azombiewrites: (Department S)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: The Man with a New Body
Fandom: Department S
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Angst.
Rating: PG
Warning: Whumpage
Main Characters: Stewart Sullivan, Annabelle Hurst and Jason King.
Secondary Characters: Sir Curtis Seretse.
Disclaimer: Based on the characters created by Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman.
Challenge: Written for [livejournal.com profile] 10_hurt_comfort
Prompt: #5 Pain
Chapter Word Count: 9,301
Total Word Count: 34,760
Status: Complete


Summary: In an attempt to keep a case unsolved, the agents of Department S are abducted. Kept hidden away in an isolated location. When two of them escape plans begin to unravel leaving one life at risk.





The Man with a New Body

Chapter One



London
England

August 18th, 1970


Stewart Sullivan walked through the open door into the small tearoom. The cafe almost abandoned. Stopped. His gaze wandered, searching, finding Sir Curtis Seretse sitting at a table at the back of the tearoom in a darkened corner. Privacy assured. Sullivan made his way through the maze of tables and chairs. Destination reached. He sat down, expression stoic as a twinge of pain gripped his side. A reminder his body required more time to heal. A recommendation of an extra two weeks medical leave given. The advice ignored by everyone when Sir Seretse called with a case that would be detrimental to the security of MI5 if not solved with quiet efficiency.

“Sir Curtis.”

“Sullivan,” said Seretse, leaning forward, elbows on the table, fingers entwined beneath his chin. His own gaze searched for something Sullivan was unwilling to reveal. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Unfortunately, no.”

“The Doctor’s recommendation is unnecessary,” said Sullivan. He adjusted his position. A subtle movement giving very little away. The change of position relieved the pressure against his back, the edge of the chair digging at the injury on his right side. Pain he didn’t want surfaced, making it difficult to keep a calm facade. He could feel the sweat breaking out on his forehead. A dead giveaway. Could feel the exhaustion still pulling at his limbs. “I’ll be fine.”

“I would believe you, Sullivan. If you weren’t so pale.”

Sullivan smiled. Raised his left hand, resting it on the table. Finding the corner of a folded napkin, fingers began to play with its edge. “I didn’t realise I was so transparent?”

“You hide it well but,” Seretse waved a hand in the air. “I trust you know what you’re doing. You wouldn’t risk national security if you weren’t physically up to the job.”

A moment of hesitation.

“There’s some pain still. I’ve worked under the same circumstances before. It won’t be a problem.”

“If you’re certain.”

“I am.”

“Breakfast?”

“Just coffee thank you.”

A frown. Decision made. A nod of acceptance. Seretse motioned for the waiter hovering a short distance away. An order for breakfast made. A full English breakfast. Sullivan grateful he wasn’t required to stay.

A shadow of movement to his left. Sullivan turned his head. Looked toward the front of the tearoom. A man, tall, thin, face plain, suit bland, walked through the door. Sat down at the table closest to the door. Taking a moment, the man stared at Sullivan. Gaze unflinching, Sullivan stared back. The man looked away and picked up a menu, hiding his face.

A suspicious interaction.

Precaution taken, he hadn’t been followed. He was certain. Coincidence? Sullivan didn’t think so. He’d been in the job too long to believe in coincidences. A nagging feeling scratched at the back of his neck, hairs standing up in warning. A confrontation may be required.

“Sullivan?”

Gaze pulled away. A slow process, returning his attention back to Seretse. A thin black folder, the letter S embossed in red on the cover. Held out toward him, Seretse waiting, a little impatient. Sullivan took the folder. Opened it. A glance to his left. The man quickly looked away.

“Henry Declan. A high-ranking member of British Intelligence,” said Seretse. “Abducted from his home last night. His wife and live-in housekeeper were home at the time. The police couldn’t get much out of them. You may have better luck.”

Sullivan looked down at the black and white photograph of Henry Declan. Mid-forties. Face heavy with weight. Nose a little too large, lips thin, his eyes dark. A comb-over covering a receding hairline. He lifted the photo. A single sheet of paper beneath. Names and an address. Sullivan retrieved a small notebook and pen from an inside pocket of his jacket. Wrote down the required information. Returned the notebook and pen.

“We need to find him, Sullivan,” said Seretse. “If Declan was taken by the Russians . . . He is aware of the location of several agents in Russia. MI5 are unwilling to extract them. They don’t want to act prematurely.”

“It’s possible he was taken by someone not involved with the business of spying.”

“Everything is possible.”

“Should I be considering another possibility?”

“No. Unless something else comes up, we’re going to assume that he was taken to gain information of agents in Russia. We have everyone working on this. Including the police.”

“What time was he abducted?” said Sullivan, closing the folder and placing it on the table.

Silence fell, the waiter returning. They waited. Coffee served, the waiter walked away. A return to conversation.

“Sometime last night.”

“Or sometime early this morning.”

“We’re going to assume sometime last night,” said Seretse.

“Why?”

“Why not?”

Sullivan turned his head. The tall, thin man looked away. “Do you know him?”

Seretse frowned. Followed Sullivan’s gaze. “No. Why?”

Waited a moment. Turned back to Seretse. “If it were the Russians . . . they’ve had him long enough. They could have the locations of the MI5 agents already.”

“We believe he can hold out until we find him.”

Gaze down. Stirring a teaspoon of sugar into his coffee, Sullivan said, “Torture can break a man.”

Seretse stared at Sullivan. “It didn’t break you.”

Fingers slipped. The teaspoon dropped. A splash of coffee over the rim of the cup.

There were moments when he thought he could still feel the pain. Still hear his own screams. There were nights he couldn’t sleep because of the nightmares. So many times he’d come so close to giving up . . .

Coffee untouched, Sullivan stood and walked away. Reached the occupied table at the front of the tearoom, stopping beside the seated man. He stood still. Shoulders back. Waited. The man looked up, a bead of sweat making its way down the side of his face. A nervous reaction. Sullivan continued to wait. Silent. The man began to fidget. Pushed his chair back. Stood. At least two inches taller than Sullivan.

“Do you have the time?” said Sullivan.

The man sat back down, confidence returning. “I’m sorry?”

“The time. Do you have it?”

The man looked down . . .

Sullivan wasn’t in the mood for games. Patience lacking.

A quick, explosive punch. Sullivan’s fist slammed against the man’s left temple. A sudden and expected result. The man collapsed, upper body hitting the table. Sullivan grimaced, pain snapping at his side. He leaned over, clenching his jaw when the pain reached a higher level. Fingers searched the man’s pockets. A wallet found and removed. Sullivan stood upright. A slow movement, the pain finally fading into a dull throb.

Sullivan opened the wallet. A small amount of cash. No more than five pounds. Identification. John Finch. The name as unfamiliar as the face that went with it. An address in Stratford. Nothing else. He threw the wallet onto the table. Glanced back over his shoulder. Sir Seretse was watching him. A touch of pride and concern marring his dark features.

Sullivan turned and walked out of the tearoom.

.
.
.

Annabelle Hurst drove the white Vauxhall Victor FD down a long, dirt driveway. Tall elm trees lined the road, filtering the sun, shadows playing across the windscreen. In the distance, a picturesque cottage. The home of Henry and Alice Declan. Distance closing. More of the cottage revealed. Stretched wide and set low. Painted white. Chequered windows framed in black. More windows set in the dark thatched roof. A bright, colourful garden. It belonged on the front of an English chocolate box.

“It’s beautiful,” said Annabelle, a small smile on her face.

In the passenger seat, Sullivan leaned forward. A better look. “Quaint.”

Annabelle turned her head. A quick glance. A charitable expression. “Quaint?” Gaze returned to the front.

“Old-fashioned. Charming. Oddly picturesque,” said Sullivan.

Eyes bright with amusement, Annabelle smiled.

Sullivan sat back against the seat. A mistake. Unable to hold back a reaction, he turned away from Annabelle. A pained expression. He took a shallow breath. Let it out. It did little to help. The pain had become a reliable companion. Not what he wanted.

The car followed the curve of the road, stopping in front of the cottage. Annabelle turned off the engine and sat back. Waited. Her head slightly turned, watching, searching for a sign of discomfort from Sullivan. Very subtle. Her gaze shifted when the front door of the cottage opened. A short woman with closely cropped blonde hair stood in the doorway, her gaze suspicious. She stepped forward onto the path, moving slowly, an angry expression appearing across her features.

Sullivan opened the car door. Twisted his upper body and stepped out of the car. Ignored the pain biting his side. Mind over matter. Before Annabelle could make a comment about his health, Sullivan moved forward, closer to the woman, he assumed was Mrs. Declan. Reached into his pocket. Identification removed.

Fingers brushed his lower back. Annabelle beside him. The physical touch a show of concern. A question he was in no mood to answer. He wanted to move away. Create some distance. Stood his ground, unable to hurt her feelings. Get on with the damn job.

“Mrs. Declan,” said Sullivan.

She wasn’t a natural beauty. Face harsh, masculine. Body full of sharp edges. No curves. At a closer look, hair colour a bottle job. “I’m Miss. Townsend.”

“The live-in housekeeper.”

“Yes.”

“We’d like to talk to Mrs. Declan.”

“You’re American.” Not a question. A factual statement. “What do you want with Mrs. Declan?”

His mood turned sour. Not difficult. Sullivan moved without hesitation. He walked around Miss. Townsend and through the open front door. Ignored her spluttering protests. Annabelle moved with him, staying by his side. His gaze travelled the entryway. Just as quaint as the outside. Low ceilings. Wood panelling patterned the walls. Expensive furniture. Antiques.

Miss. Townsend appeared in front of them. Arms out, fingers splayed. An attempt to stop them moving further into the cottage.

Annabelle smiled and said, “We’d like to speak with Mrs. Declan. Please.”

“I’m going to call the police.”

Sullivan stepped forward. “Mrs. Declan. Where is she?”

“Here.”

They turned to the right. Mrs. Declan stood in an open doorway. Tall. Thin. Young and very pretty. Not what Sullivan had expected. Auburn hair styled high. Sleeveless red dress, the hem floating a few inches above her knees. She stepped forward. A graceful movement. “Do I need to call the police?”

“No,” said Sullivan, showing her his identification.

“Interpol.”

Situation defused. Identification returned to an inside pocket of his jacket.

“We’d like to talk to you about your husband’s abduction.” Movement at his side. Miss. Townsend quickly fleeing the scene. Sullivan frowned. “You too, Miss. Townsend.”

Miss Townsend stopped. Eyes wide. Hands held against her chest, fingers making a valiant effort to create a tight knot.

“We’d also like to see the room where the abduction took place,” said Annabelle.

“Do you have to call it an abduction?” said Mrs. Declan. She raised her hand, fingers hovering over her forehead. A change of mind, her hand falling back to her side. “It’s this way.” She turned on the balls of her feet. Walked back into the room she had come from.

“Miss. Townsend,” said Sullivan. “If you don’t mind.”

Her expression obvious. She did mind. No choice given, she followed Mrs. Declan.

Annabelle and Sullivan walked into the room. Stopped in the crowded space, the room small. A home office. A large desk. A large, red leather chair behind it. Two matching chairs stood at attention in front of the desk. A dark, red curtain drawn across what looked to be a large window. Bookshelves lined the right wall. A small collection of Jason King novels. Of course. The left wall filled with framed photographs. Alice Declan the subject of each photo.

A suffocating environment. Not enough space.

Sullivan walked behind the desk. Sat down. The chair was soft against his back, his right side. Sitting forward, he switched on the desk lamp, illuminating the area in front of him. He pulled a draw open. An immediate find. A small handgun. He lifted it, barrel close to his nose. Sniffed. Not recently fired. He placed it back in the draw. Began a thorough search of Declan’s desk.

“Is that necessary?” said Mrs. Declan.

All business, Annabelle turned to Mrs. Declan. “Anything you can tell us about what happened last night would be very helpful, Mrs. Declan.”

“Please. Call me Alice.”

Sullivan shut a drawer. A little heavy handed. The snap of sound turning heads.

“Alice,” said Annabelle. A slight nod of encouragement.

“There isn’t much I can tell you,” said Alice. “I went to bed early--”

“At what time?”

“About eight, I think.”

“You don’t normally go to bed at that time?” said Annabelle.

“No. I’ve been feeling unwell. Do you mind if I sit down?”

Sullivan looked up. Frowned. Familiar crease appearing between his eyebrows. His gaze found Annabelle but she seemed unconcerned. He trusted her. He returned to what, so far, was an unsuccessful search. No secret documents. No threatening letters. Nothing so far to suggest an ulterior motive for the abduction of Henry Declan. He slammed another drawer shut. A show of frustration.

He was tired. Beyond exhausted. In pain, a constant ache in his side. The bullet wound slow to heal. Broken rib taking too long to mend. His temper short, ready to snap at anyone and everyone. It wasn’t like him. Usually so calm; carried beneath a thin veil, a threat of violence, a strength that belied his thin frame. He wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for a month. The case a serious threat to national security, he had no choice but to keep going.

Alice Declan sat down. Leaned back and crossed her legs. A picture of normality.

“Any loud noises--”

“I took a sleeping pill. Slept right through it.”

Convenient. Sullivan smiled. No humour in his expression. He abandoned the search of the desk. Nothing found. He stood and faced the curtained window. Raised his left hand, fingers gripping the thick curtain.

Annabelle sat down next to Alice. “And when you woke this morning.”

Pulled the curtain aside. The window not as large as he had thought. It was open, the lower part of the window lifted up. Close to the window’s lock, a square piece of glass was missing. Sullivan looked down. Brown carpet beneath his shoes. Rubbed the tip of his shoe against the grain. No glass fragments.

“Was this broken last night?” said Sullivan, turning to look at Mrs. Declan.

“Yes. I found it like that this morning.”

Sullivan frowned. This was all wrong. If Declan had been in here when the window was broken. Time taken to unlock it. Open it. Move the curtain aside. To gain entry. Enough time given to Declan to do something. Enough time to open the top draw, remove the gun.

“Your husband was in this room last night?” said Sullivan.

“Yes.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure. When I woke up, Henry wasn’t beside me. It’s not unusual for him to work through the night. I expected to find him here . . . working. He wasn’t. When I saw the broken window, I knew something was wrong. Henry wasn’t in the house and his car was still in the garage so I called the police.”

“The broken glass?”

“I’m sorry?”

Patience thinning further. “Where is it?”

Miss. Townsend raised her right hand, the appendage trembling. “I cleaned it up.”

“You seem very nervous, Miss. Townsend,” said Sullivan. “Why is that?”

Alice smiled. “Sarah has what you would call . . . an infliction. She’s nervous by nature.”

Sullivan looked at Sarah. She returned his stare. “Really. An infliction that only manifested after she found out we were from Interpol.”

Alice stood. Outraged. “What are you insinuating, Mr. Sullivan?”

“I’m not insinuating, Mrs. Declan.”

He turned back to the window, gaze searching the frame. It was clean. Too clean. The police called; a search for fingerprints made. It wouldn’t matter. A professional job. Sullivan sure they would have worn gloves. “Did the police check the window for fingerprints?”

Expression uncertain, Alice sat back down into the chair. Watched Sullivan. “Yes. But I got the impression they didn’t find any.”

“You also cleaned the window?” said Sullivan, once more turning to look at Miss. Townsend.

Sarah glanced downward. Looked back up at him. Defiant.

Sullivan nodded. “You’re very efficient, aren’t you?” He turned away before she could respond. Leaned forward. Hands on the bottom of the frame. Stuck his upper body through the window. Below, the ground hard. No footprints.

Annabelle stood up. Moved close to Sarah. A few short steps. She smiled. “Did you see or hear anything last night?”

Sarah Townsend shook her head, her gaze snapping away from Sullivan to Annabelle. “No. I didn’t. I was in my room on the other side of the cottage.”

Sullivan pulled himself back in. Stepped toward the wall of photos. Two long strides. The room really was too small. He lifted a frame off the wall. Turned it over. Removed the backing. Nothing. He returned the backing to the frame. Placed the photo back on the wall. So many photos. This was going to take a while.

“Surely, you’re not going to check every frame?” said Alice.

Sullivan looked back over his shoulder. A look of disbelief on Mrs. Declan’s face. He turned back. Removed another frame from the wall. Her question answered.

“Neither of you saw nor heard anything?” said Annabelle.

Said in unison. Succinct. “No.”

“What about the last couple of days? A car that shouldn’t be there? Strangers coming to your front door? Someone watching the cottage?”

Alice frowned. Manicured eyebrows drawn downward. “The day before yesterday. A man came to the door. He wanted to know if the cottage was for sale. He tried to come inside. He said he wanted to see the inside of the cottage. Do you think it’s connected?”

Sullivan turned. Curious. Suspicious. “What did he look like?”

“Like someone you wouldn’t remember,” said Alice. “He--”

“Tall. Thin. Plain face. Cheap suit?” said Sullivan.

“Yes,” said Alice. She leaned forward in the chair. Her own curiosity piqued. “Do you know him?”

“I had a one-sided altercation with him this morning.”

“What on earth does that mean?”

“Did he give you a name?”

Annabelle stepped away from Miss. Townsend. Stood at the far left side of the wall. Removed a photo frame. Checked it with efficiency. Put it back. Took another. Movements repetitive, slowly making her way across the wall.

“He told me his name was George Smith.”

“John Finch.”

“I’m sorry.”

“His real name is John Finch,” said Sullivan. “Does the name sound familiar?”

“No.”

“Did he arrive by car?”

“I didn’t see one. I assumed he walked.”

“What about you, Sarah.” Use of her first name a surprise, caught off guard. “Do you know a John Finch?”

“What? No. Of course not.”

“Do you need to take a moment to think about it?”

“Stewart,” said Annabelle.

Anger flared at the interruption. “Sarah? Do you know John Finch?”

Miss. Townsend sighed. A deep breath exhaled. “No. I don’t.”

Sullivan stood still. Arms by his side. His gaze steady, unmoving. He didn’t believe her. A different approach was required. Turning away, he faced Annabelle. She stood by the wall, her back to the room. A photo frame in one hand. Photo in the other. He stepped up beside her, close enough to smell her perfume. Correction. A set of photos. Sullivan frowned. Looked up, gaze connecting with Annabelle. She handed him the photos. Explicit photos. Not Alice Declan. Not her husband.

“Does he look familiar?” said Annabelle, her voice low, a soft whisper.

Sullivan shuffled through the photos. A man and woman in the throes of passion. “Alex Turnbull. Declan’s boss. I don’t recognise the woman. Do you?”

Mrs. Declan stepped forward, around the chair. “Did you find something? What is it?”

Annabelle shook her head. “I do know she isn’t his wife. Do you think Turnbull arranged Declan’s abduction? If he knew Declan had these photos . . .”

“Blackmail,” said Sullivan.

“Why else would he have them?”

“There is no other reason.”

“Declan wasn’t taken to gain information on the locations of agents in Russia,” said Annabelle. “He was taken because of these photos?”

“I don’t think so. If they took the time to search this room, they would have found them. Just like we did.”

“Maybe they didn’t have time?”

“His wife conveniently asleep--”

“How dare you!” said Mrs. Declan.

Sullivan looked over his shoulder. Mrs. Declan stood with her hands on her hips, face glowing with anger. He could show her the photos. Ask her why he had them . . . destroy the image she had of her husband. He was in the mood to do it. Annabelle reached for the photos in his hand, her fingers resting against his for too long. A gentle squeeze. Reassurance. Her hand removed. The photos taken. She knew him too well.

He turned. Faced Mrs. Declan. “Do you have any idea who might have taken your husband?”

Face collapsing, her voice hoarse with emotion, she said, “It’s all to do with his job . . . isn’t it? You don’t think it’s something else?”

“We’re not sure,” said Annabelle. Use of discretion. The photos hidden beneath her coat.

Sullivan looked at Sarah Townsend. “We’re investigating all possibilities.” A nod of acknowledgement. “Thank you, Mrs. Declan. You’ve been a lot of help.”

Eyes glistened with moisture. “Do you think you’ll find him?”

“We’ll do everything possible.”

She nodded, sitting back down. Quiet sobs filled the room.

Sullivan placed the frame and photo of Alice Declan on the desk with gentle care. He began to walk from the room. Stopped next to Miss. Townsend. His expression open. His suspicion revealed. “Miss. Townsend.” A different approach needed. He walked out of the room. Annabelle behind him.

.
.
.

Photos, straight-on, right and left side profiles of Henry Declan lay on one side of the small conference table. Spread out across the rest of the table, the pictures found in Declan’s office. Jason King, cigarette in one hand, a glass of whiskey in the other, paced the length of the table. Barely a glance at the photos of Henry Declan, gaze shifting from one blackmail photo to the next. A look of intrigue on his face. Dragging in a deep lungful of nicotine, he turned to face Sullivan.

Gray waistcoat and white shirt, Sullivan lay on the lounge, hands resting on a flat stomach, ankles crossed – take any opportunity to rest – his right side handing out minimal protests. Shifted his back and shoulders. The protesting stopped. He raised an eyebrow. A question asked. What do you think?

King picked up a photo. The woman’s upper body framed in the black and white photograph. His selection intentional. He smiled. “I don’t suppose you have her name? Phone number? I have this sudden need to take up photography.”

Sullivan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. A hard fight. “Jason.”

King let out of lungful of smoke. “Blackmail. Obviously.”

“Obviously.”

Annabelle moved in. Snatched the photo from King’s hand. Collected the photos from the table. King looked disappointed. She placed the images into a folder. Walked to the lounge. Lifted Sullivan’s feet. Sat down, lowering his legs back down, across her thighs.

“My, aren’t we cosy,” said King, smiling at Sullivan.

“Injured here,” said Sullivan.

King sat down in one of the small chairs. Crossed his legs. A sip of whiskey. A drag on his cigarette. “Did you read my latest book while you were recuperating?

“Still recuperating,” said Annabelle.

“I called it, ‘Woman in a Black Dress.’”

Straight face. “My Doctor told me not to exert myself.”

Annabelle smiled.

King didn’t.

“Do we think Alex Turnbull is behind Declan’s disappearance?” said Annabelle.

Sullivan and King looked at each other. Thoughts mirrored. Responded at the same time. “No.”

“Why not?”

Shifting his shoulders, making himself more comfortable, Sullivan stayed silent, allowing King to answer Annabelle’s question. Exhaustion pulled at his eyelids. He snapped them open. Vision unfocused, he tried to concentrate. A difficult process. He was falling asleep. Every effort to stay awake becoming weaker.

“Why go to all that trouble,” said King, glancing down. Glass empty. He frowned. “Turnbull has three choices. One, he does whatever it takes to get the photos back. Two, he refuses to pay up. Three, he pays the extortion fee. It’s a lesser of three evils. Which do you choose? The only way Turnbull can keep his job, his marriage and his mistress is to keep paying.”

“People have done more devious acts to save a marriage,” said Annabelle.

“True. I knew this woman once . . . beautiful--”

“We give the photos to Sir Curtis,” said Sullivan, closing his eyes. Just for a moment, he told himself. “He can deal with it. Finding Declan is our priority.”

A gentle grip around his ankle. Not wanting to see the concern on her features, Sullivan kept his eyes closed. Silence filled the room. They were watching him. He was sure of it. Don’t think about it. Get back to the job at hand. He agreed with King. Blackmail wasn’t the motivation behind the kidnapping.

“Then we’re back to the Russians,” said Annabelle.

“Stewart.”

Sullivan opened his eyes. More difficult than it should be. Turned his head. Jason was staring at him, an unreadable expression on his face. Sullivan turned away. A glimpse of Annabelle before he allowed his eyes to close once more.

“What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking it was an inside job. If Declan was in that room, sitting at his desk working. He had easy access to a gun and enough time to get it. But he didn’t. Either he wasn’t in that room or--”

“He was incapacitated. Unable to reach for his weapon,” said King. “Drugged or knocked unconscious. The window was broken more for effect than anything else.”

“What you’re saying is, Mrs. Declan or Miss. Townsend drugged him or . . . if that’s what happened, the people who took him,” said Annabelle, “would have come through the front door and not the window.”

“A front door someone opened from the inside.”

“If the Russians took Henry Declan,” said Sullivan, exhaustion dragging him down, “it won’t be for the location of agents in Russia. I think this is about something else entirely.”

“They want other information,” said King. He allowed the thought free rein. “What other information could be more important?”

Darkness circled. Sullivan shifted, head turning toward the side of the lounge.

King dropped his glass onto the conference table. Snapped his fingers. “Brain washing!”

“It’s been done before.”

“Sir Charles Hallet,” said Annabelle. “What’s our next move?”

Voices began to fade.

“Jason talks to Sarah Townsend . . . she knows more than--” Sullivan yawned, mouth stretching open. A deep breath in. Breath released. “You. Find out everything you can about Sarah Townsend. And John Finch. I want to know . . . more before I confront him.”

No longer able to keep sleep at bay, darkness fell.

.
.
.

Jason King stood back. Admired the cottage. Quaint, Stewart had called it. King couldn’t agree more. His thoughts wandered, concentrating for a moment on Sullivan. There was never a need to worry about the younger man, Stewart always able to take care of himself, even in the mist of the direst of situations. But he worried now. Fully healed, Stewart wasn’t and it had been almost two months since he’d received the injury. King grimaced at the memory . . . so much blood . . . so much pain. And now, back at the office, Stewart slept, too exhausted to do much else.

Curtains in a front window shifted. A woman’s face revealed.

Not his type but that had never stopped him before.

King smiled. Waved a hand in greeting. Charm oozing, settling around him like a shroud. The woman waved, smiled back. Success. He walked to the front door. Knocked. It opened without hesitation. Sarah Townsend stood in the doorway, flower patterned apron protecting a gray dress. She raised her hands. Checked her hair, patting it down.

Introduction made. “Jason King.”

“Sarah Townsend.” She reached forward to shake his hand.

King took her fingers in a soft grip. Lifted her hand. A soft kiss. Lips brushing across her knuckles. She blushed. He drew her in, pulling her closer, breathing in her scent, making a show of it. “Could we talk?”

She frowned. “About?”

“Henry Declan.”

She pulled her hand from his grip. Stepped back. “Do you work with them?”

Aware of the answer. “Who would they be, my dear?”

Eyes narrowed. “Interpol. They were here earlier. A man and a woman. He was very unpleasant.”

Her words useful. A strategy formed. “American?”

“He was. She wasn’t. She called him Stewart, if that helps.”

“Stewart Sullivan,” said King. “Nasty piece of work.”

Sarah smiled. “You’ve met him.”

The lies left a bad taste in his mouth. “Yes. I found him to be rather . . . distasteful.”

“Then we have something in common, Mr. King.”

“Jason.”

They walked through the garden. The sky blue. The air tainted with a pleasant odour, the garden in full bloom. She led him toward a wooden bench set beneath a young elm tree. They sat down. A small gap between them. That won’t do. King shifted to the side, bodies now pressed together. An uncomfortable position, her sharp edges digging painfully into his hip. He liked curves. He looked into her eyes, gaze lifting upward. Held back a grimace. Her hair badly dyed. Put on a false smile. Allowed his gaze to wander, to graze over her body. King placed a hand on her thigh, fingertips drawing an endless circle. In his left hand, a packet of Sobranie cigarettes and lighter.

“Who do you work for, Jason?”

“I’m self-employed.”

“Why are you interested in Mr. Declan’s abduction?”

“Call it professional curiosity.”

She wasn’t satisfied with the answer.

Giving her no time to pry any deeper, King said, “Have you worked for Declan very long?”

“Almost ten years.”

“That long. You must enjoy your work.”

“Alice and I were childhood friends,” said Sarah. “She gave me a job and a place to stay.”

Possible motive for betraying a friend. Alice had done so much better in life. Sarah seeing that life every day. It could make her angry. Jealous.

“Henry Declan?”

“He’s a good man. Treats me well.”

How well?

“Did you see anything last night?” said King. “Hear anything?”

“No.” She held her hands in her lap, fingers dancing. “He didn’t believe me.”

“Sullivan?”

“Yes. The way he looked at me . . . he frightens me.”

“What about Mrs. Declan?”

“She went to bed early. Slept through the entire thing. She told the woman with Sullivan that she didn’t do that very often. She lied. Alice takes a sleeping pill every night. Can’t bear being touched by her husband.”

He looked into her eyes. Searched for a lie. There was something there. A flash of anger. Quickly gone.

“Interesting. Do you think she had something to do with his abduction?”

“A few months ago, no, I wouldn’t but now.” She shook her head. “She isn’t the same person I grew up with.”

“What happened to change their marriage?”

“I think she’s having an affair.”

King looked away. Thoughts tumbled through his mind. Both women had motive. Could it be a simple act of jealousy? Sarah envious of Alice and the life she lived. Alice, a wife who no longer loved her husband; if Sarah was telling the truth. He dismissed Alice. To take a high ranking official of British Intelligence just to end a marriage. A divorce would be much simpler.

Out of nowhere, the conversation took a sudden turn. “Stewart Sullivan. Is he good at what he does?”

Still playing the game, King lifted the corner of his lip in distaste. “Recruited by Interpol straight out of the hands of the FBI. Now runs Interpol’s Department S. He and his team solve the unsolvable. So, if you’re worried about Mr. Declan, don’t be. I can assure you, as barbaric as Sullivan is, he’s very good at his job. He’ll find Mr. Declan.”

“I see.”

Enough talk about Sullivan. “I’m a bestselling author, you know.”

.
.
.

His screams are loud, the sound a hollow echo. The pain is excruciating. Never before had he felt such pain. They were relentless, brutal in their pursuit of information. His body trembled, limbs shaking. Another course of electricity tore through his body . . . another scream, his throat raw . . . a strangled sob escaped through bleeding lips.

“Wake him.”

Annabelle knelt beside the lounge, hand hovering over Sullivan’s heaving chest. His breathing hard, his head pressed deep into the cushion beneath him. Rapid eye movement beneath the lids, back arching upward.

“He won’t wake up easy,” said Annabelle, her eyes wet as she looked up at King. “He’ll lash out in an attempt to protect himself.”

His jaw clenched, Sullivan let out a deep groan.

King reached down, hands on Annabelle’s shoulders. Guided her upward and away from the lounge. He placed a hand against her right cheek, wiping away the wayward tear. Turned back to Sullivan. Took a deep breath.

A hand on his shoulder. An unwelcome touch. Anger tore through him, the pain pushed aside. Opening his eyes, Sullivan sat up, his upper body snapping forward. His fingers gripped the lounge beneath him so tight, his knuckles turned white. He took deep breaths, his chest heaving with the effort.

Hand still on his shoulder, a painful grip. Sullivan struck out. The movement expected. King just as quick, catching Sullivan’s right fist. King lowered the arm back to Sullivan’s side, holding it there, fingers tight around Sullivan’s hand.

His gaze wild, his blue eyes unfocused, Sullivan searched the room, gaze settling on Annabelle. It took him a moment . . . too long for him to recognise such a familiar face.

He wasn’t there. He wasn’t in that room. The nightmare still fresh, he could feel the pain. Hear that voice. The questions repetitive. He felt the warm breath on the side of his face. Turned his head, an abrupt movement. Jason beside him, his eyes watching. He looked down. Jason’s fingers around his hand.

Sullivan tore free from King’s grip. Slumped back down on the lounge. Chest still heaving as he struggled to breathe through the torrent of emotions the nightmare had brought. He placed his left hand over his eyes. Hid himself from prying eyes. He needed time.

That had been a bad one. Everything so real. He wasn’t there. The pain so real. He wasn’t there. Chest bare, strapped down into a chair in the middle of the room. He wasn’t there. Screaming, his voice hoarse. He wasn’t there.

He let out stuttering breath. A broken sound at the back of his throat. Minute tremors shook his body.

He wasn’t there. It was over. He wasn’t there.

King stood up and faced Annabelle. “Why don’t you make some tea? Give yourself a moment to calm down.”

Nodding in agreement, Annabelle looked at Sullivan. A long, searching look. She turned away and left the room.

Much like Annabelle had done earlier that morning, King lifted Sullivan’s legs, made a difficult manuvioure and sat down. Dropped Sullivan’s legs onto his own, open palm patting Sullivan’s leg in support. Sullivan refused to react. Kept his eyes hidden. The need to endure his emotional pain alone too strong . . . too stubborn.

King waited.

Normally so calm. Sullivan took a deep breath. It caught in his throat. A strangled sob. Normally so calm. Another breath. Let it out. The emotion gripped his chest. A deep ache. It shouldn’t take this long, usually quick to recover after a nightmare. But it had been a bad one. He wasn’t there. Another deep breath, the ache easing. Becoming calmer. Another breath. He didn’t understand it. It had been two years since . . .

Get back in control.

Sullivan sat up, upper body twisting. A hiss of breath, the movement painful. Pulled his legs from King’s lap, an upright-seated position. Elbows on his knees. Placed his hands – visibly shaking – over his face. Shoulders rising, broken movements, as he continued to breathe deep.

King frowned. Leaned forward “Stewart?”

He wasn’t there. He wasn’t still in that room.

Sullivan dropped his hands. Fell back against the lounge, head back. Gaze staring at the ceiling. Still hiding.

The door opened. Annabelle walked into the room. Cup in one hand. She stopped in front of Sullivan. Glanced at King. Received an encouraging nod.

“Stewart?”

He had fallen asleep. Had a nightmare. A very, painful nightmare. Now there were repercussions he didn’t want to deal with. A show of comfort and support from Jason. A rare thing. It must have looked bad to gain such a reaction. And Annabelle. Regret filled him. She’d seen him in the throes of a nightmare. Right now though, he didn’t want to see her reaction, deal with her emotions. It was selfish of him but . . . the way he was feeling right now. Too emotional still. He wasn’t sure he wouldn’t break down in front of both of them. He closed his eyes. He wasn’t still in that room.

“I’ve made you a cup of tea.”

Not the reaction he had expected. Tilted his head forward. She stood before him, cup of tea held out toward him. He held up his hands, the tremors still visible. He couldn’t stop shaking. Fear and adrenaline slow to leave his system.

“Stewart--”

Head back. Eyes closed once more. “Don’t.”

Annabelle left the cup on the small conference table. Sat down on the lounge on Sullivan’s other side. Rested her hand on his thigh. He laid his hand on top of hers. A gentle squeeze before letting go.

The tremors began to retreat. The nightmare becoming a distant memory. Lungs no longer struggled. But his eyes itched. His head ached. His side ached. Sullivan raised his arms, wiping his hands over his face. His skin felt warm, flushed. He licked his lips, tasting the salt of sweat. Dropped his hands back into his lap. Why couldn’t this end? The last nightmare had been almost two months ago. Brain delirious with fever, he had dreamt, sedation not enough to keep the dreams hidden.

“Sarah told me Alice Declan is having an affair.”

“With who?” said Annabelle.

Grateful for the effort. An attempt to ease his embarrassment and he was embarrassed. Normally so calm. Normally so in control. “No. She’s--” His voice caught in his throat. He swallowed. Took a deep calming breath. Back to the job. “--lying. Mrs. Declan was genuinely upset.”

“Or a good actress.”

“You didn’t meet Mrs. Declan.”

“Pretty?”

“Very.”

“And younger,” said Annabelle.

Everything back to normal.

“How much younger,” said King.

“Eleven years.”

“Young and very pretty. What does she see in Henry Declan?”

“Annabelle?” said Sullivan.

Playing the devil’s advocate, Annabelle said, “Money.”

King pulled out a cigarette. Laid it to rest between his lips. Lit it. Took in a deep drag. Taking a few minutes, King spoke of his conversation with Sarah Townsend.

“Sarah could be jealous,” said Annabelle.

“Perhaps.”

“You think Sarah and Declan--”

“No,” said Sullivan.

They fell silent for a moment. A trail of smoke drifting through the air.

“Sarah Townsend is lying,” said King, agreeing with Sullivan.

“The question is why,” said Annabelle.

“She’s a part of it.”

“I’m sorry, Stewart, but I had to insult you to gain her trust.”

Sullivan smiled. “Stretched the truth a little?”

“I think the words were, ‘unpleasant and barbaric’. That woman took an instant dislike to you.”

“The feeling’s mutual.”

A drag of nicotine. “So unlike you, Stewart.”

He ignored the sarcasm. Opened his eyes and turned to Annabelle. “Sarah Townsend and John Finch?”

Annabelle stood up and walked to the conference table. Retrieved two folders. Returned to the lounge. Sat down. She opened the top folder, removed a photo, passing it over to King. After a quick study of John Finch, King handed the photo back. Annabelle gave her report.

“John Albert Finch. No family. Orphaned when he was six. Never married. No children. No current girlfriend. Long criminal record. Paroled two months ago after serving ten years for armed robbery. A violent man by all accounts. No connections to the Declans.”

“He didn’t look violent. Seemed very nervous.”

“You don’t look violent,” said Annabelle.

“What are you trying to say, Annabelle.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“Apparently.”

“Sarah Townsend,” said Annabelle. “Went to the same school as Alice Declan. Both parents still alive. Married young. Divorced young. No children. Started working for the Declans ten years ago. No criminal record. I couldn’t find any connection to John Finch.”

Sullivan frowned. “There has to be a connection. Sarah Townsend is the inside man--”

“Woman,” said Annabelle. “I couldn’t find anything to connect them.”

“He’s connected somehow. They have to be working together,” said Sullivan. “He was at the house day before yesterday and this morning wasn’t a coincidence.”

“Finch could have been following you for a different reason,” said King.

“He didn’t follow me to that tearoom.”

“You said he arrived after you.”

He looked at King, gaze steady. “You think I’m off my game.”

“On the contrary, Stewart, I--”

“He didn’t follow me, Jason. I’m sure of it.”

“You didn’t see him outside when you arrived?”

“No.”

“Then how did he know you were there?”

“He could have followed Sir Curtis.” It was a weak suggestion.

“That would imply he was aware of your meeting before hand.”

“A leak,” said Annabelle. “It’s possible.”

“Sarah Townsend cleaned up. Did a very good job,” said Sullivan. “Maybe she knew we were coming.”

“To stop us from finding anything the police couldn’t,” said Annabelle.

“There was nothing there to find.”

“The leak could only come from Declan’s office,” said Annabelle.

“Declan’s office wouldn’t have knowledge of a scheduled meeting between Sir Curtis and Stewart.”

“A leak in Sir Curtis’s office? He won’t like that.”

“I’ll inform Sir Curtis when I give him an update this afternoon,” said Sullivan.

“Maybe there isn’t a connection,” said King, dragging on his cigarette. Continued when Sullivan raised an eyebrow. “She could have been offered an insane amount of money.”

“There’s very little in her bank account,” said Annabelle. “If someone did offer her money. She either hasn’t collected it or she’s hiding it somewhere.”

“Stewart’s correct. There’s a lot more to this than the location of MI5 agents in Russia.”

Sullivan stood up. A little, unsteady on his feet. Took a moment to regain his balance before beginning a search for his jacket. Found it behind the lounge, a crumpled lump on the floor. He frowned at the sight. Bent over to retrieve it. Very little pain. Grateful. A different story when he put the jacket on, the movement pulling at his side. He paused, wrapping an arm around his right side. Bent over, right hand on the back of the lounge, piece of furniture turned into a crutch.

Annabelle came up behind him, her hands taking his jacket, finishing the job. Brushed her fingers over his shoulders, removing flint and dust that wasn’t there. Her fingers combed through his hair making it more presentable. “You’re still having nightmares.”

He looked at King, only inches away. King smiled. Patted Sullivan’s hand and turned away, giving Sullivan and Annabelle a private moment. How private can you be with a third person in such close proximity. It didn’t seem to bother Annabelle that King was so close. That he would hear her every word. Hear Sullivan’s response.

“After all this time?”

Sullivan turned to face her. Her blue eyes, so intense. So emotional. He hesitated. Unsure if he wanted to tell her the truth. Yes, he still had nightmares after all this time. Not every night. Not every week. Only when something brings it all back. The smell of Brown Avon aftershave. Leather straps tight around his wrists. A warm breath against the side of his face . . . It had been two months since the last one. He’d thought it was over. Part of a conversation bringing it all back.

“No.”

“Stewart.”

Behind him, King shifted in his seat. King had taken Sullivan’s response for what it was. A lie.

“Honestly, Annabelle.” He placed the tips of his fingers on either side of her face. A gentle touch, her skin warm beneath his fingers. He could see the worry, the concern in her eyes. He dropped his hands. Took a deep breath. Let it out. Changing his mind, he decided to be honest. He couldn’t lie to her. King: yes. Annabelle: no. “Yes. I still have them. But it’s getting better--”

“Really,” said King. “From our view point it looked very unpleasant.”

Ignore him and he might go away.

“And the aftermath was very . . . emotional.”

Sullivan turned. Ready to snap a retort. The expression on King’s face stopped him cold. “The last one was two months ago--”

“While you were in hospital,” said Annabelle.

He leaned back against the lounge. “The use of torture was brought up in conversation this morning. It doesn’t matter what was said or who said it . . . It brought back some memories.”

Annabelle leaned forward. Her lips soft against his cheek, a gentle kiss . . . a warm breath brushing the side of his face . . .

He closed his eyes. A snap of memory, images flashing through his mind. In his head, where only he could hear it, a long, violent scream, the voice his own.

“You should tell me about it one day,” said King. “It would make a wonderful plot for my next book.”

Sullivan turned his head. Angry gaze settling on King. Again, King’s expression kept him silent. Words unspoken. King was giving him an opportunity to talk about what had happened. The torture. The pain. The fear. King made it his choice. His decision. “It might give you nightmares.”

King smiled. “It would be worth it.” Words unspoken. Anything to help.

“What’s next,” said Annabelle.

“John Finch.”

.
.
.

Bridge Road, Stratford. Plain. Simple. Amongst the homes spread out on either side of the road, a small row of prefabricated homes built after the war. Homes for families of war until something more permanent became available. Still there. Still waiting. Not something, you would put on the front of a chocolate box.

Finch lived in a house further down the street.

“It’s very . . . droll,” said King, leaning forward over the car seat, positioning his head and shoulders between Sullivan and Annabelle. “Not very House and Garden.”

Sullivan turned to Annabelle. “Stay here.”

“Stewart--”

He placed a forefinger against her lips. “Stay here. If you see Finch or anyone approaching his house, use the horn.” He turned away. Opened the door. Placed his left hand against his side, twisted his upper body. Removed himself from the car. The expected pain snapped at his side. Lips thinning, Sullivan closed the car door, a soft click. Looked back over his shoulder. The street behind him empty. He turned. Faced the direction of Finch’s home. Empty. A few cars parked on the road. All empty. His gaze followed the row of houses. A curtain moved in a front window. A curious neighbour. Sullivan stared. She dropped the curtain, hiding herself from his view.

The rear door opened. King stepped out of the car. Followed Sullivan’s gaze. “What is it?”

“Nothing.” He walked away. Toward the house further down the street.

King followed, cigarette smoke trailing behind him.

They stopped in front of Finch’s home. A two-storey semi detached house. Walls that were once white, now stained. Windows large. Dirty. An overgrown garden. Roses lost amongst the weeds. King grimaced. Tossed his cigarette onto the road. A subtle glance. They followed the short path up to the front door. Sullivan turned in a slow circle, gaze searching. He reached into a jacket pocket, fingers finding a set of lock picks . . .

“Allow me,” said King. He held up a strip of plastic. Much like a tongue depressor. Only thinner and wider and green in colour. Sullivan carried one in his pocket along with the wire lock picks.

“What happened to the lock pick you had made?”

A look of disappointment on King’s face. “You had that door open before I could turn the thing on.”

“Simple is always best.” Sullivan lifted an arm. An invitation. Stood back. Waited. Gaze searching once more. No movement in the house, the curtains still. He looked down the road. Nosey neighbour watching their every move. He turned away. Too much fear and she would call the police.

The lock clicked open. Finally. Sullivan about to take over.

King opened the door, an inward swing. A soft thump against the wall. King turned to face Sullivan, proud smile on his face. Sullivan smiled, unable to ruin the moment, King taking too long to open the door. They stepped inside. Sullivan in front. King behind him. Sullivan turned, reached around King and pushed the front door shut. Turned back around.

A length of hall in front of them. Stained beige carpet beneath their feet. A set of stairs on the right leading up to the second floor. The carpet on the stairs threadbare, well worn. They would search for Finch first. If unfound, they would search his house. Sullivan moved forward. To the left, a sitting room. Door wide open. Furniture simple. A small lounge. A single chair. Coffee table. A tall radio in the corner. No John Finch. When they reached the stairs, Sullivan nodded at King, head lifting slightly. King nodded, making his way up the stairs. Sullivan waited a few moments. King disappeared from his sight. Everything still silent. No surprises waiting for King.

Sullivan moved further into the house. A bathroom on the left. He pushed the door open further, now flushed against the wall. Not a pleasant sight. He closed the door. Next to the bathroom, a small kitchen. Movement repeated, the door pushed open. Green kitchen cupboards, the paint beginning to peal. A sink full of dirty dishes. A small table. One chair. Still no Finch. He stepped up to the back door. Opened it. A tiny yard. Tall grass overrun with weeds. The garden shed at the end of the garden too large. Sullivan frowned. Stepped forward . . .

A sound from upstairs. A cry of surprise.

Sullivan reacted, turning quickly. Made his way down the hall to the stairs. Left hand on the banister . . .

Something slammed into his back. He hit the wall face first. A grunt of pain. A heated complaint from his side. He placed the palms of his hands against the wall. Pushed back with everything he had, the man’s hold becoming weak. Sullivan dropped his left arm, bending it at the elbow. He turned his body to the left. Elbow up. He struck back. Struck hard. His elbow hit the man’s nose. Dead center. A spray of blood against the side of Sullivan’s face. He ignored it. Followed through, body continuing to turn, now facing his attacker. Not Finch.

A struggle upstairs. King holding his own.

Sullivan threw a hook punch, his fist connecting with the man’s jaw. The man fell to his knees. A short, hard jab to the side of the head and the man was down. Stayed down.

A sound behind him. Sullivan turned on the balls of his feet. Two men stood in the hallway, the open back door behind them. Two, very large men. He was losing his touch. Constant pain disrupting his process. Dressed in matching brown suits, they stepped forward. One man stopping in front of the other. The one in charge. A head of thick, black hair. A clipped moustache.

“We can do this the easy way, Sullivan,” said the man in front, holding up a syringe in his right hand. “Or the hard way. Which do you prefer?”

Sullivan smiled. Still healing wound be damned. He wasn’t going to surrender. He positioned his body into a fighting stance. He couldn’t help but notice the silence coming from the floor above. The fight over. Who the victor was, Sullivan didn’t know. He hoped it was King. If not . . . three against one weren’t very good odds.

The man sighed, a deep exhaled breath. “Eddie.” He nodded toward Sullivan. “Be careful. I’ve been told he’s very good at what he does.”

Eddie. Your typical thug. Very tall. Heavy set. More weight than muscle. Face scarred. Too many fights notched on his belt.

Sullivan thought of Eddie’s options. He would either rush him or move in close enough to throw a punch. Expecting one or the other, Sullivan waited. Adrenaline pumping through his veins. Okay, there was a third option. From behind his back, Eddie produced a baseball bat. Presented it to Sullivan with a smile and a wink.

A rush of feet on the landing. He was running out of time.

Eddie moved quickly for such a large man but his stance was wrong, his movements clumsy. Bat swinging in the confined space, not a lot of room to manuvioure, Sullivan ducked below the strike. Bat still swinging. A miss. Eddie off balance. Sullivan moved, spinning his body to the left. Threw a back fist punch, left fist connecting with the side of Eddie’s jaw. Pain tore through his hand. A second punch, a powerful jab slamming into Eddie’s throat. Eddie’s knees buckled as he dropped the bat, hands clutching his throat. Sullivan snatched up the bat. Swung. Eddie fell. Unconscious before he hit the ground.

Feet on the stairs.

Movement above him. A body falling toward him. Not King. A third thug.

So quick. Not enough time to step back out of harm’s way. Weight and momentum forced Sullivan down. His back hit the floor. Pain flared in his side. His head hit the bottom of the front door frame. The bat fell from his lax fingers. Darkness pushed against his vision. He pushed back. A punch to the side of his face, turning his head. Hands around his throat. Sullivan threw his own punch. A quick jab to the left side of the man’s face. Another . . .

“That’s enough, Jack.”

The sound of a gun cocking, bullet sent into the chamber. Sullivan stilled. Jack smiled. Hit the side of Sullivan’s temple with a closed fist. Not enough strength behind the blow. Sullivan stunned but still conscious.

“Impressive, Mr. Sullivan.” The man stepped into his view. “Turn him over.”

Jack did as instructed. Stood up. Bent over. No time to react. A violent move; a painful grip on Sullivan’s shoulder and hip, snapping him over onto his stomach. A knee shoved into his back, between his shoulder blades. A hand against the side of his head, pressing down. Sullivan had nowhere to go. No room to move.

He hoped Annabelle was still safe. Out of harm’s way.

A sharp pain in the side of his neck. An injection, the drug acting quickly. He could feel the strength leaving his body. He struggled. His attempt to escape weak. The drug took him. Darkness, a heavy weight, pulling him down . . .






Part One | Part Two


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