Out of Dreams…
Could Peter reconcile himself to the extraordinary peace that came over him whenever Lesley was close by? Maybe not. Maybe his experience of love was not so deep he could harvest contentment there, although his reluctance to slip from beside her already slumbering form in his bed generated a sweet longing which could not be in the least disturbed by an unmistakeable odour of root vegetables. Nevertheless he had slept enough when she had not, so he left her to her rest. There was much to do.
There were so many questions to ask. Once he had closed the door on the room Vincent had allocated to him it was easy to become intimidated and lost, for Crowley House’s interior, which upon his first visit had seemed a paragon of modern luxury, now tormented him with its maze of carpeted corridors, twisting past door after featureless door, cheaply reproduced plaster mouldings on granite plinths, and reproduction light fittings that conspired to throw him from his purpose. The things about the house that had meaning for him were all nineteenth century features a contemporary architect had seen fit to bury: he sought the honesty of that original regency chamber which had framed his vision of the lady who had called him Arthur. The cavernous candle-lit space from which she had hailed him, even though he had only seen it in a mirror, had greater significance than this modern frippery. He somehow guessed that if Simeon and Vincent succeeded in convening their ‘summit’ within these walls that would be their guests’ desire too; but for their own reasons. Those who knew of the Truth Stone’s existence must surely hope it had suffered the minimum disturbance?
In Peter’s opinion if their hosts thought they could somehow control access to the ‘Stones’ they were deluded, although he had to admit Simeon seemed unlikely to fall victim to delusions.
Once he had extricated himself from the temptations of his room, for reasons he might have found difficult to explain Peter headed not for the courtyard garden with its allure of exotic butterflies and mind-altering rock, but for the roof. It was the right choice. Emerging from narrow stairs into a chaotic acre of high chimneys and low lead guttering, the random pitches of a score of roofs made instant sense. This was the glorious incompetence of Lord Crowley’s design made manifest, evidence of Quimple the architect’s genius in bringing it to fruition. Yes, Matthew Ballantine’s efforts had resurrected the place from the ravages of the storm, but the handwriting of both the mad old general and his draughtsman’s masterwork was plain.
Beneath low grey cloud the winter air from the bay had a keen edge. Peter sheltered from its worst afflictions by hunkering down on the landward side of one of the main chimneys and finding some warmth there, almost as if a fire burned in a grate somewhere below. It was still too cold for comfort; too cold, almost, to think. But he had much to think about.
In poor winter daylight the lights of the Lord Crowley Inn across the Causewaytwinkled like apologetic stars. The ‘Lord Crowley’, one-time ‘Roper’s Hotel’, where the old campaigner had pitched his tent for his assault upon the dignity of the rock. There had been the ruins of a monasteryhere then – long abandoned, but once a source of powerful rumours – tales of Devil worship, even human sacrifice. In a cave somewhere far beneath him the bones of Toqus, Crowley’s manservant, knelt in eternal atonement. He knew how to find his way back to it, and so did Melanie, his erstwhile friend. What made him think of that? At this precise moment…
With nothing but the intimacy of an offshore breeze to punctuate his personal silence, Peter could feel at last as though some pieces of his jigsaw were falling into place.
In his understanding those who, by living here, comprised some sort of guard around The Truth Stone were placed in two camps: Toby and the dancing female figure in the hill cottage were true residents and in the person of Toby, at least, well versed in the Rock’s history, though otherwise free of any active part in events, whereas Vincent and Estelle had a more active role, close to Simeon and ready to follow his spiritual lead.
Peter’s father would have been gratified that his son had remembered ‘Simeon’ as a recurring presence in The Bible – mentioned in Genesis, present when Jesus visited the Temple in Jerusalem, a relation of the Christ child, and a church member in Antioch. All individual people, of course, but Peter was reasonably convinced ‘Simeon’ had chosen the name as a nod towards his self-described entity as an ‘Ethereal’, one without a physical form and therefore impervious to the passage of time. He could adopt various identities that would appear differently to different people: to Peter who needed his leadership he was the brilliant and misunderstood seagull, to Estelle just ‘Simon’,a messy, quarrelsome inconvenience, because that was all she needed.
Vincent was the intermediary: he had the wealth, the ways and means to make profound changes possible. Vincent must understand the mission Simeon had given Peter – to read the lost messages of the Truth Stone and reset instinctive forces that had become drowned by the tidal waves of time. Estelle should be his able lieutenant, although (so far) she seemed to share no such high ideals. She was politically motivated, a missionary, whose ambitious ideas were helping to steer Vincent towards Simeon’s ‘summit’ meeting. From all that had been said, Simeon would appear to go along with this idea, even favour it, and there Peter’s understanding hit a wall. Why? What was Simeon’s interest in bringing together these heads of states? Did they have some function in the performance of communicating with the stones? The timing was astute and there was every likelihood their summit would happen, but how did that benefit the grand plan?
“I’m a puppet!” Peter shouted at the sky, “A passenger! You’re using me, Simeon, and I want your reasons! Come if you dare! Come and answer!”
The sky made no reply. There were few gulls about, and none with a tell-tale orange diamond on its neck. Simeon was elsewhere.
At some point Peter must have closed his eyes, or conceded to the struggle in his brain. He began to see himself as a gull, frolicking in the mad roller-coaster ride of the wind; finding how little effort was needed to to turn in those wild extremes, how the smallest twitch of his body could send him diving, whirling, climbing. He could see the whole bay, the town, his house: he might even attune to the thoughts of his family inside. Yet there were things he still could not do, answers down there he might not yet find: and, although the wires of his soul glowed hot with all they had to watch and store, there was more room to learn: there was a flame of frustration too.
That which followed did so with such subtlety he could not have said, exactly, when a change occurred. One moment he was flying with the mad freedom of a bird in a gale, the next he was closeted inside a car again, just as he had been on the stormy night of his escape from Charlie and Klas, the denizens of the unmarked van. He was seated with Toby at his side, squinting ahead into darkness. He had just enough light to see they had safely clerared the Causeway and gained the road that climbed St. Benedict’s Rock, yet somehow the vivid glare of car headlights had reduced to a sorrowful glow which did little but throw vague shadows on the cliffside to the left, leaving the way in front mysteriously shrouded by night and rain. Progress was much slower, also, as the wheels bumped and banged with metallic irritability over rough stone, tossing him less like an ocean swell than an unmade, mudded track. Steadying himself against this gut-churning motion he pressed against the seat, which was hard leather, reaching for a grab-handle: he found, instead, a heavy sash.
“What’s happened to the lights?” He asked of Toby. He was becoming aware of a pervasive smell of camphor.
“Lights? What lights?” The reply, unsteady with age, was not Toby’s voice.
“The headlights…..” Peter’s words tailed away, acknowledging his foolishness. For his eyes were becoming accustomed to the blackness; enough to see the outline of a swathed, sickly figure beside him. This was not Toby: this was not the estate car with which he had just braved the wrath of Ocean. This was a carriage, with a pair of horses to draw it, and headlights were oil-fed affairs in eighteen twenty-six.
“Don’t know what ye mean. Head lights? Have ye seen to me chair? Is it at the gates?” demanded Lord Crowley.
“Yes m’lord, it will be there.” Peter knew that it would. All accounts spoke of the old man being chair-born into his new house. Lord Crowley fell silent. Only his stentorian breaths could be heard above the grinding of wheels, the steady clack of hooves. He seemed barely conscious, though whether comatose or merely dozing it was hard to tell. After a while he emitted a tiny cry of distress. This he repeated, as though talking in his sleep: soon recognisable words began to form.
“Don’t understand. How could the mare do it to me, dammit? How?” Crowley’s wavering old voice asked of the wind and darkness. “How can a woman….how can she?”
Rain beat against the glass of the carriage window, seeped around its wooden frame. The carriage dropped into a pothole with a sickening lurch. The coachman cursed. Peter reached out quickly to prevent his companion’s fragile form from toppling sideways. There was so little weight in Crowley’s spare carcass he might have re-balanced him with a finger! He settled the old man into a better position, tucking his rugs and blankets around him and. Crowley seemed to recover himself for a moment, opening his tiny, almost sightless eyes.
“Thank ye. That’ll do well. Thank ye.” Then he lapsed back into whatever chasm of his mind he called home. He said nothing more, even when his carriage turned a final bend and the eccentric vista of his Great House opened out before it: a grotesque shadow silhouetted by intermittent flickerings and glare from the troubled sky. It is doubtful if he saw it. Three servants greeted them as they drew up by the main door; their bodies huddled around a wicker wheelchair. Between them they manoeuvred their master from the carriage, battling with its heavy door as it slammed back and forth in the storm. Once, at least, this loosened beast escaped attention for long enough to deal the old Lord a heavy blow. Peter felt this as if it was his own back that was smitten. He was, for a brief while, inside Crowley’s body. He felt everything: the age, the pain, the hopeless despair of a man who has loved someone and lost them.
The grip of a hand on his shoulder brought him to himself. Lesley’s bright face was all the more illuminating against a grey winter sky. “Hey, Pete, you alright mate?”
“Good, I guess!” He said.
“You don’t look it. You look like a dropped Raspberry Ripple!” Better get you inside…”
At moon-rise over the Gulf the Khubali royal family’s helicopter chuttered homeward, its silhouette a little black wasp in the silver reflections on the sea. The pilot did not disguise his relief at seeing the towers of the Hyatt and the King Abur Hospital, with their red navigation lights pass beneath him. He was, of necessity, a quiet, respectful man: the seats behind him had supported many a crowned head, and conversation was not a strong suit in the Khubali Royal family. Rarely, though, had he felt afraid of his passengers. There was some quality, some undeniable menace, in the two figures seated at his back: a malign presence which made the hair on the back of his neck prickle, made the sweat bead coldly on his forehead. The creature to his left, a granite tower of a man, whose scars etched out the story of his life, sat in silence, hands clenching and unclenching to a secret inner rhythm. To his right a slender, urbane figure, who might be a businessman on his way to a conference, a gunrunner or a common thief. His unassuming appearance did nothing to betray his calling in life; nothing until, as the pilot had done, you looked into his eyes and saw the ice of death within. Neither had spoken since he met them from the Prince’s private jet at Tehran. The Prince’s army was small, select, and usually unspeaking. Yet wordless as they were, the emanations of threat from these two killers were the most dreadful he had met.
They landed upon the helipad of a wealthy landowner a dozen miles north of the city, on the desert fringe. Here, a quiet Mercedes glided to meet them. Bourta and Yahedi slipped easily from the helicopter, to be whisked away. The pilot saw them go without regret. They had not thanked him, or exchanged a word; but they had not shot him either. For this, he extended his own unspoken gratitude. He had no doubt, if the covert nature of this journey were important enough, that he would be dead by now.
In the car, Salaiman Yahedi threw Bourta a questioning glance. Few would venture to judge the granite man, at least within his earshot, but the marksman wondered, not for the first time, why he had permitted a witness to live.
“We leave a trail.” Bourta said quietly. “I know this.”
“The woman, the pilots?”
“I think, brother, it is meant to be so. It is the will of Allah.”
Yahedi thought, privately, that he had no wish of his own to join Bourta in his quest for paradise. “You seek this, then?”
“The royal pilots? You would have us eliminate them? Do we not have troubles enough? No, I do not seek my martyrdom; but I accept it if my master demands.”
The limousine whispered over the midnight sand. Salaiman sighed. “Ah, if only we knew: who are our masters, Mahennis? Tell me that.”
“Maybe not the ones we supposed?” Bourta said quietly. He was leaning forward as he spoke, his fingers running over the lower extremities of the partition which separated them from their driver, a sullen, moustachioed man of uncertain race or age.
“It will be armoured”. Yahedi confirmed, speaking of the glass. “Have we changed our route?”
Bourta nodded. “The road to the West Town passed by us a kilometre since. This is not a road I know.”
“We do not go to the Palace, then.” The pair exchanged glances. Salaiman reached down to the case at his feet, opening the latch with extreme care. One by one he extracted the sections of the weapon it contained, passing them below the level of his knees to Bourta, who methodically assembled each piece. In a matter of seconds, the big Algerian had a fully-primed sub-machine gun on his lap. Two grenades lay on the seat to Yahedi’s left: an automatic pistol rested beneath his hand.
There was an intercom. Mahennis Bourta switched it on. “Where are you taking us?” He asked the driver, quietly.
If the moustachioed man had noticed the unsubtle change of atmosphere in the passenger compartment behind him, he did not show any sign of it. His glance in the mirror was perfunctory, his answer non-committal. “Not far. Two minutes, that is all.”
Bourta smiled: the slow, glittering ice-smile many had seen, few lived to remember. “Drive carefully, friend. Drive very carefully.”
The driver made no answer.
“Look in your mirror.”
When he did as he was bidden, he saw Bourta’s big hands clasping the black shadows of the two grenades. Their message was unavoidable.
“Stop when we tell you to stop, O.K? Or we all will meet in Paradise.”
The driver seemed unperturbed. He merely nodded.
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