Skip to content

Chapter 5

January 16, 2012

I knew the warning was real – I had to get out of the Mnemosyne facility that night.  The only escape route I could think of was out of the window and across the roof to the far side of the compound.  The view from Dante’s office hadn’t included a security fence, so I had to hope that it would be possible to get out there.  It was a poorly thought through plan and carried an enormous amount of risk, but it was better than sitting around waiting to die.

I lay on the bed in the dark, waiting.  My dinner tray had been collected three hours ago by a guard.  I’d not seen Sarah since our brief conversation.  I hoped she was doing OK, but it was difficult to worry too much about anything beyond my own situation.  Under the bed was a sheet tied into a bundle containing all my worldly possessions.  It was a pitiful inventory.  Two changes of clothes, a toothbrush, a safety razor and a bar of soap, the note, key and photograph from the table, together with the Marshal folder.  The metal nail file was tucked in my pocket, my finger running restlessly up and down the blunt edges.

I knew that if I met anyone while out of my room, anyone at all, I was either going to be shot or dragged straight back.  My chances of making it out alive were almost zero, but I could feel myself getting excited at the prospect of making the attempt.  It felt good to be doing something proactive, and to hell with the consequences.  I knew that once I was out of the facility things would improve, that I could take my search for answers where I wanted.

Some footsteps passed down the corridor and somewhere in the distance a door closed.  For about half an hour I could hear Jack tapping out his SOS on the pipe in his bathroom, until presumably he got bored and went to bed.  The night dragged by slowly.

Despite my excitement I must have fallen asleep.  One minute I was lying in the darkness, the next I sat in bright sunshine.  It must have been an evening in late summer, or maybe early autumn, the light taking on a liquid tone, warm and amber.  The scent of cut grass was heavy on the breeze, and in the distance I could hear voices raised in excitement and laughter.  The wood of the bench, bathed in the golden light, was warm against my back.  I felt content.  It was the best feeling in the world.  More stable than elation, less tiring than excitement, more comfortable than passion.

I was sat on a solid bench of heavy oak.  The high back wrapped comfortably up to the top of my shoulders.  My arm rested on the arm rest of the bench, my sleeve rolled back to let my tired skin bathe in the sun.  It felt good to be out in the open air.  I had been in the lab for far too long, and the summer had all but passed me by.  I filled my lungs with a deep breath and gave a contended sigh.

In front of the bench the immaculate lawn flowed down to the banks of the slowly flowing river.  The grass looked like something from an oil painting, each blade constructed with painstaking precision and lovingly daubed onto the canvas of the late summer’s day.  Precise lines of alternating light and dark green marched across the lawn, the division between each one as precise as if calibrated by laser.

Behind me and wrapping around on either side where the wings of the ancient University building.  The brickwork, recently cleaned, glowed a warm yellow.  Just before the building the lawn abruptly ended, the edge clean and precise, before a gravel pathway that surrounded the vast square of green.  Archways in the building hinted at further wonders in the sprawling complex, the cool darkness of the openings a counterpoint to the warmth of the stonework.  Students hurried along the path, forced to take the long route around the inviting green.  A group of ducks took no such pains, strolling across the lawn before dropping into the river.

A man emerged from the inky blackness of one of the archways and hurried across the lawn towards me.  His brow was furrowed, his narrow features painted with concern.  Inside I gave a short chuckle.  He had always been such a worrier.

“Damian, you certainly took your time,” I greeted the man as he approached.  His tweed jacket  and beige slacks looked like they had been slept in, which may or may not have been the actual case.  While it gave him a certain absentminded air I could feel nothing but sympathy.  I was no less committed to my work than Damian Richter, and if he had not just spent the night at his lab there were many a night when I had slept at mine.

“I’m sorry Dr Collins, there was a lot to take in, a lot to think about.”  My lips quirked in amusement.  Almost fifteen years of working together and he still called me Dr Collins.  You would think the man didn’t even know my first name.

Rather than sitting on the bench next to me he hopped in agitation from one foot to the other, his face writhing in uncertainty.  Without a word he handed my notebook back to me, the leather casing warm from being clasped in his trembling hand.

“Won’t you take a seat?” I asked, dropping the notebook into my lap.  Damian shook his head.

“You really should take better care of that you know.  You shouldn’t just let people take it, not even me.  It’s not even properly password protected.  Before I came out I took the liberty of installing some encryption and protection software developed by the team here.  I really would recommend you use it.”

I smiled up at him, hoping my approval would ease some of his nerves.  He wasn’t normally this agitated.

“I’ll be sure to do that, thanks Damian, that was kind of you.”

He nodded distractedly.

“You read my research then?”

He stopped pacing and turned to face me.

“Yes, all of it.  I went through all your supporting data, preliminary work and calculations.  I did some double checking of my own as well.”

“Goodness Damian, no wonder it took you so long!”

He winced and started pacing again.

“I wanted to be thorough.  Your paper was most complete, but when I read it I had to be sure what was being discussed.”

“So, what do you think?”

Abruptly he flopped down onto the bench next to me, his hands clasped tightly in front of him and his face concerned.  He pitched his voice low, almost so low that I couldn’t catch his words.

“Do you realise what you have done here Dr Collins?”

I chuckled, but the edge of my good mood had been tarnished somewhat by Damian’s odd reaction.

“Of course I do, I wouldn’t be sharing it with you if I wasn’t certain.  What do you think man?”

Damian hesitated, then the words came in a rush.

“No, I don’t think you do realise.  At first I was amazed, elated even.  This is a work of genius, there can be no doubt of that.  I suspect that there are fewer than ten people alive who could appreciate the nature of what you’ve done.  I am no slouch, but it is nearly beyond my grasp.”

This took me aback a little.  I wasn’t used to modesty from Damian.

“Which is why I read more.  I wanted to understand how you had done it, I wanted to follow the development from idea to reality.  At least, that was at first, but as I thought more I realised that I was looking for something wrong, something that would mean you were wrong, that your research was worthless.”

I felt a tug of annoyance.  What was this, professional jealousy from one of my most steadfast colleagues.  As if sensing my thought Damian waved his hands.

“Not that Dr Collins, but don’t you realise how dangerous this could be, in the wrong hands?”

So that was it.

“What on earth do you mean Damian.  This is a breakthrough in medical treatment.  A huge breakthrough.  All manner of diseases and ailments that were beyond the reach of science now have a glimmer of hope, a sliver of light in a dark world where the only solution the western world can offer is the hospice.  There are millions that could benefit from this, millions that need not suffer.”

Damian’s face crumpled even more as I spoke, and his voice caught in his throat a little as he spoke.

“Dr Collins, if everyone in the world were like you that would be all that this means,” he said, gesturing at my notebook.  “But they are not, and it is not.  Have you thought of the ramifications for the healthy?  The implications for people with means and without scruples?”

“For the healthy?  My research is to heal people who are sick, I cannot think what you mean.”

It was Damian’s turn to laugh, a harsh bitter sound.

“Dr Collins, for many this research – when understood – will mean one thing, and one thing alone.  It will open the doorway to immortality.”

My eyes snapped open.  Something had woken me, but the dream, the memory, remained fresh.  I could remember laughing at Richter, telling him how he had too vivid an imagination, that his tendency to worry had finally got the better of him.  He had said that he had hoped so, he truly hoped so, but the look in his eyes showed that he didn’t believe me.

Was his notion really so absurd?  The dream had stirred up more memories that floated around in my head, half glimpsed and partially realised.  Then a noise caught my ear, and I realised what had woken me.  The door to my room was slowly inching open.

The light in the corridor must have been out, as it was scarcely lighter than my room, but the cone of grey half light from the doorway was slowly widening as the door swung open.  Whoever was on the other side was doing their best to stay silent, if I wasn’t already awake I doubted I would have noticed.  What had woken me?

I lay still, my whole body coiled but patiently waiting to see who would step through the door.  I don’t know why, but I half expected it to be Sarah.  Sarah there to rescue me, to break me out of this prison and take me to safety.  Why I would put such faith in someone who seemingly wanted nothing to do with me I don’t know.

The door stopped moving and for a while nothing happened.  Then a dark shadow moved in front of the grey half-light and a bulky shape edged into the room.  It wasn’t Sarah.  Whoever it was they were over six foot tall, and far too broad across the shoulders.  All of a sudden the menace of the situation doubled, and I was reminded of the warning from the voice.  Was this what he had meant?

The shadow crept slowly closer to the bed, no features distinguishable in the darkness of the room, it’s feet careful on the cold linoleum floor.  Just a step from my bed the shadow paused, and at waist height I caught a glint of reflected light, a dull flash in the otherwise shapeless mass.  In an instant I knew what it was – the blade of a knife.

With a grunt exertion I pushed myself off of the wall, swinging my legs at the shadow, aiming for where I saw the glint of light.  I made contact and we both went sprawling to the floor, the satisfying clatter telling me I’d succeeded in disarming my attacker.  We both went down hard but the shadow was back on his feet quickly.  Surging up from the floor I caught it round the waist and, half running half falling, rammed it into the wall by the bathroom.  A glancing blow caught my left cheek, just below my eye, and I rocked my head forward, connecting with something and sending the figure stumbling back.  Pressing my advantage I dropped my shoulder and barged the shadow through the half open bathroom door.  Smashing into the sink and spinning around we both hit the floor hard, all of the air in my lungs leaving in a mighty whoosh.  Clawing for breath I pulled myself into a sitting position, but the figure didn’t move.  Shaking I shuffled on my knees over to the light cord and pulled it on.  The body of a man lay face up on the floor, his features slack and his eyes closed.  The toilet bowl, a chunk of china missing from rim, showed where the guy’s head had hit.  Shuffling closer I could see that he was still breathing, but he’d been knocked out cold.

I recognised who it was.  It was the guard I’d punched in the head and then head butted, my very own personal nemesis.  In that moment I was not entirely sure he had been there to kill me – he must have known I was important to his employers – but he had clearly thought there was some payback due.  I could only imagine the hard time his colleagues had been giving him, I knew what guys like him could be like.

He was in his guard uniform, and the lack of any interest from the corridor meant he must have been the one on duty outside my room that night.  In a rush I realised this was my opportunity.  Much better than getting shot on the roof.  Hurriedly I stripped him of his clothes.  The fit was a little loose on me, but overall it would pass.  Tearing one of my spare shirts down the middle I gagged him and hauled his body over to the sink, where I tied his wrists behind the pipe work.  It should hold him until someone found him in the morning.

In the pocket of his jacket was a bunch of keys and an electronic swipe card.  In his trousers was a half packet of chewing gum and a large wad of cash, almost five hundred and fifty pounds in notes.  I grabbed my small bundle from under the bed and made for the door, but something caught my ear.  It would seem the commotion had alerted my neighbour, and the rhythmic tapping of his hopeless message rang out from the bathroom.

Closing the door to my room I worked my way through the keys on the loop until I found the right one, locking the door on the unfortunate guard.  Out in the corridor Jack’s tapping was even more noticeable than in my room.  For a second I hesitated.  Even though our conversation had been short I liked Jack, and in my time in the facility I hadn’t met anyone else who felt like a kindred spirit.  I didn’t think the Mnemosyne Corporation was going to let go of a useful lab rat, and Jack might well live out his days as a captive in this sprawling building.  But even with the uniform and the security pass getting out of the building was going to be tough, and it would be tougher if there were two of us.

I was torn, and I knew that every second I lingered my chances dropped.  The tapping grated on my nerves like it never had before.  It now seemed it was directed right at me, as if it knew that I was in a position to help.

With a frustrated snarl I walked to Jack’s door and began trying the keys in the lock.  Immediately the tapping stopped.  On the third try the lock snapped and I swung the door open.

The light was on, and Jack was sat huddle on his bed, his knees drawn up to his chest and his face fearful.  He didn’t recognise me, seeing only the uniform.

“I’m sorry man, I’ll stop, it’s just the tapping eases my nerves, sometimes I can’t not do it.”  His face was a disturbing mess of emotions, nothing at all as collected as when we had met in the exercise yard.  It would seem that the guards had no liking for Jack’s Morse code, and he had been shown that on more than one occasion.

“Relax,” I said, my impatience resonating through every syllable and making it almost impossible to follow the instruction.  “It’s me, Collins.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed as he peered at me over his knees.

“You?  Collins?  Wait, you’re one of them?”  For a second I thought he had seen through me, but then I realised he meant the uniform. I gave the jacket collar a disdainful flick.

“This?  No.  The real owner of this is taking a snooze on my bathroom floor.  Fancy getting some air?”

With my first glimpse of Jack my heart had sunk.  His look of despair told me it was going to be difficult to get him moving, hard to make it work with two of us.  At the mention of freedom though he changed entirely, leaping up from the bed, eager and alert.

“Am I ever.”  He wrestled some trousers and a shirt over his blue pyjamas, ramming his feet into some dirty white tennis shoes.

“So what’s the plan boss?” he said as he tied the laces.  I hesitated.  There was no plan.  I had a guard’s uniform and identity card.  My intention was to walk till I found an exit, or I was caught, trussed up and carried back to my room.  Jack sensed my thoughts.

“Not to worry.  I’ve been here a while, I know my way around a bit.  You got his card.”

I held up the identity card.

“Nice.  Well, follow me Collins.”

The transformed Jack led me from the room, setting off down the corridor at a decent pace.

I’d planned on heading south, through the complex and out the other side, but Jack was taking us east.  We passed a string of doors that looked much the same as the one to my cell.  Whether there were more people like Jack and I trapped inside I had no idea.  Something in me wanted to stop at each of them, to fumble through the key loop and try and free anyone I could.  Mostly though I knew it would be pointless, and make it much harder for Jack and I to make it out.

After a few minutes the corridor began to widen out, and ahead I could hear voices speaking softly.

“Wait here a second,” whispered Jack, before pushing through a narrow door and closing it behind him.

I held my breath.  What was he doing?  The low voices around the corner continued.  Abruptly the corridor was plunged into darkness, before dim emergency lights set in the ceiling flicked into life.  I heard a man’s voice cry out in annoyance, followed by the sound of running footsteps.  I tensed, my hand going to the guard’s knife in my pocket, but the footsteps faded into the distance, moving away from me fast.

The door behind me opened and Jack reappeared, a grin on his face.

“I reckon that should have done it.  Only one way to find out!”

As bold as brass he strode down the corridor and around the corner.  Too late I realised that despite the running steps the low voices hadn’t stopped.  Pulling the knife from my pocket I flicked open the blade and walked carefully around the corner.

The widening of the corridor was to accompany some sort of checkpoint or guard post.  An uncomfortable looking black plastic chair stood opposite a metal table, on which a small portable T.V. rested.  A half eaten pizza sat next to the T.V., a bottle of soft drink on its side on the floor, the liquid slowly glugging out on to the concrete.  Other than Jack there was no one else there, the soft voices coming from the T.V. set that had the volume down low.

“C’mon champ, you’re up,” said Jack, pointing to a card reader embedded in the wall next to a heavy steel door.

“What did you do?” I asked, approaching the door.

“Knocked out the power, the fuses are in that room back there.  You wouldn’t believe the trouble they were having with the power when I first got here.  They kept getting local wildlife wander in to the electric fence and trip the circuits.  That’s where he’s gone,” he waved his hand at the half eaten pizza, “to check the fence.  It won’t be long ‘till he’s back to check the fuses though, so I’d make busy with the ID if I were you.”

There really wasn’t time to argue.  I pulled the card from my pocket and ran it through the reader.  It gave a merry beep and something above the door gave a metallic click.  Jack pushed open the door and pulled me through, pushing it quickly shut behind us.

We stood at one end of a large parking garage.  Dull grey concrete marked with parking bays stretched away in front of us and left to right, before ending at walls painted a lurid yellow.  Large fans set in the ceiling hummed busily as they pushed the air round, air that had the unmistakable scent of petrol fumes and rubber.  A large yellow sign with tall black lettering stood on the far wall.  ‘Have you clocked out?’ it asked.

For the great size of the place it had remarkably few cars.  In the distance stood a white sports car, its low slung profile crouched on the concrete floor.  A grey station wagon and a small blue hatchback were parked just to the left of the door, and immediately in front of us, three bays away, was a large black Range Rover.

Jack gave a satisfied sound and hurried to the black Range Rover.

“You never asked me how I got shot,” he said.


“The bullet wound to the head, you never asked.”

In truth we hadn’t had time, and with everything else going on it had seemed unimportant.  But yes, I had wondered why he’d been shot, but I didn’t know why he brought it up now.

“You see Dr Collins, in many ways I’m not a nice person.”  At the front of the car, a few inches from the wheels, was a low concrete bar, designed to make contact with the wheels before the car made contact with the wall.  Part of this had snapped away from the main bar, and Jack bent down and picked it up.

“But right now, I think I am the best friend you could have.”  With a grunt he heaved the concrete at the driver’s side window of the car.  The concrete bounced to the floor and with a dull scrunch the window turned white, fracturing into a hundred thousand slivers.  Jack retrieved the concrete and jabbed it at the window, pushing in the fractured glass before reaching in and flicking the lock.  The car’s alarm wailed into life, the lights flashing in a frenetic pattern.

Jack threw open the door and reached under the steering column, before running to the front of the car and heaving open the bonnet.  After a few seconds the alarm was silenced.  Ten seconds later and the engine rumbled into life.

Jack slammed down the bonnet.

“Right, we need to get the glass out of the way, wind the window down if you can to hide the edges.  I’ll go in the boot and you drive us out.  They won’t see anything but the uniform and the ID.  If they do… well, you know where the accelerator lives, right?”

I grinned back at Jack.  He was right.  I wasn’t going to think about how he got shot, or how he knew how to get the car running.  It wasn’t as important as getting out of the facility.

The glass cleared away, as best we could, and with Jack in the boot I slammed the door and put the car in gear.  Large yellow arrows on the concrete floor showed the way out.  At the edge of the parking garage we reached a red and yellow barrier and a low white booth, a bored looking woman in a dark grey uniform sat listening to the radio.  As we approached I held up my ID and slowed right down, but the woman could not have been less interested.  With a depressed wave of her hand she reached down and the barrier lifted.  With a nod I drove through.  Twenty metres ahead stood the fence, together with another red and yellow barrier and a white booth.  I held onto the ID card, but as we approached the booth the barrier rose up on its own.  And that was it, we were out of the facility.  I turned on the lights and the narrow road through the forest burst into light, the first line of trees either side cast in the bright glare, deep shadows behind them marching off into the forest.

My heart surged with the feeling of elation and my hands trembled.  It had all been so easy.  I allowed myself to admit I thought I would die trying to get out of that place.  The road snaked in front of the car and I concentrated on driving, reigning in my bubbling joy.

There was a scuffling noise and with a thud Jack landed in the passenger seat.  His face looked just as I felt.

“We’re out!” I said, completely unnecessarily.

Jack smiled back.

“So, where are we headed?” he asked.

My eyes were fixed on the road but my face fell.  It was one thing to want to get out, but I hadn’t wanted to focus on what to do next.  It had almost felt like it would jinx it, planning ahead.  The road stretched out in front of me, the barren tarmac flanked by the dark impenetrable shadows of the forest.  Where did I go now?  I needed answers, but where was best to start.

Jack must have noticed my face, as he reached up and gave my shoulder a squeeze.

“Not to worry, come with me for now, we’ll get you on your feet.  At the end of the road hang a right, and then keep on driving!”

The lights of the motorway had been soothing, almost hypnotic.  Every now and then there were patches of traffic, but when it thinned out, when there was less to hold my attention, I found it hard to stay awake.  After an hour and a half Jack had insisted we stop and swap over

The last few days and lack of sleep were starting to take their toll.  I sat in the passenger seat, watching the lights tick by, the darkened countryside sliding inexorably past the window, and tried to piece together my scattered thoughts.  It felt great, amazing even, to be out of the facility.  It was also daunting.  It was up to me now to make my own way, to piece together as well as possible the mystery of my past.  I had to decide where to begin, and only now did I truly appreciate how very little I had to go on.

There was also the question of how badly the Mnemosyne Corporation would feel my loss, what they would do when they discovered I was gone.  I calculated that would happen either about two hours after dawn, when they would bring me my breakfast and instead find a half naked man tied up in the bathroom, or shortly after whenever the half naked man was due to go off duty.  Either way it didn’t give us much of a head start.  I wasn’t entirely sure that the Mnemosyne Corporation would come after me, but some instinct told me they weren’t likely to give up their claim on me that easily.  I was important to their work, and they would make efforts to get me back in that cell.  The same might even be true for Jack.

Jack glanced across at me and chuckled.

“I’m sure glad you aren’t driving anymore.”  He must have seen my eyelids dropping.  An absent minded thought drifted through my head.  He shouldn’t complain, he’s lucky I could drive at all.  I had no idea I could until I got in the car.

I couldn’t keep my eyes open much longer, but I tried to force myself awake and come up with a plan.  Drifting along with the car-jacking, shot-in-the-head Jack wasn’t much of a strategy, I had to give it all the thought I could.  I had some leads, I just had to pick the right one.  With a jerk I pulled my head up from where it had come to rest on my chest, my eyes snapping open.  Two more times it happened and then I stumbled into a light sleep.

The stewardess winked at me as I stepped off the flight.  She’d been a lot of fun on the journey.  Flirty and attentive.  Again I regretted not asking her for her number, but this was a business trip.  I’d let business and pleasure get blurred in the past.  It never ended well.

My luggage was the third case out onto the baggage carousel and within thirty five minutes of landing I was at the kerb outside Vienna airport.  I handed the taxi driver a piece of paper printed with the address of the Laboratory in Perchtoldsdorf and settled back into the leather seat.

I was tired.  It had been a long week, a long year.  In truth my work was beginning to drag me down, and it was difficult to maintain motivation.  Maybe I needed to take a holiday?  It was difficult to tell.  I had never had a holiday before, not a real one, so I had no real reference point for whether or not it would help.

Thick sheets of drizzle fell lazily from the sky, drenching everything in an unhurried and un-dramatic way.  I hated drizzle, it had to be the worst form of weather.  It was so insipid, so listless.  If you were caught out in a decent downpour you could at least feel the exhilaration of being drenched by the elements.  You could get just a wet walking through drizzle, but without any of the passion of a good hammering downpour.

The leaden grey sky overhead suggested it would continue drizzling for some time.  The entire sky was obscured with a blanket of grey, from horizon to horizon.  That was where I could make out the horizon through the curtain of water of course.

The taxi driver asked me how my flight was.  I told him I didn’t speak German and he gave a grunt.  This was a lie.  My German was excellent, but I had no interest in striking up a conversation.  I was certain he would know nothing I was interested in, and I certainly wasn’t in the mood to share any information of my own.

The motorway skirted around the outskirts of Vienna, before the driver took us off a slip road and into the suburbs.  Within a few minutes we were approaching the laboratory, but before we even approached the gates I could tell something was wrong.  A thick column of black smoke billowed up from the ground, and as the taxi pulled up opposite the gates I could see that it was coming from the laboratory.  The large squat building had three main wings, reaching out like arms from a large square building with a steeply vaulted roof.  The smoke poured out of the top floor windows of the Eastern wing.  Winding down the window I could hear the clamour of the fire alarms, and a large mass of people had already assembled in the car park at the front of the building.  The taxi paused a little way before the gate, unsure of whether he should approach the guard post or drop me off here.  As we stopped two fire engines came roaring up behind us and decelerated quickly to a halt directly in front of the gate, their horns blaring out in annoyance at the obstacle.  Quickly the gates were rolling back and the engines moved into the car park where the staff were assembling.  The milling mass of people were in the engines way, and with their eyes turned to the fire and the alarms ringing in their ears it took then a while to notice.  Slowly everyone was cleared to one side to allow the engines through.

The driver cleared his throat expectantly.  The scene beyond the gates was chaos, there was no point going in today.

“The Four Seasons,” I said to the driver.  For a second he looked confused and pointed at the meter.

“Don’t worry, I’ll pay,” I said.  The driver nodded and turned the car around in the road.  With a curse I realised I had said all of that in German.

The self closing mechanism slammed the door shut behind me and I hurled my case onto the bed.  The room was stuffy and overheated, like every hotel in the world.  The decor was restful enough but unimpressive, and looked like it had seen better days.  I walked to the window and pulled back the white net curtains, gazing out across Vienna.  The drizzle continued, eliminating almost all the beauty from the view.  The window of course was bolted shut.  Turning back into the room I jabbed my fingers at the climate controls on the wall.  My choice was the standard: freeze my arse off with refrigerated air or persist with the stuffy overheated soup of hotel air.  I wondered if people ever suffocated in their hotel rooms, the recycled air stripped of all its oxygen after having been pumped through so many sets of lungs.  With a grunt I turned the air conditioning on.  Freezing it was then.

In the bathroom I splashed some cold water over my face and tried to rub the graininess from my eyes.  The face in the mirror told me how tired I was.  Dark circles rimmed my eyes, a two day  growth of stubble casting a shadow around my face.  It was just as well I hadn’t gone to the Lab today, I looked a mess.  I couldn’t help wondering why the air hostess had bothered flirting with me, I looked done in.

Drying my face on the towel I went back to the bed to unpack my case.  On top was a suit, folded up a little harshly and crammed into the case.  It didn’t matter, it was a cheap suit, and I wasn’t likely to be using it for long.  I hung it up in the bathroom.  Hopefully the steam when I took a shower would help the creases drop out.  Flipping the case upside down I deposited the rest of its contents: two shirts, two t-shirts, five pairs of underwear, five pairs of socks, a black backpack, a wash bag and a small pocket knife, onto the bed.  Picking up the small pocket knife I flipped the blade open and cut around the lining at the bottom of the case.  Pulling back the fabric cover I prised away the false bottom and pulled out a large brown envelope.

I took the envelope to the desk and flicked on the angle poise lamp.  The light it let out was pathetic.  Tearing open the top of the envelope I shook out its contents.  Ten bundles of hundred dollar notes, each holding ten thousand dollars, thudded onto the table, followed by the heavy clatter of an 8mm revolver.  Satisfied I swept the money and the gun into the small black backpack and stuffed it into the case, ramming the rest of the items in on top.  As I stood up I caught my reflection in the mirror opposite the bed.  I really did look tired.

The blare of a horn shook me awake.  Disorientation flooded my mind as I blinked at the grey half light and passing headlights.  My neck gave a spasm of pain and I rubbed it a few times to loosen it up.  It didn’t help.

“Morning, we’re nearly there,” said Jack.  He looked fresh and alert, seemingly invigorated by the overnight drive.  I flicked the sun visor down and looked at myself in the small mirror.  My face was the antithesis of Jack’s: grey and washed out, my eyes glinting back from hollow caverns in my face.  Just like it had looked in the dream, minus the scar down one side.

Was it a dream?  I’d begun to assume that the dreams were memories bubbling to the surface, that in some way they had happened, but I couldn’t be sure.  I knew from my work that the mind had a strange way of processing experiences, that dream interpretation was a fickle and imprecise business.  If it was a dream, what could it mean?  I was tired, and that was true enough, and the money spoke of some financial reward.  The gun could represent danger.  All of this felt true to my current experience.  Of course, if it was a memory it would mean I was once in a Viennese hotel with a backpack stuffed with cash and a hand gun.  Did the memory of talking to Richter at the University come before or after this memory, if they were memories at all?  If so, which one came first, and how did I get from laughing on a bench in England to carrying a gun and a hundred thousand dollars in cash to Vienna.  Or vice versa.  These glimpses of my past only gave me more questions, no answers.

The landscape flowing past the window was dull, flat and featureless.  Large fields, the ancient hedgerows destroyed and replaced with more of the flat expanse, passed by on either side.  Here and there a house by the side of the road flashed past.  On the horizon there were other large structures, probably farms, and in the distance an old Norman church.

“Where are we?”

“Norfolk,” said Jack.  “We’ve got about fifteen minutes to go.”

I rubbed my eyes and flipped up the sun visor.  Abruptly I realised how hungry I was.  And thirsty.  I hoped that wherever we were going there would be something to eat and drink.

“You can’t go home you know, they will look for us there,” I said to Jack.

Jack gave a bitter chuckle.

“I know that.  Don’t worry, I’m not going home.  I’m heading somewhere safe.  I’ve got an old mate in these parts, and he owes me a favour.  More than one in fact, as long as he chooses to remember it.  We’ll hide out there for a while, get back on our feet.”

It sounded reasonable, and better than anything I could suggest.  My stomach gave a rumble, the hunger making it hard to think about anything other than finding something to eat.  Strange how you can go through so much, be in such an impossible situation, but if you were hungry all you could do was focus on where your next meal was coming from.  So easily are we all reduced to our natural animal state.

We drove along the winding A-road for about ten more minutes before turning off down a narrow gravel track.  We continued on this track, past two farm buildings and the burnt out husk of some sort of hanger, before arriving at a rambling stone cottage.  The building evoked the feeling of a typical English countryside structure, the warm coloured bricks, imperfect line of the walls and the flowing tiled roof.  Despite the early hour there was smoke rising lazily from the tall chimney.  Overall the house looked inviting.

Jack pulled the car around to the front of the building and parked in front of a low window.

“Listen, let me do the talking here.  This guy can be a little tricky to deal with.”  I held my hands up and nodded.  That was fine by me.  Since I’d stolen the guards uniform and ID card it had been Jack calling the shots, and I was happy for it to continue while I worked out my next move.

On the front of the door was a large metal door knocker, covered in rust and with an air of disuse.  Jack hammered hard on the door and we waited.  And waited.  Despite the smoke from the chimney it looked like no one was at home.  I was just wondering what we would do next when I heard the double click of a shotgun being cocked behind us.

“Turn around, slowly,” came a voice.  We did so.  The man behind us was massive, a great hulking bear of a man.  He must have been over six and a half feet, where he standing straight, but he hunched over at the shoulders, giving the impression he was curled over above you.  From the cheeks downwards his face was covered in a bushy black beard, the edges unkempt and unruly.  He was dressed in tatty jeans and a large green parka jacket, the zip undone to show his bare belly and chest underneath, his skin criss-crossed with scars.  There was a glint of madness in his eyes and his finger hovered over the trigger.  I winced.  The barrels swayed back and forth, covering both Jack and I, although it seemed unnecessary.  From the gauge of the weapon and the distance he stood from us we’d both be included in any shot he sent in our general direction.

As he took in our appearance his thunderous face grew blacker.  Me he glossed over, but when he looked at Jack he gave a low growl.

“That you Jacky?”

Jack smiled a fragile smile, and I could sense his fear where I stood.

“That’s right Ben.  Long time no see, eh?”

Ben growled again.  It didn’t sound like the kind of greeting for an old friend.

“I can’t believe your here.  Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t pull this trigger right now and sent you screaming to hell, your head sprayed against my wall like a rotten pumpkin!”

Jack winced and tried to look casual.

“That’s a long time ago now Ben.  It was always like you to only remember the bad.  But I’d like to remind you that you owe me too, and I’m here to collect on that debt.”

Ben’s face grew crimson with rage and his finger twitched.  I thought about edging away from Jack but it felt like the moment was so fragile I didn’t want to move.  Suddenly the great bear of a man let out a roaring laugh.

“Same old Jacky, cocky as ever.”  He lowered the gun, I started breathing again.

“Well, since you’re here, come on in.”  Ben pushed his way between us and through the front door, and then turned and fixed Jack with his half mad stare.

“But don’t think this is over between us Jacky.  We need to have a good talk, and it might well turn out my gun wants a word in the debate too.”


From → Story

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: