Now, I admit that the epilogue wasn't much of an epilogue. In the six months that followed, overseas sales of the Javelin surface-to-air missile increased by a little over forty per cent. I could swear Solomon was responsible for that one. For the stunted epilogue, obviously, not the missile sales.
What the public wants when it is offered an epilogue is big on the sweeping strings and the vaselined lenses and the second-slowest-motion-available.
I could offer something of the sort, I suppose. I might tell you, dear readers all and sundry, that Ronnie and I are very happy and also rather engaged to be married, and that in our free time we hand-rear lambkins and paint charming little abstract watercolours which we sell at a modest markup at the Cork Street gallery which she still works at. Or somesuch nonsense.
Or I could tell you that I now carve out a very comfortable profit indeed as endorser of Javelin missiles. "But let's hear it from Thomas Lang, who picked a superhelicopter out of the Casablanca sky with our new and improved fast-acting Javelin with no added preservatives."
And then I'd apologize for the appalling crock of merde I just fed you lot, and perhaps offer a cigarette or a pint by way of further apology. Point is, I'm neither of those. And neither is Ronnie. Well, obviously I mean that she isn't an engaged rearer of lambkins or a missile spokesman. Woman. Spokesperson. She is a woman, I should stress. (And while on the subject of things she is, she's also still employed by the gallery and still lovely.)
What am I, then? Frustrated, is one. Only moderately well-off is another. Owner of a no longer new or unbattered Kawasaki ZZR 1100 is a third. I'm also being watched.
I'm being watched by O'Neal, who isn't too happy about the arrangement but all too happy to let me know what I nuisance I am. He is keeping an eye on me in the way I imagine they must keep eyes on operatives who have gone a bit rogue. This means the occasional Carl (though one of British make, so I imagine he's a Jack or an Oliver) lurking in unpredictable bursts rather than a glossy Christmas card from O'Neal and the lads at the MOD. All this suggests he's a bit worried about me, despite his overdone attempts at weariness and scorn.
But, you ask so rightly, isn't Solomon still keeping a watchful eye on you? So why the Carls (or Jacks or Olivers)? And why is O'Neal so worried?
Because I am an assassination target.
Therefore, Solomon is keeping an eye on me and following me like a shark trailing a fishing boat. So are several Carls. While I'm used to Solomon's mostly unobtrusive and largely very pleasant company with a side of surveillance, I have to say the extra eyes in addition to his are beginning to grate a bit. So there have been a few slip-ups. I did regrettably have to remodel the nose of one of the Carls, but you must understand that it wasn't simply because I was tired of him following me. He was hindering me from working. I'd been doing a rare spell of work, acting as bodyguard to a bookie (who suffered from an inflated sense of his own importance rather than some bona fide stalking or firm conviction thereof), something which this Carl clearly saw as an transgression. Of what, I can't say. Some rearranged nasal cartilage later, he grudgingly admitted that he had possibly been somewhat too fast off the mark, hazard of the job, dodgy eyes etc. etc. to be dealt with post-haste, no hard feelings. It appears I have something of a knack for forming amicable relationships with some of the people I lightly batter (but never fry) in the line of my questionable duties. Take Rayner, for example. Not only did he arrange for me to have the Javelin that so mysteriously fell onto the back of the lorry leaving the Colchester depot, he also sends me a card at Christmas.
But, you ask, bewildered still, who is trying to kill you?
I'd tell you if I knew. But I don't, and have to rely on guessing. My money's on one of Rusty's old and/or unhinged army buddies. I wouldn't be surprised if, for some reason, one or several of them harboured something of a grudge against me for shooting ole Russers out of the sky, even though O'Neal and his men had shook all hands to be shaken and lined all palms to be lined with gold, and taken drinks and nodded to seal the agreement never to talk about this. Of course I don't harbour any illusions that that song and dance would be the end of that messy affair. Of course not. You don't live as long as I do and in as interesting times without slipping off your rose-tinted glasses and replacing them with army-grade mirrored aviators.
To their credit, I didn't know I was targeted until I was literally in their cross-hairs. I was enjoying a quiet lunchtime breakfast when I suddenly became aware of a red dot clumsily tottering toward me. It skimmed the tabletop quite fast, then slid over the back of my hand like a very slippery thing and finally disappeared. Well, disappeared from my field of vision, that is. When I looked at my reflection in the window, I noted that I appeared to have grown a large glowing growth on my neck.
I sat there, trying very much to seem entirely unaware of the fact that someone armed and concealed had decided to mark me as dead meat, though I suspect I looked like I'd just had the tendons in my neck secretly replaced with titanium rods. Five minutes might have passed. Fifty minutes might have passed. Then, a van roared past the window and took the little laser spot with it. Obviously not literally, but it vanished all the same.
I sat at my table for another ten minutes, trying to unscramble my scrambled eggs while sneaking glances at the window to see if the little tell-tale dot had returned. When it remained absent, I decided it was safe to leave.
I returned to my flat by a very circuitous route. I may in fact have accidentally walked in the shape of some ancient sigil. As I walked, a nursery rhyme marched unbidden into the sitting room of my mind and proceeded to shimmy around showing bits of itself while treading mud into the carpet.
To ring the bells of London town...
Bullseyes and targets, say the bells of St. Margaret's
Bullseyes and targets. Well, I suppose I should have been grateful that he didn't go for the next one on the list. Brickbats and tiles, if I misremember correctly. I think we can agree on the fact that a solitary touchy-feely laser sight ghosting with great gentleness over your cheek and neck is preferable to the inescapable solidity of a brickbat hurtling toward said cheek.
Of course, I can't help but feel slightly worried that it is the next step in his plan. First he lets me know he has a target, i.e. yours truly, then he loads up with the heavy artillery. I laid out this plan to Solomon when I saw him later. He looked at me as he is wont to do, then gave a small precise sigh.
"Has he previously approached you with oranges and lemons, master?"
"Has he what?"
"The rhyme. The rhyme before bullseyes and targets is oranges and lemons. You could even claim it's the most famous part of the rhyme. Why would he start in the middle?"
I pondered this. "No. He hasn't. And no, he wouldn't."
"Then the likelihood of him attempting to follow this rhyme is small. Minute."
That was a month ago. There has been nothing to suggest any sort of further stalking, lurking or other suspect activity ending in -ing.
Until last night. You see, last night someone deposited two bricks on my doorstep, one balanced on top of the other so as to form a crude T. I doubt yobs around these parts are the kind which engage in sudden nocturnal acts of unprovoked installation art, so that leaves one logical explanation.
Brickbats and tiles. Hey ho.
- The End -