Authors: Derek Haines
'I've found that having no feelings about anything works best for me, and especially when it comes to people. Getting too close is dangerous, and muddies one's thinking. People come and go, that's all.'
'That didn't take all night.'
She smiled. 'No, it didn't, but I think my longer version would get repetitive and boring. Anyway, do you want to send a reply?'
'Oh, to the Sheik?' I said, picking up on her sudden change of subject. 'No, not just yet.' It was only for a second, but her eyes gave away her thoughts. It was too late by the time she looked away, and she knew it.
'Look, I'd better get going. I just wanted to let you know about the message,' she said, getting to her feet.
I rose from my chair. 'Ok,' I said, and came around from my desk and walked her to the door.
'I'll see you on Monday then, at the executive meeting.'
'Yes,' was all I said, as our eyes fleetingly met, which said a little more, before she turned and left.
It was Tuesday afternoon, two weeks later, when I met with Marcus that possibilities started to gel in my mind.
'It's in Turkey, but really it's in no man's land, as it's very close to the border with Syria and Iraq.'
'But you know who operates it, and how to contact them?' I asked him.
'More or less. Through a line of contacts, but the man you said had an Oxford accent is known as
. As far as we know, he runs the operation there and is the one who decides who he does business with.'
'A nasty little business, but I suppose quite a profitable one.'
'There are plenty of people who need information quickly, so I imagine so,' he replied, with his customary sniff.
'I can vouch for how rapid and effective his business techniques are.'
'Yes, I understand you went through a rough time.'
'Well, he wasn't the only offender in that regard. But forget about all that. Now, can you find out how he works? You know, how to make the necessary arrangements to use his services.'
'Can you give me a bit of an idea of what you want from him?'
'Accommodation for two, for three or four days.'
'I don't know yet. Just see what you can do.'
'Ok. Anything else?'
'The grey lady. Did you get any information about her?'
'She was just regular CIA. Hired by The Few to have a chat with you.'
'Ok, thanks. Look, has the Secretary spoken to you about my apartment in Neuchâtel yet?'
'Yes, he told me you want to keep it as a safe house, and that you might want to go back there shortly.'
'Yes. Can you arrange that for me? Perhaps this weekend, there Saturday and back Sunday.'
'Sure, but you're going to have a lot of company. After what happened, we won't be taking anything for granted.'
'You mean with Chara and Malcolm.'
'It shouldn't have happened, but we've fixed the cause,' he said calmly, but I couldn't help wondering if his fix meant that someone had got a bullet in the head. 'And you've been here for a few weeks now, so we have to get started on moving you around safely. A short trip to Neuchâtel will be a good security exercise for our people.'
'You make it sound like moving a prisoner.'
'Not unless you're planning to escape,' he said, with a wry grin.
'Not this weekend. I don't want to ruin your security exercise,' I said, in jest, but my thoughts weren't laughing. I was a prisoner for as long as I was the Strategos.
After he left, I went out to the terrace and walked down past the pool and into the meandering paths of the garden. It was overcast but fine, and without sunshine, the lake looked dark and murky. I walked on further, enjoying the fresh air, but not with a sense of solitude. Green poles dotted throughout the garden, all affixed with cameras, sent the clear message that I was never alone. I wondered who was watching me, when I was with Thalia. A horrid shiver ran down my spine.
Little conversation interrupted our dinner. Thalia felt like Chinese, so had arranged for someone to have it delivered from a local restaurant. We had both become very used to dialling nine for anything we wanted. Once we had finished, she cleared the table, and made coffee. Later, we both sat quietly in the living room, reading, and listening to Chopin.
'You're not happy, are you?' she asked, breaking the silence between us, without looking up from her book.
'What makes you think that?'
'Your eyes,' she said, now looking at me.
'I'm fine,' I lied.
'You're Soter, the Strategos, so you can do anything you want. That must be amazing.'
'Amazing? I don't think so. I feel more like a prisoner,' I said, and could have kicked myself for admitting that to her.
'Look on the bright side. You're the boss of the prison, and it's not a bad one to be locked up in. I mean, all walls are prisons in some way, either keeping people in or out. Maybe you just need to look at what you've got, rather what you haven't. And what you can do, rather than can't do. And at least you don't have to worry about paying the rent!' she laughed.
'I suppose so,' I said, managing a smile.
'Just do things. And if you can't, get someone else to do it for you. It's easy.'
'You make it sound easy.'
'You're Soter. So it is.'
'What Soter wants, Soter gets.'
'Exactly. I think you'll be much happier now,' she said, giggling.
'Ok then, I'll start with a new attitude in the morning.'
'Well, you could start much earlier than that. I'm very, very good at doing what Soter says,' she said, moving towards me, and then snuggling up to me. 'That's if you think you might need a little practice before the morning.'
I put my arm around her.
'I'm waiting,' she said, looking up at me.
'You're tempting me.'
'Yes, I can tell,' she said, as her hand slowly rubbed my groin.
While mildly exhausted, I started Wednesday morning with determination. Perhaps it was Thalia's doing, or maybe it was just that I had needed the time to adjust to my new reality. In any event, I knew exactly what I wanted now, and waited for Ellen to arrive for our regular morning briefing. When she arrived, I let her go through the items she had on our agenda, which included financial arrangements within the organisation and then about how political lobbyists were funded. She briefly discussed the arrangements for my short trip to Neuchâtel on the weekend, and then about the need for action to be taken against The Few in Australia. Apparently they had strengthened their position within the governing party, and there was a feeling amongst the Grand Councillors that this influence needed to be diluted, as it was adversely affecting mining company profits. Well, at least of those mining companies that we under the control of the Sons of Cleito. Once she had finished, I started on my agenda.
'Tell me what you know about Sa'ud bin ash-Sheikh.'
'Um, all right. He's rich, powerful, about forty-five I think, and has been at the head of The Few for about six years I believe. There's a file on him if you'd like to read it. I'm not an expert on him.'
'Yes, I'd like to read it. Can you get me a copy?'
'Sure. The one I have access to will probably be mostly published and well documented public information about him though. If you want to dig a little deeper, you'd probably need to ask Marcus. He should has access to the intelligence files.'
'Good. Could you ask him to dig up what he can for me?'
'Ok, I will. Is there anything in particular you're looking for?'
'I just want to have a much better idea of who I'm supposed to, well, be in balance with.'
'Yes, definitely a good idea,' she agreed.
'All right then, is there anything else?'
'No, I think that's …. oh, just one thing,' she said, and hesitated. 'I'll be going with you to Neuchâtel. Marcus sent me a message this morning.'
'Oh yes?' I asked, wondering why she needed to be involved.
'I think he wants to make sure I haven't forgotten how to carry. You know, a weapon, and perhaps also for us to …… to bury some old ghosts,' she said, looking down at her file, which I thought was to avoid looking at the surprise in my eyes.
'I'm sure there will be some damn ghosts. Being adducted, drugged, restrained and dumped are not memories that just go away. So will you be bringing the same charming company as the last time?' I asked, and couldn't help the sarcasm in my tone.
'Look, I just do what I'm told to do, and try to do the best I can, and it wasn't my choice to be involved in that. I don't get to make choices,' she said, without looking up from her lap.
'None at all?'
She looked up at me finally, and her hazel eyes that I thought could've cut my face that Sunday morning, glared at me again. 'No one born under Cleito ever has choices. You haven't had to live this life for very long, but I've lived it ever since I was born. I wasn't born Ellen fucking Reed, I was born Clytemnestra, and have lived every single day of my life doing exactly what I was told. Ok, you had a rough time of it for a few weeks, but what happened to you wasn't down to me. I didn't harm a fucking hair on your head. And really, you can't say it's turned out all that bad huh? You even get a pretty little bed warmer thrown into the deal,' she spat, bitterly.
'And a dead wife. A dead Chara. A fucked hand, and given a life sentence to sit on my arse here, doing fuck all except be some imaginary damn demi-god Soter concept to a bunch of lunatics. Yeah, all parts of a good deal?'
'Yes. You did get a good deal! At least you got forty-five fucking years taken off your life sentence. I didn't! And you don't think I haven't lost people close to me?' she said, with her eyes blazing in anger.
I held her angry stare. 'What do you want me to say? Let's just forget about everything and have a lovely little weekend together in my apartment in Neuchâtel, reminiscing about how nice it was that first day we met? And how sweet it was of you to bundle me off, and fuck up my life?'
'Do you think I like any of this shit? All I know is that we have to work together, so why don't we just get over it and forget about what happened? Your angry, I'm angry, but that won't solve anything. I can't change the past, so stop blaming me.'
'Who are you the most angry with? Me or the Sons?'
She jumped to her feet, and I had a momentary thought she was about to leap for my throat. Instead, she marched to the window of my office, and then stood, seemingly trying to calm herself. I could see her body heaving, as anger ran through her. 'He didn't want me, you know. He never accepted me. I would think you've at least had the decency to accept Thalia.'
'My father?' I asked, stunned by her sudden change of subject.
'He was a cold hearted bastard,' she said, bitterly, still looking out the window.
I waited. It wasn't a question, and I felt she was talking to herself rather than me.
'You wouldn't have any idea what it feels like to be told to lie with a strange man. Just open your fucking legs and let the bastard in. But as bad as that is, it's worse to……' she started to say, but I could see from her back, rhythmically heaving, that tears were falling. 'You have no idea,' she said, but now clearly through sobs.
My instincts told me to go and put my arm around her and comfort her. My sense though kept me seated. 'Was it the first time you'd been told to lie with someone,' I asked.
'Just me or the Sons of Cleito?
I could see she was now sobbing. I waited for her to recover, which took some minutes. She finally turned from the window and looked at me, with trails of diluted mascara running down her cheeks. 'I'm sorry,' she said, with her shoulders drooping like a rag doll.
'For what?' I asked, not moving from my seat.
'Oh fuck you Lang, she said, as she wiped the back of her hand across her cheeks, and walked over and sat down in front of me again. Her use of my name didn't escape me, as I couldn't recall her ever having used it before. She sniffled, and wiped her cheeks again. 'Happy now?
'That you're human after all?'
'And what did you think I was before?' she asked, through her tears.
'Why don't we just leave it at that Ellen? There's nothing I can say that will help, other than that I know a little more now. But that doesn't change what we have to do, unless you want to try and run from the Sons. You're in the same position as me; and you don't think I've wanted to walk out through the front gate? It's only the probability of a bullet in my head that stops me. If it helps any, it was Nelson who told me that he would have done it himself, if it was the right thing to do for the Sons.'
'Look, I'm really sorry about this. Can we just forget it happened? I'll be here in the morning, as normal for your briefing.'
'Nothing's normal anymore, and it never will be.' She nodded, still wiping away tears and mascara. 'And I suppose we'll just have to manage Neuchâtel as best we can,' I added, trying to stay calm, while my guts knotted themselves in cess pool of emotions.