1994, Madrid, Spain
again Dan was making an ass of himself. He was irritated,
and that meant Dan grew as irreverent as any British
squaddie could be. Not that he had much of an equilibrium
anymore, now that there was no danger, no wear and tear
to take his edge off. Adding in the fact that he had
behaved like an utter stranger for a year, had been
distant and silent, barely a business partner, if that.
No, Dan was being an arsehole. Basically told the West
Point officer to go fuck himself because they did not
agree on an intervention in whatever forsaken place.
Vadim agreed on principle, but he knew the Westpointer
was cosy with one of the UN big guns, and as long as
the American buck went into the UN, it was all about
singing the song as ordered, to the exact tune that
was requested. Vadim shook his head. He'd smoothe this
out when Dan was drunk enough to only stare into his
whisky at the bar and deal no further damage.
watched the uniforms mingle. Always carefully on the
lookout for former brother states, or Russia herself.
The so-called Russian Federation. He didn't fancy running
into KGB, or whatever it was called these days. Same
men, no doubt. Same grudges. But they would use foreign
fixers, wouldn't they? Russia was working hard to be
respectable, like a cheap whore that had spread her
legs for everybody to survive and then decided to get
her act together and behave like a lady. Not his problem
anymore. Especially as he knew she was still turning
tricks on the side. Old habits.
seen the man. That one was a buyer, not a seller. There
were some arms dealers and some merc company salesmen,
and there were buyers that had the power to give out
contracts and nice desks all over the place. Good-looking
man, dark skin with a golden hue, not the blue-tinged
blackness he'd seen before. Somebody had mentioned it
was about East Africans and West Africans. There were
ethnic differences, but he knew nothing about them.
He could tell most ethnic groups apart in Asia, but
Africa remained the Dark Continent to him.
Nelson. I am so very pleased to finally meet you."
The other wore the whole Christmas tree, but the tassels
were mostly decoration. No service ribbons Vadim recognized,
no medals of any importance. But what did he really
know about Africa? And his own service ribbons and medals
were missing, too. He was here as a civilian. Fuck his
training, fuck ten years for that country and three
years for the other. He wasn't even allowed to wear
any uniform, any stupid flag patch on his arm. No citizen,
no regular army, Mother Russia's disgraced non-son,
Britain's protégée, but not child. Vadim
nodded, took the offered hand. "Colonel."
other held his hand in his, like a prized friend, one
hand on his elbow.
a face. A long, thin nose, black eyes that were slanted
a touch, which gave him an inscrutable, sphinx-like
expression, high cheek bones, the chin pointed more
than rounded. It reminded Vadim of Egyptian artefacts
he'd seen on exhibitions, and the man was tall and graceful,
even though that theatre uniform forced him to guess
about any of his other qualities.
never had a black man, thought Vadim. Tartars, Byelorussians,
Ukrainians, plenty of Russians, one Armenian. Not a
single black guy. Most blacks he had encountered were
Americans, and grunts. He didn't particularly mind them,
no more than their white comrades. Except for Hooch.
Nationality more than skin colour. He noticed how the
other man's fingers ran down the inside of his arm,
saw that the Colonel was shielding that motion with
his body, eyes slightly amused, lips quirked.
enjoyed your observations on tribal and inter-ethnic
warfare." Genocide and how it was done. Africa
was full of that. He'd stuck to Asia. Seemed this guy
was interested in some knowledge transfer. Possibly
even transfer of bodily fluids the way the Colonel held
his hand, then gingerly let it slip away. "This
happens to be one of the fields I have covered during
my studies at Sandhurst."
that accent reminded him of the UK. Some of his officers
had spoken like that, the deliberate twisting of vowels
that distinguished the educated from the rabble. His
own English was a random mix of some American, some
British, and a fair bit of Russian. He envied the man
that purity. The kind of English that made him think
of the Baroness, club chairs, ladies in strange pastel
colours and cucumber sandwiches.
man was knowledgeable. They traded anecdotes and numbers,
and Vadim found those countered, answered and questioned.
Like fencers crossing blades, assessing the other for
speed, precision, strength and technique. And the other
was blatantly checking him out, which, in the middle
of all those boring grey old farts - and an increasingly
drunk Dan at the bar - provided some amusement. Vadim
found himself genuinely laughing at the other's jokes,
kept drinking the wine the other kept flagging down.
enjoyed Tolstoy. He enjoyed sports, had taken fencing
classes at Oxford. After around two hours Vadim caught
himself thinking he had more in common with this man
than he'd ever had with the scruffy Dan who bee-lined
towards the toilets. He shook his head. Fuck you. Go
embarrass yourself. I don't care.
that hand on his arm, on his shoulder, and Vadim felt
his skin tingle. A smile, that cultured voice, with
an even more cultured smirk. "I'd love showing
you just how much I appreciate your company." A
small motion of the head, towards upstairs. Hotel room.
After all the crap he had to go through with Dan since
he'd come back from hospitals and then rehabilitation.
The smell of beer around him, the bored, impassive "Yeah,
whatever"-attitude that Dan had these days, if
he even reacted at all. This promised to be nicer than
with a hooker. They had invested too much into the business
side of things to split up, the fucking farm, the fucking
plans, insurances, all the paperwork. They were tied
and nailed down, and when sex and love just stopped,
they were still tied down.
was different. Cultured, educated, distinguished, not
one scruffy hair on him, he smelled of spices and the
tang of wine on his breath, and they kissed in the elevator.
Vadim looking at the mirror, seeing himself kiss a man
that wasn't Dan, saw the dark hand against his face,
knew where the other was going.
made it to the hotel room, it was just opposite the
heavy door fell into place with a soft thud behind them.
Nelson's hand pushed him into the room, a grin on his
face told Vadim that things would go exactly like he
wanted them from here, in just a moment. The 'do not
disturb' sign went out, the door closed a second time.
turned towards him. He seemed to consider, maybe offer
him a drink, more conversation. "We are not rushing
things, are we?"
smirked, thought of quick hard fucks in the barracks.
Saw the uniform hanging from the door of the wardrobe,
the leather attaché case on an empty shelf, the
glorious view over the dark city. "I guess I can
defend myself." His hands moved to the buttons
of the jacket, opened them, then shrugged out of it,
draped it across the back of one of the arm chairs.
He gave a short laugh. "My modesty."
placed a hand against Vadim's jaw. "I should tell
you, Mr Krasnorada, how impressed I am. I have read
your CV and asked a few questions
not in any
sinister capacity, mostly asked about your credentials,
as it were." Thumb brushed his lips, a tickling,
intense sensation. Vadim opened his lips and teeth and
felt the other push his thumb in, eyes narrowed as he
began to suck that finger. He liked the man's panache
to bring him up here, the killer, yes, aged, but killing
was all about technique. He didn't have to rely on strength
or stamina. He'd still be deadly ten years from now,
as long as his mind remained intact, and he could see
that in Nelson's eyes.
man was truly fascinated, and that was a great feeling
after having been ignored for too long. After nights
alone on the couch, or even in the bed, at the beginning
waiting for the sound of the Landrover pulling up outside,
but eventually falling asleep. The bed was big enough
to get lost in, and that was what happened. Big enough
so they didn't have to touch, even if Dan made it into
the bedroom. The yard or so between them had turned
into a minefield. He didn't want to touch Dan. Dan didn't
touch him, and even if he had wanted to, he couldn't
sleep on his side. Not after the surgery and not for
a long time. Sometimes it was easier to sleep in the
study, on the leather couch. At least Vadim could jerk
off there, watching some nameless pretty and buff guys
getting fucked on TV. The occasional hooker had provided
an outlet in long conference nights in boring hotels.
Paying for sex was less risky, less complicated.
smirked, pushed his thumb deeper, fingers against Vadim's
cheek, eyes, face, perfect, fucking his mind just by
sliding his thumb in and out. His lips open, eyes half-closed,
knowing, understanding, he didn't play by instinct,
he knew what he was doing, and Vadim inhaled sharply,
nostrils flaring as Nelson's hand touched his groin.
Colonel Nelson. Something magical about that rank, opera
uniform yes or no, the strange thought of him acting
the superior. Well, Oxford and Sandhurst.
were chest to chest, Nelson pulled his thumb free, placed
his lips on Vadim's, pushed his tongue in, while his
hands began to free the shirt, hand slid into the trousers,
and both hands began to massage his buttocks. A firm
grasp, pulling and spreading, wet finger tracing his
crack. Vadim groaned, began to move against the other,
could feel how control began to slip. He didn't care.
to have you
", said Nelson and allowed Vadim
to pull his shirt off. Chiselled chest, one of the nicest
sixpacks Vadim had ever seen. Very likely the occasional
dose of steroids, good work, though, well-measured,
well-administered. That guy knew what he was doing to
his body, probably balanced it with other medication
to avoid the stuff some athletes had to deal with, back
in the days. The method had seen much refinement in
the meantime. Nelson smiled at that glance, could already
read him like he was an open book with especially bold
letters. "What do you think?"
lost the rest of the clothes on the way to the bed,
the undressing practised, nothing awkward about it,
just as smooth as discussing Tolstoy. Teasing and stroking
and kneading the other's body, starting with heat, but
never any insanity, never anything that hurt the body
or the mind. Vadim found himself groaning on the bed,
watching his cock vanish between those lips, understood
that Nelson gave blowjobs just like he did, because
he liked the power, that was why Nelson pushed a couple
fingers inside him and fucked him with his fingers and
his mouth at the same time, but didn't allow him to
come, pulling back when Vadim tried to push too hard.
was breathless and laughing with denial and a bit of
embarrassment. "Okay, what do you want?"
looked up, dark eyes held no light, no reflection, and
he was nothing but a faceless shadow in the mirror near
the bed. Vadim reached to the nightstand and flicked
the switch of the small stylish lamp, frosted glass
shade ignited with a warm light that transformed the
shadow into a golden statue. Much better.
gestured towards the wall, a measured movement. "I
want you kneeling there, facing the wall, legs apart,
and I want to fuck you for the rest of the night."
smirked. "Copy, Colonel." He saw the dark
eyes widen at the use of the title, saw the man shudder,
like he liked his power just a bit too much and knew
that Vadim knew. He turned and rested his arms on the
headrest, spread his legs as ordered, rested his head
on his arm, as Nelson moved closer.
then he opened a condom, and smiled as Vadim frowned
at that. Didn't like those things, still didn't, they
just got in the way. "Much better than asking about
any of your blood transfusions", said Nelson and
managed to make it sound perfectly natural, rolling
the thing down, and Vadim found himself staring at that
cock in the mirror. Black flesh, white skin, the contrast
increased the sensation, somehow. How strange and erotic.
like them white?" he asked,
as Nelson moved behind him. He moved back to make things
easier, following instinct as well as planning.
flashed a smile with sharp teeth. "I like them
strong. As do you." Probed and opened, one hand
against the small of his back to bring him lower, then
pushed in, easing, control, absolute control of every
inch of cock. Vadim bit back a groan, one hand was all
that kept him down, bowed like that, saw how the man
began to fuck him in the mirror, muscles tensed, slow
and perfect, they both made quite a pair there. Black
hand moved over his back, read the word, at the same
moment, he pushed in and Vadim raised his head, fought
the groan that tried to come out. Hoped Nelson knew
no Russian. Doubted he'd know that kind of word if he
did. The touch should freak him, but it didn't. It just
felt good, relaxing, reassuring, and above all, completely
exhaled, ran his hands over Vadim's flanks, as if measuring
how much he could take. "Now, move, but slowly."
An order if he'd ever received one. Vadim pushed back,
felt that body move with him, slowly, so very slowly,
and when he found a rhythm, it was Nelson who'd disrupt
it, who'd pause when he craved to go faster. He was
drenched in sweat, could feel the sweat run down his
body as this strange game of control and concentration
grew ever more serious, and it took forever, or that
was what it felt like. He was completely exhausted when
Nelson allowed him to come, he had no idea how the other
could be so controlled, didn't care, suspected cocaine
or something else, but he just collapsed afterwards,
all strength and need drained. Felt the hand on his
forehead and face, then another kiss, then heard the
shower and listened for a while, drifting in and out
Dan, the room couldn't be spinning fast enough, nor
were the senses ever dulled enough, nor the vision sufficiently
blurred. Didn't matter how much he drank, unless he
managed to get himself so pissed he'd fall over like
the sad and pathetic fucker he had become. No present,
no future, only a past that had burnt out like a supernova.
was nothing left. Nothing to do. Nothing that he could
do. Nothing his body allowed him to do.
the booze and the accusing glances from across the room.
The signs of distaste and disgust and the looks of embarrassment
from Vadim. Worse, being ignored. Vadim animatedly chatting
with that African geezer, no eyes nor ears for anyone
else, but what would he have to offer anyway. Nothing.
No whisky could wipe that knowledge away, no matter
how much he tried, and he'd tried countless times.
been to the loos, trying hard not to piss down his trousers,
unsteady on his feet, but at least all of this shit
hurt less when his senses were dulled. Could forget
the emptiness and the realization of simply not being
good enough now that he'd lost everything he'd always
enough anymore. A cripple.
staggered back to the bar, stopping before he'd reached
his seat, trying to make sense of the empty space across
the room - they were gone. He shook his head, turned
and made his unsteady way to the elevator and their
suite. Ridiculous, really, that they still shared the
rooms, he was certain he did nothing but annoy Vadim.
His mere presence a disturbance of the smooth perfection
of Vadim's varnished life. A piece of unwanted rough
in the fabric of the Russian's new-found culture.
rooms of the suite were empty. Dan frowned. Shook his
head again, unruly, unkempt and rather uncut hair falling
over his face, he almost lost his balance before limping
out of the door. Back down once more, to the bar, and
found a waitress who was cleaning the now empty tables.
Asking her where those two men had went and she pointed
upstairs, to the rooms. Even in his state it took only
a straightforward lie and a puppy dog look to get the
information from reception, finding his way back to
the level where the black guy resided. Fifth floor,
extra plush lounge. Of course.
brushed the wall while unsteadily marching towards the
room number, the booze making the limp worse, but he
was determined to beat the crap out of the door and
to drag Vadim back out of there and ... but why? Habit?
finally stood in front of the door. 'Do not disturb'.
His hand raised for the violent knock, and stilled.
body. Useless man.
placed his palm against the thick door and let his forehead
follow. Leaning against it, he couldn't hear a sound
from the room and didn't expect it either. And he suddenly
knew. Amongst the numbness and the emptiness, through
the pain of over a year, and after having become strangers
that could hardly look at each other, he suddenly knew
the one single, unshakable truth, and it was the first
thing he'd felt for a long time.
didn't move for a long time, until he finally pushed
himself off the door, making his way down to the lobby
via the stairs. Step for step dragging himself away,
until he found himself outside in front of the hotel,
bathed in the glitzy lights, he steered towards a taxi.
me to the city's Red Light district." Dan managed
to get into the first of the cars in line. "No.
Bullshit." He shook his head, fumbling drunkenly
with the seatbelt. "Take me to a gay bar."
The driver nodded, unmoved, nothing he hadn't heard
or seen from the many shades of guests that came out
of the posh hotel.
minutes later and Dan found himself leaning against
a wall, smoking a cigarette and staring at the club
on the opposite side of the street. No yellow light
this time, not even a sleazy area he found himself in.
The club had a stylish front, inviting patrons with
polished steel and black granite, instead of hidden
secrets and dirty corners. The world had changed, but
he hadn't kept up.
wasn't much different now to the man who had stood against
a wall in a backstreet alley, in a seedy part of London.
Watching two men kissing in the sickly yellow streetlight
and realising that night who he really was. No, wrong.
He was everything but, a shell of himself. Useless.
Unlike the man who'd stood and laughed, while smoking.
took another drag, exhaling the smoke slowly, while
watching the men opposite come and go. None of them
older than in their thirties, most of them young and
fit, none of them an overused, aging cripple like him.
No sad fucks, just fresh and young faces, like Matt,
untouched by life and lines and wrinkles. Buff bodies
in fashionable clothes that clung snugly to the physical
perfection of youth.
was old. Almost forty-five, not even officer retirement
age, but over a year ago, he had 'retired' for good.
Against his will. Throwing the cigarette butt to the
ground, he watched it glow and sizzle before burning
out. Just like him. Burnt out. Old and discarded. A
piece of useless scrap. He didn't belong here anymore,
as little as he was part of Vadim's new life. A Brave
New World which had no place for a worn-out veteran
and aging adrenaline junkie who'd passed the last chance
to chase the thrill.
was time. It was over. All things had come to an end.
pushed himself off the wall, disregarded the club and
walked through the night and its remaining hours. Ignoring
the chill and the increasing limp, and ignoring the
pain like he'd ignored all pain, inside and out. Just
a middle-aged man past his sell-by date, who had done
his duty and had outlived his usefulness, shuffling
through a world that had chewed him up and spit him
five, Vadim woke up, his usual time. Nelson was working
at his desk, still wearing the bathrobe. Vadim padded
towards the shower, cleaned up, got dressed, regarded
the other man, who looked up with a bit of irony. What
now, that glance seemed to say. "You could stay
nodded. "Thank you for the offer."
inclined his head. "It's not politeness."
pursed his lips, then stood and came towards him. "Are
I don't want you to regret this." I will not allow
you to regret this, said the tone of his voice.
don't." And that was the truth. Vadim was fascinated
by that face, the way this man could make him needy
and knew what he was thinking, without all the painful
years that it had taken Dan to get there. Dan. Shit.
But then, he'd been too drunk to notice, and he wouldn't
I get your number?"
checked his pockets, pulled out one of his cards. "It
would be nice to meet again at some point. If and when
the opportunity arises." He didn't meet that gaze,
then felt the dark fingers close around his hand and
the card, pulling it out.
I enjoyed your company, too." Nelson smiled, a
dazzling, beautiful smile. "And you are welcome
to be in touch."
touch. Vadim looked up, knew what that kind of touching
would be, didn't feel used or exploited, the rules had
been clear from the very first moment, and would be
to the last one. He nodded and smiled, and returned
to his own room, not hungry enough to stay awake for
breakfast. He paused. Dan should have been asleep, drunk
and half passed out. He wasn't. He could feel some tension
return, but he supposed that Dan had found himself a
watering hole. Dan had reflexes, could trust his guts
to not get him killed even when stupidly drunk. And
even if he got into trouble piss drunk as he probably
was, that might teach him a lesson or two about simply
wandering off. Vadim pushed that thought away, and stretched
out for a couple more hours. Listened to the echo of
the other man in his body, on his skin. Just good, nothing
bad or painful about it.
to be in touch.
did not return to the hotel before eight o' clock. That
left him no more than an hour to get showered, shaved,
his clothes changed and his suitcase packed. The plane
was scheduled for 1015 hrs and they had to be at the
airport at least an hour before that. Despite their
business class tickets, long-haul flights to the other
side of the world still required check-in time.
could not bear to be anywhere near Vadim, did not want
to talk nor even look at him, snuck into the room instead,
trying to get to the bathroom without being noticed.
Wondered if Vadim was even there, almost expected him
to be already downstairs in the genteel breakfast room
where the bread was some fancy crap and the coffee came
in such special ways, it had hardly any resemblance
to a good, strong coffee with several lumps of sugar.
smelled of booze and fags, but he was not drunk, not
even close to it. Just numb. Enough alcohol in his blood
to take the edge off the pain; this aching tightness
inside his chest, beneath the solar plexus. The hole
that nothing could fill. No future. No more 'Mad Dog'.
Mad Dog was dead, he'd died on the operating table.
eye opened as Vadim heard a noise. Softly, the door
closed. His heart pounded suddenly, body, despite those
years, ready for combat. He'd still be ready like this
in twenty years' time. Hormones, adrenaline, and the
healthy paranoia of a body that had learned to be awake
in an instant. He smelled Dan before he saw him, didn't
really see him through near closed eyes.
Vadim waited till the door had closed, then got up.
He expected some foul-mouthed accusations, or some other
form of hostility. He had got used to that, and he had
learned to muster his defences by arranging his own
weapons neatly, his own blades to make sure Dan didn't
walk out of that fight unharmed. He was surprised just
how deeply he resented him that moment. Guilt? Fuck
guilt. He had only regretted a few things in his life,
and this was not one of them.
He'd had hookers, had slept with other men, like Hooch.
Dan couldn't accuse him of anything that he hadn't done
before. It was not about being faithful, because they
had never been. It was just the fact they couldn't talk
anymore. Their last attempts made the first encounters
in Kabul look like distinguished conversation. Dan was
sullen, misunderstood everything, shrugged when Vadim
expected a reaction, any kind of reaction, and retreated
into his room, his car, his pub, his beer and whisky.
One thing to put up with that, another to resign to
a life of that. He wouldn't. Nelson had been a nice
change, relaxed him, made him feel good, even flattered.
It wasn't like they were married. And seeing how his
first marriage had gone, even that wouldn't have made
was packing when Dan returned from the bathroom. Dressed,
too. He glanced at Dan, every now and then, but the
other didn't look at him. Okay, whatever. Fuck you,
Dan. Fuck you. Vadim kept his face carefully controlled
not to show the anger, then called reception for the
bill to be prepared, and for a taxi in twenty minutes.
was trying to talk, to make conversation that had a
semblance of normality, but he couldn't bring himself
to utter anymore than the question if Vadim had the
tickets. He packed his suitcase, haphazardly throwing
things inside, unlike himself. Even during the years
in the mountains he'd always been packing meticulously.
taxi ride took place in near-silence, and so did the
checking in at the business class desk. Dan bee-lined
for the drinks once they had entered the waiting lounge,
ignoring the selection of nuts and raisins and the plates
of tiny sandwiches and petit fours he used to empty
like a Hoover. He didn't feel hungry. Feel. The crucial
world. He felt nothing.
sat himself down in a lounge chair, cradling his glass
and staring at his hands. They'd belonged to a killer
- now caressing a drink. The booze kept the numbness
going, made the close proximity bearable. You're a failure,
Dan. You ultimately failed at love and life.
had bought himself the current issue of the Economist,
and now sat down near Dan, not actually looking at him
much, instead reading an article on the world economy.
He glanced at Dan, who was drinking again, but ignored
the food. That meant he'd be drunk sooner. He put the
magazine down and went to the buffet to have something
like a breakfast. Dan not eating. His clothes just stuffed
into the suitcase. Remote and distracted even by his
current standards. Dan didn't look at him, didn't speak,
didn't take anything in. Hadn't taken anything in for
over a year. And was this all they would ever get out
of life together? Routine things, like travelling, superficial
stuff that didn't matter, with all decisions made by
Vadim. He was the driving force these days, secretary,
valet and cook, but not lover. He had no alternative.
He couldn't just pack up and go. Remaining alone? Fucked
returned to his seat, while Dan was looking at his hands,
watched the whisky do exactly nothing. Dan could outwait
a mountain if he had his mind set on it. But that was
the problem. Lack of focus. Dan had no focus, not even
hating him, not even the whisky. He just drifted.
wanted to bitchslap some sense into Dan, but saw those
eyes blind. Worse than sulking.
mobile phone rang. Unknown number.
wanted to hear your voice", said Nelson.
stood up. "Why?"
I had the most pleasant dream." The voice was rough
with something, and Vadim felt his hackles rise. That
was lust, as pure as any he'd encountered.
stepped to the side, acted like it was a business call.
Shit. "You are not doing what I think you're doing?"
do you think I'm doing?" A small groan.
swallowed. Shit. Back to square one, back on that bed,
back to watching himself in the mirror. Knew that was
exactly what Nelson was imagining.
you still there?" Breath going harsher. "Because
gave a short laugh, embarrassed to the bone, but his
body liked the image of Nelson stroking himself, still
in the hotel room. Fuck. Too hot. He'd have a long,
long flight to think about it. "I am."
Why don't you head to the toilets and come for me?"
looked up. Watched the other, saw the face, the expression
of something that he hadn't seen in a long time. Not
since Kabul, Baghdad, and Belgrade.
I'm sorry, I can't
oblige you there." Vadim
peered over his shoulder. Shit. "The flight's just
getting ready. I need to switch off. Sorry." Heard
the beginning of laughter, soft, mocking, sexy, and
pressed the button. Shit. Been forever that somebody
had got into his mind. Under his skin. Inside his body.
Oh fuck. He returned to the seat, felt the mobile phone
heavy in his pocket like a traitor. Hooch was in his
own league, and none of the hookers had called him after
sex. That was the difference.
eyes still on Vadim, he'd heard the lie, knew the flight
had another ten minutes at least. He didn't need to
be told who had called, could see the flushed face clearly.
Liar. Couldn't even bring himself to add an expletive.
Just liar. "Slept well?" He tossed the last
of the whisky back, felt it burn down his throat, dulling
and smoothing, but none of the booze could ever touch
the tightness and pain in his chest.
inhaled deeply, wanted to crush that cell phone and
the mocking, aroused voice inside. "Not too bad.
Yourself?" Asking that of a man who looked like
shit. Fuck. Back into dagger-twisting, comrade spetsnaz?
"You don't look very rested."
shrugged. "I was walking." Without a crutch,
and yeah, that's why your fucked-up knee hurts like
fucking fuck and why you can't remember anything of
your surroundings. Could have walked through the desert
for all it was worth. "Plenty of time to sleep
on the plane." His attention went back to the glass
in his hands, debating if he should refill now or wait
until they had boarded. Didn't want to drink too much,
seemed the stuff had the opposite effect and made him
feel even worse if he had too much. He had to keep the
booze to a certain level.
to go back to reading, Nelson had shaken him, and Dan's
sullen stare didn't help. Vadim debated a number of
responses, one of which was to grab the fucker and toss
him right onto the buffet, then show him each and every
wall and hard surface in this place, stop for a moment
to neutralise the fat, badly-trained security guards
he had seen, then hit Dan a couple times, and make a
speedy exit before any real security force arrived.
could feel his pulse go up, his body liked that idea
and signalled readiness. Shit. Start a fight here, just
because Dan was not responsive, not really reacting.
What was the problem? Couldn't have been Nelson. And
where did that violent urge come from? He hadn't had
that in ages. Not this bad.
to me, you bastard, Vadim thought. Convince me I wouldn't
be better off being some colonel's plaything. Some -
any - guy's that can tell an aria from a recitative.
Somebody graceful, with culture that was ultimately
useless and refined, fifteen thousand miles removed
from how to cut a man open and how to clear a house
with a fire team. Civilization.
sat down and felt heavy, allowing the anger to dissipate.
Dan wouldn't listen anyway. He'd tried to explain that
life wasn't over just because they'd stopped killing
people. "Cities look all the same", he murmured,
clutching at what little Dan offered in terms of conversation.
Dan was near impossible to talk to. And he had tired
of trying to reach out.
Dan offered, he tried. Tried to make conversation but
it was as if every word in his mind had been dried up
and every sound was as sharp as sandpaper, scraping
his throat open along the way and never getting out.
Too much effort. Far too much to even look up or move,
to do anything but sitting and staring. Lost in a darkness,
tied and bound with an inability to get out of bed in
the mornings for lack of reasons why. Why, indeed. What
was there to wait for, move to, show interest in.
leafed through the magazine, couldn't concentrate on
the small words, and so many of them together, it didn't
make much sense, and got up to buy a National Geographic.
Back to pretty pictures, like a child. He only wished
that magazine was bigger and would keep him busy for
plane was called, friendly staff notifying their business
class passengers to make their way to the gates. It
was the final push that Dan needed to get out of the
seat, leaving the tumbler on the table and snatching
his bag. He was trying to think of something to say,
anything, but the words were lost.
into their comfortable, spacious seats, he was thankful
for the mindless selection of films to watch, magazines
to read and a cloudless sky to watch. Could still stare
for hours at heaven and earth, soothed by the silence.
looked at pictures, tried to sleep, just waited for
the plane to touch down. Singapore, a few hours to kill.
He checked the mobile phone. Two calls. Two calls in
ten hours. He had saved the number from the first call
and of course it was the Colonel. Vadim listened to
him on voicemail, something about what that memory made
him do, and that he wanted to see him again. Be in touch.
The second call was half an hour after that. He hoped
he hadn't offended him, there should be, by all rights
and purposes, more of a courtship and that he had been
too eager, pushing too far too fast.
As if Vadim had ever in his life done anything like
that deliberately. Always his body racing into things,
deciding he wanted that guy and maybe try it with a
girl, and, oh, that felt good, so get more of it. Nelson
felt good. That Nelson even thought about it, or even
considered something like courtship with some guy he'd
fucked in his hotel room, spoke of somebody who actually
bothered. Gifts, dinners, invitations. The next step.
In that class of people, that was what people did.
felt a little smug that Nelson did consider him for
that, ah, more than smug, pleased with himself, flattered,
relieved that he could still cut it, still get that
expression on people's faces. Vanity was the least of
his sins. He let Nelson wait, didn't want one of those
embarrassing phone calls that he was sure Nelson was
after, something sexy, probably. Instead let him wait,
there would be time in Kiwiland.
continued to drink, just a steady low-level flow of
alcohol. He didn't show signs of drunkenness, managing
to keep the emptiness contained and finally getting
sleepy. He never touched any food, he'd simply forgotten
how to feel hungry, but he popped his pills, at least
remembering those. The usual cocktail of vitamins and
extra nutrients and whatever the rest were doing. He'd
forgotten, just swallowed them anyway.
brought out a maximum of ten words throughout all those
hours, but every time Vadim checked his phone and listened
to the voicemail, he watched. He could read Vadim's
face, and wondered for a moment if the Russian was even
aware of that, but in the end, it did not matter, because
it obviously made no difference to Vadim what he, Dan,
was thinking or feeling. It was over. Even spelled out
in neon letters could not make it anymore clear.
finally managed to sleep for an hour before touch-down
in Singapore. Curled into his seat and facing the window.
Several hours to kill in Singapore and he didn't know
what to do, wanted to stay in a bar at the airport,
mindlessly watching people and continuing his steady
drinking. The flight home would be soon.
Strange concept. He'd lost his home long ago, since
he'd arrived, even though it had been sitting right
1994, New Zealand
on the plane in Singapore, Vadim had bought CDs and
some electronic gadgets in a place close to the airport.
He tilted the seat back, crossed his arms, leaned the
head against the window, and willed himself to sleep.
Best part of being an ex-soldier. He could relax under
strain, even close to an enemy of a very different kind.
was completely disoriented when he woke up, but it wasn't
the nightmare, just incredibly deep, leaden, unrestful
sleep that told him his body was well and truly jetlagged
by now. Ah, landing. The sinking feeling in his stomach
had woken him up. He stretched, massaged his calves
to get the blood going, tensed muscles, reached for
his water bottle, glanced at Dan.
was not looking, blind-eyed staring out of the window.
New Zealand. Home. What bullshit.
finally, the landing. Vadim heard the gangway scrape,
then lock. Grabbed his bag first, enough space to not
be in Dan's way, a warm, pleasant smile from the crew,
fly Emirates again, thank you, Sir, and trotted down
the gangway, sore with sleep. It was spring here, late
autumn in Europe. His body and mind reeled, the change
like a blow to his sanity every time.
was following, had not said a word since Singapore,
not even to the cabin crew. He tried to, so hard, did
his best to appear like a normal human being, but just
didn't have the energy to interact. Just wanted booze
and nothing else.
last leg of the flight was nothing but a blur, and when
they finally arrived in Palmerston, Dan waved an over-eager
airport worker away, who offered to carry his bag since
he was limping, but didn't want to be reminded of who
he had become. From Special Forces soldier over Mad
Dog mercenary, to crippled middle aged man with nothing
left, least of all a future, or even just a reason to
go on. Day after day. Why?
Landrover stood exactly like they had left it on the
way. "Who's driving?" Vadim asked.
shrugged, patted down his pockets, had to have the key
somewhere. Even less steady on his feet than he usually
was, the constant flow of booze had deteriorated the
precarious balance, but at least it made him feel numb.
"I've been drinking. Can't find the keys, you got
the second set." The most he had said in over twenty-four
stood beside the passenger door, holding onto his in-flight
bag, while Vadim loaded their suitcases. Funny how his
own was so much smaller, he guessed that was why Vadim
seemed to be embarrassed these days to be seen with
him. Less suave than scruffy, not that he'd ever been
anything else, but now he wasn't good enough anymore
in this Brave New World.
sat down behind the steering wheel, flicked the button
of the aircon, thought better of switching on the radio.
Right. Waited till Dan had properly settled, then began
to drive home, mostly a long road through nothing, beautiful
landscape with green hills that were unlike any other
hills. Nature here never seemed to rest, there was always
an explosion of life, of fertility, and the land as
primal as the soul, one of the things that reminded
him of Russia. Not the enslaved, cultured thing that
was Europe, or Britain, where every square metre - apart
from the Highlands - looked tamed, subjugated and gentle.
was sitting and staring, silently smoking fag after
fag, the worst passenger in the books, not saying a
word unless he was forced to. Just couldn't, truly couldn't,
no matter how much he tried. He fell asleep at some
stage, ignored the world and Vadim, ignored himself.
forty minutes later, Vadim stopped in front of the farm.
Turned the key, leaned back and rubbed his face. Tired
as all hell.
woke up, wiped his face and eyes, groaned with the stiffness
that had settled into his bones. He'd have to take painkillers,
if he could be bothered. Climbed out of the car, the
limp more pronounced than ever, he grabbed a couple
of bags but almost fell over, cursing softly. Fucking
decrepit cripple of a bloody old man. Useless.
made his way inside and upstairs, left everything else
with Vadim, he'd know far better what to do anyway.
The house was his, no, really. Vadim's stamp and seal
and style, none of it a scruffy ex-squaddie's interior.
No matter what name was on the deed; no matter that
Dan had bought and paid for it.
grabbed the heaviest bag from the trunk, walked to the
door, opened the door, pushed the bag in with a foot,
returned to the car and got the rest of the bags and
suitcases out, loaded himself like a mule, but he preferred
to have the car empty. He could unpack later. Once Dan
was inside, he returned to the car, got his jacket,
shut everything down, even though there was nobody within
ten miles, and criminality was so low that the Landrover
stood no chance of getting stolen.
Bed. Vadim felt completely fucked, and in no good way.
Not even remotely good.
had grabbed a bottle of whisky and locked himself in
his study. As usual, he had vanished from sight and
sound, a hermit in his own house. He didn't belong there,
except for the room with computer, high-fi, widescreen
telly, satellite and cable, big chair and bergan stored
in the corner. Bergan.
fell asleep several hours later, still in the same clothes,
reeking of nicotine and alcohol.
listened for any sound. Dan was gone, had walked upstairs,
up into his study. His island, where no one could touch
him, least of all Vadim. He shook his head, had hoped
against hope that Dan would stick around and maybe finally
talk. He walked into the kitchen, checked the fridge.
It was stocked, their house keeper had left a note with
the receipt, and a scrawled "welcome home"
on it, even with a smiley face. Nothing to smile at.
After the plane food, he needed something lighter, something
healthier. Vadim grabbed the 500g tub of yoghurt, pulled
the foil lid back, found the maple syrup, poured a good
amount into the blender, found the powdered vanilla
pods, dusted the surface of the yogurt generously, screwed
on the lid and mixed it quickly, poured everything into
a tall glass, and walked into the living room. A pile
of mail, magazines, mostly Diplomacy Weekly, Jane's,
Soldier mag for Dan, some more obscure, some purely
scientific. He would have to catch up with his reading.
Bills, too, he'd tackle those tomorrow. Or whenever
he woke up.
switched on the mobile hone, plugged it in, sat down
with the yogurt, relished the clean, semi-sour taste.
He should call back. He gazed out through the glass
doors, into the patch they called the 'garden'. He didn't
have a plan yet what to do with it, whether he wanted
to cut down the old apple trees or not. His concepts
wandered from a Japanese style Zen garden with rocks
to letting it go completely wild. Vadim just couldn't
make up his mind, unlike with the house. He'd known
exactly what to do here. Every piece carefully selected,
the furniture, the beautiful redwood floor that shimmered
like silk in the sun.
mobile rang. Vadim reached for it. "Yes?"
should have arrived by now."
You creep. He doubtlessly had checked the flights, calculated
the distance. Vadim was flattered, but he wasn't quite
sure he liked the lengths to which the other man went.
"Yes. Just sitting down with a
Don't mention yoghurt. He wasn't in the mood for suggestions
what else he could drink.
you think about the offer?"
Did you check your email?"
shook his head. "Listen, I'm tired." He got
up and headed up one flight of stairs, into his study,
switched the computer on, waited forever for the system
to load, phone in one hand, yogurt in the other. Sat
down in the leather chair, all papers neatly stacked
and filed, this was for work, anyway. "Where are
Still in Madrid. Will you be in Rio in three weeks?"
be. I am not sure we were booked for that."
were. I booked you."
Creep. "You managed to cramp us into your budget?"
Russian won't stretch the budget much."
plural. No Dan in this. Pointedly.
you read the email?", Nelson asked.
me a second." He logged in, downloaded his email.
Sure enough, one was from 'Nelson', nothing more. It
had an attachment, the email restated how much he had
enjoyed their recent exchange. "Exchange, huh?"
laughed. "Who knows who else reads those emails.
I don't trust the technology."
Vadim opened the attached document. A lot of legalese.
A contract of sorts. A job. Fixed job, for that country
of Nelson's. It said 'military advisor'. And there was
a big number in the salary field. "Woah."
you like that number, Vadim?"
don't buy your Russians cheap."
people don't come cheap."
hit the 'print' button, and had the needle printer noisily
whiz away. He got up again. "What would you want
me to do?"
are restructuring the military. And there are a few
troubles with rebels and unruly minorities. Nothing
you wouldn't know how to deal with."
getting a bit old for genocide."
laughter had a nervous touch. "Vadim. Pacification.
Nobody speaks about murder. You were involved in the
Soviet pull-out. Most of the people here are corrupt
in some way or other. Sold out to self-interest. I need
to bring outsiders I can trust to not sell themselves
to the highest bidder. People trusted you, repeatedly;
I know most of your story, and I think you are perfect
for the job. We get you into the staff of the defence
minister. My country could be a paradise, but we need
to reform it first, slowly lead it where it belongs."
glanced at the pile of paper stacking up in the printer.
"I can't have been that good to fuck?"
coughed. "Well, we'd have to work rather closely
together, too. That might entail regular meetings."
He purred. The word 'meeting' had never sounded so sexy.
He had found his feet again. "You'll enjoy it,
Vadim. You will enjoy it a lot, I promise."
Vadim inhaled. "I'll call you tomorrow. I really
need to sleep." He switched the computer and screen
off, and got up again.
a problem. We won't rush matters. As much as I would
like to, but I feel I want to take my time with you.
Maybe in Rio?"
smiled. "Yes, Rio. Goodnight."
switched the phone off, headed downstairs to plug it
in again, finished the yogurt, got undressed and went
to bed. Shower, sauna, tomorrow.
body clock fucked to oblivion, Dan slept late into the
afternoon. Not a good sleep, cramped and aching in the
chair, but he'd got used to it over the past months,
and he wasn't supposed to sleep too often on his side
took a shower in the upstairs bathroom, then walked
around the house in silence. Touching things he did
not recognise, not even after a year, furniture that
meant nothing to him and looking at paintings and objects
of art that he would throw into the trash if he could.
He remembered how Vadim had been brimming with pride
at the way he had made the farm a 'home', working his
arse off while Dan was forced to stay in the UK, but
in the end - in the end it had become a stranger's house.
Dan felt like a guest, one that had overstayed his welcome.
The only place that held his own memories and some of
his - old - self was what he called his study. And that
hurt, had hurt from the first moment on, no matter Vadim's
through the ground floor rooms, dressed in jeans and
shirt, he looked through the patio doors. He smiled
at the old apple trees, one of the main reasons why
he had bought this pace. Apple trees that reminded him
of a childhood in the Scottish Highlands and their neighbour's
farm, a memory so faded that all that remained were
trees, hills and mountains. He had wanted this farm,
because of the stunning view from the patio across the
walked back to his study, returned with some business
to his Landrover, checked tyre pressure, oil and water,
old habits still dying hard. Limped back upstairs, rummaged
through some of his files and papers, cursed when he'd
run out of paper in his printer. Had to check Vadim's
room. He had to get these printouts, had to sort the
paperwork, and had to do the right thing, now that he
finally knew what he had to do. Grabbed a beer on his
way, he needed to steady his nerves and ensure he'd
do what had to be done. Without fail and finally. A
resolution he should have taken long ago.
was looking for a fresh packet of printer paper in Vadim's
desk, when his eyes fell onto a whole stack of paper,
still in the printer and not torn off yet. Stopped.
Froze. Couldn't help but read. Contract. Vadim Petrovich
Krasnorada. Military Advisor. Africa. Nelson. Colonel.
shaking, flicking through page after page, Dan saw numbers
and names, date and times and descriptions, but could
only remember the one word: contract.
known. But this ... too much. Too painful. Dan stood.
Cold. Forgotten the beer in his left hand, papers clenched
in his right, shaking with his tremors. Fucker. Slow-curling
anger that had been buried deep inside came rising to
the surface. Last attempt at rage, a flame kindling
in the forgotten ashes of his former temper.
took the last stand, the final siege, went over the
trenches and across no man's land. Heading out of the
room and across the landing, he barged into Vadim's
bedroom that had been meant to be theirs, with its poncy
stupid pretentious designer bed and the fuck-ugly art
fucking bastard!" He shouted, waving the contract
at the sleeping man. "Backstabbing cunt! What the
nearly jumped out of his skin and the bed, reflexes
from the barracks. He'd hated the 'night raids', somebody
storming in and shouting, when he'd been only a raw
recruit, barely dressed and herded together by the voice,
and fists, and boots. His heart racing so hard in his
throat it hurt. Dan. What the fuck.
saw the papers, didn't quite get the rage part, too
dazed, still too tired, surprised, shocked. What was
it. Papers? Oh.
offer." Vadim pulled back against the wall, got
out of bed, he was naked, found shorts and put them
on, on the other side of the bed, a couple yards away.
"Haven't even read it yet. Too tired." Looked
up from the bed, saw Dan, that rage, that temper, and
felt a horrible stab of
gratitude, that Dan shouted
at him. Dan cared, there was not just nothing, but anger,
a hell of a lot better than nothing. He was grateful
that Dan was angry. Sickening feeling. Somewhere, it
had all gone wrong, horribly wrong.
the fuck are you doing, hoping I won't notice? Pissing
off for millions, selling yourself to the highest bidder?
Didn't you have enough genocide yet? Or was he such
a good fuck? Did you not think I noticed? Too fucking
embarrassed by the useless ex-squaddie who doesn't fit
in with your new high-class cronies. Ashamed of the
crippled loser, aren't you?"
irrational, ultimate rage had Dan firmly in its grip
and he threw the contract across the bed, paper flying
everywhere. "You want out? You don't want me anymore?
It's fucking obvious, don't think I'm so stupid that
I'm totally blind. You fucking coward, if you don't
want me, then tell me. Tell me you want me out of your
life, you can have it all, it is already yours anyway.
Just tell me, tell me the truth, because I accepted
that fucking bullet of yours!"
walked straight into a hail of bullets, crossfire, the
barrage made him tense up and retreat, back right to
the wall, saw the paper rain down, the sound it made.
Dan. Drunk already, fucking beer, whisky, anger. Sell
to the highest bidder. Genocide. Good fuck. Coward.
That cut the deepest. Coward. Christmas. The bullet.
Vadim shuddered, the image crawled unbidden into his
head. Him asleep, Dan loading the pistol and shooting
that bullet into his head while he was asleep. Not this
bullet, that had become harmless, but one of its siblings,
one exactly like the one he'd given Dan so long ago.
This rage, this raving lunatic could do it. Could have
done it. He had narrowly escaped death, a death he had
asked for, several times. But at least it would be over
then. He was speechless with dread.
was fuming, unstoppable. Buried pain finally burst to
the surface, and he shouted,"You're the fucking
man I loved so fucking much, no matter how much I drink,
the bottle will never fill up that empty hole."
He threw the bottle across the room, beer exploded on
the wall, ripping and drenching Vadim's pretentious
painting, and soaking into the hated bed.
was nothing left; nothing except running down the stairs
as fast as his knee allowed and throwing himself into
the waiting Landrover. The sound of the engine being
revved up, and then gravel splattering and tyres screeching,
as Dan tore off.
More words than Vadim had heard in a year. And realized
it, suddenly. He had just lived a different life, one
that had nothing to do with Dan, his own life slowly
being filled with things he liked. And that Dan hated.
Vadim sat down on the bed, stared blankly at the beer
running from the acrylic painting. Two abstract forms
merging, one blue, the other black. He'd always thought
it was ironic, that painting in this room. Loved the
dynamics, the stark colours, the aggression and passion
of the struggle and merging. He couldn't stand grey
anymore, just needed colour, needed something that gave
his eyes, his brains, something to do. Veneer.
couldn't just break down, felt too numb, overpowered,
stared at his hands. Genocide. Killer. Rapist. So long
ago. He wasn't going to repeat all that in that military
advisor job. The spetsnaz was gone. He wasn't even really
Russian anymore. His passport said "Her Majesty's
Subject". His roots upturned and burnt, long ago.
He was no longer the man who had done all these things
in Afghanistan. No Afganets, not even an expat. All
he had wanted was to have a life he had never been able
to get. Never had the freedom, the time, the money.
This was all Dan's. His money, his land, his connections
and friends that had bought all this, had enabled him
to have another shot at life.
lion and the tiger. He could feel the tears, he'd been
waiting for them. How fucking sick that that anger,
that hurt cut through all the shit, a year of not talking,
no 'I love yous', no touching of souls, no gut wrenching
desire, nothing. Solitary confinement of a different
phone rang. He jumped up, ran downstairs, ripped the
phone from the charger. "Dan?"
I'm terribly sorry." Nelson's voice oozed irony.
felt his body grow cold. It felt like death, like bleeding
out. "This is
really, really bad timing."
you rested up?"
said it's really bad timing." Vadim glanced outside,
saw the sun set already, suddenly knew what he had to
do. He needed to find Dan and get him out of here. Out
of the house, somewhere where the rules were simple.
Put down a set of rules. Most of all, keep him from
the whisky, fucking force him to sleep close, excise
the hurt, the rage.
do you say?"
listening. I said I'd call you tomorrow."
is tomorrow." The voice grew ever more ironic.
"Can't you tell how much you did impress me? I
can hardly sleep without thinking of you. Ah, 'sleep'
is one of the words for it." Nelson made a pause,
while Vadim forced his body into gear. He headed upstairs,
to get the worn survival trousers, sand coloured, the
boots, Matterhorns, had always stayed loyal to the brand
ever since, a nicely clingy shirt. Rummaged for the
bag under the bed. There. Packed for any surprise trip.
He opened it quickly, had a very quick look at the contents.
Ready to go.
somewhat busy right now."
are you doing?"
important stuff out. Listen, let's meet in Rio."
brings me to the reason to call."
slipped into the jacket, headed into Dan's study to
grab the bergan. It was gone. Opened a drawer. Wallet.
Passport, photos, all gone. He wouldn't take the wallet
to go drinking. Squaddies never did. Dan would limit
himself to a certain amount, and that was it. But the
photos worried him more than the American Express card,
or the traveller's cheques. Kisa's photos. Dan was gone
and wouldn't come back. "I can't talk now."
glanced around. Nothing more. Dan had left everything
else. "I'm dying to know." Shit. And that
creep kept pressing his advantage. He could swear Nelson
knew it was about Dan.
was thinking, why not join me in Rio before the conference.
We could finalize the contract. Maybe have a few days
calm and quiet in Belize? It's the ideal retreat."
Calm and quiet. "Sounds great." Vadim knew
he couldn't shake off that creep if he disagreed or
told him he needed to find Dan before Dan did something
even more stupid. "Listen, I'll call you. Thanks
for the offer. I'll be in touch."
better be." Soft laughter, and the line went dead.
is everybody even more insane than I am?" hissed
Vadim. Shit, think. Where had Dan gone? Where? Towards
the airport, of course. He'd take the usual route. Not
that there were many to choose from. The only question
was, would he go to Palmerston North or drive all the
way to Wellington. Or Auckland, for the intercontinental
flights. His money was on Palmerston. Dan knew the place,
he was more likely to go with tried and tested, and
the positive thing was, there weren't many flights from
Palmerston North. He could hope to intercept Dan right
headed into the garage, hoped to fuck Dan hadn't disabled
the machine of his trusted old jeep. Vadim tossed the
bag onto the back seat, the engine came alive, and Vadim
breathed relief. He had forgotten the cell phone. Shit.
Whatever. He didn't need it where he was going.
drove down the road, twenty minutes, hoped Dan had stopped
at his usual watering hole on the way, but the people
there told him, no, Dan hadn't been there. Some glanced
at him, strangely, and Vadim wondered what they knew
about him. How much Dan had talked when drunk. Whether
they knew he was the gay lover of that Scotsman, who
did the blokey thing while his Russian cunt tended the
house. He felt himself blush, mutter an excuse, noticed
he'd swallowed the articles again and stormed out.
was getting dark, and soon the headlights tore a silhouette
out of the night. The Landrover, or rather, the tail
end of it. The doors were open, half the car in a ditch.
Vadim's blood was all adrenaline, he braked, hard, skidded
to a halt on the shamefully bad road, grabbed the torch,
ran out, thought he'd see a mutilated body, a crash
the body was unharmed, curled up maybe two yards from
one of the tyres in the ditch. Looked like Dan had tried
to crawl out and given up to lay down to sleep, one
foot almost in a small brook that noisily gurgled over
" Vadim slid down the slope,
knelt down, checked pulse, checked the main bones, the
legs, the ribs, the spine, the neck, then slid an arm
under his neck and shoulders and pulled him up, pulled
him against his body and held him close. He reeked of
alcohol, but he was alive.
pulled him up, placed him across his shoulders, got
up, staggered under the weight, could feel each and
every of Dan's kilos in his back, and managed to get
out of the ditch, opened the door of the jeep, put Dan
down on the seat, then went to collect the keys from
the Landrover, switched off the headlights, and, sure
enough, found a couple of empty bottles in the back.
He got the bergan before he locked everything. He really
didn't care right now.
checked the map in the light of the torch, he knew the
way in theory, had always wanted to go there, one day,
but had been busy. He memorized the route, then started
the car again and headed out onto the road, towards
took a long time for Dan to become aware of anything;
the last time he had been drunk to unconsciousness was
in his late twenties or early thirties, sure as fuck
not at the age of almost forty-five. The moment he came
round with blurry eyes and unable to focus, he started
to feel the rattling of the car, the humps and bumps
and the nauseating way his body was thrown all over
the place. Didn't know where he was, just that his stomach
was lurching back into his throat.
" he groaned, hands patting around him, panicking
for a moment, thought he was locked into a cage, had
overturned his Landrover and would die before they could
cut him out of it, until he found the handle and managed
to wind down the passenger window. "Oh
could do nothing but hang his head out of the window
into the cooling night air, throwing up helplessly,
too much whisky spilling out of his guts and running
down the door of the jeep, ending in pot holes and bushes
along the way. Retching until his stomach was empty
and the alcohol in his blood started another assault
on his system. Hands searching again, didn't know for
what. Water. Thirsty. Grabbed the bottle that was pushed
into his hand and gulped down half of it.
the fuck was he? Tried to focus, he made out a silhouette
beside him, and groaned pathetically, "Was just
no need to punish me ... like this
" He barely managed to finish the sentence
when the jeep hit another pothole and he threw up yet
again, out of the window. Heaving until he fell asleep
with his face towards the wind that came in through
the open window.
hardly understood the words, but it didn't matter. Navigating
the hillside was a pain even in daylight. He didn't
really want to be disturbed, and, so much had to be
said in favour of Kiwiland, if one wanted wilderness,
all one had to do was leave the beaten track. Which
finally stopped, did a very quick recce of the place.
Lake, trees, check, dry wood, check. He got the tent
out, put it up in a time that would have made his survival
instructor proud, started a fire, built a nice little
camp, then opened the other door. He held Dan in with
a hand, washed his face with a wet cloth, then lifted
him out, began to undress the messy bastard, disgusted
but only vaguely so, like he had never much minded carrying
blood soaked comrades. Vomit was just part of the body.
He washed him, washed the sweat off his body, then carried
him over into the tent, wrapped him up in blankets while
he shielded the fire properly. He'd go fishing in the
morning, they had beef jerky for the moment, and a couple
gallons of water. Plenty of water filters and purifying
tablets. Taking no risks, not even with a lake as clean
was waking after a couple of hours with a mouth full
of straw and the disgusting taste of bile. This time
with far more clarity, and he started to realise he
was still alive. Shit, since when were hangovers killing
him that badly? Since he'd got old. Since he'd been
worn out and discarded.
had no idea where he was, it was dark all around him,
and he patted the ground and himself, finding a plastic
water bottle beside him and a box of tissues. Gulping
down cold water as if it were a life saver, he wiped
his face with a damp tissue. Had no clue what happened,
didn't know where he was, and how the fuck he had got
here. Wherever that 'here' was. He felt rotten, but
tried to scramble up instead. Found himself naked, which
confused him even more, until the flicker of a fire
shone through what had to be a tent.
grabbed the blanket, pulled it over his head and shoulders,
and crawled towards the opening, even though he really
wasn't supposed to be on his knees. But he couldn't
ache anymore than he already did. He stuck his head
out, then the rest of his upper body. Blinked a couple
of times, trying to focus.
looked up as the figure emerged from the tent. He had
been tending the fire, watching the flames, finally
had time to think. Think clearly. Back to basics, just
him, and Dan. No alcohol, no house, nothing to get between
them. He sighed, shook his head, saw how pale and miserable
the other man was. He got up and sat down near the tent,
within touching distance.
Dan. You look like shit." Dan would need to be
sober and rested. This would be tough for both of them.
Much like surgery. He needed to remove the cancer eating
away at their hearts. "Drink plenty. There
He fumbled for a jar of Dan's vitamins and put it down
in front of his face.
the fuck am I?" Dan's voice sounded rough, abused
and as sore as his whole body. His hand trembled as
he reached for the vitamins and he started to shake
with a cold that began to creep into his bones. "And
why are you here?"
of the mountains, near the lake." Vadim opened
the jar for him, could see Dan was coming crashing down
from the alcohol. Very near to alcohol poisoning. This
was bad. This was worse than bad. How he had managed
to drive at all was a miracle. "I'm always here",
he murmured. "Until you use that fucking bullet.
But right now, I don't think you could shoot straight.
So, that is not an option." He gave half a smile.
"Rest up. We need to talk. Not shout. But not now."
nodded, shaking so hard now, he felt as if he'd been
dipped into a Norwegian lake and left to dry in the
middle of a Siberian winter. Some pills were poured
into his hand, and he closed his fingers around them.
" He nodded again, teeth chattering.
Crawling backwards, he retreated into the tent and towards
as many sleeping bags and blankets as he could find.
Luckily Vadim seemed to have piled them up around him.
have used the bullet." Head still visible for another
moment, then he was gone. "On you."
closed his eyes, formed fists. He had actually believed
Dan would kill him. Self-centred bastard. It was Dan
who had left, and who the fuck knew why he hadn't left
in a different way. Kisa? Maybe for the kid's sake?
He shook his head. He had been given everything on a
silver plate, new life, a man like Dan, all these things,
and he had somehow managed to ruin it. Without noticing
that Dan had slipped from him and fell, kept falling,
moved to the fire and poured tea, let it cool for a
bit, then went into the tent, offering some of the hot
liquid, helping Dan to drink, then readjusting the blankets
so he could sweat it all out. "Don't worry. I'm
I'll prove it as soon as you feel better.