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 the generators.
Agents are key to winning wars – they strike out to gain information, recruit spies and promote rebellion in the enemy ranks. Information, the key to open the doors of victory. Information could come from all sorts of places, from spies within the ranks to independent agents who did nothing more than being in the right place at the right time. In the case of this particular agent, his contribution was knocking on a door. The door that belonged to one Molly Bragman. It wasn’t out of choice that Mike Dougan had come here, but rather out of necessity.
Shamed as he was to admit it, he was desperately in need of twenty quid. Specifically twenty quid he’d lent out to his student Georgina. He’d known that money was going to go on the piss, but who was he to judge? He’d had his fair share of wild nights during his short time as a student.
Besides she’d sworn she’d give it back to him the next week. Problem was, the next week had come and now he needed it. Let it be said, when it’s two weeks before pay day don’t go lending money – especially if you forget your mam’s birthday.
So here he was of all places, outside the little student house that was home to Molly Bregman with Nigel by his side looking ever so impatient (the little bugger was chomping at the bit to get himself into some muddy puddle of trouble). He knew Georgina would be here because she’d told him, assured him, she’d be up in time to pass on the money she owed. Not that the trip would be bad for him. He was due to get an update on young Fraser, the boy who was his charge.
He’d seemed fine the other day. He’d had a sure sign that long term viability for treatment was safe. But he had to keep sure and he had to keep secret. Fraser could never know. Not that he’d even understand, poor boy! Women and his past, two mysteries – one of all men who love women, one unique to him and him alone.
When he arrived at the house he knocked out of courtesy, for it was the polite thing to do, even with the door completely open. Not a good thing though, quite disturbing actually. If he didn’t moments later hear the sound of violent spewing from upstairs, he’d be quite ready to call the police.
He stood there, unsure whether to enter but not feeling comfortable enough to stand out in the cold morning rain. Thinking ‘sod it’, he tied Nigel to a lamp-post next to the house, stepped inside and slowly walked upstairs. Though he moved at a slow pace, he made sure to hit his feet on the raggedy carpeted floor a little harder in the hope that, along with his calls of ‘hello’, this would announce his presence as NOT a threatening intruder.
Georgina was not on the first floor, though there was a very attractive looking gaming set up that he took a picture of. He’d loved to have a set up like the one he was seeing, it was absolutely gorgeous. A quick check in the kitchen left him feeling disgusted, and quite done with liquor for the remainder of his university employment, so he moved upstairs. This was where he assumed the bedrooms would be.
The first place he checked was the loo where he assumed he’d heard the sound of vomiting coming from. He knocked twice, then, hearing nothing, called out again. “Hello? It’s Mike Dougan. I’m sorry for coming in without permission, but your door was open and it’s raining dreadfully outside.“
“Jesus, can you can it Mike? I’m dying in here!” That certaintly sounded like Molly from what he recalled of her.
“Oh, sorry Molly.” He apologised and bit his lip to stop himself laughing at the accidental rhyme.
Afer a few moments the toilet flushed and the door opened, and Mike was staring into the face of a heavily disgruntled looking hungover Molly. By the paleness of her face, it looked as though she’d had quite the night and an awful morning thus far. He averted his eyes from her gaze, piercing and terrifying as ever.
“Morning Mike,” She wearily greeted, gently pushing past him then turning back and giving him an odd look.
“Mike, don’t take this the wrong way, but what the hell are you doing in our flat?”
Mike went on to explain when the sound of a passing car was heard, quite clearly through the open door. Avoiding words, he simply pointed downward. Following the direction of his finger, Molly saw for herself.
“Jesus Christ, fucking Georgina leaving the door open… is that your dog?”
“Yeah, I thought best to leave him outside. He tends to get a wee bit overexcited some times.” He told her. As if to prove his point, Nigel was pulling with all his might to be free of his temporary prison as he caught sight of Molly (or as he probably saw it, a new person to jump at with his dirty paws).
“Right.” She nodded, then frowned and pointed at him. “That still doesn’t explain why you decided to just walk in.”
“Oh, well, I thought perhaps maybe someone had broken in. And when I heard the sound of… well…,” He awkwardly gestured at Molly, “Well I thought I had better check no one was injured.”
“How thoughtful of you,” she said bluntly, not giving any indication that she felt moved by his actions. “Again, Mike, that still doesn’t explain why you’re here. In our flat.”
“Honestly, Georgina owes me some money,” he told her.
“And you needed that money today?”
Stuttering for an excuse eventually, and embarrassingly, he admitted, “I may have forgotten my mother’s birthday was coming. I… also may have forgotten to get her a present.”
From suspicion to a disapproving stare that was nearly as frightening as his father’s, Mike seemed to shrink inwardly in that he felt the younger, and much smaller, girl tower over him with the moral high ground.
Eventually sighing, Molly told him, “Well you’ll be out of luck then, Gina went out about twenty minutes ago. Meeting with Fraser or something.”
Mike nodded and turned to leave and glad of it. He supposed he could come back later. He had a little while yet. Or…
“I don’t suppose she’d be heading back to Fraser’s would she?”
“Not sure, but that would be my guess.”
“I don’t suppose you have his number do you?” He asked.
“Yes.” Huzzah! “But,” Oh crumbs. “I lost my phone last night, reckon I dropped it in the taxi or something.”
“Oh, well thank you anyway.” He smiled gratefully, though she’d done little or nothing for him.
Perhaps it was pity, or just common kindness, but, as he turned and started towards the stairs, Molly sighed and grabbed his shoulder.
“You could try calling his house number, lucky for you I remember that though I don’t know how or why.”
“Oh, that would be most appreciated. Thank you.”
So it was that Mike walked out the house and stood outside with his dog as he dialled the home number of his student’s partner. He waited around only in case, perhaps, if Gina didn’t have the money, she might pass her debt onward to her housemate or maybe the young man he spied setting himself up comfortably in the room with the lovely gaming system. There was also a park nearby and now was a good a time as any to let loose his little wild beast.
The phone was not hastily answered, though when it was it was certaintly not Fraser who answered.
It was a man’s voice, an older gentleman. English, so definitely not Fraser.
“Umm, hello, this is Mike Dougan. I’m looking for Fraser, is he there?”
“I’m sorry, he just left not ten minutes ago.”
“Oh crikey.” Mike huffed. “What about his girlfriend, Georgina?”
“I believe that is who he left to meet.”
Well that was just his luck.
“Ok, well is there any chance I could leave a message with you, umm…?”
“Joseph, Fraser’s grandfather.”
“Right, ok Joseph, could …“
He was interrupted from completing his sentence by the calling of one Miss Molly Bregman.
“Mike, you’re in for a spot of luck.” She told him, barely even glancing as Nigel leaped at her only to be held back by the few inches distance from the lamppost. He was a friendly dog, truly, but times like these he wondered if perhaps he should have looked into one that was tamer. Or perhaps just a wee bit shorter and thus easier to manage.
“How so?” He asked.
“Turns out I was wrong, Gina’s in the guest room.” She told him. “On her way down now, with your money.”
Mike let out a small sigh of relief and looked through the still open door to see, sure enough, a small blonde Scottish lass slowly making her way down the stairs. She looked rough indeed, they must have had one hell of a night. As she reached the final step, she looked up and then quickly turned away as the light met her eye.
“Oh, bloody hell that’s bright.” She grimaced. “Hey Mike.”
“Morning Georgina, take it you’re having a worse for wear morning.”
Georgina nodded in response, and stuck her hand into the pocket of her light brown hoodie and pulled out a note. “Here you go.” She said, handing it to him, and Mike received it gratefully.
“Thank you very much, and, for what it’s worth, I hope it was a good night to end up…well…” He left his statement hanging lamely.
Molly just shook her head before quickly rushing back up the stairs. Georgina’s eyes followed her lazily and she sighed. “She’s probably going to be sick again.”
“We’ll that’s what happens when you drink as much as you did.” He laughed.
“Yeah.” She nodded. “Was a rough one, surprisingly. I think I’m getting old Mike, my tolerenace has severly degraded. And I had the weirdest dream, I saw myself talking on the phone to Fraser.”
“Oh that’s not so…“
“I was wearing a Nazi uniform!”
“Yeah, what the hell right?!” She exclaimed.
“What did you say?!”
The sudden cry from the phone made both of them jump, and Mike realised he still had Fraser’s grandad on the phone.
“Oh, my apologies, I forgot I still had you…“
“What was it she just said? She saw herself dressed as a nazi?”
‘Who’s that?’ She mouthed to him.
He placed his hands over the phone and quietly replied, “Fraser’s grandfather?”
If her eyes could have popped out they would have. Clearly that this was Fraser’s grandfather was a big deal somehow, and Mike wondered why. As he went to reply the line went dead. The man must have hung up, and he communicated as much to his student.
“He said he was Fraser’s grandad? You’re sure?” she asked him, looking more than a little disturbed.
“Umm, yes, I’m fairly certain,” he said, but, before he’d even finished uttering his sentence, she was rushing back inside with a sudden sense of urgency.
“Sorry Mike, umm, you’re welcome for the money… I got to go.” It was all she said before the door closed with a slam and a click, and Mike was left standing there feeling very much as confused as he was concerned. Nothing about what he’d just witnessed made sense and, as Georgina’s educator, and her friend, he wanted nothing more than to wait a little longer to see if she was ok.
It was Nigel that had him leave. That sharp and impatient bark told him his concerns could wait, he had a dog to walk first… and a gift to buy as well. So, reluctantly, he began his departure and hoped that everything was indeed alright with Georgina, and also with Fraser.
Fraser himself was experiencing his own concerns. The Pilgrim building wasn’t a long walk from his house, no more than twenty five minutes at the most perhaps. In his state of concern he’d made it in twenty, and had been there for ten minutes at least. Not a sign of Georgina, just one large building belonging to Bernard Pilgrim.
It was large not in sheer monumental stature but large in the way London or New York was large. The Pilgrim building sat near the very edge of Edinburgh, or the edge of the edge. It was surrounded by houses, small businesses, bus routes, roads and parks – but none seemed to touch the boundaries owned by Pilgrim. It was big enough to handle the population of ten secondary schools, and its grandeur was more overwhelming than all the wonders of the world experienced at once.
It was not grand like a shimmering skyscraper or with the elegance of marble or polished stone walls. It’s composition was more natural, modern and yet feeling of the past. Its warm brown wooden walls would usually make Fraser feel safe whenever he saw them. The luscious green grass that made up the very borders of the building looked healthier, more vibrant.
And the smell – like a bakery with all its warm delicious bread and pastries just verging on the point of ready for consumption within their ovens. None of this falsehood of nature smells, no synthetic aromas here. Everything was built from nature, and nothing made to last a second less than it should.
It seemed almost a contradiction to its visage that Pilgrim was one of the largest weapons manufacturers on the globe. It had its hands in many pockets, but none of those pockets seemed to wear the same coat that this building had on. Perhaps it was a facade, meant to give an impression that Pilgrim and Bernard Pilgrim were good people. In truth, it was unlikely.
But at least the presence of the building made him feel calmer. There was also, of course, that small part of him that hoped she might walk out through those doors with a wide smile and a pilgrim representee in tow. But that part of him was under the laser of knowing what the reality was, whatever she had to say, it wouldn’t be that.
When he did finally catch sight of her crossing the road in the not so far off distance he at first smiled, but that smile soon felt as though it should fade. He wasn’t sure exactly why, but a part of him did not want to smile at the sight of girlfriend. In fact a part of him was saying, oddly, to stop smiling at a stranger.
Which was, of course, odd because Georgina was not a stranger to him. Everything about her was familiar. Her clothes, her smile, her gorgeous green eyes. And yet he wanted nothing more than to turn the other way as if she were nothing more than a pretty passer by. In fact he was, he could feel his feet turning.
It took an uncomfortable amount of forced restraint to keep his eyes fixed on her, even when they wanted to turn away. What was happening to him? He tried to shake it off and walked forward as she moved closer and closer until she was only inches away and her face was coming closer and her lips met his.
These aren’t her lips!
But they were, same a taste and all. Whatever was going on in his mind he needed to shut that out. As if in rebellious response he deepened the kiss and pulled her close, and she responded in kind wrapping her arms around him. It was the same feeling as it always felt… and yet not right. Strange, like a first kiss. Like two strangers knowing each other through the oldest of loves first blooming.
As they pulled out of the kiss and looked one another in the eye, Fraser saw something almost predatory in her gaze. As if she saw him not as her love but a piece of meat. And her grip on his waist was tight, much tighter than usual. She seemed to notice that he himself was not looking at her lovingly, more curiously.
“You okay babe?” She asked. Even the way she tilted her head and frowned seemed almost alien in nature.
“Yeah, fine, it’s nothing.” He quickly answered. “What’s up with you? Why d’you want to me meet me here? Is everything ok?”
She shrugged her shoulders and gave him a quizzical look. “Of course, why wouldn’t it be?”
“Just the way you were on the phone,” he said, then another thing occurred to him as he looked her over. “Also you don’t even look hungover!”
Could that be it? Could that be what was off? Her remarkably recovered form? Not a bag under her eye nor the slightest hint of ethanol on her breath, and she was walking and talking as if not a single brew had been down her gullet not ten hours ago.
“Why would I be hungover? I never get hungover.” She chuckled.
“Umm, yeah, you do.” He corrected her, laughing back at her but more uncomfortably now. Something about Georgina was off, he just couldn’t feel it. Not in his gut. But he could feel her arm moving up his back. Slowly, softly, stealthily. Not in a way she’d ever done before.
“Well, I wasn’t hungover this morning, I feel fine, she said, her tone soft and silky – seductive. Now he knew something was off. Fraser and Georgina flirted, they were a couple, it was only natural, but never like this. And never with that tone of voice.
Something was off, he could feel it. Literally, he could feel it, something in her hand lightly brushing against the fabric of his shirt. What was it? Was it a pen? Why would she have a pen?
“You look a little sleepy babe,” she purred – purred. “Maybe you need a little sleep.”
“Yeah, I’ll, um, I’ll have a kip when we get back.”
“Or you could have one now,” she said, raising her eyebrows suggestively, though he couldn’t quite figure out what was the suggestion. And what was it she was holding, so close to his neck now and the tip of it on his finger.
Something was very wrong, and so Fraser did something he never ordinarily would have done – he pushed her away. She continued to smile even as she was removed from his arms, those sweet lips of hers did not drop their curve until she hit the ground hard and a small cylindrical object fell from her grasp.
Gina looked up at him, eyes filled not with anger or shock or hatred – surprise. Just simple surprise, for a betrayal of trust. For hurting her. He could see blood beginning to gently pour out of open cuts in her leg. And all she showed was surprise.
“Who are you?” he asked, not sure why those words were the ones he chose. And yet they felt the most pertinent.
As she got to her feet, he began backing away. He should have run. From her right pocket she pulled out an unmistakable small piece of metal. He’d only ever seen a gun before, the time he was on holiday in France as a kid. He and the family had been about to get on the ferry back to Portsmouth when he’d spotted a policeman with a gun in his holster.
That gun had had to be twice the size of the one Georgina was holding, and still the memory of it was not even half as terrifying as having one pointed at his face. She moved forwardly slowly, her eyes trained on him – marksman like eyes fixed on him. He on instinct began to move back, his feet were already turned and he was ready to make a quick dash.
“Don’t!’ she instructed him. “Don’t move or I’ll shoot you.”
He stopped moving, stood still as a statue while she appraised him.
“The needle would have been easier,” she told him. “You would have fallen asleep here, woken up somewhere else. No fuss.”
She brought her free hand up to her face and looked at the watch that was on her wrist. Georgina’s watch.
“You’re not Georgina.”
“No, but also yes,” she answered, letting out a sharp breath. “Looks like I have just enough time on my hands. Just.”
“What did you do to Gina?” he asked.
The Georgina look-alike in front of him rolled her eyes heavily. “Really? You’re worried about the girl when I could kill you with a trigger pull?”
“If you’ve hurt her…“
“You’d what exactly?” she asked, raised eyebrow and a subtle note of amusement in her tone. “You’d yell? Scream? Call me a bitch? Maybe you’d even cry.” She sighed and with mocking sympathy said, “Tears aren’t bullets my love, they may break the weak willed but I’m not weak. And your words cannot damage me, not in any way that turns this muzzle from your head. So please – shout, scream, insult me or show me the weakness of your breeding.” She sneered. “We’ll be leaving here soon enough Fra-ooh!”
The problem with a good monologue? You don’t pay attention to your surroundings. Arrogance can lead to one hell of a downfall, it can even lead to one not even realising a man of near on nine decades was coming behind you to stick you with the very needle you’d dropped moments ago.
And the Georgina look-alike dropped like a jenga tower put out of balance. And in her place stood dear old grandad Joseph giving the young blonde a look of utter contempt.
“What a truly revolting young girl!” Then, looking at Fraser quickly, he added, “In spirit, of course. She’s quite lovely in appearance.”
Fraser didn’t know what to say, or whether there was anything he could say. His mind was racing with questions, a thousand uncertainties and a million questions. Or so it seemed. It didn’t make sense, not in the slightest.
“What the hell is going on?” he muttered to himself.
Meanwhile his grandfather bristled as he checked the watch on the now unconscious girl’s wrist. “She wasn’t wrong, not much time indeed. And still I have questions.”
“Questions, yeah here’s one. Why the hell was my girlfriend… or someone who looks just like my girlfriend trying to drug me?”
“Same reason I’m looking for you I imagine,” Joseph answered cryptically, pulling the syringe from her arm and inspecting it closely. “He’s always known you’ve existed. The where must have eluded him, until now.”
A pause before Fraser exclaimed, “Bernard Pilgrim is out to drug me?!”
This caught his grandfathers attention. “How do you… you shouldn’t know about Bernard?”
“What do you… it’s Bernard Pilgrim, he’s a name everyone knows!” he shouted.
“Hmm, well that may be here, but how exactly would he know about you?” Joseph asked.
Fraser shrugged and wiped his brow. His hands were shaking like smoothie makers. “I don’t know. Maybe Leslie, but she said…“
“My PhD supervisor. She said she’d ask Pilgrim if I could use their technology for part of my research.”
Joseph nodded, as if suddenly it all made sense.
Good for him, maybe he could fill me in as well!
“That could be how they became aware of you, though as for this one…” He nodded down to Not-Georgina (or Norgina) and frowned. “I have no idea how she’s here, she’s not like us.”
Joseph shook his head and sighed. “The question will have to wait.” With no hesitation he stuck the needle into his arm and pulled out a vile of blood. Before Fraser could ask the needle was once again at his side but this time it made his way into his skin.
“Ow, what the fu…?”
“I’m sorry my boy but whatever you ask, it’ll have to wait… we’re going now…”
Words formed into questions in his mind and these became sounds communicated in vibrations. But those vibrations never made it into the air. Not in that world. All that would have been heard was the gentle flutter and the light crack of a pile of empty clothes, and a light blue phone, hitting the ground where two men once stood.
Now there was but one, and little did she know she was in for a rude awakening…
“Grandad, what just happened? Where did all these people come from? Where’s…? Looking down he’d meant to ask about Gina. But then he noticed something else “God. HELL why am I NAKED?“