My ghosts are my only company over the next couple of days and nights, keeping the same silent vigil they've maintained these past six years. I don't know why they can't make noise. If they're creatures of my own creation, there's no reason why I shouldn't be capable of providing them with voices as well as faces. If they're real, in the course of my research I've encountered plenty of other spirits that have no trouble causing a ruckus.
Axel Nelke has settled in swiftly. Apart from his first sly attack on the Tube platform, he hasn't attempted to unnerve me, slotting into the cluster of ghosts as if he's been one of the gang for years. I'm guessing (if they're real) that they have some means of communicating with each other, or else they just react instinctively when they come back from the dead.
I truly thought I'd left the killing behind, that nothing could drive me to murder again. I hoped I might one day be able to atone for my crimes, that the ghosts would see I'd repented, forgive me and move on - or that I'd forgive myself and disperse them if they were inner projections. But I was deluding myself. The killer is still alive and hungry within me. Part of me rejoiced when I killed Axel Nelke. Part of me had been waiting longingly for another chance to lash out and taste blood. And that dark, dreadful, needful part of me wants to do it again.
When my cell phone rings in the middle of the night, I spring awake, lean over and answer instantly, 'Andeanna.'
A startled pause. 'How did you know it was me?'
'Who else would be ringing - ' I check my watch - 'at four in the morning?'
'One of your other mistresses,' she teases.
'They never ring before nine,' I joke, sitting up in the darkness, joyous that she's called, but terrified too. What if she says she never wants to see me again?
'I've missed you,' she sighs.
'Does that mean . . . ?' I ask hopefully.
'That I want to be with you? Yes.'
My heart glows hot. 'I love you,' I croak.
'I love you too,' she replies simply, wonderfully.
'So. What now?' I ask.
She doesn't answer straight away. Maybe she has no answer. Or maybe she's just reluctant to voice it. Then, in a morose tone which might be funny under other circumstances, she says, 'We have to kill Mikis, don't we?'
'If we want to be together, yes.'
'We couldn't just run away?'
'We'd always be looking over our shoulders, worrying, wondering. Fear would destroy us.'
'He's Greygo's father,' she says.
'He's a worthless son of a bitch,' I retaliate. 'Your son is the only one who'll miss him. Apart from maybe a couple of his favourite whores.'
She sighs. 'We won't get away with it. His men are loyal, especially Bond. They'd come after us.'
'Not if we do it right.'
A long, long silence follows. Then, 'Tell me how.'
And our sinister pact is sealed.
Killing Mikis Menderes is relatively easy. Making sure the finger of blame doesn't point at Andeanna is the hard part. His men won't rest until they've flushed out the assassin and his employer. They'll suspect everyone, starting with her and her son, since they have the most to gain.
'Not me,' she snorts. 'Mikis has willed everything to Greygo. I get nothing.'
'That's good,' I mutter. 'But it's not enough. We need to divert their attention. Make it look like an accident or throw them a scapegoat.'
'How do we do that?'
'I don't know. I'll have to think about it.'
When she hangs up, I head for the shower, where I can think more clearly under the rush of flowing water. The basic frame of a plan comes to me almost immediately. Before anything else, I need to acquire a gun. That might have been a problem previously, but Axel Nelke's pistol is waiting for me at Heathrow. I smile grimly at how I obeyed my instinct to leave it in the car. Part of me must have guessed this was where things were heading. I was thinking further ahead than I realized when I held on to the gun.
Stepping out of the shower, I dry myself, then dress, slip a thin pair of gloves into the pockets of my jacket and catch the Tube to Heathrow. This time I stay well clear of the platform edges on the way.
I buy a hat and sunglasses in a shop at the airport, put them on in a restroom, then catch a bus to the car park. In the lot, having pulled on the gloves, I stumble around for a while, acting lost in case the Turk's people have tracked down the car and set a team on watch. Spotting nobody suspicious, I stop and open the unlocked driver's door, digging into my pocket first and pretending to produce a set of keys. I get in.
The air is stale and the seat is cold. I keep my hands on the wheel, staring ahead as if in deep contemplation. After a minute, my left hand sneaks down the side of the seat. My fingers touch cool metal. I drag it forward, hook a finger through the trigger guard and hoist it up. I glance down to make sure the safety's on, then jam it inside my jacket.
If there were people around, I'd make a show of starting the engine and letting it cut out, curse as I left the car, pretend to go off in search of a mechanic. But I'm alone, so I simply step out, walk away, get the bus to the terminal then the Tube back to the Royal Munster, where I store the gun in my safe.
Weapon secured, I sit down with a pen and writing pad and work on my plan. I jot down names - mine, Andeanna's, Axel Nelke's, the Turk's, Bond Gardiner's - and draw lines between them. I need to point the finger of blame at Nelke. Killing the Turk with Nelke's gun will be a good start, but the gun then has to fall into Bond Gardiner's hands, so he can trace it back to the missing guard. I can't post it to him or leave it at the scene of the crime. He won't accept Nelke as the villain of the piece if I frame him clumsily. There has to be a legitimate way of tying him to the hit . . .
I smile tightly as the answer hits me. I add a new word to the page, in capitals - ASSASSIN. I operated anonymously when I was in the game, but others weren't so modest. Some signed their work like an artist. If I could drag one of those into the scheme, I'd have an excuse to leave behind incriminating evidence. Gardiner could trace that to the assassin, then the gun through the assassin to Nelke.
I wouldn't under normal circumstances think of double-crossing a hired killer - far too dangerous - but I have a man in mind who fits the criteria perfectly, who not only signs his kills but has a score to settle with the Turk. On top of that, he's a man I'd love to drop in the shit. There are still a lot of details to iron out, but I can feel the plan taking firmer shape. It's only a matter of time before the tumblers of death click fatally into place.
In the afternoon, my thoughts turn to Joe. The plot I'm hatching is far from foolproof, and I don't want him getting sucked in if things go wrong. I have to sever the link between us. It won't be pleasant, but it's for his own good.
He answers brightly when I call. 'Hi, Ed. What's up?'
'Joe,' I reply tonelessly, 'we have a problem.'
'What sort of problem?'
'My agent told my editor about our partnership and she kicked up a stink. The publishers are afraid of getting caught in the middle of a legal war if we fall out with one another.'
'That's crazy,' Joe grunts.
'I know. But I'm just the writer. My opinion doesn't count.' Joe laughs. 'Tell them to send me a contract. I'll sign whatever they want.'
'Jonathan suggested that, but they didn't bite. They say it's a straight-up Ed Sieveking book or the deal's off.'
Joe's sigh pains me, but there's worse to come and I steel myself against it. 'I guess that leaves me out in the cold,' he says, trying not to sound disappointed. 'Still, the most I hoped for when we began was a mention, so I can't be too upset.'
'Actually, that's not possible either.'
'Why not?' he asks, bewildered.
'Jonathan wants to exclude you entirely. He wants me to say I did all the research and planning by myself. He thinks that if I mention you in the book or in interviews, you could stake a claim to royalties. I went ballistic at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I came round to his way of thinking.' Stunned silence greets that last statement. 'Joe? Are you there?'
'I'm here,' he says weakly.
'I mean, it's not as if you contributed substantial ideas,' I rush on. 'You certainly helped, and it's a shame we can't acknowledge that, but you only had the barest creative input, right?'
'Sure,' he answers shakily.
'I'd hate it if this got to court. You'd hate that too, wouldn't you?'
'I guess,' he says. He sounds dazed.
'So you'll sign away all claims to the book?'
'Sign away? But I never made any in the first place. How can I - '
'We'll send you a form,' I cut in. 'A disclaimer. Once you've put your name to it, we can meet up again, share a few drinks and laugh about it all.'
'You mean . . . ' He clears his throat. 'You don't want to see me until the form's been signed?'
'It's not that I don't want to see you. I can't. It'll be for the best if we keep out of each other's way until the book's been in the shops a while.'
'What if we don't talk about the book?'
'Sorry, Joe. Lawyer's orders. I've worked a long time for this break. You don't want to wreck it for me, do you?'
'Of course not.'
'So!' I boom hollowly. 'I'm glad that's out of the way. It's a pain, but I guess that's part of the price of success.'
'Yeah,' Joe says sickly.
'Of course,' I chuckle, 'after all this fuss, the book probably won't sell shit.'
'No,' Joe disagrees. 'It's going to be a great book. I'm sure it'll be a hit.'
I wince. This would be easier if he lost his rag and cursed the hell out of me. 'I'll let you go,' I say, jovial to the end. 'I'll send you an advance copy of the book when it's ready, no matter what those bastards say.'
'That would be nice.'
'See you around?'
And that's the end of my friendship with Joe.
When Andeanna calls, I tell her we have to meet. She suggests Trafalgar Square, one of our favourite spots when we were courting innocently, so I head over at the agreed time. The square is teeming with tourists, even at this late hour. Everyone's making the most of the clear sky and warm breeze. This could be one of the last sweet nights of the summer, and nobody wants to waste it.
Andeanna is sitting by a fountain. She kisses my cheek when I sit beside her. She looks more composed than last time. Her face has healed cleanly.
'You look good,' I compliment her.
'I know,' she laughs. 'It's crazy. I've been a mess since we met in the park. But this morning I woke up and felt light, giddy, free. It's bizarre.'
'It's because you made up your mind and committed yourself to killing him. You know you're in this to the end. Your choice has been lifted from you, so you feel unburdened.'
'Hark at Mr Freud,' she smiles. 'How did you get to be so wise?'
'I've seen this kind of reaction before.'
'I'm following a trend?' she shrieks mock-hysterically.
'Yes,' I smirk. 'First comes the vow - "I'll kill him, no question about it." Then confusion - "I can't kill him! He's my husband! But I must! But I can't!"'
'Stop,' she giggles.
'Then comes acceptance - "I'll kill him. No big deal. Oh, look at the state of those nails. I need a manicure."'
Andeanna glances at her hands and blushes. 'Incredible. I've got an appointment booked for the morning.'
'I should write a book about it,' I say drily. 'How to Murder a Loved One.'
'That should be How to Murder a Not So Loved One.'
'I stand corrected.'
It feels wonderful to be here with her, to look into her eyes and find no trace of fear, doubt or hatred. She loves and accepts me, and I know she'll never again ask about my past or how I could have done such awful things. We've reached an understanding.
'I hate the thought of killing Mikis,' she says, her smile fading. 'For all his faults, he always provided for me, and he's Greygo's father.'
'But three into two won't go,' she sighs. 'We can't carry on as we have been. He'd find out eventually and kill us. I can't get a divorce. He'd chase me if I ran. We can't wait for him to die of natural causes - he could live for decades. So it's this or nothing.'
'And I can't settle for nothing.'
'Me neither,' she agrees, taking my hand. 'But it has to be swift, as painless as possible. I don't want you choking him like you choked poor Axel.'
'It'll be clean. A bullet through the brain.'
She nods grimly. 'You can get a gun?'
'I already have one - Nelke's.'
Her eyes narrow. 'Won't they be able to trace that to him from powder or bullet grooves or something like that?'
'They're meant to. I want them thinking that Nelke set up the Turk.'
'Axel? Why would he?'
'I don't have a motive, but I don't think we need one. Mikis suspects Axel of betraying him, right?'
'Yes, but Mikis always suspects the worst of people.'
'So this time he was right,' I snort. 'It's the perfect set-up. Mikis has already cast Axel Nelke as a traitor. Bond and the others will be looking for someone to hang. If we throw them the hook of Nelke, they'll snap at it gratefully, so long as we don't make it look too much like a frame.'
'So you'll kill Mikis with Axel's gun, then leave it by the body?'
'That won't work. If Axel was smart enough to slip back into London unseen and carry out a hit, he'd be smart enough not to incriminate himself. If we'd acted swiftly, while we still had his body, we could have arranged a car crash and accounted for him that way - the gun would have been found in the wreckage and Bond would have put two and two together. Since it's too late for that, we have to give them someone else.'
A couple of Japanese tourists sit down close to us. I remain seated a while, so it won't look like we've been frightened away, then rise and take Andeanna on a stroll around the square, speaking softly out of the side of my mouth. 'Assume Nelke's alive and wants to kill the Turk. He can't do it by himself while all the Turk's men are scouring London for him. So how does he go about it?'
'He gets someone else to do it,' Andeanna answers promptly.
'Right. But he can't risk hiring a thug who'll make a meal of the job. He needs a professional. Also, since Mikis is well known and his death is going to create merry hell, it has to be someone who won't be put off by the measure of the assignment. Your average assassin, if there is such a thing, won't go after the likes of Mikis Menderes unless his employer is even more powerful. If we could pin this on one of the Turk's rivals, it would be plain sailing. But we only have Nelke, so he'll have to be the one who hires the assassin.'
'Could Axel afford that?' Andeanna asks.
'He could if he'd been skimming from the Turk,' I chuckle darkly. 'And you can bet Gardiner will draw those sorts of conclusions by himself, without hard evidence. But we need more than financial incentive. We need someone with another reason for accepting this particular hit.'
'I don't understand.'
'No professional would accept money from a guy as insignificant as Axel Nelke to take out someone as well connected as the Turk, unless it was personal.' We stop by one of the lions at the base of Nelson's column and I murmur, 'Does the name Sebastian Dash mean anything to you?'
'He's an assassin. He's worked for the Turk in the past. Last time, something went wrong and the Turk refused to pay. They parted on bad terms.'
'So we pay Dash to kill Mikis, then pretend to Bond that Axel put him up to it?'
'No. Dash wouldn't accept the hit. He doesn't like the Turk, but he's not dumb enough to let that cloud his judgement.'
'Then what good is he to us?'
'We don't need to directly involve Dash. We only need to point the finger of blame at him. When the Turk turns up dead and Dash's signature is found, Bond Gardiner and the others will assume the worst.'
Andeanna looks blank. 'Signature?'
'When Dash kills, he usually unties the lace on the victim's left shoe. If we can get him to London, so that he can be seen by people who'll recognize him, then connect him to Nelke's gun, I can kill the Turk and fake Dash's signature.'
She isn't convinced. 'What if Bond tracks down Dash and learns that he didn't do it?'
'How? By asking politely?'
'Bond could torture him.'
I shake my head. 'You don't fuck around with men like Sebastian Dash. If Gardiner catches up with Dash, he'll execute from a distance, not risk taking him alive. Not that I expect him to get that chance - when Dash learns that he's been framed, he'll go to ground.'
'You don't think he'll try to find out who set him up?'
'How will he trace us? All roads will lead to Axel Nelke, and nobody's ever going to find him.'
'And Axel's gun? How will we pin that on Dash?'
'They might be able to identify the gun from the bullet. After the hit, I'll head out to Heathrow, where Nelke's car is parked, slide the gun under the front seat and leave it there. If they can ID the bullet, I'll retrieve the gun and dispose of it. If they can't link the bullet to the gun, I'll break into Nelke's car. A couple of weeks after the murder, I'll return to the car park with a crowbar, smash in the side window and - '
'How likely is that?' she interrupts. 'Bond will know something's wrong if the car with the gun in it just happens to be broken into.'
'Hear me out. Nelke obviously liked music, because there was a top-of-the-range CD player in the car. I'll rip that out and break into other cars as well. There's CCTV in the car park, so I'll have to get in and out in a hurry. The police probably won't find the gun, since they won't be looking for it. But they will trace the car back to Nelke and try to contact him, to inform him about the robbery. One of Gardiner's men will take a message, retrieve the car, find the gun, and there you have it.'
She ponders the plan. 'Why would the gun be in Axel's car?' she asks. 'If Dash was the killer, wouldn't he have got rid of the weapon?'
'Sometimes your employer slips you a piece, then takes it back after the hit to dispose of. The break-in and plant are too neat, but this wouldn't be the first time a plan was undone by the meddling of amateurs. Gardiner will buy it.'
'And if he doesn't?' she asks.
I shrug. 'I can't make guarantees. I could simply kill the Turk and walk away, but if his murder isn't solved, you'll always be a suspect. What happens six months or a year from now when we move in together? People will wonder when we met and where I was the night the Turk was killed. But if the hit is considered a closed case, we're in the clear. If you can think of another way to frame Nelke, great, I'm all ears.'
'You know I can't,' she pouts, then asks, 'How will we set up Dash?'
I smile, pleased by her sharpness. 'I haven't worked that out yet. We have to come up with a pretext. Ideally we'd fake a message from Nelke and supply Dash with a bogus target, but that won't work.'
'Dash wouldn't accept an assignment without doing his homework. He'd want to know who Nelke was, if he was reliable, how he was going to pay.'
'So how do we lure him in?'
'I don't know,' I groan. 'Maybe pretend to be one of his other employers. I know people in England who've used him in the past. I'll try to get a sample of their handwriting - Dash insists that correspondence be handwritten - so that I can forge a note asking him to fly in for a job. If I can convince him to come, I'll put him up in a safe house, then leave another note instructing him to wait, with a promise to slip him a weapon later.'
Andeanna turns away from me and strolls ahead. I follow patiently, waiting for her to work through whatever's troubling her. Finally she looks back. 'If Mikis asked Dash to do a job for him, would he?'
'Mikis wouldn't hire Sebastian Dash. I told you they parted inamicably.'
'But might Mikis want to make things right between them again?'
I think it over. 'Possibly. Business is business, and Dash is one of the best in his profession.'
'So if Mikis offered him a job,' she pushes, 'would Dash feel compelled to accept?'
'Maybe. The Turk would take it as an insult if he extended the hand of friendship and Dash blanked him.'
Andeanna stops. She's trembling, but with excitement, not fear. 'I can fake Mikis's handwriting. I learnt to copy it years ago. If I wrote to Dash, pretending to be Mikis . . . '
I stare at her, stunned by the simplicity of her plan.
'Would it work?' she asks.
'It . . . Andeanna . . . I . . . '
Unable to find the words, I wrap my arms around her and kiss her hotly. A kiss of pure delight. A kiss of promised death.
We find a quiet cafe. Taking a table at the rear, we order cappuccinos and fall into a mumbled conversation. After a while, I take out my writing pad and pen and we experiment with notes to Dash.
'We can't make outright mention of the hit,' I mutter as I scribble. 'Dash demands handwritten letters from his clients, to use against them if they try to shaft him. But they must be ambiguous, so they won't tip anyone off if they go astray in the post.'
I finish my first draft and hand it to Andeanna. My wife has been cheating on me. I'm not happy. I want to discuss it with you. I have lodgings set aside for you. If you can spare the time, please move in, make yourself comfortable and wait. I'll be in touch. Mikis Menderes.
'We'll include your address, as well as that of the safe house,' I tell her.
'Mikis's middle name is Theopolous,' Andeanna says. 'He always uses it when signing his name.'
'OK. That's an easy adjustment. What about the rest?'
She reads it through a second time. 'We should take out my wife. Mikis refers to me as his woman. And I don't think he'd say I'd been cheating on him. He'd be more likely to say something like I'd been seen with another man. And . . . '
We go over it a few more times. Finally Andeanna is satisfied and reads it out softly, mimicking Mikis's accent. 'My woman has been seen on the arm of another man. Not happy. Want to talk with you about it. Lodgings set aside for you. If you're agreeable, move in and wait. I will be in touch.'
'You're sure he'd be this curt?' I ask.
'That's a novel as far as Mikis's letters go.'
Smiling, I turn over the sheet of paper and write on the back.
'What are you doing now?' Andeanna asks.
'Adding the name of Dash's contact, a woman in Switzerland. She's the person you need to send the letter to.'
'Me?' Andeanna reacts with alarm. 'I thought you were going to send it.'
I shake my head. 'The letter needs to be written on the Turk's own stationery and posted locally. It will be safer if you do it.'
Andeanna looks uncertain, but she nods and takes the note, folding it in half and tucking it away in her purse. 'What about fingerprints?'
'Wear gloves at all stages, before you pick up the paper, before you touch the pen. Make sure it's a self-sealing envelope, so you don't have to lick the flap.'
'When should I send it?'
'As soon as we sort out a safe house.'
'How long will it take him to respond?'
'That depends on where he is and what his schedule's like. We haven't stressed a time frame, so he'll know we aren't in a rush, but he won't want to keep the Turk waiting too long. I'd guess a few weeks. If it goes beyond that, I'll head out to Heathrow and move the car, so the security guards don't take an interest in it.'
'If Dash doesn't accept? How will . . . ' She stops, eyes widening. 'What if he calls Mikis?'
'He won't. The note says to move in and wait. It doesn't say anything about direct contact. Where instructions aren't provided, Dash won't substitute his own.'
She doesn't look convinced. 'What about the safe house?'
'I'll visit estate agents tomorrow, tell them my name's Axel Nelke, that I need somewhere secluded for the next few months. I'll pay with cash.'
'What about proof of identity? Credit checks? References?'
'Cash buys discretion. Not everywhere, but you can always find people who are prepared to waive the rules if the price is right. I'll avoid the chains, hit independent agents, spin them some story about being in the middle of a messy divorce and not wanting to leave a paper trail. As long as I'm paying up front, it shouldn't be a problem.'
'Can you afford that?' Andeanna asks.
'Haven't you heard? I'm hooking up with a wealthy widow-in-the-making.'
Andeanna waves a finger under my nose. 'That isn't funny. Besides, like I told you, everything goes to Greygo.'
'That's OK,' I grin. 'We can kill Greygo too.' Her expression flattens. 'I'm joking. You know I don't care about money. We'll get by.'
She takes my hand and squeezes. 'I'm scared, Ed.'
'You should be. This is a scary business. But it will all work out in the end.' I lean forward to kiss her, and whisper, 'Trust me.'
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