SHORT STORY 18

2018

T H E - C U R S E - O F - I N C O M P R E H E N S I B L E - C A U S A T I O N

SHORT STORY 18

2018

THE CURSE OF INCOMPREHENSIBLE CAUSATION

DISCLAIMER:

I was never technically meant to be there, so officially I wasn't.

In the silent black and white CCTV footage, three men moved about a long concrete section of what looked like a wide industrial corridor. The bearded men had already dumped a pile of crates and duffel-bags next to a wall of endless electrical conduits, when they abruptly stopped in their tracks. After glancing around their dimly lit environment, the three soon continued with their labors. Less than ten seconds later, they reacted to something off-screen. Suddenly they all shuddered! The closest man grabbed his head, as he immediately began backing away below the camera. The guy in the middle took a few steps toward the distant third man – when they both lurched and spun 180 degrees as if reacting to a loud noise in the confined space! The first guy came running back into frame, heading in the opposite direction, his arms flailing about as he looked back toward the camera with an expression of absolute horror! The middle guy then ripped open one of the crates and pulled out an AK-63. Quickly loading the weapon, he began firing in the direction of the camera. The third man, however, watched patiently as the guy with the gun advanced below and beyond the frame of the footage. Gunfire continued flashing off of the the dull surfaces. Something then bumped the camera, and the last man on-screen fell backward! Scrambling away, he ran for this life, sprinting into the distant darkness. The gunman never reappeared.

-

Mara had made good time, as, like usual, she had pushed the speed-limit to the point of reckless endangerment while we raced through a light rain below a frigid sky. She looked cozy behind the wheel of the rental Mercedes, as if she was tucked warmly into her bed. I, however, was still dwelling on the conversation from last night's Passover dinner, with the extended family of Mara's boss. I had been seated across the table from the host's second-cousin from Austria, and we had had a rather lengthy discussion about artistic influences, and whether art is secondary to survival or if art gives you a reason to survive. I had mentioned to him how I had just finished my picture book for Uncle Fingers. He seemed impressed and asked about how I was marketing it? I then discussed the futility of pleasing an audience, especially when you haven't got one. He wasn't convinced, saying that if your work was of quality, then there would always be those who would appreciate it – a delusional sentiment that I've heard a thousand times before. I then told him about a conversation that Mara and I had had a month ago, where she stated that I simply spent too much time on my art instead of focusing on my career She claimed that it was her mother speaking through her. The second-cousin looked genuinely appalled. But I agreed with Mara. And after this year's lack of studio work, and now that part 2 of Uncle Fingers was done, I had decided to take an extended break from art, and reevaluate my future in Berlin. Yet, as I watched the traffic thicken on that cold French highway, the second-cousin's counter-argument nagged at me again. Was life worth living without my art? Could I seriously just stop working on what was ultimately a waste of my time? And what would I become without my art? It was then that Mara spoke up in a disgruntled tone, “You had one job!”

Wincing, I thumbed the dashboard, changing the radio station until, Мальчик, ты снег, by Луна filled the car. While Mara softly sung along to the melancholic Ukrainian, we drove past the pitiful city of Calais.

From a distance, the complex was wide, flat, and fenced off with both wire and leafless trees. In the gloomy midday light, it could have been a factory surrounded by morbid farmlands. At the first check point, where the armed guards asked for our passports, I zipped up my jacket, expecting to be ejected from the car. Instead, however, the gate opened and we were ushered inside. Keeping our passports on my lap, I watched on curiously as we dove down a ramp into an underground tunnel where we came to a second checkpoint. This time there were several French soldiers standing around with rifles in hand. Sharing a silent glance, Mara and I waited again while our passports were scanned. The guards soon returned our documents along with new plastic ID cards. Mara looked just as surprised as I was by my authorization, but we said nothing as the soldiers directed our rental toward a parking space.

With our digital ID cards clipped to our lapels, Mara and I were led by two soldiers through a series of passageways, until, at another doorway, we were checked, frisked, and passed through a metal-detector. Once we secured our phones and my knife in a locker, we were each handed a plastic folder. Mara just shrugged at this point. I had assumed that she'd only been called here for some unimportant matter of routine. She had told me nothing about her abrupt call of duty. As close as we were, I respected her professional boundaries, even if she didn't condone my own personal privacy. The last time we took a roadtrip to Munich for her work with the military, I had entertained myself in the city. This time, though, I was already somewhere I shouldn't be, but I figured that if I really wasn't meant to be here, someone would tell me to fuck off sooner or later. Until then, I'd ride on the coattails of Mara's clearance for all it was worth.

Sitting in a small office, were three men in cheap suits with ugly ties. Mara and I were both dressed smartly in black and white, and it was obvious that the three intimidated men were abruptly unsure of how to welcome us.

“Bienvenue, Special Agent Mara!”

Smiling, she asked if they spoke German? Apparently English was never an option.

The first guy stepped up, mumbling as he shook our hands.

I stepped over to the two soldiers by the doorway, and kept my mouth shut. Opening my folder, I flipped through the printouts consisting of floor plans, mugshots, and photos of a huge amount of blood! Without moving, I glanced at the three guys fumbling through their words with Mara. Going over the next couple of A4 photos, I admired that blackened puddle upon the concrete, until I spotted a severed human hand, and then what looked like a length of spine. Skimming through a few more pages, I came to a set of photos displaying an array of assault-rifles, as well as crates stuffed full of sacks. It was the electronics extending from the bags that made it clear that these were homemade explosives – a fuckload of explosives! I quickly became aware that I definitely shouldn't be looking at this sort sensitive material.

A knock at the door announced the entrance of a messy-haired, six-year-old chap, wearing brass-framed glasses and a tweed vest. “Oh, hi! Apologies, for my lateness. Hastings.”

Shaking his soft, British hand, I kept quiet. With the posture of a ninety-year-old, he looked like he had just woken up, and he even had a crease on his forehead from where he'd been sleeping.

“Everything's running behind, you know, long weekend. But could have been worse, huh. I miss anything?”

No one else join his nervous laughter, as the three paper-pushers led the way out of the office. Mara and Mr. Hastings made small-talk, while two soldiers followed me. It didn't take long before I got completely disorientated in those hospital-like corridors. I wanted to gain Mara's attention and suggest that I wait for her in the car, but everyone continued through more and more guarded double doors, until we all packed into a room with the only light coming from a two-way mirror that was looking into an interrogation room. Four other men already stood inside this observation room, but no one shook anyone's hand. It was hot in that cramped space, and the arguments broke out before the door had even closed. Though, honestly, angry Frenchmen will never sound as hostile as snarling Germans. But when push came to shove, it was Mara's voice who eased the clashing personalities of egoistical authorities. And just then, the door into the adjacent room opened. Everyone grunted and twisted their shoulders toward the two-way mirror.

Two French soldiers in balaclavas brought in a man dressed in gray overalls with a black bag over his head. The prisoner was handcuffed and chained to a metal chair that, like the table, was molded directly out of the floor. The uniformed men exited the room, before a middle-aged guy in casual clothes entered and sat opposite the prisoner. The words were in French, calm, and without reciprocation. The prisoner made no signs that he was listening or even alive.

Another light soon came from the second interrogation room. There, an identical procedure happened. However, this prisoner flinched at every sound, and lurched when he was shoved into his chair. His breathing was anxious and loud over the speakers. A different interviewer joined the second prisoner, who was more than willing to blubber and answer anything asked. I couldn't speak a lick of French, but I could tell that the prisoner had a strong accent of something not French.

Because of the language barrier, my fascination with this situation quickly ran out, and was accelerated by the lack of oxygen in that stuffy observation room. Tapping Mara on the arm, I excused myself and stepped out into the corridor where three pairs of soldiers stood at different doorways. Sweating, I yanked off my overcoat, unable to imagine how Mara kept hers on while remaining in that fucking sauna. But I guess it was her job to remain cool at all times. Without a chair in sight, I leaned against a wall while flipping through the folder again. Beyond the bloody photos, there was a series of pictures of torn clothes as well as body parts lined up on a stainless steel bench. The piece that really caught my attention was a large fragment of a human skull. It was about the size of your palm, and beneath the wet black hair was some kind of tattoo. Going back over the folder, I was disappointed that I couldn't find a better photo of the scalp.

A door then opened to my left, and I only looked up once a shrill voice yelled at me from a distance! To my surprise, the pitched squawks came from a tall, athletic-looking black guy. His tailored blue suit and tie, as well as his patterned shirt and brown polished shoes, gave him that famous French styling that everyone else in the building was lacking. Two of the armed guards standing nearby, started closing in on me before that squeaking giant slapped my chest. I'm tall, but this guy was easily over seven-foot, and his cologne smelled fucking amazing! He continued with his antagonistic shrieks, as the guards moved in even closer. Again he thumped my chest, sending me back against the wall! Monsieur Michael Jordan was practically shouting at me an inch from my face, as he grabbed his own ID card and waved it about with his flamboyant demands.

It was Mr. Hastings who stepped into the corridor to my defense. His French was perfect, not that I could fucking tell. “Terribly sorry, he needs your visitor's pass. We're meant to wear them at all times. They're old fashioned that way. Without a shadow of a doubt, you Israelis must have much more advanced systems of identification. All your biometric-security, and all that.”

That's when I realized my ID card was folded up inside of my coat that was hanging off my forearm. My fault. Everyone eased down once I smiled bitterly and revealed the plastic pass. The soldiers returned to their station, and the big guy flared his nostrils at me before entering the observation room.

“That's an unusual name. I mean, for an Israeli.”

“Is it?”

“What branch, I mean, where in Germany are you based?”

“What branch of what?”

“Oh, ha! Very good. Apologies. Not supposed to ask. This whole business isn't, you know, my field of expertise.”

“And what is?”

“Behavioral psycho-therapy. But it's really my PhD in Arabic that caught someone's attention.”

“Someone?”

“No clue as to whom exactly.”

“So, this isn't your day-job?”

“Oh, heavens, no!”

“Who's position are you covering for, then?”

“Your guess is probably more informed than mine. With the Easter weekend, and the fact that the incident's already been prevented, it means this kind of situation isn't exactly, how should I put it, the qualified personnel's top priority.”

“No shit,” I said, as we strolled along that dull labyrinth.

“Don't you find it troubling, how many terrorist attempts the public simply never hear about, because of the diligent work of counter-terrorism organizations? Pity really. Good people deserve recognition. Still, I guess, like last week, when people like Arnaud Beltrame are killed in the line of duty, the pubic do show an outpouring of solidarity. Perhaps it's better the general population aren't exposed the true extent of the danger that faces them, or...”

“Or?”

“Or nothing.”

“What did these two do?”

“Attempted.”

“Allegedly.”

“Haven't they already debriefed you?”

“What do you think they've done?”

Mr. Hastings paused and took a step sideways with a smile. “Makes sense. I mean, why would they tell me all the details. Of course not. Who am I. No top-secret-clearance for the new lad on the job. Fair enough.”

“How many of these things have they brought you in on?”

“Just this one!”

I wanted to suggest a high-five, but my lack of sleep decided otherwise.

“At least they weren't successful. Or else I'd have been thrown head-first into the deep-end. Although. Had they gotten away with it, I wouldn't even be here.”

“Why not?”

“Well, because, you know. If they'd blown up the Channel Tunnel, then I'd still be stuck in London.”

-

It wasn't long before a group from the observation room were transported to a new compound by white vans, where a large service building was surrounded by another tall, chain-link fence. Once inside, we headed through an underground network of storage compartments, until we were finally walking along a two-story-high passageway that twisted and turned past rooms that sounded like they contained diesel generators. Mara eventually glanced back in my direction. Smiling, she merely tilted her head as if to say, “Having fun?”

I had stupidly assumed that my holy-fucking-shit-what-the-fuck-is-a-piece-of-fucking-shit-like-me-doing-in-a-fucking-place-like-this expression, would have caught her attention, and perhaps she'd suggest that I wait outside until this business of national security was taken care of by the actual professionals. But nope. So, fuck it! I would see where this ride was going, but the moment boredom sunk in, I'd jump ship like I gave a fuck!

There were more soldiers in balaclavas guarding a meekly lit service tunnel. The widely spaced emergency lamps cast deep shadows within the walls that were ribbed with thick metal pipes and cabling. With that damp smell of concrete, and a hollow drone filling the place, it made me feel as if we were taking a casual stroll into the bowels of a neclear reactor.

Monsieur Jordan was impatiently leading the way. He stopped at a junction and we locked eyes. The bruise he'd left on my chest retained our growing animosity. It was always a strange sensation when another male crossed that unspoken line into physical conflict. Some huge part of your animal-brain wants you to go tooth-and-nail at his fucking throat! While at the same time, there's a sense of acknowledgment that another sees you as a credible threat, and finally you'd put your mettle to the test. Of course, I was very well aware of the reality that Monsieur Jordan could easily roll me up into a spitball and slam-dunk my lanky ass in a trashcan. But from my experience, as long as I stood my ground, I never needed to even raise my fists. By controlling myself and not becoming violent, I could keep violence at bay, and thus, fend for myself.

After we followed a parallel passageway, we came to several free-standing spotlights and a forensic team dressed in white coveralls. Most of the group was interested in the crates that had previously housed the explosives, however, I saw something far more arousing further along. There, I came to the bloody death scene of the third suspect. The photos had failed to capture how fucking enormous the mess was! The floor was soaked five-meters-wide, but the thing was, the blood also coated the walls, pipes, and right up over the distant ceiling!

A forensic guy stepped over to me while I was still staring upward, and I asked him, “What kind of bomb can do this to you?”

The Frenchman shook his head.

Nodding, I patted him on the back, “Ah, the French.”

“I speak English,” the guy replied quietly, pointing to the wall next to him. “But there was no detonation in here. There is no evidence of an explosive device, and look, there is no damage to anything. The equipment is fine, the walls are all intact. There is not even any burns or smoke residue. And none were found on the remaining body parts either.”

“Then what happened to him?”

“Isn't that why you're here?”

Indicating with my tippy-toe, I gestured with the question of if I could walk across that sheet of dried blood.

The wrapped-up forensic guy shook his head.

“Spot something?” one of the suits from the observation room asked, as he slowly approached.

“Yeah,” I smiled, turning toward the bald Frenchman. “Where the fuck is everyone?”

Immediately, the forensic guy backed off to his work, while the bald guy sneered and muttered to himself in French. Correcting his language, he looked me in the eyes, “Things are, how you say, up in the air, since France expelled four Russian diplomats. I'm sure you understand, with all the tension over the poisoning in England. And now with this, everyone is reluctant to trust anyone. Though, why you Israelis were recommended, that, that is unclear to me. Is it not your Passover? Perhaps you can enlighten me, why are you here exactly?”

“What can I say, nothing better to do.”

“Ah, yes. Hush, hush.”

“So, what's way down there?”

“Why of course, the Channel Tunnel itself.”

“What do you think happened here?”

“You read the briefing,” the middle-aged Frenchman said, before he sighed and stared down the endless passageway. “Only an idiot would think they might actually flood the tunnel. Engineers built this place better than that. Far too deep for a bomb to be of any effect. But, perhaps, maybe if a fire were to spread, the smoke could kill far more than a flood ever would.”

“No, no, no,” I said, pointing at the shiny surface of all that blood right next to us. “What happened here. To this sack of shit?”

“You play with matches, as you say.”

I waited.

“This place,” the Frenchman spoke softly, “Many souls have been lost here. And I don't even mean during the war.”

“What do you mean, then?”

“I mean, I wouldn't be caught down here in this place,” he whispered, glancing up to the ceiling. “Something killed this man. And I believe, personally speaking, that this, all this, wasn't, and couldn't have been done by another man.”

“That's what I'm asking, what kind of weapon can cause this?”

“You are not understanding my meaning!” the Frenchman stressed. “His conspirators, they know what happened. But the one who witnessed the death, he refuses to speak. He saw something unholy down here. And he wouldn't be the first.”

Before I got a chance I ask more, Monsieur Jordan walked up and loomed over us with a sullen scowl toward the far reaches of the passageway. He spoke in French, and then, he and I were left alone.

“What is it you do?” I asked, without looking at him. “What's your job?”

“On whose authority do you deserve such answers?!”

“As Gerry Spence once said, 'I am for me, as you are for you, the only authority.'”

“What do you think you are achieving by being here?!”

“Killing time.”

“You think that's funny?!”

“Not at all. And I also don't give a flying fuck about this fucking shithole! Or these terrorist fucking cunts! But you've obviously had a pretty fucking serious breach in your precious fucking security, which explains why you're sulking like a pretensions fuck who can't keep his shit together! So, if you want me leave, then fucking spit it! And then it's adios, motherfucker, I'm out of here! You're welcome to clean up your own clusterfuck, you ungrateful prick!”

“What is going on here?!” Mara suddenly interjected. Everyone in the passageway was staring at us. “Don't we have a job to do?! Can we please get on with it, without this childish bickering?! Remember who you are and why exactly you're here! Don't forget that! And if I need to remind you, then you won't be invited back, ever again! Is that understood?!”

“Yes, ma'am,” Monsieur Jordan reluctantly grunted.

Turning away from Mara, I clenched my jaw at her message meant for me.

“Is that understood?!” she repeated.

“Abso-fucking-lutely!” I sneered. “See you back at the fucking car!”

-

On the drive from the Tunnel, I sat alone in the back of a big white van, staring across a soaked landscape toward the city of Calais, and then I focused on something out of the ordinary. Leaning over the driver's seat, I pointed and asked, “What the fuck is that?”

The driver murmured in French, and I just smirked with a cringe.

“Go, go over there.”

The driver might have not spoken English but he definitely knew enough to refuse my directions.

“Go! Los! Vamanos, Vamanos!”

After exiting the fenced-in compound, eventually the van turned down a remote side road between vacant fields where we passed random men in hoodies standing in the middle of the asphalt. Cautiously, the driver navigated passed those on the street, and I noticed that he locked all the doors. More and more groups of black men with pink eyes leered at the van as it cruised closer to what I realized was one of those sprawling refugee camps that I'd seen on the news. An unnaturally colorful slum, was a more accurate description. The stench was something film crews failed to capture. The further in we went, the more trash coated the street. Hundreds, if not thousands of limp tents of every shape and size spread out into the drizzle, while masses of hunched men stood around doing nothing but enduring the miserable weather, however, slowly they turned toward our approach. The driver started shaking his head and yelling in French, when about fifty men with metal clubs came from our left! The driver panicked, and I was seriously doubting that the van had bullet-proof glass. Reversing, the driver quickly swung the big van around, but due to the piles of garage, the road was too narrow, and he needed more time to turn around. He was screaming at me the whole time, and I didn't argue. Suddenly the van was swarmed with slapping palms, and yelling men! The driver's own voice was overthrown by how loud the mob was. He was fucking terrified, and I couldn't even see where the fucking road was anymore. With my own heart-rate pounding, I gripped the back of the diver's seat and yelled into his ear, “PUT YOUR FUCKING FOOT DOWN!”

And thank fuck, he did, and we pushed straight out of there! Bodies, like rubber balls, tumbling off the van! In another moment we were out of the camp and back upon the open road again.

The mob's attack must lasted all of five seconds, but once we were free, I grabbed the driver's shoulders and stated with an exhilarated grin, “Jesus H. fucking Christ, they're a friendly fucking bunch, aren't they! ”

Something then smashed into the rear window, shattering it!

“Sacrebleu!” I screamed. “They come in peace!”

-

Back at the interrogation complex, I was led by a pair of soldiers down more clinical corridors until they opened a door into a forensic's lab. My escourts waited outside while I glanced about the large room devoid of life. “Hello? Bonjour? Anyone?”

“Qui?”

“Hey, hi, how's it going?” I smiled, as a young woman in a lab coat, poked her head around a corner. She was sitting at a work station, still typing on her laptop, as I approached. “Sorry. Do you speak English?”

“Of course,” she said coldly, sitting next to an array of test-tubes full of blood. “How can I be of assistance?”

“Yeah, I'm looking for...” Opening the plastic folder, I pulled out the photo of the dead man's scalp. “This.”

“Certainly.”

On the other side of the lab was a short hallway to a small morgue. The lab girl opened a refrigerator and removed a metal tray containing several sealed plastic bags, placing one of them on a stainless steel table. We both pulled on latex gloves before she opened the bag and placed the fragment of human skull in front of me. Picking it up, the bone felt icy through my gloves. The blood-coated black hair was frozen stiff, making it tricky to part the strands.

“So, what do you reckon happened?” I asked, leaning away from the girl's curious inspection. “Extreme anxiety attack and he just went pop?”

“The Lead Medical Examiner has already left.”

“Sure, but what's your opinion?”

“I'm not a trained coroner.”

“Fuck's sake, you French are worse than the Germans. You're free to take a guess and give it a wild unprofessional diagnosis just for my own entertainment, aren't you? We're just talking casually here. Making small-talk. You're career's not on the line. So? What do you think did this?”

“The extensive damage to the entire body is consistent with explosives, but the lack of trace-evidence makes it appear as if he had been killed by a pack of animals. There are even lacerations on a few bone segments that appear to be from claws. But wild animals can't cause such instantaneous destruction. It's almost as if he was spontaneous torn apart.”

Placing the piece of skull on the table, I asked, “Torn apart by?”

“By the hand of god.”

After thanking her, I left the assistant to store the evidence. On my way back through the lab, and while keeping on the latex gloves, I grabbed one of the many test-tubes, and slipped it into my coat pocket. There were security cameras in every corner on the facility, so I walked with a purpose, aware that someone, if not the lab girl herself, would notice my shifty fingers.

The two soldiers escorted me back to the interrogation rooms. There, Mr. Hastings was standing outside, reading some papers. “Thought you were at the scene of the crime.”

“Yeah, it was fascinating for all of two seconds,” I said, as the guards gave us some space. “So, I take it these guys were from one the nearby refugee camps.”

“No, not at all,” Mr. Hastings frowned. “You have a copy of the report in your hand, you know.”

“Everyone keeps saying that, but what part of French do you think I understand?”

“Oh, dear lord! You weren't given an English copy?! What's with all this disorganization?!”

“Tell me about it, I'm not even supposed to be here!”

“Well, these terribly disturbed chaps are all from Qatar.”

“Thought they only funded terrorism.”

“Seems like they're getting their hands grubby on this one.”

“You okay?” I asked, noticing the old guy's aggravated mood.

“Ah, stuff it,” he said, folding his arms. “Been told by the higher-ups that we need to immediately end all questioning. Seems like these two have some powerful friends. Their representatives are on their way here presently. It's just frustrating, you see, not being able to get to the bottom of it. And once there out of here, I'll never find out.”

“Let me get this right. The guy who actually witnessed the death of his buddy is still tight-lipped as fuck?”

“That's one way of putting it.”

“Give me five minutes alone with him.”

“I don't like the sound of that!”

“Just want to ask him a couple of quick questions. Just talk. I'll be polite.”

“I can't. Monsieur Jordan made it very clear not to let anyone talk to them while he's off site.”

“Fine, then. Let's just wait for him to get back. How long do you think until they're lawyers get here?”

“What do you want to ask him exactly?”

“You'll see through the mirror.”

“I'm not sure.”

“Trust me.”

“But Monsieur Jordan said no.”

“Aren't we all on the same side here?”

“Yes, but, I don't know about this.”

“It's why I'm here, isn't it?”

“I guess.”

“Give me five minutes, that's all. I'm not busy, and he's not going anywhere.”

“But they'll be here any minute.”

“So, let's fucking do this!”

“We don't even know if he speaks English.”

“Let me try.”

“Why bother?”

“If he won't talk, then it's just a waste of my time, and that's all I'm doing right now anyway.”

Shaking his head, the apparently honorable old guy, slowly lead me through the empty observation room to the side with the first interrogation room. He opened the door, saying, “For what it's worth.”

The neon lights bleached everything, and once the thick door was sealed shut, I felt like I was in a sound studio with insulated walls. The suspect was still seated and chained with the black bag over his head. Placing my folder to one side, I sat and rested my elbows on table, as I examined the guys subtle movements. I knew there were cameras behind the mirror, so I paused before I spoke. “Went to my first Passover dinner last night. The subject of kosher food came up in conversation, which led to the topic of pigs. I know it's a bit of a broken record when people try convincing vegans how delicious pork is, but the thing is, when I think of pigs and what's not kosher, it's Hanukkah that always comes to mind. You know, spilling pig's blood on the temple. Such a simple weapon, and yet such a great desecration. So, last night, I suggested that pig's blood should be used instead of pepper-spray against Muslim rape-gangs.”

Reaching forward, I pulled the bag off the bearded man's head. Squinting, the handsome young guy in his mid-thirties, found that I had already emptied the test-tube upon the table top, and a large pool of blood lay between us. All he did was slowly lean backward.

“Pig's blood,” I continued. “A weakness that both Muslims and Jews share.” While still wearing the latex glove, I slowly began running my finger tip through the blood. “Your pal, the dead one, the guy you saw get killed in the tunnel, what happened to him?”

Silence.

Pulling my hand away from the blood, I revealed the symbol that I had found tattooed on the dead man's scalp. “And what does this mean?”

A mumbling sound rose up from the prisoner's throat until it erupted into a high pitched scream! Thrashing in his chains, he lost all composure and began bleating in Arabic just like his horrified partner in the other room. The door suddenly burst open! Sweeping my gloved palm through the puddle, I deliberately sprayed the blood across the hysterical man's lap. Monsieur Jordan charged in with soldiers, and I was dragged out of my chair and pinned to a wall! The screaming prisoner was unchained and hurried out of the room within seconds! Yelling like usual, Monsieur Jordan grabbed my folder and threw it in my face as he ranted at me in French – until I raised my blood dripping glove. The massive man thrust himself ten-feet-away, his words squealing! Once he ran out of breath, he straightened his jacket, stormed out, and slammed the door shut!

The soldiers eased down, and I quietly removed the gloves with a self-satisfied smirk. The door opened again, gently this time, and in stepped Mr. Hastings, whispering, “Christ almighty! What was that all about?! I should have never let you in unsupervised!”

“All a bit of fun.”

“You just threatened a suspect while in custody!” Stuttering on his words, the old Englishman gestured toward the bloody table. “What did you write? What did you write in the blood? What did you show him?”

“Why, what did he say?”

“Can't turn my back on you for five minutes without you giving our main witness a fucking heart attack!” Mara yelled, walking in behind the shocked Mr. Hastings. “This was a mistake! I should have never brought you here!”

“Got him talking, though!” I said, before I leaned in with hateful spite and snarled right into Mara's face, “DIDN'T I!”

“We don't need him to talk! We have all we need! You're just causing unnecessary trouble like you always fucking do!”

And in turn, that shut me up.

-

I had been locked in the office where we had first met the unremarkable three, and without my cell, I eventually powered up the desktop computer. Twenty minutes later, in walked a fifty-year-old Frenchman in a dignified suit and tie beneath a brown raincoat. A white pointy beard faded up to a bald head, and he looked like he would have fit in comfortably at either a library and a fox hunt. “You are aware that prisoner's have rights, are you not?!”

Sitting back in the big black desk chair, I frowned, “Since when have terrorists been given human rights, least of all lawyers?”

“When they can afford them!” The attitude of aristocratic arrogance from that pot-bellied cunt, instantly fueled an urge to drown his bloated face in a bucket of cold puke. However, since being locked in that room, I'd come to appreciate the fragility of my unintentional deception. Prudence demanded discretion. Sitting patiently, I listened as the old Frenchman righteously lectured me, making disciplinary threats, and preaching about the finer traits of those whom practice faith in the chain of command. Without any retaliation from my unaffected silence, he eventually seemed to run out of steam. He ended up leaning both hands on the desk as if to emphasize his final point, but then he noticed the computer screen. “You're on suspension! What have you been up to?!”

“I don't work for you.”

“What have you come across? What is this? What are you working on?”

“An address.”

“How?! Where?!”

“There's this photo taken from some apartment in Paris. In the background there's this tower. Unusual architecture. Couldn't tell if it was a steeple or clock-tower. Googled through some searches, but the Eiffel Tower kept popping up, until finally, I recognized the silhouette in a thumbnail. It's the Church of Sainte-Odile. There's also a second photo taken from the other side of the apartment overlooking random rooftops. With the Google Maps Street-View it only took a few minutes to pinpoint exactly which building I was after.”

“And?!”

“It's the apartment on the east-side of the fourth floor of 29 Rue Descombes, Paris.”

“Why haven't you told someone already?!”

I smiled and just glared into the old guy's speckled eyes.

“We must alert the local Gendarmerie Nationale!”

“Why?”

“These could be the ones responsible for supplying the explosives!”

“It isn't,” I said, while the frantic old man held his iPhone to his ear, as he scanned Google Maps. I then clicked through different tabs on the browser, and image-search results for the Church of Sainte-Odile spread across the screen. I clicked another tab, and the original photo overlooking the rooftops presented itself on an Instagram page. I then clicked the mouse off of the selected photo, revealing the profile page of the Brazilian fashion model, Natalia Mallmann – who was currently based in Paris.

“What is this?!”

“Not who you're looking for.”

“How's she involved?!” the old man demanded, covering his phone with his hand. “Tell me, who is this women?!”

“Just another distraction.”

“This has nothing to do with the terrorists?!”

“No.”

“Why are you wasting my time?!”

“What's good for the goose.”

“Intolerable!” And the old Frenchman marched out and slammed the door shut! Staring at the photos of Nati, I wanted to grin, but I knew exactly where my obsessions had led me the last time that I stalked a girl in France.

A few seconds later, the door opened again, and in stepped the much more reserved Monsieur Jordan. He closed the door and stayed near the far wall, staring off to his left. Pouting, he struggled to think of the words in English, or perhaps muster up the courage to make an apology. Gradually though, he announced in a lulled tone of voice, “I am a catholic. I know you Jews do not share my faith, but I take these attacks personally, espeically here at my place of birth, as you must do so on your own soil.”

“I'm not a Jew.”

“Your people, like mine, protect what we hold dear.”

“I don't even look Israeli.”

“Are you listening?!”

“I'm no Special Agent in the ISB. That's Mara's thing, not mine. I just want to get the fuck out of here.”

“I don't have much time. Mr. Hastings played back the recording of your interview. He translated what the suspect was yelling. These men were on a suicide mission. But not for martyrdom. They were trying to escape from some kind of cult. The one you made talk, he said he saw his friend being ripped apart by unseen spirits.”

“Why were they trying to blow up the tunnel, then?”

The door swung opened once again, and an unknown man peered into the office. As absurd this whole dynamic was, from behind the desk, it began to feel as if this actually was my office. Monsieur Jordan awkwardly side-stepped his way out, as in turn, the rough-face man with gray stubble, moved inside and asked with an American accent, “Who are you?”

“Not whoever the fuck you're looking for!”

“You're a great help!”

Slamming my fist against the keyboard, I leaned forward and snarled, “What do you want?!”

“The guard's led me here!”

“Then get them to lead you the fuck back out!”

“They've already gone.”

“There aren't any guards at the door?”

“Left with your last appointment.”

“Fuck yes!” I jumped up and yanked the door open into that sterile corridor. “Let's blow this popsicle stand!”

“Sir, the embassy insisted I come straight here in person,” the American with square features explained, with his small black backpack slung over the same shoulder that his coat hung from. “First time in France.”

“Congratulations,” I sneered, hurrying after the fading sounds of Monsieur Jordan's footsteps.

“Hey, this isn't what I'm supposed to be doing! I don't want to be here, but everyone else at my station is away on vacation! So, forgive me if I'm not familiar with your protocol around these things.”

“What things?”

“This.”

“And what is this?!”

“Sir, an event that everybody seems to think has already been avoided, sir!”

“Yeah, it's all over,” I said, opening the door into the darkened observation room. It now lay abandoned with the lights and monitors switched off. Glancing back around the corridor, I scowled at the lack of soldiers anywhere. “And it seems that everyone's already fucked off without even inviting us along. Sons of bitches. There's no one here for you to talk to.”

“Sir, it's crucial that I speak with Arham, Adnan, and Azhar! I have to see them! This isn't over, sir! I have to speak with them about their pact!”

“Yeah, and I'd like to have some strong words with the goddess Fortuna, but hey, what are you going to do about it.”

“Hey! Listen! I didn't fly all the way across Europe for my health!” the well-built American stated, while he shook the same mugshots that I had been given in a similar plastic folder. “Sir, I need to speak to these three! Immediately!”

Glancing back into the interrogation rooms, I saw that the blood had already been cleaned. The place was utterly vacated, and not even Mara had come looking for me. Though, I couldn't blame her. She had a mission, and I was slowing her down. Without any job or current artwork to focus on, ultimately, what the fuck was my purpose?! And then it came to me, as if it had never left: I'm a sickfuck! Fixation always gestated within my unconscious even when I'm killing time. I needed to get to Paris and knock on Nati's front door! Turning to the big American, I then asked, “You wouldn't happen to have a car with you?”

-

On the drive toward Paris, the Ohio-born Mr. Walker handed me his backpack while he drove, and I pulled out several folders full of maps, satellite images, and photos of deserts. He had been based in the United Arab Emirates for the last six months. As an ex-military contractor, he bemoaned how he was usually part of some security detail chauffeuring the spoiled brats of billionaires. However, his current crew were assigned to tracking down the missing sons of three influential oil families. At first, everyone had assumed that they had been taken hostage for ransom. But in the mountains between Mecca and Medina, Mr. Walker's team learned that the three young men had in fact joined an unheard of fanatical cult. “The families refused to believe that their sons would simply forsake Islam. And after months with no leads at all, Adnan suddenly made a Skype call to his mother. Desperate, he insisted that the only way they'd ever be free of the cult was by killing the someone on board the train from London to Paris today.”

“So, you were the one who warned the French about the attack?” I asked, still studying the photos.

“No. Adnan only called yesterday afternoon. Being Good Friday, my whole crew had already checked out for Easter. By the time the family contacted me, you guys had already taken them into custody.”

“What kind of cult were they involved in?”

“What the hell is this?” Mr. Walker whispers, leaning forward in the driver's seat.

Suddenly two big black helicopters flew directly overhead and raced off further down the highway! The sound was horrendous and literally shook the car like jelly. They flew about two kilometers ahead of us and passed beyond the rise of a small hill before coming right down to land – that was when a blaze of gunfire flashed from both choppers! Once we raced to the top of the rolling farmlands, we realized that the choppers were coming down on the convoy from the facility. Police vans were spread across the highway and a car exploded into a cloud of golden flames! One chopper touched down as several individuals with guns spread out, shooting in all directions!

Two thoughts stabbed at my central nervous system. The first, was to back the fuck away from this war-zone, in case I inadvertently became the target a stray bullet. But then again, I had to assume that Mara was most likely somewhere in the middle of this royal fuck-up. Mr. Walker didn't seem even slightly conflicted, speeding straight toward the midst of the burning vehicles. Just as we arrived, the gunmen all climbed back into their chopper, before the two thunderous machines flew the fuck out of there. I sat for a moment, watching the helicopters ascend into the moody skies. However, without hesitation, Mr. Walker ran to the aid of the nearest casualties. Slowly, I stepped out of the rental and surveyed the surrounding turmoil. Black smoke gushed up toward the two whale-like choppers as they roared over treetops and headed south. Then I heard Monsieur Jordan screaming into his phone, while stomping about the wrecked vehicles with his gun in hand. The sound of screaming rubber drew my eyes to one of the few surviving police cars. Mara glanced at me from behind the wheel with a smirk of that's-what-happens, before she raced after the escaping choppers, off to do her job, whatever the fuck it is that spooks do.

Mr. Walker was taking charge like champion, as members of public came to assist the wounded. I spotted Mr. Hastings sitting on the road with his back against the blown out tires of a van that was resting against the concrete guard rail. He had the blood of someone else splattered across his face, and he was clearly in shock.

“How you doing?” I asked, taking a kneel next to the dazed Englishman. “Rough day, huh.”

He murmured something that I wasn't even listening to, until he spoke up, “I knew this girl who was raised in the countryside near Oxford. She lived a delightfully innocent life in her little bubble at her family cottage. Except. One day her mother suddenly died from a ruthless, undeserved heart-attack. My friend, she then spent the next year in hospital suffering from an acute depression brought on by such an unexpected tragedy. And yet. Once she finally got out of the private clinic. She killed herself.”

“Beautiful,” I smiled, still crouching in front of the traumatized old guy.

“Yes, I've seen some unsavory things. When I was fourteen, my best friend was this french lad. His father was a property developer. One day, his digger uncovered a completely buried World War 2 American tank. That night, my friend and I went to investigate this buried treasure. We had no idea. No idea that there was any risk beyond getting caught. It was so old. Rusted and full of roots. Oliver was only halfway inside the hatch, when it went off. Something detonated. An old shell presumably. Though, I've heard that sometime they would booby-trap their broken-down tanks during the war. Oliver's head instantly became a geyser of blood and guts right before my eyes... All is but vanity.”

Mr. Walker stepped over and checked the Englishman's pulse as he stared back at me. “They're gone for good. Those helicopters, they're my employers. Guarantee it. You'll never seen those two boys again.”

“Where did you find the pig's blood?” Mr. Hastings asked.

“If it was just pig's blood, I wouldn't have worn the gloves.”

“What pig's blood?” Mr. Walker frowned.

“Worked a treat,” Mr. Hastings chuckled with glassy eyes.

“Yeah, just look at how fantastic everything worked out,” I murmured, glancing at the bodies of French soldiers lying on the street next to all those crashed vehicles.

“I still want to know how Azhar was killed,” Mr. Walker stated.

I agreed.

“Why don't you ask their target?” Mr. Hastings offered.

Mr. Walker and I shared a perplexed look.

“Once you got Arham talking, I heard him screaming about the target, as he was dragged out of the interview room. It wasn't on the recording. Look, if you head back to Calais now, you'll make it in time to catch the tunnel train, and ask the target yourself.”

“Isn't there someone else picking up this guy?” I asked.

“Never got a chance to tell anyone. So, you'll do. But now, I just need a little nap.”

Standing up, I glared down the burning highway toward Paris, Mara, and my obsession with Brazilian models. But then I looked back at Mr. Walker's rental and the gravitational pull of my nagging curiosity. Clenching my jaw, I pictured the locked front door at Amelia's old apartment building in the south of France, and I was instantly filled with years of disgust.

“Are you coming?” Mr. Walked called out, as he helped Mr. Hastings through the devastation toward his car. “Let's go!”

-

“What happened to your partner?” Mr. Hastings asked, from the back seat.

“She's not my fucking partner!”

“Then, what is she?”

Groaning, I scanned the forest as we raced back to Calais. “We have an estranged de facto relationship.”

“Professionally speaking?” Mr. Hastings shook his head. “Your higher-ups fine with Israeli agents getting intimate?”

I noticed Mr. Walked glance in my direction for a moment.

“So where is she?”

“Fucked off after the choppers.”

“Didn't wait for you?”

“Never fucking listens to me.”

“Aren't partners meant to work together?”

“We're not fucking partners!”

“Sorry! Estranged team mates.”

“How can I put this. When you're dancing, you both can't lead. She is...” I paused to think of the right word. “Antithetical to inspiration.”

“Why do you stay with her then?”

“Because she's teaching me civility.”

“Shit, man!” Mr. Walker spoke up. “Snap the fuck out of it! You have one question to ask yourself: is your life better off with or without her!”

Considering the suggestion, I crossed my arms and stared at the darkened clouds that began pouring hard upon the Gare de Calais-Fréthun train station.

“What did Arham say about their target?” Mr. Walker asked, as he navigated around any traffic in our path.

“Nothing,” Mr. Hastings sighed from his slouched posture. “He was screaming all kinds of nonsense. Something about the Red Snake of the Pharaoh. He was adamant that they had to stop him.”

“Concentrate! Or this guy, he's going to slip right through our fucking hands!”

“I don't know what to tell you! He didn't say anything more!”

“He mentioned something about spirits,” I said, spotting the metallic train that was already pulling into the rain-washed station.

“Think Hastings!” Mr. Walker yelled. “What did Arham say?! Anything! Any detail?!”

“He just referred to the guy as the Red Snake! The Snake of the Pharaoh! That's a code-name, right? You're the god damned CIA, doesn't that mean anything to you?!”

The car raced into the huge parking lot but drove right up to the entrance of the station, where Mr. Walker ran onto the platform. I followed directly behind him, though, quickly noticed that our English companion had been left behind. A whistle blew, and I scanned the length of the train – just as Mr. Walker grabbed my arm and swung me around so that my back slammed flat into a wall! Dropping to my hands and kneels, I gagged for air as I saw Mr. Walker climb on board as the train pulled away. Clawing at the concrete with my fingers, I lunged after him, but I collapsed, unable to inhale.

There were people all around staring at me, but only Mr. Hastings slowly approached and extended a steady hand. “You know, he's wrong. He has a far too simplistic view of couples. If you feel that your role in the relationship isn't mutually respected, then all the external benefits in the world are ultimately worthless compared the underlying resentment.”

“How'd you know he was CIA?” I gasped, struggling to stand with my hands on my thighs, while we both watched the train shoot out of the station and into that torrential downpour.

“Wasn't it obvious?”

“I don't know. I don't fucking know anything,” I coughed, slowly standing up straight. “But do you what to know what I really want to fucking understand?!”

Mr. Hastings just shivered from the cold.

“What the fuck killed that cunt in the tunnel?!”

-

Upon departing the interogation complex, we had all been required to relinquish our digital ID cards, however, Mr. Hastings still had the paperwork needed to get us back through the now anemic security. We were soon in one of the white vans and driving back to the service building leading to that network of underground corridors connected to the Channel Tunnel. I still couldn't see the coast, and never cared to. But once we cruised closer to the chain-link gate, both Mr. Hastings and I focused on two figures standing in the rain. They weren't guards. Drenched, the two men stood facing the entrance to the service building. They only turned after our headlights consumed them, and we found them to be another couple of refugees.

“How'd they get past the barbed wire?” Mr. Hastings muttered.

“They've gotten through multiple countries already,” I sneered. “I think they can handle a few pathetic fences.”

The driver was not the same French guy who had taken me to the camp, yet he had a similar squint about the idea of getting out and opening the gate right next to those two. It was getting dark in the late afternoon, and I didn't feel like arguing, so I grabbed the key-card from the driver and stepped out into the rain. I said nothing to the refugees, but I never once took my eyes off their grisly brows. As menacing as they appeared, they didn't seem to want to make any kind of threatening gestures, and kept their distance. Once I slid the key-card into the ATM-like machine, the gate automatically began retracting. I waved the van in, though, waited for the gate to close before following the van. That was when the two middle-aged men grabbed the chain-link fence and started yelling at me in whispers. The rain had begun creeping down the tall collar of my black overcoat, but I moved closer to those two anyway. The wind was twice as loud as the men's strained voices, but even when I heard a word of two, I really had no fucking idea what language they were speaking.

“English?” I asked, expecting nothing.

The two black men slowly went quiet. The oldest held onto the fence and glared back with some kind of frustration gnawing at his otherwise stoic resilience. When I was about to turn away, the old guy yanked madly at the fence! I stopped. He then shook his head. I leaned away again. And this time, the guy shook his head much more vehemently.

“Do you know what killed that little fuck down there?!” I yelled, grabbing the fence and rattling it at the two men as they stepped away. “Speak up! What the fuck are you trying to fucking say?!”

They both just shook their heads.

“Great chat! Let's do it more often! You piece of shit!”

-

“Holy Mother of God!”

“I know, right,” I said, nodding, as Mr. Hastings stared dumbfounded at the extent of that enormous blood stain that reached so incredibly high and wide.

“Listen. This isn't for me,” the old chap spoke with a raspy voice, unable to take his eyes off the ceiling pipes painted in just as much gore as there was at his feet. “I'm not crossing that. This kind of thing, it's not. I haven't got the stomach for it.”

“It's dry, you won't ruin your shoes,” I assured him, though, the shiny surface of the blood still looked sticky.

“Don't!” Mr. Hastings barked, grabbing my arm, while also pointing to the distant end of the passageway. “Jesus! Is this what happened to those three?!”

“What are you looking at?”

“The security footage! Didn't you see it! We need to leave!”

I saw nothing.

“I don't know what that is!”

“What the fuck are you staring at?!”

“Can't you feel it?!”

Inhaling, I wrenched my arm free and scanned the marginally lit passageway that stretched off toward infinity. All the forensic equipment had already been removed, and there were no spotlights warming up the bleak surroundings. Apart from a temporary railing set up to warn off any unsuspecting janitors, the place was deserted. In fact, one end of that passageway looked like the mirror image of the other. Struggling to keep my temper in check, I slowly began saying, “There was this director who I used to work for. About ten years ago. Big Belgium guy. Once told me this story about visiting Auschwitz.”

“What the hell are you on about?!”

“His colleagues took a road-trip one weekend through Poland, when they suddenly decided to drop by the death-camp. None of them had ever been there, so thought, what the fuck. He told me that the moment they arrived, their previously upbeat mood was instantly shattered. Said that the atmosphere of that place was like an actual weight upon their shoulders. But you know, everyone's heard similar stories. And back in 2012, when I took a road-trip to Rostock with my girlfriend at the time, she asked if I wanted to pay a visit to the concentration-camp at Oranienburg. I'm told it's nothing as big as Auschwitz. Laid out in an interesting triangular design though. German efficiency and all. But do you know what I felt while walking beneath the 'Arbeits Macht Frei' sign hanging above the front gate? Do you know what I felt when I then deliberately stepped foot on the no-mans-land below the guard-towers? Do you know what I felt? I FELT FUCKING NOTHING!”

Mr. Hastings had slowly withdrawn from all the blood, an expression of perplexed dread set into his face.

“Now, tell me, what the fuck did you just see?!”

“Can your partner, at least, make you feel anything even remotely human?”

At times like these, when someone said something that cut to the bone, I had to remember that there were some truths that needed to be fully digested before I dug myself a grave with my impulsive fucking mouth.

“What kind of warped childhood did you have?”

“Fuck off!” I couldn't hold my tongue. “Fuck Freud! And fuck my nonexistent partner!”

“Why are you still with her?”

“I like her smile, much more than I give a fuck about people with their Freudian fallacies!”

“What's your problem with Freud?”

“My problem with Freud?! He focuses too much on childhood as the stem of all adult issues! I call bullshit on that! The most disturbing events I've ever encountered are fucking ongoing and far more formative the older I get! And those Freudians claiming that you can reconcile your past, are fucking hypocrites! If you're a Freudian, you're literally preaching how incapable you are of ever changing the past that fucked you up so badly, so you'll never escape it and forever be a fucking victim of your past! If you're a Freudian, then psycho-therapy is masturbation without catharsis! Fuck that shit! Childhood is only one part of a lifetime of fuck-ups, humiliations, and confrontations with your soul-destroying limitations! If your childhood was the only period in your entire fucking life that had the only fucking influence on your ability to deal with your ugly little fucking existence, then, son, you're suffering from nothing more than an extreme fucking case of arrested-development! Freudians are too fucking lazy to question the-here-and-the-now, where you might have to fucking discover that it's time grow the fuck up!”

“I'm not much of a spiritual man. Sometimes wish I was. Maybe Freudians could explain that as a flaw in my character,” Mr. Hastings whispered, continuing backwards. “But I believe those two terrorists, what they saw, it drove them mad. Haven't you had those dreams when something so completely impossible happens. Even if it's something small. But you're suddenly so utterly disturbed by what your brain can't logically grasp, that you're then totally riddled with an inexplicable fear? I believe they experienced something similar, just look at this! This happened! Even if you deny a reasonable lack of caution and it's emotional distress, that still doesn't make you immune to whatever did this extreme damage to a human body!”

“Humans are great at compartmentalizing the world into easily package narratives with beautiful structures and concise explanations. But the fucking reality is, we suffer from the curse of incomprehensible causation! No matter how much we fucking scrutinize, we merely scrape together fragments of fucking possibilities! We'll simply never fucking understand every factor involved in the instigation of circumstance! It's beyond our fucking perception! Yet we speak in certainties, like any one fucking person, or even a fucking collective, could see every influence rippling out endlessly in all fucking directions!” I yelled. “But tell me, what the fuck did you just fucking see?!”

“Moments,” Mr. Hastings said softly. “That's all we ever see. Patterns that we model into recognizable illusions. Illusions that we deceive ourselves with until we believe wholeheartedly that familiarity is the law. That is, until a greater force breaks through. And look what it's done to this poor son of a bitch.”

On that, I walked across the glistening blood. Turning around on the other side, I showed the old man my open palms.

“Be wary of dragons that humor fools,” Mr. Hastings whispered, as we both backed away from each other. “Not even Atropos can curb their wrath.”

-

After a few minutes of marching straight ahead, I glanced back. It all looked the same, and I couldn't even see the bloodstain anymore. Soon, I began wondering if I was wasting my time. What the fuck was I hoping to find? Whoever killed that guy was long gone. There was nothing down this tunnel but concrete and pipes. Besides, what the fuck would I do if I even came across someone? I should have brought Monsieur Jordan. That motherfucker at least had a gun. And then I began recalling my time on the North Sea, and how much I really didn't wish to return there, even though I was heading in that exact direction.

That's when I came across a junction in the passageway. For a second, I considered what would happen if I took a wrong turn and got lost. I dismissed it immediately. This was the basement of a train station, not the Minotaur's lair. Taking a left, I moved into a much smaller corridor with miles of exposed cabling hanging loosely from the ceiling's metal rafters. There was no reason to go one way or the other, so I just drifted on, until I saw an exit sign glowing in the distance – but it was the faint echo of a scream that ground my feet to a dead stop! My eyes peeled wide open as I stared back the way I'd come. Again that screech rang out meekly. I was pretty fucking sure that it was Mr. Hastings. Heading back, my dress shoes quickly sped up into a full-stride sprint. I pictured that those two refugees had somehow gotten inside and weren't exactly in the mood for sharing the enlightened philosophies of their enriched culture.

Running carefully down the main passageway, I didn't want my footfalls giving away my approach. The bloodstain passed by like a permanent marker in the landscape, and as I came to a turn in the route, the scream swung around a the corner, and old Mr. Hastings slammed right into me! We bother spun sideways! He slid to the floor, while I caught myself on a the conduits. Something else then struck my shoulder and sent me even further backward! Mr. Hasting shrieked again and grabbed my leg, yanking at my coat, begging for us to run! I flipped open the sheath at the back of my belt, and removed my black knife, while frantically looking back and forth for whomever had knocked me down. But there was no one else there! The old man didn't wait for me, but as I followed him, he stopped at the bloodstain.

“The fuck happened?!” I hissed, while constantly glancing to and fro. “What the fuck are you running from?!”

“I don't know! I don't know! I don't know!”

“Who the fuck did you see?!”

“I couldn't see it!”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!”

“Something! Something was there! I saw it!”

“Saw what?!”

“I don't know! I don't know! Please, we have to go! Please!”

“I saw a way out.”

“No!”

“What?”

“I can't!”

“What?!”

“Can't cross that!” Mr. Hastings blubbered, indicating toward the blood.

“Are you fucking with me?!”

And then I heard them. Like the guttural growls of lions making their presence known as they slowly approached. But there was nothing there! I rose from my hunched posture, as my knife-hand lowered. Whatever they were, there was a lot of them. The grunts from those unseen animals came from the walls and ceiling. Folding my knife away, I grabbed the old man and said, “I ain't dragging your fucking ass out of here! Fucking move!”

I did however, have to drag Mr. Hastings over the blood itself, but he soon found his momentum, and gave me a hard time keeping up with him. What is it that they say when you're being chased by a bear: you just need to be faster than your friend. What was the most disturbing, was that I could hear them coming! Paws or feet or whatever the fuck, came pounding against the concrete behind us. Claws scrapped at the walls. Snarling snouts loomed from above. There was a fucking stampede of wild beasts crashing down the passageway after us! I had neglected the gym during the winter months, and even though I'd recently begun working the treadmill again, my fucking legs were already failing me! Anger, however, replenished my adrenaline, and I drove past the old man. They could eat that fucking prick for all I cared, I was getting the fuck out of there!

We were at the junction in seconds, and I grabbed the corner, swinging around at breakneck speed, before lurching about the next corner. I heard Mr. Hastings hit the wall, where he was followed by a pile-up of whatever the fuck was chasing us. At no point did I have any desire in assisting the guy as he fell further and further behind. A cacophony of infuriated roars battled each other, and I imagined those things were having trouble all fitting into this much smaller passageway. It was only once I reached the exit and ripped open the door (which caused the place to fill with a shrill siren), that I looked back. Mr. Hastings was half running, half crawling toward me. His face was profane with despair. An emergency light flashed over the exit, yet the external forms and features of those creatures filling the passageway was something that my 20/20 eyesight couldn't fucking register. I'm not saying it was too dark down there. No more gloomy than any industrial facility. But in the strobe of the emergency light, I saw nothing at all behind us. There was just the unforgiving sounds of jaws snapping and the heavy bodies of dozens of those things swarming toward us. No wonder Azhar had been reduced to a liquid state within an instant. And I screamed to Mr. Hastings, “FUCKING MOVE!”

Yanking the old man through the exit, I slammed the door shut! That horde of unseen things tore into the walls and bashed at the door which buckled before my eyes, but they didn't seem to comprehend the mechanics that sealed our escape. There was only a ladder in that tiny space, which we climbed to a manhole. After struggling with the lock, I forced the manhole open, and I was suddenly drenched from the overflowing storm-drains. Freedom never felt to wet. Dragging myself up onto the concrete compound, I pulled Mr. Hastings after me. However, he had a huge gash in his back, but it was his split leg that looked much worse. His left calf had been slashed vertically.

Night had set in, and despite the howling siren, no security team came rushing to the scene. There was no choice other than to help Mr. Hastings hobble through the deluge and find ourselves some shelter before he bled to death.

“You happy now?” Mr. Hastings grumbled, as he limped with his arm around my shoulder. “What on Earth have those boys brought here?”

“Are you fucking kidding?!” I sneered, as we followed a tall chain-link fence that was hopefully leading us toward something. “What the fuck did you see?! All I fucking saw was fucking nothing!”

“Yes, well, what were you running from?”

“Years of suppressed existential hatred for my own insignificance!”

Then, through the evening rain, I saw a refugee in a hoodie, clinging to the other side of the fence. The old black man pulled his hood down as he spoke out loud. His was determined to be heard over the rain, as he glared at the sky with cataract-eyes. Mr. Hastings and I continued past that voice in the dark, until finally we saw the lights from a patrol car coming our way.

“My Amharic is a bit rusty,” Mr. Hastings said, as the headlights slowed down in front of us. “But you know, he was talking to you.”

“What?”

“Said, you must finish.”

“What fucking language is Amharic?”

“Ethiopian.”

“Get the fuck out of here!”

Two security guards ran over and took Mr. Hastings into their arms.

“Finish what?” I reluctantly asked, as I stood still.

“Finish the mirage. Yes, he said, mirage. Finish the mirage.”

“The fuck?!” I called out, while turning in the rain. Marching back to where that refugee had been standing, I heard the guards yelled at me. And I screamed in reply, “You'll fucking wait for me, you fucks!”

The old black guy was still next to the fence. The closer I got, the more scars I could see covering his blinded face. He then took a few steps away from the fence, muttering something under his breath.

“Have you seen the Ark?” I asked, slowly waving my hand in front of my own face in a mock gesture. “Did it do this to you?”

The patrol car then pulled up, and as it did so, the headlights revealed a mass of perfectly silent refugees standing behind the old man. All of them were staring directly back at me. He then repeated this words again, but ths time it was me who slowly backed away.

The two French guards said nothing as I sat in the back with Mr. Hastings who was now wrapped in a blanket.

“What's really going on here?” Mr. Hastings whispered, as he began to fade from consciousness. “I don't understand how any of this is connected. I don't know what to think. I don't know. I just. I just don't know. I don't want to.”

On the drive to the hospital, I wasn't interested in spending another minute in that fucking country. I had things to do. And as I thought of the last time that I had seen Lulu, a line from Heart Of Darkness, crossed my mind, 'I don't like work, – no man does – but I like what is in the work, – the chance to find yourself. Your own reality – for yourself, not for others – what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.'

-

Once I was on the train back to Berlin, I received a text message from Mara. She was just outside of Paris, where the choppers had gotten away from her, so there was nothing left for her to do.

I could have text her back, but I instead, I pulled out my Mp3 player, and listened to Sun Of Man, Desert.

So, the two surviving terrorists were gone, taken by Mr. Walker's employers, from either Qatar or the CIA. Though, who the fuck was Mr. Walker, and how was he invested in the unidentified target on the train? Ultimately, I still had no accurate idea of what the fuck had butchered the third terrorist, and then attacked Mr. Hastings and I. But then again, who the fuck was I to question any of this shit that I had absolutely no business being part of to begin with! There was no resolution here, and the public would never even hear about just another prevented disaster. However, what bothered me most of all, was how the fuck did Ethiopia keep popping up in the algorithm of my fucking life?! I had no fucking intention of ever traveling to that fucking shithole. Not yet. Not without more than the fucking tempation of unconscious innuendos. Not again.

Bruce

© 2018 BRUCE STIRLING JOHN KNOX