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His head was pounding, pounding. He felt as though he were a door, and someone was rapping at his exterior with extreme force – like a stranger caught in a storm desperate to gain safe harbour.
It was odd this was the thought in his mind, for the image was so clear to Fraser and he could actually see the man in his rugged brown coat, water dripping down like the stream of a gentle river. And the knocking, a fast rap-a-tat-tat never-ending. The knocks were so loud he almost believed they were real.
Of course, naturally, they were real. The rain was beating down on the house, and the knocking of his grandfather’s knuckles on the hard-wood table. Impatience was the word on Josephs’s mind, and worry and frustration. The time was coming close now, the shift was nearly upon him. A matter of hours maybe.
Strange how only this morning he’d been in another world running from the Nazis. Now even in a much safer world he was still running, and still running out of time. And yet every second he waited dragged like the long opening chapters of a book that took too long to get to the story.
Fraser wouldn’t wake up, his body still much recovering from the alcohol and the shock and, thus, dragging the story along when Joseph wanted nothing more than to jump into action. He wanted to see if there was anything that remained, he needed to know what was hidden in those pages. He was running out of time.
A whole universe between himself and the Reich and still he had to worry for their Grand Marshall was surely on his trail. And while he might lack the strength of his xenophobic soldiers, he was still ever as dangerous. Bernard was coming for him, and he had to be gone before he realised that he didn’t need soldiers or satellites or secret services in this world to find him. All he needed was a computer and a quick online search of one ‘Fraser Daniels’…
Fraser woke up at nigh on five minutes to mid-day to the smell of coffee and burnt bread, smells most appealing to a man hungover and very much feeling the effects of the previous night’s debauchery.
How much had he had to drink last night he wondered? The splitting headache he was much too familiar with was starting to set in. “Christ I should have topped up on more fluids,” he thought to himself, as he rubbed his scalpel. He turned to pull himself over to the cool side of the bed, only to nearly fall and hit the floor.
Being startled and the mild panic setting in woke up him a little, and, while his tired and blurry vision was not at full capacity, he was able to see that he was definitely not in the tiny bedroom of his house. He was in the front room, on the sofa, and half-naked from the waist down.
“What the fuck!” he muttered.
What had happened last night? He scarcely could recall much, aside from getting to the pub. After that, it was a bit of a blur. Had he and Gina gotten caught in the bathrooms? No, they weren’t so young and foolish anymore as to try anything so reckless. And why did he smell like a festival port-a-loo?
Oh dear Christ he’d soiled himself!
For a moment Fraser just lay there, realising that this was, indeed, an incredibly low point in his life. Also, a reminder that he was getting older, and partying was a young man’s game. Of course, he was still young. But not young enough to have a sesh like he had. His stomach felt as though it was housing a marching band, and his throat burned like the pits of Hades.
He just wanted a nice cup of coffee and some warm bread – his own personal hangover ritual. Not butter, no jam, just bread left a little too long under the grill, his favorite since he was very little.
The alluring smell of it in the air was all that pulled him out from under the makeshift covers which he quickly tossed into a pile on the floor, reminding himself to chuck those in the wash before Gina came home.
Gina’s not home.
Now, why was that such an odd disturbing thought resting in the back of his mind? He couldn’t understand why he felt so suddenly uncomfortable – especially as he slipped into a fresh pair of boxers. Tossing the dirty ones in the pile on the corner, he continued to wonder about this feeling that something was wrong, all while his nose told him something was very right in the kitchen.
What a perfect girlfriend he had, he thought lovingly, to be in the kitchen surely whipping up something for his throbbing head even after the state he’d been in last night. Truly, an angel on this Earth.
But Gina’s not home.
That was correct, he recalled. The previous night she’d gone home with Molly to look after her in the morning. The two of them were probably mucking about laughing about last night while Georgina made sure her best mate knew how much of a twat she’d been, while they made infrequent trips to the toilet to chunder.
Lovely as that sounds that still leaves the question – If Gina’s there then, Fraser, who the actual hell is cooking in the kitchen?!
The worry and the panic set in then though it was not long-lasting as Fraser turned to face towards the kitchen in the back of the house and set his eyes on a man he’d not seen since last night…and before that night not since the night he’d mysteriously returned.
“Ah, good, you’re awake.” His grandfather smiled. “Just making another pot. By the way, you appear to be out of bread.”
One long shower later…
He was sitting in the living room, a cup of coffee in one hand and an apple in the other. His grandfather had, apparently, gone through the last of the bread. Not perhaps the issue at hand yet Fraser couldn’t help but think about how that was supposed to last until next week. Another thing for Georgina to be pissed off about when she got back.
He’d scarcely come down from the stairs when his grandfather had given him a desperate look, one that conveyed to him that this was not the visit of a loving family member but a man in need. That did nothing to endear him to Fraser – all the questions he had, all the anger at his abandonment.
Shuffling uncomfortably in his seat, it was Joseph who decided to break the silence. “It’s a nice house you have here. Do you live by yourself or-?”
“With my girlfriend,” he answered, snapping.
Joseph raised an eyebrow. “Oh, good for you. It’s…good not to be alone..” he muttered wistfully.
“Aye, Gina’s good company.” He nodded. “She’s good, doesn’t abandon her loved ones overnight.”
If these words at all hurt his grandfather he didn’t show it. “I know you must have many questions-“
“Questions? Ha!” He snorted. “Think I give a rat’s bottom where you been?”
“Well, I would have thought you might be curious at the very least,” he answered, then smiling fondly said, “When you were little you always use to ask where I’d come from when I returned from my exploring.”
“Aye, and now I’m older I know it doesn’t matter.”
Joseph sighed sadly and lowered his head. Fraser wondered if he’d thought this reunion would be a glad one.
“Fraser, please, I didn’t come all this way to bicker.”
“No, I imagine you didn’t.” With a frown then he asked, “How did you find me anyway? I’ve moved since last we talked.”
“I have friends here in Edinburgh,” Joseph answered guardedly, “ones who keep an eye on you.”
Fraser snorted, “Well, that’s a load of bullshit!”
“ I know, an old man like myself with a network of contacts, it’s a little unusual,” he smiled and chuckled gently.
“No, that you have friends,” Fraser snapped back.
The last jab seemed to particularly sting, and Joseph seemed lost in memory for but a moment as he muttered in lost thought, “Fewer by the day.” Then, coming out of this short and delicate fugue state, he stated, “But that is not why I’m here. I’m here for your help Fraser. You see, I have on me a very rare item, one I believe that you might help me understand, one that perhaps might hold the secrets to the universe. Its worth is beyond immeasurable.”
Frasers’ anger was, temporarily, pushed back as curiosity won over. His grandfather was many things, but not one to use hyperbolic language.
“Ok.” He said, putting down his tea and uneaten apple. “Let’s see it.”
The book hit the table with a loud thud, far too loud for the hungover gentleman who was currently doing all he could not to rush back to the toilet. Fraser looked over the book and internally remarked on the fine details inscribed into the leather-like coverings. It was decorative to be sure, perhaps worthy of a private collection, but it didn’t strike him as particularly remarkable.
“You said you had the secrets to the universe. This,” He gestured, “is just raggedly old paper.”
“It’s not raggedy, and it’s not paper,” Joseph informed him.
Curiosity peaked, hesitantly Fraser stroked the spine of the book. It indeed felt nothing like any leather book he’d ever held during his years of academia. He stroked along the side of the pages and gave his grandfather an inquiring glance.
“Aye, not paper. What is that?”
“Human flesh,” he bluntly replied.
Fraser jumped back throwing his hands wide of the area where the totem was and exclaimed loudly, “What the actual f-?!”
“Pardon me Fraser, but I believe someone’s attempting to steal your neighbour’s car.”
“Oh never mind,” Joseph chuckled. “Just a bird leaving his dropping on the roof!”
“Right, yes.” He nodded, turning back his attention. “Yes, it’s made of human skin. Not as uncommon a practice as you’d imagine, but still, yes, rather…icky one might say.”
“I think I might be sick!” Fraser gagged.
“Oh hush!” Joseph scolded him, picking up the book as though it were nothing more than the average sort found in a shop and not one made of LITERAL HUMAN ORGANS. “It’s perfectly harmless, and I can assure you those that donated to its creation did so willingly.”
“Why the flipping FUCKING hell would they do that?!”
His grandfather looked as if he were about to answer but stopped and responded rather lamely, “I’m afraid I could not explain it to you if I tried.”
Before Fraser could enquire he felt a vibration coming from under the table. Both men looked down, startled and confused, and Fraser rummaged around with his hand to try and grasp the cause of the sudden disturbance. He was, naturally, less than surprised to find out it was his phone that had been making said disturbance.
“It’s Gina, I gotta take this,” he told Joseph who nodded though looked very impatient and in need of completing their conversation. He wasn’t sure what exactly the old man expected from him but he decided to put his grandfather to one side for the moment and looked instead to his love.
“Hey babe, how you feeling?” he asked, switching from sour to sweet surprisingly easily.
“Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good actually,” she replied, chipper – a little too chipper for his liking.
“Are you still hammered? Don’t tell me you stayed on it last night?”
“…no.” If she hadn’t drawn out the sentence he almost wouldn’t have believed her. Something was off in the way she was speaking, it wasn’t her normal speaking voice. It sounded normal, yet not quite. He could not quite put his finger on what it was that made him feel uncomfortable, but before he could enquire or further ponder she was yapping away again.
“Do you think you could meet me?” she asked.
“Umm, not sure I can love. Someone unexpected has shown up, you’ll never guess who..”
She cut him off before he could tell her. “Could you just meet me, in say thirty minutes?”
Fraser was now beginning to feel a tad concerned. “Babe, what’s wrong?”
Georgina giggled of all things. Giggled! Not something he’d heard her do since she was a wee one. “Just come meet me down by the Pilgrim building. Thirty minutes.”
Before he had the chance to say anything else the line cut, and he was left there feeling confused, concerned but nonetheless determined to go to find out what was going on with his girlfriend, and why she was at the Pilgrim building of all places. Had she perhaps had some word on whether he’d be allowed to conduct his research from the Pilgrim group? If so how? So many questions, so few answers!
And a grandfather he hadn’t wanted to see again still waiting expectantly in the living room. He sighed, and began chucking on his coat and shoes before Joseph could say anything. By the time he was going, his grandad had only just realised he was dressed to leave.
“It’s my girlfriend, something’s up. I gotta go. I’ll be back in short while. Feel free to leave,” he informed him bluntly.
Stunned, the older man blinked up at him. “What? Umm, excuse me, Fraser?”
“My book?” he asked.
He shrugged. “I’ll have a look at it when I get back. I won’t be long.” And, before he could protest, Fraser was out the door and feeling very much relieved. He hadn’t realised it, but Gina’s call had been exactly the excuse he’d needed to make his getaway from that terrible reunion.
Meanwhile, Joseph sat, slumped, in a chair that was very much his own in a world that seemed even less familiar than he might imagine – a grandson who hated him, a book he needed to read, and Bernard hot on his trail. That call couldn’t have come at a worst time…
“Just come meet me down by the Pilgrim building. Thirty Minutes.”
She hung up and turned the phone over. It was not a model she was familiar with, but the design was simple enough, and thus she found the battery quite quickly. Though Fraser would surely be intending to call back soon he would find no call coming through – not with the battery lying broken on the floor.
Yes, she thought gleefully, he would be in for quite the surprise when he met up with his ‘girlfriend’. More so when the trap sprung, and the last threat to peace was wiped out with not a whisper but a gasp as her cold knife would plunge into his back.
She took her own communication device, one she’d recently become acquainted with, and dialled up the only contact who was on there. A few seconds later, he answered.
“The trap is set,” she informed him. “I am en route now. Estimated arrival time – thirty minutes. All is going as perfectly as you planned Mr Bernard…”
Next time –
There are many ways to beat an enemy who is far more powerful than you – in terms of force at least. One of those ways is information. If knowledge is power, then well-placed agents are bombing runs, forever hindering the enemies’ movement to the front line.
Agents are key to winning wars – they strike out to gain information, recruit spies and promote rebellion in the enemy ranks. In the case of this particular agent, his contribution was knocking on a door. The door belonged to one Molly Bragman. It wasn’t out of choice that Mike Dougan had come here, but rather out of necessity…
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