it clean from my mind, those images. I didn’t watch it all, obviously…I could only stomach a few minutes scanning through.”
Robert’s eyes were open now, wide and afraid.
“It was a very sophisticated piece of software, hidden deep inside another program; an audio-visual Encyclopaedia. You had to go to a through a specific sequence of highlighting certain words and images…a hundred character sequence. And then Hell opened up on your PC monitor for easy access. Even our best hackers almost didn’t find it. There were some famous faces there. Some people in key positions of power. Banking, Multinationals, Government, even a few blackmailed Hollywood film stars. It wasn’t just men on those three discs, there were women too.
“Someone high up must’ve given an order. Douglas Mien belonged to an occult group called Clockhost. He obviously had powerful friends there. I didn’t question the order, not once. Needless to say the pornography was destroyed, to protect some of these famous faces that would’ve been compromised if it ever came to light. Trust me; I’ve got other horror stories just like it. The world is an evil place, Bobby. I guess, if you want to be dramatic about it, you could say I’m a paid assassin. When Sean…well, I thought it was some kind of cosmic karma, you know? Poetic Justice. That’s how I saw it. That’s why I couldn’t deal with it. I wanted you to blame me, because I knew Sean sure as hell did.”
Robert backed away. “No. I don’t believe it. This isn’t the same Katherine Reece that I know. Why the fuck are you telling me this horrid nonsense?” Tears spilled suddenly down his cheeks.
“Bobby, it’s not a lie. I told Sean. I told him everything. I had to tell someone. I would’ve snapped otherwise. I told him what I’d done. I think it destroyed him.”
“No…” murmured Robert, “Jungian psychology, and the subconscious, and spirit…what about all that stuff? Healing as Service? Don’t lie to me…not today.”
Katherine could think of nothing to say and stared at the wall. “Jesus…are you serious?” She nodded silently. “Oh God…”
“Bobby, don’t wait. Gather some clothes and some cash. Get in the car and go. Don’t use your credit cards for a while.”
He nodded, wide-eyed and trembling. “We’ll go…to Elizabeth’s place…”
“That’s a good idea. I’ll call you.”
Robert stared and then rubbed his face vigorously. “I hate you for this, you bitch...”
She nodded. “I know. I don’t blame you at all.”
With an icy deadened stare he fixed her, as his mind settled on a distinct thought. “This is all because of you? You took…my son away from me?”
She nodded silently. There was nothing else to do. She was tired of the continuous lies.
“I should kill you,” he whispered. He looked nothing like the disarmingly shy man she had fallen in love with. “I should kill you, Kat. I should cut you up…” All she could do was nod again, bracing herself slightly in case he attacked her. If he lunged at her, she decided that she would simply let him vent all his pain on her flesh. “You bitch…you sick fucking whore…” His eyes boiled with new connections, new emotions, burning away his helplessness.
He turned away in disgust and hurried across the basement and up the wooden stairs, shouting his wife’s name. There, in her ex-husband’s den, Katherine tossed her empty glass onto the sofa and put her face in her hands.