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Telling Tales

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For once, it's not the light that wakes him.

Michael hasn't been this grateful for bed since he was a high school student, in that all-too-brief gap between childhood obstinence and teenage rebellion when sleep was a relief rather than a punishment. He might still be in that rebellious phase, full of late-night beer and pizza on the streets of Rome, if none of this had ever happened, if he'd never been snatched from one of those innocent-seeming streets, bruised and bloodied, and spent days snatching naps in train cars and hospital rooms.

Oh, and what a bed. It's not as if he needs an Ottoman-era mansion over his head, or what feels like a million-dollar mattress beneath him, but once he'd stripped the clothes off his tired body and fallen under silky sheets and fleece blankets, it had been impossible to resist a long, deep sleep.

And that, unfortunately, had never been part of the plan at all.

Over the past couple of weeks, his usual assumption of good faith toward everyone has been cut and hacked away by circumstance, leaving him with the healthy grounding of suspicion his dad had gently instilled at an early age.

"Look over there," he'd said while Michael slurped chocolate milk in a Prague café. "What do you think?"

Michael had learned to love their games, and he'd studied the man carefully. "Um. He's on his lunch break like you. He's got a paper bag. And he's got sneakers on, so he doesn't work in an office…"

Even though he'd been overjoyed to see Martin at first, even though every word his uncle said had been not only completely believable but also utterly sincere, he'd had plenty of time on the trip to Istanbul to turn everything over in his mind, strangely aided by all his recollections of those Dirk Casey books he'd eagerly devoured in the library where his mom couldn't see him.

He hadn't really let himself believe that Martin could be lying, partly because Martin has been a trustworthy figure in his life since he was born, and not a little because if he was lying, what could Michael possibly do about it? But he'd let himself pretend to be the little boy again, playing games with his dad. He'd mentally deduced Martin's approximate suit measurements, and checked the closets. He'd remembered those awful cigars he'd once stupidly tried to taste, and compared his memory with the ones stocked in the lounge.

He'd hoped at every turn to be proven wrong, or for his mom just to appear and hug him and tell him everything was going to be okay. And then everything would be clear and safe and normal again. But there are too many tiny details that don’t add up to anything good, including Oksana fainting at the sight of Martin’s “business associate” with the scarred face.

He could have run, or tried to phone Mary in the US again, or confronted Martin directly. But he's read Dirk Casey. He knows that, however tough the coffee guy was, Martin is the real deal, even taking into account twenty years of aging and a little fictional embellishment.

So he'd let Oksana go to bed, and come up with his own plan to keep them alive. One that really did not involve falling asleep in Martin's room. But he wakes up sleepy and confused to a hand stroking his forehead, and thinks just for a moment that everything had been one very bad dream.

"Michael… Is everything all right, son?"

It's been more than ten years since Martin last hugged him goodnight and tucked him in, pretending to object to childish demands for a story. But he still smells the same. Still feels warm and comforting, like a little piece of home in a foreign land.

Michael blinks against the light. "Hm? Oh, yeah…" There was a reason… There was something…

"You feel a little feverish."

"Mm, maybe got sunburn." It's high summer outside, but here the air conditioning is cool and the bed perfectly snug even with layers of blankets. "Was waiting for you."

"In my bed?" Martin at least sounds amused, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. "Naked?"

Oh. He dimly remembers leaving a heap of clothes on the floor.

"Have you been drinking?"

Michael rubs his eyes. "Not much…" He can see Martin clearly now: same crisp shirt and slacks he's been wearing all day, same kind eyes and understanding expression Michael's seen since Martin was his favorite babysitter. "What time is it?"

"A little past eleven. I had a dinner meeting… They eat late on the Mediterranean. I thought you'd be asleep... in your own room."

"You have a nice bed." Michael drags his arm out from under layers and sleepily plays with Martin's fingers. No wedding ring. Never a wedding ring. "Didn't think you'd be this late."

Martin gives his hand a squeeze, his voice low and comforting as though he’s calming down a crying little boy after a nightmare, just the way he had night after night, just the way he had on the plane back from Vienna when Michael's dreams were still full of seared flesh and fire.

"I know you've had a rough couple of weeks. You must have a lot on your mind. But it'll all be over soon. And if you want to sleep here tonight…"

Michael tightens his grip, summons all his nerve, and looks up into Martin's eyes: "I want you. I want you inside me, Martin."

He can feel the slap in his mind, backhanded across his cheek. But Martin never raises his hand. There’s a moment of hesitation before he speaks that might even offer a flicker of hope. "Michael, you're tired. You're hurt. You've been drinking. Just go back to sleep. I'll find another room, and we can talk in the morning if you still want…"

"I'm not drunk." His mom sometimes tells him he must've got his quiet stubbornness from his dad. He suspects he really got it from both his parents. In spades. "You're gay, aren't you?"

He doubts that Martin ever really flinches, but he blinks at least. "Did your mother tell you that?"

"She didn't tell me anything. The New York Times did. I mean, it's not like they outed you exactly, but who else is a 'confirmed bachelor' these days?" Michael levers himself up on an elbow, fully awake now, covers falling from his chest. "Do you have a boyfriend?"

Martin doesn't look at him, untwines their fingers. "No."

"Why not?"

A sigh. "I travel too much. Research. Book tours. And I need peace and quiet when I'm writing…" The lie is flat and they both know it. Martin gives him a hint of a smile. "Really, though? The CIA just loves people with trust issues out the… wazoo."

Michael grins. "You can say 'ass', you know. I'm not eight anymore."

"No. You're not."

"Don't you get lonely?" He touches his palm to Martin's thigh experimentally. It isn't shoved away.

"I'm busy…” Martin hesitates. “There are always bars. The Company taught me how to pick up almost anyone, if I really want them. Gets harder as you get older, though. I missed you and your mom and dad more than anyone. It's been good to see you, Michael. Even though I wish we'd met each other again under better circumstances."

For a moment, all pretense falls away. "You said you'd always be around. I didn't see you for ten years."

"I know. I'm sorry. Your mother…"

"Told you to get out." He remembers all the confused, turbulent emotions of the day. He remembers crying for his dead father, for his trusted godfather being thrown out of the house and his life, for his normally stoic mother in tears…

"She was upset. She blamed me for your dad's death. I thought she'd come round, but she never did."

"And were you…" Michael clears his throat. "I mean, did you have anything to do with Dad…?"

Martin lets out a breath. "You three were the best friends and only family I've ever had. Why would I do anything to hurt any of you?"

His smile might not quite be genuine, but there's the glimmer of tears in his eyes too, the way there had been when Michael's mom had screamed at him to leave ten years ago. Michael had wanted to hug him then and tell him everything would be okay. He's ten years older now, and still feels the same way.

"I should let you sleep," Martin says.

"No, stay." He tries to keep the whining child out of his voice. "I mean… I'd feel better with you here. Remember when you used to tell me stories? There was this big old book, and we finally finished all of them, all the fairytales, but I still wanted a story. So you just made something up."

He can feel the exact second Martin lets himself relax, and then he's toeing off his shoes, swinging his legs up onto the bed to lie back next to Michael. "It wasn't exactly… Let's just say it was heavily inspired by true events."

"I kind of wondered why Prince Charming suddenly had a gun."

"He was a very forward-thinking prince," Martin chuckles, putting an arm around Michael as he snuggles closer. "You were my very first captive audience, you know. Even if you did constantly fall asleep in the middle."

He could fall asleep now, perfectly warm and content, listening to Martin's heartbeat… And perhaps that would be enough. But he keeps one eye open, playing with the buttons of Martin's shirt instead. "When I read the books I remembered some things you told me. I mean, the names were different, but I knew I'd heard the story before."

Martin's watching every move his hand makes. "I'm glad you liked them. I hoped you would."

"I was about thirteen when I read the first one… You know, I thought I liked them so much because of all the girls. Probably the first real sex scenes I'd ever read. I never even saw any porn magazines. You know my mom. She can probably smell contraband. But I read that stuff and... It took me till the third book to figure out that it wasn't the girls I wanted. It was Dirk Casey. And he didn't really want the girls either, did he?"

Three buttons undone, and his heart is pounding in his chest.

"I'm not Dirk Casey, Michael." Martin's breathing isn't quite so steady and comforting now.

Michael swallows and keeps going. "The only person Dirk ever loved or trusted was his nephew. Skinny guy, brown hair, smart… And if you paid attention you realized he wasn't really Dirk's nephew. Not by blood. Just like you're not really my uncle…"

Martin's skin is smooth and hot and incredibly real under his shirt. Michael strokes his hand downwards.

"I used to read that Kremlin scene over and over, and I'd flip the book so I could look at the author photo…" His fingers brush Martin's belt buckle.

"Michael…"

"You looked so fucking hot in that suit…" His hand cups Martin's erection just long enough to get a sense of the size of him before Martin twists violently away, pinning Michael's wrist to the bed.

There's probably a gun in the bedside cabinet. Never mind that, Martin could probably snap both of his wrists and crush his windpipe in seconds. If he wanted to.

He could also leave. But he's still here, still holding onto Michael, breathing hard, shirt hanging open. Michael had read those books cover to cover more times than he can remember, and never had such a clear sense of how much danger could be in one person's eyes, or how utterly captivating that same person could be. So Martin's not Dirk Casey. So he's not the dashing younger man Michael had known as a child. He's still Martin. And this plan would have been a lot more devious if the lie it was based on wasn’t absolutely true.

"I want you to kiss me," Michael says, his voice surprisingly clear and strong in the sudden silence of the room. "Martin. Please."

Martin shakes his head, refusing to meet his eyes. "I'm your godfather. I was there when you were born. I let you cry in my arms after your dad died. Your parents trusted me with you even when you were this tiny little thing…"

He's seen the photos his mom tried to hide away, all the evidence of his life in Europe when he spoke three languages without blinking and still had a father. He forgot the Czech and German far too quickly, but Dad and Martin had always stuck around in photographs and memories.

"It's been ten years. I grew up," Michael says with a smile. He might always have looked young for his age, but he's indisputably a man now. The years and the appearance might not matter as much as the experiences of the last few weeks.

Martin's smile is a pale echo. "And I got old."

"You look great. Distinguished."

Now the laugh is genuine. "Really old, then. You're a sweet boy."

"Would you even have recognized me?" Michael pushes himself up, tears his wrist out of Martin's grip and tugs on his shirt instead. "Ten years, Martin. If you'd just met me in one of your Berlin bars… Hey, ich heiße Michael. I'm your biggest fan and all I want is to blow you in the back room."

Martin catches his jaw between thumb and index finger as if studying his face, caught between pushing him away and...

All this talk, persuasion, and fumbling seduction, and he's still stunned by the kiss when it comes. He'd imagined roughness, violence, the foul taste of cigar smoke. He’d expected to be kissed by his captor, by the duplicitous, immoral man Dirk Casey could often be in the novels. And, oddly, perhaps he would have dealt with violence better, would have rolled with it.

But he’s been kissed by the man who once read him stories and checked his closets for monsters. A man who’s loved him, one way or another, since before he was born, and who now has his thumb softly pressed to Michael’s astonished lips.

“You need to know that I will never hurt you,” Martin’s saying, quiet and urgent. “Not one hair on your head, Michael. Not even if it seems… The Company recruits good liars and makes us better ones, you know. They make us forget what truth even tastes like.”

“I trust you,” Michael says.

“You shouldn’t.”

This time Michael kisses him, hard and insistent enough to make it clear he’s not unsure, pushing Martin’s shirt back off his shoulders, trailing his hands over scar tissue that makes him glance down in surprise.

Martin taps two fingers to his shoulder, then to his side. “Bullet. Knife. It was a bad winter.”

“I, uh… I broke my foot once.” Michael reaches for Martin’s belt, unlooping it. “Skateboarding.”

“Skateboarding? I’m amazed you survived.”

“It was touch and go but I pulled through.” He pushes the blankets away, sticking out his left foot. “They had to put in pins. These are all the scars I’ve got.”

He’d expected horseplay, for Martin to grab his ankle and… But Martin’s just looking at him the way he never had ten years ago, at his nineteen-year-old body, lean and bruised and with a hard-on he’s just beginning to be embarrassed by.

“When I was your age I was in the army. Vietnam. We can count ourselves both lucky we don’t have more.”

The mattress squeaks as Martin stands up, taking off his slacks and briefs. Michael would try his best not to stare, but staring seems like a pretty good option given the circumstances. And while it’s not the chiseled, muscular body of Martin’s fictional alter ego (he would honestly have been surprised if it was), it’s still the functional physique of someone who’s always been prepared to run or fight his way out of any situation.

Michael realizes his mouth is open, shuts it, then reaches out to reassure himself of his courage by stroking Martin’s thigh. “Do you want me to…?” He clears his throat, wishing he really was some swaggering kid in a Berlin bar, ready to go down on his knees for Martin in an alley or club bathroom. Is there really any difference if he does it in an opulent Turkish mansion? “Um. Blow you?”

Maybe even that is really too much talking, the way Martin’s looking at him, studying him. “It’s July. You’re, what, nineteen now?” A smile. “I think we both know you’ll have absolutely no trouble getting it up again. Me, on the other hand… Scoot up.”

It takes him a second, but he gets it and moves back, pushing himself against heaped pillows, as Martin kneels back down on the bed, strands of his hair brushing against Michael’s stomach.

“Should we… You’ve got a condom?” He has to rid himself of all his insecure teenage caution, even if it means saying everything over in his head before it ever comes out.

He half expects Martin to ignore him, and would he really object if he did? But Martin smiles wryly, and there’s an already-opened box of Durex in the drawer rather than a gun. “You really are your mother’s son, aren’t you?”

Michael lies back, one arm folded behind his head, and tries his damn best not to hyperventilate at the very thought of a man, an older man, his godfather, giving him a blowjob. His best isn’t too good. He is, as Martin had pointed out, nineteen. If anyone was here volunteering to do the same thing he’d be responding in the same way, chest rapidly rising and falling, his lower lip bitten white, his cock throbbing with need as Martin runs his thumb up the underside and then rolls on the condom.

Jesus

Maybe the condom’s a good idea for more than one reason. At least it stops him from coming the instant Martin settles between his bent legs and takes him into his mouth. The few times he’s done this with girls, they’d seemed mostly pleased that he’d finished quickly. Now he suspects it would just be embarrassing, especially if Martin actually enjoys what he’s doing, practiced tongue playing over him…

Michael lets out a keening moan, back arching as his hips shift, craving more contact. If anything about this entire night is under his control, it’s definitely not this. He can feel Martin’s approving chuckle rather than hear it and, as he sucks in more oxygen, it occurs to Michael that now is not the time to be scared or in awe of the man who has his cock in his mouth.

As Martin takes him deeper and his hips snap up again, Michael moves his fisted hand from where it’s been bunching sheets on the bed to press against the back of Martin’s head, keeping him close. Martin’s hair isn’t long enough to pull, which is probably for the best, as Michael squeezes his eyes shut against the light, caught up in the movement and inevitable flow of pleasure. His mouth is dry, breathing desperate. “Oh fuck, Martin… Martin, please. Please, I need… Martin…”

Years of touching himself in his mother’s apartment have left him with a finely-honed sense of when making any noise at all is a bad idea. But now… One of the great advantages of living in a mansion with only one or two other people is just how far away bedrooms can be from each other. And the Turks certainly knew how to build thick walls.

The flood of sensation mixed with elation and fear is overwhelming, and he’s still gasping for breath, still gripping Martin’s head, before he can make any sense of it.

“Oh god,” he says finally with a hint of manic laughter, letting his hand drop and his body go limp. Martin could kill him tomorrow and it just wouldn’t seem to matter.

He watches Martin take off the condom with a sense of vague remove, as though this couldn’t possibly really be happening to him. But then Martin is kissing him again, body pressed to his sweat-dampened chest, and he snaps back into the moment, kissing Martin back with the same enthusiasm. “That was… You’re pretty good.”

“You’re nineteen. A wet cloth’s pretty good.”

Michael gives him a playful shove in the shoulder. “You need to learn to take a compliment.” Even though Martin just shrugs, there’s actual happiness behind his eyes for the first time since they’d been reunited in Hungary, and more than a suggestion of the man Michael had once known. He only hesitates for a moment before asking, “You want me to do you now?”

He never has, but he can learn. The very idea of having Martin utterly at his mercy tonight is not only appealing, but incredibly arousing.

Martin is studying him thoughtfully again. “Have you ever been with a man before?”

He’s tempted to lie, but… “You want to know if I’ve had a cock up my ass?”

“Mm, yes.” Martin takes his hand by the wrist, moving it to stroke his erection. Big and hot and hard… It feels good under Michael’s fingers, feels better knowing it’s him who’s got Martin so achingly stiff. Maybe even good enough that he’d willingly let Martin open him up, fuck into him deep. It would have to hurt, but maybe it’d be a good kind of hurt…

“No… I mean, not really.”

“Not really. Well, I’m not going to be the one to take that virgin territory. Not tonight anyway.”

Michael can sense the disappointment in him. It’s echoed, faintly, in himself. “I could blow you. I mean, I want to make you feel good. Really good.”

“Shh.” Martin’s hand creeps to Michael’s cock again, still sensitive, but responsive enough when Martin starts to purposefully stroke and rub. “Don’t worry. I fully intend to use that beautiful body of yours. Just not in a way that’ll leave you unable to sit down for a week.”

Michael watches his hand, watches his own body responding to Martin’s caresses. “Martin… Were you ever in love with my dad?”

He can’t quite figure out if the fact Martin keeps laughing at his questions is reassuring or demeaning. “Oh, we were all a little in love with Paul. Why do you ask?”

Michael shrugs. “People say I look like him…”

“Really? I’d have said you take after your mother. When I first met him, he wasn’t much older than you are now. He’d done a tour in the army, tough guy when he needed to be, but a very gentle person at heart, really. A good man. I was happy he married your mom. They were good together.”

“But you didn’t have anyone.”

“Some of us aren’t exactly made for marriage and kids. Or for civil partners and adopted kids if it comes to that. I never thought I’d make it out of the Company alive. Never thought I’d be this old. And now that I am…”

“You’re alone.”

“I’m screwing the kid I used to read bedtime stories to. Not my greatest achievement.”

Michael’s the one who smiles now. “You’re in bed with a horny teenager who just wants you to fuck him. If that isn’t an ego boost, I don’t know what is.”

It occurs to Michael, watching Martin watch him, that Martin might just be doing what he’d been trying to do: consider each sentence before speaking. He’s been a good student of the Dirk Casey books during the past two weeks, escaping from the castle, keeping Oksana alive, figuring out that all is not as it should be with Martin here in Istanbul… But he’s still only a student.

“Turn over,” Martin says and adds with an eyeroll: “Don’t worry, I’ll use another condom.”

He wants to ask, but instead he slowly rolls onto his stomach, cock digging into the blankets as he watches Martin fetch another condom from the drawer. Who was the last lover he had here? Were they here because they wanted to be? Where did they go?

But, as Martin steps back onto the bed, trailing fingers down to the small of Michael’s back, he simply can’t imagine Martin as willfully, needlessly cruel. He might have killed people, but Dirk Casey had never caused pain for the sake of pain, and he doubts Martin ever could either.

There’s lubricant – cold at first – rubbed between his thighs. Michael shifts position, expecting a finger to probe inside him… but Martin simply lays a calming hand on his shoulder. “Relax. I told you I wasn’t going to do that. Just… keep your legs together and you’ll make me feel good enough for both of us.”

“Like the Greeks, huh?”

Martin’s body is a satisfying pressure on his back, Martin’s voice by his ear. “Anyone ever tell you you’re far too smart?”

Michael grins against the pillow. “Just look at who raised me.”

It’s unfamiliar but not unpleasant, the feeling of Martin’s cock pushing between his legs, Martin’s body so close Michael can feel him breathe. There’s an easy rhythm to it that Michael’s hips seem to know as he meets Martin’s thrusts, his own erection rubbing into the sheets.

He hopes that he won’t come too quickly this time, and it just then occurs to him that he won’t be able to see Martin when he comes, something that just now seems important. But he’ll feel it, the way he can feel Martin stroking along his thighs, nudging his balls, breath hot on his back.

“Michael…” Martin murmurs, and Michael reaches a hand back, twisting to grasp Martin’s hip, feeling the power there, the barely restrained lust and desperation.

The pillow is damp with his sweat. “It’s okay,” Michael whispers. “It’s okay.”

Martin comes in a wordless cry, thrusts so violent they might bruise. Michael takes it all, presses his cheek to the pillow and lets him ride it out.

Once Martin’s dropped another condom in the trash, he tugs at Michael’s hip, turning him over, taking his cock in his hand and swiftly, deftly getting him off. Michael’s mouth is too dry for words, breaths shallow and fast, as his muscles tighten and he watches his come spurt over Martin’s fingers.

He might lose time after that.

When he opens his eyes, the light is off and the covers are over them, Martin’s arm around him as though they’d both just fallen asleep during a particularly late night and a not-very-engaging story.

Michael lifts his head.

“Sleep,” comes Martin’s voice, firm and gentle. “It’s late. Busy day tomorrow.”

“You’re not going to tell me a story?”

He can imagine the quirk of a smile on Martin’s lips. “You’re not a child anymore. Fairytales don’t seem appropriate.”

“Mm.” Michael settles back down, his head against Martin’s chest. “Tell me one thing… I can’t wait till the next book. Why did Dirk leave his nephew to die? I mean, they loved each other. They always had each other’s backs…”

“Oh Michael, Michael.” Martin’s fingers comb through his sweat-dampened hair. “You should know by now that not everything is how it looks. Not in my novels, and not in life, either. Besides, he’s survived worse than the desert even without Dirk’s help. I wouldn’t write that young man off just yet.”

***

It’s dark in the room when he wakes up for the second time, even though the clock by the bed reads 9am. Michael wrestles with blankets, untangles himself, and stumbles over to where the windows should be, finding thick drapes to pull open. There’s bright sunshine outside, but no one out on the boardwalk.

He checks the en-suite, but Martin’s nowhere to be found.

If he’d had a plan when he set out for this room yesterday evening, it had been dissipated somewhat by genuine tenderness and far too many memories. Now that he’s alone, he checks the drawers for hints of something not being quite right, but finds nothing bar sex aids, a blank diary, pens, and a book in Turkish.

Michael takes a shower, long and hot. By the time he’s done, Martin is back, with new clothes in Michael’s size: slacks, shirt, and t-shirt, as well as the sneakers and underwear from his room.

“Sorry for the early start,” Martin says, watching him towel off. “I had some business to attend to.” A pause. “I enjoyed last night. It was… nice to be with someone.”

Michael pulls on his underwear, the gray t-shirt. “It’s not going to happen again, is it?” He’s not sure what he hopes the answer will be.

“No… I don’t think so.” Martin is watching him again, but breaks off his gaze, going to look out the windows. “Your mother’s going to kill me as it is.”

“I hope you two can talk,” Michael says, sitting down on the edge of the bed to tie his shoelaces. “Work things out. I know she missed you. I missed you. She just hates to have to admit it.”

Martin smiles. “Sounds familiar.” He leans in to kiss the top of Michael’s head. “I love you, kiddo. Don’t ever forget it. Now run and try to scrounge up some breakfast with your girlfriend. I told her we stayed up late with a few drinks and you’d passed out in my room. I’m sure you can fake a headache.”

Michael stands up, catching Martin’s arm as he does so, pulling him in for a real kiss. “Hey. You ever see me in a bar in Berlin, you come say hi, okay?”

“Okay,” Martin says.

Michael leaves him standing there, and the longest day of his life begins.

***

It’s a year later when he gets the call, after he’s spent months chasing through too many African countries to name in pursuit of the rogue human traffickers who had kidnapped his mother. He and his parents are all finally safe and well, even if his dad never seems to stay in one place for too long and his mom isn’t quite as happy selling flowers as she used to be.

Michael is traveling through Europe once more, taking his time on his way to see Oksana and her family near Prague. He’s one year older and, it feels sometimes, several decades more experienced. There’s a ragged scar from a knife wound over his ribs. There’s a gun in his bag next to a couple of false passports, secreted away in a compartment beneath underwear, t-shirts, and the last Dirk Casey novel - City of Labyrinths. It’s set in the winding alleys of Istanbul, and he hasn’t quite managed to read it again since Martin died.

The call is from Dax Miller, who he’d met during the bureaucratic and diplomatic nightmare that had followed the failed uranium deal, his mom shooting Martin, and his dad suddenly reappearing after a decade of being officially dead. Michael had barely taken anything in, overwhelmed, caught between joy and grief and the sheer trauma of the entire experience.

Dax is still in Europe, albeit with far more clout and a larger operating budget than he’d had previously. He’d spent a couple of days trying to get hold of Michael’s number, and asks him to come to Berlin, to Martin’s old house.

It’s a beautiful place, although the garden, once no doubt manicured by a regular groundskeeper, is now overgrown. There’s a German crime scene notice on the front door and a forlorn “for sale” sign in the yard. Michael goes in without knocking.

“I’d understand if you don’t want to have anything more to do with all this,” Dax says.

He does feel uneasy, but it’s less about being in Martin’s home, and more that everything there is just slightly off, as though the CIA had torn the place apart, and put it back together without much care at all.

“The forensic accountants have been working on his financial history for a year. All his accounts were frozen while we figured it out. Naturally the income he had from his illegal activities is being confiscated by the US… Or by Germany. I’ll let the lawyers figure that one out. But the money he got from his books was legal enough. And that’s where you come in.”

A white envelope, a little the worse for wear, is pushed into his hands.

“He made a change to his will the day he died,” Dax says. “The lawyers say it’s legit. Don’t ask me why he’d do this for someone he was ready to kill, though.”

He leaves to answer a phone call while Michael carefully opens the envelope, although it’s certainly been opened before. Inside is one leaf of watermarked writing paper, covered in ink so blue it’s almost purple in Martin’s fluid hand.

The note is simple, but Michael reads it over twice: one last, brief story from his godfather, kidnapper, lover… friend?

Dear Michael,

You were my first audience, my biggest fan. To you I leave my apologies without attempting to beg the forgiveness I know I will never deserve. I also leave you Dirk Casey and his fortune to do with as you please. There will be money enough there to fund your studies anywhere in the world, if you like, or perhaps to undo a little of the damage I have wrought on so many people, including your family. I feel that I should also leave you an explanation, but you already have as much of one as I do.

All my love,

Martin

Michael sinks to the scraped, scratched parquet floor, wiping tears from his eyes to stop them from staining the paper. He should rip it up. Burn it. Burn the whole damn house down as a memorial pyre for Martin and for the charmed lives he and his family used to have.

He turns the page over.

P.S. If you ever find it in your heart to tell me one final goodnight story, perhaps you could relate how Dirk’s loving nephew finally made it out of the desert and lived happily ever after? I know you’ll do it more justice than I ever could.

By the time Dax comes back into the room, he has Martin’s collector’s editions strewn over the table, pen in his hand as he angrily wipes away yet more tears that threaten to fall.

“How much for the house?” he asks.

He has a tale to tell.