My next novel, ‘My Daughter, my Assassin’ is due for ebook publication the 25th of June (next week!). Here’s the cover, synopsis and first four chapters for you to have a sneak-peek.
An old house. A broken man grieves.
Daniel loves his daughter more than anything. He has always protected her. Now she is coming for him, and she has a gun.
She is a professional killer, what chance does a caring father have?
I was there for her first kill.
The splashes of blood staining red are still as vivid in my memory as they were on the white of the snow next to her small, light-treading footprints.
It was one of those times when a parent knows something’s not quite right. One of the times when things are too quiet. I was in the kitchen, cutting vegetables, cutting meat. I could hear her singing faintly through the closed doors, the closed windows, as she played on the swing, made a snowman, made ‘snow stars’ lying on her back in the snow. Then there was silence.
I don’t know for how long she’d stopped singing, for how long she’d been quiet. I don’t remember if the silence registered and then I was just slow to react. Maybe I was caught up in my own thoughts, wondering whether carrots should go in the soup I was making or if I should save them for Mina for more snowmen. Maybe that thought was the trigger—where is Mina? What is she doing?
It must have seemed like it had been a while because when I decided to go see what was happening, I thought the silence strange enough to have turned off the stove.
Outside, the swing swung gently, empty, almost stopped.
I remember feeling uneasy, and then as I walked down towards the swing, I saw the blood, ripping bright red up against the white of the snow, and I became downright anxious. “Mina!”
The first splash was large, a puddle of congealing blood sitting thick like pudding in the snow. A trail of it dripped and spattered away down towards the bottom of the garden next to her footprints.
“Mina!” I ran, following the trail, past snow stars and a small snowman with a carrot for a nose, two pebbles for eyes, and sticks for arms. “Mina!” I ran, my feet sinking deeper prints into the snow next to hers, on top of hers, on top of the blood. “Mina!” Naked branches scratched at my face and grabbed at my clothes, and I staggered and slid on a steppingstone iced over. “Mina!” I ran, thinking the worst. Her prints, the blood, they led down to behind the shed. I stopped running. It was dark behind the shed. There was no sound. “Mina?”
Silence. A shuffle of feet. Small feet.
I reached out with my hands in front of me into the dark, reaching down to her height, to where she should be. “Mina?” I whispered it this time.
Out of the darkness came a response. “She’s dead.”
The words stung me. They made my heart stop. My worst thoughts visualized out of the dark, but then I realized it was Mina’s voice, and the world started turning again. I reached out further.
“Mina, where—where are you? I can’t see you? Are you alright?”
Her hand grabbed mine, gently, calmly. It felt sticky.
“What—what happened are you OK? I can’t see anything. Come out into the light.” My heart was still beating fast. What had happened, what had happened to Mina?
She came out. There was blood on her hands, on her arms. Across her coat.
“I’m fine,” she said, “but Bessie is dead.”
In her other hand, was a mess of red-stained, white fur. It took me a minute to register what it was.
“Bessie? Why—? Oh…” I said. I said ‘Oh’, as in, Oh thank heavens Mina’s OK. ‘Oh’ as in Oh, Mina, she’s not injured. ‘Oh’ as in…her pet rabbit is dead. “Oh, well,” I stuttered, relieved, ‘Oh’ so relieved, “Sometimes animals, well, they just, kind of die.” I said that. I thought she needed an explanation. But as I studied her face I realized there were no tears, no sadness.
She took her hand from mine and reached into her pocket and pulled out a small, sharp cutting knife from the kitchen. “I killed her, Daddy.”
She handed me the knife. I took it in my hand. Dried blood blotted the handle like it did her hand, but the blade was wiped spotlessly clean.
Maybe I should have asked ‘why’. Maybe I should have been angry, at her taking a knife, at her killing her pet rabbit! But I wasn’t. I was just so damn relieved Mina was alright. That it wasn’t her blood all over the garden. That she wasn’t injured, or worse…
“Bessie was alive; then I took the knife, and I held her by the ears and cut her throat.”
“She bled a lot, but she died quickly. I don’t think she felt much pain.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“We should probably bury her now,” Mina said.
I just stared at her.
“That would be the correct thing to do,” she added.
“Well, ah, yes! Yes! We should bury Bessie! And we should clean you up! We should clean up, before your mother gets back!”
It was then, for the first time, that Mina showed some emotion, any emotion. She blinked and looked up towards the house.
“What’s Maman going to say?” She looked at me with pleading eyes.
I put my arm around her and turned her to head back up the garden. “Maybe we don’t have to tell your mother—well, we’ll need to tell her that Bessie isn’t…isn’t with us anymore, but we can just tell her that it happened, that she just passed away.”
Mina laid her head against my side. “Thanks Daddy.”
She gave me the rabbit. I held it up in front of my eyes as we walked back up the garden. I remember thinking that the cut, the incision, seemed so clean, so straight, so precise.
We buried Bessie. We cleaned up the snow. I put Mina in the shower, and as she sang, I put her clothes in the wash. The two of us never spoke of how Bessie died again.
Mina was four years old, and right from the start, I was complicit to her crimes.
Paint. Peeling paint. So much peeling paint. I pick at a scrap curling up the wall, a dirty yellowish-brown on the top, a lighter grey-blue on its underside, and I slowly pull. The strip cracks at the sides, keeping its width as it slowly pulls away from the wall. Momentarily I move too fast, force the issue, and the cracks turn inwards towards each other. The strip continues to climb, but the cracks are getting closer and closer. There’s no turning them back.
There’s no turning back…
The strip climbs one centimetre more. Then another. Then I’m counting in millimetres.
I want the strip to climb forever. But nothing is forever.
It climbs one more millimetre before the strip breaks off.
Nothing lasts forever…
Underneath this layer of peeled-off paint lies another layer, a relatively clean layer of a terribly garish pink. Who ever thought that would be a good idea? The pink is indented. Some type of floral formation, which means somewhere under there must lie a coat of wallpaper. Wallpaper is hard as hell to peel off.
I look at the scrap of paint between my fingers. The last owners must have been some pretty heavy smokers to make the paint turn such a dirty shade of brown. The blue-grey owners not so and before that? Whatever. It doesn’t matter now. I crush and crackle the scrap of dried paint in my hand.
This old house was to be mine and Helena’s next. Helena had wanted to paint it white, so we could splash colour on the walls in the form of art and our photos. But, it doesn’t matter now.
Nothing matters anymore.
I open my hand and let the flakes slide and fall between my fingers towards the floor.
It’s too late.
The falling scraps of paint blur, then streams of tears roll down my nose and drip off its end and race the scraps to the floor.
Helena is dead. All that’s left are the scraps of the memories of my life, our lives. Before my life is over.
I met Helena in a bar in Prague. It’s funny, but I can’t for the hell of me remember the name of the place. You’d think, given the importance of that moment in my life, I’d have registered that small piece of information somewhere in my head. I just can’t seem to dig it out. I seem to remember it was a local hangout. Or maybe I was just there before the tourist hordes rocked up. I was sampling some Budvar, sitting at a table near the window, during a time when I was kidding myself that I could write a book or something. I had my notepad out, but the pen laid idle, cap off at the ready as I searched outside the window for some inspiration.
Then she walked by, and in the three and a half steps it took her to walk past the window, a million words passed through my head. She was so beautiful. I’d found my inspiration.
This woman, Helena, she took my breath away. The way her blonde hair, wavy, shoulder length, bounced, keeping its shape as she took each of her one, two, three and a half steps past the bar window. How her beige trench coat, open at the middle, sat perfectly around her shoulders, ran tightly down her sides, past a dark top whose buttons dressed her upper curves, then fell from her hips to a black skirt—business length—from which her two black-stockinged legs peeked out, and her perfectly shaped calves ran away to her thin ankles and high-heeled black shoes.
That all got me, sucked my breath away, but the thing that struck me most was the way she held her head, the look on her face. She seemed in control. She seemed happy. Content. A smile was spread wide and relaxed; her lips spread slightly. On the third step, she turned and looked me right in my eyes and, in that moment, everything changed. For in that tiny moment, I peered into her soul, exposing mine to her and to myself. Everything else around us evaporated. It was only her and I. Our souls were dancing, embracing, exploding and reforming as one, high up on another plane. Twisting and intertwining. Forming a new single entity. It was so beautiful, I could have cried. In that moment, everything I’d done in my life suddenly no longer mattered. It all became insignificant. I was no longer that person; I was a new person with new meaning, with new direction. In that moment, I became more than inspired. I fell in love. In that moment, I knew she was my soul mate. I felt like I knew her, yet, right then I knew nothing about her at all.
She took that last half step out of view past the window, and she was gone. It was like an eternity had passed. An eternity that lasted two seconds. I looked at my blank page. I looked up at the now blank window. The bubbles in my beer slowly rose then burst into nothing as they hit the top. What was I doing still sitting there? I shovelled my pen, notepad and a book into my bag and I jumped up, leaving my half-drank beer to warm on the table.
I ran out of the bar and looked in the direction she had gone. She was walking away around a corner to the left. I ran after her, turned the corner and hit a tour group, getting stuck right in the middle of it. I searched above their heads looking for her. Up ahead I saw her blonde locks bounce and bounce again as she turned another corner. I pushed and shoved my way through the throng of cameras and bum-bags and ran after her. There she was, up ahead, still walking. If I kept running I’d catch her, and—and what would I say? You’re beautiful? You’re my soul mate? Can I buy you a drink? What the hell. I didn’t know what I’d say. So I found myself falling into step with the rhythm of the click-clop of her high heels, keeping a good ten metres distance.
She turned left. She turned right. She walked through throngs of tourists at the Old Town Square.
I started to panic. What was I doing? It was like I was stalking her. Following a woman I didn’t even know. Could I get arrested for that? More importantly, if I did nothing, wouldn’t I surely lose this woman?
She turned left up a small alley, and when I turned the same corner, it was deserted: she was gone. Just, gone.
I ran up to the next angle, looked every which way but she wasn’t there. I looked up at the buildings, rattled on some doors, but she was just gone!
I was heartbroken. “Shit!” I said aloud. I put my hands on my head. “Shit, shit!”
“So, are you following me?”
I jumped. The voice came from behind me and I spun around quickly, and there she was, standing cached in the doorway of a shop. “I ah…”
She still had that smile on her face.
“No! Well yes, I mean…” I protested.
Her smile grew wider and she laughed. “So were you or weren’t you?” Her voice had an accent I couldn’t place. Was she local?
I looked into her eyes again. I still had that same feeling. I knew I loved her! So I had nothing to lose. I had to be honest with her. I had to tell her.
“Yes,” I said. “I was following you. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Why are you sorry for following me?”
“Hum, well, it’s not really polite? I mean, well, sorry, but I was expecting you to maybe ask me why I was following you?”
“Well why were you following me?”
I suddenly felt extremely awkward. I found myself shuffling my feet, fiddling my hand over my bag, scratching at my face with the other. My palms were sweaty. I was nervous as hell! What the fuck! Come on! This woman was the most beautiful woman I’d ever spoken to, that I’d ever seen, and I was acting so awkwardly! Come on! I pleaded to myself to get my shit together. I took a deep breath. If I just told her the truth, what could happen? Maybe I’d get slapped in the face? Or I’d get arrested? No. The worst thing would be if I said nothing and then lost her forever. That really was the worst scenario. So I gave it my best shot.
“Well, you walked past that window at that bar, back there.” I waved my hand in the general direction. “And that moment, when we looked into each others eyes, I just, well, it was like looking into my soul.”
The smile faded from her face.
“I looked into your eyes, and, I felt like, I felt like I knew you in an instant. I felt like our souls collided. I felt like they became one. I felt—I felt myself fall in love with you. I—
She stepped forward.
She stepped right up to me.
—in love with—
She put her finger to my lips as though to stop me talking. She looked into my eyes, I looked into her hers, and I saw she was crying.
—you,” I finished.
“Me too,” her lips whispered, and she leaned in and kissed me. We embraced each other, wrapped gently around each other, within each other. My heart fluttered with joy. I was that new person—now complete. In love. One, with the woman of my life—honestly I knew that right then and there, and I knew she felt it, too. Our union, initiated by that shared look through the bar window, was already complete.
Somewhere, echoing through the empty rooms of the house, off the bare wooden floorboards, the plastered over torchis walls, comes the sound of a phone ringing. I look up and around. A phone? Here? In our visits, I never noticed a phone. The house seems too old to have a phone. No, there’s no phone here. It must’ve been coming through the walls from the neighbours, and now they’ve answered it. The ringing starts up for a second time and I remember, there are no neighbours here. It was the whole point of getting this place. There’s no one for miles.
The phone rings and bounces up a third time, an old-style analogue ring. I wipe at my eyes and start towards its source. I pass from one room to the next, from the lounge into the kitchen, and the next ring is louder. A door leads off the kitchen into a small room, bright with sunshine pouring in a large window, facing the Pyrenees. The ring is in here. I push aside papers long laid low with dust, coughing, and there down in a corner under a pile of what looks like architectural plans is an old phone. It rings again. I stare at it as it falls silent and ask myself if maybe I’m hallucinating. How could it be ringing? How could it be connected? It starts up again, and I bend down and pick up the receiver.
“I am watching you.”
I look out the window and scan the view all the way to the mountains, but nothing moves. A wave of anger washes through me. I know the voice.
“I am on a very, very, high point looking straight across to where you are.”
I grip the phone receiver tighter. I gaze up at the highest points of the Pyrenees, looking for a reflection, some movement.
“I am looking across to you, but you do not know where to be looking for me, do you? This is how it is going to be. You will not see me coming.”
Still I look out at the Pyrenees, but all I see is a dark cloud of rage forming across my eyes.
“It is so peaceful up here. You come up, to this highest peak in this city, New York, the once ‘Mighty Rome’ of our age, early, before the crowds block your view, block your tranquillity, and you stare out across this urban jungle of buildings and its people, so busy, so far below. It is so peaceful. But to be up here this early, you must break into this place. Get past the security guards, the cameras, the metal detectors. And you, you are too much of a pussy to do that. You are such a pussy.”
He goads me with those last words. I stop looking out the window. He’s not here. Not yet. I am filled with hate for his voice, for this man. I want to kill him for what he, this bastard, has done to Helena…
“Which is why what you did is so ballsy, so, out of character for you.” His voice is calm, steady, yet edged with his own hatred. “No?”
My blood explodes in my ears in tighter and tighter propulsions. Something in the handle of the phone cracks. I want to reach down the phone line and throttle him.
“I mean, going public like that, what were you thinking? Did you not think of the consequences of your action? First I thought, OK, so you are grieving. That is why you do not think of the consequences to you. Maybe you do not care about you anymore. Maybe this is normal. But you did not think of Mina? You did not think of what can happen to your little girl if you make this decision?”
My whole body tenses as he mentions her name. I feel like I’m going to crush the handle of the phone in my grip, crush his voice, like I want to crush him.
“Then, I got it. You do not love your little girl anymore. It is the only explanation.”
I realize I haven’t taken a breath in what seems too long a time. Half out of necessity, but mostly in anger, I let go a noise that’s somewhere between a gasp of agony and an animal-like roar. The voice on the other end of the line laughs, and I hurl the phone against the wall.
“Fuck you!” I scream. I kick out at the phone, the papers. I punch at the wall with my fists, so the skin of the knuckles tears. I bang my head against the same place till it falls to rest, and I slide down onto my knees letting go sobs of anger and sobs of sorrow.
From down on the floor, I can still hear him laughing. I stare at the phone. Then I lunge down and pick it up. “Fuck you,” I say calmly.
“No, my friend. No, my friend Daniel. It is most definitely you who is fucked.”
“I’m going to kill you, you fucking asshole. I’m going to find you, and I’m going to kill you.”
“That will not be necessary, Daniel. I am coming to you. I am going to come down from here, down from the Empire State Building. I am going to bustle through all the people who make up the city of New York. I will board a plane, and I will be flying to Paris. Then I am going to be heading south, all the way south to where you are. You are a liability, Daniel. You know too much. You have always been a liability. Now I am coming to where you are, and I am going to kill you. Maybe you think you can run, but there is no point. You run; I will find you.”
The pace of the blood in my ears has slowed to a constant speed of focused anger. “I won’t be running,” I say. “I’ll be waiting for you.”