Authors: Graham Adams
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Europe, #France
They went through the other pages, discussing salary and expenses and the conditions on the free flat he was already using. When it seemed that the meeting was about to close, Victor had one more question to ask the diplomat.
‘Mikhail, what happens to our agreement if you get recalled home?’
‘That, my boy is a very good question, and if you would call back here tomorrow with your decision on my offer I will tell you my answer, say at ten tomorrow?’
The first thing that Victor did when he was back at his flat was ring his father and explain in as much detail as he could the terms of the proposal. His father was quite aware of Mikhail, and had nothing bad to say about him. He repeated the advice to his son of the possible dangers in dealing with such a high officer in the embassy, but then withdrew his comment. The cold war was still the main event in relations when he was at the Foreign Office, and the suspicions were more relevant for that time. When Victor told him that Mikhail had made an appointment at the Foreign Office with Giles Carver, and had encouraged him to feel free to talk openly, his father was pleased at the diplomat’s action, and gave his son his blessing. His father’s approval meant a great deal to him and with this final obstacle overcome, he felt ready for a little celebration, and a local pub dinner seemed favourite to him.
Victor felt that this was the first time in London that he had able to relax. All his patience and restraint had taken its toll on him, and now having passed the test with flying colours, seemingly his future was assured at last. He walked in the pub at around eight and looked around the crowded dining area. Dismayed, having noticed no tables free, he was about to retrace his steps when he heard his name being called. At a far corner table he could see an arm waving him over.
Six young Russian students were at a large circular table and they had already squeezed together to allow him to join them. As he approached the table, sitting opposite to his space, was no less than Lydiya the diplomat’s daughter. She smiled at him vaguely, as if she had never met him before. He knew two of the assembled students. As he sat down, one of them introduced Louis to the others, all in Russian.
‘And this here is Lydiya.’ His heart beat seemed to get a little faster, when she smiled at him again.
He carried on the pretence in Russian, and during the evening, when talking to one of the others, he could feel her eyes on him and try as he might, he just couldn’t resist a quick look at her. Tonight she was stunning, he thought to himself. At closing time the other five got up to leave, each shaking his hand, but Lydiya stayed seated.
‘I think that you did very well Victor. None of them guessed that you were not from Russia. It was a great achievement.’ She said with a grin showing off her beautiful teeth.
‘No Lydiya, it was not me who did well, it was my teacher who did well.’ They both laughed together, and then she got up out of her chair and sat in the next one to him. Her face was just millimetres away from his and he could smell her heady perfume.
‘I think it is time for just one more lesson Victor, no?’
Lydiya quietly closed the flat’s door behind her. It was six am and the dawn was breaking over Kensington. Even at her tender age she was far more experienced at sex than Victor could have dreamed of. He had plenty of stamina but the technique certainly needed some ‘work’. She smiled to herself in the knowledge that he wouldn’t forget that last lesson for a very long time. Come to think of it neither would she.
She left him sleeping deeply, the utterly dreamless sleep of the totally satisfied but exhausted. He awoke with a start. Outside of the flat it sounded like world war three had been declared. Peering out of his tiny garret window, he could make out the mangled wrecks of two ‘Chelsea Tractors’ that had met head on. There began a cacophony of noise; car horns and people screaming and shouting! He crept back to his bed and looked at the travel clock bleary eyed. ‘Nine fifteen. Oh no, I’ve got just forty five minutes to get to the embassy.’
He arrived at the Embassy just fifteen minutes late, hoping that Mikhail couldn’t read what was going on in the young man’s mind. A quick glance in the hallway mirror relaxed him a little; no imprint of his daughter’s delicious body could be detected.
Mikhail’s eyebrows were slightly more furrowed, but he did smile when Victor described the scene outside his flat. Fortunately Victor had signed both copies of the agreement before he went out to the pub. He retained one copy of the agreement, and handed the other to Mikhail. The diplomat then rose from his chair and proffered his hand to Victor indicating that the conversation had come to an end.
Victor looked a little puzzled at the shortness of the meeting, ‘Mikhail you haven’t mentioned about what would happen in the event of you being recalled back to Russia?’
‘Ah yes, sorry to have overlooked this, well..’ Victor noticed his eyes had darkened somewhat. ‘I must admit dear boy that our agreement will have to be renegotiated with my replacement here at the Embassy.’
Victor left Mikhail’s office somewhat deflated that his prospects in his job were now a little less secure, and could be terminated through events that were out of his control.
‘Oh Victor, just a moment please.’ The young man stopped in his tracks and wheeled round facing his new employer. ‘I do hope that you enjoyed the services of my little Lydiya, she certainly did a good job, making you into a little Russian, did she not?’
Victor shook his hand and smiled at Mikhail, thinking the best of the lessons was the one he had had the previous night. ‘Thank goodness you don’t know about that one’, he said under his breath, feeling his neck in one piece. Outside at last, he breathed in deeply. ‘I think I need a drink.’
The baptism with the six oligarchs was surprisingly good, and they seemed to be able to show a little patience with any slip ups that he occasionally made. When one was outbid for a piece, where he expected fireworks he got a philosophical comment of. ‘Never mind there are many others.’ He never learned where any of them resided, or much about their background in Russia, so he quickly avoided trying, and got on with his job. He did however learn which billionaire was collecting which type of art or collectible. This was his favourite part of his job, seeking out the very best, offering the item for interest, by emailing to a third party, and then trying to obtain it wherever the auction was to be held. Christies, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s were the houses that the billionaires preferred Victor to attend. Their integrity was unequalled and with houses in New York, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo and of course London, it was rare for Victor needed to attend any of the other ones.
The year flew by as Victor became more adept at locating the best in every field and quite a high percentage of targets were successfully purchased. He was now able to know when to push and when to pull out of any bid. He was becoming irreplaceable to them, inasmuch that he sometimes had two of them bidding against each other for the same item.
A year after that final lesson with Lydiya had gone by; he had to admit to himself that he needed a holiday. All fifty two weeks he had globe trotted to all the major cities, but had not seen any of them. One morning he awoke, picked up his mobile and left a message on it. ‘I am not available for the next month as I am away on holiday. I cannot be contacted please do not leave any messages just ring back in a month’s time.’
He decided that morning to go home to Burley. Until that moment, he didn’t realise how much he had missed his mother and father and the sleepy village nestled deep in the New Forest.
The rustic bench
Edmund turned off the engine of the little Morgan and the dull roar fell silent. He could feel the quiet at last of his home surroundings; maybe just a distant twitter of a robin and soon his heart was again in tune with the deep forest. No sooner had he got out of the car than Sally jumped out of her side of the car and into the nearby bushes. He let her go and headed to the back door of his cottage. Having just unlocked the door he stopped for a moment, remembering the little book he had purchased at Burley. He walked back to the car and in a moment found it in the dark foot well of the passenger side. The dark brown leather cover felt well worn but in surprisingly good condition, as was the gold edging on the book. Old it may have been, but expensively made, he had no doubt.
Edmund guessed that Sally was still surveying her new temporary surroundings, so he took the opportunity to draw some water from the well, a few paces from his door. In the cottage, he lit the camping gas stove and began to boil some of the water for some tea, saving a little for Sally. A quick glance at the dial of the old Philippe Patek wristwatch told him that there was still time for a little walk in the woods with the dog to see what she might turn up. He went to the open doorway and said, ‘Sally, come.’ He was quite aware of the collie’s acute senses so he knew there was no need to shout. With a few pieces of bramble stuck to her coat, she ran out of the undergrowth and was at his side in a few seconds.
Before he had left Harry and Fay’s cottage in Burley, he had taken the opportunity to ask them about Sally’s eating habits. Fay had written down what, how much and when to feed the dog and Harry handed over a plastic bag of supplies to tide Edmund over for a couple of days.
The shadows were lengthening somewhat and so as to retain the light, especially for the way back, Edmund started their walk immediately. The sunlight was still streaming through the leaves of the surrounding beech trees leaving dappled shadows on the little clearing outside the cottage. ‘Shall we go then Sally?’ He patted her back and waved his arm towards one of the tiny paths in front of them. The paths were old and twisting, probably made by deer or ponies in their search for grazing. In his time here Edmund had followed many of these paths, some of which just led back from where he had come, but more often to a dead end thicket that was impenetrable and he had had to retrace his steps.
Sally seemed quite excited that her new master was letting her lead, and often she would run out of sight, but as soon has he whistled, she would be back at his side waiting a command. This routine went on for about half an hour until finally she ran off and he could hear her barking about something. He whistled but she didn’t return and just kept on barking. He had taken the shepherds crook that he had purchased at a local crafts show near Beaulieu the previous year and used this to help him along the bramble covered path towards the sound of her barking. The last little bit was very heavy going and he had to knock a part of the undergrowth down to get through.
Suddenly as if by magic, he was out of the dense forest which gave way to a clearing. The smell of his surroundings stopped being woody, and the air became quite cool and fresh. In front of him was a dark pool about thirty yards long and fifteen yards across in an oval shape, surrounded by a deep thicket of yew trees, so dense it was pitch black between them.
He looked to his left, and there was the unmistakeable black and white collie sitting by what looked like an old rustic bench. She wagged her tail furiously as he approached. The bench was covered in old leaves and debris from many years of being unused. He brushed away what he could, and was surprised to see how good a condition it was in. Edmund sat on the bench, half expecting it to collapse under his weight but no, it was fully sound and for what he could see, made of seasoned oak. As he sat, Sally came and sat in front of him and offered a paw. ‘Well done Sally, I would never have found this little beauty spot if it hadn’t been for you.’
Having cleaned the seating part of the bench, he brushed the backrest area and in the middle, on the back of the top spar he felt a little square of metal. Looking closely he saw it was a brass plaque, he felt in his pocket and found an old tissue which he spat on and began to rub the plaque. The writing, even when cleaned was very small and it read; ‘This bench was erected by my own hand – Louis Owen September 1981’
Edmund looked at the name again. It seemed to stir something in his past, was it someone he knew? Whatever it was, this Louis certainly had a connection to his cottage over twenty years ago. Someone lived here and surely loved this place, he thought to himself, and now I’ve found it, it will be mine too. Unconsciously, he pushed his hand into his trouser pocket and pulled out the stone. In the past, it had been a good friend to him, especially when he was faced with difficult problems to solve. ‘What other mystical qualities did it have?’ He thought to himself.
Sally had quickly found her way back to the cottage easily enough. They were at the back door in twenty minutes, and soon she was tucking into the biscuits that Harry had left for her. Edmund wasn’t hungry; he just wanted to think about the day’s events. The most dominant one was the moment with the white stag as he approached Burley. He just couldn’t get over the way it had looked at him. Sally had eaten the biscuits that he had set out, and lapped up the dish of cool water from the well. Edmund dozed a little in his armchair in front of the fireless grate, yet feeling warm especially because Sally had curled up at his feet. It was as if she had always been there. Harry was right, she would soon settle in at the cottage with him.
He awoke from a dream. The stag had come right up to him and suddenly the huge face had morphed into a humans face, but it wasn’t smiling, it was showing teeth in a grimace. He had disturbed the dog as he gently rose from his chair, but she just went back to sleep, contented. He passed his pine table as he went to lock the back door, and noticed the little leather bound book lying there. He stopped and picked up the cover and looked at the dedications written on the inside. There seemed to be four, two of which were obscured. It looked as if they had in the past got wet, and the old ink had run and the paper had stained brown making them indecipherable. The third was in what looked like an old Cyrillic script, but the fourth dedication looked quite recent and was the clearest. ‘To V. till the next time L.’
Edmund stared hard at the dedication as if he wanted to get more from it. Then his mind suddenly played tricks on him. Was it a coincidence? He thought to himself Harry and Fay’s disappeared son was Victor and the name on the plaque on the bench was Louis. He replaced the little book on the table and locked the back door. Looking at the fireplace, Sally was still asleep, so he quietly opened the door to his bedroom, leaving it open in case she woke up and wanted company. He felt rather troubled about the coincidence he had just uncovered, and it took a long time before he finally drifted off to sleep again.
The next morning he awoke to the sound of a dog barking. In a second he realised it was Sally, and she was to be his alarm clock for the next few days. Downstairs, he unlocked the back door and she flew outside. No resolution to any of the questions that had been raised the previous night had come to him, but instantly he knew this was not just a coincidence, it was much more than that. The only feeling he had was that something was calling him from his past and he did not feel that it was a good calling. A sense of foreboding gripped him as if a shadow had covered his whole being for a moment.
This was not going to ruin his plans for the day. He threw caution to the winds and with Sally by his side in the Morgan he made his way to the most beautiful part of Dorset. A piece of coastline that was unspoilt and perfect for a dog that probably had never seen the sea. The southerly breeze was in their faces as he sped through Christchurch and headed to Hengistbury.
Sally adored her first walk on the beach and she soon made new friends with all of the other dogs and their walkers that sunny morning. After a short break for a coffee, sitting outside at the Café Riva on the cliff top, they were soon heading back towards their forest hideaway.
Edmund pulled into the Crossways Garage at Hordle for some fuel for the little sports car, and left Sally in the passenger seat whilst he went to pay. On his way he passed a few vehicles that the garage owner had displayed for sale. Parked at the end of the row, next to the pay kiosk was a Toyota Hiace pickup truck. The truck was in quite a state, not even clean inside, with a handwritten notice ‘For sale’ inside the front window.
Under the mountain of dirt he could see that it’s paintwork was intact except for down the driver’s side, where it looked as though something else, just as filthy had hit it. As bad as it looked, he knew it was just the perfect vehicle for the bad weather in winter around the cottage.
He was just about to leave the red pickup and enter the kiosk door, when the garage owner stopped him.
‘It’s not the usual type of car I sell, but I’m doing a favour for a friend. It’s a working vehicle, in the week it’s on building sites as you can see, but I know it’s in great mechanical order, as I maintain it for him.’
‘Why is he selling it?’ Edmund asked casually.
‘He wants to buy a new one and wants to get more than the Toyota garage is offering in part exchange.’ The man answered.
‘How much does he want?’ Edmund asked
‘Well it couldn’t go for less than two and a half.’ He said.
‘Is that hundreds?’ Edmund asked smiling innocently at the garage owner.
The man laughed. ‘Thousands, be serious.’ The owner smiled at him. ‘Well, make me an offer if you are interested.’
‘I’ll think about it.’ Edmund walked into the shop to pay leaving the garage owner standing beside the Toyota. He could just make out the sign on the Toyota door;
‘Trim Builders, Forest Lane’ he remembered the same sign along that road in front of a pretty bungalow, and made a mental note to visit in the week and perhaps buy direct.
In a few minutes they were bumping down his private lane that twisted and turned on the well pitted pathway. He thought to himself that it was the first full day he had had with Sally and she was the perfect companion. As he came to a halt behind the cottage, she sat up on the seat and looked at him. He stroked her sleek coat for a moment before she jumped out and ran to the back door.
‘Are you hungry girl?’ She barked in response, wagging her tail in expectation.
Sally had eaten one of her tins of meaty food mixed with biscuits, washed down with water from the well. After all the running on the beach she was tired and chose her favourite place and slept, she was the picture of contentment. Edmund scanned the dedication again inside the little book’s leather cover He read it again. ‘To V. Till the next time L.’
’ But why should ‘L.’ dedicate the Myths and Ghosts from the Steppes book, to ‘V.’ in such a way? He asked to himself. It just didn’t sit right. He scanned the first few pages of the book which although it was written in English, was in very old script and grammar. Every ten to twenty pages there were hand drawn images of all sorts of frightening things so he slammed the book shut. He had seen enough for now.