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
I was never formally meant to be there, so officially I wasn't.
In the black and white CCTV footage, three men moved about a long concrete section of what looked like a wide industrial corridor. They had already dumped a pile a of crates and duffel-bags next to a wall of endless electrical conduits, when the loosely dressed men abruptly stopped in their tracks. After sharing a confused glance around their dimly lit environment, the bearded three continued with their labors. Less than ten seconds later, they reacted to something unseen on the silent footage. Suddenly they all shuddered again from something else. The closest to the camera grabbed his head as he immediately began backing away toward the camera. The guy in the middle took a few steps toward the distant third man – they both lurched and spun 180 degrees as if from 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 a fleeting expression of absolute horror! The middle guy 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 immediately the last man on screen fell back on his ass! 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. The faint rain on the French roads and frigid skies would have been better spent tucked into her huge blanket at home, but she looked just as cozy behind the wheel of the rental Mercedes. I was still dwelling on the conversation from last night's Passover dinner with the extended family of Mara's boss. I believe I was sitting across the table from the host's second-cousin from Austria. We 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 second book for Uncle Fingers, and showed him it on my website. He seemed impressed and asked about my marketing. 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 were 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 it was her mother speaking through her. The second-cousin looked genuinely appalled. But Mara was right. I agreed with her. And after this year's lack of studio work, and now that Uncle Fingers, Part 2, was done, I had decided to take and extended break from art, and reevaluate my future in Berlin, and in general. Yet as I watched the traffic thicken on that cold highway, I was nagged at by the second-cousin's counter-argument about life not worth living without your art. Could I seriously just stop working on what was ultimately be a waste of my time? And then 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 melancholy Ukrainian, we drove alongside the pitiful city of Calais.
The facility was large and flat from a distance, and fenced off with both wire and leafless trees. In the gloomy midday light it could have been a factory or complex of warehouses surrounded by morbid farmlands. At the first check point, where the armed French guards asked for both of our passports, I was zipping up my jacket, expecting to be ejected from the car; but instead, the gate opened and we were ushered inside. Keeping our passports on my lap, we dove down a ramp into an underground tunnel and came to second checkpoint. This time there were several 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 plastic ID cards with our photos on them. Mara looked just as surprised as I was by my clearance, but we said nothing as the serious military men directed our rental toward a parking space.
With our digital ID cards clipped to our lapels, Mara and I were led by two new French soldiers through a series of passageways, until, at another armed doorway, we were checked, frisked, and passed through a metal-detector. Once we secured our phones and my knife in tiny lockers, we were each handed a plastic folder. Mara just shrugged at this point. I began to assume that she'd only been called here for some unimportant matter of routine, yet why the urgency? Of course she had told me little to nothing about her abrupt call of duty, for as close as we were, I respected her professional boundaries, even if she didn't condone my personal privacy. I figured that if I really wasn't meant to be there, then someone would tell me to fuck off sooner of later.
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 obviously that the three men were abruptly unsure of how to welcome our daunting presence.
“Bienvenue, Special Agent Mara!”
The fucking French.
Mumbling something else, the first guy stepped up and shook our hands.
In turn, Mara asked if they spoke German? Apparently English was never an option.
I stepped back next to the two soldiers by the doorway, and kept my mouth shut. Opening my folder, I flipped through a pile of printouts, consisting of floor plans, mugshots, and then photos of a huge amount of blood! Without moving, I glanced at the three guys fumbling through their words with Mara. Flicking over the next couple of A4 photos, I admired that vast blackened puddle upon the concrete, until I spotted a severed human hand, and then a chunk of what looked like a length of spine. Skimming through a few more pages, I came to photos of an array of assault-rifles, as well as crates full of what looked like sacks of potatoes, but the colorful wires and electronics extending from the bags made it clear that these were homemade explosives – a fuckload of explosives! Instantly, I became aware that I definitely shouldn't be looking at this sensitive material.
A knock at the door announced the entrance of a messy-haired, six-year-old chap in a tweed vest and brass-framed glasses, with the posture of a ninety-year-old. “Oh, hi! Apologies, for my lateness. Hastings.”
Shaking his very soft, British hand, I kept quiet. He looked like he had just woken up and even had a crease on his forehead from where he'd been sleeping.
“I miss anything? Everything's running behind, you know, long weekend. But could have been worse, huh.”
No one else join his nervous laughter.
“Sorry... Shall we?”
The three paper-pushers led the way, Mara and Mr. Hastings making small-talk, and two soldiers following behind me, as I began to get completely disorientated in those hospital-like corridors. I wanted to gain Mara's attention and suggest that I wait in the car, but everyone continued through more and more guarded double doors, until we all packed into a room without lights next to a classic two-way mirror looking into two interrogation rooms. Four other men already stood inside, but no one shook anyone's hand. It was going to get hot in the cramped space, and the arguments broke out before the door 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 and egoistical authorities, just as the door into the adjacent room opened. Everyone grunted and twisted their shoulders toward the two-way mirror.
Two French soldiers (or maybe these were cops), in navy-blue uniforms and 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, seemed molded directly out of the floor. The uniformed men exited the room, before a middle-aged man in casual clothes entered and sat opposite the prisoner. The words were in French, calm, and without reciprocation. The hooded prisoner made no signs that he was listening or even alive.
Another light soon came from the second interrogation room. A second two-way mirror peered in, and there an identical procedure happened. However, this prisoner constantly flinched at every sound, lurching when he was shoved into his chair. His breathing was anxious and loud over the speakers. A different interviewer joined the second prisoner, finding his subject more than willing to blubber and answer anything asked. I can't speak a lick of French, but even I could tell that this prisoner had a strong accent of something – not French.
My fascination with this situation quickly ran out because to the language, but 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, after all. Without a chair in sight, I flipped through the folder again while leaning against a wall. 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 skull. It was about the size of the palm of your hand, and beneath the wet black hair was some kind of tattoo. Going over the rest of the folder, I was disappoint that I couldn't find a better photo of that chunk of human scalp.
A door opened to my left, and I only looked up due to the oncoming Frenchman's voice that was as shrill as it was directed at my ear. 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 style that everyone else in the building was lacking. Two of the armed men posted nearby, started closing in on me as 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! This Monsieur Michael Jordan was practically shouting an inch from my face, as he ripped his own ID card off his lapel and waved it about furiously 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 have 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.”
“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.”
“No clue as to whom exactly.”
“So this isn't your day-job?”
“Oh, heavens, no.”
“Who's position are you covering for, then?”
“You're guess is probably more informed than mine. With the Easter weekend, and the fact that the incident's already been prevented, 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 endless 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...”
“What did these two do?”
“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 you been involved in?”
“Including this one?”
I wanted to suggest a high-five, but my lack of sleep figured 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.”
“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 facility were transported across the compound by vans to a large service building that was surrounded by another tall prison-like chain-link fence. Once inside, we headed into an underground network storage compartments, until we were finally walking along a two-story high passageway that twisted and turned past rooms that sounded like generators and vast clusters of plumbing. 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-happy-horse-shit-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 till this national security business was taken care off by the actual professionals. Nope. So fuck it. I would see where this ride would lead, but the moment boredom sunk in, I'd jump ship like I gave a fuck.
There were more guys in navy-blue balaclavas guarding that meekly lit service tunnel. The small, widely spaced emergency lamps cast deep shadows within the walls that were ribbed with thick metal pipes which could have been for air-conditioning or 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 a nuclear bunker beneath a mountain.
Monsieur Jordan was marching in front, 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 chunk 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 you might finally put your mettle to the test. Most humans float by like bubbles of inconsequential fecal matter. I'm sure it's one of those classic guy-things that girls and soy-boys would scoff down at, mocking that you alone could never fend for yourself! But from my experience with hostiles, as long as you stand your ground, you mostly never need to even raise your fists. Mostly. 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. And yet, the unconscious response was as undeniable as it was required to be kept in check, or else I wouldn't still be the good looking son of bitch that I am to this day!
After we followed a twin passageway, we came to several free-standing spotlights and a forensic team dressed in white coveralls and safety glasses. Most of the group were interested in the crates that had previously housed the explosives, however, I saw a far more arousing stain further along. There I came to the bloody death scene of the third suspect. Sweet baby fucking Jesus, the photos had failed to capture how fucking enormous the mess was! The floor was utterly soaked five meters deep, but the liquid also coated the walls, pipes, and right over the distant ceiling!
A forensic guy stepped over, and while I was still staring upward I asked him, “What kind of bomb would do this to a body?”
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 in here. 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 if I could walk across the 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 quietly approached.
“Yeah,” I smiled, turning face-on with the bland Frenchman. “Where the fuck is everyone?”
Immediately, the forensic guy backed away to his work, while the bald guy sneered and muttered in French toward his hands. Correcting his language, he looked me in the eyes, “Things are, how you say, up in the air since France expelled four Russian diplomats due to the tensions over the poisoning in England, and now we have this. Everyone is reluctant to trust anyone. Though why you Israelis were recommended, 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.”
Despite the fact that everything in the folder I had been given was in French, I leaned in close and whispered, “Just between you and I, what do you think this is all about?”
The middle-aged Frenchman 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. 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 so much blood right next to us. “What happened here. To this sack of shit?”
“You play with matches, as you say.”
“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...” He glanced 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 does this to flesh and bone?”
“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 exactly?” I asked without looking at him.
“On whose authority do you deserve such answers?!”
“As Gerry Spence would say, 'I am for me, as you are for you, the only authority.'”
“What do you think you are achieving by being here?!”
“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 the fuck 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.
Glaring away from Mara, I clenched my jaw at her message at mostly at me.
“Is that understood?!” she repeated.
“Abso-fucking-lutely!” I sneered. “See you back at the fucking car!”
On the drive away 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 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 van doors. More and more groups of black men with sour pink eyes leered at the van as it cruised closer to what I then realized was one of those sprawling refugee camps that I'd seen on the news. A unnaturally colorful slum was a more accurate description. The stench was something film crews failed to capture. Trash coated the street the further we went. 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, and then slowly turned toward our approach. The driver started shaking his head and yelling in French, as about fifty men with metal clubs in their hands came from our left. The driver was panicking, and I was seriously doubting that the van had bullet-proof glass. Reversing, the driver quickly swung the big van around, however, 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, 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, with bodies like rubber balls tumbling off the sides! In another moment we were out of the camp and back on 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 friend bunch of fucking cunts, aren't they! ”
Something then smashed into the rear window, shattering it!
“Sacrebleu!” I screamed. “They come in peace!”
Back at the interrogation facility, I was led by a pair of soldiers down more identical corridors until they opened a door into a lab. They waited outside while I glanced about the large room devoid of life. “Hello? Bonjour? Anyone?”
“Hey, hi, how's it going?” I smiled, as a young woman in glasses and lab coat poked her head around a corner. She was sitting at a work station, still typing into 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.”
On the other side of the lab was a hallway to a small morgue. The lab girl with a blond ponytail 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 cold bone felt icy through the gloves. The black hair was stiff as the blood on it had frozen, making it tricky to part the strands.
“So what do you reckon happened to this asshole?” 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 I'm asking is, what's your personal opinion?”
“I'm not a train 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 in consistent with explosives, but the lack of trace evidence makes it appear as if he had been killed by a pack of large predators. There are even lacerations on a few bone segments that appear to be from claws. But not even animals can cause such instantaneous destruction. It's almost as if he was spontaneous torn apart by...”
Placing the piece of skull on the table, I asked, “Torn apart by?”
“By the hand of god.”
After thanking her, I left her to store the evidence. On my way back through the lab, and while keeping on the latex gloves, I grabbed on of the many test-tubes, quietly slipping it into my coat pocket. There were security camera's 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, where Mr. Hastings was standing outside reading some papers. “Thought you were all over 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 do have a copy of the report in your hand, you know.”
“Everyone keeps saying that, and what part of French do you think I read?”
“Oh, dear lord! You weren't given an English copy? What's with all the 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, picking up on the old guy's aggravated mood.
“Ah, stuff it,” he said in a huff, folding his arms. “Been told by the higher-ups to end all questioning. These guys seem to have some powerful friends. Their representatives are on their way here presently. It's just frustrating, you know, not being able to get to the bottom of it. Once there out of here, I'll never find out what the deal was.”
“Hey, so, just a moment. Let me get this right. The loud-mouth will spill his guts about fucking goats on the regular, but the one 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 other than myself in while he's off site.”
“Fine then. Let's just wait for them to get back. But you're the one stressed that their lawyers are on the way. How long do you think until they get here?”
“What do you want to ask him exactly?”
“You'll see... Through the mirror.”
“I don't know.”
“But Monsieur Jordan said no.”
“Hey, aren't we all on the same side here?”
“Yeah, but, I don't know.”
“Why else would I be here?”
“Do you have any suggestions on how to get him talking?”
“No, but, I don't know.”
“Give me a few minutes, that's all. He's not busy after all.”
“They'll be here any minute.”
“So let's go.”
“We don't even know if he speaks English.”
“Let me try.”
“If it's just be a waste of my time, then no problem, that's all I'm doing right now anyway.”
Shaking his head, the apparently honorable old guy then 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 the sickly green walls, and once the thick door sealed shut, I felt like I was in a sound studio with insulated walls. The suspect was still chained with the black bag over his head. Placing the folder to one side, I sat and rested my elbows on table as I examined the guys subtle movements. I had seen the camera's from behind the mirror, so paused before I began to speak. “Went to my first Passover dinner last night. The subject of kosher food came up in conversation, which led to the topic of pigs. A broken record with people trying to convince vegans how delicious they are. But when I think of pig's 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. So last night I suggested that it should be used instead of pepper spray against rape-gangs.”
Reaching forward, I pulled the bag off the bearded man's head. Squinting, the handsome young man in his mid thirties found that I had already emptied the test-tube upon the table top, leaving a large pool of blood lying between us. He swallowed and slowly leaned backward.
“So you do understand English.”
He remained silent, focusing on the dark puddle.
“Pig's blood,” I continued. “A weakness that both Muslims and Jews share.” Using my index finger in a latex glove, I slowly began running my finger tip through the tacky blood. “Your pal, the dead one, the guy you saw get killed in the tunnel, what happened to him? You saw it, didn't you... And what does this mean?” Pulling my hand away from the blood, I revealed that had drawn the symbol that I had found tattooed on the dead man's scalp.
A mumbling sound rose up from the prisoner's throat until it erupted into a high pitched scream! Thrashing in his chains like a frantic marlin, he lost all composure and began bleating in Arabic just like his horrified partner had done so in the other room. The door suddenly burst open! Sweeping my gloved palm through the puddle of blood, I deliberately sprayed it 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 delirious prisoner was unchained and hurried out of the room within seconds! Yelling like usual, Monsieur Jordan grabbed my collar and ranted at me in French. It all seemed more to impress his subordinates, and make a good show for the surveillance cameras – until I raised my blood dripping glove. The massive man thrust ten feet away, his words squealing! Once he ran out of breath, he straightened his jacket, and then slammed the door shut as he stormed out!
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.
“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!”
“Got him talking though,” I said, leaning in with hateful spite as I snarled into the face of that sniveling old Englishman, “DIDN'T IT!”
Stuttering on his words, the pale guy gestured toward the bloody table. “What did you write? What did you write in the blood? What did you show him?”
“What did he say?”
“Can't I 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!”
“And yet I still managed to get your fucking suspect to open his fucking mouth!”
“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. It was only twenty minutes later that in walked a fifty-year-old Frenchman in a dignified suit and tie beneath a large brown raincoat. A white pointy beard faded up to a bald head with white plumbs of hair on either side hanging loosely over huge ears. He looked as though he would have fit in comfortably simultaneously at 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 some!” 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 appreciated the fragility of my unintentional deception. Prudence demanded discretion. Sitting patiently, I listened as the old Frenchman righteously lectured, make disciplinary threats, and preached about the finer traits of those whom practice faith in the chain of command. Without any retaliation from my unaffected silence, he finally seemed to run out of steam. He ended up leaning both hands on the desk as if to emphasize his point, when he noticed the computer screen. “What have you been up to?! You're on suspension!”
“I don't work for you.”
“What have you come across? What is this? What are you working on?”
“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. Would have been easier if I had Photoshop or something to crop the pic and drop it into the search window. Anyway, it's the Church of Sainte-Odile. But there's also a second photo taken from the other side of the apartment overlooking random rooftops. With the Google Street View it only took a few minutes to pinpoint exactly which building I was after.”
“It's the apartment on the east side of the third or 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!”
“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 on the computer. I then clicked through another tab on the browser. Image search results of the Church of Sainte-Odile spread across the screen. I clicked another tab. 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 of the Brazilian fashion model Natalia Mallmann, currently based in Paris.
“Not what 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?!”
“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 knew where my obsession led the last time I stalked a girl in France.
A few seconds later and the door opened again and in stepped the much more reserved Monsieur Jordan. He closed the door and stood 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. “I am a catholic,” he gradually announced in a lulled tone of voice. “I know you Jews do not share my faith, but I take these attacks personally in my place of birth, as I am sure you must 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 even 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, man.”
“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 to become martyrs... But because they were trying to escape from some kind of sect... The guy you got talking, 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 again without even a knock, and an unknown man peered into the office. As absurd the the whole dynamic was, from behind the desk it began to feel as if this actually was my office.
Monsieur Jordan awkwardly side-stepped out, as the rough-face man with gray stubble moved inside and asked in a clean American accent, “Who are you?”
“Not whoever the fuck you're looking for.”
“You're a great help!”
Slamming my fist against that chunky keyboard, I leaned forward watching Monsieur Jordan depart, as I snarled, “What do you want?!”
“The guard's led me here.”
“Then get them to lead you the fuck out of here!”
“They've already gone.”
“There aren't any guards at the door?”
“Left with your last guest.”
“Fuck yes!” I jumped up and yanked the door open into that sterile corridor. “Let's blow this popsicle stand!”
“The embassy insisted I come straight here in person,” the American with square features explained, hurrying behind with his small black backpack slung over the same shoulder that his coat hung. “First time in France.”
“Hey, this isn't my thing. Everyone else at my station was away on vacation, so forgive me if I'm not familiar with your protocol around these things.”
“And what is this?!”
“An the event that everybody seems to think has been avoided.”
“Yeah, it's all over,” I sneered, opening the door into the darkened observation room. It now lay abandoned with all 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 me. Sons of bitches. There's no one here for you to talk to.”
“No, it's crucial that I speak with Arham, Adnan, and Azhar. I have to see them. This isn't over, sir. I 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 bluntly stated, while he shook the same three mugshots that I had been given in a similar plastic folder. “I need to speak to these three! Immediately!”
Glancing back into the black interrogation rooms, I saw that the blood had already been cleaned. The place had been utterly vacated and not even Mara had come looking for me. Though, I couldn't blame her. She had a mission, and I was merely object in the way. Without any job or current artwork to focus on, what the fuck was my purpose?! And then it came to me as if it had never left: I'm a sickfuck! Fixation gestates in my unconscious even when I'm killing time. I needed to get to Paris and knock on Nati's front door! Because I found her! Because I could! “Say... Have you got a car?”
“Of course. You know where the three are being transported?”
“Scratch Azhar off your list.”
“Guy's become the picture perfect definition of 'getting liquefied'.”
On the drive toward Paris, the Ohio-born Mr. Walker handed me his backpack while he drove. 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 assumed that they had been taken hostage for ransom. But in the mountains directly between Mecca and Medina, Mr. Walker's team learned that the three young men had joined some unheard of fanatical cult. “The families refused to believe that their sons would simply forsake Islam. But there was nothing to go on after the mountains. 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 was by killing the someone on board the train from London to Paris.”
“So you were the one who warned the French about the attack.”
“Not at all,” Mr. Walker shook his head. “ Adnan called yesterday afternoon. 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 got about a 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 from this war-zone in case we inadvertently became the target a stray bullet. But then again, I had to assume that Mara was most likely somewhere in the middle of that royal fuck-up. Mr. Walker didn't seem even slightly conflicted, speeding straight toward the heart of the bullet-hole-shredded vehicles. Just as we arrived, the gunmen all climbed back on their chopper and the two thunderous machines flew the fuck out of there. I sat watching the helicopters ascend while leaning away into the moody skies, though without hesitation, Mr. Walker ran to the aid of the nearest casualties. Slowly, I stepped out or the rental and surveyed the turmoil. Black smoke gushed upward as I continued watching the two whale-like choppers roar over treetops and head south. There I heard Monsieur Jordan screaming into his phone, he was stomping about the wrecked vehicles with his gun in hand. The sound of burning rubber drew my eyes to one of the few surviving police cars as it screeched across the asphalt and shot after the escaping choppers. Mara glanced at me from behind the wheel with a smirk of that's-what-happens, and then she was gone, off to do her job, or whatever the fuck spooks do.
Mr. Walker was taking charge like champion, and as more traffic pulled over, other members of public came to assist the wounded. I saw Mr. Hastings sitting on the road with his back against the blown out tire of a van that was resting against the concrete guard rail. He had the blood of someone else splattered across his face, and was clearly in shock.
“How you doing?” I asked, kneeling 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 country just outside of Oxford. She lived a delightfully innocent life in her little bubble with her family in the 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 got out of the private clinic... She killed herself.”
“Beautiful,” I smiled, still crouching in front of the traumatized old guy.
“Yeah, 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 had to investigate this buried treasure. We had no idea. No idea there was any risk beyond getting caught. It was so old. Rusted and full of roots... Oliver was only half inside the hatch when it went off... Something detonated... An old shell presumably... I heard sometime troops would booby-trap broken down tanks during the war... Oliver's head instantly became a geyser of blood and guts... All is but vanity.”
Mr. Walker stepped over and checked Mr. Hastings' 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 boys again.”
“Where did you find the pig's blood?” Mr. Hastings asked.
“If it was pig's blood I wouldn't have wore a glove.”
“What pig's blood?” Mr. Walker frowned.
“Worked a treat though, didn't it,” Mr. Hastings chuckled with glassy eyes.
“Yeah, just look at how fantastic everything worked out.”
“I still want to know how Azhar was killed?” Mr. Walker asked, standing up and looking around the crashed vehicles.
“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. 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. But you're here. So you'll do. Now I just need a little nap.”
Standing up, I glared down the jammed highway toward Paris, Mara, and my obsession with Brazilian supermodels. But then I looked back to Mr. Walker's rental and the gravitational pull of my nagging curiosity.
“Are you coming?” Mr. Walked called out, as he helped Mr. Hastings through the devastation toward the car. “Let's go!”
Clenching my jaw, I pictured the locked front door at Amelia's apartment building in the south of France, and instantly I was filled with years of disgust. “Fucking cunt!”
“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 forests 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 already pulling into the rain-washed station.
“Think Hastings! 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 fucking CIA, doesn't that mean anything to you?!”
The car whipped into the huge parking lot but drove right up to the entrance of the station. Mr. Walker bolted for the platform. I came running up directly behind him, but quickly noticed our English companion had been left behind. A whistle blew and I looked toward 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 collapsed, unable to inhale.
There were people all around and 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 into that torrential downpour.
“Wasn't it obvious?”
“I don't know. I don't fucking know anything,” I coughed, gradually standing up straight. “But you know what I really want to fucking understand.”
Mr. Hastings just cringed as he shivered from the cold.
“What the fuck exactly killed that asshole in the tunnel?!”
Upon departing the facility, I had been required to relinquish my digital ID pass, however, Mr. Hastings still had the paperwork needed to get us back through the anemic security. We were soon in one of the white vans driving back to the service building leading to that network of underground corridors. Cruising closer to the locked chain-link gate in the growing thunder storm, 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 once our headlights consumed them. It was a 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 guy who had taken me to the camp, yet he had a similar hesitant 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 the refugees, and 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 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. Even though the wind was twice as loud as the men's strained voices, I really had no fucking idea what language they were speaking.
“English?” I asked, expecting nothing.
The two men slowly went quiet. The oldest held onto the fence and glaring back with some kind of frustration gnawing at this otherwise stoic resilience. When I went to turn, the old guy yanked madly at the fence! I stopped. He then slowly shook his head. I leaned away again. And the guy shook his head vehemently this time.
“Do you know what killed that little fuck down there?” I yelled, grabbing the fence and rattling it at the two men who took a step away. “Speak up! What the fuck are you trying to fucking say?!”
They both shook their heads.
“Great chat! Let's do it more often! 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 reaching 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 blackish 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. This is 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. All the forensic equipment had already been removed, there were no bright spotlights anymore 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 the mirror image of the other. Struggling to keep my temper in check, I slowly began talking, “There was this director who I used to work for. About ten years ago. Big Belgium guy. Once told me a story about visiting Auschwitz.”
“What the hell are you on about?!”
“Him and his colleagues were taking a road-trip one weekend through Poland, when they spontaneously decided to drop by the death-camp. None of them had ever been, 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 on their shoulders. Everyone's heard similar stories. But you know, back in 2012, I took a road-trip to Rostock, with my girlfriend at the time. On the way back, she asked if I wanted to pay a visit to the concentration-camp at Oranienburg, the closest to Berlin. With my old director's story in mind, I was absolutely keen as fuck. It's nothing as big as Auschwitz. Laid out in an interesting triangular design. German efficiency and all. But do you know what I felt 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 camp walls? 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 says something that cuts to the bone, I have to remember that there are some truths that need to be fully digested before I dig 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 two shits about the Freud fallacy.”
“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 damaged you, so you'll never escape it and forever be a 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 singular period in your entire life that had the only fucking influence on your ability to deal with your ugly little fucking life... 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 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 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, but look at this... This fucking 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!”
The old guy struck a chord with me.
“Perhaps you have a point about Freud. Humans are great at compartmentalizing the world into easily package narratives with beautiful structures and concise explanations. But the reality is, we suffer from the curse of incomprehensible causation. No matter how much we scrutinize, we merely scrape together fragments of possibilities. We'll simply never understand every factor involved in the instigation of circumstance. It's beyond our perception. Yet we speak in certainties, like any one person, or even a collective, could see every influence rippling out infinity in all directions.”
“So what did you just 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. Quickly 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 of concrete and pipes. And besides, what the fuck would I do if I came across someone? I should have brought Monsieur Jordan. That motherfucker at least had a gun.
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 a train station, not the Minotaur's labyrinth. 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 meek but distinctly through my clenched neck. I was pretty fucking sure that it was Mr. Hastings. Heading back, my polished dress shoes sped up into a full-stride sprint. I pictured that the two refugees had somehow gotten inside and weren't in the mood for sharing the enlightened philosophies of their enriched culture.
My legs drained of energy running down the main passageway, but I also didn't want my footsteps giving away my approach. The bloodstain passed by like a permanent marker in the landscape, and as I came to the 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 wall conduits. Something else then struck my shoulder and sent me even further back! Mr. Hasting shrieked again and grabbed my leg, dragging at my coat, begging that we run! I flipped open the sheath at the back of my belt, and removed my black knife, while frantically looking back and forth for whatever had knocked me down. There was nothing! The old man didn't wait for me, but as I followed him, I saw him stop at the bloodstain.
“The fuck happened?!” I hissed, opening my blade 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!”
“I don't know! I don't know! Please, we have to go! Please!”
“Okay, fine. I saw a way out.”
“Can't cross that!” Mr. Hastings blubbered, indicating toward the blood.
“Fuck's sake! 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, my blade in 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! Move!”
I did however, actually drag Mr. Hastings over the blood itself, but he found his momentum, and gave me a hard time keeping up with him. What do they say when you're being chased by a bear? You don't need to out run it, just be faster than your friend. What was the most alarming, was I could hear them coming! Paws or feet or whatever the fuck came pounding against the concrete behind us. Claws scrapping at the walls. Snarling snouts looming 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 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 behind. A cacophony of infuriated roars battled each other, and I imagined those things had trouble all fitting into this much smaller passageway. It was only once I reached the exit and ripped the door open (which caused the underground 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 things 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 basement. But in the strobe of the emergency light, I saw nothing 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. And I screamed, “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, but didn't seem to comprehend the mechanics that sealed our escape.
We climbed a ladder to a manhole, forced it open, and were suddenly drenched from the overflowing storm-drains. Freedom never felt to wet. Mr. Hastings however wasn't so lucky. A huge gash in his back poured blood down his clothes, but it was his split leg that looked much worse. His left calf had been slashed vertically, like a hot-dog bun cut wide open and gaping full of fresh ketchup. Night had practically set in, and despite the howling siren, no security team came rushing to the scene. I had no other choice than to help Mr. Hastings hobble through the deluge and find ourselves some shelter.
“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 hopefully led to something. “Did you fucking see anything? 'Cause all I fucking saw was fucking nothing!”
“Yeah, well, what the hell were you running from?”
“Years of suppressed existential hatred for my own insignificance!”
Then, through the evening rain, I saw another refugee in a hoodie, clinging to the other side of the fence. The old black man pulled down his hood and spoke out loud. His voice was determined to be heard over the weather, and glared at the ground with cataract-bleached pupils. Mr. Hastings and I continued on by that disturbing 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 eased up. “But he was talking to you.”
“Said you must finish.”
“What the fuck language is Amharic?”
Two security guards ran over and took Mr. Hastings into their arms.
“Finish the mirage... Yes, mirage. Finish the mirage?”
Turning in the rain, I marched back to where that refugee had been standing. The guards yelled out as they put Mr. Hastings in the backseat, and I screamed in reply, “You'll fucking wait for me, you fucks!”
The old black guy was still standing next to the fence. I could see that his face was brutally scarred below those blinded eyes. Once I got closer, he 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 pull up, and as it did so, the headlights revealed a mass of perfectly silent refugees standing behind the old man. He repeated this words again, but I slowly backed away. The two French guards said nothing as I sat in the back with Mr. Hastings' legs wrapped in a blanket on my lap.
“What is 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 saw 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 from Mara. She was outside of Paris, the choppers had gotten away, and there was nothing left for her to do.
I could have text her back, but I didn't.
The two surviving terrorists were gone, taken by either Mr. Walker's Qatar employers, or those in the CIA. Though, who the fuck was Mr. Walker, and what was his investment 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 Christ, who the fuck was I to question any of this shit that I had absolutely no business in asking?!
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?! Because I seriously had no fucking intention of ever traveling to that fucking shithole... Yet.
© 2018 BRUCE STIRLING JOHN KNOX