How John handles a fateful meeting. Is obstinacy is a health hazard.
How he hated those flowers, so inbred and manipulated that they made him think of plastic and artificial colors, of cheap children's pastel.
“I shouldn't have come to Amsterdam in spring, too many damned flowers.” He mumbles under his breath.
Accountancy, a taste for literature and a large ration of revolt had led him quickly away from teaching to business journalism. His career was successful, if judged by the esteem of his fellows, but his few attempts to publish had met only critical success. Now near middle age, his long body stooped by constant hanging above a keyboard, he would have looked worn, but the hunt had restored his enthusiasm, and with it a sparkle and new resolve.
They had tried to warn him off, politely at first, then more insistently. They had offered him money, a job. He would not let go, not for money, nor anything else. He gnawed at his subject constantly, chewing at it like a dog with a bone. When he received the little wooden coffin in the post, he examined it carefully, turning the object over he noticed the care taken to carve it, and admired the way his name had been written: John Joris RIP. Proof then that he was closing in.
He would spend the Sunday sightseeing in Amsterdam, before driving on Monday to Lichtenbourg, tax haven, and principality of financial darkness. A rendezvous fixed with a lesser demon of money laundering would give him evidence and names. Well, he knew the names, large multinationals dealing in oil, arms, cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, they had started by tax avoidance, and ended with fraud and worse; pushed by huge profit, they made crime pay.
Later, in the rain on his way to the van Gogh museum, he feels that he is followed, and forces his racing pulse to calm, breathing deeply and regularly. He stops at a shop window, pretending to browse, and checks the street. The man in the dark suit, fastening his shoe, must have read the same boy's fiction as he had. He catches a tram, dry mouth and stomach churning with fear. The suit follows him, hiding behind a newspaper. Three stops later, he steals a passenger's umbrella and smuggles it out into the morning crowds. Past the corner, he opens it against the rain, a colorful red one, so easily seen that it should hide him well. He accelerates almost overturning an old lady. Her basket falls, the groceries roll and scatter, eggs scrambled on the pavings. She raises her voice, and he stops, stunning her to silence by the size of the bank note.
“So sorry. Here, to pay for the damage. I have to rush.”
He turns in to a side street, then crosses a busy market full of tourists, where he buys a raincoat from a stall, and throws the umbrella away. The next tram speeds him off to the museum. He feels free and unwatched now.
A short queue has formed, he waits in line trying to look like a member of a milling tourist group. He enters, pays his ticket and follows them into to the exhibition halls.
They meet, face to face in front of a painting of poppies and butterflies, their eyes hold as if in a spell, shocked to a trance, the rest of the world dimmed and hushed. Slowly, as if surfacing to breathe, they emerge. The world is subtly changed, they explore this new state, looking with conscious eyes, assessing consequences.
She is a beauty, shorter than he, long legged and slender. Her blue-gray eyes gaze at him, from an oval face framed by dark hair, a wide smile on a mouth with too many teeth.
She sees a lanky angular man with a large head, grinning at her, astonished. His face is lined by laughter, and a little pale and drawn from fatigue.
“Oh, I'm sorry. I should have looked where I was going.” Her voice is warm and musical, and has a light, indefinable accent.
“Oh, I'm not sorry, I'm happy. I have been waiting for years to bump into you.” He says this still smiling, but she understands he is serious and sincere.
“You've been practicing that line.” She says to give herself time to think.
“My name's John.” His large hand offered.
“Molly.” She holds it.
John and Molly take a taxi to the hotel, not talking, just watching each other. He decides to ignore the warnings that part of his mind screams at him.
“What a present, how lucky, like winning the lottery.” He hopes he has not said this aloud.
“I've never felt this before.” This time he speaks.
“I know, me too.” They smile, gazing, dazed.
Hotel, lobby, elevator, hall, room, . . . unnoticed stops on the way, hearts crashing with apprehension and passion, heat, joy, craziness and laughter. . . .
Later, calmer and careful they take time, and they are sure.
Molly, watches him sleeping, it is early evening, and she knows that she cannot go on. It started as a lie, an entrapment, now her heart refuses more lies. She cannot see a way out.
“John, wakeup I have to talk.”
“Molly?” half asleep, it seems a dream.
“That's right, who else? We have to talk.”
“No we don't. Molly, Please, let it go!”
“I can't, you know that. You must have guessed. You must know who I work for. I didn't want this.” It rushes out unstoppable like a tidal bore, running against the current. “This wasn't supposed to happen, I should have led you to the rendezvous and let them grab you. But I couldn't.”
“I know, I know, and I don't care.” As he says this, he wonders if it is true. If he analyses it for one of his articles, how would he conclude?
“Please believe me.” She pauses to breath raggedly. “I can't help it, I love you, I think, I'm sure. What a mess.” Her words came out with sadness and tinged by desperation.
He concludes his mental article. Reaching to her, his body answering.
“Only this matters. I love you too. Stupid isn't it, what do we do now?”
Holding him, she replies.
Sleepless, they talk in the night. Molly wants him to run, to drop his work, He knows he's a fool but he cannot do that. They leave before dawn. He picks up the keys of his hired car from the desk in the lobby, he will drive to Lichtenbourg and meet his informer. She gives him her gun, and he takes it reluctantly, more to reassure her than with because he will use it.
“I must go. I'll tell my boss that you quit, and that you ran, scared, while I was in the shower.”
“Amateur.” He mocks. They kiss, she pulls away, tears in her eyes. “Be careful, come back to me.”
She nods speechless, and runs.
He sits in the April sun, hardly warmed, his source is late, he is no longer worried, he is frightened, terrified of losing Molly. He fells the gun, weighty in his pocket, absurd, he has never used an arm, he isn't a fighter but he will fight to keep her if he has too.
He stands before him.
“Everything all right sir?” The gun barrel pokes from under the waiter's concealing serviette, black and threatening.
John rises as the bullet punches into his chest, stopping his heart and knocking him over. He looks down, as if from above, and sees the dark crimson stain bloom. “That will need cleaning.” Then darkness.
It is late, the street is empty, Molly, her heart drowned by unshed tears, stands at the spot, crouching slowly, she places with graceful despair, a handful of tulips.
word count: 1318