A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

A QUIET WORD



He was rowing towards the deserted island home that was about three hundred yards from shore. Near the mouth of a slow moving river, he was only sixty yards out, now. But Jeremy noticed, once again, how small he looked compared to the row boat. Florian Mendelssohn wasn’t big or tall, it was true, but his stature was in his intelligence. And women always seemed to like him, quite a lot, in spite of it. Jeremy supposed his personality invited curiosity because he was just a little bit ‘mysterious’.

The night was warm and humid as nights in Suffolk usually were, but with the constant flow of the river, the air near the water’s surface was cool enough to still warrant a sports coat of some kind. And both men had one on.

Florian was one of those pleasant sorts that you always appreciated having around even though he was often on the quiet side, with just about everyone but Jeremy. Being a good listener, though, you couldn’t help but like him as his attentive, polite manner encouraged one to talk. He had a standing invitation, with Jeremy, that whenever he was in the area he should drop by.

So when he called, Jeremy immediately asked him round for supper and drinks. He was curious about his recent trip to Belgium, his ancestral homeland. He’d told Jeremy he’d gone over to see if there was any resemblance to his old ancestral home, that his family journals had described, comparing it to today’s more modern day world, but Jeremy suspected it had something more to do with his work. He imagined there would be lots to listen to and discuss. They were old college buddies and often swapped stories.

The knock of wooden oars against the dock precluded their greeting as Jeremy went down to meet him. The water was glassy, as it usually was in the slow moving river. With the moonlight and the Japanese lanterns above the dock that lit up the wooden planking and their faces, while helping him manoeuvre into the dock area, in the near dark behind the trees. It was good for them to see each other again, it having been a while.

“So, how are things?” Jeremy asked, holding his hands in his trouser pockets as he glided in, next to the dock. Florian didn’t answer right off. Grabbing the rope, he’d tossed Jeremy’s way he tied the little boat to the dock, and asked another question. “The current wasn’t too strong, was it?”

“Not at all,” he said. “It felt good to row out here on a night like this. I forget what it’s like to slip through water. It’s always pleasant here, for me, but you really must invest in a road” he said. “Mosquitoes been a problem this year?”

“I haven’t noticed them,” Jeremy said. “They’re all pretty much gone by now, except for the ones carrying West Nile and Malaria.”

“Wonderful. Sounds like we’ll be having a good time then.”

They strolled up the flagstone pathway leading to the main house, both of them nosing about into each other’s business affairs, the ones currently on the fire, that is.

Jeremy often wondered about Florian. He’d hadn’t married, yet, and didn’t talk much about women. Jeremy, on the other hand, had been married and divorced twice and was always squeezing his latest amorous adventures into their meetings, since the last disaster. There were usually many other things to discuss, though, and Jeremy enjoyed his stories of being in the C.I.A., which, he often made jokes about.

Jeremy always thought Florian should have gone in to physics or especially mathematics. He understood, in school, he was above brilliant with numbers and he could manipulate them as easily as drinking a glass of scotch. But he said he met a lot of interesting people, in his work, and Jeremy always loved hearing him describe their character, or lack of it, as he saw them, and their misadventures.

Jeremy always had the feeling, though, that there was much more to the stories he told than he ever let on about. He seemed a bit too reserved at times, even with him, someone that had known him for a full twenty odd years, now. Still, he supposed he had his reasons, but Jeremy always tried getting more details out of him than he ever seemed willing to discuss.

They had fine wine with dinner, white, of course, and a large, freshly caught trout each, and pale potatoes. Jeremy’s cook had been prepared for the visit and was an excellent chef. As another side dish, they had green beans with almond sauce, and some kind of Italian ice cream for dessert; vanilla, of course, chased down with more light, slightly tart, Australian wine.

They spoke little to each other, during dinner, for trout requires one’s attention. But soon afterwards they retired to Jeremy’s den, but not before Jeremy caught Florian eyeing the female servant. Jeremy couldn’t blame him of course. He hired them young and for their looks. They were only about five years out of their bracket, but it never hurt to look he reckoned.

Florian sat in one of the red leather overstuffed chairs of the den, the ones with the broad arms. They faced outward, to the front of the house next to the big bay window, looking out over the mirror like flow of the quiet river and the lights on the nearby town’s shoreline. Then remembering his manners, Jeremy asked, “Brandy?”

“Bourbon for me, no ice.”

“I didn’t think anyone drank that anymore?”

“I guess I’ve read one too many of those pulp novels from the fifties,” Florian said, “my hobby, if you recall?” He had a collection you wouldn’t believe. “I finally tried the drink of choice for gumshoes and found I had a liking for it.” His mouth demonstrated one of his small evasive smiles. You had to watch him closely to catch his temperament, he was so reserved, and more so with others.

“Yeah! I remember,” Jeremy said. “I’m surprised you’re still reading those things,” saying it with a smile as he handed him a tumbler of the ancient dark liquid, straight up.

“I’ve been telling you from way back when; you’d probably like a lot of the stories. You’re just too stubborn, to ever read one.”

“Yes, you have been saying that, but you’re wrong. I did read one.”

“And?” Who was the author?”

Jeremy told him.

“There are better.”

“Send me one, someday. I’m not that prejudiced against trash reading.”

He grinned looking at the colour of his drink, holding it up to the lamp on the table.

“So,” Jeremy asked, “there’s been no one new in your life since we last met, huh? And what’s it been, a year, now?”

“Ten months,” he said. “And no. Not really. No one serious, that is. Just a few dates with women I’ve met on the job. I’m not usually around that long to get too involved with any one person. I’m sort of a glorified courier of documents, a delivery boy, for the service, if you will. And they keep me hopping around a lot.”

“Important documents?” Jeremy asked, trying to sneak into the cracks of his job a little more than he was ever willing to share with him. But he was having none of it.

“I suppose so. I don’t really see them, you know. They’re all sealed up in diplomat bags... for the important people.”

“And you’re not important?”

“Not really. Not in the way you mean,” he said, taking a sip of his bourbon. His face scrunched up, his almost red lips drawing back from his teeth as if in a grimace of pain. Jeremy knew right there, something wasn’t being elaborated on. He knew him well enough to know when he was lying or leaving things out -- he thought.

“How is it? The drink?”

“Bitter. Like bourbon’s suppose to be. It’s pretty good stuff if I’m any kind of judge.”

“Glad you like it. It’s probably been there at least forty years. My father used to have some, once in a great while.”

“So -- if you’re shuffling things around that have some kind of value, you must have some sort of special training, right?”

“Yeah right! I am in the employ of the U.S. of A. government, you know,” he said, with mock self importance.

“So what is it? This special training?”

“Always reply with a ‘Sir’ at the end of each reply and especially when addressing superiors.”

“I’m glad I’m not your dentist, Florian. It would be impossible to pull one of your teeth.”

He almost laughed out loud, grinning broadly. It was genuine, Jeremy knew. He didn’t crackle into laughter all that often.

“You’re always trying to dig into my job,” he stated, the grin wavering across his small girlish mouth. “Why is that?”

“Well, for one thing, you’re always wearing that gun.”

“Oh that! It’s just regulation. We’re supposed to wear the thing off duty. Even in foreign lands. Every police force in our nation has the same requirement. The government’s no different. I guess it’s in case I see a terrorist, I can sneak up on him and shoot him in the foot or something.”

“With a silencer?”

He was momentarily quiet, part of the vague smile disappearing, but was honest enough not to deny he had it.

“How do you know about that?” he asked, in a quiet voice, suspicion mildly written into his attentive eyes.

“You pulled it out with your cigarettes, last time we met. I didn‘t know what it was till I saw some movie. It was the same gun as you have and the silencer looked just like yours.”

He nodded, remembering how he’d tried to hide the thing quickly.

“Speaking of smoking,” Jeremy offered, trying to relieve the bit of stress in the air, “would you like a cigar? They’re not Cubans, but damned fine, hand rolled from eastern Europe.”

“I’d never turn down anything from Europe.”

Jeremy grinned and walked to the glass cabinet, still feeling the stress floating in the air, hoping it would soon dissipate.

It was humidity controlled, that cabinet, as Jeremy had insisted on caring for his finer tobaccos. He opened the sealed door and removed the tray along with cutter and lighter. The cigars were in a special smallish wooden box containing about eleven rolls. He was particularly proud of the tray and the expensive kit. He’d guessed he was just a bit more materialistic than most, in that way. He liked his little trinkets.

Jeremy set the tray down on the lamp table between them and they both prepared and lit their cigars, cutting the ends and lighting them slowly with the pressurized propane lighter. It wasn’t long before the den smelt heavily of aromatic, sweet tobacco smoke.

“Mmm, not bad? Who’d you get these from, the Prime Minister?”

“I have a special relationship with the local smoke emporium.”

“Emporium?”

“Yeah. Don’t get all uppity on me, now. He orders them in special. Apparently, I’m the only one around here who can afford them. They’re not cheap.”

“If I lived on an island, like you do, I’d expect people to take me for every penny they could squeeze from my pocket, too.”

“Ha ha! Funny.”

“And speaking of money, when are you going to announce your next, beyond the national debt, wedding? You should have found yourself a new wife, by now.”

“When hell freezes over. I’m through with marriage. The last one was too much even for me. I’m still having problems with her. But getting back to that silencer, why do you have it?”

“God you’re worse than when we were in college. When you want to know something, you won’t give up till you get it, will you? I seem to recall they called you, The Rottweiler, back then, for tenaciousness.”

“Stupid name, I always thought. But I’m going to keep serving you bourbon until you give in and tell me.”

“There’s nothing to tell really. It’s just a part of the kit, that’s all. A requirement.”

“Like that knife in your sock?”

“You don’t miss much, do you, old buddy.”

“Nope! That’s why I’m rich.”

“Ha, that may be why your daddy got rich. You’re just a spoiled brat.”

“And your kit?”

“Jeez... Next time I come here I think I’ll bring around a black bomb with a lit fuse hanging off it. It’ll be a conversation starter for you since you’re so closed mouth about everything.” He paused. “At home I use the silencer as a paper towel weight, if you must know, and the knife I use to slice cheese sandwiches because that’s where I take them off, in the kitchen. And yes, I’m required to have them with me at all times, at home and away. I’ve also got about two hours of specialist martial arts training through meticulously watching the Karate kid. Now enough about my toys. Do I needle you about the thirty or so rifles you’ve got in the games room, or the buried bodies in the basements of your five homes?”

“Okay -- Okay. But you know...”

“Here we go...”

“... You know,” Jeremy forced it, “I’d hate to be in a dark alley with you.”

“Really? Why is that? Think I’d miss trying to shoot myself, with you driving me crazy?”

Both men chuckled.

“I need some more refreshment,” he claimed, getting up. “You are now driving me to drink sir.”

“Finally. You could use a few stiff belts. You’re so up-tight all the time. Here, get me another, too, please,” Jeremy said, handing him his glass.

He took it but said, “Aren’t you afraid I’ll poison you or something?”

“Not with my constitution,” Jeremy bragged. “I could take on anything. Even airline liquor.”

“Hmm,” he sounded thoughtful. “That reminds me of a story, if you can stomach it?”

“Try me.”

“Alright,” he said, handing Jeremy his glass of brandy and seating himself again, staring into the depths of his swirling dark bourbon.

“Some months ago I heard this tale of an agent, a real field agent stationed in -- well – let’s just say, a western European country. He was a tough guy and had real guns, knives, and bombs, stuff like that, you would have liked him. He was very in deep undercover that even his closest friends didn’t know about his employ. But he fell in love with a flight attendant from an eastern bloc country. This was supposed to have taken place after the fall of the Soviet empire, mind you.”

“Don’t tell me. She was an ex-KGB agent.”

“No. Not from what I was told. She had been checked out by the service and even by himself, once they had begun to see each other regularly, and she seemed to be someone as presented, a hard working woman that had toiled her way up out of poverty to a good job through her own tenacity and desire. She was supposed to be quite the beauty, the way I was told, tall, blonde, great breasts. When they fell in love, after a few quiet rendezvous, it was all deep and serious. They both did all they could to arrange meetings, whenever possible. Even though the state owned airline was aware of the affair, and thus, the company. There didn’t seem to be any outward reactions to prevent their meetings.”

“Too many clues... She had to be Russian.”

“Shut up! And no, she wasn’t. This went on for nearly a year, the affair, their lives filled with the joy that only two young people in love seemed to appreciate and care about as it grew into desperation for each other’s company. And then thoughts of marriage entered their pretty little heads and after several long months, well, almost a year had passed, they got the idea of her defecting to the west and seeking asylum. He knew things, how to arrange it, and she was more than willing to go along with it. Both agreed to take all the risks and accept the consequences, no matter what the outcome.

The planes schedules and her duties were all known well in advance so they could plan and devise her get away. It wasn’t that hard and though it still carried its share of danger, it went off without a hitch. The girl was now his and after a little state department finagling, they settled for the state of Virginia to live in. He worked his job and she worked on being a housewife and adapting to the shock of being a Russian immigrant in a somewhat opinionated America.

But it seems he was gone on business much too often and much too long. Her ability to adjust was not going well. She began to get lonely after sacrificing so much of her life to be with him and his not being there. She emptied herself into liquor bottles, trying to console herself. In the sad attempt that it was, she hid it well from him. Loneliness is one of those things that life demands of some people I’m afraid, to face up to and overcome, but like most of the masses, she couldn’t find any way around the horn, so to speak, of her difficult, new life.

Several years went by with his life heading in one direction and she, with hers, in another, though, their get-togethers were becoming more and more heated as the alcohol consumed her bit by tiny bit and her objections became increasingly more irrational in their expressions.

When they finally divorced, she went back to Russia only with a whole lot of names and places. She had played her hand exquisitely and he had been the biggest fool in the service. Within weeks, all over the globe, deep cover agents started disappearing and little could be done about it. The fool had taken too much of his work home with him, when he was there, and she had stolen everything, copying things down to the last comma and full stop. He jeopardised hundreds of agents and so many people lost their lives that an order has been issued for his death, whichever way it comes about. And I’ve been assigned to the case, Jeremy. And I don’t mess up.”

“The little bastard.” Jeremy thought. Florian was talking about his past. They both knew it, now.

“We also have confirmation, that because of his foolishness, he had further co-operated with the enemy, trying to hush up his mistakes with even more stupidity, by giving further details on particular cases he was involved with, handing further secrets over to our adversaries. The rat had turned beyond redemption, at that point, trying to cover his own arse.”

“You know this for a fact, eh?” Jeremy chided, but he wasn’t kidding around.

Florian stood up and walked to the window. “I know you didn’t mean for any of it to happen, Jeremy, but there isn’t anything you can say or do that will help save you now. I’m sorry.

There are thirteen agents around this island, at the moment, with orders to shoot anyone leaving, after myself. They’ll come in by morning.”

He turned from the window, putting down the glass of bourbon, and walked over to Jeremy’s desk. He pulled the desk drawer and lifted out a small automatic Jeremy kept in there, and charged the weapon with a bullet, then laid it down on the green ink blotter. It made Jeremy angry that he knew of it. Florian stared at the weapon for a moment then took in a full chest of air and with hands in his pockets he walked slowly from around the desk.

“Jeremy,” he said, looking straight into his eyes. “I really don’t want to kill an old friend. And please don’t put yourself through the humiliation of the horrible death they have planned for you. It has been told to me that they intend to kill with extreme prejudice. And you know what that means don’t you? A slow and painful death. I’m asking you as a friend here to take the gentleman’s way out,” nodding over his shoulder back at the desk.

Jeremy looked up at him, his whole world destroyed now with this one short visit.

“Damn that woman and damn me for having ever loved her. Thank you,” he finally managed to say, “for coming here and telling me yourself. And tell them I’m sorry. I just didn’t...” but he couldn’t finish saying it, that he hadn’t the courage to confess when he’d had the chance.

Jeremy already knew when the agents had started to disappear that it was likely something he had done that had lead to it. It wasn’t too hard to deduce the cause and his stupidity.

“Good-bye, Jeremy,” Florian said, and that was that, as they say. And then he left.

Jeremy watched Florian go to the dock and leave, slowly rowing his way back to the mainland. He went to the desk, took up the gun and went outside, still watching him row away. The evening was beautiful, he thought.

Walking to the dock, there, he looked up at the stars, as Florian crossed the calm water. “Good-bye, old friend,” he mumbled.

He tossed the cigar butt into the water in front of him and held the pistol to his temple. He added pressure to the trigger, making it both quick and painless.







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