Chapter 1: Natural Element
Using a rifle was wonderfully calming. It was just him and the weapon, breathing regulated, waiting for the shot to come through. Lying on his belly, one leg askew to brace himself, barrel lined up for ultimate flexibility with the small window of opportunity he had. The job wasn't the easiest, but it was easier than some of the others the Circus had given him.
He wasn't going to complain anyway - they let him fly around the world, giving him jobs to suit his varying locations and time periods. It was surprisingly flexible - not like in his grandfather's days. They found it rather amusing he'd taken on a second life as the captain of an almost-bankrupt charter plane. In fact, the Circus encouraged it and sent as much civilian business to it as they could. Which, granted, wasn't much, but it was still something and Carolyn had been over the moon when she'd picked up another regular contract with some British diplomats.
Martin's attention focused as the beginning of the envoy trickled through the tiny gap. It was at least five hundred metres away but that didn't matter. He was a sharpshooter and the open-roofed car (foolish, foolish politician) was an easy target. The difficult part of the job would be to get to the next roof without being noticed.
A bright red car turned onto the street and a good study of it's occupants via his scope confirmed it was his target. A low whistle hissed from between his teeth - the car was supposed to be empty except for the target. Hair perfectly coiffed, she sat on his right, dressed in a beautiful suit, no doubt Chanel or something else expensive. Fortunately, she wasn't in the way.
Fortunately for her, that is.
With precision and experience, Martin lined up his shot and squeezed the trigger. He waited long enough to make sure his target was down, dismantled his gun and hid it away. As he jumped from the bell tower onto the roof next to him, his hair was ruffled by the air and he landed with a satisfyingly light thud. Sirens and screams had begun to penetrate the air.
Time to get back to the airport and get out of the country.
Chapter 2: Childhood I
A little about Martin's childhood with Mummy and his Grandfather.
When Martin was very young, his grandfather taught him how to shoot. He loved his grandfather, loved the stories, the scent of the cleaning kit with which the elderly man maintained his armoury. Summer holidays were spent in the French countryside, and by the time Martin was ten, he could shoot a bottle from up to a kilometre away using one of his grandfather's heavy-bore rifles. These shooting lessons were always strictly supervised by his mother and grandfather, Martin's father and older brother supposedly having no interest in what they were doing. Years later, Mummy told him that he was special, picked out for his temperament over his brattish brother and his peaceful sister.
His father wasn't aware of it at all. Martin tried not to feel guilty about not taking his father's business on, not taking onboard the skills that his father was trying to teach. He did learn the basics, the essentials (essentials that had come in handy more than once in his later life). But to be honest it was too uninteresting compared to being a pilot. At first, Mummy had despaired but Martin was firm about it - if he was going to be a protégée of the Circus, then he wanted good practical skills to fall back upon - flying aircraft being one of them.
Grandfather reasoned with Mummy - let the boy make his own decisions. It wasn't a hasty decision as Martin really had wanted to be an aeroplane until he was six (he'd also wanted to be a pistol, but that was another matter). Hence, it became apparent that Martin was to lead a very unusual double life as a commercial pilot and one of the Circus' most successful assassins.
When he was accepted at barely twenty two years of age, his Grandfather gave Martin a gift. It was Martin's most treasured object - a pearl-handled pistol from Grandfather's days at the Circus. By this time, Grandfather's health was declining, heart giving him issues, and by the next summer he was gone. Even before he was gone, Martin cherished and cared for the pistol, making sure that it wouldn't jam or get grimy.
Despite the illness, he insisted on accompanying Martin on his first day. He dressed him in one of his suits, laughing when it fitted Martin perfectly. Martin didn't understand his mirth and became even more confused when his mother joined in, observing the old fashioned clothing. She tugged at his hair and smoothed it into a hairstyle of the era and resumed her giggle. She eventually let him ruffle his hair back into some semblance so what it had been before.
When they marched in, one of the Housekeepers fainted in shock, and a few stragglers in administration (younger than Grandfather by a few years but still old enough to have retired) gasp and turn pale. The joke was finally clear - he was nearly the spitting image of his grandfather. Of course, protective measures had to be taken and his bright copper hair was dyed brown, except it turned auburn because of the high red content in it. It was clipped very short and allowed to curl off wildly. It was enough to make the difference - his cheekbones were quite more defined than Grandfather's were, he had more freckles, and he was shorter by about five centimetres. Martin's targets wouldnt have known about his Grandfather anyway, unless they were a part of the Circus or were quite old. It was all a harmless joke, but Martin was secretly proud that he was going to be filling his Grandfather's shoes in more way than one.
Chapter 3: Personal Affairs
The truth about how Martin lives.
Truth be told, Martin did live in an attic. It was the most luxurious attic to have ever been created, but it was an attic. He did live over students - pupils of the police academy and Circus proteges - but they weren't noisy. He ate lightly to keep his body in perfect condition (with the exception of the occasional baked potato filled with sour cream, cheese, and bacon, drizzled with barbeque sauce) and went to the gym as much as he could. Occasionally he'd go undercover using Icarus Removals but it wasn't often enough to cause any back issues he may have gotten if he had have been doing it full time. He still had the van, just to maintain the facade he was quite poor, and drove it whenever he had to be in the public eye as "Martin Crieff, incompetent pilot". If he needed to impress someone he'd borrow his mother's forest green E-Type Jaguar. If he wanted to look respectable, and of his rank, then he'd drive one of the many modest-looking (but not modestly priced) Mercedes sedans the Circus made available to it's employees.
He wasn't brilliant with women like Grandfather had been. When he got tongue-tied, he wasn't faking it. The "prissy" and "uptight" personality (as described by many a person, Circus or civilian) was also real. Martin liked facts, rules, regulations. If one was to do a task in a certain way, then one would do it. Of course, there were many ways to do one thing, so Martin wasn't inflexible, otherwise he would have never had made it as a...well, as a scalphunter. There was no point in denying his position. Besides, he rather liked that the main affairs of the scalphunters were held in an ex-schoolhouse far from the centre of London. It wasn't as polluted or noisy, nor was it a bad job because Martin had a couple of things going for him:
He was very good at paperwork,
He didn't mind paperwork, and
He was even better at killing people.
The technique wasn't the only important factor (although he knew how to kill an adult with just a plastic spoon, never mind the damage he could do with a fire axe), psychologically, Martin could shut down the emotional side of him to focus only on what needed to be done. This wasn't to say that he didn't care about people - of course he cared about people - but he could (and had always been able to, due to his early training) make the distinction between the job and his personal life. As far as he was concerned, the two were separate.
Except when it wasn't.
Sometimes it was inevitable that his work would follow him around in his leisure time.
Martin glanced in the rear view mirror of his van, eyes narrowing at the conspicuous black car following him. Arthur and Douglas were completely unaware of the problem - Douglas concentrating on driving and making witty remarks and Arthur on the lookout for the elusive creature known as the yellow car. It seemed that the men that he'd gotten into a fight with this morning were determined to finish him off.
And he'd been feeling generous by letting them go, even after they fractured his ankle. He'd even promised that if they left immediately, there wouldn't have been any trouble at Heathrow.
He wasn't going to make that mistake again.
Flicking a text message to the Schoolhouse, knowing that the contents would be relayed instantly, Martin began to set a plan in motion. He felt awful about having to use Arthur as a ploy, but it was better than ending up dead in a ditch. With expert precision, Martin pickpocketed Arthur, relieving him of the delivery address. It was just in time too, for as Arthur made a whining noise after being denied a stop at services, Douglas asked him to put the address into the GPS. Arthur patted his pockets and made a horrified face, knowing he had picked it up but doubting himself. Guilt flickered up, but Martin shoved it away.
"Right. Now I know how you're going to be, but..."
Martin would make it up to Arthur.
Chapter 4: Analogue Dropbox
Some more mundane work: drops and boxes and women in black.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Little did Carolyn realise that Martin's blazer had been converted into a double-sided jacket. When he removed it, he turned the sleeves in on themselves, slipping it back on as a dark grey suit jacket. The same went for his trousers and suddenly he didn't look like a pilot anymore. He waited ten minutes, listening to the buzzing of the world outside his cubicle before putting a bit of makeup on to look less masculine and perching a pair of black plastic glasses on his face.
Flicking the latches on the suitcase, he checked his files. The first lot would be to make a drop to one of the lamplighters stationed in Madrid. Even now, in this alienating digital world, nothing could beat a good physical drop. Computers could be hacked, broken, corrupted, and that held true in many ways for the carefully typewritten pages Martin's case contained, but it still felt safer. He pushed his toilet door open, washed his hands, and slipped out while it was empty.
The second folder of papers detailed the woman he was to smuggle back to England. Inside the third was a collection of papers that would get both of them out of trouble if it arose. It was dangerous, reckless, and entirely ridiculous.
Bloody exhilarating though.
Tracking down the drop was fun as always - Mummy had trained him using hide and seek. More recently, he had taken up geocaching - an international phenomenon using a GPS device, small treasure hoards, and a lot of very enthusiastic people. This particular drop was into a vibrant, if rather dusty bookstore, where Martin slipped between the towering shelves of knowledge and cigar smoke. Reaching to the top, he found a faded navy blue book on the art of eggshell painting, hiding in the gap between the back of the shelf and the edge of the books.
Some care had been taken in carving out the guts of the text, a perfect rectangle sitting in the pages. With a steady hand, the edges had been glued to appear whole, the ragged edges of the inside of the book were padded with soft material to reduce sound when any objects inside it shifted. Moving quickly, Martin flicked through the notes and swapped the appropriate ones for his own. He read over them, folded the sheets in half, then rolled them tightly, stuffing the tiny package into a hollow aeroplane figurine that hung from his keys. Checking that the coast was clear, he placed the eggshell book into it's hidey-hole again. Loitering around, Martin took other volumes from the shelf to examine. A yellow leather-bound books with red embossed script caught his eye. He smiled, pulled it out and purchased it on the way out.
The woman was waiting for him at the fountain, eating a tuna sandwich. She didn't appear to be too concerned about her situation. Approaching her carefully, Martin looked her over. No visible weapons, out of sight of the CCTV cameras, dressed in black. Professional.
"Cousin Janet!" he said loudly.
The woman's face lit up, slipping into the act. Martin knew she was from America - hopefully her accent wouldn't give her away. She tossed her empty sandwich bag into a bin, picked up her suitcase and embraced Martin in a bear hug. It lasted longer than Martin expected and he gingerly patted her on the back before they broke apart. Now that he was closer, he could see she had been crying recently.
"Come on. We'll miss the plane otherwise."
He gave her a kiss on the cheek. It wasn't worth mentioning that he piloted the plane. Besides she'd be in a crate in the hold, far away from where the sound of the cabin address could penetrate.
It was awkward for her to be placed in the crate, but by far the most discreet way for her to get to a safe-house. Even now, as they pushed their way through the milling people of the city, Martin kept checking for any enemies. They stuck to the shadows until they finally made it to a taxi rank and drove out to the airport. Cousin Janet fished out extra money to bribe the driver.
"Now," she said in her best authoritative voice, "You didn't drive two people out here. Only one. Him."
She pointed to Martin.
"Understand? You never met me."
Eying off the crisp bills of money with a look of hunger, the driver accepted. He helped with the luggage as well, placing Cousin Janet's case down as if it were something fragile. With that sorted, Martin whisked her away to be put in the crate.
Firstly, thank you to everyone that has commented - I will reply to each of your lovely, lovely reviews/musings/comments individually! Secondly, argh, sorry for the short update and for the long wait - my muse has decided that she doesn't like writing at the moment.
Chapter 5: Childhood II
A description of Peter's home during summer.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The Guillam Chateaux was, in a word, perfect. It gleamed in the sunshine, the whitewashed walls reflecting the sun, dark thatch proving a balancing contrast. It was slightly Tudor in design, but French enough to fit in with the neighbouring cottages and farms. There was a grove of trees at the most southern end of the property, a large expanse of green grass between it, a garage and a little patio.
Inside it was light and airy, furniture sparse and suitable for a summer visit. Light poured in from the windows, filtering the patterns of the sun and the trees. In the corridor between the kitchen and the dining room, it was a different matter entirely. The sunshine didn't reach this far, and the titles were cool underneath feet. Since it was one of the darkest places in the house it also contained various artworks. Martin's favourite piece was a sketch of what his mother called "Gypsies", their caravans and a horse. Her favourite was an etching of a naked woman wrapped up in a cloak. Grandfather didn't have a favourite. Each piece was selected with care or given to him according to his taste with and as a consequence, he liked them all.
It was only when Martin was doing an assignment in school that he realised they had a missing van Gogh in their hallway. For some reason this revelation didn't seem very strange in his household at all. Grandfather revealed later on that it had been a gift to him from a Wrangler upon retirement. Peter didn't know where the van Gogh had come from and he didn't care to ask - the Wrangler had probably intercepted an art heist in the planning, sent the information on to the appropriate people and received an off-the-books package of art in return.
It didn't really matter, anyway. Neither did the Picasso in the temperature-controlled cellar. Martin didn't like Picasso - the faces had frightened him as a child and he'd never quite shaken the unease he felt around any Picasso. He could relate to some of them, strangely enough.
Halfway down the hall, there was a staircase to the second floor, where there were three guest bedrooms (one big one for Mr and Mrs Crieff and two smaller ones for Caitlin and Simon) and a pull down set of steps to the attic, where there was another bedroom and storage. Martin obviously took the attic room, falling in love with it the first time he saw it when he was five. Since then, he'd had an affinity with rooms in high places. It certainly didn't help when Martin discovered that he could climb onto the roof and watch rainclouds gathering in the east and planes from the local airfield in the north-east.
The kitchen was the best part of the house though - it was always filled with delicious smells from the cooking of Grandfather's housekeeper. When Martin wasn't having lessons with Grandfather and Mummy or sitting on the roof, he was in the kitchen watching Monsieur Lucien cook. He didn't beg for scraps or get in the way, he just watched. Sometimes he was allowed to chop up the vegetables or whisk eggs, or would practice his atrocious French, and Lucien would smile, correcting him gently.
Simon and Caitlin liked being in the kitchen too, but they didn't have the patience or control to stay still for long, and would dart in and out. Lucien would send the two eldest children outside to pick herbs and shell beans, or to work on their vegetable patch. They often returned with dirty faces and hands, and Lucien would shriek that they were trailing dirt through the house. They brought flowers from the woods as compensation, Caitlin arranging them into crowns and bouquets, placing them through the house and on whichever family member was unfortunate enough to pass her. Martin always had little white daisies in his hair during the summer.
Every Sunday, Grandfather and Mummy would disappear for a few hours. When they returned, they always looked a little sad, Grandfather particularly so. When Martin asked Mummy what was wrong, she replied, "We were visiting grand-mère, mon petit corbeau."
At the time, Martin didn't understand why she called him "little raven". But when you're a child, and the next big bit of excitement in your life is having your favourite pasta, you don't really think about these things. It only makes sense in retrospect.
From that day on, whenever Grandfather returned from seeing Grand-mère, Martin would go up to him and hug him.
Summers were brilliant. While he didn't like getting sweaty and hot, the fact that Martin got to see his Grandfather every day more than made up for the physical discomforts. The mere presence of his grandfather made Martin feel calm, like he could do anything in the world.
"Relax, petit corbeau," said Grandfather, placing a hand on Martin's.
Martin swallowed, loosening his shoulders, and picked up the Swiss Army Knife again, prising the white box open. Inside the plastic there were wires and microchips and other things that Grandfather didn't quite understand, but went along with it anyway. Mummy was today's instructor, teaching the lesson with a quiet tone. She had a stopwatch in her hand, ready to click it when Martin finished his task.
Now that he had the cover off, Martin pulled out a bundle of wires, tracing them to their origins. He picked out a wire, unplugging it. The light flashed red and Martin's face fell. The siren had been disconnected on the device in order not to startle anyone unnecessarily, but the light left in to have some gauge of success.
"Damn," he muttered, pushing the heap away.
It continued to shine obnoxiously at him. Mummy gave him a disappointed look - one he loathed - but he shook his head and rubbed his temples.
"He's only ten," said Grandfather quietly.
"We haven't got much time," replied Mummy.
"I'm sorry," whispered Martin.
He looked rather upset and tugged at a lock of his hair nervously.
"Oh darling, I'm not mad at you."
"There's always tomorrow," she said, stroking his hair. "I think we've done enough for today."
Brightening considerably at this, Martin hopped up to tidy his work, kissed his mother and grandfather on the cheek, and trotted from the study. He made his way upstairs and scrambled onto the roof, lathering his skin with sunscreen once he was up. A Cessna was circling the sky over the airfield. Martin watched the Cessna land and another aeroplane take off, disappearing into a tiny speck in the distance. He stayed up for half an hour, only coming down because he heard his father calling for him.
Yes, yes, I know I said I was going on haitus but saying that and actually doing that are two different things. When the muse is told she's not allowed to do something, she wants to do it. *sighs*
Chapter 6: Childhood III
A fragment that was supposed to slot into the previous chapter but due to data corruption, it went all wonky.
Then Mr Tarr arrived.
Martin judged him to be about ten years Grandfather's junior. He wore a hideous jacket and a cocky attitude, and was sipping at a bottle of beer while seated in Grandfather's chair one afternoon. The confrontation was mostly verbal, Peter spitting out various strings of vicious words in French, German, and Russian (Martin neglected to mention to Douglas that he was trilingual - he'd never gotten the hang of Russian). Most of them went over Ricki's head, having not bothered to fully immerse himself in a language other than English, Mandarin, and bedroom, but he got the general gist of it. A few minutes in, Grandfather had grabbed Mr Tarr by the collar like a naughty puppy and hauled him into his study, the door slamming shut. When they emerged, Mr Tarr looked rather petulant.
"I still can't believe that you boxed my ears, Mr Guillam," he grumbled quietly.
"Yes, well a good boxing every now and then does you good," said Grandfather. "Since you've come all this way, you might as well stay for dinner."
Reluctantly accepting the invitation, Mr Tarr found himself squished adjacent to Grandfather, opposite Mummy, and next to Martin. He looked from one to the other in succession, and looked again to be sure.
"She doesn't look like yours," said Mr Tarr, indicating Mummy. "Yet looking at this little on-"
There was a thud of a foot ramming down on another, and Martin wondered if the adults had started a game of footsies (which was absolutely and positively not allowed at the table). Glares were exchanged, but Mr Tarr was relatively obedient from there in. Later in his life, Martin wished he could simply reach over to box Douglas' ears, shutting him up with a few choice words, and continue on as normal.
When the meal was finished, Grandfather and Mr Tarr retired to the study, the door being locked behind them. Martin caught Simon leaning against the door, trying to hear in. Folding his arms, he stared at Simon, waiting for him to realise he was there. It took a full minute and a half, and Simon bit back a yelp of surprise.
"Sodding hell, Martin!" he hissed. "Nearly scared the living daylights out of me."
"Perhaps if you spent less time eavesdropping on Granfather and more time paying attention to your surroundings, then you would have heard me coming," scolded Martin.
"Oh, stop it with that stealth nonsense. You're not a spy and I don't have to listen to you."
Angrily, Simon sauntered off, going to sulk in his bedroom. It wasn't the first time that Simon had resented his brother for being Grandfather's favourite. Being the eldest, Simon was used to being spoilt and getting all of the new things first. In essence, Simon was demanding and the number one child at home for the rest of the year, but Martin came into the spotlight during the summer. Funnily enough, Caitlyn was content in the middle, going about her business as peacefully as possible. Naturally, Simon wanted to learn how to shoot, because Martin was learning. When the eldest child failed to show aptitude for the weapon, he quickly discarded it, bored and looking to Caitlyn for amusement.
It was just one of the many things that didn't make Simon suitable.
Chapter 7: Safehouse
Martin dug out the keys to the safehouse with only the clear moonlight as his guide. His smuggled passenger had flattened herself into the shadows of the doorway, keeping watch for any unwelcome guests. Finally Martin clicked the lock open, the door swinging, dust rising as they crept inside. He checked all of the safety measures standard to untended safehouses, moving confidently in the dark, leaving Janet to wait in the kitchen. The dust was particularly thick in the upper half of the house - Martin resolved to give the place a good airing in the morning.
Janet was collected and shown to her room, heavy curtains drawn across the windows to stop the dull light escaping. As for himself, Martin did one last lap of the house and locked them inside, taking up position of night-watch in from his window. It was uneventful - nobody had tried to follow them. The tiny street had a few cars parked in it, but according to the PDF he had been given, they all belonged to the locals.
Cousin Janet was the first of five agents Martin was to smuggle out of Madrid following a nasty bust up with the local drugs cartel. The other four would be ready to leave in a month, after they'd shut down their networks and shipped their equipment back to America. Martin had argued that they should have come with Janet, but the American government and the Circus would hear nothing of it.
And so Martin had one very distraught American who desperately needed debriefing and counselling. She was carrying the first round of information that the CIA needed for whatever obscure reason that warranted an eight person team being installed into a small drug dealing circle. It didn't make sense - clearly something larger was going on but Martin wasn't privy to the details. He sighed, leaning into his window, watching the lights of the village twinkle. A small monitor showed the rear of the house, but nothing had appeared there either. Dawn slowly arrived, sky turning purple, then red and orange, before making itself a pale, uninteresting light blue.
My God, he must be tired if he thought the morning blue was boring.
The next door neighbour, one Mrs Tully, came around at seven o'clock to check up on the place.
'So not a completely untended safehouse. Just not occupied,' thought Martin.
"Well, Mr Baxter told me that if the little red light went off on my box here that I was to check up on the house as soon as was decently possible," she said, showing Martin her remote. "I've got a few more houses around the place. It keeps me busy in my retirement years."
She gave Martin a grin and patted his arm.
"It was very good of you to come. Would you like to eat breakfast with us?" Martin asked. "I haven't looked in the cupboard yet, but I'm sure I can make something edible."
"You needn't worry, little bird."
Mrs Tully smiled and put a basket on the kitchen bench. She lifted the napkin on it, revealing some basic staples to keep them going. The fresh bread was the most appealing, warmth and scent rising quickly in the mild morning.
"Thank you. You're a very good hostess," he said. "You were quite the catch in my Grandfather's day, or so I've been led to believe."
"Ooh, I would say that I did the catching. Not like those stuffy typists."
"Of course," chuckled Martin.
"Have you been playing nicely, Mr G?"
At this, Martin tensed and snapped his head up to stare at Mrs Tully. The gentle, caring smile on her face was at odds with the serious look in her eyes. Something horrible was happening, something big, and neither of them knew what it was but they knew it was coming.
"I've been playing as well as I can," Martin replied truthfully."
She raised a hand to caress his cheek and suddenly she looked so very old and weary, tired from years of faithful service - even if she was marked officially as a retiree, she would never be retired. Not from this life-long service. No doubt that she'd be maintaining her safehouses until the day she died, and then there'd be another Mrs Tully to step up to the mark. Or perhaps it would be a Mr Bishop or a Ms Silversmith, who knew.
"You play by your heart, Peter, and you'll always be right. You might not always win, but you'll be true and faithful to the service until the end."
Then Janet (if that was even her real name) came down and the moment broke, Martin shifting away to start slicing the bread, Mrs Tully to wipe off the little dining table.
"How did you sleep, dearest?" enquired Mrs Tully.
Janet shook her messy mop of brown hair, fingercombing it as she said, "It was excellent."
Not much else was said - Martin and Janet were starving, tearing into the soft bread as quickly as they could without being impolite. Mrs Tully soon excused herself and as soon as she left, the two agents made eyecontact and a visual agreement.
They quickly scoffed down the rest of the food, sitting back with a contented sigh at the end of it. Martin dabbed at his mouth with a paper napkin, folded his hands together and leaned in so as to more closely observe her. Unperturbed, Janet mirrored him.
"Mrs Tully will be around for the next few days. You are not going to leave the house until your people get here to bundle you back to America. There is going to be a couple of Babysitters watching you to make sure there's no trouble. Don't hesitate to call me if you're unsure of them - I can confirm their identities. Understood?"
"Good. Now I," Martin checked his watch and yawned, "Am going to have a few hours kip upstairs. Don't kill me in my sleep."
With that, he went off for a few hours of precious sleep time.