Stephen Writes

Novels and Short Stories by Stephen England

Embrace the Fire– Coming June 3rd!!!!

Posted By on May 28, 2016

embrace2-01

 

Prologue

8:03 P.M. Greenwich Mean Time, March 22nd

London, England

 

            They were watching. He knew that—they were always watching, a hundred lidless eyes gazing down through the night.

Never blinking. Never resting. Just always there.

And they knew his face.

The rain came tumbling down out of the sky above him—nothing heavy, just a steady drizzle—ice-cold water running down his cheeks, collecting in the rough stubble that masked the lower half of his face.

A dead zone lay ahead, between him and the bus stop, or at least there had once been—a twenty-foot gap in London’s legendary CCTV coverage. Enough space for a man to disappear.

Disappear. There’d been times he’d wanted nothing more than to do just that. To disappear, to run—into the night.

Not yet.

There was only one camera across the street from the stop and he ducked his head as if against the rain as he approached the far side of the double-decker bus. Shielding his face.

Public transportation was a risk, but one he had to take. A thirty-minute ride would put him at his destination. After that. . .

He could only keep this up for so long, that much he knew. Had known it ever since he’d set out, he thought, ascending into the bus just behind a young Muslim woman in a hijab and jeans—her small son clutching her hand.

But it would have to be enough.

 

So many memories. He paused for a long moment on the curb, alone once more—the bustle of the bus ride left far behind. Looking up at the flat before him, rain soaking him to the skin as he stood there. Sadness glinting in his gunmetal blue eyes.

So many years, passed and gone.

It was the kind of place he would have expected her to have sought out, he realized—the low gate giving beneath his hand as he moved like a ghost toward the door, the black windbreaker hanging loose and wet from his tall, powerful frame.

Quiet, nondescript. Just another in a long row of terraced houses. Anonymous.

There was nothing more valuable. . .not in their business.

He glanced at the plate mounted to the right of the door, verifying the address once more before he lifted his hand to press the bell.

Hearing the vague, distant sound of it ringing through the flat as he waited, his eyes flickering back to the deserted street. Ever alert.

Footsteps within, the sound of someone cautiously approaching the door. “Who’s there?”

He turned so that his face was visible through the peephole. “It’s me, Mehreen.”

Ya, Allah.” He could hear her gasp of surprise through the door. The Arabic so familiar to his ears. Oh, God.

Another moment, and he heard the rattle of a chain, a bolt being slid back as the door swung open.

The woman who stood in the doorway was in her mid-forties, nearly eight years his senior—her shoulder-length black hair now shot with tell-tale streaks of silver. Framing the dark features of her native Pakistan. “It’s been a long time, Mehr.”

It was a long moment before she replied, a mixture of emotions playing out across her face—and for a moment he thought she might shut the door in his face. Turn him away.

“Yes. . .yes it has.” She turned back from the door, seeming to choose her words with reluctance. “Come in, if you want—I’ll make a pot of tea.”

He followed her into the small living room of the apartment, removing his hat and running long fingers through his rain-slick black hair as she disappeared into the kitchen.

There was a framed picture on the small table, a picture of a bride in shining white on the arm of a sandy-haired man in full dress uniform—passing underneath the arched sabers of the Regiment. Something about the way they were looking at each other, eyes full of laughter. Of hope. Of love.

A wistful smile touched his lips as he picked up the frame, the memories flooding back. He’d been there that day. Experienced the majesty of that wedding.

There were other memories, and. . .well, majestic was hardly the word.

“Nick was a good man,” he announced, feeling almost shame-faced as she reentered the room to find him holding the picture.

She nodded, passing him the hot cup and saucer and taking the frame from his hands. His own sadness reflected in her eyes. “Yes—he was.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you. . .at the funeral.” He’d been in Darfur at the time. No way to get back—a job to do. “They told me it was another splinter group of the Provos. A bomb.”

Another nod, as she eyed him guardedly.

“I thought that had all died away,” he said, raising the cup of Darjeeling to his lips. Steam drifted off the pale golden liquid, warming him against the rain that had chilled his body. “That the Troubles were behind us.”

A bitter smile crossed her lips. “We always think that, don’t we? But hate. . .hate never dies. Old men pass it on to the young in the blood. Playing at war—their ‘patriot game.’ And good men die.”

Good men die. The refrain of his life.

If he closed his eyes, he could still remember it. The HAHO jump over Lebanon, standing there on the ramp of the C-130 with Nick Crawford and another SAS sergeant at his side. Preparing to jump out into the pitch black of the night.

He could feel the shock of the parachute opening, hear the crackle of automatic weapons fire, smell the gunfire—the blood. He’d saved Nick’s life that night. Brought him home safe to her.

But good men die.

He looked up to find her regarding him intently. Her tea untouched by the side of her chair. “You’re here to kill a man. . .aren’t you, Harry?”

Harry Nichols leaned back in the armchair, watching her—

measuring his words carefully. “I don’t work for the Agency any longer, Mehr.”

Her fingers trembled slightly as she picked up her teacup, something akin to fear in her dark eyes.

“That’s not what I asked.”

 

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