Categories
love poetry women

to crack the clay.

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to crack the clay.

On solid ground
But standing on the edge
A sense that the fall
Would be wild and sweet
Fast and you’d hear the sigh
Of joy over the volume of the crash
In that rubble, revealed by the scars
You’d find yourself,
Bright and shining,
Show me the woman encased
In the clay of goodness,
Let me test that fire
With the quiet call to obey
To let me take care of you

Categories
books erotica women writing

My Books

My hope is you’ve enjoyed the stories and poems here and you’re interested in more of my work.

If you’re looking for where you can read my books, here are the links. I value your support and in return you’ll get stories which will entertain and engage you as a reader. If you’re a reviewer, get in touch and I will be happy to offer a copy of these in exchange for a review across the internet.

My first book

As Dahlia Bliss

Categories
beauty love poetry sex women

As you walk across the room.

Photo by Andre Moura on Pexels.com

The sight of you

In motion

Giving voice

To the divine

Feminine

Calling through

The bland cream of

Culture

To the primal masculine

Stripping me of empty

Words filling the void

With animal laughter

The curves

Draw out the divine drug

Of lust and like the lupine tides

Of full moon I change in

Your light into something

Dark and intent

Inspired to

the warring roiling

Clash of bodies

My breath sticking

Napalm in my lungs

At the sight of you

Would you be shocked

At the admission

A confession,  offered

Without guilt or shame

The chains that tether

A man to the rock

Of propriety

And I would tear

The clothes from you

Not to spoil

But to be witness

To the fullest terrifying

Beauty of you

Surrendered to pleasure

My eyes are full

And I am quiet because

I am not thirsty

But hungry

Categories
love lust poetry sex women

A violent imagination

Photo by Aidan Roof on Pexels.com


I sit, at a desk
Walk through a park
Smiling to passersby
In my head though,
Oh god, in my head
You’re beautifully dishevelled
Glowing with sweat,
Raised up, put on a pedestal,
Glistening with filth
You taste so delightful in my head today
Darling, I respect you
Which is why I’m man enough
To give you what you need.
And as the hours pass
You never cease to amaze me
Made divine by my imagination
But the promise of you
Hasn’t disappointed me yet

Categories
beauty love lust poetry women

Even your silences

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Speak to me
You hide but I have
Seen you too well
Not to spot the camouflage
Which eludes others
But I have
A need, salt and sweet
To see you
From every angle
To taste every drop
And to have you scream
My name with joy
Step back afterwards
Into velvet shadow
Rest until your need
Draws you out
Towards me

A star falling

To regain its

Fire once again

Categories
fiction short fiction women

Final Girl

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1. 

Doctor Harrison took his spectacles off and gazed at me.

‘I’m so sorry, Sidney.’

Terminal.

A year.

Six months, otherwise. 

Six months.

The receptionist was kind.  Sat in the front seat, tears streaming and fists beating against the dashboard until it was time to drive home made sense for me.  

Home. The gates were plate steel, the kind you see in those post-apocalypse movies where a group of kind people gather to remain safe from the monsters or the bandits. Here, it’s just me. Everything gets locked up, then a check on the cameras and drive the rest of the way.  

It is not paranoia if someone is really after you.

2.

The humming, cramped joy of Sidney King sang in Dominic’s blood how fillings in your teeth could pick up radio signals. Breathing in cold, stale air whilst a greasy cheap pizza sat in the pit of his stomach. The basement window needed fixing, and it rattled hard whenever the wind picked up. It was all so far away as he sat there, looking for any missed details. The photographs, the blog posts that reported sightings of her and the maps that he had pushed pins into, building up a pattern of her movements. Looking at  photographs.

 Aching at how beautiful she was. 

The doorbell rang. Getting up the stairs was difficult. He had been training, running late at night until his vision blurred and his knees throbbed like rotten teeth so he was sore all the time.  Dominic snatched the package from the courier and went back downstairs.   

He tore open the box. A greedy child on their birthday. His fingers shook, as he took slow, deliberate care to lift away the lid of the case. 

A closed knife is a thing of terrible, beautiful potential.

This one was special, sacred to me because we have ordered it for one purpose.

Her.

He unclasped it slowly and held the blade up to the light. A tooled steel blade with a serrated edge that caught the light and made it like butterfly wings. He imagined the vibration that would travel through his arm as it went into her. A hot, seething burst of arousal exploded through him like an abscess and his other hand was rooting in my sweatpants, plucking and tugging until he was squirting all over my fingers. Grunting how he would stick her and fuck her and stick her again. Imagining her breathy pleas, her cries and how she would twitch as he did it. Being the one who got to her. Stabbing her then, running the edge across her throat, watching the blood pour down her front, soaking and glueing her clothes to her chest. 

Each day made the anticipation twist in him like a need. The mask was on the table, watching, goading him when he grew doubtful. He looked into the eyeholes as he wiped himself off. 

It was like looking in a mirror and seeing his soul looking back at him.  

3.

My security measures were everywhere. The digging and carpentry kept me trim. I learned how to weld at the community college, working amongst thick fingered boys who kept looking at me as though I were famous. 

 I said I was in a sex tape.

I was sixteen when we drove up to Lake Brattigan. Eight of us, all friends and one of them who hoped that the weekend might make us more than friends. Ethan. 

I was the only one who made it out alive. 

That first time. 

The car broke down on the way home from graduation and we stopped at the farmhouse. The idiot son, stinking of animal fat and draped in treated skins, swinging the chainsaw and hooting as he ran at me. My friends hung on hooks inside his workshop. I slumped his parents over in their parlour after I had shot them both. They allowed him his interests and were awfully keen for me to stay and provide them with a grandchild to carry on the family tradition.   

After the second time, I wondered if they cursed me. 

By the third or fourth time, it got old. 

I showered when I got indoors. There, safe beneath the water, I wept for myself but by the time I got out, my eyes were dry and my head was clear. 

Pills would be good. I had enough of them. A lifetime of near-misses left injuries that meant surgeries, complications and prescriptions. The scars you can see don’t hurt as much as the ones that you cannot.  

I had guns. I could take or leave the second amendment but experience had made me comfortable to have them and not needing them.  

 People talk about me. There are two subreddits and hashtags.  Someone telling the world that they will rape and murder me is not as bad as someone not telling the world that they will rape and murder me. 

The serial killers with their masks and puritan victim selection had fans. Decapitating, disembowelling and burning horny teenagers draws a certain crowd and those people congregated online. 

They draw in others like flies and soon they’re all talking to one another. 

Goading. Encouraging. Setting challenges. 

With me as the grand prize. 

The fan boys rarely did more than posture.  Living and dying alone was not so bad, but it should be my decision.

I could decide how much pain I would allow myself to experience. 

I took a Percocet for maintenance. A dress rehearsal for the last performance, but it meant that I could walk around without crying. 

I made a peanut butter and banana sandwich, ate half at the counter and looked out into the woods. My decision afforded me a measure of peace. 

Which was when the alarm screamed. 

4.

You don’t find my place by accident. It’s fenced off, signposted and I’ve got friends at the lodge who warn people off. They tell people an eccentric millionaire lives there who likes to shoot first and then shoot later.  I checked the panel and saw that it was close to the house. I slipped on the Kevlar vest and pulled the 12-gauge from the locker. I laced up my boots and tucked my hair up under a hat before I locked the house up. The shutters dropped as I walked down the hill. 

The punji sticks protruded through his right thigh and left shoulder; the points were visible through the material of his overalls where he had fallen onto them. His mask, an omelette with eyeholes, hung from around his neck.

They’re always so young, with fat cheeks and patchy beards. He’s screaming for me to get him out of here and I stand at the edge of the pit with the shotgun aimed right at him. 

‘Did you miss the sign at the gate? The one that says ‘no visitors’.’

He talks so fast that his words come out as a twitching, high-pitched rush. He begged me to help him.  

‘I’m supposed to see that knife on your hip and that fucking awful mask, and what? Think you’re here to deliver fucking pizza?’

He tried to raise his head. There was a wet, ripping sound, and he sobbed.

“Please. Help me out, it really fucking hurts.”

I stepped towards the edge of the pit, lowered the shotgun and looked down on him.

“I don’t think you know what pain is.”

He started sobbing again. He brought his right hand across his face, and a slight stab of pity went through me. 

“Please, I’m sorry, just help me out and I’ll just go. I will, I promise.”

He had his phone strapped to his right arm. I saw the canister on his hip where he had rolled onto one side. Pepper spray. Blinding me so he could control me. My throat grew tight with anger. I breathed in the warm, afternoon air, caught the wet penny scent of his blood on the wind. He looked like a fat, blue grub, writhing under a magnifying glass. 

‘Hello,’ I said. 

“What? Please, no, it wasn’t like that.” he said. 

I raised the barrel of the 12-gauge and rested my finger against the trigger. 

I saw the phone strapped to his upper arm and asked him to toss it to me. He had a pathetic smile on his face. That maybe this was my goodness, my mercy coming out and that he had hope of getting out. 

He told me what he would do to me. My finger grazed the trigger. I blinked away tears, but I kept my breathing under control. I kept tasting the air, hoping for something good to clear away his stink. 

“Wow, lot of effort there,” I said. 

He wept. A squeeze of the trigger would shred the parts he wanted to stick into me. A surge of anger thundered through me.

“Toss me the knife and the phone. I’ll give helping you some thought.”

He threw them to me. It made him cry out to do it, but I enjoyed that. When this twisted little boy told me what he had planned to do, it allowed me some measure of perspective. I had dealt with monsters, and boys pretending to be monsters. 

He started screaming when I filmed him. I paid for good coverage out here and he had saved all his account details, considerate of him. When a man is dying, it was gauche to ask for his password. 

Another six months of this shit. Growing weaker, vomiting and losing weight, losing my hair. Bedridden until some mewling fuck with skimmed milk in his veins came and fucked me with a bread knife because I had the dubious honour of surviving horrible events.

Pills and a quick exit. No one would discover me out here. If I put the shutters down, it would be a neat tomb for me. 

“Repeat what you just said. It’s the only way you’re getting out of here alive.”

I stared at him and it was not so hard to hear it again. It made for good video, and he understood his role, writhing and pleading with me, giving his name, telling me where he was and most of it was audible. 

A search online would fill out the rest of the details. 

I had two choices that were immediate. I played back the video, and the third came to me, an unexpected and final idea that had gravity and a measure of comfort within it. 

I attached the GPS information to the video and sent it to the subreddit. 

I recorded a second video. He had lapsed into unconsciousness and I stood with his sagging body in the background, made for a solid, dramatic backdrop. 

If this sack of shit is the best of you, then you’re wasting your time. He came here to do to me what you all dream of doing and now he’s at the bottom of a pit, begging for his life.  I’ve attached my location to this video. 

If you get to me, I will scream, I will beg just as good as you imagined me doing. Don’t be a pussy.

 Come and get me. 

I repeated my address and sent it. I slipped his phone into the long pocket on my thigh. I would add it to the collection. 

He woke up. 

“Will you help me now? Please, I’ve done what you asked.”

I slipped the knife into my pocket. 

“The knife is lovely. Once I know it’s sent, I must dispose of the phone. It’s not like anyone will miss you,”

He cried with so much effort that it forced the sticks deeper into his bicep and the meat of his back. 

“Oh please, help me, these really fucking hurt.”

I picked up the 12-gauge and held it in my hands.

“Oh, that’s not the worst of it. I treated those sticks with something special..”

“They’re painted with dogshit. It makes a wound all nice and infected. So, even if I pulled you out, your blood is turning to sludge, anyway.  At least here, you’ll get an enjoyable view of the sky.”

He wept until he could not breathe. I left him to it. 

 A surge of strength added momentum to my steps back to the house. There was work to do. 

I wondered if it would be cool to make a mask for the occasion. 

Categories
beauty love poetry sex women

As you walk across the room.

Photo by Andre Moura on Pexels.com

The sight of you

In motion

Giving voice

To the divine

Feminine

Calling through

The bland cream of

Culture

To the primal masculine

Stripping me of empty

Words filling the void

With animal laughter

The curves

Draw out the divine drug

Of lust and like the lupine tides

Of full moon I change in

Your light into something

Dark and intent

Inspired to

the warring roiling

Clash of bodies

My breath sticking

Napalm in my lungs

At the sight of you

Would you be shocked

At the admission

A confession,  offered

Without guilt or shame

The chains that tether

A man to the rock

Of propriety

And I would tear

The clothes from you

Not to spoil

But to be witness

To the fullest terrifying

Beauty of you

Surrendered to pleasure

My eyes are full

And I am quiet because

I am not thirsty

But hungry

Categories
beauty love lust poetry women

Even your silences

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Speak to me
You hide but I have
Seen you too well
Not to spot the camouflage
Which eludes others
But I have
A need, salt and sweet
To see you
From every angle
To taste every drop
And to have you scream
My name with joy
Step back afterwards
Into velvet shadow
Rest until your need
Draws you out
Towards me

A star falling

To regain its

Fire once again

Categories
love lust poetry sex women

A violent imagination

Photo by Aidan Roof on Pexels.com


I sit, at a desk
Walk through a park
Smiling to passersby
In my head though,
Oh god, in my head
You’re beautifully dishevelled
Glowing with sweat,
Raised up, put on a pedestal,
Glistening with filth
You taste so delightful in my head today
Darling, I respect you
Which is why I’m man enough
To give you what you need.
And as the hours pass
You never cease to amaze me
Made divine by my imagination
But the promise of you
Hasn’t disappointed me yet

Categories
fiction short fiction

The Truth Of His Heart

1.
My reflection betrayed nothing in the pocket mirror, checking one last check before he arrived. It was my armour, my war paint. It was only eight a.m and already the heat had plucked at my reserve, gathering damp patches at the small of my back and underarms. He welcomed it, rubbing his bearded cheek against me when we made love. The thought tested me like the tropical heat.

Mateo’s car pulled up across the street, and one of his men came out and opened it. He stood up, adjusted the peak of his cap and glanced around him before he strode over whilst his man shut the door and stood by the side of the car. Mateo wore a light tan suit and white shirt, tailored to mask the bulge of the holster under his jacket. A man’s posture cannot hide who he is.  A lightness came to his steps as he drew closer. His face, a stoic mask, broke into a warm, gentle smile when he saw me. 

‘Cara Mia.’ he said. 

My hands went to his face, fingers running through his beard before our lips met. He smelled of fresh coffee and coconut oil. 

His eyes narrowed as he ran his fingers against my left wrist.I shuddered, betraying myself with a simple touch. I gave a slight cry, and his hand encircled my wrist. It excited and appalled me how small I felt in his presence. Not diminished but small, nestled against his broad, furred chest as he slept with his palm on my breast. During the night, he would reach between my thighs and cup me without stirring. 

‘Tell me.’ he said. 

He was sometimes clumsy. Once, he entertained purchasing a motorcycle and my appalled rejection of the idea wounded him, but he hid it well. There were moments of grace with him, but he’d also drop glasses and miss spots where he shaved his head. Yet, for his endearing clumsiness and earnestness, it would have been stupid to assume it was a weakness. 

‘Please sit down.’ 

A waiter approached. Mateo ordered tea for me and an espresso for him. When the waiter left, his attention returned patient but implacable. It was difficult to breathe. He leaned forward, took my hand and turned it over, pressed his fingers to my wrist and looked at me. 

‘You’re agitated but trying to control it. With some success, I might add, Esther.’ he said. 

It was difficult to meet his gaze. My news would change things between us, forever. There was the possibility it meant my never leaving this cafe, but there was a gentle light in his eyes with me. If my betrayal dimmed it, then it would justify his wrath. 

There were stories about him. He would never speak of his work beyond generalities. 

‘To speak of my work is to relive it.’ he said. 

Each breath burned in my chest. The heat needled me, and when the waiter brought our order, Mateo poured me a glass of ice water from the carafe between us. He spoke through his actions, and the care, the attention he paid me came home to roost as we sat there. 

Waiting for me to talk to him.

‘At three a.m, covert action teams will mount simultaneous strikes against tactical targets all over the city.’ 

Mateo picked up his espresso and looked at me over the rims of his spectacles, nodded for me to go on. 

I shuddered, revolted and relieved as I picked up my glass and gulped down half in one go. My mouth was arid and sore, but the water soothed me enough to continue. There was a faint mineral taste to it, but it was pleasant. A first act of the new government was investment in infink nowrastructure, private funding in return for preferential tax breaks for future industrial sites. 

The barracks at Costa Verde. 
The Presidential Palace. 
Casa De Secretos. 

It was our name for it. He grimaced and closed his eyes as he set his cup down. He retrieved a cigarette case and lit one with a lighter which had FUCK COMMUNISM painted on it. It had been his father’s; he told me. A veteran of Vietnam before he met his wife, Mateo’s mother and they moved to her homeland, away from a country spoiled and venal. 

‘Cara Mia. This news troubles me.’ 

He exhaled a slow plume of smoke and took my hand across the table. 

‘But it is not unexpected.’ he said. 

He squeezed my fingers, showing strength without violence. 

‘What do you mean?’

He took off his spectacles and peered into my eyes. 

‘Tell me what you see there, Esther. I know it is your real first name. They have advised you to mix them up, but it’s a tough habit to break because you shared concerns about a loss of identity to Dr Snyder back in April.’ 

It took an impressive deal of control to remain calm. 
The relief of confession had masked a seething nest of revelations, a misinterpretation of the situation which terrified me. 

‘Do you know my mother’s profession, Esther?’ he said

She was a veterinarian.

Mateo nodded as he unbuttoned his jacket. 

‘She taught me lessons which ran parallel with my father’s instructions. Their beliefs informed my perspectives on the world. A place free from the tyranny of kings and clergy, free and prosperous with the grace to stop and enjoy the fruits of its labours. ‘
He paused to smooth his beard with his fingertips, a gesture somewhere between contemplation and grooming.

‘Which was always my goal. My mother’s lesson was in understanding the principles of animal husbandry. My innovation was to apply it as a macro-political exercise. Neutering when necessary, keeping the organism healthy and secure from all threats, foreign and domestic.’ 

He smiled, but it did not reach his eyes.  

I am not a monster. My aim is to take my country to the pinnacle of its achievements, then disappear and enjoy it in the time left. I’ve done things to protect it and have prepared for such an event as this.
My thighs and stomach were taut with the effort to rein in my feelings. His voice was quiet, a little above a smooth whisper, but he had my attention without effort. 

‘You don’t have the penetration into our operation, Mateo. We’ve been able to establish supply chains, flown in military advisers to train the militia.’ I said. 
My voice sounded sharp, a smashed glass at a wake which drew everyone’s attention.  

‘Because, Esther, I allowed you to.’ he said

He pointed up at the sky.

‘That is C-7623, piloted on this shift by Private Cole Wilkins, 115th Engineers of Terre Haute. He enjoys his work, but he’s hoping to launch missiles when the opportunity arises. Some of his reports concern me, Esther, but you won’t have seen them.’ 

My disbelief fell on me like a roll of quarters swung against the back of my head. He smiled and gestured around him. 

‘I planned against the worst scenarios. I imagined the ultimate enemy and how my country could survive it. Weak men have taken your country, but they will not take mine.’

2. 

The first time I learned about Mateo Costas was at an event-shielded briefing before we flew into the country. 
They committed nothing to paper, no recording devices to ensure freedom of discussion and opinion. 

‘This is the guy. Mateo Costa.’
‘American father.’
‘Native Mother. Attended Oxford University on a scholarship then signed up for the US Navy followed by SEAL training which is where it got interesting,’ Ellis said. 

Ellis was on secondment from MI5, with the florid build of someone punished for every second in a country more than a few degrees above a tepid English spring. People wondered if this was a punishment for a previous failure, but he was an encyclopedia of the country’s politics and economy. He clapped his hands together. 

‘Costas took part in two SEAL missions. Notable ones. The rescue of Captain Phillips and then Operation Neptune Spear. Which is?’ 

I put my hand up.

‘Bin Laden.’ 

Ellis shot me with finger guns before he clapped his hands together. 

‘Now, he’s too dignified to confirm this, which means when it leaks, he looks stoic and humble. Now he returns home, joins the Crypteia and in three years, he’s running the entire operation.’ 

King, a former Delta Force operator who made the move into intelligence, put his hand up. 

‘I’ve read Keller’s report from last year, and he claims it was a committee which voted on supply requests.’ he said. 

Ellis winked at him.

‘ He requested investigatory powers, went through whatever police and career military survived the coup and trained them into his own unit. On paper, they’re civil servants or clerks, but they had commissariat authority. He turned it into a Tardis.’

‘Bigger on the inside than the outside.’ I said.

Ellis chuckled and shot me a wink. 

‘Democratic Socialism got a turn at the bat, Mateo came back after the coup, created his own little squad of trained and well-armed soldiers then -‘ he gestured to all of us.    

King leaned forwards before addressing the room.

‘He brings down the central committee in one night, held office for one year and then resigned before open elections in return for his old post with the Crypteia.’ he said. 

‘They disbanded it before he took office and didn’t exist on record at all. Like this meeting.’ I said. 

Ellis whistled under his breath and opened a bottle of water. His short-sleeved shirt hung from his thin shoulders like a damp flag. 

‘So, he de-stabilised a socialist government, didn’t stay in office long enough to steal anything.  Now he runs the secret service of a capitalist democratic government. It runs in secret, without oversight, and although the deputy director thinks his altruism is neutered, I think he presents a clear and present danger to our long-term economic interests.’ 

I put my hand up. 

‘Aren’t they our buds now?’ I said. 

Ellis chuckled and scratched the back of his neck. 

‘Facebook moved their HQ down here. Bezos has been here six times in the last year and there’s been fawning articles in the Washington Post about it. But they’re also not responding to the left about the atrocity claims, or the president’s comments about diversity. So there are optics to consider and the economic impact.’ he said. 

We were talking about overthrowing a country because it did a better job of being American than America did. 
Ellis worked in Psychological Operations, had embedded himself into the country’s social media and combed through metadata to establish a profile of a target as intimate and complete as a splendid marriage. 

‘ We’ve got candidates who favour a better deal with us.’ King said.

Ellis shook his head. 

‘He’s a righteous guy, tough and plain-spoken, but he’s not the man behind the wheel. Mr Costas, I believe and so does the Director, is the linchpin of his country’s government and development.’
What I said next, in a room shielded from observation or betrayal, came back to haunt me as I sat there looking into Mateo’s eyes, waiting to have my instinct and experience proved wrong. 

‘Then he’d need eliminating alongside whatever strategic sites you’ve accounted for at the same time.’ I said. 

Ellis frowned and ran the tip of his tongue against the philtrum of his upper lip. 

‘How do you suggest we do that, Esther?’ he said. 

I knew. 

3.

We met at a bookstore. It was one place where he spent his free time, casual and unrecognised. His recommendation of Olive Kitteridge surprised me, but he said his grandparents had the same stoicism of character and came from the book’s setting. He introduced himself without announcing his position and invited me to join him for coffee. 

When we met, his presence was electrifying. He had power without being stunted or calcified by it. It didn’t sit well with what they had told me about the efforts he took to keep his country from returning to a socialist government.  Professional concerns drove my actions, then later it came to stymie them. Ellis had told me, in his capacity as my handler, to accept dinner if he offered. Which he did. He did not instruct me to sleep with him, which was my choice. Perfect men bored me, and Mateo’s flaws were as embraceable as the rest of him. It did not blind me to the dangers of loving such a man, but there were reasons beyond the torrid rush of attraction.  Now, I saw the myth of him, the secret policeman who kept things in order. 

‘Were you sent to kill me?’ he said. 

I shook my head. 

‘No, I was to gather information on you. Relay it back for analysis.’ 

He grinned.

‘Was Ellis your handler?’ he said. 

A jolt of fear and surprise shot through me. He passed me the cigarette case and I took one. He lit it for me and watched me until I nodded.

‘How did you know his name?’ I said. 

‘He was from British Intelligence. Seconded to your CIA after eight years with psychological operations and a further five working for Deputy Director Prentiss. Wallace came to you from Delta Force. He has a fiancee. Her name is Shonda, and she’s eight weeks pregnant, but he doesn’t know yet.; 

His voice was soft, slow and conversational but he scattered his knowledge like he was sowing salt to kill the soil of my reality. 

‘What about me?’ I said.

He knew what connected the quinceanera of Don Rezillos niece and the attendant case of food poisoning caused by mal carne with the supply chains of the insurgents fighting along the coast.   His men were shadows, which rose and dragged people into the darkness. They disappeared, or had deaths explained by choice or random fate. I didn’t know which one faced me, but I hoped it would be quick. 

He asked the waiter to bring us more drinks. He looked at me and continued. 

‘When I arrived, infant mortality had gone up three hundred percent. People were shooting at farmers to steal their cattle. Their professors became their oppressors and turned my home into a fiefdom. My country, Esther, neutered and corrupted by those who believed they knew best. All under the baleful gaze of a government who saw everything and enriched themselves first,’ he said. 

Passion rose within him, lending his tone of voice a gruff thickness I found interesting. 

‘Why wouldn’t I seek to do something about it?  I’d read enough of the literature to speak the language, repeat the narrative and make myself useful without appearing to hold any personal ambitions. What surprised me was the level of incompetence in charge. None of them saw me coming until it was too late.’  

‘My country is not a place where children scream in the night. Our immigration controls, our trade deals are to protect and advance our interests. We always played ball with your country, Esther, but we grew too good at it, didn’t we?’ 

‘Much like Hussein, Gadaffi, Jung Un, we’ll be the latest enemy. I pulled the trigger on your country’s greatest enemies and when I did actual work; they sent you to betray me.’

I went to shake my head, but he raised his hand and I looked down at the table, ashamed and afraid. 

‘It doesn’t matter, cara mia. I accounted for such things. A man can never give the truth of his heart to his woman, not if he wants her to stay.’ he said. 

‘You never told me anything.’ 

He smiled and nodded. 

‘To discuss it is to relive it. My villa is a Faraday cage and no, I was frank about not discussing work with you. I didn’t give you the exact reason.’ 

I asked for another cigarette. He offered it and then lit another for himself. My eyes fell on the lighter and he smiled. 

‘What we must discuss is where you stand. Or rather, sit.’ 

My eyelids were heavy. The curls of grey smoke rose from the end of the cigarette. It was fragile and beautiful before it dissipated. A beam of sunlight struck through the carafe, fracturing the light into a rainbow of colours. The world took a deep, slow breath and my thoughts slowed down to a crawl. 

‘You’ve drugged me.’ I said.

Intoxication mauled the words as they left my mouth. Mateo plucked the cigarette from my fingers and placed his hands over mine. 

‘Cara Mia, you cannot choose between your heart and your duty. It is enthralling to practice tradecraft and strategy in matters of the heart. I honour our arrangement.’ he said. 

His voice was soft, gruff and melancholic as someone took my arms and helped me out of the chair as my legs went out from under me. 

4.

My tongue was a bloated slug in the cave of my mouth. Sunlight whipped across my eyes. I brought my hand up, felt the give of the lounger beneath me and sat up. The sea was blue, elegant and primal as I heard the crash of the waves. I stood up, saw I was on a platform overlooking the South Pacific, and turned to look at the villa. 

It was elegant,  with white adobe walls and warm wood beneath my feet. A small table had a carafe of ice water, a glass wrapped in a napkin and a small padded envelope. I looked down at myself, still wearing my clothes from the morning. I poured a glass of water and opened the envelope. A single sheet of paper, my phone and a small envelope. I unfolded the paper and read the note. 

You have a choice. 

Your phone is as you left it. If you switch it on, you will reconnect with your team and involve yourself in the outcome. By the time you read this, they have decided things, one way or the other, but it is your choice. I would not stop you from leaving. 

My other suggestion is in the second envelope.  

Neither of these choices is simple. You will see when you open the second envelope. 

There were other choices, but my heart spoke its truth, and so I give you space to consider how you would like to spend the rest of your life. 

Mateo.

I  turned the second envelope over. It was thick, and I felt a blunt edge at the ball of my thumb before I set it down. My phone sat there, its black screen capturing the planes of my face, like it were something emerging from the void, pale and sculpted. 

It was a passport, proof of citizenship, with my name and face. A credit card, in my name and a ring made from tropical wood, finished to a high shine. 

This is how I will deal with you. 

I looked out towards the ocean, playing with the ring but unable to avoid glancing at the phone. My head throbbed with the aftereffects of the sedative, but the dilemma had dug claws into my scalp. 

He knew everything and spared me. I knew anyone else in the field would not be so fortunate. The militia were gathering eight miles from here, and as I picked up the phone, I heard the sharp rush of missiles. 

I tossed the phone into the ocean. I had slipped the ring onto my finger and it rested there, rich and dark against the skin. A perfect fit, but it was no surprise. I watched the sea for a minute before the booming roar of artillery made me go inside. 

It was cool and dark inside. There was the click of the front door and I closed my eyes when Mateo said my name. 

‘No, not anymore.’ I said.