THE bell of doom jangles.
My past has caught up with me. I knew it would, one day. They’re not in uniform, but there’s no mistaking the type. Huge frames, heads like bullets covered with coir matting, and muscles nature never designed.
It doesn’t matter how far you run, your past is forever snapping at your heels.
I grimace and hold out my hands, wrists together. “You got me, guys.”
The one with a mouth like Captain Scarlett steps forward, his hand out. “Corporal Slowinski. Pleased to meet you, Sir.”
“Ma’am,” I say. “My name’s Madge, now.”
His hand slowly drops. I feel sorry for him. He didn’t choose this mission, after all. He’s just doing his duty, as I did a long time ago.
The Desperate Dan lookalike pauses, wondering how to proceed, then takes a deep breath. “Madge,” he says, chewing it around a bit. “Pleased to meet you. Finally. We’ve been all over, searching.”
“I wasn’t exactly hiding,” I say. “Just keeping my head below that metaphysical parapet.”
“Do you think we’re the enemy?”
His question is sincere. I sigh.
“I know you think you’re not. But life’s not that simple, is it? Tell me: what’s black and white and red all over?”
“The army. No shades of grey, and everyone’s blood is red, whatever side you’re on.”
There’s a long pause, then.
“How are you keeping?” Jones asks.
They’ve obviously looked at my record. It reads: went bonkers, kicked out of the army for medical reasons.
“I’m fine,” I say. “New land, new life.”
Ah, Dan has a sense of humour, despite that chin. “Are you going to get to the point?”
There’s a clearing of throats.
“On behalf of the United States of America we would like to...”
“Yeah, yeah, etetera, etcetera. Just deal out the dirty.”
“Madge, don’t knock that we’re trying to thank you.”
That was a reprimand.
“You did your duty and more, and we’d be very pleased if you would accept your country’s small gesture of gratitude.”
He takes a small box out of his pocket and opens it nervously. I hold out my hand. I get that he’d find it uncomfortable to pin a valour medal on a soldier wearing six inch heels and a frock decorated with daisies. I open the box and check it out.
“Pretty,” I say.
I’d walked away from this once before, and they’d come halfway round the globe to make sure I took it. I’m kinda proud and sad at the same time.
He adds: “There’s also a pension gathering dust back home. Even if you don’t want the ‘blood money’ as you called it, maybe you could find it a better home than a bank?”
I think of all the sad, desperate tales my clients unload daily. Where would I start?
Then that damned bell goes jingle jangle again, and here they are, crowding through the door, gawping. The grapevine must have been on overtime because they’re wearing smiles like I’ve never seen before.
I’m not sure if it’s because I got a medal, or relief that the weirdo who’s been living in their midst for ten years isn’t a murderer after all. Spice is fine between the pages of a novel, but not in your own backyard.
They crack open champagne, and soon a party is in full swing.
I fold my arms and watch, as I’ve always watched, from the outside.
It’s just as well they don’t know all my dark secrets.