Monday, 8 November 2010

Chapter 6

Chapter 6:

Jo sat on one of the bunk beds, a middle aged paramedic gently disinfecting the wound on her forehead.  Plump and jovial she did her best to put Jo at ease.  Jo winced and she mumbled an apology.  She was extremely lucky she knew, the knife had sliced open the skin barely an inch above her left eye, scoring a line two inches long but hardly any depth.  Despite the amount of blood the paramedic assured her that she would be fine, at only one point had the knife truly sliced into the skin and that would only required two stitches.   She had grimaced as he had inserted the needle and thread into her skin, but the pain wasn’t as bad as she had expected.

Instead her attention was drawn to Dirk, chatting amicably to the police.  The story he had told the police was mostly true, differing from the version of events that she had witnessed only slightly.  His revolver was omitted in its entirety, as was the fact that he had switched the turtle statues, without actually stating it outright he gave the police the definite impression that the thief had made off with the real artefact.  He was recounting his brief encounter with the assassin in the storage room, pulling open his shirt to display the Kevlar vest, her attention riveted when she realised the paramedic was asking her to take her shoes off.

Snapping her eyes away from Dirk she returned her attention to the paramedic, she was smiling conspiratorially, “He has that effect.”  Jo blushed deeply, “No, I wasn’t…”
“Of course not dear, now I need to have a look at that ankle, can you get your shoe off or do we need to cut the laces?

Leaning down Jo undid the laces and tried to gently ease the trainer off her left foot, the small movement sent pain lancing up her leg and she swore.  She loosened the laces again, this time, biting her lip she managed to pull the shoe off, followed by her sock.  Her ankle was swollen and mottled with shades of blue and brown.  The paramedic gently took it in her hands and manipulated it.

“Doesn’t feel broken, a minor sprain I’d say.  Can’t say for certain till we get you an x-ray, but it doesn’t look serious.”  Reaching into the bag beside her she pulled out a roll of bandage and started to strap Jo’s ankle tightly.  Jo’s hands had already been seen to, the splinters carefully removed with tweezers.  Her right hand was raw and tender, and a lay of antiseptic had been applied, followed be a thin bandage, Jo clenched her fist now, the pain was minimal, but the hand felt clumsy, her left hand had escaped relatively unscathed, just a large errant splinter had been removed from under the skin. 

The paramedic finished with the bandage, gave Jo a quick glance from head to toe, “That’ll do for now.  You should get that ankle x-rayed, but apart from that there’s nothing worth bothering about.”  Dirk, seeing the Paramedic standing started to walk over, accompanied by two men.  One tall heavily built, with blonde hair cut short and dressed in a police uniform.  The other looked in his 60’s, a bald head bobbling above a face with a perpetually quizzical expression.  A luxurious moustache grew long, drooping over his mouth, his suit was brown and faded, Jo was sure it would have been fashionable in the 80’s.  Or maybe the 70’s.

“Jo, this is Detective Inspector Peterson of the Met, and Sir Jeremy Bentham, Head of Antiquities upstairs.”  He gestured to each man in turn.  “Gents, this is Jo Jenkins, she found her way down her shortly before me, tracking a man she knew to be a murderer if you would credit it.”  She found herself telling the men of her days exploits, with Dirk interjecting frequently, asking her to clarify points he felt were of interest.  Shortly she found herself starting the story again, this time recounting the coffee shop in Algiers with Dirk prodding her for every fact she could remember about ‘Dead Eye.’  When she reached point in the tale at which Dirk entered she followed his lead, omitting mention of the gun and the second turtle.  Everything else she dictated to the best of her ability.

The detective wrote copiously in a small notepad he produced from within his jacket, interjecting occasionally, Sir Bentham however stood silently, his eyes unfocused.  Only once did he speak, quietly asking Jo if she could recall any more of the overhead conversation in Algiers, at her negative reply he resumed his quiet musing.

Finishing her tale the detective closed his notebook, “Thank you for your co-operation, obviously there is more that we need to discuss, if we can continue this conversation back at the station….”

Dirk cleared his throat, interrupting Inspector Peterson in mid flow.  “Come now Pete, she’s been through a lot today; surely this can wait until tomorrow?  Give the girl a break.”

The inspector hesitated for a moment, his eyes moving between Dirk and Jo.  “Of course Dirk.” He removed a business card from his pocket and proffered it to Jo.  “If you could give me a call tomorrow please.”

Jo nodded mutely.  Dirk raised his hand and offered it to her, “Can I give you a lift home?” 

Picking up her shoe and putting her arm around Dirk for support they moved together to the stairs leading up to Gilberts shop.  Jo looked at Dirk, “I’ll never make it up there.”

“Sorry, but forensics are still investigating the store room, we’d better slip out this way.”  Before she could reply he had his arm around her waist and lifted her up.  As he climbed the stairs, she asked “Detective Peter Peterson?  Really?”

Dirk just grinned. 

Reaching the top of the stairs Dirk gently set Jo back on the floor.  Several Police officers were moving around the room, near the doorway a sheet covered something on the floor and Jo averted her eyes.

“Come, let’s get out of here” Dirk intoned.  Holding her arm they stepped through into the shop and out the front door.

Chapter 5

Chapter 5:

Jo was waiting at the base of the stairs as Dirk descended.  A look of fear on her face that subsided as Dirk entered the bunker.  She was leaning against the wall. Her injured foot rose off the floor.  Blood plastered her hair to her face, obscuring the vision in her left eye, but she was once again holding the timber in her hands, raised to swing at the tunnel entrance.  For an instant her arms tensed, beginning to bring the timber in another downwards arc, but she arrested the swing upon sight of Dirk.

Gratefully she released her hands, letting the timber clatter to the floor and eased herself down after it.  Her hands slick with blood she cradled in her lap, and finally she let herself cry, releasing the tension she had been building all day.  Dirk stood uncomfortably for a moment, before awkwardly patting her on the shoulder.  He stood like that for a minute, allowing her the catharsis of her tears, as her breathing slowed and she started to lift the sleeve of her jacket to wipe her eyes he stepped away.  Turning his back to allow her to compose herself he walked over to where the small satchel dropped by the man he suspected to be Granby lay. 

Picking it up him turned it over in his hands.  A foot wide, maybe 8 inches high it was made of fine brown leather, a loose flap could fold over with a small silver buckle to secure its contents.  The buckle was intact, with the leather unbroken, only Dirk’s interruption of Granby had made him rush, his urgency not allowing his time to secure the bag fully.  Opening it Dirk examined its contents, within it was lined with black felt, a handful of cotton wool layered the bottom, presumably to provide some protection for its intended contents.  Behind him he could hear Jo getting to her feet and he turned.

“He got away then?” 

Dirk mutely nodded. 

“Who was he?  What was that he dropped?”  She hesitated and looked around her.  “Where are we?”

Dirk held up her hand forestalling any more questions. “I believe that was ‘Dead Eye,’ I’m not sure, I only know of him through whispers and his reputation, but the dagger, the stylish suit… I’d say that’s our man.”  He walked across to where the assassin’s hat lay discarded on the floor and picked it up.   “A trilby, don’t see many of those around these days.”

He turned the hat over in his hands a few times, running his fingers along the band inside and feeling the quality.  “Good work as well.  As to what he was after, well…” He reached into his pocket; withdrawing a small stone statuette he held it out to Jo.  “I believe it was this.” 

Jo’s jaw dropped.  “But I saw him with that in his hand, I saw him leave with it!”

“He left with something,” Dirk murmured, “but it wasn’t what he thought it was, I swapped this with a fake last night.  He’ll figure it out soon enough, but it should buy me some time.”

“Time for what?”  Jo reached out and took the carving from Dirks outstretched hand.  It was an exquisitely carved turtle, 4 inches across.  It was carved of what appeared to be dark granite, its head outstretched, fins splayed open.  Its front fins reached forwards, the left one running alongside the head, the right one reaching at a wider angle.  The rear fins were similarly asymmetrical, one straight, the other bent.  The entire impression being given of a creature caught in motion.

Its shell was inlaid with delicate whorls of jade and copper, cunningly set flush into grooves carved into the stone.  They traced out a delicate pattern that hinted at images that never seemed to resolve to the eye.  Jo stared at it for a moment, undecided on whether the pattern was there to represent something, or was merely random geometric shapes.  Its head, unlike the rest of the carving was simple and unadorned, it looked unfinished compared to the rest of the piece.  A rough splinter of stone, a crooked triangle ending in a sharp point, two beads of jade forming its eyes being the only adornment.

She turned it over.  The bottom of the statuette was as unfinished as the head appeared.  The base roughly smoothed to a flat plane, but no decoration or detail had been added.  She repeated herself, “Time for what?”

Dirk shrugged.  “No idea, but I’ll find out.”

“Good.  That bastard tried to kill me!  I saw him kill that poor woman in Algiers!  If I can help at all let me know.”

“Poor woman?  You obviously never met Marcella, but that’s another matter.  Come, I’ll get you out of here before the police arrive, you don’t want to be involved in this.”

Jo’s face set into a scowl and Dirk realised he had made a mistake.  “I meant…”

“I know what you meant Dick!  You think I’m some shrinking violet that can’t look after herself!  Well I’m not.”  She thrust the stone turtle back into his hands.  “Who the hell do you think you are to talk down to me.”  Forgetting herself she stamped her foot on the ground, lifting herself to her full height to stare him in the eyes.  For a moment she held herself there, before the pain in her ankle made her wince and she stepped back to lean against the wall.  Unconsciously wiping her hands on her jacket smearing blood across it.



“It’s Dirk. Not Dick.  Dirk Jones, I don’t believe I have introduced myself properly.”  Reaching up he removed his tatty fedora and bowed. 

“Dirk then.  Who are you?” Again she glanced around.  “And where the hell are we?”

“I’m an archaeologist Jo, or at least I try to be.  These days I find myself more in the odd job business.  As to where we are?  I believe we are in a World War Two bomb shelter. At a guess this was one of Churchill’s secret ancillary bunkers.  Must have been top secret to have been forgotten after the war.  Through that tunnel you’ll find yourself in the basement store rooms of the British Museum.  I’d kill to know how Dead Eye found out about this.”

“Odd jobs?” Jo enquired.

“I find things.  Not quite your standard field work” he patted the revolver sticking out of his pocket, “but it pays well, and I get to claim expenses.  At this particular moment I am trying to track down a certain manuscript from Algiers, however I think I may need to up my fee.” 

Suddenly Dirk stiffened, the sound of voices could be heard echoing through the tunnel, coming from the direction of the museum, “Bear with me a second.”  He walked over to the desks set alongside the wall, pulling open a couple of drawers and shutting them.  The third he opened seemed to meet his approval, removing his revolver he pulled the drawer out fully and dropped the gun into the compartment behind, swiftly followed by the stone turtle.  Replacing the drawer he turned to Jo and winked comically, a finger over his lips as a variety of police and security guards came rushing out of the tunnel.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Chapter 4

Chapter 4:

Jo swallowed, tried to speak.  Her throat refused to open, a small croak all that she could muster.  The man took a step forward, stepping out of the halo created by the bare bulb behind him.  The silhouette resolved itself in a hard looking man, six foot plus tall, dressed in a long trench coat, a wide brimmed leather hat set low on his brow.  The hair that escaped it was cut long for a man, falling across a lean tanned face in long black strands with just a hint of grey, the face itself was stern, with 3 days of stubble coating his cheeks, a shaggy goatee framing a tight, humourless mouth.  His eyes were dark and passionless, brooded over by thick, dark eyebrows, they seemed to be measuring her and finding her wanting.

"Well?"  His voice was low, but intense.  The gun in his hand was held stock still, with not a hint of wavering.  Her eyes were drawn from his face again to stare into the barrel.

"I...  I got lost" Her voice stammered into life before faltering again. "I..."
"I've seen you before."  A quizzical expression appeared on Dirks face, "Algiers.  I remember your face from the papers.  You were a witness to the murder of DeGras."  It was statement not a question. "What are you doing here?  And make it good."

"I saw him...  The killer I mean.  I was just walking and I saw him.  It was the same man I saw in Algiers."  Her injured ankle sent a jolt of pain up her leg.  She winced and for a second thought she would fall.  "I hurt my ankle, may I?  She tilted her head towards the nearest bunk bed, her hands still raised.  Dirk indicated assent with a curt flick of his gun and she gratefully stumbled across, letting her hands drop to lower herself.  The antique looking wooden frame of the bed creaked alarmingly for a second before settling into silence.
"I wasn't sure it was him at first, I followed him, I wanted to make sure before I called the police."  Dirk stood mutely, his silence making her uncomfortable, encouraging her to talk to cover up the silence.  "I was going to call the police, but then I didn't know what to say, and then I broke my phone."  Tears started to creep from her eyes.  "Please don't kill me, I didn't see anything, please just let me go."  A sob wracked her frame.

Dirk lowered the gun.  "Dirk Jones.  You didn't mention your name.  Jenna?  Jane?  Something like that isn't it"

"Jo.  Jo Jenkins."  Her hand betrayed her, lifting to wipe her tears away, her eyes never leaving the revolver.

"You saw a man you know to be a killer and followed him into what could have been his lair?  You are either incredibly stupid or incredibly brave.  Or you aren't what you say..."

"It's the truth, I swear it."  Her voice was suddenly cut off by a low thud echoing through the tunnel.  They both felt the ground shake and a haze of dislodged dust fell from the ceiling.  Dirk moved faster than Jo could ever have believed, his body spun with a blur, the gun whipping around as he dropped to a crouch.  His eyes alit upon another smaller tunnel exiting the bunker, twin to the one through which they had entered. 

"Get out of here!  Go to the police" he growled, stalking across to the exit he flung himself against the wall, his head peering around into the darkness.  The dust was worse here, and Dirk could see little beyond a few steps.  Glancing back at Jo he ensured she hadn't stirred, then taking a deep breath he stepped into the smoke.  Stalking forward, his left hand lightly brushing the wall, his right held out on front with the revolver ready to fire he felt the tunnel curve to the right, and after a hundred paces made out a flicker of light ahead.  More steps and the light resolved itself into a ragged doorway; a thick metal door lay on the ground, its rectangular shape distorted as if ripped by a great force.  Dirk sniffed the air, a sharp tang indicating to him the aftermath of an explosion, from the shape of the door he guessed shaped charges of C4.

Swiftly he stepped to the doorway, the smoke clearing to show a basement room, packed with filing cabinets and storage crates all in neat rows.  One filing cabinet lay face down on the floor, from its position it would have covered the doorway, the force of the explosion pushing throwing it into the room.  Dirk swore, he recognised the layout, this was one of the basement storage rooms of the British Museum, and he knew what the thief was after.   It looked like Mickey the Rat was right after all.  Dirk looked at the filing cabinet closest to him, a neat printed label affixed to the top drawer stated "Assyrian tablet.  Circa: 750 BC" A glance at the open shelves, items neatly stored, often in glass cases or bagged showed an array of similar artefacts from the ancient Middle East

Dirk paused, scanning the layout of the museums lower levels through his mind, he was sure he knew where the thief was heading, running to the far side of the room Dirk kicked open the door and sprang through, he leapt to his left and charged down the wide corridor he found himself in, sprinting he counted off the doors to his left and right, at the 5th door on his right he slowed down, stepping lightly he slowly crept up to the 6th door.  A small sign pinned to it stated "Storage Room 8b:  Islamic World"  to his dismay he could a slumped body lying just outside the open door, the guard he'd specifically requested the museum to place outside this room this night.  He hadn't truly believed in the need, but Dirk was nothing if not thorough.  Nevertheless it looked to be too little.  The guard hand was outstretched, still clutching the small can of pepper spray, all that the museum would allow as means of violence open to its guards. 
Dirk tightened his grip again on the revolver, it was strictly illegal, no permit had been, or ever would be issued for such a weapon in the country, but the British Museum would not be the first institution to have turned the other eye at its use, nor would the Metropolitan Police.  Dirk had scratched their back enough times over the years, and spared the embarrassment of the British Government more than once, enough at least for his methods to be tolerated as long as they did not cross some ill defined lines.  Dirk felt confident that its use tonight would be ignored if needed. 

From within the room he could hear the sound of a steel box being opened; taking a deep breath Dirk stepped into the doorway.  "The game is up Granby."  He pointed the gun in the direction of the noise.  Pain lanced into his chest, Dirk felt the dagger punching through the thick fabric of his coat and punch into his chest.  The force drove him to his knees as a foot swept up to kick the gun from his hand, it flew to the left, impacting the floor with a thunderous bang as the bullet discharged to shatter a bas relief carving, splinters of stone scattering.

A body clad in a pale suit followed the foot, thrusting Dirk to the side and sprinting down the corridor.  Dirk lay still for a moment, his breath ragged as he fought down the pain.  His hand lifted to his chest, probing the hole in his trench coat.  "Thank God for kevlar," he muttered, pulling himself to his feet.  His chest hurt like hell, bruised, possibly a broken rib or two, but better than a hole in the heart, his mind raced as he looked to retrieve his gun, then he remembered the woman he had left in the bunker, swearing again he started to sprint after the fleeing figure.

He raised his gun, loosed a wild shot that caused the thief to flinch before ducking into the doorway leading to the tunnel.  By the time he reached the doorway Granby was out of sight, Dirk paused to listen, the sound of running footsteps echoed from the tunnel and Dirk started to run into the darkness, once again his left hand brushing the wall, in the first few metres he stumbled twice in the darkness, forcing him to drop his pace to a jog, for a moment he considered using the lighter he had taken from Gilbert to illume his way, but the risk was too high.  Then from up ahead he heard a scream, the sound forcing him to throw caution to the wind and start to run again.


Jo had sat in the bunk bed for maybe 30 seconds, breathing slowly to try to calm her frantic heart.  The man who had spoken to her left her bewildered, despite the gun and the grim look there was something about him that attracted her to him, made him trust her.  He had her under his power, a gun to her head and he had released her, even telling her to flee, instinct told her he had nothing to do with the pale man she had been trailing.  And he had wanted the police involved.  She started back up the tunnel she had entered from, took two steps before her ankle gave way.  Tears filled her eyes as she looked upwards, she could crawl up, but no more than that, and the dreadful though of the pale man catching her as she struggled her way slowly up the stairs was too much to bear.

Reaching down she rubbed her ankle, before hopping back into the bunker, she flinched as a muffled retort echoed from the direction Dirk had run, followed several seconds later by a louder one.   Frantically she searched the bunker, her eyes alighting on several fallen, pieces of timber.  Breathing hard she hopped across to the nearest piece, reaching to grab it her ankle gave way again, dropping her to her knees, a small cry escaping her lips.  Gritting her teeth, using the timber as a crutch she forced herself upright and hobbled across to stand by the tunnel entrance, her back to the wall she prayed silently.

After what seemed an eternity running footsteps echoed and Jo tensed herself, balancing on her good leg, lifting the timber above her waist, held in both hand.  Her hands clenched tightly, blood started to seep across her palms, her skin ripped by splinters.  A pale shape came running out of the tunnel mouth and Jo swung the timber at its legs with all her might, a scream of panic voicing her fear.  The impact wrenched the beam from her hands; the man stumbled, pitched forward and dived into a gymnasts roll.  His hat dislodged and still running he turned, releasing the knife in his hand, sending it speeding through the air towards her in one fluid motion.    

Her ankle saved her, she stumbled to her left and the blade glanced across her forehead, scoring a thin line of blood, impacting against the wall where her head had been an instant before.  The bag the man had dropped skittered across the room, the impact splitting it open and a small stone carving rolled along the concrete.  Already the man was drawing another knife from his belt as he dived towards the statuette, he landed heavily the rough floor tearing the fine linen of his suit as his outstretched hand clasped around the piece.  Clasping the statue to his chest he gracefully rolled over, arresting the slide and leapt to his feet.

His grip on the knife in his handed shifted to a throwing position and he looked at Jo, his arm starting to swing when, with a roar, Dirk charged into the room, his gun in hand he fired two quick shots, the first striking the wall, the second thudded into the shoulder of the pale man, the force of the impact spinning him around, the knife flying wildly to the left of Jo.  Dirk paused, the sight of Jo lying near the entrance, blood pouring down her face distracting him.  In that instant the pale man, blood staining his shoulder dived in the tunnel, Dirk fired another wild shot and gave chase, through the tunnel and up the stairs.

 Several times Dirk caught a glimpse above him but the curve of the staircase served to frustrate him, hiding him from his pursuer.  Dirks ribs ached as he climbed, he stumbled several times, and each time he heard the footsteps ahead further away.  A long clang awaited him as he reached the summit, stumbling found himself faced with a closed door, the sound of a deadbolt being drawn the final insult.  With a curse Dirk kicked the door twice in frustration then turned to wearily walk back down.

The Dagger of Saladin Chapter 3

Chapter 3:

Dirk Jones pulled his trench coat tighter around himself.  The gusting wind and rain ever trying to force its way through its thick fabric.  His fedora was pulled low over his brow, almost to the level of his eyes, making them appear even darker than usual.  As he walked down the street his eyes scanned in all directions, if Mickey the Rat was correct then tonight was when Granby was going to make his play.  Dirk knew he all the bases covered, but he also knew than he'd rather not fall back on them.  If he could take Granby down tonight then he could blow the cover off this whole syndicate. It was strange he mused, 3 high profile thefts and yet none of his usual contacts had any information on the motives behind them, hell, no one could even guess who was behind them.  And since Algiers with the rumours of the involvement of Granby the staked may have been raised higher than he ever expected.

With sunset he had been standing silently in the shadows, watching the shop front.  Gilberts Stamps and Coins was well known to Dirk, he himself had purchased some astounding Cuneiform just the last year, he'd turned it back over to the Iraqi authorities, after all, they had been paying his wages, but  that was not the point.  He had kept Gilberts involvement silent, sure, Gilbert was a fencer of stolen goods and had his fingers in many illicit deals, but he was a known quantity.  Dirk and Gilbert may work on different sides of the law, Gilbert dealt in stolen goods, Dirk made a living in recovering them, but there was mutual respect.  Gilbert provided Dirk with the rumours and sold him back the stolen goods cheaply, in return Dirk left Gilbert alone.

But this was different, the Ibn Batutta manuscript and, if Dirk's information about a hit on the British museum were correct, then Gilbert was entering a new league.  Fencing some artefacts stolen by British soldiers in a war was one thing, but getting involved in major thefts to order was something new.  It unsettled Dirk; something stank about the whole scenario.  The rain increased in intensity and Dirk pulled himself deeper into the shadows, he'd seen a well dressed figure enter the shop hours earlier, and he intended to catch the figure on the way out, but something was wrong.  Granby's business in the store, whatever it was should not have taken this long.  Dirk was getting ready to move from the shadows and investigate the shop closer when he saw a lithe figure cross the road in front of him and pause in front of the window, he could see little in the darkness, a tall woman, her hair plastered to her head, peering in the window before moving over and opening the front door.  She looked nervous, her movements hesitant and Dirk pondered who she could be.  A new player?  He hoped not, something about this situation was off already without further complications.

For a minute he stood silently, reaching into his pocket and checking his old service revolver was still there.  Wrapped in oilskin it should have survived the worst the weather could throw at it, pulling himself under the eaves of the building he was leaning against he unwrapped the gun, checked that it was dry and loaded and walked across the street.  Reaching Gilberts Stamps and Coins he slowly pushed open the front door and stepped in, pulling the door closed behind him.  He had only taken two steps into the store when he heard a muffled thump, followed by a scraping noise and he froze his gun in his hand, his body dropped to a crouch.  Slowly he counted to ten, his eyes scanning the room, as far as he could see nothing looked untoward, no signs of a struggle or looting, everything in its place as could be expected during the day.  Which was all wrong, Gilbert was notoriously paranoid, the moment 5:30 pm came the blinds should be down, the coins and stamps locked in the safe.

He could hear occasional furtive noises from the next room, which Dirk from experience knew provided Gilbert with an office / lounge hybrid, after a second they ceased, keeping the gun raised in his right hand Dirk crossed the room silently, before reaching with his left hand to push the door open.  He was not surprised to find it unlocked, and it swung silently open a foot before meeting resistance.  Again Dirk paused, before lowering himself to the floor, his head close to the ground and he peered around the door.  He found himself face to face with Gilbert, Gilbert's dead eyes staring straight into Dirk's.  He froze at the sight, his mind racing, so Gilbert had been a pawn as well?  What was happening?  Scanning the room he found it silent and still, again nothing appeared out of place in the gloom. 

Silently Dirk stood up again, and pushed the door open wider, allowing room for him to enter fully.  Reaching down he patted Gilbert’s body, as he had dreaded he found a single hole punched in Gilbert’s chest, a single stab wound above the heart.  A swift search of his pockets revealed nothing apart from a lighter, packet of Marlborough Red cigarettes and Gilbert's wallet.  The chain keyring that Dirk knew never left Gilbert's belt was nowhere to be found.  Dirk frowned and opened the wallet, a small amount of cash and some receipts appeared to be all within, Dirk pocketed it for a proper inspection later and walked over to the stairs, gazing up at the light before resuming his search of the room.

Another stumbling noise sounded and Dirk swung around, his gun raised and ready to fire.  This had come from the doorway under the stairs, the one always kept locked with the massive deadbolt and padlock.  Dirk had always assumed that was where Gilbert had his safe, it had never been unlocked that he had seen, Gilbert's paranoia had reached new heights whenever that doorway had been involved.  Dirk could see in the dim light that the bolt was drawn back and the padlock lay discarded on the floor.

In two steps he reached the doorway, crouching low he pulled the door open, blackness and silence were all that greeted him.  His hands explored the entry, his finger brushing against a small switch and a series of lights blossomed.  Dirk swore, any chance he had of surprise ruined by a careless movement of his hand.  Still, he thought, if he hadn't knocked the light me may have found himself at the bottom of what appeared to be a steep set of stairs with a broken neck.  Swiftly had started down the stairs, abandoning full stealth for speed, his feet pattering quietly on the steps, his gun held out in front of him.   Reaching the bottom he though he must be deep below London, he had descended much further than he would have expected a basement to be.  What secrets had Gilbert been hiding?  This tunnel looked old, and the larger one it opened into even more so. 

Dirk stepped into the larger tunnel, ahead of him he could see the same woman that he had seen enter the building ahead of him.  She stood favouring one foot; her left leg raised slightly, her head turning wildly scanning the room.  His own eyes took a second to gaze around and he was shocked at what he found.  He immediately recognised the bunk beds and the furnishings as World War 2 era, this must have been a bunker during the war.  And given it's location it could only be the lost British Museum bolt hole.  He had heard of it years ago, but any inquiries he had made were denied vehemently by everyone he spoke to.  Everyone knew that a secret bunker beneath the British Museum where some of the most prized artefacts had been stored during the blitz that doubled as a secret escape tunnel was just a story, yet here he was standing in the middle of it. 

There was much to think about here, but first he had to deal with the woman standing astounded in front of him.  Raising the revolver he pulled back the hammer, the click sounding loud and echoing in the tunnel.

"You have ten seconds to explain yourself."

The woman froze, turning she raised her hands, a look of absolute terror crossing her face.  Dirk half expected her to faint.  She was dressed in jeans and trainers, with a long winter overcoat pulled closed across her neck, her damp hair was plastered to her face, the entire image being one of a bedraggled drowned rabbit caught staring into the headlights of an approaching car.  Dirk stood, with his gun still pointed, "Well?"

Chapter 2 -2.

Jo fell to the floor, her arms flailing in front of her trying to cushion the impact.  To her surprise she found herself falling largely onto the same item that had tripped her.  Her waist and chest cushioned with her right arm and shoulder taking the brunt of the impact on the floor.  A small groan escaped her lips but otherwise her fall was essentially quiet. 

Swiftly she tried to rise to her feet, her foot stepping again on something that weakly moved under her before she rose.  She could hear the door starting to close to the front of the building and she frantically searched around her, her heart attempting to force it's way out her her chest while her eyes adapted to the new environment.  She found herself in a room roughly the size of that one which formed the store itself, it appeared to be composed entirely of shadows with a staircase leading up on the far side.  There was just one large window in the room, heavily curtained, a light shining down the stairs from upstairs being the only illumination, if such a word could be used to describe light that only created shadows and did light to display. 

She could see what appeared to be a small sofa, facing a TV hung on the wall, a desk alongside the doorway she had entered from, two furthers doorways could be made out in the gloom, one to her right and one across from her sitting under the stairs, the latter being slightly ajar.  With a sense of foreboding her eyes lowered to gaze upon her feet, slowly rising to view that which had caused her fall.  Her right hand flew to her mouth, stifling the scream that sought to escape, her left reached out to the wall to steady her as she saw the unmistakable outline of a still human being, the darkness not allowing her to make out details being small comfort.  Her left hand, thrust out, to her dismay landed not upon firm brick, but rather upon cold glass, and her terror renewed as she felt the painting she was pushing upon make a low groan as it slid along the wall.  Her hand frantically pulling back a low scrape sounded again as it swung back into place. 

The footsteps that had started to sound in the front room froze, and once again the wind and rain became the only sounds to be heard.  Jo stood quietly, her ears straining to hear anything other than the thudding of her heart, and sure enough after a long deathly pause she heard the low scuff of a footstep through the doorway.  The sound impelled her into action, moving as silently as she could she across the room, making her way towards the stairs, in four large steps she stood at the base, but there she stopped, the light shining at the summit filled her with fear of discovery, and she hesitated but a second before taking a step to the left and entering the doorway under the stairs.  Pulling the door wider open she closed it behind her with a sharp click.  Her hands frantically explored the handle and to her dismay found no form of lock.  She could hear the door to the store front opening, and as in her case she could hear the door start to push against something on the floor.  She chose to ignore the image that played out in her head. 

She found herself in total darkness, her groping hands tracing the outline of the doorframe, her fingers brushing against a small switch set flush to the wall alongside the right side of the frame, to the left a round metal bar stood out horizontally from the wall at waist height.  For a moment her fear of the dark tempted her to flick the switch, but another small noise from the front room caused her to draw her hand back, to take an instinctive step backwards into thin air.  Frantically she grabbed at the metal bar, regaining her balance before she fell into the darkness.  Probing with her outstretched foot she felt a second step a few inches below the ledge she stood upon, with a mere two feet of landing before the descent began.  Hearing a small grunt and the sound of rummaging from outside the doorway Jo turned and fled down the stairs, one, two, three...  She counted the stairs as she fell, the stairs descending in a slow spiral into the dowels of the earth, at 35 she stumbled, her outstretched foot impacting upon the floor unexpectedly, the force throwing her to her knees.  A sharp pain ran up her leg as her ankle twisted beneath her, almost immediately followed by a thud as her knee thudded into the concrete floor with an audible crack. 

Tears of pain streaming from her eyes Jo forced herself back upright, for a moment her ankle gave way she feared a sprain, but a second tentative attempt allowed it to take her weight, albeit weakly, Nevertheless she put her arms out to the left and right, finding herself at the base of the stairs in what felt like a rough hewn tunnel.  Over her beating heart she could hear only echoing silence, her senses screaming at her to flee. 

Suddenly light blossomed painfully in her eyes, causing her to raise her hands, the sharpness after the darkness lancing like spears into her brain.  Between her fingers she could see a naked bulb had bloomed above her, her pain out of proportion to the weak light it shed.  Blinking away tears Jo removed her hands, finding herself in, as she suspected a tunnel, carved out of what appeared to be a mixture of clay, mud and bedrock, stairs rose behind her and in front of her the tunnel opened out into a wide passage way, the sound of steps on the stairs behind her propelled her into the larger tunnel. 

This larger tunnel was maybe twenty feet wide, lit dully by a row of cheap naked bulbs wired into the low ceiling.  What appeared to be bunk beds lined one wall, a metal container sitting at the base of each, with a long desk forming the second tunnel wall.  The tunnel ended abruptly 15 feet to the left from where Jo had entered large, rusting filing cabinets, and some open displaying faded yellow documents that had long ago given their secrets to the rats who had made their bedding out of them.  The tunnel continued in the other direction, curving gently to the left, and 50 feet away the lights flickered out, leaving an illusion of infinity.   Her foot aching Jo dragged herself into the centre of the room, the sight astounding her.    Slowly her eyes adjusted to the light, to her fascination she could clearly make out stencilled letters on the wall in faded shades of pale that barely stood out from the background rock, despite the years of grime and soot she could clearly make out "MOD."

Too late she heard the sound of a near silent footstep behind her, even as she started to turn a sharp click sounded, and she turned to find herself staring into the barrel of a revolver.  Silhouetted against the light a tall man in a wide brimmed hat in a low growl said "You have ten seconds to explain yourself..."

Friday, 5 November 2010

Chapter 2 - 1

Chapter 2:

For a moment Jo hesitated, she had only caught a glimpse of the man, she could not be sure he was in fact the killer from Algiers.  And more importantly if he was the killer what insanity would it be for her to even consider trailing such a dangerous man.  Yet the pause only lasted an instant, some instinct within told her that she was right, and if she hesitated now he would disappear and be gone forever.

The weather was beating down on her, the rain and wind plastering her hair to her face so she was continuously forced to release her right hand from its clasp on her neck to push errant locks of hair out or her field of vision.  Each time she did so the neck of her jacket blew open, pouring another torrent of freezing water to soak her skin.  Her left hand clasped her mobile phone inside her pocket, every few steps she started to withdraw the phone with the intention of calling the police, but she always thrust it back.  Without proof what would she say?  “I can see a man who looks somewhat like someone I saw murder a woman in Algiers. Please arrest him now.”
The conversation ran through her head, she could imagine the person on the other end of the phone humouring her, patiently agreeing while in reality bemoaning another crackpot call. 

Better she felt to check she was correct.  Unlike herself the man appeared utterly composed, the inclement weather having no affect on his bearing or his path.  He strode confidently, his umbrella held high and looking every inch distinguished gentlemen in a pale linen suit. 

Jo stumbled after him, the wind catching her off balance before she recovered herself and started up the street.  At the junction he briefly glanced both ways before crossing 20 metres in from of her.  She quickened her step, reaching the junction and stepping out only to hear a squealing of brakes and a black shape slide past just as she threw herself backwards in terror, her phone slipping from her hand to clatter on the floor..  

A horn sounded and a wave was thrown up, splashing mud and water to douse any dry inch of skin she may have had left.  The black cab that had so narrowly avoided her sped past, the driver shaking his fist in the rear view mirror.  Jo stood there shaking, her already unsteady nerves shattered, her mind screaming at her not to pursue this folly.  She reached down to pick up her phone, finding it in three pieces, the Phone itself, now sporting a cracked screen, and the battery she lifted and placed in her pocket, the battery cover itself had bounced away.  She stood for a moment, looking around her, finally spotting the cover in the street a second before a second black cab crushed it beneath its wheel.

“Shit!”  Looking up Jo realised she had lost track of the man, quickly she crossed the street and lifting her hand to protect her eyes from the rain she stood on her toes, trying to see which way he had gone.  The rain however, aided by the mad few shoppers braving the weather, frustrated her.  She swore again before starting to jog in the same direction she was facing up
Great Russell Street
, praying he hadn’t turned.  For the first time that day she felt her luck held, as she approached the British Museum she saw a flash of white ahead of her which, as she pushed her way between a group of tourists, resolved into the figure she was chasing.

Slowing down she started to match his pace, to her surprise he walked straight past the entrance to the museum, continuing a further distance to turn right into Bury place.  This street she knew well, several pubs and a variety of shops selling both faux antiques in an effort to part tourists from their money.  In amongst these however were a few genuine dealers, and it was into one of these that the man strode.  Jo continued walking, striding past the entrance to look through the dirty sheet window. 

This shop appeared to specialise in coins and stamps, its window display consisting of shelves displaying a wide variety of both.  A handwritten sign taped to the window stated “We buy your unwanted gold.”  Through the grime Jo could see the man shaking off his umbrella and speaking to the surly man who sat behind a counter before her steps carried her past. 

Swiftly she crossed the road, choosing the first pub she could see and stepped inside.  By now the cold was intense, with the dull grey of the brooding clouds starting to fade into darkness.  Shivering Jo ordered a coffee at the bar and moved over to find a seat near the window where she could see across the road.  Pulling off her jacket she rubbed her arms and legs, trying to regain some of the circulation and warmth which was slow in coming.  A few sips of the piping hot coffee and she started to feel more in control, removing her phone and battery from her pocket she assembled it tried to power it on.  The face of the phone lit up for a moment, before fading back into dull green and Jo swore, she removed the sim card, placed it in her jeans pocket and dropped the phone onto the table.

The doorway across the street remained closed, occasionally Jo could see movement through the window, but no one entered or left in the 20 minutes it took to drink her coffee.  Debating with herself as to her intentions Jo ordered another coffee, passing coins across to the barman and carrying it back to her table.  The lights in the coin shop were extinguished and a glance at her watch told Jo that it was gone 6 pm, but still no one entered or exited the building.

She reached for her phone, debating whether to discard it or not, before leaving it where it sat and pulled on her coat.  Crossing the street she peered in through the window, noting the darkness inside. It was only when she noticed the security shutters on the windows we still raised and the coins still on display that she realised something was strange.  Curiously she walked over to the door and pulled on it, she was not surprised that it was unlocked and opened silently.

Taking a deep breath, and berating herself for stupidity Jo stepped into the dark shop. For an instant the rain and wind followed her in, with a gust slamming the door closed, the noise bringing a small scream to her lips that she struggled to stifle.  Freezing she stood silently, breathing deeply and trying to listen above the sound of her frantic heart.  For a long moment only the sound of the rain and wind could be heard and Jo moved into the store, the streetlamps shining through the window providing scant illumination.  The store itself was very small, a cluttered room piled high with boxes and shelves, with a doorway behind the counter being the only other exit.

With her heart hammering, Jo approached the door and leaning forward placed her ear against it.  For long moments she heard nothing, taking a deep breath she pushed it open a crack.  It was silent and dark in the room beyond, and pushed the door open another foot before the door was halted by something soft.  She slid herself into the gap and found herself tripping over something beneath her feet.  Behind the wind and rain increase in pitch as someone opened the front door.

Chapter 1


Dirk Jones, explorer and adventurer extraordinaire shouted out to his lithe blonde sidekick Joanna Jenson "lay down some suppressing fire!" 

She raised her head over the parapet of the ancient castle walls, spotted the second assassin trying to flank the daring Dirk.  Swiftly she raised her pistol, firing wildly and blindly, forgetting all the lessons that Dirk had taught her and praying that at least one of the wild shots would be on target.  Opening her eyes again she could see the assassin had paused in his creeping, however she had done enough, the brief hesitation had given Dirk time to run across the courtyard and into the tomb, shortly he was followed by the first assassin, the one she recognised as Marcus "Dead Eye" Granby, gentleman killer for hire and she prayed that Dirk would be all right. 

A cry of the muezzin could be heard from the Ketchoua Mosque to the east, shortly accompanied by a chorus of calls to prayer from all corners of the city, the sound making Joanna grimace.  It meant they were at least an hour behind schedule; Dirk only had three hours to recover the dagger and return it to her sister's captives before the deal was forfeit...

Chapter 1

The coffee was cold, if anything could be said to have been the catalyst for the whole situation it would be that simple event.  She replaced it on the table with a sigh; nothing on this holiday was as she hoped.  When she had finished her archaeology degree Joanna Jensen assumed she would shortly be working on a dig in Greece, finding ancient pieces of pottery and marble statues to pore over.  Instead she found herself 18 months out of Oxford University, still without a job, 6 weeks behind on her rent and with a recently broken heart.

As such when the offer came from Dr Charles Masterson of the British Museum to accompany him on a trip to Algiers she felt it would be too great an opportunity to turn down.  The realities of the job however soon overshadowed any excitement she may have initially felt.  4 weeks she had now been in Algiers, 4 weeks of interminable meetings with bureaucrats, politicians and local protest groups, all wary of allowing yet another foreign dig.  After the latest row over the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone hit the news, with the usual accusations of British imperialism and theft the Algerian government had clamped down on all digs funded and staffed by foreign powers.

So now a month after she should have been admiring the Triumphal Arches to Septimus Severus and Commodus at Lambaesis she was once again sitting in a Starbucks nursing a last Cappucino while Charles attended yet another meeting at the British Embassy, trying to get Her Majesties Government involved.  She felt slightly guilty about sitting in a Starbucks, rather than sitting in an authentic local establishment, but if she was honest with herself she treasured the taste of home and familiarity given by the current location.  And she detested the smell of the Hookahs that too often accompanied the coffee in the local stalls.

Putting aside her newspaper she stood and made her way to the counter, “another one please…” She had no need to state details, the barista knew her order, and after all, she had hardly left the place in a week.  She passed over the money and went to sit down again, when business was quiet, as it was that day, the staff were happy to bring over her drink when it was ready.  Sighing she picked up her newspaper again, her eyes tracking back to where they left off, yet another article about the recent theft from the Musee National des Antiquities of a mid 13th century Arabic text describing the voyages of Ibn Batuta.  That great Muslim explorer who’s travels far surpassed those of his contemporary Marco Polo.  A photograph of the manuscript accompanied the text, showing an ornate page in remarkable condition given it’s age, an illustration of a slave market standing out in vivid colours.

The coffee shop started to fill up as she read, the mid morning lull giving way to lunch, which a mix of western loving locals and homesick foreigners traipsing in from the crowded street to get their caffeine fix.  Joanna shook her head at the insanity of it all, “35 degree weather outside and yet here we are enjoying molten hot coffee…  We must be mad.”  Her eyes drifted around the small shop, casually enquiring as to their stories.  The tall distinguished gentleman in the 3 piece suit looked like a fish out of water, clearly a businessman.  Three local youths, the feet sporting Reebok trainers, their baseball caps screaming their love for Nike and all things American betrayed them.  The two casually dressed men in jeans and t-shirts with backpacks, clearly tourists…  

Then her eyes fell upon the man sitting in the corner, he was a true mystery.  For the last week he had been her silent company in the coffee shop, always taking the same corner table, his fedora placed on the table next to him, a briefcase by his legs and a succession of trashy paperback novels passing through his hands while he sipped at sweet espressos.  He stood around 5’ 8”; dark hair gelled back, impeccably dressed in a pale suit, a poppy sitting in his buttonhole.  Thin faced with a hawk nose and pale eyes Jo had attempted just the once to make his acquaintance, his curt rebuff had sent her scuttling back to her seat and she had not spoken to him since.

Today however as her eyes swept over him she noticed he seemed different, not as relaxed as normal, the paperback in his hands, a Mills and Boone to her surprise, had barely been touched, she was sure he was on the same page as when she last glanced over nearly 20 minutes ago.  Even as she noted this she saw him stiffen and start to his feet. Turning to the door to see what visitor could cause such a reaction Jo saw a vision walk in, a dark raven haired beauty that would have been at home on any catwalk, she was clutching a large handbag and, with one glance around the room walked straight over to where the pale eyed man was starting to his feet.


She didn’t speak much above a whisper yet her voice carried across the room, borne by her self confidence.  It was a voice that got what she wanted and Jo was not surprised to see the man almost collapse back into his chair.  The woman very deliberately turned her back on him, walked slowly over to the counter and ordered a latte, and only then sat down at the table. 

From her table Jo could hear but murmurs of the conversation, shortly the man appeared agitated, and the two started to raise their voices,  Despite herself Jo leant forward, trying to listen in as the mans volume increased    “…was promised last week.  Where is the turtle?”  The woman’s reply was low and lost in the background noise but its effect was not.  The man stiffened, his pale eyes glaring and picking up his briefcase and hat he brushed past the woman and stalked out the door.  The woman raised a hand as if to stop him but then turned back to the table, her body tense.  She reached for her coffee, but her hand seemed clumsy, shaking it knocked the drink over, the liquid over running the table to drip to the floor.  Her body followed it, sliding from the chair, her arm still draped across the table, pulling the cups with it and the discarded paperback with it.

Jo jumped to her feet, and moved across the room reaching the woman before she hit the floor, her hands grasping at the woman’s shoulders, pulling her back into her seat.  Even as she did so a scream escaped her lips.  As the woman’s head rolled back Jo could see the eyes were lifeless and staring.  A small blossom of red staining the woman’s blouse over her left breast. 

Again the coffee was cold; Jo stood up and walked up to the counter.  “Excuse me, can you please heat this up a bit more, it is barely lukewarm.” 

The barista with a muted apology turned to tip the drink down the sink.

“No need, just a bit more steaming please” Jo interjected.  “No need to waste it.”

“Health and safety sorry miss, don’t worry I’ll get you another one.  Piping hot this time.”  Tipping the coffee away the barista poured some coffee into the porter filter and slapped it into place.  Turning she filled a small metal jug with milk and started to steam it.

Jo turned to look around the coffee shop.  Outside the wind blew the grey sleet down the street, hurried pedestrians crouched under umbrellas or free newspapers snatched hurriedly outside the tube station to provide scant cover.  The barista murmured that the coffee was ready and Jo turned to take the fresh cup from the counter, carried it back to her table.  The sight of her hand protruding from her long winter coat produced a small sigh.  The healthy tan she had developed in Algiers had faded swiftly in the three months she had been back in London, a visible representation of her dreams, matching her fading hopes of participating in a genuine dig.

The fact that the she was in a Starbucks again another needle in her mind.  She had avoided Starbucks since that incident in Algiers, the death of the woman and the subsequent interviews with the police, the press and various other bodies had shaken Jo worse than she would have expected.  So many questions that she couldn’t answer, no matter how many times she tried to remember she could never recall any more details of the man, nor at which point the woman’s handbag had disappeared.  All she remembered was the blood and the woman’s dark eyes staring blankly.  After the initial furore the police had not contacted her again, other than a detective Benlis giving her a business card, with the request that if she should remember anything else to be sure to give him a call. 

In fact she learnt more from the newspapers over the next few weeks than she ever did from her own involvement in the incident.  The dead woman was identified as Marcella DeGras initially, a socialite with minor connections to various faded noble families around Europe.  More interestingly subsequent investigations had turned up evidence of several misdeeds in her past, connections with underworld crime figures, and most alarmingly was directly implicated in the theft of the Ibn Batutta manuscript from Algiers.  Her hotel room was found to contain, amongst other more innocent items in her possession, lock picking tools, two false passports and, most damning of all, blueprints detailing the layout of  the Musee National des Antiquities with access points highlighted.  Of the manuscript itself however there was no sign.  Many reporters claimed that the stolen items must have been passed to another party prior to her death, and possibly may have been with her on the day of her assassination, after all, the whereabouts of her handbag were unaccounted for, but apart from conjecture no evidence was forthcoming.

The cause of death itself was deemed to be a stab wound, a thin sharp instrument, around 6 inches deep, only one centimetre wide.  One thrust was delivered straight to the heart, believed to be during the moment she reached out to halt her killer from leaving.  Much was made of the skill and speed with which such a blow was delivered; with the manner of death being linked by some of the more lurid reporters with the rumours of a contract assassin know as “Dead Eye” but these were sharply rebutted by the police who called this an isolated incident.

Of the killer itself nothing was known.  Apart from Jo’s description, along with that of the other customers in the coffee shop nothing was known.  He had been frequenting the coffee shop for 8 days, always taking the same seat, but spoke to no one else.  The paperback book that he left behind was devoid of fingerprints or any other forensic clues, and despite his image being drawn by police artists and dispersed on many a front page no one ever came forward.  Outside of that single coffee shop he may never have existed.

Six weeks Jo had stayed in Algiers, and after yet another delay thanks to bureaucracy the excavation had still not started, the decision was made to start sending people home.  The Museum was not willing to fund ancillary staff indefinitely so Jo, along with 3 other members of the team were dismissed and returned home.

The very thought of it made Jo nearly cry in frustration, she had been so close, all those years of working to be a field archaeologist just to spend 3 months sitting on her heels only to be told she was not needed.  For a while she had closeted herself at home, her sister calling to check in on her daily, filled with worry, but today she had felt the need to get out, to try to pull herself together.  She had chosen a walk along through the middle of London, its familiar sites and sounds comforting her.  Walking through Oxford Street she had grimaced at the lurid Christmas displays already up, 9 weeks to go till Christmas and already shoppers frantically ran in and out of buildings, seeking bargains. 
The site just made Jo realise how broke she was, impelled her toward Covent Garden, to watch the comediennes and street performers, their loud voices and antics calling out to the tourists to pay “just the price of a coffee” in exchange for a diversion from the greyness of the dull city.  For a while she enjoyed the sight of a juggler, standing on stilts and tossing flames, bit the oppressive clouds finally succeeded in drowning out the sum in it’s entirety, the wind started to gust and shortly everyone was rushing for shelter as sleet started to dampen even the best of spirits.

Jo herself fled north, instinctively heading towards the British Museum, a known place of comfort, but as she passed a small Starbucks, nestled away, she felt drawn in.  Her small umbrella struggling against the wind and rain was barely keeping her face dry, but water was seeping through her jeans and coat, impelling her off the street.  Since the murder she had had nightmares, and by stepping foot into the shop she felt she was confronting her fears, forcing the dread away from her conscious mind.  This venue was very different to the one in Algiers, smaller, tidier and emptier, but enough was the same to evoke memories of a dead woman and a broken dream.  Forcing herself to focus on the warmth and the smell of freshly ground coffee she shook the umbrella in the doorway and placed it on a ledge, discarding it as unequal to the realities of the weather. 

And now, sitting by the window, sipping at a latte Jo considered her future.  With the failure of Algiers her debts were mounting, and serious consideration must be given to looking for a 9-5 job.  She knew her father would arrange her a job easily, but her pride and stubbornness held her back, she knew she was meant for more than the drudgery her father would arrange.  A mirror set upon the wall gave Jo a chance to examine herself. 23 years old, long blonde hair hanging loose framed a thin proud face, never a classical beauty she nevertheless had a set to her face that men found attractive.  Despite 3 months without her gym, another victim of economics, her body had lost none of the firmness and curves that she knew were her best asset.  She looked herself in the eyes, vivid green stared back.  “This is not me” she murmured to herself “I’m better than this.”  A small wrinkle grew across her forehead, setting itself into an expression of determination.  “I’m an Oxford graduate for God’s sake!  I can do anything I want.”  And with that thought she set down her coffee, pulled her coat tight around her and walked out into the rain.

Three steps into the rain she remembered the discarded umbrella and turned back to retrieve it, her sudden halt caused the paled eyed man walking along the street to stumble into her.  With a curt “watch yourself” he continued on.  His umbrella held vertical, his bearing making no concession to the rain.  Jo stood in shock, that voice, those pale eyes.  She could see the look in them as he walked past her once before in Algiers.  Umbrella forgotten, Jo’s heart thumped in her chest, after a seconds pause she turned to follow the killer of Marcella DeGras,