Stone The Crows

Synopsis


Tom Bishop knows something is happening. But when The Horror begins, it will be too late for everyone else.

The crows outside Bishop’s flat have destroyed the morning birdsong. A vicious, aggressive black cloud of razor-sharp beaks and talons begin to taunt then attack him, a stark warning that the delicate fabric of daily life in the commonsense world is about to be altered forever.

The woman, the Japanese assassin, is pursuing him through the snaking dark streets of London. No matter how hard he tries to shake her off, she is always there waiting for him like a spectre. Is she some kind of shape-shifter morphing into familiar surroundings, lulling him into some false sense of security before she attacks him again? What does she want? Why him? But she is only a small fragment of this apocalyptic puzzle.

He knew they existed. The Inorganics. Flickering around him, as if on the extreme border of his consciousness, corporeally invisible, Bishop felt their presence as strongly as any worldly creature. It was as if energy had seeped into his existence and acquired a predatory soul. He knew some Inorganics could be harmful, but through his training he could defend himself  so far.

Roulla Mavromati, the enigmatic woman he meets one day on the train, craves his knowledge. But these will not be the lessons found in any university surrounded by the leafy comfort of academia. She will be pushed to the very edge of pleasure and pain to discover they spring from the same source. As her thirst for Heaven and Hell intensifies, Bishop has to find new extremes where the boundaries of flesh and consciousness dissolve. Roulla possesses a power Bishop has never encountered in any woman he has known. Unleashed, the potential could be devastating. As Roulla excels in her studies, Tom Bishop realises this is the woman he was always destined to meet and that these are not merely games of master and slave but a frightening prelude of what is to come.

Then it begins

It is during one of the many conversations with another resident of the house, his philosophical sparring partner, the Red Yank, an out-of-work actor with a passion for classical music, pipes and women. His flat is cluttered with chaotic displays of his theatre and film work, and he shares it with the love of his life, a politically incorrect parrot called Louie.

At first it seems like a simple car accident in the street outside with the two drivers in an angry stand off  maybe an exchange of blame, then insurance details? An axe swings, bullets spray from a gun and a man lies dying on the floor. A hate-fuelled mob floods the neighbourhood charged with insanity and chaos as Bishop and the Red Yank unbelievingly crane their heads out of the window to watch as the police, outnumbered and helpless, disappear beneath a tidal wave of blood and anarchy. It could be the beginnings of a long overdue revolution. But this is what Bishop has always known. The Horror had begun.

The landscape has dramatically changed overnight. Dismembered corpses hang from trees, the dead litter the streets as the crows and rats feast on the banquet. At first it seems that the only living creatures are the crows. Patrolled by armed guards, huge razor wire pens have been constructed. Inside, a new breed of animal is being broken in and conditioned to obey their new masters. Naked and dehumanised, the filthy rich, the ex-rulers of the people and the upper echelon, have become the primary fuel as they pull the new order around in makeshift chariots. Whipped into a pulverising subservience, these scarred and tattered people scream out for a system that has crumbled into the bloody filth and human detritus of stinking London streets.

Animals with reborn primal savagery hunt in packs, tearing apart anything in their path and adding to the growing carnage. The Horror is engulfing everything, not just people. The earth is in revolt.

Tom Bishop and the Red Yank find to their amazement they can walk around without drawing attention to themselves while watching the blasphemy of deconstructed humanity at their leisure. But the crows see them. The crows always see them, and the crows haven’t forgotten.

Then Bishop hears The Voice and learns why things are the way they are. Why they always will be. Why The Horror has to exist.







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2. Chapter Two

CHAPTER TWO

 

 

Which is why Tom Bishop took the underground the next day instead.  If it had not been raining and he had gone by bus, then he would never have met the astonishing Sotiroulla Mavromati.  And that would have been a real pity.  He didn’t believe such things were coincidences.  Coincidence was anyway a rationalist word.  Humanity was now locked into its lifeless mask of rationalism.  The mask covered the greedy face of purulent, violent, emotional insanity.  Rationalism – even in the best of times – was always an egregious form of mendacity.  It was a cover for the basest human behaviour.  It was a sickening pantomime that camouflaged what was really going on.

 

What was really going on?

That was why Tom Bishop was out on the frontier.  At times he looked at himself as an explorer – an astronaut in the literal sense of the word.  Star traveller.  Maybe that was where the truth was to be found.  In space, outer space, the outer world.  The inner world was too plundered by the hostile assaults of the owners of the planet or their servants.  Yet the inner world was the only entrance to the outer world.  For most people the machinery of choice had been torpedoed and smashed.  There was no choice any longer, only the tantalising, maddening illusion of choice.  The more choice you have, the less choice you have.  It was a suffocating paradox.

 

He walked towards the Archway underground station in the same clothes he wore the night before.  Clean but damaged black trousers tucked into calf-length, polished, lace-up boots.  A bomber jacket.  A peaked leather cap.  He had been a resident in the area for fifteen years, but many of his neighbours still thought he was too weird to speak to.  Most of the shopkeepers knew him as well, and he was friendly with a few.  The assistants in the bakery, Mac the greengrocer, one of the black cashiers at the Co-op, the Asian family who ran the S&W Supermarket.  Some of the others he nodded to.  Yet he kept his distance from them all.  Except for the Red Yank who lived in the flat beneath him.  And the oddly functional/dysfunctional family with two children on the ground floor.  The household slowly grew closer together over the years.  He and the Red Yank occasionally speculated that it was meant to be that way.

The so-called coincidences seemed to gather force in recent years.  Something was afoot in the world, and Bishop didn’t think it was very nice. He had the sense that powerful forces were gathering for reasons beyond his comprehension.  Their house on Ptolemy Terrace shimmered in uniqueness, as if it might be a portal to another kind of space.  There was an inexplicable bond between all three flats in the house, and they all appeared to occupy different gates at different levels.

 

Bishop stood on the down escalator and watched the crowd coming up the other side.  His grey eyes moved from one to the other as they passed.  It struck him that they all looked hunted.  Inwardly and outwardly they were fleeing some unnamed terror which held them imprisoned in a deadly reality.  He shook his head, unhappy with the thought.  Maybe they all had faulty circuit boards which needed upgrading by alien masters from time to time.  Could it be possible that there were now only a few real human beings left on the earth?

Well, yes, it was possible – which was what made it so chilling.  Something was deadly wrong.

 

On the platform he glanced up at the electronic board.  First train was a Charing Cross one.  Good.  He could change to the Central Line at Tottenham Court Road instead of Bank.  He leaned back and drew up one foot to prop himself against the concave wall.  A pretty Turkish girl standing nearby looked up at Bishop, frowned, gathered her bags and moved on down the platform.  A man in a suit stared disapprovingly at his boots.

His gaze dropped from the advertisement to the rails of the track.  A scuttling movement caught his eye.  A mouse the colour of a dust-ball flicked in and out of his field of vision.  The animal was so quick it was almost subliminal.  It seemed to move only when it attracted no attention.  Once it detected a distant focus, it would stop.  Dazzling creatures

.

+Suddenly it was night.  Tom Bishop was alone in his bed.  Not asleep.  In a trance, on the frontier.  There was some other creature in his room, and his room was also not-a-room.  The creature moved even quicker than a mouse, so it was nearly impossible to detect it.  Like the mouse it flickered at the borders of consciousness, as if it were teasing him.  He was certain it was one of the inorganics.  But which one?  Being inorganic, they could not be “seen”.  His theory was that they represented leakage from other universes, but he might be wrong.  Or partly right.  They could be a part of the other invasion that seemed to be taking place.  Some of the inorganics could be dangerous, though they had never actually harmed him.  That was because he learned to defend himself as a part of his martial arts training.  He could sense  electrical activity.  It was with these skills that he first detected the inorganics.  They were like bundles of – well, energy.  His eyes saw nothing, yet there was something.  These “somethings” interacted with him, too.  They knew he existed.  They knew who he was.  They played with him, and at times he was certain he was attacked with potentially lethal force.

His head did not move.  His eyes were still closed.  The creature was in the corner opposite the window.  Some of them were small, others were large.  What alarmed Bishop was that this one seemed to be able to adjust its size and power.  In an instant it would grow from almost a point of singularity to the size of a grizzly.  That is what he sensed.  Opposing something large or powerful can be foolish.

 

“I am Tom.  Who are you?”  His lips didn’t move, but the sound reverberated through the flat.

The creature answered by becoming darker and darker – a soaker-up, a sucker-up of light.  This was alarming, so Tom moved quickly, dropping one foot backwards, his body yielding, yet as strong as a suspension spring, ready to counter-attack.  The inorganic sucked itself by him, but Bishop didn’t try to strike out at it.  He let it go, and it was gone.  The next instant the thing was the size of a pinhead, stuck to the ceiling near the moulding, still in the corner.  Or was it another one?  The same one?  It was difficult to tell when the creatures were so strange.

 

He focused on the pinhead.  “I said, ‘I’m Tom.  Who are you?’  Answer!”

Silence.

“Where have you come from?  Why are you here?  What are you?  Speak to me.  We do not need words.”

He stared at the dot hypnotically.  Suddenly and instantaneously the room filled with energy – tingling, rippling, zapping.  Bishop was slammed back into the bed by ten gravities, then let go so that he spun weightlessly, nearly unconscious.  Consciousness rushed back with a dam-burst sense of nausea.  He wanted to throw up everything, including all his internal organs, spill it all out.  Instead, he gathered the force of the nausea and turned it like a beam of white energy into the dark thing which now surrounded and suffocated him.  His body was still spinning as he felt the monster growing larger and angrier, threatening to reduce him to smoke.  Immediately Bishop withdrew his attack and let himself flow with the darkness and anger.  He was pushed upward and outward towards the darkness between the stars in a rush that took his breath away.  He was left to dangle there for a few moments before being returned to his bed.

He opened his eyes.  There was nothing above him but a microdot on the ceiling.+

The mouse flicked out of sight again as the Charing Cross train rushed into the station.

The doors opened.  Bishop stepped into the carriage, shaking his head.  These time lapses were so authentic they were beginning to rattle him.  Everything he imagined was real, including the time, but it took no time from “real” time to imagine it!  A split second, maybe.  But he had just experienced over an hour back in his bed the night before.  In half a second.  Weird.  The barriers were breaking down.

The moment he sat down she was staring at him.  He felt it.  She sat opposite, a striking woman in her mid-thirties.  Her hair was streaky blonde and long, falling off her shoulders.  It was thick, too, and started its heavy growth low in the forehead where it met in a widow’s peak.  Her nose was long and straight, almost delicate.  Her face looked like a structure exposed in close-up on a map of the Mediterranean, reminding him most of Maria Callas.  She wore black boots crossed underneath a maroon wool skirt.  The collar was upturned on her leather jacket which was held together with a tied belt.  And when he looked up, still puzzled by his time travelling, her eyes locked with his.

Whenever human eyes really fix onto another set which illuminates another consciousness, the heart rate increases, alarm bells clang, ranks and rows of thought fall about in disorder.  Much can be transmitted non-vocally, through the eyes alone.  Eyes devour the surrounding face of other eyes in an effort to drain every fragment of meaning before an advance, a retreat, an attack.  Bishop held her eyes despite an overpowering urge to look away, just briefly.  There was some kind of madness in the deep brown of her eyes, despite her attractiveness.  Should he run for his life?

+He could feel the Japanese woman’s eyes.  They weren’t in front but behind him, scorching two holes between his shoulders, just below his neck.  Yet he had not seen her get onto the bus at all.  But she was there alright.  They were on the top deck, and it was going to be hard to get past her without a fight.  He had already changed buses to get try and get rid of her.

 

He had never seen her before in his life when he sat down opposite her on his rounds out to west London.  They were on the lower deck in the first bus.  She stared at him without letting go his eyes.  Squeezed between the oriental folds of her lids were dark, smouldering coals.  Her face was as impassive and cold as stone, but her eyes were the anchors of tractor beams.  Icy fear inched up his spine.  The woman was small, mid-30s with shoulder-length jet black hair.  But the face was a mask.  She wore blood-red lipstick.  Her lips didn’t move.  There was no movement at all, even in the eyes which now held him like a spider holds a wasp before the bite that kills it.  She was dressed in a tan trench coat, belted, tied.  Black gloves.  Ankle boots so fascinating they almost helped break the hold of her eyes.  They were shiny, black, sexy, with a golden zip – yet the heel was not high.  The pointed toe looked strong enough to pierce the back of the bus seat.  The boots were handmade.  Made to kill.

Her eyes still ensnared him as he struggled to control his fear.  Yet he knew – just like he knew his name was Tom Bishop – that she was going to murder him.  Slowly he realised why the eyes held him so tightly.  It was because she was slowly, inevitably possessing him, melting into his consciousness and bringing with her presence an electrically-charged fog of fear.  It was clear she wanted to know where he lived, and he was going to be made to take her back to his flat.  The briefcase clutched by one black leather glove held an electrical dildo.  It was not battery-driven but one that plugged into the mains.  Inside the dildo was an electrical coil to build up the voltage.  Wearing just those shiny boots and nothing else she was going to strap on that dildo and fuck his pale, limp body to climax.  At that point she would turn on the mains electrical switch, and he would die under the waterfall of her laughter.  She was without doubt an assassin.

It was a Number 10 bus, one of the last of the old Routemasters with an open rear platform.  Tom Bishop was aware the bus was slowing down for a traffic light.  It was a perfect opportunity, but he could not break away from the Japanese assassin’s eyes.  They were incredible.  Black and shining like obsidian.  And yet he wanted to travel into that blackness, let himself be enveloped by it, have the lightness sucked out of him by a cruel female with no pity.  Nothing would be left but the gossamer after-image of his soul as it wafted away into the deep emptiness on the other side of the universe.

It was not an effort of will.  An effort of will would have failed.  It was a sudden shearing action, like two tectonic plates sliding together a mile beneath the surface of the earth.  Half of him moved up, the other half moved down.  Instantaneously, her concentration was broken.

 

Tom Bishop took one step, grabbed the vertical rail, and, with a single smooth movement, dropped to the slow-moving road just as he heard the bus begin to pick up speed.  He ran with the bus for a moment before dropping his shoulder and turning.  He dodged past several cars to reach the opposite pavement.  Another bus stop was located – by coincidence? - thirty yards from the junction.  He slowed down to a quick walk before glancing over his shoulder.

She was there.  Standing on the pavement.  Searching for him, her head moving like a turret, black eyes flickering behind the mask.

 

Tom Bishop tried his invisibility trick.  He whipped off his hat, then his bomber jacket before slipping into step with another pedestrian.  A big Irishman with a belly poking through his tweed coat.  Another bus pulled into the stop.  It was all working well for him.  He stepped onto the bus.  As it pulled away he risked another glance backwards.  The Japanese assassin caught his eyes with hers as her red lips turned into a snarl.  Bishop risked a thin smile as he replaced his cap and climbed up the set of stairs.

Now here she was again!  How did she get behind him?  The bus had stopped several times.  Did she run, or was it magic?  Had she turned into a dog?  Or a crow?  Before materialising behind his back?  Answers!  What were the answers?  Bishop couldn’t remember anything so frightening in his life.  The Japanese assassin was good.  The best.  They must really want him out of the picture.

 

Whoever “they” were.  Bishop had no idea.  He suspected his evolving knowledge was making him more obviously a target for those who ran the planet.  Were there sensors in the city streets?  Maybe it was the CCTV cameras which erupted everywhere now like poison mushrooms.  The dead eye at the top of a stalk which just recorded everything that happened.  There was no need for understanding from those single unblinking eyes.  They just recorded things “objectively”.  Later, though, other eyes would scan those “objective” images, at which time they would become subjective, a part of a pattern.  Whose eyes would look through the dead eye, then?  The police?  Or the people who programmed the police?  Or, ultimately, those who programmed the people who watched the police watch through the eyes on stalks?  After all, that’s who “they” were.  Had they picked him out finally?  Had they observed him growing stronger and stronger in his north London flat?  Was it now time to put an end to him?  Maybe it was a kind of flattery that “they” sent a cracking good agent to assassinate him.

He had not moved.  Nor had he tried to turn around and look at her.  Bishop closed his eyes and began to breathe, slowly and evenly.  Don’t let her in again.  Keep her out.  Feel his freedom with its infinity of choices and moves and permutations rippling through the fabric of his existence.  Deep within he knew there was a possibility of defeating her, of course there was.   She was some kind of being, and so was he.  That made them equal.  Nothing is written.  There are no tablets of stone, and religion is as dead as god.

 

He moved suddenly and with unimaginable speed as he spun towards the aisle and propelled himself towards the stairwell.  He didn’t run.  He leapt, and as he leapt he turned his shoulders so that he would hit the stairs with his back and slide, maybe slide with a turning movement so he could find his feet the moment he landed.

Oh, she was there alright.  Just as he imagined her.  And it was his imagination, too, that flickered ahead in time.  It saw – or foresaw – the vicious kick to his solar plexus with the sexy steel-pointed boots.  His forearm struck out towards the leg, just beneath her knee with the power of his whole body behind it.  Barely with the corner of his eye he caught sight of the Japanese assassin upended and being flung towards the floor of the bus as she screamed a blood-freezing kiai.  It all happened in the single instant.  Then he was on his back sliding down the stairwell.  He was nearly on his feet as he hit the bottom.  And – timing again! – the bus was pulling into a stop.  It took three strides to make the exit at the back of the Routemaster, dodging other passengers’ feet as he moved.  To anyone standing at the bus stop Bishop must have looked like a hop, skip and jump contestant, because he bounded from the platform and landed on both bent legs.

 

Where was he?  Next to a park.  Which park?  It looked a bit like Golders Hill, and he dashed through the entrance, turned towards the trees and aimed for a mound of shrubbery.  Diving into it, he rolled onto his back and immediately cleared his mind of all thoughts.  And he breathed, gradually slowing himself down, taking in air with an even breath, holding it for a moment, then expelling it slowly.  He was blanking.  The ground was cold and wet, but it didn’t register.  His breathing gradually became deeper and more even.  His fingers dug into the earth seeking anchors, and he felt its strength surge through him.  He lay on his back, deep in the shrubbery, his eyes closed, exposed.  But he was not exposed.  He was safe.  He knew it.  She couldn’t find him because she couldn’t pick him up, locate him, triangulate him.  He felt her presence, though.  Twice she passed nearby, paused once and only once before hurrying on elsewhere.  Bishop went into a deeper trance.  No one disturbed him, and he could sense that he had landed perfectly and was perfectly concealed.  For that to happen you had to feel the unison of the body with the universe around it.  Body and universe are one, if only you can find the place to experience it.

His consciousness was like the aftermath of a thunderstorm.  It was calm now and quiet, but there was wreckage on the landscape.  Lightning fluttered in the background, and there was no more sound of thunder.  He had to be safe now.  Otherwise she would have already pounced as he lay vulnerable on his back in the shrubbery.  He stretched his legs and felt the waves of relief coursing through his whole body.  He opened his eyes.

A man of about sixty-five was staring down at him.  He was with a woman about the same age.  The man was holding on to a dog’s lead, and the dog was sniffing Bishop’s boot.  He smiled at the man with the dog.

The man turned to the woman, pulling on the lead.  “Barking.”

 

“I blame the social services,” she said to him as the couple walked away with their dog following.  “They should do something about these people on the streets who don’t have proper jobs, no place to go, sleep in parks.  Did you see he winked at you?”

Bishop casually put his hands behind his head and frowned.  No.  He hadn’t winked at all.  The woman had imagined it.  Or she saw something which had not happened.  You could never know.  On the other hand, she could be a scout – some sort of field monitor who would now report to the dead eyes on stalks.  He rolled over and pushed himself upright, carefully looking around, checking every point of the compass.  The old couple were further along, arm in arm.  As his eyes followed them, she turned, saw him looking and urged her husband to hurry on.

 

He stood up and brushed at his jacket, checked his trousers and boots.  Lucky there were no piles of dog shit or he would truly have disgusted himself.  Glancing up at the sky he noticed patches of blue.  Late afternoon, an autumn day.  He would try and make another effort at getting out to west London. Just lay back, relax, have patience.  But keep the eyes open and the coastguard out – watching and anticipating.  The Japanese woman was really scary.  He was certain she didn’t know where he lived.  Which was why she was so determined to follow him home.  He recalled what happened on the first bus with a shudder.  She had him in her grasp.  It was impossible to move or think.  Her merciless fingers probed his consciousness like an expert.  If he had stayed in her trap a minute longer, he would have led her back to his flat like a meeping zombie.  And that pretty much would have been that.  The Red Yank – he had a key - would have discovered his stiff, lifeless body lying on the floor.  The American may have sniffed the air, not realising he was smelling a crisply barbecued arsehole.  An autopsy would never reveal how he had been murdered by electrical discharges through the walls of his rectum.  Heart attack, probably.  That’s what the coroner would write.

Bishop laughed.  Coroner?  He did have illusions of grandeur.  Why bother doing an autopsy on an out of work dole scrounger?  Straight down to the morgue, more likely.  A couple of bored policemen filling out forms.  And that would be the end of a life, his life, one he had fashioned like a musical instrument, one he engaged on multiple levels, a fairytale, a wonderland, a symphonic organ chorale peaking from time to time in glory.  Gloria in excelsis deo.  No, maybe tell the chef to hold the deo.  His explorations informed him that the universe was too dark for gods – at least for the ones in white hats.  There were forces.  Definitely there were forces.  But not gods.  Devils?  Plenty of scope for devils and demon angels.  The problem could be that he had accidentally seeped into the wrong world.  Slithered through one of the seams, maybe, like a silverfish.

 

He looked around him as he walked slowly out of the park.  It was Golders Park after all.  No sign of the Japanese witch.

It took him two changes of buses to get back on course for west London, and the rest of his journey went without incident.  Which is to say only the usual weirdness.  A black woman on the bus read the Sun.  A bit like a Jew reading Mein Kampf, he thought.  Why?  A couple of builders sat talking in London estuary primate grunts.

 

“’Right?”

“Yeh.  ’Right.  Wot she loike?”

“Fuckin’ great..”

“’Right.”

“Wot?”

“Great game…”

“Wot?”

“’Right…”

It was all quick, rapid fire noise, empty of syntax or meaning.  Every word hit the glottis, making the sounds harsh and guttural.  No, they weren’t even primates.  More like dogs barking at each other.  It reminded him of the woman on Holloway Road he heard ordering something at a cheap hamburger joint as he passed by the doorway.

“Go’ a panda.”

 

“Wot?” asked the spotty teenager behind the counter.

“Go’ a panda.”

Bishop remembered looking round for a black and white bear.  A soft toy, maybe.  What was she saying?  Meanwhile the waiter slapped down a hamburger in front of her and asked for two pounds eighty.

Quarter pounder!  That was it!

 

They just didn’t care any longer how tawdry it all was.  No one else seemed to mind.  The builders barked, the fat black woman chewed her gum with an open mouth, turning the pages of the Sun.  Further along two black teenagers wore hundreds of pounds worth of sporting gear with company names branded on every patch of dazzling colour.  Such irony.  These innocent consumers – were they really innocent? – performed vital unpaid advertising space for companies directly responsible for oppression of coloured races.

The bus filled up quickly.  The incident with the assassin threw him right into the rush hour, which was hateful.  More and more slaves crowded on and pressed around him.  Most did not talk.  They just stood holding the straps, vibrating like tuning forks with stress.  Plastic shopping bags rubbed against nylon fibres, creating sparks of static.  Anger and resentment was held scarcely beneath the surface as hungry, fear-maddened sharks searched for the taste of blood.  Violent emotions were held in suspension by force fields of energy.

“Excuse me.”

“Sorry.”

The apologies only served to build the tension to higher pitches.  They weren’t sorry.  They wanted to drive bayonets into each other’s backs or hack at faces with axes.  A young man in a suit – one of the new electronic employees – was eating a Mar’s Bar when he got on at Euston.  Pushing the remains into his mouth, he grabbed the rail.  Bishop looked up at the hand.  Dirty fingernails.  Probably a combination of chocolate, shit, dry skin and last night’s dinner.  Bishop loathed holding onto to straps or rails in buses or the Underground.  They could be sticky or slimy, smeared with sweat, stale sugar, urine, tubercular mucous and a crust of bacteria.  If he had to grab, he always grabbed near the roof.  The young man standing almost on the toes of his clean boots obviously didn’t care.  He was reading a folded-up copy of the Financial Times.  His blue suit was made from some synthetic material that probably didn’t need ironing.  It was made to look like wool, but Bishop was sure it would melt if he burned it.  A pretty young woman with long dark hair sat in a seat opposite him, her gaze screwed into a book.  An office worker, maybe.  She had pretty feet tucked into a nice pair of patent leather shoes with medium heel, a strap across the instep.  In the time it would take to get up from her seat and turn around those feet would be heavy and horny and carrying a body worn out by its duties to wage slavery, mortgage, kids and every consumer product she could afford to stuff into her body, on her body or into the house she would never really “own”.  Her sex life would have a few high points – maybe.  Not many.  She would marry someone who questioned nothing about the world, watched football, drank eight pints and screwed her on Saturday night. 

Everyone on the bus may at some time have been a human being.  It was hard to tell.

*

It was past 11.00pm when Bishop caught the bus home.  He was tired, but his heart was light, and he was very relaxed.  Hussein had recently obtained some of the finest Afghani black he had ever smoked.  It had a lovely smell and smoking it finally dispelled all the tension of the earlier encounter with the Japanese assassin.  He also carried deep in his pocket two fingers of soft, dark opium that smelled of the earth after fresh rain.  That was for the Red Yank who didn’t like hash.  The lump of Afghani black was for the couple on the ground floor.

The bus had just passed Marble Arch when he glanced out of the window and saw her.  Though he was sitting on the top deck, their eyes met and locked as the bus churned slowly through heavy traffic.  He was sure the stony face smiled faintly as the Japanese woman immediately held up her hand for a taxi.  Her other hand still grasped the briefcase.

She had been waiting for him.  Tom Bishop was shaken.  This was serious, he knew that.  She would easily get a taxi.  It was not a weekend.  She knew the route of the No.10, so she could catch up with them, no problem.  He felt his fear multiplying inside like cancer cells and immediately began to breathe evenly to damp it down so he could turn his attention to escape.  After all, he told himself, she wasn’t superhuman – or if she was, she had not demonstrated her powers.  He got away from her once.  He reminded himself that he was a person, she was a person.  So it should be evens or better.

Bishop got up and went downstairs to the lower deck.  It was late, and there were only three other passengers and the conductor.  The conductor was black, and his face was familiar.  Bishop smiled at him.

“Could I ask you to do me a favour?”

The conductor shrugged.  “You could ask.  Not stopping you.”

Bishop explained what he wanted.  The conductor didn’t answer him.  Instead he walked up and spoke for two minutes with the bus driver.  When he came back he nodded.

“Thanks,” Bishop said sincerely.  “Thanks a lot.”

He could see the taxi easily.  It followed them all the way back to Tufnell Park.  There were a couple of cars turning right in front of the bus, so they all had to wait for the traffic coming in the other direction to clear.  The two cars in front turned, but the bus driver held back until the light turned red.  He waited another couple of beats before finally turning.  The cars coming up Tufnell Park Road were beginning to honk at them.  When the big Routemaster finally turned, the taxi was left stranded at the lights.

 

Bishop looked at the conductor and winked.  “Perfect.”

The black man shrugged again.  “You want off next stop?”

“Only if it has to stop.”

But no one pulled the cord, and the bus carried on up the road towards Archway.  He got off opposite the Gardens and hit the road before the bus stopped moving.  He darted across the street without even bothering to look for the taxi, then trotted around to the Terrace, unlocked his door, went straight up the stairs, fetched a two-foot length of heavy, inch-thick electrical cable he kept by the door and returned downstairs to the darkened doorway.  He closed the door behind him and crouched low behind the bins, waiting and watching carefully.  He heard the diesel engine of the taxi before he saw it.  The cab turned into the Gardens from Junction Road and was cruising slowly.  At the top of Ptolemy Terrace, it stopped.  Bishop held his breath.  He could almost feel her eyes searching down the street.  Then the taxi pulled slowly away.  No one got out.  He had lost her.  He was sure of it.  But to be on the safe side, he waited for thirty minutes in the darkness gripping the electrical cable like a sword.  Just in case.+

He was still holding the eyes of the woman sitting opposite him on the Charing Cross train.  Blinking, he looked away.  Could this be another assassin?  It was the first thought that occurred to him.  He never saw the Japanese woman again.  So maybe this was another one.  Different face, same programme.  He felt his own heartbeat in his ears as he slowly returned his eyes to hers.  But it was not just fear that was causing his blood pressure to increase.  There were other things in those eyes.  Passion.  And…hunger.

So Tom Bishop stared back at her.  He held her eyes, and as he held them he began to breathe faster.  Something extraordinary was going to happen.  Every bone in his body screamed at him, and his loins suddenly began to tingle.

“Do you….do you….do you….”  Her voice was uncertain but loud.  She had a distinct accent.  Several of the other passengers seated nearby turned to look at her with curiosity.

“Do you….like to dominate women?” she said finally and explosively.

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