Category Archives: Serial

Raven’s Run 149

“The central fact of our lives,” I said, “is that I love you and you love me.”

“Yes, Ian, I love you. I ran away from you because I loved you. I came back to you because I loved you, not out of guilt or duty. Eric was just someone to run away with.”

“I knew that in Paris.”

“How? How did you know?”

“Because compared to you he was an empty vessel. He could never be enough for you.”

After a moment, she said, “That’s why I chose him.”

Tears streaked her face. I touched her arm. She shook her head and could not speak. I pulled her out of the chair into my arms. She was trembling. She raised her wet face to mine; thrust her straining body against mine. Her pain and need were strong; it was no time for words. I carried her to the bedroom.

*          *          *

“Why did you follow me all over Europe?”

The afternoon had gone cloudy. A rectangle of cold, lifeless light hugged the far wall of the bedroom, inching its way minute by minute out of the room. In the long, sleepy silence after love making, Raven had wrapped the sheet around her as the room cooled.

“Because I loved you. But that wasn’t all. I wouldn’t have followed you if you hadn’t been in danger. If you had just left because of Eric or because you didn’t want to be with me, I would have let you go. I almost stopped looking, anyway.”

“When?”

“Venice.”

“Where you made love to Susyn?”

“Yes.”

Mad violet eyes. Raven felt the tremor that shook me and stroked my arm. 

Susyn had lived four days with spine and skull shattered.

Raven shook my arm and said, “Let go!” 

I tried.

“You don’t wake up screaming her name any more,” Raven said.  “Do you still dream about her?”

“Probably. I still wake up in the night, sweating and exhausted. But now the dreams fade before I can remember them.”

“Because of her, you were ready to give up the search?”

“No. I made love to her when I had already decided to give up the search. There is a difference.”

Raven’s fingers touched the scars on my side. She sighed. She said, “Susyn meant a great deal to you, didn’t she?”

“I cared about the person I thought she was. I cared about an illusion.”

“And you made love to her.”

“Yes. That matters. It isn’t something I do lightly.”

“You loved her – or loved what you thought she was?”

“Somewhat.”

“And you still do – somewhat.”

“No.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“Whatever I felt, I felt for a person that never really existed. Whatever I felt, ended when she shot at you. When she shot me.”

Mad violet eyes. The sound of her scream. The spine-shattering, skull-shattering sound of her landing.

“No,” Raven said, drawing closer, “that isn’t so. You don’t fool me. I hope you aren’t trying to fool yourself.”

The light had fled the room. I got up and dressed. Raven reached for the blanket and wrapped it around her. I was aware of waves crashing on the beach below. A storm was brewing somewhere out in the Mediterranean. Soon our retreat would become a cold, gray place.

“She mattered,” I said. “The person I thought she was mattered to me. That’s really all we have anyway – our perceptions. We don’t fall in love with people; we fall in love with what we think they are.”

“Ian, you see things in people that aren’t there. You saw goodness in Susyn. You look at me and see someone you could live the rest of your life with. I am not that person.” final post Monday

Raven’s Run 148

November 10, 1989, Antibes, France

Raven had gone to walk the beach. I let her go alone, sensing that she wanted it that way. I had things to think about anyway.

In mid-August, the Austrian-Hungarian border had opened and all those East Germans had made their way to West Germany by the long way around. I missed it; I was in ICU when it happened.

In late September, more escaping East Germans made their circuitous way to the West German embassy in Prague, and from there to West Germany. I followed their flight in the newspapers, in an outpatient center in Bergen while waiting to find out if I was going to be tried for murder, or released on self-defense.

Then last night, the Berlin wall fell. Just like that. 

It would be years before all of the confusions, clumsiness, and accidents of that event were fully understood, but in today’s newspaper it was clear that it had all happened in one night. There were pictures of young men and women with sledge hammers, breaking down the concrete barriers and walking away with souvenirs.

They built the wall the year I was born, and now it was history. All across eastern Europe, vast changes were taking place, and I was chafing to get in on the action. 

*          *          *

November can be a cruel month, even on the Riviera. By two o’clock a chill wind drove Raven up from the beach. Her bikini was more conservative than the one she had inherited on the Wahini, but not by much, and her smile was radiant as she came up the stairs to the balcony.

I followed her into the apartment and went to our bedroom for clothing. As I passed the mirror, I checked my reflection. Sun and exercise were beginning to put me back together again. My torso and legs were honey colored with new tan. My left side was a mass of jagged, interconnecting scars where the Norwegian doctors had probed for broken rib fragments. There were perfect coins of untanned scar tissue on the front and back of my left thigh where the other bullet had passed cleanly through.

In the kitchen, Raven set out food on the tiny iron table by the picture window. The Mediterranean beyond was that same wine dark sea that Homer had sung of millennia ago. Raven had slipped a shawl around her shoulders. I kissed her, and held her for a long time before we sat down. Later, when the meal was done, she said, “We need to talk.”

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

She patted my hand, and said, “It’ll be okay.”

“Are you going to marry me?”

“Wait. Let’s talk first. Do you remember the note I left you in Paris?”

I would forget my own name before I forgot that note.

Ian,
I am not like most people. You surely know that by now. Every day with you has been an adventure, and I thank you for all of them. But love can be bondage, for a person like me. Lately, I have been afraid that I was falling in love with you, and last night I proved to myself that I was. For someone else, that would be cause for happiness. Not for me. It would spell the end of all I have tried to become. Maybe we will meet again some day, and we will no longer be enthralled with one another. Then I can explain. I can’t explain now. The explanation would also tie me to you. I’m sorry. More sorry than you can ever know.
                                  Raven

“The central fact of our lives,” I said, “is that I love you and you love me.” more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 147

The eye is a sphere about the size of a target’s bullseye. Don’t look at the visible lids and lashes. See the eyeball behind it. See it as the bull of a target.

Sgt. Davenport had told me that, in Germany. His voice echoed in my ears as the sight picture came into focus. There was a tearing jolt that staggered me and the picture wavered. Then the sights settled again and I squeezed the trigger.

I shot the stranger through the right eye with my last bullet. Small, fast, and jacketed, the round went in and out of his skull with little fuss. He staggered and fell, rolled over twice and ended face down, staining the water of the lovely green seep.

I had to get to his revolver, but there was some confusion about how to get there. Something fierce had a Rottweiler grip on my leg. I looked down and saw blood spreading across my thigh. Then the pain hit, and I had to fight it down. I started forward, stumbled, then lunged up and staggered toward where I had seen the revolver fall. I heard another shot and the whip of the bullet as it passed. 

Susyn was there; she had circled beyond us and was standing near the verge of the drop. The revolver was on the grass, closer to her than to me, and she was looking over the sights of Alan’s automatic. Her violet eyes were mad. She would not miss. And she would not fire once. She would empty that cavernous magazine, and every shot would go home.

Then her eyes wavered. Someone else was behind me, moving away, drawing Susyn’s gaze with her as she moved. Someone Susyn hated nearly as much as she hated me. Raven. 

As Susyn’s eyes followed Raven, and the gun muzzle moved, I lunged forward. Susyn twisted the gun back and fired. Something hit me hard and I staggered. Left handed, I slapped the gun aside. 

Right handed, I hit her in the mouth. 

I tried to break her neck with the blow, but most of my strength was running out of bullet holes in my side and leg. She flipped backward and went gracelessly heels over head down the short slope to the brink of the cliff. I went after her, dragged by my own momentum. I dug my heels in and slid to a stop at her feet as she staggered for balance. She had kept hold of the gun. I knocked it upward, and that was all it took to overbalance her again. She fell backward. 

Some things are automatic. Like man overboard drill.

I reached out for her. I grabbed for her flailing hand and I swear I could have caught it. Could have dragged her back, even then. Could have calmed her. Could have convinced her, eventually, that there was nothing she could do for her brothers and no need to die trying to avenge them.

But I saw her eyes. I saw the violet madness in them, and knew that nothing would ever calm them. That as long as she lived, neither Raven nor I would have peace. I saw that madness just as she reached – instinctively – to grab my hand and save herself.

I saw her eyes and closed my fist. 

She reached for a hand no longer open. Her straining fingers brushed my knuckles and she fell away screaming. I saw her eyes when I closed my hand, saw them as she fell away, saw them in my mind all the way down until the clatter and whump told me the fall was over.

Saw them still, when Raven stood over me, wrapping my wounds and stuffing them with torn clothing to keep the life in. Saw them through the endless time of waiting, lying in the mud and grass, through the dimness and cold of a long Norwegian evening while Raven went for help.

See them still, in these fever dreams. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 146

He was alert and ready, unhurried and unworried. If he had known that I only had one bullet left, he would have worried even less.

I bellied forward in the direction Raven had gone. The ground sloped away gently toward the valley below. Someone, probably the gunman, took a shot at the moving grass but I never heard the bullet sing. I crawled into moisture and turned with it, following an inch deep seep until it tumbled over a lip of rock, and I tumbled over with it. I sensed motion behind me, rolled over, and brought the Tokarev up. 

It was Raven.

She was crouched down behind the low bank, with her muddy knees driven deep into the loam. She wore loose, light pants and shirt, some kind of silk jogging outfit, with a windbreaker and a band to tie back her hair. She had muddy elbows and knees, and a dark smear of mud across her cheek. Her eyes were wide with fear.

Then puzzlement. Then the fear disappeared as she recognized me.

She gave a little yelp and fell forward into my arms. She was breathing heavily, perhaps crying a little. She buried her face in my neck, holding me tightly. I could feel her body trembling, and then she pressed her face upward and I had the sweet taste of her mouth on mine.

I pushed her off, although it was the last thing I wanted to do. She shook her head in wonder and said, “Where did you come from. Why . . . ; what . . .”

I grinned at her and shook my head. “Later. Now get down.”

Susyn and her dark companion were out there somewhere, and I had only one bullet. Things didn’t look good, but the electric charge that had passed between Raven and me was worth more than adrenaline. There was no way I was going to die now. I had more important things to do.

Before sticking my head up, I listened hard and heard a strange, penetrating sound. Susyn’s voice. Susyn’s death lament for her brother, the fourth and last, all dead by violence. Two of them dead at my hands.

I looked over the grassy rim. Susyn was kneeling with Alan’s lax and bloody head against her breast, rocking back and forth, crying out with a high and rhythmic keening. It set my hair on end. The dark man was crouched beside her, unmoved. If I had had two bullets, I would have spent one on him.

I slid back and motioned to Raven to follow. We went downslope on knees and elbows, but within three hundred meters, the seep tumbled over the verge of a grassy cliff. It was a steep, green and lovely drop, but the grass and mosses did not disguise the granite beneath. We could go no further in that direction.

I looked back. Susyn and her man were coming our way, walking fast and separating as they came. Susyn’s path was carrying her away to the left. The Levantine was coming directly toward us.

I eased down. He had been looking to his left. A quick movement on my part would have caught his eye. Raven put her hand on my ankle and I shook my head. I motioned her back upstream and whispered, “Get twenty feet away and draw his attention the moment you see him.”

She moved away without protest. I checked the Tokarev briefly. Seconds. I had only seconds to wait – seconds to live or die.

I heard Raven draw a sharp breath as the stranger came into sight. He turned toward her, raising his revolver, but in that same moment he had sensed the trap and begun to turn back downslope. I raised the Tokarev two handed, in classic Weaver stance, and brought the sights to bear on his face. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 145

Chapter Thirty-eight

In that brief moment, Raven had not seen me, and she did not look back again. I stripped off my windbreaker and tossed it aside as I ran, pulled out the Tokarev and racked back the slide. 

The new man was faster than Susyn. He sprinted ahead, closing the gap on Raven as I closed on Susyn. Raven was moving well, and he was only marginally faster. Perhaps she would make it to Flam before he caught her. We could not be far above the village now.

Then Raven rounded a curve and pulled up, faltered, and headed off to her left across the grass. The stranger turned with her and then I saw why. Skinny Alan had come up from below to block her path.

The grass was knee deep in the fullness of it’s summer growth. Raven was having hard going. Her pursuer was gaining fast, and Skinny Alan was moving up at a diagonal to cut her off. He looked over his shoulder to call to Susyn and saw me. He almost fell over his own feet in his hurry to straighten up and change direction. Susyn looked over her shoulder and I was right there. I smashed into her as I passed, knocking her rolling across the meadow. Alan was pulling out a pistol. I raised the Tokarev, thought better of it, and took a forward roll. I had no bullets to waste on a moving target. Alan sprayed the air, triggering one of those double stacked wonder-nines as fast as he could pull the trigger. It was one step below a submachine gun. I went flat, hugging the earth and scuttling sideways.

Then silence. Alan would be reloading. The grass was half a meter high, and I could not see him without raising my head. I shoved the Tokarev in front of me and gently parted the grass, moving it from the roots with my left hand. I saw blue cloth, probably Alan’s shirt. He moved out of my sight to my left and I slid carefully to the right.

There was motion behind me and Alan fired again. I heard Susyn’s scream of fright and anger; then I jerked upright and fired once into Alan. He spun on me, raising his pistol and I had to fire again, taking an extra fraction of a second to line up the sights. He jerked mightily, firing again into the air, and fell back into the grass.

Susyn screamed in rage and I dove for the ground as she fired in my direction.

The long summer grass saved my life. Susyn’s bullets were like steel bees as I scuttled away, belly flat. The air smelled of decaying vegetation, that sweet mushroom smell of a wild, wet meadow. After a hundred feet of wild scrambling, I chanced a backward look. Susyn was kneeling beside Alan, and the stranger she had brought with her was watching impassively, waiting for orders. The revolver in his hand looked businesslike. He glanced up, then back to Susyn. He was alert and ready, unhurried and unworried. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 144

Road and train were briefly parallel here and ahead on the footpath was a familiar figure. I leaned out to look closer and the train turned away so that I had to rush to the opposite window.

It was Raven, alone, walking slowly downhill.

I bolted for the door. The train was moving swiftly now, on this brief bit of level ground. The wind snatched at the door as I threw it open. Fence posts were snapping by thirty feet away and the train had taken another turn away from the footpath, bearing toward the opposite side of the valley. Stone rip rap clothed the slope of the railroad bed; jagged, bowling ball sized chunks of Norwegian granite. I could not land on those and survive. Ahead I could see a spot where the sward came right up to the tracks. Behind me were the excited voices of the other passengers as they realized what I was about to do.

A hand caught at my shoulder and I slammed it against the frame of the door with a violent sideways motion of my body. The hand withdrew and I dived forward, twisting to take the fall rolling.

The train receded into the distance, never slowing its stately pace. There were heads stuck out of the windows looking back. I waved to them as the train passed out of sight, spat out grass and mud, and stood up. Everything still seemed connected and working. The Tokarev was still in place.

The train had carried me a half mile from the footpath before I could jump. Susyn and her new man were just passing the place where the train track and path had diverged. They did not see me, which was good. With only three bullets, stealth was in order. 

By the time I got back to the path they were half a mile ahead of me and they had seen Raven. Susyn was gesturing ahead. Her new man nodded, then looked around and saw me, but gave no sign of recognition. There was no reason that he should know me. Yet.

They hurried ahead, and I hurried to follow. 

Could I get Susyn to back off? None of her original reasons for attacking still existed, but James had died. However ill and foolishly begun, this confrontation could not simply end. There had been too much fear, too much betrayal, and too much blood.

Raven turned around with her hands on her hips and her head cocked back, staring up at the moss green ascendancy of the fjord walls. And froze in that gesture as she saw Susyn and her man purposefully advancing on her. She spun on her heels and ran.

They ran after her. I ran after them. more tomorrow

Raven’s Run 143

The scenery was glorious. Huge waterfalls tumbled down either side of the valley. Once we dropped away from Myrdal, the grass in the sheltered fjord was heavy and green. The train groaned and clattered against its brakes on the steep grade. There was a switchback trail that paralleled the tracks. Hikers coming up from below were moving slowly, sweating, and ignoring the train. Those strolling down from Myrdol waved as we passed them. The train passengers waved back.

I watched the hikers faces, looking for Raven, or Susyn, or Alan. The train plunged into a tunnel of willows and the footpath turned away from the track. There were no familiar faces on board the coach. Of course Susyn could have recruited more help, and I wouldn’t know them. With a sudden change of light, the train burst out from the willow screen. The sun was low in the western sky, just above the rim of the fjord, bathing the valley with warm, golden light. I could see the footpath again, but no one there was familiar. Path and train track converged and the train rumbled across a grade crossing, then rolled westward across the valley. The path continued eastward out of sight.

I moved into the next coach. Most of the windows were open. Tourists were hanging out, taking pictures. The wind tugged at my windbreaker. I put my hands in my pockets to keep it from riding up and revealing the Tokarev stuck in the waistband at the small of my back.

The train ground to a halt. Here, the melting snow pack had produced a powerful waterfall that fell almost onto the tracks. Everyone on board piled out and there was much posing and picture taking. I wandered around and got a look at the rest of the passengers. The train whistle blew and everyone got back on. The various waterfall fed streams had come together to form a narrow, rapid river. The train passed over it, and over the footpath. This happened several more times, and each time there were hikers to look at. Sometimes the footpath was on one side of the valley and the train was on the other, then the reverse. Sometimes the footpath and the train were side by side for a stretch.

We were over half way through the descent to the sea when I saw Susyn, walking down with someone I did not know. He had dark hair and skin. Latino or Levantine? I had only a glimpse before we were past and a turn cut them off, but I knew with an absolute certainty that it was her.

Should I stop them and reason with her? I should not. Even if Cameron Davis could call her off, I couldn’t. They would only look upon me as a target of opportunity, and I was in no position to win a fire fight. I didn’t have enough bullets, and I wasn’t sure that Senator Cabral had enough clout to keep me out of a Norwegian prison.

And even if I convinced her, where was Alan? more tomorrow