Tag Archives: thriller

356. Raven and Ian

Raven and Ian are saying goodbye today over in Serial. I’ll miss them. I read A Writing Life and Serial every day, just like some of you. In my case, it is a final check for typos, but I still feel for my characters.

If you write, and you don’t enjoy reading your own work, what is the point?

Will we see them again? Will Raven find what she is looking for? Will they come together again at the end?

Beats me.

I do know that if they find final happiness, it will be an epilog, not a novel. Settled, happy people make for good lives, but not good stories.

As for Ian, he has that Cameron Davis thing hanging over his head. I have some ideas about that.

In his immediate future, there is a meeting with an old friend of his mentor Joe Dias’, who has need of a troubleshooter. It seems that in 1990, most of the world opposes German reunification, including Bush One. A healed Germany might pose a threat, and a broken Germany provides a lot of opportunities for a lot of different groups of people.

Then there is that legendary (or is it) cache of Luger pistols, built in the last days of the Third Reich and hidden away to arm a future Nazi resurgence. Or to arm any one of several other groups who are after them. And there is that girl, whose brother was imprisoned in East Berlin when Ian was stationed there, years earlier. She shows up again. And there is Sergeant Davenport, Ian’s mentor when he was in Berlin, now in federal prison.

Ian has a lot of backstory to present. Will he get the chance?

Beats me.

I’m willing, but Ian in Berlin (it doesn’t have a title yet) is only one of a dozen stories waiting to be written. Which one I will start next depends on a lot of factors. I’ll let you know.

*          *          *

When I began placing Raven’s Run in Serial, I had intended to publish it independently as an eBook. I had hoped and planned to make an announcement of its publication date in this post. Such publication will probably still happen, but marketing Cyan has taken up so much of my time that it has been moved to the indeterminate future.

Most of the things I have presented in Serial have been moved afterward to Backfile and remain there to be read by anyone who checks in. Even To Go Not Gently is there, and Jandrax will be there later, although both were published years ago.  To Go Not Gently is from an issue of Galaxy that is not almost impossible to find, and Jandrax has so much commentary in the posted version that it has become a virtual how-to, and needs to live a separate life from copies still available in used book stores.

Those presentations which I intend to publish independently, such as Raven’s Run, will to be removed from Serial and not placed in Backfile, but this may not happen immediately.

Jandrax is still there because it takes a lot of time to make the transition. Marking out the virtual chapters is a real pain, as is transferring bits that originally appeared in A Writing Life, but eventually it will be placed en bloc so that it is easier to read. For now it remains as 92 individual posts in Serial and a few more in A Writing Life.

Also for now, Raven’s Run will remain as individual posts in Serial for a while. That way you won’t be stranded if you came in late and are still catching up.

Confusing? Welcome to my life.

Raven’s Run 150

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

She paused, watching me. Then she said, “Would you follow me again, if I left now?”

It had finally come, and all I felt was anger. Grendel was waking, reaching out from his mossy bed, with sleepy eyes, ready to slash, ready to rend. I tried to send him back to his cave, but he wouldn’t go.

Raven sat up straighter and pulled the covers tighter around her.

“No,” I said, “I would not follow you again. Chasing you was humiliating.”

“Ian, I love you.”

“Perhaps.”

“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”

“Plenty hard already.” I pulled up a chair and straddled it. Set my chin on my forearms. Waited. A stone would have felt more than I felt, at that moment. Than I dared to feel. To feel was . . . No!

Not now. Not now. Not now. Not now.

Raven waited. She had seen this face before. Finally the red haze receded, breathing slowed, and I said, “Go ahead.”

“What did they do to you?”

“You know part of it. You won’t be here long enough to hear the rest.”

“Ian, I love you.”

“I know. I knew it before you did.”

She smiled. “Yes, I think you did. Ian, I don’t want to leave you. But I have to.”

I nodded. Nothing I could say would change what was going to happen.

“You are a complete person, in ways even I don’t fully understand. You had to become complete, or die. When I see you like you just were, it scares me. You have so much rage. But it is part of what makes you complete; part of what makes you strong.”

Raven tucked her feet under her, pulled the blanket tighter around her neck. She seemed to become smaller.

“I am not complete, Ian,” she said. “And I want to be. More than anything else, I want to be complete.

“Ian, your father was the central fact of your life. The way he raised you, then abandoned you, made you what you are.”

I shook my head. “He started me toward what I became. But this isn’t about me.”

“It is about you. It’s about both of us,” Raven said, “because my father is also the central fact of my life.”

“That’s ridiculous; Daniel Cabral is one of the most complete men I have ever met . . .”

It got very silent in the room while I choked on the obvious. Raven nodded slowly while I absorbed what she had known since Paris. Finally, she said, “I don’t want to marry Daniel Cabral. I want to become Daniel Cabral. And I can only do that by myself.”

*          *          *

An hour later, the rain started. The electric heater groaned and rattled, but it was no match for the cold that seeped in. I sat in a chair, dressed in sweats with a jacket around my shoulders, staring out past the streaked window to the heaving sea beyond. Raven stayed in the bedroom. The apartment was filled with a sad and gentle silence. The anger had washed away with the rain.

Finally Raven came out to stand beside me, and I pulled her into my lap. She nuzzled her head against my neck and said, “The rains have started. It’s time to leave.”

“Tomorrow.”

She ran her finger down my cheek. I said, “I still love you.”

“And I still love you.”

“But I won’t wait for you.”

“I know.”

“I have to live. I want to live. But when you are ready . . .”

“You can’t promise that. Neither one of us can.”

“No.”

A shift in the wind rattled the windows.

“What’s left for us?”

“Now,” Raven said. “Tonight. And who knows, maybe someday – maybe forever?”

***************

So it ends, for now at least. 

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