FICTION: Us by Andrew Lee-Hart

Death in the Castle

There he was, just as I expected him to be, sat in the castle grounds reading The Times, a respectable looking man enjoying the last few moments of his respectable life. The people we kill are often esteemed and loved, with no tarnish to their name. But they have to die because of who they work for, for what they know or perhaps because they just got greedy.

I cannot see her, but I know she is close by; after so long together I can sense her and know she will do what we agreed. Our victim, Mark Hyland, gets his pen out, and starts on his crossword. He always sits on the same bench, during his lunchtime; twelve fifteen until just before one, it is hidden away under a grove of trees and so is always empty. The bank where he works is one of Nottingham’s smallest and is two minutes’ walk from the castle entrance.

There is a slight wind, and his newspaper rustles slightly so that with a tut he folds it more tightly onto his knee, his pen in his mouth as he ponders the next clue. He does not notice me as I approach and sit down next to him, I am dressed similarly to him in a dark suit and holding a briefcase, in it I also have The Times as well as a syringe filled with poison.

He looks at me as I lean back on the bench and take a deep breath, he seems slightly annoyed and swiftly gets back to his newspaper before I can start a conversation. I can smell flowers and a cigarette, this part of the castle is usually quiet although I can hear a child shouting from the playground over on the other side. I open my briefcase and get out The Times, folded within is the syringe.

Hyland’s thigh is close to mine, covered in expensive cloth. For a moment I contemplate it and then I grab the syringe and with one quick jab I thrust in the needle which is fine and meets little resistance. He gasps and holds his suited leg and looks at me with horror in his eyes, already he will have lost the power of speech and, within two minutes at most his heart will have stopped beating. I stand up and swiftly walk away, back towards the castle building, not looking back.

My arm is taken lightly and she is at my side, her perfume, specially chosen is expensive, as is the jacket that she is wearing.

“Darling?”

“Shall we look at the paintings?”

She nods and we walk into the castle building which has a small gallery. There is an exhibition of paintings by Mark Gertler and we look at half a dozen; bright coloured pictures reminiscent of government propaganda posters and some darker drawings of the ghetto from whence he came. We talk briefly of what we are looking at, there will be time for a debrief when we get to the office later tonight, now we are a young couple in well-paid jobs enjoying a brief lunch with each other before going to back to our respective places of work.

There are no police about as we head towards the exit, presumably Mr Hyland’s corpse is lying unnoticed, his newspaper still clasped tightly in his hand. We walk out of the castle, and both smile at the young man on the gate and then share a brief kiss before going our separate ways. I have promised to do a small food shop whilst she is going for a drive in the countryside and after she has made sure she is not being followed, will meet me at home this evening for dinner.

Arise

I love the sound of her as she starts to wake in the morning; she breathes slowly, as if acclimatising to wakefulness and her teeth chatter briefly, and then she is conscious, lying there thinking, possibly wondering where she is and what her name can be, and who this man is lying beside her.

We were given names when we were put together eight months ago, but they are only in use for this relationship, when we are moved on we will be given new ones. I often long to know what her real name is; the name her mother called her, the name her first lover murmured to her as he lay inside her and kissed that hazel hair and around her dark brown eyes. I often think of different names as I lie waiting for her to awaken; Jane, Miriam, Esther, but in the end I decide upon Catherine, and I whisper it to myself when I am on my own or working in the office.

It is strictly forbidden for her to tell me her real name nor can I tell her mine and I do not dare ask. Perhaps I can trust her, but who knows just the slightest illegal question and I could be reported and maybe sent back home, certainly the end of this comfortable life in a pleasant and green suburb of Nottingham with a beautiful partner in a large house which suits the modern couple that we are supposed to be.

“Good morning” and she smiles at me. It is still only a week since the job in the castle and so we are unlikely to be called out again today. I will go to The Office for midday and do various administrative tasks whilst she will go out and do her job, something to do with newspapers I understand. If we were really lovers we might fill the couple of hours with languorous lovemaking but I do not feel comfortable suggesting it.

“There is a concert tonight. Cheryl suggested going to it.”

“What is it?” I ask, a little excited, at the thought of dressing up and going out and the perfume she wears for special occasions. She has mentioned Cheryl before, but I have no idea who she is.

“An English composer, Henry Purcell, an opera called Dido and Aeneas. One of the earliest in the English language.”

One thing I know about her is that music is her love; more than her job, the organisation, certainly more than me. I fear for her because of this, I learnt long ago to put aside or personal loves, sacrifice them at the altar of the cause. Even my children have disappeared with barely a thought.

“Okay, is at the Royal Concert Hall?”

She nods and throws me a brochure and I read it whilst she gets up and walks out of the room. She still undresses and dresses in the bathroom; even after making love she puts her nightdress or pyjamas back on and sleeps with her back to me. I long to wake up in her arms, both of us naked and talk; talk about what we care about, who we love, our fears our hopes. Not worrying that the other is taking down notes ready to report the conversation and earn a point or two in the eternal league table.

I hear the shower going and get up. The room is bland; we are told to make our houses personal but tend to use catalogues, and the knowledge that we might leave at any time of day or night means you are not likely to spend too much effort on it. I have put some copies of novels by Thackeray, the only truly great English novelist, in the front room, but otherwise the house could have been part of a set for a television programme.

We sit and eat breakfast; Catherine my pretend wife, offering me toast and coffee. We sit opposite each other. She is smartly dressed as always; her clothes chosen for her as mine were for me.

“Have you got the music? This Dido and thingy?”

We listen to the opera on our kitchen stereo, I don’t think I have ever sat with someone for almost an hour listening to music at home without talking. At a concert it is different, you have no choice but to listen and keep quiet, but at home amongst the conveniences of a modern bourgeois kitchen, I find it strange, at least at first. The opera has love and lust, wickedness and abandonment. Dido left bereft and wanting to die. A tear drips down my face and I swiftly wipe it away.

I am sure the concert will be lovely tonight, but we will be on show, with no idea who might be watching us playing a role, whereas here, at home I can relax lose myself in the music and in the presence of Catherine who is the centre of my world, for the time being at least.

The music finishes and we walk towards each other and hug awkwardly. Her body seems fragile for a moment, although I know how strong she is, and I feel close to her, have this urge to kiss her with love and care, but she breaks away before I do so.

“See you this evening” she tells me and leaves with her thin brown case. I do not know where she goes, not really. The newspaper story could be untrue, she could be somebody’s mistress who she has been ordered to blackmail, or perhaps she is somebody senior and is reporting on me, these my final days.

I catch a bus to the city centre and then walk along the canal to my office; the old industrial buildings with their more modern neighbours made of glass and iron, often fill my thoughts, even though I know as well as anyone that life is ephemeral. By instinct I constantly check that I am not being followed, but the towpath is empty as I head to work.

House Call

We knock on the door with Bibles in our hands. Apparently they are expecting us and the door is soon opened by a young woman who looks Japanese and who bows slightly as we walk in. She does not say a word but leads us into the front the room which has a large table out with more Bibles on it and other books. There should be a man here, but he isn’t so I rush into the kitchen which is also empty, as I do so I hear a thud and as I walk back into the front room the Japanese woman is lying on the floor about to be shot.

I hurry up the stairs; the first bedroom I come to is small and dark and it takes me awhile to realise that there is nobody in it, and then I hear murmuring from another room and I push in to find a man reading to a young child, the man looks up at me and I shoot him in the head, twice. I cannot bear to look at the child and hurry downstairs.

We get in the car and we are soon driving down the motorway towards Nottingham.

“There was a child.”

“Shit. What did you do?”

“I left it, it was only two. I couldn’t… we weren’t told.”

She drives us back home quickly, not even checking whether we are being followed and then we go to bed, both of us awake but silent until the winter morning sun eventually peeps through our curtains when we get up.

We get dressed and speak no words. Is this how marriages end I wonder. The shame, the silence, the knowing too much. Will she be gone when I get back? Do I care? How can I not?

Passionate Night

I look into her eyes as I am inside her. She keeps closing them as if to avoid my gaze but then for a moment she gazes back at me with an expression I do not understand. She clasps my back with her hands and then pushes me deep into her and moans into my ear and she collapses around me.

I kiss her body; partly because it is beautiful, the hips so pale and the surprise of her large breasts, but also because I do not want to lose the moment, do not want her to get up and wash me off her and put on her nightdress and chastely go to sleep. She lies there languidly as I worship her body, and I hear a chuckle. She hauls me up and we kiss again, long and passionately. I cannot remember a kiss like that, not from her, not from anybody; a kiss that knows me and accepts me, that wants me. And then I am inside her again and we kiss as we make love again and for a moment I am her and she is me.

Afterwards she lies in my arms.

“Who is Catherine?” she asks after a moment, tickling the back of my neck.

“Oh and old girlfriend”, I tell her untruthfully “sorry”. I wish I had told her the truth. She kisses me on the lips and gets up, and I watch her walk out of the room and hear the tinkle of the taps. Will this be the last time? We have been together over a year now and the end is surely due.

The first woman I had been partnered with called herself Eve, we were together for seven months, living in a council house in South London. We had mostly been spying on someone who worked for the government and his mistress who we then had to kill. From the first night we made love; loudly and with laughter, and that is how I remember her, large and on top of me, smiling down at me, no love but affection and happiness.

The second partnership lasted for only three months, just for one assignment in Walsall, an ordinary housewife that we trussed up and tossed into the canal, I have no idea what she had done or who she was. That night we made love and when I awoke in the early hours she was gone, with just a faint trace of her aroma on the pillow.

She comes back into bed and lies with her back to me. I put my arm around her and she sinks into me and then slowly she starts to sleep. For a moment I could be any man with the woman that he loves.

She’s all states, and all princes, I,/ Nothing else is /.Princes do but play us; compared to this,/ All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.

Goodbye to Catherine

I am in Glasgow, I live alone have done for three weeks, biding my time and getting to know the city. This evening I have been given a name, a photograph and a list of places where she is likely to be. I feel unbearably sad and lonely as I walk through the darkness; it is quiet here, posh, not far from the university. I really like Glasgow, have enjoyed exploring it every day. I know that I will be moving elsewhere tomorrow or the next day and soon it will be just a memory.

She is sitting alone in a pub, looking as if she is waiting for someone.

“Hello” I say, she is just the same as before although slightly less well-dressed; her beautiful brown eyes look at me at first in surprise and then in resignation.

“Would you like a drink?” she nods and I get us both a beer. We drink slowly and talk about Glasgow; she has been here for a longer time than me; since she left a year ago.

“It doesn’t have to be like this” she tells me. Underneath she is afraid, knowing what is coming. I say nothing, just look at her, trying to memorise that face that for so long was so familiar.

We walk to the park, and to my surprise she takes my hand, the first time we have ever held hands. They feel dry and slightly warm. It is dark here and quiet, the city just a slight buzz in the background.

We find a metal bench, near the art gallery.

“Sit down next to me” I tell her, and I feel her shiver.

“I missed you” she says, “I hoped we would stay together.”

“That never happens” I tell her. I am glad that she does not realise that I betrayed her, told the office that she was near to cracking, unlikely to last. I did not think that my words would be a death sentence though, or that I would be required to carry it out.

I bend over her and kiss her on the cheek and she holds me tight, as if never to let me go, her breath on my face. After a few moments, and with reluctance I push her from me and walk away, the needle I had pushed into her thigh drops to the floor with the faintest of clinks.

“Goodbye Catherine,” I murmur, “my love, my heart.”

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Andrew was born in Yorkshire many years ago but now lives on Merseyside where he writes stories and works as a support worker. His stories have appeared on various websites and in print. At present Andrew is working on a novel called “A Crack in Everything” which is concerned with religion, sex, art and Leonard Cohen.

You can read Andrew’s previously published short story ‘Beasts’ here

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If you enjoyed Us, leave a comment and let Andrew know.

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