5. Chapter Four: Old Girlfriends
When Bryan was still with the Royal Marines, he had been taught to sleep with one eye open.
This was of particular advantage whilst one was in the midst of enemy territory, where it was necessary to take a few hours rest during missions. It was imperative that all soldiers embarking on such hazardous duty knew how to remain in a state of semi-alertness even while in slumber to avoid being captured unawares. This part of Bryan's training in the SAS had followed him into his career at MI6 and there were more occasions than he could count when this ability had saved his life. It was just as well anyway, Bryan thought because when he slept deeply, he was plagued by uneasy dreams and Bryan was person who could tolerate helplessness even when it came to his own psyche.
The dreams were not unpleasant, just unsettling. Most of the time he could not remember them and when he did, it was filled with the sensation that he had to strive to succeed, as if he had something to prove. It was a characteristic of his personality that followed him most of his life, in school, in university and ultimately his career. The desire to complete everything he started had taken precedence over every other aspects of his life and had a good deal to do with why he was approaching his forties and had never possessed anything closely resembling a steady relationship.
Bryan had no regrets however. There had been women in his life but he never felt obliged to stay any longer than necessary and they certainly could not compete with his goals when he was driven to a purpose. He had resigned himself to the fact that he would most likely be killed in the service of her majesty's government and that suited him well enough. He had been present at too many funerals and seen too many wives weeping over husbands lost in the service of their country to stomach wishing the same fate upon someone he really cared about when the inevitable came to pass. When he died, the only one who would truly miss him was his brother, Frank. Bryan hardly knew his nephew and niece and his sister-in-law Miranda, considered him family but still thought he was a bastard.
It was strange how quickly women formed that opinion about him.
Bryan was in a light sleep, having drifted there shortly after his call to Caldwell and following his second glass of scotch. It had been a little after dawn when he had finally succumbed to the exhaustion of being awake for almost 48 hours straight. In that time, he had kept up the surveillance of Saeran's estate, he had raced frantically to Cardiff, rescued Fred from Saeran's 'men', he did not know what else to call them at this point and before finally returning here to his home in London. Fortunately, his training refused to let him completely lose himself in slumber and when he heard soft footsteps approaching the sofa where he lay, Bryan's sleeping senses were already climbing out of their repose to full alertness.
He blinked his eyes open just as she reached him and Bryan was treated to the sight of the little girl looking down at him with an expression of deep worry across her face. Her fear immediately put Bryan on guard and he sat up automatically on his makeshift bed, his eyes searching for his gun, which he had placed on the floor next to the sofa when he had taken his rest.
"What is it?" He asked.
Fred swallowed the lump in her throat and glanced out the nearest window of the four storey flat before answering him. "They're coming."
"What do you mean they're coming?" Bryan stared at her in disbelief.
"They're coming," she looked at him with a steady gaze. "I know it."
"Fred," Bryan rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and focussed on her again with a little more clarity. "Even if they are searching for you, nobody knows you're here."
All this sounded perfectly reasonable when Bryan explained it to her but Fred stared at him appearing wholly unconvinced. If anything, his explanation only served to fire her own stubbornness that she was right and while Bryan did not know it yet, his own determination paled in comparison to the iron will within this child when her mind was set.
"They're coming," she insisted and grabbed his hand, the one not holding the gun and began tugging him off the bed.
Bryan allowed himself to be led though he was certain that her belief of danger was generated by a nightmare or something similar because there was no way anyone could know she was here. She was probably too young for women's intuition but decided that he would indulge her now that he was awake. Following her to the window with scepticism, Bryan wondered how in the world he had come to be in this position where a six year old was suddenly calling the shots in his life. Usually gruff when he was awakened out of a much-needed sleep, the MI6 agent wondered why this was not included in the recruitment brochures. It would certainly shoot the holes in the misconception that MI6 agents lived like James Bond even if his choice of gun was a Walther PPK.
For someone who had not been in his flat for more than a few hours, Fred seemed to know where she was going and led him to the window on the far side of the living room, the one that overlooked the parking area for visitors. Bryan was about to repeat another condescending statement that she had dreamed this illusion of terror when suddenly, all his doubts and his scepticism was washed away by the sight of two black cars pulling to the side of the kerb. It may have been dark and his glimpse of them brief, but there was no mistaking the cars that had been parked outside the Bailey when Fred's parents had been murdered.
The men that emerged from the vehicle were not the creatures he had seen last night. However, it was little comfort to him because he knew without doubt that these were Saeran’s men. They were clad in long dark coats whose only purpose could be to hide their guns and with sunglasses that would make them appear nondescript to the casual bystander. Their first action upon climbing out of their cars was to raise their gaze toward his building. The leader of them, a big Polynesian who appeared as if he might have stepped out of a wrestling arena, barked orders Bryan was unable to here. Still despite the inaudible words, Bryan recognized the instinctive pat the men made over certain parts of their person, to be exact over their coats, an indication that they were armed and ready.
Two cars, Bryan thought in the millisecond that it took for him to assess his situation. Two cars that carried seven armed men, who were striding briskly towards the walkway that led to the main foyer of his building. Thoughts on how they found him would wait as he hurried away from the window and went to retrieve his gun and his cell phone in good order. They had minutes if that to get out of here before those men arrived. Bryan intended that neither he or Fred would be here when that happened.
"I hate it when you’re right," Bryan grumbled offhandedly as she watched him hurry across the living room after fetching his gun, to a sideboard with many drawers. Bryan reached for his keys on top of it and unlocked the top drawer. He kept this drawer locked for the reason in order not to frighten the housekeeper that cleaned his flat thrice a week. Besides, he was not comfortable about leaving bullets scattered about, not when most of his neighbors had no idea what he did for a living. Most of them thought he was an IT salesman.
"We have to go now," Fred declared insistently, as her gaze shifted intermittently between him and the window.
"Trust me, that’s foremost in my mind as well," Bryan retorted, pulling the drawer open and removing the two boxes of ammunition inside it. "But we’re not going to get very far if I don’t do this first."
"If they find us, we won’t go anywhere at all!" Fred reminded and drew a look from Bryan, who was now crossing the floor again, this time his destination appeared to be a pot plant whose state of health was borderline at best.
"You’re too young to learn how to nag," Bryan retorted as he took hold of the stem of the plant and lifted it out of its pot, trailing clumps of dirt as he tossed it aside.
"What are you doing?" She asked, too young to be able to take offense at his earlier statement.
Bryan reached into the pot and produced a small metal box that looked like it might have been a biscuit tin of some description. It was no bigger than a breadbox and its hiding place had left it covered in dirt. However, this did not seem to bother Brian at all who upon acquiring this odd item, grabbed his coat and Fred in quick succession before running out of the apartment. He did not bother locking it behind because he was certain his impending visitors would not be stopped by a locked door if they were intent on finding them both. Emerging into the corridor outside his flat, he glanced briefly at the lift and saw the indicator lights of the floors glowing progressively towards their level.
"Its going to be the stairs then," he replied as they hurried to the fire stairs, while he loaded his gun with a fresh magazine of bullets.
"What if they’re there too?" Fred asked anxiously, her face filled with obvious fear.
"We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it," Bryan said shortly as he pulled open the door to the fire stairs which in deference to the rest of the building was unpainted and displayed exposed concrete.
Unfortunately, that bridge came sooner than Bryan would like because this time Saeran’s men were not taking any chances in losing their prey. He could hear footsteps echoing from lower down the stairs and knew that the enemy was covering all their possible avenues of escape. Bryan took hold of Fred’s hand and quickly raced up the stairs towards the roof. He placed a finger on his lip to signal quiet as there was no reason to let the men pursuing them know their ultimate destination even if their footsteps could be heard during their ascent. She nodded quickly, coming to the conclusion that this man whom she could not be entirely certain about yes was determined to protect her and appeared quite capable of it as well.
As soon as the sound of their running feet filtered to the lower levels of the staircase, Bryan heard voices crying out excitedly that he and Fred were discovered. He paid little attention to this and picked up Fred so that they could make better progress up the staircase. Sensibly Fred liberated the metal box from him in a wordless agreement so that he could carry her better as he ran up the stairs to the roof exit which was now in sight. Bryan was not all burdened with the extra weight. In the SAS, there had been times when he had been dropped into places where he was required to carry his own weight in gear. He made it to the top of the stairs easily and was grateful when he found it unlocked. Their pursuers’ footsteps were even louder than before and their pace definitely faster now that they knew what Bryan was up to.
Stepping onto the roof of the building. Bryan looked around for something to barricade the fire exit. The roof level of the building had been the venue for one of his neighbors horticultural activities, complete with mini greenhouse When he spotted a shovel lying outside the plastic sheeting that made up the frames of Mr. Stephens project, Bryan immediately braced it against the door. It was not much of a deterrent but valuable seconds in instances like this was all that bridged the difference between life and death.
"Where are we going to go?" Fred looked to him in question, her eyes having scoured the roof and discovering to her dismay that there really was nowhere else to go once the bad men reached the door.
Bryan hurried to the nearest edge and let his eyes sweep over the roofs of the adjoining buildings. It was a quite a long drop to the ground but they were not so high that the wind was lashing at them with any strength. If anything, the most this lofty height could manage was a slight breeze. In the street below, he could see in the street below and knew that reaching his car would be difficult. Two men were guarding it and he was certain that he heard two voices coming up the stairs behind them. That left three who were probably discovering at this moment that there was no one at his apartment. If they could reach his car, then there was chance of escape. All it required was being able to get to it from this roof.
He measured distances they would need to traverse swiftly in his head and came to a decision wordlessly. Fred was staring at the door, waiting for the inevitable sound of men trying to break through. He went to her and picked her up once more, wondering if he should tell her. Probably not, he decided. Best to do it when there was minimum chance of her panicking. If he was wrong, they would be too dead too worry about it in any case.
"Where are we going?" She asked as he neared the edge of the building and looked across at the next.
The gap between them was eight to ten feet. A good distance but not impossible. Bryan retreated in his steps as he heard the first pounding against the roof door. Taking a deep breath he began a short sprint towards the building’s edge. Fred’s eyes widened as she realized what he intended to do and without even needing to hear him say it, wrapped her arms even tighter around his neck. The box was crushed between the two of them as he jumped and there was a rush of sound and the feeling of being airborne for a few seconds that almost caused the girl to squeal, but she did not. Instead, she buried her face deeper into his chest so that she did not have to look.
Bryan hit the other side of the gap and rolled across the floor. When he knew he was going to fall, folded his arms around the bundle in his arms and tried to protect her as best as he could. They rolled together for a few feet, before coming to a halt. There was no time to pause or even inquire if she was alright because if he could cross that distance with a child in his arms, their pursuers could do the same and with far less effort. Instead he secured his hold of her and ran to the door leading into the building. It was locked but that was not much of a deterrent to Bryan who promptly kicked it open, splintering wood and scrapping metal in a loud crack.
It was only when they were hidden temporarily inside the building, it Bryan let her down so that he could see her state.
"Are you alright?" He asked her concerned, noting that she was shaking a little.
"Yes," she nodded fearfully, her expression and the pout of her lips indicating she was trying hard not to cry. "I’m okay. I didn’t drop the box." She added, showing him her diligence at being able to keep it on her person after their death-defying stunt.
"That’s a brave girl," he winked at her in pride and ruffled her hair affectionately before taking her hand again.
They made their way swiftly down the fire stairs of this new building and did not hear any one in pursuit, which did little to allay Bryan’s fears because at least when they were following, he knew where they were. The silence made him wonder if they were not thinking up alternative ways to cut off his and Fred’s escape route. Deciding to take the fire exit out of the building instead of making it out through the main doors, their route to escape came after a few minutes. Bryan told Fred to remain behind him as he opened the door quietly and emerged first. The setting of the door made it difficult for him to gain a clear view of what was waiting for him outside, so his gun appeared before he did.
Bryan had no sooner emerged bodily when a foot kicked his hand and forced him to drop the weapon. He tried to usher a warning to Fred when he saw a fist flying at him. He counted two men and faced first the one who had disarmed him while his other companion went after Fred.
"RUN!" Bryan ordered her as he caught the fist coming at him and swung hard with one of his own.
Bryan did not miss and promptly threw a fist in his face and did not miss. Knuckle connected with jaw, momentarily disorientating his opponent and giving him time enough to close in for the kill. Without thinking twice, Bryan had his opponent’s head in his hands and twisted viciously, his success signaled the awful sound of bone crunching. The man went limp almost immediately and Aaron shoved him hard at the second man who had been trying to shoot him during the struggle. The body slammed hard into him, causing the enemy’s aim to waver and giving Bryan enough the advantage he needed to disarm him.
Saeran’s agent pushed away his comrade’s body only to be confronted by Bryan who kicked the gun out of his hand in a powerful front kick. Using its momentum, Bryan swung around and delivered another blow to the man’s sternum. As his enemy stumbled to the floor, Bryan dove towards his gun. Rolling over neatly, Bryan grasped the butt of his weapon and took aim at the same time the third gunmen discovered that his opponent had retreated. They were running out of time and Bryan did not want to waste more or it or his ammunition and promptly fired one shot. A good marksman only needed one shot in Bryan’s opinion and when the bullet slammed into the gunmen’s skull, it appeared that he had chosen the right one.
He did not have time to relish his victory because he heard Fred screaming. He had been so busy fighting the enemy, he had not even considered the fate of his young charge after telling her to run. With something akin to panic, Bryan sought out the source of the scream and found it not far away from him. The man who had managed to grab Fred was having a great deal of trouble hanging onto the child who was kicking like a hellion. For a six-year-old, Bryan was quite impressed by the struggle she was putting up.
"Let her go!" He shouted at the would be abductor.
"I don’t think so," the kidnapper declared defiantly when suddenly Fred utilized the only weapon at the disposal of a six-year-old child. She sunk her teeth into the hand holding the gun with all the strength she could muster. The man cried out in pain and dropped her. No sooner than Fred had touched the ground, Bryan had let loose another series of shots, these were decidedly lacking in the finesse of the other but no less lethal. The sounds of exploding gunfire made Fred cover her ears in fright and even after the man had fallen down in a heap, was she still huddled close with her knees beneath her chin, trembling.
"Fred!" Bryan ran to her, fearful that the whole scene might have been too much for her, especially when two of his opponents were bleeding like stuck pigs. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," she nodded and hugged him immediately, clinging to him with dear life because he was the only one in the world who could keep her safe from the darkness that was pursuing her. "Are you okay?" she stammered.
"Take more than them to do me in," he said touched by the tears of relief he saw in her eyes at his answer and offered her a wry smile of encouragement. "Come on, we have to keep moving."
"Your box!" She cried out and displayed the astounding resilience of children as she wiped her eyes and hurried to the metal box she had dropped during the struggle.
Bryan took her hand once she had in her grip and decided that the idea of retrieving his car would have to wait. The best thing to do now was to get away from here while they still could. He could decide what to do once he had a moment to think and question whether or not it was Caldwell who had given him up.
After more than 24 hours driving from one from one end of Britain to the other, Aaron was certain that if they did not stop soon, the elves were going to do serious injury to themselves, to each other or anyone else unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. He could not blame either for their irritable mood, after all elves were wholly unaccustomed to traveling in closed confines for such an extended period of time, even if it was inside a car. Despite the frequent breaks along the way, it was still a long journey and despite Aaron and Eve sharing the driving duties, Aaron could not deny that he was grateful when he saw the London skyline in the distance.
Their trek across country had transpired without incident after Eve learnt which side of the road she ought to be driving. The journey had taken them through the splendor of the Scottish Highland and across Loch Ness. The interval between large towns had also given the elves time to become acclimated to the metropolis that would overwhelm them undoubtedly when they arrived at London. The smaller cities of Perth, Dundee heightened their awareness of being in the modern world, though they did not stay long in Glasgow and took the easterly course at Penrith so that they could avoid Manchester and the many satellite cities in close proximity around it.
The elves thought that the area of Nottingham felt familiar and it was Gandalf who revealed that the Old Woods beyond the Shire had left some remnants of itself in Sherwood. Many elves had taken the paths through the forest when journeying to the Havens and it was Haldir who thought that he felt some remnant of that passage for he and Celeborn had once made the crossing. Haldir was very unimpressed at the current state of those magnificent woods and though some of it still remained, most of it had been trampled under the heavy machinery of progress. It was hard on them, seeing the world so changed, remembering the friends left behind, the ones whose homes they were now moving through, with no trace left behind to mark their existence except in the memory of the immortals.
After Nottingham, the distance to London grew considerably short and a stop at a telephone booth, provided Aaron with the information he needed to know Tory’s current address. Tory who was a lawyer, lived in a rather up market part of town and was not home when Aaron called to let her know that they were coming. Fortunately, it was still early in the day when he had made his call and knew that by the time they actually arrived at her address, it would be well into evening.
He had last spoken to Tory after the business with the Malcolm Building, omitting that he had any complicity in its destruction. Instead, he called to explain why the news of Stuart’s death had not come from him. He had cited his recent unemployment, the reason for his lapse and Tory was a good enough friend not to blame him for his lapse. He wondered how she would take seeing him after almost a year’s absence. She was one of the few people he considered family and knew that she would have been concerned. For his sake as well as her own, Aaron had thought it best that she did not know anything about why he was running and hoped that when he explained himself now, she would understand.
"This place reminds me of Baradur," Haldir remarked as they drove towards Tory’s house in Hillingdon in the semi-quiet streets. It was well past the evening rush of traffic and as night settled upon the city, the frantic activity of the day had given way to a more sedate atmosphere. There were people up and about but their pace was decidedly languid and in the night, with a myriad of lights scattered across the darkened skyline, London had its own beauty.
"Baradur?" Aaron stared at him.
"Sauron’s capital in the Second and Third Age," Legolas said helpfully.
"The guy with the ring?" Eve asked, looking over the edges of the street directory they had bought to find Tory address.
"The same," Gandalf replied with a smile, finding it amusing how these modern people understated everything.
"Oh London’s not that bad," Aaron defended the city which he always found charming because of its Old World quality. "I mean sure, its not Tirion or Aqualonde but it’s got its own charm. This has been the center of the civilized world for almost a thousand years."
"Yeah, if we weren’t here to stop a terrible evil from decimating the entire planet, I’d be off sight seeing in a second. I want to see Buckingham Palace and check out the Tower of London. Now that’s a place that took its law enforcement seriously," she remarked mischievously, earning an affection smile from Aaron.
"So much is covered in steel and stone," Haldir replied finding it all very disconcerting that he could not see trees and open spaces. His eye caught sight of her a buxom blond walking her dog down the sidewalk clad in very little and wondered how these people could function with such impractical attire at times. To him, the modern world was a grimy place with garish lights and too much reliance on technology. "Its no wonder this world is on the brink of destruction when all reverence to life has been forgotten."
"Do not be so quick to judge it Haldir," Legolas said seriously. "There is great courage here too." He replied staring at Aaron and Eve as he stated those words. "If not, Morgoth would still walk the earth."
"Aaron," Gandalf spoke up as the Ford took a turn up a tree-lined street. "How do you think your friend will receive us?"
"Tory’s okay," Aaron replied. "She may have a thousand questions before the night is over but I trust her."
Eve cast Aaron a short glance and felt an involuntary pang of jealousy when wondering exactly what was the nature of Aaron’s relationship with Stuart’s ex wife. He seemed to think that she could be trusted with his life and wondered what supported such faith. However, as soon as the thought crossed her mind, Eve brushed it aside because she trusted Aaron and took comfort in the fact that he had loved her all his life and even before it. There was something comforting about knowing that they were destined to be together because it had always been that way.
"Well, its look like you better get ready to answer them because we’re here," Eve remarked upon arriving at their destination.
Tory’s home was a two story, detached house that was one of many on a single block, preceded by a row of trees along the sidewalk. It did not take long for Aaron to discern which one was Tory’s and judging by the lights, the lady was home already.
"Okay, you’re up." Eve replied once the car had come to a halt outside the curb.
Aaron nodded somberly as he climbed out of the car. What he was about to tell Tory would change everything she knew about the world and yet there was never a question about not telling her because she was his friend and if life was to be placed in jeopardy because of him, she deserved to know why. He hoped that Tory would believe that he was not insane, that he seen what seen since the day Gandalf had become his patient. He hoped she would understand.
Hell knows, in her position, he wouldn’t.
Victoria Harding was having a bad day.
It started off with an appointment with a client whose odiousness was so apparent that she almost wished that it was possible to ignore the fact that everyone should be considered innocent until proven otherwise. The man was charged with a variety of offenses, relating from prostitution to extortion. In legal fees alone, he could pay for the mortgage on her house. There had been a moment when she had almost been tempted to take the case, to see that the vermin’s legal rights were defended so that he could be unleashed upon society once again. However, Tory preferred being able to sleep at night and though it was not a practice encouraged by her colleagues, found that to achieve this peace required her to do the unthinkable at times, refusing clients that offended even her sensibilities.
Even the ones who could pay the mortgage on her house.
After he had sleazed out of her office, she had found herself lost in paperwork, held up by continuances and deposing witnesses whose stories changed from one second to the next. By the time she staggered out of her office after dark, Tory was really starting to think that perhaps it was best if she gave up law and went to a secluded island to take up basket weaving for a living. It was certainly a good deal more peaceful. Tory’s practice was established enough for her to make that choice. In her mid thirties, Tory had worked as barrister for the crown until establishing her own law practice. She dealt mostly in criminal law but was known to take on the odd pro bono case when her interest was sparked.
She had been married once, to the most inoffensive American she had ever met but divorced five years later because they could not offer a civil word to each other without breaking into an argument a minute later. At thirty-five, she was still an attractive woman with dark red hair and emerald colored eyes that apparently earned her the reputation as the stereotypical fiery red head. She could have remarried if she liked but the truth was, Tory liked her independence and found that marriage had only produced in her the desire to be single again.
After walking through the front door of her house, she had dumped her briefcase on the sofa, kicked off her shoes and tossed away her suit coat. In a final act of rebellion, she untucked her blouse and loosened her collar. There was something delightfully satisfying about prowling her own house still clad in nylons and work clothes (suitably ruffled of course) before placing herself in front of the telly, eating ice cream with a spoon straight from the carton it came in.
She was in the middle of another guilty pleasure, an episode of Ally McBeal, when she heard a knock on the door. Muttering lightly to herself in displeasure at being bothered by unannounced visitors, who was most likely her next door neighbor Mrs. Draper dropping in for a bit of inane gossip, Tory considered the briefly the notion of making herself look a little more respectable before she answered the door. However, she soon abandoned the idea in the hopes her appearance might impart to Mrs. Draper she did not wish visitors right now.
She was still nurturing this fervent hope when she pulled open the door and found herself staring at a ghost.
"Aaron!" She gasped, genuinely astonished by the sight of him.
"Hey Tor," Aaron grinned, surprising himself by how glad he was to see her after all this time.
The two friends came together in a warm embrace before Tory pulled away and looked at the psychiatrist, she had spent a great deal of expense and effort trying to locate over the past year. She had given up hope of ever seeing her old friend again and was still reeling from the fact that was suddenly here on the doorstep. It was almost surreal.
"Where have you been?" Tory demanded staring at Aaron. "I’ve been trying like hell to find you! Aaron where have you been the last twelve months?"
She fired another rapid series of questions at him, one after the other, giving him little chance to respond to any before he was forced to stop her before she buried him in them. He could not blame her for her desire to know his whereabouts the past year. She was the closest thing he had to a sister and though she lived an ocean away, he supposed he should have let her know that he was dropping out of sight before he actually did.
"Tory, can we talk inside please?" He asked.
"Of course," she replied still rather shaken as she withdrew from the foyer into the living room, expecting him to follow her.
Aaron followed her in after closing the door behind him, noticing that she was somewhat dazed by his sudden appearance on her doorstep and could not blame her for her reaction. After all, he had disappeared and reappeared in her life without so much as a word and their relationship after her divorce with Stuart had been one of deep friendship, even though it had never been more than that. Both were too comfortable with each other as friends to ever change the dynamic with anything as inconvenient as a romantic liaison. Aaron pondered what he would say to her once they were able to talk. How was she going to react when he told her about Valinor?
Tory was waiting for him when he entered the living room and was about to open his mouth to speak when she came at him and struck his squarely across the jaw. He staggered a little, almost losing his balance but the blow did not surprise him. In fact, he was rather amazed that it had not come sooner than this.
"Where the bloody hell have you been?" She demanded angrily. "Do you have any idea what I have been through the last twelve months? You disappeared without a trace. First Stuart is killed and then you disappear? The police were no help at all and I was starting to think that there was a reason why they were being such indifferent bastards. I even hired a private investigator to find you and he traced you as far as Point Pleasant and then nothing! Do you know what that was like? To lose both my friends at once?"
"I’m sorry Tor," Aaron apologized once more and hugged her again to show her that he was sincere. "I should have let you know that I was going but I couldn’t, I didn’t want you to involve in the mess I was in."
"Mess," she dried the tears that had come from a mixture of anger and happiness to see him. "What bloody mess are you talking about? Being fired?"
"No," Aaron shook his head and supposed that the best way to approach this was to simply tell her the truth, that was the basis of their friendship and there was no reason to change that now. "The Malcolm Building."
"The Malcolm Building?" Her eyes widened in shock. "What do you mean?"
"I was there the day it exploded," Aaron confessed.
"Did you have anything to do with it?" She asked, suddenly feeling the need to sit down.
"Yes and no," Aaron replied honestly. "I know why it was destroyed but I didn’t do it."
"Care to enlighten me?" She looked at him.
"I would but its not anything you’re going to accept," Aaron said gingerly, truly believing it.
"I’m a barrister Aaron," Tory retorted. "You would be surprised of what I am able to accept."
Aaron took a deep breath and supposed that if he was going to enlist her help in their quest, he would have to tell her whole truth. He began his tale at his first meeting with Gandalf and progressed to his meeting with Eve, the elves and their belief that he was the reincarnation of an ancient king, almost a hundred thousand years ago. Tory listened in silence, saying little in response and allowing him to continue without interruption as he explained how John Malcolm was actually a dark lord named Melkor and had how he had been destroyed by the power of the Ainur and the Great Music.
When he had finally finished, Tory did not speak and appeared as if she was digesting everything he had said to her. A few minutes had ticked by and despite being a psychiatrist, Aaron could not for the life of him predict what her reaction would be. How would he react after being confronted with such a fantastic tale? Would she think him insane?
"Aaron, you need help," Tory declared and confirmed Aaron’s suspicion.
"I"m not crazy Tor," Aaron exhaled, disappointed by her response but not in the least bit shocked by it. "I saw it all and I’ve been to Valinor. I’ve seen where they come from and it’s as real as you and I standing here."
"Aaron, it’s insane!" Tory retorted unable to accept such a fantastic tale because that’s what it was. Fantastic. "You’re a psychiatrist. Surely you must know how you sound?"
"I know how I sound," he returned wearily, having prepared for this argument the moment he had decided to call on her for help when they arrived in London, "but I also know that everything I’ve told you is real. The clock is ticking Tor. Something is happening out here and if we don’t find out what, then a lot of people are going to die. Everything we know is going to end and Valinor will be al that’s left."
"Aaron..." Tory started to speak when suddenly the door knocked again.
"Christ!" She swore in annoyance as she brushed past Aaron grumbling loudly. "If its that’s bloody Mrs. Draper about what the dog down the road did to her cat...."
Tory arrived at the door and pulled it open with enough force to make it swing backwards with more speed than she anticipated. Standing before her was a woman with three men she did not recognize. The woman at least appeared normal and strikingly attractive, while the men took a little more time to describe. The old man appeared as if he should be auditioning for role of Santa at any department store despite his overflowing beard being gray and his walking stick. The two younger men were either from California or gay. She discounted second possibility almost immediately because despite being exquisitely sculptured the both of them, gay men usually had a better sense of style when it came to clothing. These two were dressed like they had picked their clothes from a supermarket, especially with those ugly caps.
"Eve?" Aaron’s voice sailed over her shoulder before Tory could speak.
"You know these people?" Tory looked at him with accusation.
"We were starting to draw suspicion," Eve declared, tilting her head slightly so that she could see Aaron while speaking past Tory. "There’s some old lady out there staring at us as if we’re casing the neighborhood. If we didn’t come in, I think she was going to call the cops."
"That would be Mrs. Draper," Tory replied with a sigh and knew the woman was telling the truth. Mrs. Draper had a tendency to be somewhat paranoid about strangers in the neighborhood. Tory knew she was going to regret this but she could not leave the standing outside, especially if there were Aaron’s friends.
Despite his incredible tale, Tory still cared a great deal for her ex-husband’s best friend. During the years when her marriage to Stuart was imploding, Aaron had been a loyal friend to both of them, offering advice not merely as a psychiatrist but also as someone who cared about them without being impartial to either. Even after its end, when she had been a wreck in the wake of the divorce, he had been there for her and never taken advantage of the situation, as many men might do if presented with the opportunity. For that she loved him dearly, not like a lover but as the brother she never had. If he said he was in trouble and needed her help, Tory would not deny him, no matter how insane his story sounded.
"You had better come in," she said widening her door so that the eclectic group could enter the premises.
"Thank you Tor," Aaron returned gratefully as Tory led her into the house.
"Don’t thank me just yet," Tory declared as she walked past him. "I still think you’re insane."
The hotel clerk had given Bryan a sour look when he had rented the room in the company of a six year old girl. Fortunately, the nature of the establishment ensured that the man would remain discreet since most of the patrons preferred to remain anonymous. Located in the seedier part of London’s West End, Bryan had serious misgivings about finding accommodation in a place where most of the clientele were working girls and rooms were rented by the hour. However, he had little choice if he wanted to keep himself and Fred out of harms way. Besides, as rooms went, the hotel room was functional. It had a television, a sort of mini-bar and a relatively clean bed.
They had arrived here after a nightmarish trip through a department store where Bryan had been forced to wander through the children’s section with Fred wearing his coat to avoid exposing her bloodied nightgown. After a harrowing hour, he had completed the task of getting Fred some clothes and felt himself empathizing greatly with the masses of young fathers wandering the aisles, entrusted with the task of clothing their children. Fortunately, Fred had made the ordeal a little more tolerable when she addressed him as dad during the period that Bryan was forced to acquire the assistance of a salesgirl who was certain that he was a weekend father with no sense about anything.
After buying the child some suitable clothing, Bryan had fled from the supermarket deciding that if he ever decided to have children, there was going to be a wife dealing with matters such as this. Being a paratrooper was nowhere as daunting as trying to navigate through a shopping center. In any case, the little girl was now parked in front of the television set in her new jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, quite contently watching cartoons. Apparently something called the Powerpuff Girls had her undivided attention at present. For Bryan, his own attention was fixated on the box that he had been so careful to take with him when he left his apartment.
Opening it, he began to inspect the contents, removing everything one after the other from within the confines of the metal case. Years ago, he had been advised by the agent training him that it was always wise to have a little added insurance in the event one needed to disappear. The nature of his business required him to undertake some rather questionable dealings and usually under the cloak of secrecy. Usually when someone lifted that rock and exposed this things to light, it was usually the agent carrying out the order that became the scapegoat. While it happened rarely, it still did happen and agents on his level usually had their own metal boxes, secreted somewhere safe for such an eventuality.
He fingered the thick wad of notes held together with a money clip and counted it quickly to see how fiscal he was. If Caldwell had been responsible for those men turning up at his apartment this morning, then he could no longer use his credit card because it was an easy matter for MI6 to trace him by his purchases. There was almost ten thousand pounds in legal tender in his hand and it was more than enough for him to lay low for a time, or at the very worse get as far away from here as possible.
However having money was not enough to vanish completely and included with the cash was a new passport, driver’s license and even a credit card registered to the name of Michael Flannery. It was far simpler to vanish into thin air as someone else and the passport and driver’s license would ensure that he could leave the country if he ever felt the need to run. Bryan sincerely hoped he would not have to use any of these items but until he knew what they were up against exactly, he would prefer to keep the contents of the box close by.
As Fred watched her cartoons, Bryan stared at his cell phone wondering if he ought to risk a telephone call to Caldwell, in order to give him a chance to explain. The idea that Caldwell who had been a trusted veteran of the Firm for as long as he knew, to be the source of the leak that had sent those hired killers to his home was beyond preposterous and understandably difficult to believe. However, Caldwell had told him to sit tight at home and was the only one who knew that Fred was with him. Bryan did not believe in coincidences and he knew how it felt to be given away. If Caldwell had not done it then someone was watching the MI6 supervisor closely and Bryan could not risk contacting him again.
He was contemplating this to great degree when suddenly, the cell phone in his hand started ringing, startling Fred and he to a lesser extent. The digital screen flashed the number of the incoming call and Bryan raised a brow at not recognizing it. Fred had turned around and was staring at him in anticipation, waiting to see if he would answer it or not. In truth, Bryan was trying to decide it himself and met her gaze. He could see the fear in her eyes and loathed placing her in another situation like the one she had been this morning. In the space of twenty four hours, the child had two attempts on his life and Bryan did not want to give someone the opportunity to make it three for three.
"Are you going to answer it?" She asked softly.
"I think I should," he replied and saw her nodding in understanding, almost as if she was giving him permission to do so.
The cell phone continued to ring and possibly sounded more insistent, if such a thing was possible from an electronic device. Finally, Bryan accepted the call and held the phone to his ear, deciding that he would stop this foolishness. He had kept them alive so far and would continue to do so no matter who was on the other end.
"Hello," he said cautiously.
"Bryan, is that you?" A decidedly American voice asked.
Bryan blinked, caught completely by surprise as he searched his memory as to who might be speaking and a name came to him almost immediately. "Robert?"
Robert Stanley was his contact in CIA and one of his chief sources of information during the investigation into the destruction of the Malcolm Building, particularly on the subject of Doctor Aaron Stone. It had been months since he had heard from Roberts who had little to report after the CIA had thrown up their hands in defeat as to the present whereabouts of the good doctor. He and Robert had been friends from years back when they had worked together on an assignment. Since then, Robert had been one of his unofficial sources who filtered to him useful information when the Americans were unwilling to share their intelligence.
"Yeah its me," Robert replied. "I know you usually prefer to call me but I have a lead on that cop you were trying to trace."
Like all men in the business, there was never any point wasting time on idle chatter when there was news to impart. Personal queries could wait until after the information was given. Robert was no exception. He had been in the CIA as along as Bryan had been MI6 operative.
"You do?" Bryan asked automatically, sitting up straighter on the be.
"Yeah, Eve McCaughley isn’t it?"
"That’s right," Bryan nodded remembering how his efforts to locate Stone following the destruction of the Malcolm Building had led him to Eve McCaughley.
He had tracked Stone to Point Pleasant and found no further trace of the doctor other than a sighting of him on a boat. It had been Bryan’s belief that Stone had purchased a boat and fled the country before the authorities closed in on him. The kind of vessel that Stone would need to sail out of American jurisdiction could not be bought without records and during his inquiries, Bryan had been unable to produce any vessel belonging to the doctor. The only new boat to arrive into the Point Pleasant harbor during the period that Aaron Stone was meant to have been in the vicinity, was a motor yacht called the Anemone and she belonged to an Eve McCaughley.
In an effort to be thorough, Bryan had run a check on Eve McCaughley and found that she was respected and decorated officer of the New York City Police. Aside from a distinguished record, there was no evidence that McCaughley and Stone had ever met. A recent fire had seen Eve come into a tidy sum of insurance money, which she had apparently used to buy a boat. Bryan had not thought anything of it because he could appreciate the need for a homicide cop to desire a little sojourn on the high seas. In fact, Bryan was almost ready to disregard McCaughley completely until he discovered that her last case prior to her application of indefinite leave, was investigating a murder of a Malcolm Industries employee.
Bryan did not believe in coincidences and when he had attempted to trace the woman, discovered her to be just as elusive as Doctor Stone. The Anemone had not pulled into port anywhere in the world for almost twelve months and Bryan had to wonder if Eve McCaughley was not somehow involved in the building’s destruction as well. In any case, he had kept his suspicions to himself, since he had no real proof of her involvement. All he had done was to ask Robert to keep an eye out for the woman if she ever surfaced again.
"Well apparently, she bought a car in some place called Lochinver a little less than 48 hours ago, using her credit card," Robert reported.
"Lochinver?" Bryan exclaimed. "Scotland?"
"Yeah," he could imagine Robert nodding his head on the other side of the Atlantic. "I’ve got multiple credit card payments heading southwards. I don’t know why you’re so interested in an NYPD cop but apparently the lady is heading towards London."
Bryan had never told Robert specifically why he was so interested in Eve McCaughley. Robert was a friend but he was also CIA and had to answer to superiors just as much as Bryan. A lead on Aaron Stone was something he would have to bring to his superiors, despite their longstanding friendship. Bryan’s had made the request citing it to be a personal favor and Robert had not asked him to elaborate. Bryan preferred to leave it that way.
"Thanks Robert," Bryan said gratefully. "I’ll deal with it from here."
"What you not even going to tell me what this is about? She’s quite a looker. Is she a girlfriend or something?"
"Something like that," Bryan replied, deciding it was better that Robert believed exactly what he had supposed, that Eve was an old girlfriend.
"Well the next time you need to find one of your girlfriends, try missing persons," Robert returned sarcastically. "I’d like to see you settle down with a nice girl myself but I’m not about to be your dating service."
"Sorry," Bryan feigned an apology to salve Robert’s feelings. He liked the man and did not wish to lie to him but that was the way the game was played sometimes. No one was quite what they appeared, not even him. "I’ll send you an invitation to the wedding."
"Right," Robert said skeptically. "I gotta go, you take care of yourself."
"You too Robert," Bryan replied with genuine warmth before the line between them was terminated.
Bryan stared at the cell phone for a long minute, trying to process the information that he had just received, unaware that Fred was staring at him in question. When he noticed those powerful blue orbs staring at him with a mixture of curiosity and concern, Bryan could not help but smile a little. She was extremely sensible for a little girl and then there were other times when she was very much as a six year old should be. He looked around the room and wondered if it was a safe place and whether or not it was possible to leave her here for a few hours.
It took him no more than a split second to decide that it was not.
"Fred, I need to go somewhere for awhile but I don’t want to leave you here," Bryan explained, having no desire to deceive her. "If you come with me, you must do exactly what I tell you."
"Don’t leave me Bryan," she said meeting his eyes. "I don’t want to be by myself. I’ll be good."
Her plea speared his heart like a knife and Bryan offered her a little smile. "I know you will luv. I wish there was some place safe for you but there isn’t at the moment."
"Where are we going?" Fred asked.
"I need to find someone," Bryan explained as best he could without having to go into detail about Malcolm Industries, David Saeran and the untimely destruction of John Malcolm’s central hub which Bryan was certain was the key to everything, if he could only learn why.
"Just someone," Bryan answered, reluctant to give her a name because Eve McCaughley had been his own little secret, one he was unwilling to relinquish to anyone, even now. "She’s someone who could lead me to the one person who may be able to tell me why all this is happening."
And it was the truth. Eve McCaughley was his lead and if she was here in London, then perhaps Aaron Stone was too and if that were the case, then the good doctor might just be tempted to look up an old friend.
Even if she was his best friend’s ex-wife.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.