The new companion who leads him out of disaffected early retirement is a seductive, young, novice female agent, but could there really be far more to her than there at first seems?
They find themselves in a world of natural beauty, mountain and beach, which they will only contaminate with extraordinary rendition, abduction, bloodshed and torture.
The modern bureaucratic world of paperwork and subcontracting will mean that no-one actually knows which government or country is behind the operation, but one man will soon remember why he left Agency work like this and why he hates it so much, even though it may really be love that has dragged him back into it all.A dark, Scottish tale of conspiracy, espionage, murder and terrorism, with an existential edge, and the spirit of an ancient mountain looming at its centre.“The specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair.”
The woman had that thick, black hair I have always loved. Even her skin was alive strangely, as though some thick juice was flowing through it, near the surface, as my eye gazed. Desiring the woman was a normal response. The mind turns from knights on their horses, towards women with their hair and skin, easily. The woman’s mind was locked on some course, purposeful, the eyes directed forward, a rigidity there. I didn’t let that put me off. I kept looking at her. Then she sensed me and looked back. I had to look away. I chose the clock, gazed up at it, then mimed the action of raising my wrist, lifting my jacket sleeve, checking the time of my watch against the time on the clock. I looked back over at the woman. Now she was sitting on a bench, her legs crossed neatly. Her shoes were red, scarlet, and that was a small shock behind my ribs, but it didn’t put me off her at all. Instead, I made a focal point of one of her shoes. It was possible to look at the shoe without having that sense of trespass I’d felt when she found me looking at her face. Somehow the shoe was in the public domain. I committed no violation, no infringement, by looking at the shoe like this. None that I was aware of anyway. We all must be free, ultimately, to pick our own objects of contemplation. I could look away from the shoe, to the clock, or to someone else in the railway station, then I could look back at it. Occasionally, from the shoe, I could lift my eyes and look at her hair again, her face, then back to the shoe. This was all permissible, somehow.
Millions of years of evolution for me to be here now, a biped, with a central nervous system ending in two close-set stalked predatory eyes, and staring at this red shoe. And why not? Good enough. Perhaps, later, there will be something even better than the red shoe to look at. Perhaps not. In any case, I will be satisfied, having had this interlude, this occupation, afforded by the red shoe and its wearer.
Knights and their horses. And their hawks. Now, as I look at her, I might be hiding, beneath my coat, the tensed body of my hunting hawk. Its head buried tight in my armpit as it dozes, belly full from some recent kill. I could tear open my coat, shock the bird into wakefulness, watch as it stared around. I think the first thing it would see would be that red shoe. The bird would explode out from beneath my sheltering armpit oxter, cutting through the air, an arrow born only to plunge its life against that red shoe’s surface, embedding its razor claws in her ankle that I cannot let myself contemplate. I feel this imaginary hawk now, suddenly, a warm living thing resting secretly beneath the flesh of my underarm. Emboldened by the thought of my hawk, I let my eye drift up from the red shoe to the woman’s ankle. But she senses this. Then I sense her sensing the change in my regard. She moves abruptly. I flinch and beneath my armpit the hawk’s eyelids flutter as its dream begins to break.
I should turn away now, walk off, just to be relieved of this woman and her red shoe. Myself and the hawk then, alone, walking these streets. That would make better sense to me. My private thoughts and the hawk’s unbroken dream of soaring above rabbit-filled fields beneath pink-golden dawn sunlight. Compared to that freedom, what does the woman or her red shoe signify really? All the excitement tied up in her ankle is probably just the woman’s natural claws, digging into me, as though it were her and not the hawk, nestled under my arm, holding on.
Perhaps I’m not being ambitious enough, and that is my knightly failure. Perhaps my aim should be to get free of the woman, her red shoe, her ankle, and the hawk itself, free of the bird too.
I look away from the red shoe, deliberately, and let my gaze roam all around the railway station. Then I look back at the shoe. I can’t deny that there is something good about being able to let my mind rest on the object, like a punctuation mark.
Suddenly, between my legs, beneath me, I feel my whole knightly horse come to life. A long lance fills the space beneath my right armpit, and my right hand. The weight of it pulls me over to one side and the woman is restless again as she senses me lurch. Let her be restless. I have to handle lance, horse, hawk, red shoe, ankle, all of it. If I can turn now and ride away, without a backward glance, I think that would score many points for me, in the knightly realm. The gods of the knightly realm would love me if I could manage a thing like that. But I can’t manage it, can I? Not yet anyway. Not now. Before I can be certain though, the gods of the railway station decide everything for me. She looks at her watch, compares it to the time on the clock, or pretends to in mime, rises on her twin red shoes, walks off towards a static-bodied train. All done with perfect courtly precision. And with no backward glance.
Or perhaps there is a backward glance, an internal one, one that I could never see. Perhaps she’s casting a backward glance over her whole history, her whole past life, as she walks to that train. Perhaps the desert plain behind her is now littered with the heroes and heroines of her past life, now frozen into asphalt, fossilised, or turned into Biblical pillars of salt for passing scorpions to lick away at. Physically though, no backward glance. Not from her, and certainly not at me, her watcher, her chronicler, so I turn away myself. I walk briskly towards the railway station’s main exit. I don’t look back either.