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Deliverance

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When Juliana saw Trudy again, the first thing she did was hold her. She held her and felt her realness.

And then they stood, still clasping the other, and stared out across the water. There were so many questions, so much to answer, but for the time being it was all too vast, and so for now there was silence.

And after that, still in silence, slowly, arm in arm, they found a small bar, lacking customers, undistinguished, but enough.

They ordered coffee but when it arrived neither felt much like drinking it.

Trudy stared into her cup. Juliana stared at her sister. She felt that if she took her eyes off her for an instant, she would disappear again. But she didn’t. The enormity of it all overwhelmed her, and so she said nothing, and just stared.

‘You don’t have to keep looking at me.’ Trudy took a drink, and already Juliana detected the edge of sibling annoyance. She smiled. How easy a return to the familiar seemed.

‘I do. I need to make sure it’s you. It is, isn’t it?’

‘Of course it’s me.’ Trudy glanced up, almost put out. She stared hard back at Juliana and narrowed her eyes. ‘You look different. Your hair …’

Juliana self-consciously tugged a stray lock around her ear. ‘Yeah, well …’

‘What have you been doing?’

She sniffed out a laugh. ‘The last time I saw you …’ The last time she saw her, her sister had been lying dead in a pit of rotting corpses. Juliana took a staggering breath. ‘The last time I saw you, you gave me some reels of film. And that … that is what I’ve been doing.’

Trudy frowned. ‘I don’t remember that.’

Juliana was halted in her thoughts. She tried to sort them, to order them in some way but found herself unable. ‘Never mind.’

The enormity of it all … She licked her chapped lips and closed her eyes with a fractured sigh. ‘I don’t understand. Anything.’

Her sister’s warm, soft hand reached over and clasped hers. Juliana looked up and met with her eyes, the same eyes she’d first stared into as Trudy lay wrapped in a swaddling blanket in hospital. ‘Yes, you do,’ said Trudy. ‘You’re the only one who does. You’re the only one who knows what it’s all about, or at least who remembers what it’s all about.’

Juliana tightened her grip on her sister’s hand. ‘What is it all about, Trudy?’

Trudy held her gaze, almost confused that it wasn’t obvious. ‘Love. It’s all about love, Juliana.’

And for the first time since seeing her sister again, Juliana felt tears brimming.

The TV was on, flickering and fizzing above the bar. It disturbed her. It annoyed her. She glanced up. The relentless staccato of the news theme pounded its way unbidden into her awareness. Juliana lowered her head but the metallic commentary of enforced GNR propaganda callously penetrated the quiet of the bar and her eardrums.

‘The return of a hero. After his brave and extraordinary mission to expose the corruption at the heart of our glorious Reich, Obergruppenführer John Smith today triumphantly returned to New York to tumultuous praise and accolades from all.’

Juliana darted her head up. There he was, stepping off the rocket, uniform crisp, gait determined, face grave.

Grave. Not proud, not relieved, but grave. Something started pricking at her, deep inside, a tugging, tingling wrongness.

She wanted to turn away, she wanted the barman to switch it off, but something compelled her to listen, to watch, to stare.

Trudy looked derisively at the television over her shoulders. ‘Fucking Nazi filth.’

‘Sh.’ Juliana hushed her sister quickly.

‘Having helped prevent war of an unprecedented scale, Obergruppenführer Smith is now regarded as the second most important man in the Reich, Himmler’s right hand man, a glorious achievement for an American who has risen from humble beginnings to become a beacon of pride and salvation for the people of the Greater Nazi Reich.’

Juliana watched as Smith shook hands with his staff. Grave, solemn. Distracted. That was it, distracted. She watched. Her heart was racing, although she didn’t notice.

‘Someone needs to take a bullet to that son-of-a-bitch’s head,’ murmured Trudy, clanking her cup down.

‘Shut up.’

‘What the hell, Juliana? What the hell?’ Trudy’s face twisted in disbelief.

‘I said shut up.’

‘Obergruppenführer Smith wasted no time in hurrying home to his loving wife and family who are sure to treat him to a hero’s welcome of their own. We salute him and all he has achieved to crush our enemies and to keep our great Reich safe.’

There was footage of Smith arriving home, that same home which had grown so familiar to Juliana in recent weeks. A pang of something dashed through her – a longing, a yearning she tried to bury.

But she could not take her eyes off him, off the way he stood, the way he walked, the way he looked. This was not the John Smith she knew. This was not the John Smith who was returning a saviour.

He didn’t pose, he didn’t smile. The door opened and there was Helen and beside her in the doorway their daughters. The three of them there to welcome him in, but their faces as solemn as his. He walked up the path, almost jogging as he reached them. He did not turn for the camera; he walked straight in without looking back and the door was shut.

‘Where’s Thomas?’ muttered Juliana, standing up, still staring at the screen.

‘What?’ asked her sister, confusion making her almost spit the word.

‘Thomas wasn’t there. Where’s Thomas? Where is he?’ Juliana continued muttering to herself, panic rising with bile into her throat.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Something’s wrong. Something’s happened.’

‘Juliana. You’re making no sense. What the hell’s the matter with you?’

‘I have to go back.’

‘What the hell? Back where?’

‘I have to go back.’ She glanced around, unseeing, trying to gather her things, trying to make sense. Something had happened. Something terrible had happened, she knew it.

She rushed around to her sister and hugged her tight before reaching into her bag and handing over as much money as she could spare. ‘Get a job, a room. They’re cheap here. Stay here, lay low. I’ll leave messages at this bar if I can. I’ll sort it out. Stay safe. Don’t do anything, just don’t do anything. I have to go. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I have to go.’

‘You are kidding me. You are fucking kidding me.’

‘Trudy … I’m sorry … trust me … remember what it’s all about.’ And with a final kiss on her sister’s cheek, she rushed from the bar.

 --xxoOoxx--

Juliana caught a bus but got off at the last stop before re-entering the Reich. Then she walked. For hours, through woods and over hills, she walked until she knew she was safe inside. And then, using every ounce of her wits and deception, tucked into the corners of buses and trains, she evaded detection to work her way back to New York City. It took time, and sometimes her hunger made her doubt and her exhaustion made her shudder, but when she was on the outskirts of the city again, in the most unassuming suburb she could find, she found a public telephone.

Her fingers trembled as she dialled; her mind trembled when the staccato voice at the end answered.

‘Command Centre of the Greater Nazi Reich. Your business?’

‘I need to speak to Obergruppenführer Smith.’

‘Who is this?’

‘I need to speak to him, please let me speak to him. It’s a matter of extreme urgency.’

‘I need to know who this is. Nobody is to be put through to the Obergruppenführer before he knows exactly who it is.’

She couldn’t give this person her name, neither her real name nor the name Julia Mills. She wracked her brain and remembered a time, a time when she had sat in fearful silence and waited as he stood above her, tall, indomitable.

‘Tell him I’ve … tell him that I have a broken wing.’

‘You have a broken wing?’

‘Tell him! Please.’

She thought he’d hang up on her. The seconds seemed to tick away and she expected the clunk of the line going down at any moment, but instead: ‘Hold the line.’

She did, relief pouring through her. It did not take long. Only a few moments later the line clicked, clicked again; she was being transferred. Juliana closed her eyes and clutched the receiver, her breath hot and muggy against it.

‘This is Obergruppenführer Smith.’

His voice.

‘John, it’s Julia.’

‘Juliana Crain.’

‘Yes.’

He didn’t say anything else, but she could hear the faint hush of his breath through the earpiece.

‘Where’s Thomas?’ It was the only thing that could be said.

He did not reply.

‘What’s happened? Something’s happened, I know it has.’ She gripped the receiver so hard her knuckles blanched.

‘Where are you, Miss Crain?’

‘Somewhere.’

‘You’re being sought in connection with the abduction of Lucy Collins and the deception and coercion of Henry Collins.’

‘I know.’

‘When they find you, they’ll kill you, under my orders.’

‘Where’s Thomas, John?’

He paused. Silence. Then: ‘I can’t speak.’

‘I left but I’m back in New York.’

‘Why?’

‘Because of Thomas.’

Another pause.

‘Thomas isn’t here.’

A sob rose suddenly from her which she was unable to stifle. And another. She staggered in a breath to control her emotion. He said nothing. She steadied herself, unsure what to say next.

‘You know the meeting house where Adler’s funeral was held?’ His voice was smooth and precise, even now.

‘Yes.’

‘There’s a lake nearby. At the far end the geese gather.’

‘I know where.’

‘4 o’clock Sunday.’

He put the phone down.

 --xxoOoxx--

Juliana dressed down. Scarf, raincoat, head down, always head down. She had nowhere to stay, nowhere to go, her money was running out. She was wearing the same dress she had on the day she’d killed George Dixon, the grey one. She covered it tightly, clutching her coat about her.

She approached the lake and walked to the corner he’d directed.

It was a few minutes before four. There was nobody else about except for an old lady and her beagle. They’d ambled on by the time she reached the bench. She glanced about then sat, barely, forward, tense.

Nobody. It was four o’clock. Still nobody.

She wasn’t sure what she would do. If he didn’t appear she would not last long in the city, she knew. If he did, she may not last long anyway.

‘Miss Crain.’

She spun around. He was there, effortlessly there and real. Not in uniform. He wore a long trench coat with a hat pulled down over his brows. She stood up automatically as if at school.

‘Sit down.’ She did so immediately and hated herself even more. He had a way of compelling compliance from her.

He came and sat beside her. She dared a glance at him. He was tired, his eyes were heavy, his skin drawn.

‘Thomas isn’t here,’ he said, and there was the slightest crack in his voice as if the veneer of control too had cracked.

‘What happened?’

‘Is there a reason why I should tell you, Miss Crain?’

He fixed her with his eyes and she swallowed hard. She had no loyalty to him, did she? No reason for trust to be exchanged between the two of them? Was he expecting a swap, a deal? She had none. So she gave only her humanity.

‘Because I like Thomas … very much. Because I care.’

He studied her some more and she read conflict in him for the first time. The veneer did indeed have cracks. He stared at her, his nostrils flared as he breathed deeply, his eyes wide as he forgot to blink.

But still he gave no response. He leaned forward and studied his hands, rubbing them together distractedly. She focused on them as he did. Long fingers.

That burn inside was too great, the need to know, to discover, to eliminate the uncertainty even if it was too painful.

She sucked in a breath and spoke. ‘I killed a man. I killed a man for Thomas.’

The heavy eyes fixed on hers again, surprise making the pupils widen momentarily.

‘He was my sister’s father and I killed him. George Dixon.’

‘The man in the alley?’

‘Yes.’

He fell silent, turning to stare out over the water as his mind tied together the pieces. ‘Tell me what happened.’

‘He was Resistance. He had a tape, a recording of Thomas and …’

‘And you. My son came to see you at your apartment.’

‘Yes.’

‘I’ve seen it.’

‘You knew? You knew I was aware of Thomas’ condition? But … why … why haven’t you …?’

‘Why are you still alive?’ He turned his head to look at her again. Her silence confirmed his query. ‘I had to go take care of some business elsewhere. And … perhaps … perhaps, Miss Crain … you do care.’ And for a moment, she felt his humanity. Unbidden, a ripple of warm satisfaction crept into her. She tried to shake it off, to fight it.

He continued, ‘How did this man Dixon have a copy of the tape? I was told there was only one.’

‘He wired the building. He was the electrician.’

‘Ah. A lapse. It’s the little chinks which bring us down, Miss Crain. We cannot allow the little chinks to spread.’

‘He was going to use it to expose you. He was going to take it to the Reich and show them that your son, your own son …’ Her voice trailed off. She couldn’t say it out loud as the consequences of it were too tangible.

‘And you shot him for that?’

‘Yes, I shot him. I shot him in the back as he walked away from me.’

Silence gathered again, but her attempts to cast off the curious sense of alignment which was occurring between them were in vain. Her breathing had steadied, her pulse settled. For the first time she had ever known him, she did not feel afraid. A goose pushed itself from the water and flapped its wings, sending ripples out across the lake which landed with gentle lapping splashes on the bank.

‘Where is Thomas?’ she asked softly.

The briefest of pauses.

‘He handed himself into the health authorities two days ago.’

Her heart, which had beat so calmly, stuttered. Her stomach heaved and she brought a hand to her mouth to catch the sob which burst from it.

Juliana, who had learned to cope with grief with powerful tenacity, now felt a wave of sorrow wash over her with such force that could not stop from gasping it out. She was almost ashamed, because the boy’s father sat beside her, calm, controlled. But when she turned to look at him, to find some hope in him, she saw the redness of his own eyes, the dark shadows from sleepless nights, the skin stretched tight with despair.

‘But … what …? No, no, no, please no.’ Her sobs were uncontained.

‘Now that I am so … elevated … he did not want to bring shame to our family. And so he did that.’

‘But … John, please, no, please … Is … No … Is he …?’

‘Is my son dead?’ John Smith sat forward, rubbing his hands together compulsively. ‘I don’t know. I do not know.’

As the immediate response of disbelieving horror passed, a numbness took hold which went beyond reaction. She sat quite still, staring at the ripples, rhythmic, unceasing. She resented their continuity, their simplicity.

‘How long have you known about Thomas’ condition?’ John asked.

‘Since your friend’s funeral. He … he had an episode, but I was there and … with Helen, we were able to hide it.’

She felt him turn to her, heard the surprise in his tone. ‘Helen was aware that you knew?’

‘Yes.’

‘She didn’t tell me.’ Juliana had no answer to that.

Silence fell between them again. One goose pulled itself laboriously from the water and waddled up the bank, ungainly compared to its elegance while on the lake.

‘Why did you collude in the coercion of Henry Collins and the abduction of his wife?’ he asked.

‘I had no choice.’

‘There’s always a choice, Miss Crain.’

‘I needed to get out. I needed to stop the normality of it all.’

‘And that was enough to destroy the lives of people who had only shown you kindness?’

She squeezed her eyes shut. ‘I needed to get out. And then … they threatened me, some members of the Resistance. They tried to kill me. Believe me, I did not want him to get hurt. I don’t want her to get hurt. Where is she? Lucy? Is she safe?’

‘We found her, yes.’

‘Thank God.’

‘We found her in a park, bruised, clothes in tatters. They’d raped her.’

And another wave of emotion crashed over her at the hopelessness of it all. Juliana threw her head back and wailed. ‘There’s no one, no one, no one. Nobody. The only one, the only person I saw a glimmer of true goodness in, of complete innocent decency … was Thomas. And that’s why I did it. That’s why I do it all.’

She stared up at the sky, blurry from her tears, like some washed out French painting she saw in a book once as a child, and she cried.

‘I don’t believe he’s dead. Not yet.’

Immediately, she spun to him. ‘Then you must do something. You must find him and bring him back. You can do that. You’re the most powerful man in the country. You can do anything you want.’ She wanted to grab hold of him, grip him and shake him.

‘I can’t do anything I want. Now, more than ever, I will be watched, I will be scrutinised. If I so much as put one foot wrong…’

‘But you must, you must!’

‘Oh, I will … I will do something, but …’

‘What?’

‘You’ll do it with me.’

‘What?’

‘They take cases … like Thomas … to the border with the neutral zone. That’s where they assess, that’s where they … finalise. I need to go there, but I’m unfamiliar with that area. You know it. You’ll come with me.’

‘But …’

‘I need to sort one or two things before we go. Return to your apartment for a day.’

‘I can’t be seen here any longer. It was madness coming back.’

‘You seem to forget who I am, Miss Crain. I’m the one who issued the warrant for your arrest. I’m the one who can revoke it. We’ll say there was a mistake, that it was another woman talking to Henry Collins, a woman who will be arrested. And your case will be closed.’

‘A woman will be arrested? What woman?’

He pouted and gave the faintest shrug. ‘Does it matter?’

‘But what will happen to her?’

‘She’ll die, of course. And your guilt will die with her.’

‘You can’t do that.’

‘Would you rather it was you?’

She closed her eyes against the reminder of his reality.

He continued, ‘Just now, you mentioned the funeral – my ‘friend’s funeral.’

‘What about it?’

‘Do you know how my friend died?’

She shrugged. ‘His heart, I thought.’

‘I killed him. While he sat quite calmly beside me on the front seat of his car, I killed him.’

She swallowed back the acid forming in her mouth.

‘I poisoned him with the same syringe he’d given me to use on my own son. I came close to doing it, Miss Crain. Killing my son. But instead, I murdered a man who had been a friend of my family’s for many years. And then I gave an oration at his funeral. And do you know, Miss Crain, I have no qualms about that whatsoever. No guilt. None. Does that surprise you?’

She shook her head, holding the tears at bay. ‘No. Nothing surprises me anymore.’

‘That’s right. It doesn’t, does it? And that’s why you’re coming with me.’