Recompense (part 3 of 3)

Recompense: (part 3 of 3)

I am walking towards the light. There’s a man standing there. I can’t see his face no matter how hard I try. But it’s to be expected since he had the light at his back. He’s talking but I can’t understand him either.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Mr Tola. Good to have you back. It was touch and go there for some hours.” Said the man. I don’t know who he his. But his overcoat soon cleared away some of my confusion.

“I am Dr. Johnson.” He said.

Yes. I thought as much that he must be a doctor but still couldn’t make out why he was there.

“You were struck by lightning and you are at the hospital.”

Then it all came back to me in a moment. My attempted suicide. I was alive. Which meant I didn’t succeed. The implication wasn’t lost on me. I would probably soon be dead anyway. The good doctor must have seen the look on my face.

“It was an accident, right?”

My silence was all the answer he needed.

“Mr Tola. I don’t and can’t go into all that right now. We will just focus on returning you to good health. We can then see about the other thing. But I don’t want you to worry about anything right now.”

He realized he was rambling a little I think. The sudden realization that I had intentionally tried to “off” myself had caught him off guard.

I cared that I hadn’t succeeded more than he could have guessed.

I had no plan B. I had aimed for a “hard stop” with no reboot.

I was sure the shit must have hit the fan by now and I was going to get hit once I left the hospital.

“Nurse Peters will come around and give you something to help you relax in a few minutes. And I will see you later in the day.”

The nurse soon disappeared as well once she checked my vitals again and asked if I was not in any pain or feeling disoriented.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I woke up to a gentle touch on my arm and gentler voice if that was possible.

“Mr Tola, there’s a couple of gentlemen here to see you. If you need anything, just press the bell.”

There was a knowing look on her face that seems to say if I got in trouble, I should just press the bell.

“Thank you nurse Peters”, one of the two said as she left the room.

Then the two just stood there looking at me. I wasn’t getting any hostile vibes. In fact I wasn’t getting any vibes at all. The only thought that came to my mind when I saw them was that maybe they were there to finish me off. Literally.

I thought I might as well put things in motion.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” I ventured.

“Hmmmn.” Said the one closer to the bed. He grabbed a seat by the door and brought it round to my bedside. The second followed suit but sat on the other side of the bed.

Which made me even more uncomfortable. But it appeared the first man was in charge as the second had not said a word. On the other hand, it crossed my mind that maybe that was the goal. One to distract me while the second makes the kill.

“Mr Tola. I am Mike and that’s John. Rest assured we are not here to do you harm. In fact, it’s completely the opposite.”

“For the moment, who we are is not important. But we have been watching you for quite a while. And we were watching a few days ago when you attempted to take your life.”

“You see. You didn’t quite commit the perfect crime all those years. But we let it slide because it suited our purpose at that time. And yes we know about your penance. You know, the charities, the church and so on.”

He paused at this point. I guess to allow me digest all he had said.

I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure either where he was going with this. The only thing that was clear was that they definitely weren’t the people I had “disappointed” recently by not killing the woman.

“So” he continued. “You are probably wondering why we are here.”

I just continued to stare at him.

“The fact is we are here to make you an offer we hope you won’t refuse.”

There definitely was a hint of threat in his last statement. I still didn’t say anything.

“How about a job? We know you are not employed. And we like to diversify our staff base with the right elements when we find them. Even if they are civilians.”

“What sort of job?”

“Nah. It’s neither the place nor time to get into such details. But rest assured it’s more brain work than brawn.”

“For now, just get well. We will be in touch regularly. And don’t be shy to ask for anything you need.”

They took their leave shortly after that.

For some reason the short visit left me completely drained. I was soon fast asleep.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I woke up with an unhealthy craving for chicken and chips. I think it was the hunger that woke me up. I remember I hadn’t eaten much of the hospital food that appeared like clockwork three times a day by my bedside.

I rang the bell. Nurse Peters showed up a few seconds later. She appeared so quickly it felt as if she had been waiting on the other side of the door for me to press the bell.

“How are you Mr Tola. Can I get you anything?” She had a lovely smile. I noticed for the umpteenth time.

“Actually yes. I find I am hungry and the only thing that will cure me is a healthy dose of chicken and chips.”

“We can certainly arrange that sir. There’s in fact a KFC down the road.”

“Thanks but no. I do like KFC but I find no one makes chicken and chips like the corner Dallas shop. Is there one in the neighborhood?”

Her forehead creased up. “Dallas?” She repeated haltingly. “Never heard of one.”
Then it struck me that was in London and possibly not here.
I said as much to her. KFC would have to do.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As mentioned on their first visit, the two gentlemen paid regular visits to the hospital. I was in no particular hurry to leave either. But one can only stay so long in a hospital. They were my ride out of the place the day I was discharged.
“You of course must have realized you do not have an apartment any longer. We have taken the liberty to secure your possessions though.”
“It’s in an apartment which is yours if you want it. Either way, we think you should at least stay there until you feel up to facing the outside world again.”
We drove to a middle class neighborhood. Trees lined the streets and kids played on the sidewalk. I could feel the smile on my face.
They let me out in front of a building. “We should let you get to it. There’s a phone on the table in the house. Our numbers are on it in case you need to reach us. Otherwise just relax. We will be in touch in a week.” With that he handed me the keys.
“Oh. It would be better if you don’t wander off too far. There are several small shops in the neighborhood in case you need anything. There’s a card in the bedside table as well as some loose change.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The following week went by slowly. But being used to being alone, I didn’t mind at all. If anything, I used the time to think about my “new” and unexpected situation. The lack of a plan B left me floating. With every day that went by, the available options, if there were any to start with, seemed to automatically narrow down to accepting the job offer from my still un-named “benefactors”. Besides, I was getting used to the flat. Something I expect I would have to give up if I don’t accept the job offer.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was a week to the day when they showed up again. I knew who to expect even as I answered the knock on the front door.
“Welcome gentlemen.” I said.
“Ah! Nice to see you are well settled in”. I was in pyjamas.
They came in and sat at two seats around the dining table. I joined them.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Nah. We are good.” Brown answered for both of them.
“This is not really a courtesy call as I am sure you realize.”
I nodded.
“So. Not to beat about the bush. What say you.” It was more a statement than a question. Which confirmed the fact that they probably knew I would answer in the affirmative.
“Yes. I will take the job. With the caveat I already stated.”
“Then we are all systems go!” He said beaming at me.
“The office will be in contact shortly on the next steps. You shall definitely be seeing more of us.”
With that they got up to go. I saw them out and wondered what I was getting into for the tenth if not the hundredth time.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

True to their words, a series of phone calls led to my being picked up one gray dawn and driven to a non-descriptive house on the outskirts of the city. The only indication that things weren’t quite as they seem was the series of automated gates we passed through to get to the house itself. I assumed we were watched all the way through as each gate opened immediately we got to it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mr Brown and his sidekick were on hand to welcome me.

“Ah! Mr Tola. Nice to see you again. Time is short so I will have to cut to the chase immediately.  There are a series of tests covering a wide array of subject you have to undertake. It’s routine and we do not anticipate any issues. They are designed to ensure intakes are adequately equipped to face the challenges that come with the job. Some have been waived for you and replaced with some physical activities to get you in shape. We will of course be on hand as you make your way through the process in the following weeks to ensure everything goes smoothly and address any concerns you may have. I am going to hand you over to the able hands of Mr Green here. Believe me when I say there’s no one better qualified for what he does around here.”

Over the next month I was picked up like clockwork every morning and returned home late at night.  I spent the day undergoing a combination of physical examinations, exercises, basics weapon training, simulated hostile situations, international and local policy updates, and so on. It was all a whirl of activity and at some point I doubted whether I would make it through or wash out. But every subsequent day, I still found enough strength to make it through. There wasn’t much choice because I couldn’t think of any alternative if I didn’t make it through. Or may be I just decided there was no point.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[Six months later]

“Welcome fully onboard, Mr Tola. You can use the Agent designation now as you know. But we do prefer to play under the radar so the generic Mr suits us just fine.”

To get your feet dirty, your first few assignments are literally walks in the park. But still to show you the ropes, Mr Red will primarily be in charge with you seconding him. Please do not hesitate to seek clarification on the finer points and nuances of our craft.”

And that was that. He wasn’t lying when he said walks in the park. The first few engagements were mostly information gathering with one or two meetings with some assets in the field. But we then graduated to more serious tasks such as active surveillance of some subjects. I started to take the lead gradually. By the end of the year, I had a few solo runs under my belt. Discussing the progress and outcomes with Mr Red. All my engagements were local. That is until a couple of weeks before Christmas when Mr Brown called me into his office. His sidekick was present along with Mr Red.

The sidekick nodded silently at me. I returned the gesture. I haven’t so much as heard him say a word in a year. But I knew he could speak. My curiosity had got the better of me and I had asked Mr Red.

“Oh. He can speak alright. But he believes the less said the better. Less to accidentally give away. Might even work out as a protection of sorts if hostile elements assume you can’t speak. You know.”

“Please take a seat, Mr. Tola. I will cut straight to the chase. There’s an assignment coming up in Amsterdam. You will be running interference on this one. Which really means a holiday. All you need know is just do what any other tourist would do. Nothing more or less.”

Just the word caused my pulse rate to go up. I thought I was past all that. But I could feel my heart beating wildly in my chest. I tried hard to focus.

“Mr Tola?” Mr Brown brought me back to the present. He was looking at me curiously.

“Excuse me.” I said. Please continue. I hoped I hadn’t missed anything important.

“So. It’s short notice. But that’s the nature of the beast. You need to get packed and ready to go by 21:00 hours tonight. Your flight takes off at 22:00 hours. There will be a car at your door at at 9 sharpish. You will be brought up to date on the details on the trip over.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * *

That was the first of several assignments in Europe. I find myself passing through Amsterdam from time to time. It was easy to find out what she’s been up to from the resources at my disposal. I gave up pretending it was for anything other than what it is. The reason I was still single. I have had “reasoning sessions” from everyone from the priest to the grandfather that ran the neighborhood mom and pop shop. The summary was of course always the same. “Forget the mystery woman. She’s probably enjoying herself with the man of her dreams while not given you a second thought – literally”

Between being nervous around women I find attractive and the fact that I had made up my mind by the second time I laid eyes on her, I just couldn’t find the energy nor inclination to pursue a relationship with anyone else.

They were spot on of course. She was married with two kids. From everything I could find out, it was a happy marriage. I had enough facts about her and her family at my finger tips, that if not for the fact I hadn’t been anywhere near her physically, nor made contact with her in any form,  it would probably have been termed stalking.

She and the husband ran a string of successful businesses. And moved in the top echelon of society all over Europe and even back in the home country.  She’s also a fashion trendsetter. Her pictures appear regularly in several of the well known fashion and society magazines.  The kids were a delight. The word to describe them is beautiful. A boy and a girl. The girl being the older of the two.
I convince myself all these details I have about her is just to be sure she’s OK. Her sharp words were partially responsible for bringing me back from the brink. So I am eternally grateful.
Business brings me to Holland from time to time. It would be nice to see her of course. But I am not sure I would handle the meeting well or if I would be welcome.

I had been saved and given a new life by a shadow outfit responsible for security for a certain group of highly influential people. They had caught flak for the “almost” kill I had of one of their watches. They had been tracking me and saved me after the lightning strike.

Then backtracked and the people who were responsible silently disappeared. They had been impressed with the impersonal way I had disposed of the evidence including the gun and had come calling after saving me. First to understand why I didn’t make the kill to be sure it wasn’t for lack of nerve and the with the offer of a job. I had explained that as long as I don’t have to kill on purpose. I was cool. They had dug into my past and made the connection to the lady I killed. But weren’t going to hold it over my head. No limitation on murder.
I tell myself no one could replace her. Even though it’s one sided. It’s not infatuation. That shouldn’t last this long.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One quiet weekend, I went for a walk. The streets were deserted. I thought maybe it was because it’s a Sunday. I had no particular destination in mind. Some of the street names started to look familiar but I chalked it down to my having to pore over the maps of the city on several earlier assignments. I took a corner and not too far away were a group of kids. Mostly boys. There was a smaller girl in the middle astride a shiny black sports bicycle. Even at the distance I was at, it was easy to deduce what was going on.

They were haranguing the girl in the middle. I was elated to see despite their numbers, she wasn’t going to give up her bike easily. I walked a little faster. I was hoping just my presence might tip the scale and make them leave the girl alone. I wasn’t sure what I would do if they resisted. The last thing I needed was for my name or face to make the local papers or be arrested by the local police for using force against a minor or minors.

I got a brainwave as I came up to them.

“Ha Leslie. There you are.” I said.

“Your mum has been looking for you. Don’t you think it’s time you returned home? That’s enough riding for one day.”

To my relief the kids started to disperse as I came up to the girl on the bicycle.

She looked at me for a while, then said “My name is not Leslie, and I don’t know you.”

Fortunately the crowd were no longer within earshot.

“True. But you were smart enough to realize I just saved you and your bike right?”

“Yes. That’s why I waited until they were gone.”

“Smart girl” I said. “You don’t look like you are from around here.”

“No I am not. I got lost.”

“Ah. Interesting. How did that happen?”

“I took a wrong turn four streets back. I was about to turn around when I came up on those kids.”

“Ok. I am just taking a walk. Let me see you back to your neighborhood.”

“Thank you. But you don’t have to. I can find my way back.”

“And I bet you can take care of yourself” I said with a smile to humor her.

“Yes of course. I have been taking Karate lessons.”

“That’s cool.”

She turned a circle around me on her bike and we started in the opposite direction.

I asked for her name to make conversation. She told me.

She then asked for my name.

“Mr Nobody.” I said.

“But that’s not a name!”

“Ah! But it is.” I then recited the poem. She thought it was hilarious. I told her I don’t think it’s that funny. She said it was my accent. That she’s sorry but couldn’t help herself.

“So where do you live?”  I asked.

It’s close by. Just after the next street. She mentioned a house number and a street name.

That was when I realized why she looked vaguely familiar.

“Is your mum Sade?” I asked.

“Yes. But how did you know?”

It’s so easy to see her in this smaller copy of hers standing before me. The confident air. The pensive look (sometimes). The wary look that says I am not sure of your motive. The easy smile.

“Tell your mum you met me. She will know.”

“But I don’t know you.”

“True. But she will.”

“But who are you?”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

I had to smile at that. It was so long ago. Yet so fresh in my mind. She had asked a question. And I had answered the same way, “why not?” I had felt so clever then. So much like one of the philosophers of old I admired.

I created a new message on my phone and entered two smileys in it. Then I showed it to her.

The frown on her face looked familiar.

“A sunflower and a rose?”

“Yeah. That’s who I am”

“But that doesn’t make sense?”

“Oh. But it does. Show it to her on your phone when you get home. She will know.”

“But I don’t!” she’s indignant.

“Ah! I am your friend.” I said laughing.

She didn’t find it funny. Just stood looking at me curiously.

“Don’t you like a little bit of mystery?” I asked her.

“Sometimes”. She said. I knew I had her.

“This is one of those times.”

I had stayed too long.

“Give us a hug” I said getting on one knee.

She didn’t hesitate. She wrapped her hands around my neck. Then after a long minute kissed me on the cheek and stepped back.

I got up and smiled.

“Will I ever see you again?” She asked.

“Most def” I said.

I start to walk away. Then I turn back.

Tell your mum Tola says to greet her specially, would you?

“Ok.”

“Danke.”

She looks at me quizzically. “Mum had a friend a long time ago by that name. He was kind sometimes. And mean sometimes. But he had a good heart.”

I wink at her with a smile and walk off.

She’s sharp. She would know who it was. I hope she smiles.

With time the regrets have grown to a dull ache. Manageable.

I smile because she’s a lot of Sunshine.

December 24, 2015.

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