Circassia. June 2 1864.
‘Get out of my way Jew.’ Alexi hissed as he barged into Abrahams shoulder, his larger frame knocking the smaller man out of the way. Trofim, carrying the dead body of Rebecca’s husband by the arms barged into him as well. Abraham stepped further back to avoid Nikolay who passed him, holding the dead man’s bare feet, he spat at him instead. Abraham sighed with relief as they stepped outside and he closed the door behind them.
Major Boris Petrovich replaced his .44 Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver into its oiled leather holster, he limped to a stool and sat down, stretching his right leg out to relieve the pain, after a long day on horseback the old wounds in his leg hurt a lot.
Abraham lifted Rebecca’s bruised and bloodied body from the table and laid her on her on top of the bed, he hid her nakedness and the gaping cut in her throat from the young boys view with the blood stained bedcover. A pointless gesture, they had already witnessed everything, but it was something he felt compelled to do. He then turned and looked at the two twin boys who were staring at him, too terrified to move, he spoke gently to them in Circassian, asking their names, one boy answered hesitantly, the other remained silent. Abraham called to Boris.
‘This one is Mikael,’ he said pointing to the one that spoke, ‘and this one is his brother Jaak.’ Boris had been amazed at the speed his Jewish medic had picked up the language since they had been sent from Russia. He studied Mikael sitting on the edge of the bed with his arm around Jaak’s shoulder, comforting him.
‘They are identical.’ Boris replied whispering, he broke some bread and leaned forward to give a piece to Mikael, but both Jaak and Mikael began sobbing, their bodies shook with fear.
As Boris drew back, a tremendous sadness engulfed him, he had seen the fear in men’s eyes when they knew they were about to die, the faces of the men he had killed still haunted him every night, but seeing that same look in the eyes of two small children triggered a despondency within him that he had never experienced before. The twins were staring at his uniform, Boris realised that he and Abraham had the same uniform on as the soldiers that had murdered their parents.
‘Abraham!’ he spoke quietly standing up and removing the jacket of the uniform he had worn so proudly for so many years. Abraham followed his example and removed his jacket. and dropped it onto the stool besides Boris.
‘They remind me of my boys.’ Boris said suddenly. Abraham was surprised; Boris was not a great talker.
‘I didn’t know you had young children.’ he replied. Boris continued,
‘They are not young, both already grown up with their own families. I haven’t seen them much since their mother passed away but when I think about them, I remember the times when they were young and carefree children, running around without a worry in the world. Now I have grandsons who are the same age as these two.’
Abraham sat silently, he had a calming effect on the boys with his gentle way. Boris continued, ‘For as long as I can remember, I have always been proud of being a soldier. I always enjoyed the look of admiration from others when I returned home and walked through the city with my wife and boys. But now….’
Boris struggled to express himself, he lowered his head and spoke in a whisper. ‘But now, I am ashamed of it. It is the same uniform worn by sadists, murderers and child killers.’
Abraham spoke, ‘You have always been a great leader, you earned the trust and respect of your men, something you cannot inherit or buy.’
‘Perhaps before I was reassigned to this country and these scum. Abraham, these two boys have just had their whole future taken away from them by those three animals, how can I look my sons or grandsons in the eyes again? They would be ashamed of me if they found out what was really going on here.’
‘You have not committed these crimes. I know you are a good man, your family have nothing to be ashamed of.’
‘I did not stop it, which makes me as guilty as they are.’
‘No Sir, you are not like them,’ Abraham whispered. ‘I would not have crawled through a battlefield to rescue you if you were like them, I would have left you there. You have reported their actions endlessly to the high command.’
‘And they kept ignoring me Abraham, the Circassian villagers are terrified of us, that is what they wanted, fear. They were not willing to stop it, and now the war is over do you believe the slaughter will stop? No they have become too accustomed to the killing, they enjoy it too much. These troops will never be fit to live with normal people again, they will kill these two boys as soon as we leave the cottage, war over or not, it won’t make any difference to them.’
Boris sat silently for several minutes nodding his head. Abraham had seen him do this before; he knew he was making a decision. Finally, Boris cleared his throat and then said quietly. ‘Abraham I am sorry I brought you to this hell. It is my fault that you are here, and it’s my responsibility to make sure you get out of here alive and back to your family.’
‘What do you mean?’ Asked Abraham, ‘the war is over, you said so yourself.’
‘Abraham, after we left the High Command today I found this in my pocket.’ He handed Abraham a note.
‘Information has been leaked to the troops that you have filed a number of reports about them, and also that your medic Abraham Zlotin has signed as a witness.’ Abraham read it quickly then lowered his head into his hands.
Boris nodded, ‘I’m sorry Abraham, the war ended today and the men in high command who ignored me will not let me return to Moscow alive to tell the truth of the wickedness here. We will both be shot as soon as our backs are turned and our throats cut along with these two boys.’
The colour drained from Abrahams face, he barely heard Boris speak.
‘Time has run out for us my friend, I want you to get out of Circassia, this is the closest to the border of Georgia we have been since we arrived here, it is only three days hard walking East from here and it’s mostly forest.’
‘They kill Russians in Georgia,’ Abraham said.
‘You are not Russian, you are a Jew, you will be safe.’
‘And what about you?’ Abraham asked, sincerely concerned for Boris.
‘You saw my injuries Abraham; you know I could not walk that far. Besides, they kill Russians in Georgia, remember!’ Abraham knew it was true. Boris’s leg should have been amputated but Boris had threatened to shoot the surgeon if he did, the bits of his leg were sewn back together but he could not walk more than a few yards anymore. If he did make it to Georgia he would be tortured and killed.
‘Then ride sir, you have a horse?’
Boris laughed. ‘Shut up Abraham. I am not going to struggle all the way to Georgia just to be shot. Anyway I have unfinished business here.’ Abraham knew it was pointless arguing with Boris, he had made his decision.
‘Abraham, do you think if I save these two children your God will forgive me for all the bad things I have done in my life.’
‘Yes of course, Sir but you told me you don’t believe in God.’
‘I don’t, I asked if your God will forgive me. How can you believe in a God that allows this.’ He pointed to Rebecca’s body and the twins.
‘It’s difficult to explain.’ Abraham said quietly, ‘what should I do with the boys?’
Turkey has offered refuge to any Circassian that wants to go, hundreds of ships have left Turkey and are on their way here. Thousands of Circassians are heading for the Black Sea, that is where the ships will arrive. Take the boys and once you are clear of here, find a good family that’s travelling to Turkey and leave the boys with them.’
Abraham thought for a few minutes and then admitted quietly. ‘I have thought about deserting many times.’ Boris was surprised he knew Abraham was an honourable man. He poured two glasses of wine and pushed one towards his medic.
Abraham continued. ‘But my family in Minsk will suffer if I desert. They will be punished for my cowardice and I could not let that happen.’
Boris smiled. ‘Is that all that is stopping you? You won’t be a deserter, you will be dead. Your wife will receive a widow’s service payment then she can join you later, where ever you are. Jew or not the Russian army always honours its payment to soldiers widows and believe me there are too many of them to check the facts properly.’
Boris drank his wine slowly as he let what he said sink in. Then he continued. ‘I have to send a report that the village is secure in Russian hands to the senior commander today,’ Boris hesitated. He looked at the boys again, ‘If you agree then I will report to them that you were killed in the fighting here and buried in the forest, your family will be free to leave Russia without persecution.’ He sat back in the chair and waited for Abrahams decision.
Abraham sat, stunned by the words, he thought about his wife and parents and then turned and looked at the two boys sitting together on their small bed holding onto each other. Mikael was quietly crying, his lips trembling as he looked towards the body of the mother, Jaak sat staring at Boris, emotionless.
Abraham then made the biggest decision of his life. ‘Yes, I will do it’ he said simply.
Boris searched through his bag and brought out a bottle of Russian Vodka.
They sat and drank together. Boris took out his notebook and pen and sat writing for several minutes, then he turned the paper around for Abraham to read,
‘Thank you.’ whispered Abraham, slightly breathless as he realised the enormity of their actions. Boris placed the paper in an envelope, sealed it and signed the back. He pushed the envelope to the middle of the table and left it there, waiting for the remainder of the troops to get too drunk to know or care who was coming or going. After an hour Boris stood, went outside and called his runner, a young boy he knew would carry out his orders. He instructed him to take the papers back to the main battalion several miles back in the mountains and then return with confirmation it had been read by the commanding officer there. He stepped back into the cottage and shut the door behind him.
‘No turning back now, my friend, you are officially dead.’
‘No turning back.’ Abraham repeated as he refilled both glasses then sat down, feeling scared.
It was another three hours before the last of the drunken troops passed out. Boris opened the door quietly and stepped outside. He whispered as he came back into the cottage.
‘Time to go, they are all sleeping.’ Abraham stood up and filled half of his Army bag with food then put some clothes belonging to the father inside, it would be safer to stay in uniform until he had crossed the river, but he needed to dump his uniform before he bumped into any Circassians, they would kill him before he had a chance to explain, even with the two boys.
‘What a choice, stay here and get killed by my own troops, get killed by Circassians on the way or get killed by Georgians.’
Boris smiled, ‘It’s lucky you have your God to take care of you.’ He stifled a laugh.
Abraham smiled too and held his hand out to Boris who pushed it away, stood up and hugged him, the huge bear of an officer crushing his thin body.
Abraham threw the bag over his shoulder, picked up the two boys, one in each arm and disappeared into the darkness. The rain was slowing to a drizzle as he skirted completely around the village towards the river.
Boris sat at the table and continued drinking, quietly humming his favourite song. He coughed violently and spat a mouthful of blood onto the floor. His tuberculosis was getting worse, he knew he had only months left and it wasn’t how he wanted to die.
Just before dawn broke, he heard a knock on the door. The runner entered and handed him an envelope, he opened it and read the confirmation of his report signed by the commanding officer. Abraham was officially dead.
He motioned the runner to leave and poured another wine, outside he heard the troops waking. Boris raised his glass towards the still body of Rebecca in a toast and said.
‘I have no idea where you and your husband have gone, or where I am going soon but I know Abraham is the best man I have ever met and if anybody will try to keep your boys safe it will be him.’ He stood up, blew out the lamps, sat back down in the dark facing the door, cocked his pistol and fired one shot.
Nikolay was urinating against a wall when he heard the shot. He automatically jumped back and cursed as he peed over his boots; he turned and rushed to the cottage then waited outside the door until Trofim and Alexi joined him. Pushing open the door with his rifle Nikolay looked cautiously inside and together with Trofim they slowly stepped into the dark room. Boris sat with a glass of wine in his left hand and the pistol in his right. He watched Nikolay enter first but waited until Trofim was also completely inside the door frame too. He shot Nikolay first, aiming directly at his chest, then without lowering the gun swung his hand to the right and shot Trofim in the stomach. Nikolay staggered backwards into the wall where he slid down. He managed to raise his rifle. Boris swung his arm back and shot him again, but the wine affected his aim and the .44 round entered Nikolay’s left arm. Boris fired again and this time he hit Nikolay in the face. As Nikolay collapsed to the floor Boris looked at both dead men, lifted his glass and toasted Rebecca.
‘That has made me feel much better, now where is the third one.’ he said. He lifted the glass to his lips just as Alexi burst into the room. Boris was ready and fired as soon as Alexi stood in the doorway. Alexi felt the pain as the round went through the flesh of his collar bone. Boris re-cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger. The pistol was empty. Alexi smiled as he raised his rifle and shot Boris’s through the heart.
Boris was dead before his left hand hit the table, the glass rocked twice without spilling and Boris’s head slumped forward onto his chest as the pistol slipped from his grasp and dropped to the floor.
Leaning across Boris Alexi removed the glass from his hand and drank the wine, he knelt by the bodies of Nikolay and Trofim and went through all their pockets in turn. He found a small amount of cash on Nicolay. Trofim had only a faded photo of his wife, Alexi looked at it briefly then threw on the floor. He took their rifles and ammunition outside and then returned and picked up the half full wine bottle from the table, swallowed it all, then took the gun ammunition belt and wallet from Boris. Turning towards the door he spat on him and said.
‘Good fucking riddance, no one will mourn you.’
Alexi then lit a torch and threw it onto the bed, he waited a few minutes until he was sure the fire would spread and then left the cottage and shut the door.
‘Fetch the dogs.’ He screamed, a young man appeared with a dog, both looked out of breath. Alexi threw Abrahams jacket at him.
‘Find the Jew now!’ he screamed as the young man stumbled away covering the dogs nose with Abrahams jacket.
Abraham travelled nearly all night to reach the second crossing. The first one was protected by Russian troops and he avoided it and continued directly to the second one. Approaching silently, he found that the second bridge was also secured by troops and fearful of being captured he skirted around that one too and continued walking for several more miles looking for another crossing. He travelled slowly carrying each of the boys in turn. Abraham knew enough of the Circassian language to keep them calm, constantly whispering to them and encouraging them to walk. At times carrying both of them when the terrain was too difficult for their small legs. The twins walked quietly without fear of Abraham, sensing that he was trying to help them. After several hours of walking in the dark Abraham heard voices. He lay down on the ground making his silhouette as small as possible, holding the boys close to him and whispering for them to stay silent, the voices got louder. Abraham breathed a sigh of relief and sat up; the voices were Circassian. Calming down he stood up and saw that there were people on the other side of the river. The relaxed manner of the people reassured him, now was the time to get rid his of the uniform once and for all. Hastily changing into the civilian clothing Abraham hid his uniform under some rocks, then sat down on the wet grass, pulling some bread from the bag to eat. Both boys had fallen asleep instantly and he decided to wait until the people had left before crossing. The soldiers were too close to risk direct contact with Circassians. Abraham sat looking at the river, wondering if it was the best place to cross it, or if he should try somewhere else. He had no idea if the river was wider further downstream or if there were any more bridges. It looked calm and he estimated only twenty yards to reach the other side, he could not swim and this section of river was the narrowest part he had seen in the last hour. The reflection of a full moon shone on the water, hardly a ripple disturbing it. He threw a stick in and watched it float serenely downstream, it looked safe enough.
Dogs barked in the distance behind him, that made Abraham’s mind up, he was in civilian clothes and he had to cross now. He picked up both boys, one under each arm; they wrapped their small legs around his chest and hung onto his shirt collar.
‘I don’t want to go in there.’ Mikael began to cry.
‘It’s only a little bit cold.’ Abraham answered.
‘No there are giant fish in there.’ Jaak added.
‘It’s just a story boys, and we will only be in there for a few minutes.’ But both Jaak and Mikael pulled their legs up as high as they could around Abraham’s waist, looking fearfully into the water for the monsters they had heard about since they were small.
Abraham stepped slowly from the bank into the water, he was surprised how deep it became after only five paces. The riverbed was strewn with rocks, carried down from the mountains in the spring when the snow melted. As he reached the middle of the river it became deeper and as he stepped cautiously through the water he felt his feet being pushed away each time he lifted a leg. Unsure of how much stronger it would become, he continued towards the opposite bank. The water was almost up to his chest. Only the twin’s arms and heads were above the water, both gripping him tighter as their bodies got lower in the cold water. Abraham progressed slowly trying to feel for obstacles with his feet before he moved, he kicked a large rock and stood slowly on it testing it’s stability before trusting his weight on it. It felt sturdy so he took the next step confidently. The rock tipped and the three of them disappeared under the water for several seconds. He found his footing again and stumbled on, no longer in a straight line, the strong undercurrent forcing him further downstream. Then he tripped on another rock and they went under for the second time. Keeping tight hold of the twins he now had to swim, trying to suppress the terror that was slowly rising, he realised he was being carried downstream, away from the far bank.
Unable to use his arms he kicked out vainly. The river had become even faster now and he was powerless to fight against it. Although they had only been in the water for several minutes he felt his strength ebbing away. Unable to feel the bottom with his foot they were carried downstream, the current becoming stronger all the time.
Large rocks were everywhere; he kicked out harder to avoid one situated directly in front of them. They crashed into it, Abraham taking the full impact to save the boys, but the wind had been knocked out of him. He tried to breathe in but instead took a mouthful of cold water. The eddy currents around the rock dragged them under again and again. Choking, he wanted to use his arms to strike out and surface where he could breath, he fought the impulse, refusing to release the boys. He saw the terrified look in Mikael’s eyes and it gave him another boost of power. His foot made contact with the rock and using the last of his strength he kicked out. All three of them came above the surface, gasping for air. They were now at the mercy of the river, twisting and turning away from the grass banks. The sides were steep and the river had narrowed, increasing the power and speed of the current, carrying them at breakneck speed they disappeared and resurfaced. A large fallen tree loomed before them. They slammed into it at tremendous speed, the small branches cutting Abraham’s face and arms as he used his body to protect the boy’s faces. Abraham felt a stabbing pain as a broken branch penetrated his left shoulder. His arm went into spasm and his hand opened as it shook uncontrollably. He cried out as he watched one of the twins slip away from him. Abraham used his leg to push himself backwards from the branch. The blood flowed freely from the wound into the cold water. He found a hidden strength he did not know he possessed and lifted the remaining boy up onto the trunk of the tree, he tried to lift himself up but was too exhausted, they stayed like that for several seconds panting for breath, then coaxing him to crawl along the top, Abraham pulled himself along the log towards the bank. Reaching the end of the trunk he lifted the small boy and carried him the few yards to the safety of the bank where he put him down. Standing there shivering with cold and shock he had no time to feel relieved, he stared intently towards the river for the boy’s brother, listening for any voices. He squatted down next to the small boy and rubbed his arms to warm him up.
‘Are you Mikael or Jaak?’ He asked.
‘Mikael.’ the boy replied. ‘Where is Jaak?’
Abraham wished he knew the answer. He picked up the boy and without waiting to catch his breath, he stumbled through the dense undergrowth, along the riverbank scanning the water and calling out Jaak’s name. He didn’t care if anyone heard him now. He needed to find the boy and get him to safety too. Dawn was breaking and there was now just enough light to see across the river. He checked the banks on both sides of the river for signs of somebody scrambling up. The mud was smooth and showed no signs of being disturbed. Finally he came to the end of the greenery. The river had narrowed even more and the water gushed through at an incredible speed He put Mikael down and looked at the almost vertical rocks on either side of the rushing torrent of water, They rose to over twenty feet high, impossible for a six year old to climb.
He stood even closer to the edge and leant out to look downstream. There was nowhere to get out of the river for as far as he could see. He sat down and looked at Mikael. Tears trickled down Abrahams cheeks as he looked at the small boy he had carried for the last hour sitting with his arms around his knees, ready to burst into tears.
There were two ways Abraham could go, down to a small track or directly through the thick forest over the top of the rock escarpment. The time they spent in the water would slow down the dogs until they picked up his scent again, the rain was a godsend and hindered them but they would be easily seen on the track and younger men and dogs could catch up with one man struggling with a boy. He looked at the escarpment, it was steep and he knew he would be trying to climb it with one hand and the other carrying Mikael, but the trees would hide them and he would be able to see everything for miles around. If Jaak was down there, Abraham needed to get to the top and find out, he tipped everything out of the bag onto the ground. He gave Mikael one of the two apples they had and cut two holes in the base of the bag. Stuffing the remaining food in his pockets, he lifted Mikael into the bag and pulled it up with only his legs protruding out of the holes he had cut. He lifted it slowly, testing its strength. Confident it would hold Jaak’s weight he sat down with his back to Jaak, wriggled his arms through the two straps and stood up.
‘Do your legs hurt?’ He asked Mikael, who replied he was fine.
Picking his way carefully through the loose rocks and exposed roots he worked his way around the back of the rock escarpment and now able to use both hands, it took him only fifteen minutes to climb to the top.
Abraham could see the entire river for miles in both directions. He looked downstream and his stomach turned as he watched debris from the river being dashed into the rocks and sides of the gorge for several miles. He knew a small child could not survive that long in such a mass of raging white water.
‘Oh dear God forgive me,’ he said to himself. ‘I have lost him, he is dead.’
It was midnight and the streets were deserted. The woman looked up at the faded sign above the Bethnal Green Sanatorium and knocked on the large green wooden door . The old man opened it and smiled at her, a wide toothless grin that looked like he was in pain. She made the sign of the cross as she looked at him then entered.
‘Come on hurry up they are already here.’ He said pulling her along by the arm. She lifted her hand up to her mouth to avoid the smell. It was musty and she could smell boiled eggs, the old man laughed.
‘They feed em boiled eggs to stop em shitting the beds, you get used to the smell after a while.’ Polly jumped as she heard a scream from one of the rooms. She held the old man’s arm tightly, wishing she had drunk more of the gin she had earlier for Dutch courage.
‘He’s not violent is he, Mr Tyler?’ She asked the old man. ‘I’ve got the creeps coming in here.’
‘No he’s just horny love don’t worry, he’s done this dozens of times. There will be few bob extra in it for you if you let him do some other stuff. What’s your name love?’
‘My name’s Polly, sir. What other stuff?’ She replied. Polly looked anxiously around as she followed the old man down the dark corridors. The middle aged whore had never visited the Sanatorium before but she was desperate for money. Her boyfriend had been fired for being drunk and arrested for pickpocketing and the rent on her slum was already two weeks overdue. She had offered her services to the landlord in exchange but he wasn’t interested. He wanted cash and he wanted payment by the next morning. She finally went to an old lady that could find anybody work. She dealt with perverts, most of them were financially independent businessmen who only wanted to watch others degrade themselves without involving themselves directly. It was a thriving trade in the East End. The woman offered her double her normal rate to have sex with a male patient who had become well known for the size of his penis. Her parting words of advice were,
‘Get drunk before you go, and slap some lard on your crack. He has got a bloody enormous cock.’
Tyler held her arm as they reached the room.
‘Blimey your hearts beating out of your chest. Here take a couple of snorts of this, it will calm you down.’ He held his hand up to her nose.
‘What is it?’ She asked looking at his hand.
‘Just something we use to calm the patients. It’s as harmless as snuff go on take a good long sniff.’ Polly sniffed the powder in his hand and then sneezed.
‘Don’t waste it you silly cow,’ he stopped and put his arms on her shoulders. ‘Look girl, these buggers give a bloody big tip if you put on a good show. And squeal a lot like it’s painful, the more they think it’s hurting you, the bigger the tip, they love that.’
As she entered the room she looked at the naked man standing in front of her. His large penis was already erect and she felt herself becoming more aroused than scared as she looked at it, the cocaine that the old man had given her was already making her head swim. A quiet cough startled her and she turned to look in the direction it came from. She could see only the silhouettes of several men sitting in the shadows. With a small lamp to light up the area around the bed, the rest of the room was in darkness with only glowing red cigar ends showing that anybody else was there. She stripped off her dress and underclothes leaving her stockings on. The cigars began to glow at a faster rate and she started to enjoy exhibiting herself. She crawled across the bed on her hands and knees, making sure her backside was facing the spectators as she had been instructed to. The man joined her quickly on the bed kneeling behind her. He was impatient and pushed his penis into her vagina as soon as he was in position. He pushed hard, not caring if she was ready. She gasped in pain. There was no need to pretend, it hurt a lot. She had never experienced such a large penis before and the pain was excruciating.
‘Slow down.’ She called out but he had no intention of doing so. He forced harder each time penetrating deeper inside her until his hips slammed against her behind. She cried out in pain.
‘That’s it, good girl.‘ called out Tyler.
‘Oh…God…it… hurts, make him stop… Mr Tyler.’ Tyler grinned as he moved between the viewers, his hat held out for tips, the perverts were tipping well tonight.
‘Go on Polly, scream a bit more.’ He called to her. The cigars glowed even faster in time with his thrusts. He pulled her hair forcing her head back, enjoying the pain he knew he was causing her.
‘Screw her arse.’ Called a voice from the shadows. Tyler leant forward and shook his hat at the voice, then a second time, he counted the coins dropping into it and then smiled and called out to the naked man. ‘Go on then screw her arse, like the customer requested.’
‘No,’ Polly cried out, but he withdrew his penis and forced it into her anus. She had tried it once to get extra cash but never with a man so large. The pain shot up through her back and her legs started to go numb. She struggled to free herself but he squeezed her neck harder with one hand as he forced himself into her, his fingers so long they almost reached completely around her throat . Her cries got weaker and her body became limp, she gasped once and passed out.
‘Don’t throttle her.’ Tyler called out as the man began to climax. He stopped, his whole body shuddering, then pushed her forward onto the bed. She lay still without moving, Tyler shook his head as he walked the spectators to the main door to let them out.
Gurin couldn’t sleep, he arrived late at the sanatorium and fell asleep on the spare bunk. the sound of a woman screaming woke him. Not uncommon in the hospital, he stood up and checked on Jaak who was still sleeping soundly.
‘A women screaming, music to your ears, eh Jaak?’ Gurin said quietly to himself. Now fully awake he walked quietly down the corridor in the direction of the noise. He pushed the door open just enough to see as Polly passed out. He manoeuvred around to see there were more people inside, then stepped back into the darkness unnoticed as they began to leave. Angrily he returned to Jaak’s room and closed the door, leaving it open enough to watch several men walk to the rear door of the Asylum.
The figures in the shadows left the room one at a time and dropped coins into the old man’s hand as they passed him. None spoke. He touched the peak of his cap closing the large door behind them as each one left. Tyler shuffled hurriedly back towards the room he had just left. Gurin followed him and listened to him speaking in a soothing voice to a woman who was sobbing, he peered cautiously inside. The old man sat on the bed next to a naked woman in her mid-thirties. She was obviously distressed and moved as if in great pain.
‘Come on Polly get dressed now, you have to go, I have to lock up, love,’ he dropped a handful of coins onto the bed.’ You put on a good show girl, they tipped well.’ She sat up and slapped his arm and face several times. He put his arm up to protect himself. Polly was furious.
‘Put on a show, you old git, I wasn’t putting on a show. You said he wasn’t violent,’ she slapped his arm again as he tried to help her off the bed. ‘He nearly choked me to death.’ She picked up the coins and counted them quickly, her lips mouthing the numbers as tears ran down her cheeks.
‘You think that’s all I’m worth, for getting my arse ripped open and then throttled?’ She pulled her hand back as if to throw the coins but kept them in her hand. Tyler held his hand in front of his face in case she changed her mind. ‘I can’t give you any more love, remember what we agreed?’
‘I agreed to a quick one with one of your Looney’s. I didn’t plan for the freak throttling me. You try it up your arse for Four bob. Give me the rest of the money, you robbing old bastard, I know they paid you a lot more.’ Tyler was used to the language East End prostitutes could use, but he had never met one that gave him this much trouble before, his manner suddenly turned uglier.
‘Well I ain’t giving you any more money, so get dressed and piss off.’ He said angrily. Polly knew she had pushed her luck a bit too far, but she was determined to get more money for the ordeal she had suffered. She dressed hurriedly, the old man picking up her clothes and throwing them at her. Gurin stepped back into the shadows as she passed him, followed by the old man who pushed her along roughly by the arm. Neither saw him as they walked towards the back door, arguing. Tyler opened door and tried to push her out, Polly knew it was the last possibility to get more money from Tyler.
‘Your last chance old man, give me more money now or I’ll go to the coppers and tell them about your little earner for the perverts.’ Tyler stared into her face, he wasn’t going to be threatened by a street whore, he spat out the words.
‘Tell em what you like! I can get a dozen better whores than you for less money, now get out,’ he said as he pushed her out of the door. She tripped and fell onto the gravel path cutting her hand on the sharp stones. The old man turned around without looking at her. He disappeared into his room and shut the door, it was One O’clock in the morning and all he wanted now was a good sleep.
Gurin was furious, it was the first time he had been at the Asylum so late, and like most of London, had no idea what was going on after dark. This one old man could jeopardise everything if the police were called and started poking around. The operation was too important to risk. He waited for the old man to lock his small room and then quietly opened the large wooden door and looked outside, the woman was still sitting on the gravel nursing her hand. She squinted as she looked at him standing in the doorway with the light behind him.
‘What do you bleeding well want?’ She said angrily. Gurin spoke quietly.
‘I spoke with the old man and he has agreed to give you more money, come back inside for a moment, please.’
‘Oh you have, have you, good?’ Gurin beckoned her with his hand to step inside the building. She stood slowly and walked towards him. He shut the door quietly holding his finger up to her mouth to silence her. He smiled at her and she followed him back to Jaak’s room. She stopped suddenly when she saw Jaak lying on the bed, she was shocked when she saw the restraints.
‘Sorry guvnor, but I’m too sore if you or your mate wants a bit.’ She said, trying to arouse some sympathy.
‘So if you just want to pay me my money, I’ll be on my way.’ Gurin didn’t reply, he placed a chair behind the top of the bed and sat down. Jaak woke up and looked around.
‘It’s alright my dear, I don’t want sex.’ Gurin stood up, Two shillings in his hand. Polly looked at the coins in his hand and got braver, Gurin seemed like a pushover, she decided to see how far she could push him.
‘I reckon the papers will have a field day if they find out about the goings on here.’ She said, waiting for a response. Gurin played along.
‘Polly we don’t want you getting upset and bringing the police here do we? Look here is an extra Two shillings for being a good girl.
‘Three bob would be even better.’ She spurted out.
Gurin added another shilling to his hand, Polly wished she had asked for four. Gurin closed his fingers around the money.
‘I tell you what Polly, my brother here hasn’t had a lady in years. If you’re feeling up to it how about helping him relax as only you can and we will call it five shillings for everything?’
‘Five shillings?’ She said smiling, it seemed like her luck had changed. Then her expression became serious. ‘But only me hand, nothing else, my arse is killing me. I won’t be able to sit down for a month of Sundays.’ Gurin smiled as he gave her the money.
‘Just pretend it’s your mouth, I know you girls do that all the time.’
‘Not me guvnor,’ she lied, but was relieved he had suggested it.
He sat behind Jaak’s head and began to whisper to him in Circassian, slowly encouraging him into a trance.
‘You sure you don’t want to have a go and let me watch?’ Polly chuckled as she watched Gurin speak softly to Jaak, cheering up now that she had enough money to pay the rent and buy a new hat.
‘He don’t speak English love, I am just telling him what you are going to do for him. You don’t mind me sitting here for a minute do you?’
‘Up to you love, whatever makes you happy.’ She laughed again then grimaced as the pain in her backside returned. Gurin smiled and continued speaking gently with Jaak. Polly leant over the bed and lifted Jaak’s gown to reveal his naked body. She put her face down towards his genitals.
‘Oh God he stinks of piss.’ She said.
‘It’s not him, it is the mattress, it will be burned later.’ Gurin said. ‘Do you want the money or not?’ Polly needed the money. She started to stimulate Jaak with her hand, keeping her head well back. Gurin growled at her.
‘Polly, that is not what we agreed for five shillings.’ She knew by his tone that she had pushed her luck as far as she could. Better to get on with it and get home. She tried to ignore the smell and lowered her head onto Jaak’s abdomen.
Gurin already had Jaak under his hypnosis. It took only seconds now and he was completely in a trance. Gurin waited until Polly’s head was turned the other way from him. He slipped the restraints off of Jaak and slipped a stiletto blade under his pillow as he spoke.
‘Jaak,’ he whispered in Circassian as he stood back from the bed. ‘This whore is a Russian. Enjoy yourself, but be very, very quiet. There are people sleeping.’
Polly stopped and looked up at Gurin stepping backwards towards the door to leave the room. Jaak raised himself into a sitting position and placed one hand on her head. He grabbed her hair and pushed her face down onto his lap, hearing her gag. His free hand moved slowly from under the pillow and then he pushed the knife under her throat and pulled his hand back slowly, watching the blood spread across his lap.
Gurin watched Jaak through the small bolted hatch that was part of every door. He turned around to a small thickset man who was leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette.
‘Time to fetch the hand cart Putchin.’ Gurin said quietly as he entered the room. He sat quietly on the stool besides Jaak’s head.
‘Did that make you feel better, Jaak?’
Jaak was still hypnotised and could not stop himself from answering.
‘Yes.’ Jaak replied.
‘Tell me why you hate Russians so much, Jaak?’
‘They murdered my mother and father.’ Jaak spoke sleepily.
‘Do you remember it?’
‘Tell me what happened in Circassia Jaak Tell me what you remember.’‘
Jaak thought back to that night. It was easy to remember, he had played it in his head so many times. He hesitated for a few moments, then he took a deep breath and began.
‘It was the night before market, my brother and I were sent to bed early but we were too excited, we loved going to the market every month. Just as I was falling asleep, a piercing whistle blast woke me up, everything was pitch black but I could hear people shouting. The door flew open and I was blinded for a few seconds by a light shining in my eyes. I saw my mother sit up in bed and my father getting off the bed and shouting, then there was a loud bang and a second burst of light. Orange and blue sparks exploded everywhere. It was the first time I smelt gunpowder, although I didn’t know what it was at the time, I liked the smell. I remember watching my father slump back down, he sighed once and then fell back onto the bed. My mother held his head, she was rocking back and forwards not knowing what to do, calling out for help. My father sounded like he was snoring, then he stopped. Outside women were screaming, men were shouting and a there were a lot of gunshots.’ Jaak sipped a cup of water and then continued. ‘Three soldiers came inside, they destroyed everything in our home. One ripped the curtains apart and knocked Mikael and me roughly from the bed, and then overturned it. That’s when Mikael passed out. They lit the lamps in the cottage and began to turn the whole place upside down, looking for valuables I suppose. They found some food and two of them sat down at the table and started to eat.
But one of the men didn’t eat with the other two. He grabbed my mother’s hair and pulled her from the bed, then he forced her face onto the table. She tried to struggled free but he was too strong. One man took her left wrist without getting off his stool, the other reached across the table, and still eating with his other hand took her right wrist.
The men started to argue but the man holding my mother dropped his trousers and raped her. She was screaming and trying to wriggle away but he kept stamping on her feet with his boots and slapping her across the head, harder with his fist closed. I can still hear the noise it made. She turned and looked at me.’
Jaak stopped and sipped more water. Gurin held his breath as he listened, his lips were dry and an involuntary twitch began under his left eye.
‘He slammed her head down twice onto the table breaking her nose and splitting her lips. My mother was crying softly, her tears mingled with the blood from her nose, she turned her battered face towards me and whispered, “Take Mikael and run”. Then he finished and the second man took his turn, she kept calling to me “Take Mikael and run.” But I couldn’t move I was frozen to the bed, nothing on my body worked except my eyes and ears.’
Then the second one finished and the last man stood behind her, Mother was sobbing, but her eyes never left mine. She kept repeating only one word, “Run.” She tried to get free but it just made him angrier. He started punching her with his fist but she wouldn’t keep still. She screamed out to me to run, she got louder and louder, and then he did it.’
Jaak stopped talking and stared at his hands for a long time.
Gurin whispered to Jaak. ‘And then?’
‘He pulled her hair back with one hand and his knife sliced through her throat. My mother never took her gaze away from me, even as the blood poured out onto the table. I watched the life slowly fade from her eyes and she stopped moving. The soldier was still inside her, thrusting faster to finish before her blood ran across the table and stained his uniform.’
Gurin waited several seconds and then asked, ‘What happened then, what else do you remember?’
‘He was going to kill me, he had his bayonet on my throat but an officer came into our home, pushed a pistol against his head and made all three of them get out.’
‘Can you remember the face of the man who killed your mother Jaak?’
‘No. I could for a long time but it got blurred over the years.’
‘Can you remember any of their names?’
‘That’s enough for tonight Jaak, get some sleep now.’ He took Jaak out of the trance and injected him with cocaine. Gurin waited for a few minutes until Jaak relaxed and fell asleep, then left him alone. He stood outside the room and lit a cigarette that Putchin gave him as he arrived. Putchin watched as he pulled nervously several times on the cigarette
‘What’s the problem?’ He asked. Gurin threw his head around and stared at him angrily.
‘Get the body out of there and don’t speak with him.’ Gurin snapped, he knew Putchin liked to tease Jaak. Putchin pushed the hand cart into the room. Polly’s body had slipped to the floor and she lay on her back, the tiles around her covered in blood. Putchin whistled softly and threw a bucket of water down, swilling most of the blood into the large drain in the centre of the room. He sat on the bed. ‘You do love to give the ladies a ruby red necklace Jaak.’ Jaak lifted his hand but the leather restraints kept his reach too short, his head was forward and the veins in his neck almost burst with anger. Putchin jumped up and stepped back from Jaak, as much as he enjoyed annoying him, he was scared of him too. Polly’s blood covered Jaak’s face and hands. He spat the words out with clenched teeth as he stared at Putchin. ‘For Isabelle.’
Gurin had just entered the room. He looked at Putchin. ‘What did you say to him?’
‘Nothing.’ Putchin replied visibly shaken, he had never heard Jaak speak English.
‘That was for Isabelle.’ Jaak repeated the words slowly, then he spat on Polly.
‘Get the body on the cart and get it out quick. Dump it as soon as you can and get back here ‘ Gurin told Putchin. He turned to Jaak and spoke soothingly until Jaak calmed down and slipped back into the trance. Gurin waited until he laid his head back onto the pillow.
‘Tell me about Isabelle, Jaak’ he coaxed gently. Jaak smiled as he thought about Isabelle.
When Abraham lost his grip on Jaak in the river, a large branch was passing and got entangled with Jaak’s clothing dragging him along and forcing his head under the water.
Several times the branch caught an obstacle in the river and tipped upside down, lifting Jaak out of the water for a few seconds and then plunging him back under again. It ran into another broken branch and the extra weight acted as a counter balance and Jaak emerged gasping for air but alive. The branch remained upright and Jaak held his head as far back as he could to stop water going into his mouth. He could hear a sound like thunder growing louder as he was carried downstream. As the noise got louder, the water around him turned more violent, small waves slapped him in the face, stinging his cheeks. He struggled vainly to release himself when he felt the branch stop suddenly. He closed his mouth ready to go under again but the branch started to float away and Jaak grabbed out instinctively as he watched it drifting away from him. Jaak felt a weight pulling him down by his shirt collar, then backwards, and again he disappeared under again. there it was, two eyes and a huge wide mouth. A giant catfish swam around him in a complete circle.
Jaak was petrified, his arms thrashed wildly to keep the monster away and get his head above the surface, he felt the fish bite at him, missing his body, it tore at the baggy jacket he wore, shaking him violently. Jaak screamed out in shock, the water choked him as he inhaled. He kicked out coughing and retching as he did, his eyes were mere slits but he saw the giant catfish circling him, ready for a new attack.
Something grabbed his hair, ‘Another one,’ he thought as it pulled him backwards by the hair, the pain was intense, he thought the top of his head would come off. He was lifted completely out of the water by his hair. Then he felt it released and he landed on his backside on something hard.
He was still thrashing his arms and kicking when he felt two hands hold him by the arms. ‘Abraham.’ He called. He heard a voice calling out, ‘It’s alright I have you now.’
Jaak looked around him. He was sitting on a large rock.
‘Abraham, Mikael.’ Jaak called out.
‘You are safe now. Calm little man.’
He felt the hand reaching around his small waist and the strong hands lifted him up from the rock. The man that had carried him in his strong arms had a long beard and kind brown eyes, he carried him through some bushes and into a clearing, where he was put down gently. Still panting for breath he looked around.
Two women and a second man stood in a semi-circle around him. The younger of the two men leant down and wrapped a shawl around him, he moved Jaak’s collar with one finger and saw the gold ornament around his neck, confirming he was one of their own. The younger of the two women looked anxiously at the small boy.
‘Hello little man, I’m Isabelle. What’s your name?’
Jaak looked up at her face, her wide forehead tapered down to a chin even smaller than her mouth, her ears protruded out very slightly with her thin long brown hair tucked behind them. Her nose was wide and flat with small nostrils, thick eyebrows arching away above her brown eyes like two leaves of a palm tree. She smiled with her lips closed and Jaak was immediately reminded of a cat.
‘My name is Jaak,’ he whispered still transfixed with her face. ‘Where is Mikael?’
‘Who is Mikael?’ Asked an older woman standing behind Isabelle. Jaak stared silently at the woman without answering.
‘This is my aunt.’ explained Isabelle.
‘Mikael is my brother.’
‘Was he in the river too?’ Isabelle’s uncle who was still holding his arm asked.
‘How did you fall in, what are you doing in the forest?’
‘I didn’t fall in, Abraham was carrying us across the river but it was too strong and then he got hurt and he let go of me.’
‘Who is Abraham?’ A younger man asked also an uncle of Isabelle.
‘Where are your parents?’ Jaak began to cry softly, he spoke through sobs.
‘The soldiers shot my father and one cut my mother here.’ Jaak pointed to his own throat.
‘Abraham did this, Jaak?’
‘No, he came later and he and another man made the soldiers go away.’
‘Where were you going?’
‘I don’t know. Mikael said he was taking us away from the bad men and I have to go too.’
The four adults looked at each other without speaking. They had witnessed the Russian brutality when they escaped from their own village three weeks earlier and fled into the woods. Travelling slowly along small tracks to avoid soldiers, to their destination, the coast of the black sea and the safety of Turkey. The man lifted his gaze from Jaak’s face and scanned the river for signs of Mikael. He flinched instinctively as a shot rang out. Turning to the others he spoke quickly.
‘Russians, that was too close, let’s go quickly.’
‘What of the brother, we must look for him.’ said Isabelle.
‘Isabelle what can we do? If the Russians find us we are all dead, take him with us, now come on quickly.’
Isabelle was unhappy to leave without looking for Mikael, but she knew her uncle spoke the truth. People were being shot for the clothes they wore and the food in their pockets and left in the forest to rot. They heard more shots, shouts and dogs barking.
‘Move now.’ Ordered the uncle. They ran down a forest track, away from the river and the sounds. As the trees became denser and the noise further away, they began to relax a little and slowed their pace, walking for a further hour before they stopped in a small clearing, exhausted. They had no idea that the war was over, but they knew the Russians would not dare follow them so far into the forest for fear of ambush, Circassian fighters operated everywhere in small groups. But the uncle decided it was too risky to light a fire, so they settled down to sleep. Isabelle took Jaak and sat down.
‘Let me take these wet clothes off and dry them or you will get sick.’ Jaak allowed himself to be undressed by the beautiful girl who spoke softly to him as she wrung out his wet clothes. She then picked him up and sat him on her lap cuddling him and rubbing his back to both warm and comfort him. Jaak shivering naked under the shawl, looked up at Isabelle’s beautiful face. In only the light from the moon she reminded him of his mother, and as his small body warmed, exhaustion overcame him and he fell asleep. Early the next morning, the two men walked several hundred yards to the river where a rocky outcrop gave them a view over several miles of the river without being seen themselves.
‘Do you think the brother managed to survive?’ Asked Isabelle’s uncle to his older brother.
‘Between the river and the Russians with their dogs I don’t think they had much chance, we can only hope they survived and escaped, but at least the brother has an adult to take care of him, we will take the boy with us to the coast, maybe his brother will be there.’ He answered.
‘Such a pity for the boy to lose first his parents and then his brother.’
‘Worse has happened since the Russians came here, just take care of the living and pray for the dead.’
They turned and walked back to the clearing where the two women were sitting now awake. Isabelle looked at them and without speaking they shook their heads. Jaak woke and sat up looking around, he was sitting in a small cart being pushed by a very large man who smiled at him. He had dreamt of his mother holding him and singing softly as she had always done when he was upset.
‘Belle,’ the man called out. ‘He is awake.’
Isabelle crossed over to the cart and walked beside it.
‘Hello, my little man. How are you?’
‘Where is Mikael?’ Jaak asked her.
‘Mikael is with Abraham.’ she said, without knowing if she was telling the truth. She gave Jaak a piece of bread and he lay back in the cart chewing slowly and crying softly. Isabelle listened to him sobbing with a heavy heart. It was his first day as an orphan and he was completely numb.
Only using the main track when the terrain in the forest was impossible to push their small cart through, they found a small clearing surrounded by thick trees and stopped to eat. Jaak climbed out of the cart and gazed down towards the river winding through the valley below. His eyes scanned it all looking for Mikael.
They continued for several days making small camps where they ate and slept, Isabelle consoled Jaak with happy stories of her family. She told of her childhood in the village she and her family had left to escape the Russians. She spoke of a new life in Turkey, and of her three brothers, two older and one younger who had left one night to fight the Russians and never returned. But she did not speak of sad things, she told Jaak tales about her dog and sang songs that Jaak knew. Jaak grew fonder of her each day, she was a safe light in a dark world and he never left her side, clinging to her tightly each night until he fell asleep and when he awoke screaming and terrified by the nightmares that were so vivid to him.
After ten days they reached the main exodus of Circassian refugees heading for the Black sea. They joined with other smaller groups, all fearful of the Russian soldiers, who were stationed in two’s and three’s along the route every five hundred yards, word had spread that the war was over and Russians would not harm them because there were foreign observers present. Tents painted with red crescents offered treatment to the sick and the refugees became more relaxed as they walked. But the mood changed when they reached the entrance of the main camp. They stopped at the brow of a hill, Isabelle looked down at the people below.
‘My God I have never seen so many people.’ She said in horror as she scanned the thousands of refugees.
‘I don’t want to go down there.’ She said to her uncle. Soldiers started shouting and hitting people with their rifles.
‘Keep moving, don’t stop.’ Called a voice from behind them. It was impossible for them to turn around and go back.
Isabelle held Jaak tightly to her as she was jostled along by the huge crowd separated from her family, she shouted to her aunt above the noise of frightened people.
A stomach turning stench emanated from the camp below. Isabelle had never experienced anything like it and held her hand over her mouth and nose as she stumbled along the road. Jaak was sick down her back, she felt a fist as the man behind her pushed her forward to avoid the vomit.
‘Stop hitting me.’ She screamed back at him.’
‘The boy is throwing up on me, keep moving.’ The man shouted back angrily. The road finally opened into a wider space and Isabelle felt the pressure of people around her slowly ebb away. She found a clean area of grass and sat down, exhausted. A few minutes later she saw her Uncle.
‘Here,’ she called. ‘We are here. She waved her arm, too tired to stand up. Her Aunt arrived and hugged her as she sat down crying with relief; the fear in her eyes said everything that Isabelle was feeling.
‘What have we done? We have made a big mistake coming here.’ Her aunt sobbed.
‘I want to go home.’ Jaak sobbed into her hair, his breath coming in short bursts as he cried. Isabelle patted his back to sooth him.
‘I want to go home too, Jaak.’ She said under her breath.
Refugees arrived all day and night without stopping. The Russians continued the attacks on the villages causing more to flee for their lives and the camp became larger each day. The ships to take them to Turkey had still not arrived and fights started to break out. Stealing was becoming more common as people ran out of food. Drunken Russians troops roamed the camps looking for young woman at night; most girls shrank away at first until they became hungry enough to leave with the soldiers. Isabelle watched as they walked into the forest, returning later with food for themselves and their families, old women begging them to share.
The ships were infrequent and there was no order to board, they docked at a shaky wooden pier had been constructed.
Her uncle had already moved them and their meagre belongings twice and they had managed to move closer to the pier, hoping they had a better chance to board a ship, and it came at a high price for those who could afford it. Those that had bribed the soldiers were escorted through the gates to board the ship. After them, the soldiers stood back and it was first come first served, with savage fights breaking as desperate families attempted to flee the horror.
Those whom had bribed the soldiers slowly boarded. The Turkish sailors did not leave the ship, with cloths tied around their mouths to keep out the putrid air, they beckoned the people up shaky wooden boards that didn’t seem strong enough to hold the weight.
Isabelle watched an old woman struggled up the wood alone, a rope ran along the side to hold onto, but refusing to leave her heavy bag of belongings she was not strong enough to pull herself and stopped halfway up. The sailors became angrier with her, she was slowing everyone behind her down. People forced their way passed her in their haste to get on the ship. An old man tried to help her, pleading with others to assist him. But she was too weak to move and now they both had completely blocked the way. One sailor shouted to them angrily. They did not move so he shouted again. He called to two Russian soldiers who pushed their way up the board to her. One pulled her bag roughly from her grasp and shoved her. She let go of the rope and turned to grab her bag. Her foot slipped and she toppled forward off the wood. The old man who was holding her arm tried to pull her back but the pair fell into the water between the ship and the pier. People on the dock shouted to them for help to get away from the ship as they struggled to hold onto the ropes trailing from it into the water in the hope somebody would pull them onto the ship.
A strong gust of wind pushed the ship into the side of the pier.
The people above them on the wood stopped and watched in horror as they were crushed.
The sailors shouted at them to move faster. Nobody else stopped or looked down as they climbed the wooden plank. They gripped each other and the rope even tighter to get onto the ship.
Shielding Jaak’s eyes with her hand, Isabelle wept as she watched the bodies of the two old people float away with the tide. A shark appeared and tore at them, then more arrived and within minutes the two bodies were gone.
Isabelle and her family collected their belongings and walked back towards the hill at the edge of the camp, there were less people here and the air smelled fresher, with what little valuables they had they knew they had no chance of boarding a ship. They would look for a way out and leave when the soldiers were asleep or drunk.
After four days Isabelle discovered a quiet place where a river ran down to the sea, it was slightly higher and blocked the view of the main camp from the soldiers, they would not see them leaving from here. It was grassy and there were a few trees, where birds were singing and she washed Jaak in the river and let him play. Isabelle began to relax for the first time in days, she sat on the grass with Jaak watching the waves breaking on the shore below her, scanning the horizon hoping to see a ship. She put the helpless situation they were in out of her mind for a little while and pretended she was somewhere else.
Jaak had also become more tranquil, finding a stick and immediately turning it into a sword as all boys do, Isabelle smiled as she watched him poking an ant’s nest, annoying the small black fearless creatures as she washed his shirt. Jaak yelped as they bit his hand, he threw down the stick and ran back to Isabelle.
‘That taught you a good lesson,’ mocked Isabelle, laughing. ‘Just because they are so small doesn’t mean they cannot hurt you.’
Standing quietly in the clearing was a shabbily dressed old woman watching Isabelle and Jaak. She walked over and stopped in front of them, she had several teeth missing, those remaining were black and rotten. She was dressed in unwashed clothes with a dirty black bonnet perched on her head at a strange angle.
She leant down to ruffle Jaak’s hair but he pulled away frightened.
‘Your young brother is lovely. Come on give your old Auntie Anni a smile.’ she said, looking at Jaak, but her eyes were fixed on the gold chain hanging around his neck. Her gaze then swept up towards Isabelle’s breast, where her gold chain was hanging. Isabelle instinctively lifted her hand, then stopped, not wanting to be rude.
The old woman was so close, Isabelle could smell her stale breath. Isabelle nervously smiled silently back at her, the way the old woman stared at their gold chains scared her. The old woman stood and left and Isabelle quickly washed Jaak, thinking about Anni and their gold. Many Circassians had been robbed on the roads to and inside the camp by thieves or soldiers. She had heard of women swallowing gold and even coins to hide inside their bodies.
Looking around to check that they were alone, she spoke calmly as she lifted Jaak’s chain and tapped him on the nose with it.
‘Jaak why don’t let me keep this safe for you. I am scared that you may lose it.’
‘Alright.’ replied Jaak trusting her.
Isabelle put Jaak’s gold chain in her mouth, leaned forward and scooped a handful of water from the river into her mouth. Throwing back her head she swallowed it, gagging slightly, she then removed her own and did the same.
But Anni had not gone far, hiding behind a tree she smiled as she watched Isabelle swallow her valuables.
Isabelle looked into her small plate of broth and bread uncomfortably, she and her family ate slowly without speaking. She broke her food into tiny pieces and picked at it slowly, trying to convince herself that the meal was larger. Scores of skinny refugees stared at her silently, like dogs waiting for scraps as. She didn’t know why but she tried to look as if she wasn’t enjoying it, a small gesture to reduce the discomfort of the hungry around her.
That evening, Isabelle sat with Jaak on her lap talking with her Aunt about what they had witnessed earlier that day. Her younger uncle had left to find a colleague he had been told was nearby and her older uncle was lying on one arm, listening to Isabelle and smoking his clay pipe. Isabelle suddenly felt Jaak’s whole body stiffen. She looked up to see three scruffy Russian soldiers and a red haired girl standing nearby watching them. Jaak sat motionless, the sight of the Russian soldier terrifying him.
They looked drunk the way they swayed and Isabelle looked away from them, not wishing to make eye contact. She tried to continue telling her story but her aunt and uncle were not listening, the girl and the soldiers had moved closer behind her.
‘That’s her.’ said the girl pointing at Isabelle.’ That’s the girl. She stole my chain.’
One of the soldiers had a stripe on his arm. ‘Come with me.’ he told Isabelle.
Isabelle’s uncle moved to rise but the youngest of the three soldiers lifted his rifle and pointed it at him.
Ignoring the rifle aimed at him the uncle continued to stand. A rifle butt hit him solidly behind the head and he fell back to the ground. Isabelle rose slowly looking around for help but used to the drunken soldiers roughing up people each night none wanted to get involved and looked away. She pushed Jaak towards her aunt,
‘Take him, I will be fine.’ she said. Jaak gripped Isabelle’s skirt tightly but the aunt pulled him away, her terror-filled eyes never leaving Isabelle. The corporal took her arm and walked her roughly away towards the dark forest. Isabelle looked back at Jaak struggling with her aunt to get away and her uncle lying unconscious next to the fire. As the soldiers moved closer to the forest, her mind raced for a way to escape. If the soldiers planned to rape her but she fought too hard they may possibly even kill her afterwards, she knew she had to keep them calm. After several minutes they arrived at a clearing well away from the camp and Isabelle was pushed roughly with her back against a tree, her hands tied around the trunk so tightly it forced her head forward.
A rag was stuffed in her mouth, the taste was vile and then another around her face to keep the rag in place. Until this time the girl had said nothing. She now stepped forward and pulled Isabelle’s top down exposing her breasts. The soldiers stood silently watching, becoming aroused at the sight. She took the corporals left hand and placed it on Isabelle’s bare breast, his right hand she pushed onto her own. Then with her hand on his crotch she played with him through the fabric of his uniform until she felt him becoming aroused. Isabelle closed her eyes and stayed motionless praying it would be over quickly. She felt him take his hand off her breast and opened her eyes to see her and the corporal walking away towards the trees. He spoke in Russian and the girl laughed and slapped his arm. The two soldiers before her began a heated exchange of words and then one left and joined the corporal and the girl. The remaining man spat on the floor and swore. Isabelle understood nothing, he was no more than a boy and she was slightly relieved, the other two had scared her more. Besides the clearing, the girl was servicing them both at the same time, one in front and one behind. Isabelle was confused. Why did they bring her here? When they had left the camp her worst fear was of being raped. She heard a cough and looked back to the clearing. There walking slowly towards her was the old woman who had spoken to her earlier that day, the one so interested in her and Jaak. She stopped in front of Isabelle and said something to the young soldier. He replied harshly to her and snatched the purse that she handed to him. Completely ignoring Isabelle he rested his rifle against her leg and opening the purse, tipped six coins into his hand. Seeming agitated he put two in his pocket and replaced the rest back in the purse, which he then tied.
‘We agreed three coins each.’ he said in Russian.
‘Your Corporal agreed two coins and you can fuck my daughter.’ she replied in broken Russian nodding her head in the direction of the other three. He nodded to the old woman, picked up his rifle and laughed. Reaching forward, he fondled Isabelle’s breasts with one hand for a few seconds and then walked towards the group in the trees who had finished and were re adjusting their clothing. They began walking back towards the camp, the youngest complaining loudly about being left out of the fun, the girl laughing and the corporal sharing out the coins from the purse with the third soldier.
Isabelle was left alone with the old woman, her heart began racing. The old woman just stared, her cold, black eyes piercing into Isabelle’s brown ones.
She lifted her hand up to Isabelle’s face to reveal a small razor sharp knife. Isabelle’s heart hammered against her chest so hard she nearly passed out. The soldiers scared her but now they were gone she was truly terrified. Anni slid the knife under the rag and across her cheek nicking her, blood trickled slowly as the rag fell to the ground. The old woman spoke softly in a strange dialect Isabelle could not understand. Isabelle’s nose twitched as the old woman’s face came close, her breath was putrid. She searched Isabelle’s dress and then her hair. She spoke again and spat. Then in Circassian she said,
‘I have nothing.’ Isabelle pleaded, hoping to be released.
‘You are worthless.’
Isabelle’s eyes widened as she looked past the woman. There in the trees at the entrance to the clearing stood Jaak, silent and still. He had followed them. The old woman turned in the direction Isabelle was looking but her eyes were weak and she could not distinguish Jaak from the trees. Isabelle struggled to remember the name she called herself, then it came to her.
‘Anni, I have valuables in the camp, untie me and I will give them to you. My uncle will reward you for saving me from the soldiers.’ Isabelle lied. Old Anni walked behind the tree.
‘Of course I will, my dear, just wait a moment.’
‘Anni help me please we have gold there, untie me please.’
‘You are worthless.’ The old woman mumbled, ‘Worthless alive.’
Reaching from behind she pressed the blade against Isabelle’s throat and pulled her hand to the right in one motion.
‘I know exactly where the gold is because I watched you swallow it my dear.’ she continued talking from behind the tree as Isabelle choked. The old woman waited for the bleeding to stop, not wanting to return to the camp with blood stains. Satisfied the blood from the wound had subsided enough, the old woman stepped around the tree to the front of Isabelle and pushed the knife into the left of her abdomen. She drew the knife to the right and stepped back releasing her intestines onto the ground.
Jaak began shaking, his young mind was unable to comprehend what his eyes were seeing, he began to rock backwards and forwards, unable to make a sound. He put his hands over his ears and shut his eyes to block the sounds and sight of his new friend dying exactly the same way his mother died. Something inside Jaak’s mind snapped. Pictures and memories rushed around inside his head like water through a broken dam. He had no idea where he was or even who he was.
He stopped rocking, opened his eyes and dropped his hands from his ears. He stood calmly looking at Isabelle’s face hanging down onto her chest, she looked so peaceful. Like a cat sleeping.
Anni was busy with her work. Laying the knife down, she picked up the intestine with her left hand and ran her right hand along it feeling for hard objects. After several feet had passed through her hands she felt something and stopped. Reaching down, she picked up the knife and sliced open the section in her hand. She dropped the knife back onto the ground and pulled out Isabelle’s chain, then Jaak’s chain and finally the gold moon charm his mother had given him. Satisfied there was nothing else the old woman reached down to pick up the knife. Engrossed with the gold, her hand right hand groped around for the knife. She could not feel it. She looked down at the floor but still couldn’t see it. To avoid kneeling in the blood she lifted her skirt and lowered her face to look, cursing both her short sightedness and old age. Her back ached as she lowered her head even closer to the ground.
As she turned away from the body she saw a pair of small feet. Without straightening up she lifted her head and looked directly into a pair of green eyes staring at her with so much hatred. The small boy swung his arm in front of her. She felt a tingle in her throat and as she held her hand to her throat he struck out again across her face. Blood filled her left eye and she could see nothing. A third time, across her mouth but she felt nothing as her bottom lip hung from a small piece of skin. Her rotten teeth showing like a mad grinning mannequin.
She straightened up slowly, her left hand held in front of her to ward of the boy who refused to stop slashing at her face.
She held her right hand to her throat to stem the blood, her eyes searching frantically around for her daughter. She tried to scream but no sound came out. She thrashed her arms about trying to support herself, each movement causing the blood to pour faster, cascading down the front of her black dress. Now, she knew what it felt like to have her own throat cut.
Her legs gave way and she collapsed, her bottom hitting the floor so hard her teeth chattered together. She looked up at Jaak as the life began to drain from her evil body. Jaak took the gold chains from her hands, then held his face inches away from hers, stared impassively in her eyes without blinking. Watching her die. Anni took her hand away from her throat and pushed it into his face. Jaak did not move away, his nose and mouth was covered with her blood. Her torn lips mouthed silent words, blood replaced breath, unable to speak them. She removed her hand from his face and then smiled. The last thoughts in her evil mind were hatred, her last act was one of vengeance. She placed a curse on the boy as she sat there, slowly dying in front of him.
Jaak cut the rope holding Isabelle and sat down next to her limp body holding her hand.
‘Jaak, Jaak.’ it was a quiet voice shaking with grief. ‘Open your hand Jaak give me the knife.’ Isabelle’s youngest uncle spoke gently, tears running in streams down his cheeks. Jaak opened his fingers and the knife slipped to the floor.
Mikael leaned on the ships rail, and looked at the rugged mountains of Cape Town that lay before him, so different from the flat endless coastline from Durban that he had left only a few days before.
His thought were of his parents, Abraham and Sarah, still mourning the death of Mikael’s young sister Emma. Her life tragically and brutally cut short, betrayed by the very man she nursed back from the brink of death, and Mikael was on his way to find the man accused of her murder, his own brother Jaak.
The last of the passengers were boarding and the ship was preparing to leave, an annoyed female voice interrupted his thoughts.
‘Be more careful with my luggage please.’
He turned to look and could not help but stare, he stood transfixed by her beauty. Before him stood the most stunning woman he had ever seen. Five feet one inch tall, she stood holding a small parasol, her back and shoulders perfectly straight. Thick black hair tied up above her head, her face was oval with Persian features. Mikael was hypnotised by her brown eyes, her long eyelashes and arched eyebrows thick and black standing out against her unblemished skin. Hidden from the burning African sun, she was as white as an English nun. Her large nose and thick lips were perfectly in proportion. The porter stopped when he reached Mikael and the huge dog sitting next to him, he was not prepared to get any closer.
‘Sorry Sir, but the dog will have to go downstairs in the steerage, we will be leaving shortly.’ He said.
‘Yes, he has been down there since we left Durban, I am giving him some fresh air. I will bring him down in a few minutes.’ Mikael replied.
Mikael realised the Boerboel was blocking the way and pulled it back to allow the porter room to get passed with her massive luggage trunk, she followed. Mikael smiled as she passed, unable to take his gaze from her eyes, he touched his forehead with his fingers.
‘Good morning madam, Mikael Buitekant at your service.’ He said smiling, wishing he had combed his hair, smartened himself up, brushed his shoes, brushed his teeth a bit longer.
‘Good morning Sir,’ she replied glancing in his direction. ‘Julia Jacobson.’ She looked into his green eyes, then added, ‘Miss.’ then continued towards her cabin followed by her maid. Mikael watched her walk all the way to the living quarters. He then turned back to the rail and looked out at the blue skies ahead, blowing out the breath that he had held in.
‘Perhaps this won’t be such a boring trip as I thought.’ he said to himself.
Six weeks later, the massive steam horn blew as the ship docked at London. Mikael and Julia stepped down the gangplank together arm in arm.
‘Where should we deliver the luggage Sir?’ Asked the porter standing at the bottom of the steps. Julia handed him a piece of paper with her address on it.
‘Take it all there.’ She said.
‘All of it, and the dog miss?’
‘All of it and the dog.’ She confirmed.
‘Are you sure you uncle won’t mind me staying there?’ Mikael asked.
‘Of course he won’t mind, he has a huge house and plenty of spare rooms. He has been lonely since my aunt died living alone there and loves company. You will love my uncle he has a great sense of humour.’ Julia giggled as she squeezed Mikael’s arm.
‘I hope he keeps his sense of humour when I ask to marry you.’
‘Hello Mr Sinclair, have you come to see Josh?’ The Matron smiled at Sinclair as she looked up from the reception desk. She spoke to a young nurse who disappeared along a corridor. Several minutes later nurse Davey O’Kane returned with Josh.
‘Hello Davey, how is the little tyke doing? Has he been chasing all the young nurses around. He’s a randy little bugger.’ Davey laughed as the Matron coughed loudly at Sinclair crude remark.
Sinclair and Josh walked for half an hour around the gardens set in the grounds of the hospital. Sinclair brought Josh an orange as he always did and they laughed at the same old joke about women’s breasts, Josh never tiring of it. They sat on the long wooden bench and watched the squirrels rummaging in the short grass and then running back up the trees when somebody walked by.
Sinclair held up a small package.
‘There you go Josh, something for your birthday.’
‘It’s not my birthday today.’
‘It’s not, well, I’ll take it back then.’ He joked.
Josh ripped open the brown paper and pulled out a large red book. He read the title out loud.
‘King Solomon’s Mines.’ There was a drawing of a Zulu shield and spear on the cover. His face became anxious.
‘Is it about Zulu’s Sergeant major?’
‘It’s an adventure story set in Africa. It will be good for you to read, Josh.’ Josh stared at the picture of the spear and shield. He suddenly remembered what he wanted to tell Sinclair.
‘Guess who I saw in the hospital yesterday Sergeant Major.’ Josh said suddenly. Sinclair thought for a second and then answered. ‘
‘Her majesty the queen?’
‘No, not even close.’
‘I give up, who did you see.’
‘The man from the mission.’ Josh said cautiously.
‘What man from what mission?’ Asked Sinclair.
‘The man who was tied to the fence with us. The civilian with the long hair and beard. The man with the big dog took him away on his horse.’
‘And what would he be doing in a bloody mental hospital in the East End of London. You must be getting the wrong medication.’ Sinclair laughed.
‘I’m not in a mental hospital, this is a sanatorium.’ Josh looked sad.
‘Sorry Josh, of course it is.’ Sinclair realised his joke had upset Josh. He continued.’ So you saw the man the Boer took on his horse?’
‘Yes, I was coming back from the toilets and I got confused and went the wrong way. I saw him in a room, on his own, not sharing like the rest of us, he must have money. He has got a lot of scars on his back.’
‘How the hell do you know that?’
‘He was stood in his room being washed by the nurses, when I saw him, I waved at him but he didn’t see me, his face was just blank. Then they turned him around and I saw his back. He has scars on his chest but not as many as on his back. You should see them Sergeant Major it looked like someone played noughts and crosses on him. It was horrible.’
‘What? So he didn’t see you?’
‘I don’t know, he was standing up but looked like he was asleep. He just stared at me, but it was as if he didn’t see me. Then one of the nurses saw me. He shouted at me and kicked the door shut.’
‘The nurse was angry with you for looking at him?’ Sinclair was furious, he had been assured the staff here treated the patients well.
‘He threw a bar of soap at me and told me to bugger off.’ Added Josh.
‘I will speak with Davey.’ Sinclair said.
‘No don’t do that please Sergeant Major. Maybe I will get in trouble for being there. Promise me you won’t say anything’ Josh started trembling.
‘Alright Josh, calm down. I won’t say anything, don’t worry boy,’ he picked up the book.
‘In return, you promise me you will read it.’ Sinclair said firmly.
Josh was nervous, the picture on the cover scared him. He didn’t want to open it.
‘I will. I promise, thank you.’ said Josh.
Come on lets go for a walk.’ Sinclair cursed himself. Sometimes Josh seemed so normal it was so easy for him to forget that the boy was still very ill. They stood up and walked around the gardens.
Standing against the main building wall smoking a cigarette, Gurin watched them with interest. Putchin joined him and also lit a cigarette.
‘Which one?’ He asked looking around the grounds.
Gurin nodded his head in the direction of Sinclair and Josh. He then stubbed out his cigarette and went back inside the building. A bell rang from the tower above the hospital, visiting time was over.
‘Well that’s it until next time boy.’ Said Sinclair standing up stretching, his legs ached.
‘Bye Sergeant Major thanks for coming.’ Said Josh as he walked back towards the steps. Sinclair watched him as he took the stairs two at a time.
‘My God he is getting better.’ He thought to himself as he walked out of the grounds onto the main Bethnal Green High Street and turned left towards Whitechapel.
Putchin followed him from the hospital to his home and watched him turn the key in his front door, Sinclair never noticed him.
As Bill closed the door he kicked a note that was laying on the thin mat. He groaned as he picked it up, a throb developing in his lower back. He read the letter out aloud as he reached his back room and sat in his rocking chair.
“Dear Bill, have been called back to the regiment. Ship out tomorrow, come and have a farewell drink. White Hart, Seven o’clock. Bottle of Scotch with your name on. Taylor.”
Bill turned to the faded photo of his deceased wife. ‘Well that’s a turn up, Betty , a free drink.’ He said to her.
Captain David Taylor sat staring at his empty glass, his mind picturing the coal black Zulu with a small spear in his hand and the complete absence of compassion in his eyes.
He had been in the White Hart pub waiting for Sinclair since six O’clock. The small crowd of cockneys that had gathered around, listening to him, sat in silence waiting for his next word. A clock ticking above the open fireplace was the only sound for several seconds then a loud crack from the wet wood on the fire sent an ember cascading across the uneven tiled floor, the sound eerily like a shot from a rifle. The young cockney jumped back in his seat and gasped in shock breaking the silence, he then looked around at the others embarrassed.
‘Another one Sir?’
Taylor slowly lifted his gaze towards the young woman who had broken the silence. Standing in front of him, beer stains on her blouse and untidy hair pulled back behind her head.
‘What?’ Asked Taylor.
‘Do you want another drink Sir; it’s what people do in here?’ She asked. Taylor pushed his empty glass across the wooden table and nodded.
‘Course he wants a drink Martha, now beetle away and get his drink, he is in the middle of a story. Oh and fetch us one too. If you don’t mind that is Captain?’ asked Howarth cheekily, an expert at fleecing drunks for free drinks.
‘Get my friends a drink.’ Said Taylor. A chorus of thank you rang out as Martha returned to the bar.
‘How did he kill him Sir?’ Asked the young cockney quietly.
‘Who?’ Asked Taylor confused.
‘The Zulu, you were telling how he killed one of your men, Captain. How did he kill him Sir. ‘
Taylor remembered he was in the middle of telling a story.
‘How! He pushed his spear into the man’s belly button and slit him open up to the chest. Then he cut out his heart and bit it. It was still beating.’ Whispered Taylor.
The barmaid physically shuddered as she put the glass down on the wooden table nearly spilling it in her haste. She scurried back behind the counter as far away from Taylor as she could get. She hated service men telling of the horrors they encountered at war, and the east end was full of scroungers who could keep a story going all night as long as the free drinks kept coming. Normally she laughed them off but this one was different, he was obviously a gentleman, he had already stood two rounds of drinks for everybody and paid for them but his haunted expression scared her and as handsome as Taylor was, she was glad she was not left alone with him.
The White Hart public house was not in the safest of areas. The East End was dangerous but Martha, brought up there was as tough as most of the men. She locked up and walked home alone every night, but tonight Taylor made her jittery. ‘Tom, wait for me to lock up tonight, there will be a few free ales in it for you.’ She whispered to the chimney sweep. ‘There are enough crazy bastards here in London, I don’t need to hear about the ones halfway around the world.’ She said, wishing Taylor would go home. Tom smiled and nodded.
The crowd moved closer to Taylor, they wanted to hear everything. They loved hearing the stories of the Zulu’s. There was something about facing hundreds of naked black savages with spears and knives that sent chills down their spine.
‘If I may ask you Sir?’ Asked a young man hesitantly.
‘Yes?’ replied Taylor.
‘If you were all tied to a fence with no hope of escape, how did you manage to survive Sir?’
‘We were saved by one man and his dog.’ The small crowd laughed at the remark assuming Taylor was teasing them.
‘Must have been a blooming big dog to kill all them Zulus.’ Chirped up Tom, who had been sitting at the bar listening. ‘I’ve heard some cock and bull stories from you Army lads but this is without a doubt the best tale I’ve heard between Mile End and this side of the Chapel.’ The whole pub laughed including Taylor.
‘It was a blooming big dog.’ Mimicked Taylor in his best cockney accent.
Suddenly a voice boomed out in a broad Glaswegian accent.
‘A cock and bull story you may believe, but to my regret it is as true as I stand here. When the Zulu’s left the mission the next day, they left five of us barely alive and tied fast to the mission fence. So cocky were they that only three warriors stayed behind, two old men and one boy. We were only kept alive so the Zulu boys could learn to kill for the first time, so they could feel what it was like to push a knife into another person and see him die in front of their own eyes, by their own hand, to get them ready for battle.’
The entire crowd of cockneys all turned to look at the owner of the voice. A very large man entered the bar and walked across the bar to Taylor, whose face lit up like a child at Christmas.
‘Hello Bill, so glad you could come.’ said Taylor with a smile, genuinely pleased to see the man. He stood and shook Sinclair’s hand vigorously.
‘Ladies and gentlemen this is Sergeant Major Bill Sinclair, DSM Royal Engineers, retired. One of the finest soldiers I have had the pleasure of serving with and he can still beat any man with one hand tied behind his back.’ Sinclair roared with laughter and sat down next to Taylor.
‘Actually, it’s now Sergeant Bill Sinclair, H division Whitechapel district Police.’ Tom the chimney sweep spoke up again, laughing, he called to one of the men sitting down listening.
‘Blimey Howarth that’s a first, you sitting at the same table as a constable without having hand cuffs on.’ Sinclair removed a pair from his pocket and laid them on the table.
‘I can them on you if it makes you feel more comfortable.’ He joked.
Everybody laughed again including Howarth who jokingly replied to the sweep.
‘Shut it, Sooty or I’ll come over there and slap the black off you.’ They all laughed again and the barmaid let out a sigh of relief as she looked around the pub. The crowd was relaxed, an unusual habit for cockneys in the presence of the police.
‘Blimey you don’t see that every day.’ She exclaimed to Tom.
She turned to a small thickset man with dark hair slightly greying, who had walked in some moments after Sinclair. He ordered a Vodka in a thick European accent. Always on the lookout for a free drink or a few extra shillings Martha smiled at him.
‘Hello handsome, you’re not from around here are you. What’s your name then? She cooed.
‘Can call me Putchin.’ He replied.
‘No, I’m Lithuanian.’
Martha had no idea what he was talking about, so she just smiled and said. ‘The young men always enjoy it when one of the old soldiers gets a bit drunk and relive their horror stories.’
Putchin looked at Taylor for the first time.
‘He is a veteran?’ The thin man asked in a thick European accent.
‘What’s a veteran? Martha asked trying to engage him in conversation.
‘You do not know very much.’ Putchin chided her, ‘It means old soldier in French.’
‘No, never had any schooling, but I am bleeding’ good at some other things that don’t get taught in schools.’ She laughed loudly. Putchin smiled but she was bringing attention to him and he didn’t want that, he shifted his position on the stool so that his face was obscured from the crowd sitting at the table. None looked at him, he was just another foreigner having a drink and Taylor had captivated everybody, all eyes were on him. Putchin relaxed and bought Martha a drink. She poured herself a Gin and lifted the glass to toast him. Her glass was filthy, Putchin noticed but said nothing. He needed some information.
‘He speak true story?’ He asked nodding his head towards Taylor.
‘No idea love, but I would bet money that he’s telling the truth, you can tell by the eyes. Zulu’s are their favourite stories.’
‘Zulu? What is Zulu?’
‘Huge black African’s that run around naked, killing white people for fun.’
‘Really, then I don’t want to meet one in here tonight.’ He smiled.
‘No we ain’t got any here in the East End.’ Martha said, then realised Putchin was joking with her. ‘Your pulling my leg, you saucy bugger.’
‘Yes, now get me another Vodka and be quiet. I want to hear the story too.
The crowd drifted away, afraid to ask Taylor for more drinks now the big policeman sat next to him. The bottle of scotch was opened and Taylor and Sinclair drank and chatted the evening away. Both lonely in their own world and glad of each other’s company. Regardless of rank they had bonded for life by the terrors they had endured together. Taylor could have chosen from a dozen people and places to spend his last evening in England, but he chose to be with Sinclair in an East End pub.
The conversation turned to Josh.
‘How is Andrews doing?’ Asked Taylor.
‘Josh? As a matter of fact I went to visit him today, thank you for helping to get him to Bethnal Green Sir.’ He raised his glass.
‘My pleasure.’ Replied Taylor and he meant it.
‘He looks a hundred times better, but he told me he had seen one of the men with us from the mission in Africa.’
‘So you think he is hallucinating from the medication?’
‘Yes sir I’m afraid so.’
‘We all see ghosts Bill, I see every man I’ve killed most nights when I sleep.’
‘No sir, he didn’t say he saw a ghost. He said he saw the civilian from the mission in Africa. He is in the Asylum too.’
‘What civilian?’ Taylor struggled through a mist of alcohol to think straight.
‘The one we nearly left for dead.’ Bill explained patiently, he knew Taylor was very drunk.
‘The one Mikael took back to his home for his family to care for, sir.’
Taylor sprang into life at the mention of the name Mikael.
‘Mikael. Yes of course I remember now. We thought the man was dead but Mikael felt a pulse and took him back to his farm. His mother was a nurse.’
‘Yes sir, that civilian.’
Well strangely enough Bill, it is actually possible that Josh isn’t lying. Mikael visited my parents’ home a few days ago, I gave him the address when we parted in Africa. He left a message for me, he is here trying to find the same man, he believes he is here in London.’
‘Why is he trying to find him, sir?’
‘I don’t really know Bill, he didn’t explain why. But that’s fantastic news. Mikael saved our lives, Bill and albeit in a small way we can repay our debt of gratitude by helping him. I must get a message to Mikael, Bill but I am shipping out first thing, can you make sure Mikael gets this note for me?’
‘Of course sir.’ Taylor called out to Martha.
‘Martha can you please bring me a pen and paper.’
Martha was still talking to Putchin who had his back to them.
‘I ain’t got no bleeding pen and paper, this is a pub.’ She shouted back.
Putchin reached inside his pocket and pushed a piece of folded paper and a pencil towards Martha. ‘Give him these.’ He said.
‘I serve drinks not blooming pens and paper.’ She complained, slamming it down on the table. Taylor ripped the paper in two and wrote an address and a short note explaining that the man he was looking for was in Bethnal Green hospital, he also added Sinclair’s address.
‘That a bit of luck he lives in the same street as me.’ Sinclair exclaimed drunkenly.
‘What,’ said Taylor laughing. ‘No, that’s your address, his is on the other side of the paper.’
‘Oh right. What a silly sod I am. I know where that is, blimey he is rubbing with some toffs,’ Sinclair exclaimed placing the note in his pocket. ‘Leave it with me I will take care of it Sir.’
The two men continued to enjoy their evening for another hour.
‘Time for me to go home Bill.’ Taylor mumbled as he slumped forward onto the table. Sinclair helped him to his feet and held his arm as he swayed.
‘Goodnight, Sargent Major, goodnight to you too Captain Taylor, and thank you for entertaining us with your story.’ Called the Chimney Sweep as the two waved back from the door, weaving into the dark street laughing. Martha collected the empty glasses and cleaned the table, Putchin leant over her and picked up the remaining paper and pencil.
‘Nearly forgot this’ he smiled as he swallowed the remainder of his Vodka and walked towards the door.
‘You leaving too?’ Martha called after him.
‘Yes got to go now, maybe see you tomorrow.’ Putchin pushed the door open and disappeared into the night.
Sinclair insisted on walking Taylor to his room. Then after wishing Taylor a safe trip for the third time, he decided to go home. Unused to drinking such a large amount of whiskey he swayed along with one hand held out against the wall, his legs unsteady as he began to walk towards his own home.
‘Damn,’ he said out loud. ‘I have to get the message to Mikael.’ He turned left at the end of the street and began walking to the address Taylor had given him.
‘What do you want at this time of night?’ Said the irate servant who came to the wrought iron gate and stared at Sinclair. He had a thick European accent and his jacket over his head like a scarf.
‘I have a message for Mr Mikael.’ Sinclair slurred.
‘You have the wrong house Sir there is no Mikael living here.’
‘Mr Mikael, from Africa.’
‘No black man here, sorry go away.’
‘He’s not black, he is a white man. Give him this,’ Sinclair pushed his hand through the railings with the note. The servant snatched the note from Sinclair’s hand and motioned for him to go away. Sinclair leant towards the railings.
‘You are lucky there is three inches of steel between us little man, if you don’t deliver this message I will come back and build you into these blooming gates.’
The servant became nervous, suddenly the gates didn’t seem so strong. ‘Don’t worry I give the message to Mikael.’ He turned and walked hurriedly back into the house having no idea who Mikael was. He threw the note in the rubbish bin and went back to bed. Putchin stood in the shadow of a large tree and wrote the address on the paper in his pocket. He followed Sinclair all the way back to Jubilee street and then after five minutes watched Bills interior light go out.
‘Finally, I can go to bed.’ He said to himself and began walking home.
‘What did you make of the visitor?’ Asked Gurin. ‘Did you find out where he lives?’
‘Jubilee Street Stepney,’ Putchin replied, ‘He is a policeman.’
‘Oh God, do you think the boy spoke to him about Jaak?’
‘Yes.’ Putchin handed him the paper. ‘Hold it up to the light you can read the note that the policeman delivered to this address.
Gurin was nervous, they had only been at the hospital a few weeks and they had already been seen by an inmate who was connected to a policeman. The nurse had been reprimanded for leaving the door open already, his broken arm would takes weeks to mend. He held the paper up to the light. Taylor had pressed hard enough for the paper underneath to reveal what he wrote.
‘It only says the man you are looking for is in Bethnal Green Asylum.’
‘Gurin you are getting paranoid, it could mean anything.’
‘Paranoia keeps me alive,’ snarled back Gurin, ‘Did the policeman speak to anybody else?’
‘He was in the White hart pub all night with another man. I bought the barmaid a few drinks and she told me all about them. An Army Captain named Taylor, he has a drink problem but he is shipping out to Afghanistan in the morning, they were having a farewell drink.’
‘What about the policeman?’ Asked Gurin.
‘I followed the policeman, he went here,’ he passed Lord Jacobson’s address to Gurin then he continued.
‘He rang the bell and I watched him give one of the staff the note that Taylor had written in the pub, the policeman delivered it and went home.’
‘I have to tell the Count about this.’ Gurin said nervously, ‘he will be furious.’ He added.
An hour later, Gurin stepped out of the hansom cab with his collar turned up and hat down obscuring his face. The front door to Evdokimoff’s home opened as soon as the cab stopped. Gurin took the steps two at a time and walked directly to the Count’s office He removed his cloak and hat and gave them to a member of the staff. He pushed his hair back with both hands, took a deep breath knocked at the door and entered.
‘Come in Alexi, sit down and have a drink.’ Said Evdokimoff. ‘You look troubled, explain everything.’
The Count listened and nodded several times.
‘And you are sure this is the address the policeman delivered the note to?’ He asked, comparing it to another list he held.
‘Yes Sir.’ Gurin replied.
Evdokimoff sipped his Cognac slowly as he listened. He knew now Jacobson had to witness the first assassination.
‘Excellent work, a great start.’ Gurin was shocked, he was sure the Count would be furious.
‘Sir?’ Gurin said.
‘The policeman delivered the note to a Jewish politician named Lord Jacobson. He is also one of the suspects on my list. The game can begin, we will begin with him. Now you must wait for me to arrange the next step. Make sure you are not seen leaving.’
‘And the policeman Sir?’ Gurin asked.
‘He is of no importance, let’s give Jaak a trip out tonight, he could do with some exercise.’
Gurin was nervous. The time had finally come to release Jaak with a weapon in his hands. He had no idea if he could control him. Although he had already put Jaak under hypnosis several times since Grant had taught him, and he had let Jaak kill the prostitute in his cell, he had never fully released Jaak from all his restraints. Gurin picked up the long thin stiletto knife and looked at it. Then he changed his mind. He had something better back in his room.
Jaak had been given cocaine every day to keep him subdued, as the weeks passed he had become addicted to it and became sullen and quiet when it wore off then restless and aggressive when the craving for more returned. Gurin had kept him topped up, happy that the drug was keeping him quiet, but he noticed the periods between Jaak craving more was decreasing at an alarming rate. He had no idea how much he should give so he just gave him more every time he wanted it.
Jaak laid on the bed sweating, only his eyes moved when Gurin entered. They followed him around the room. Gurin injected Jaak in his arm and waited a few minutes. Jaak’s stretched his whole body out and sighed. That was the sign Gurin was waiting for, he sat behind Jaak’s head and quietly put him under hypnosis.
‘Stand up, hold your arms out and let the nurse dress you, Jaak,’ he said. ‘We are going for a ride.’
The black hansom cab stopped at the end of the street and Gurin got out. Putchin stood up to get out, looked outside and then sat back down.
‘What are doing here, I said Jubilee Street. What did we stop here for?’ Asked Putchin.
‘Stay out of sight for two minutes, I have to pick up something.’ Gurin answered. Jaak sat quietly looking out of the window. He looked at the white sign attached to the wall. “Sidney Street”. He watched Gurin walk to number one and open the front door. Gurin made his way upstairs to the small bedroom he rented. He unlocked his case and dumped the clothes inside onto the bed until he found what he was looking for. Eighteen inches of steel wire with small wooden handles at each end. The thought of Jaak having a knife in his hands scared him. He left the clothes on the bed, locked his room door and ran down the stairs and out into the street.
‘Now we can go,’ he called to the driver. ‘Had to pick this up for Jaak.’ He said handing the Garrotte to Putchin. Putchin looked at him curiously. Gurin explained.
‘The thought of him with a knife scares me.’
‘Scares you! I have to go with him and I have seen the size of that policeman.’ Putchin scowled.
They arrived in Jubilee Street at ten minutes to midnight. Gurin checked his watch, and waited. The driver opened the small flap in the material separating them and said quietly in English.
‘All clear, there is nobody about.’
Gurin motioned for the other two men sitting opposite him to leave the cab. They both wore dark cloaks and hats to disguise their features but nobody saw them walk quietly the one hundred yards to number Twenty Eight.’
Jaak stood silently as Putchin tapped at the door. He listened for several seconds but heard no movement inside. Putchin looked around again, there was nobody on the street. He did not notice the lace nets move slightly as the next door neighbour stood back in the shadows watching them. He tapped again and heard a door open inside the house and an unhappy Scottish voice.
‘Who is that at this time of night?’ Sinclair opened the front door, and squinted at the man standing there. He stood in his shirtsleeves He had been asleep in the rocking chair, only removing his jacket and boots. Putchin prepared to rush into the house as soon as the door was unlocked, but he hesitated when Sinclair called out in a friendly manner, ‘Mikael, hello my boy, I didn’t recognise you for a minute with them dark glasses. Well that was quick come on in boy. I didn’t expect you to come at this time of night.’ He turned and walked back into the rear room still talking, struggling to loosen the brass stud that held his removable shirt collar in place. Putchin had no idea what was going on or what Sinclair was talking about, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one. He pushed Jaak forward into the hallway and closed the door behind himself. Jaak followed Sinclair, who continued talking as he entered the back room.
‘I have some good news for you, Captain Taylor told me you are here in London trying to trace…’
Jaak stepped up behind Sinclair, threw the garrotte over his head and punched his arms sideways across his chest, his teeth clenched with the supreme effort of containing the larger man before him. The steel wire cut into Sinclair’s neck and he automatically arched his back, one hand clawed at the wire while his other arm tried to grab hold of anything to help him swing his body around. He threw his upper body forward lifting Jaak completely from the ground and swung him against the wall. Jaak grunted as his body crashed into the wall but refused to let go of the wooden handles of the wire that dug into the side of Sinclair’s neck and blocked the flow of blood reaching his brain. Sinclair began to lose consciousness, most men succumbed to the garrotte in less than ten seconds so effective was it, but Sinclair was no ordinary man, the muscles on his neck screamed against the pain, as his strength ebbed away Sinclair vainly tried to slip his fingers under the wire at his neck but it was too tight. His arms slowly dropped down by his side and his massive legs gave way. He collapsed to the floor in a kneeling position and Jaak put his knee in the small of his back and pulled the wire with all his strength one last time.
Then he slowly released his grip, feeling Sinclair fall forwards towards the floor. Out of breath, he removed the wire, Putchin entered from the hallway where he had been watching and looked at the body.
‘Well done Jaak that’s another damn Russian done for.’ Jaak spat on the body and left.
‘How did it go last night?’ Evdokimoff asked. Unusually for him he was seated behind a large desk.
‘Perfect, Gurin replied. ‘He strangled him and then walked back to the carriage as if nothing had happened. We went back to the hospital, the nurses undressed him and once the restraints were back on I brought him out of the hypnosis and gave him a shot of cocaine.’
‘You did not show yourself?’
‘No I stayed inside the cab, I sent Putchin with him. Nobody saw me.’ Gurin stated.
‘And the Circassian? He had no hesitation carrying out your orders.’
‘According to Putchin he looked like he was enjoying it, he thought he was killing a Russian. Only one thing, he was bloody noisy.’ Evdokimoff sat back in his chair chewing a pen.
‘Maybe the Garrotte was not such a good idea, do you think you can handle him with a knife? It will be quicker and quieter.’
‘Yes, I think he is controllable now.’ Answered Gurin.
‘That’s it then, no more garrottes.’ The count could not believe how well his plan was going. This operation would not only find the bankers but also make him famous in Russia. He could not stop smiling, Gurin began to relax.
‘One more thing, Alexi, the officer Taylor has already left for Afghanistan so we can forget him, but what about the barmaid, she knows Putchin was asking questions about the policeman in the pub?’
‘Yes.’ Answered Gurin.
‘Then tie up your loose ends.’ Said the count.
‘And the boy who saw Jaak in the hospital? Do you want him silenced.’
‘No not yet as he is inside the hospital we can contain him and I don’t want him scared off, keep your men away from him but monitor who else visits him now the policeman has gone.’ Evdokimoff explained.
‘Of course Sir.’ Gurin left and went home to sleep.
Martha cursed as she struggled to turn the large key in the lock. The pub door was always difficult to close and she had a nightly battle with it.
‘Hello my lovely, how are you?’ Martha jumped as she heard the voice behind her. She turned quickly but then relaxed when she saw who had startled her.
‘You nearly gave me a heart attack,’ she said, still struggling with the large key. ‘You are too late for a drink luv, I’ve already closed. Why didn’t you come into the pub earlier. You bloody cheapskate you could have bought me a drink or two.’ But the man wasn’t listening, he was looking around the empty street, there was nobody about. As she turned to face him he placed his hands on her shoulders and leant forward kissing her on the cheek.
‘I didn’t come for a drink darling I came for something else.’ Said Putchin
She smiled and stepped towards him. He looked around once more then guided her gently into the alley beside the pub. It wasn’t the first time she had been in the alley with a customer.
‘Blimey you are a fast worker, it’s a shilling all night or a tanner for a knee trembler here.’
‘A knee trembler?’ Said Putchin. He had never the expression before.
‘Come on I’ll show you.’ She said, pulling him into the alley as she stepped backwards into the dark.
A hand came from behind her and clamped tightly over her mouth. Putchin took a step back as the knife that appeared was dragged across her throat. His eyes were drawn towards the cut, the skin opening like thin lips trying to speak, then the blood pumped out in time with her heart beat. He looked up at her face and shuddered, then he turned his gaze away.
He knew he shouldn’t have looked in her eyes, pleading him to help. One more face to join the others. He heard her body slip to the ground and then the unmistakable sound of the knife frenziedly entering her body time and time again. He felt the bile rise in his throat as he fought the impulse to throw up.
‘Enough, Jaak lets go.’ He said but the noise continued. ‘Stop.’ He said abruptly. The sound stopped and Jaak casually stood up.
Putchin stepped over her body, his shoes leaving several bloody footprints in the alley as the two men walked silently out of the back and through the rows of small houses to a black hansom cab that was waiting for them in the main road.
The cab took them to the back door of the Bethnal Green Sanatorium. It was opened as the two men stepped out of the cab. They walked quickly through and it was shut and bolted behind them.
Jaak was undressed by a male nurse. Gurin instructed him to lay back on his bed and his arm restraints were tightened. Checking he was secure, Gurin injected him with cocaine and then called him out of his trance. Putchin stood outside waiting for him and the two men walked to a quiet corner of the corridor before speaking. Gurin noticed the strained expression on Putchin’s face.
‘What happened?’ Gurin asked.
‘He is enjoying it a bit too much for my liking,’ Putchin answered. ‘I had trouble stopping him, he must have stabbed the woman fifty times.’
‘What you mean he didn’t stop on your command like I told him to?’
‘Yes, he did but I forgot what you told me, I didn’t use the word “stop” so he just kept going until I remembered.’ Gurin looked at Putchin’s face, it was tight with anxiety. Putchin had been hardened by years of fierce battles and he was not easily shocked or scared.
‘Are you feeling alright?’ Gurin asked him.
‘No not really, look Alexi. I am a soldier, but what he did tonight has nothing to do with war. He did not just kill her, he slaughtered her. He didn’t want to stop he was enjoying it so much. Alexi this man is evil.’
Gurin thought for a moment,
‘Go home and get some sleep.’ He watched as Putchin left. Gurin had convinced Jaak that Martha was Russian as he had done with Sinclair, Jaak needed no more motivation than that, he wanted to kill Russians. Not just kill, he wanted to destroy the person.
Jaak laid back on the bed, he had a hazy recollection of the night, but he couldn’t remember much about it. Just a feeling that something had happened that made him feel good.
‘Set an extra place until further notice for our new guest Mr Mikael.’ Called Lord Jacobson as he entered the breakfast room.
‘Oh no,’ said the male servant to the head butler.‘ I was given a message last night for him but the man was drunk and I hadn’t heard of him so I threw it away.’
‘You did what?’ Said the butler. ‘Where is it now?’
‘In the rubbish bin Sir.’ He said defensively.
‘Well go and find it. Now.’ The butler hissed at him.
Jacobson pulled his suit jacket sleeves up, folded his arms and sat back in his chair. None of his staff had ever seen him without a three piece suit and tie. Sparse white hair ran around the back of his head, up over his protruding ears and then joined the full naval beard he sported. The top of his head was completely bald. This hair had disappeared while it was still coal black thirty years before. His beard was parted under his chin and grew out and upwards until it met his thick moustache which then continued in the same direction away from his face. Steel grey eyes sat under two thick black eyebrows that refused to change colour and match the rest. A nose that resembled a hawks beak and thin lips completed the reason why two months before his sixtieth birthday, he looked ten years older. His parents were both Spanish Jews that had arrived in England two years before he was born. Leaving most of their fortune in Spain in their haste to leave. Luckily they retained their contacts around the globe and continued trading from their new home in London.
As the oldest son he took over his father’s diamond trading business after he died and expanded the business into Gold, exploiting the new finds in America and Africa. He had increased the value of the company by more than tenfold in three years when he handed the running of the business over to his younger brother and went into politics. He had been a member of parliament for twenty three years and knighted seven years earlier for his tireless efforts to enrich the lives of the poor that lived in the east end of London. Mikael was scared of him. Jacobson knew it and liked it that way.
‘How are you getting on with the search for your brother?’ Jacobson asked as Mikael cut into his kipper. Mikael didn’t want to bother Jacobson with his family problems and had only informed him that he had lost contact with his brother and believed he was somewhere in London.
‘Nothing yet I am afraid,’ said Mikael placing his knife and fork down to speak. ‘I have been to the docks but there is no record of him leaving any ships that have arrived from Africa and none of the crew I managed to find remember seeing anybody of his description.’
‘I found it.’ the servant was out of breath as he handed the butler the dirty piece of paper. The butler took a rag and cleaned it as best he could, straightening it out with his gloved hand. He tried to read it, then gave up and entered the breakfast room.
‘Mr Mikael, a note was delivered for you last night. My apologies for the state of the paper.’ Mikael took the crumpled paper and straightened it out.
‘It’s from Captain Taylor, I can’t make out what it says it’s smudged but I have to go to this address and speak to Bill Sinclair.’
‘Prepare the spare carriage for Mr Mikael.’ Jacobson ordered the butler.
The carriage could not progress further into Jubilee Street and it had to stop fifty yards away, Edward called down.
‘I’m sorry Mr Mikael but I can’t get any closer, there seems to be some sort of disturbance. There is a crowd blocking the way.’
‘It’s alright I will walk from here, can you wait here until I come back.’ Mikael shouted above the noise as he stepped into the street.
A huge mob had congregated around Sinclair’s house, some out of sympathy but most came out of morbid curiosity. Mikael pushed his way through the crowd towards the address he had been given.
‘Why is there such a large crowd?’ Mikael asked a young man.
‘They reckon the old copper Sinclair has been done for, murdered.’ Mikael was shocked at the statement, he pushed closer to the house until he was stopped by a policeman.
‘What happened?’ Mikael asked.
‘Who are you Sir?’ Asked the constable.
‘My name is Mikael Buitekant. I am a friend of Bill Sinclair’s, I got a note to meet him here.’ He held the paper up, the policeman glanced briefly at it and then explained.
‘His next door neighbour heard a commotion last night, she went inside when it quietened down and found him lying on the floor. Are you willing to go to the station and fill in a statement?’
‘Yes of course.’ Mikael replied.
‘Williams, escort this gentleman to the station.’
The young constable held his arm and guided Mikael through the crowd towards the police station.
‘That’s him. That’s the man I saw come here last night.’ Mrs Rosen, Sinclair’s neighbour shouted as she saw Mikael. The man standing next to her saw the policeman holding Mikael’s arm and shouted excitedly.
‘He’s got him, look the copper has got him already.’
‘That’s the one he called Mikael. I heard him say his name.’ Mrs Rosen cried hysterically. Williams turned and looked at Mikael, both were shocked. Suddenly bursting into movement he twisted Mikael’s arm up behind his back.
‘What are you doing?’ Mikael shouted above the screaming of the crowd. He felt something hard and cold tighten around his wrist as the constable expertly locked one handcuff on Mikael and the other on himself. This young constable was not going to lose Mikael in this crowd. He knew what was coming next, he had been in a similar situation before.
‘Move yourself,’ shouted Williams. ‘We’re about to get a bloody good kicking.’
Mikael felt a blow on the side of his head as a man stepped forward and punched him. The constable blew his whistle over and again to attract attention from his colleagues. The sound ringing in Mikael’s ears as Williams helmet got knocked off and hit him in the face. Two more constables arrived and stood either side of Mikael forcing people out of the way with their batons as they pushed through the crowd. Blows rained down on his head as the four men struggled to get through. The crowd was screaming as young men fought each other to get near him and land a blow. Several kicks deliberately made contact with the police officers too, a cheer went up each time one of the police got their helmet knocked off. The crowd didn’t care about Sinclair, it was a good excuse for violence. After all it wasn’t every day they got a chance to thump a copper and get away with it. Whistles rang out everywhere as more constables ran into the crowd using leather truncheons to carve a route through to their colleagues. As more people fell from the blows the mob grew even angrier. Young boys had been sent to fetch anything that could be thrown. They arrived breathless and handed over heavy objects to the older youths who attacked the police. Bricks, bottles and dustbin lids, anything they could pick up and throw. It became a battle. A large house brick hit Williams on the back of the head and he collapsed to the floor as the crowd rained kicks into his defenceless body. Mikael tried to pull him to his feet but felt himself forced towards the floor as more bodies crushed him. Mikael looked up and flinched as a truncheon came in his direction. He held up his hand to protect his face, but the truncheon was not aimed at him and the man behind him caught it full in the face. He fell backwards as Mikael twisted his head around and saw the man hit the floor, a small sharp knife fell from the man’s hand.
‘You were going to stab me? You piece of scum.’ Mikael felt a rage overcome him and kicked the man on the ground twice in the testicles even though punches were raining down on him from others in the crowd. A large policeman grabbed Mikael and pulled him away from the man. Four more police constables arrived and lifted the unconscious Williams up. They carried him through the endless crowd, Mikael staggered along behind them struggling to keep his feet going, exhausted. His body fuelled only by adrenalin.
Mikael tripped as he was pulled up the steps to the station, some of the mob had followed them and a shower of stones rained down on them as the officers dragged him into the police station and onto the stone floor before the reception desk. One constable unlocked his handcuff and two more lifted him off the floor. They carried him into a cell and dropped him onto the bed then locked the door and left him there alone and bleeding and returned to Williams.
The station Sergeant looked at Williams laying on the ceramic tiles bleeding profusely in front of his desk in the police station reception hall. He had been a policeman since he left the Army and nothing shocked him. He sighed once as he placed his spectacles on the large incident book on his desk and winced as his knee made a loud crack to reminded him how old he was and why he sat behind a desk and not on the beat. He rubbed his knee twice as he walked slowly towards the constable then knelt and placed his hand behind Williams head with one hand and with the other held smelling salts under his nose.
‘What happened Geordie?’ He asked the older constable who had helped carry Williams in. Geordie tapped an old man on the shoulder and motioned him to move up the wooden bench. The old man, happily watching the scene in front of him didn’t move so Geordie tapped him again, this time a bit harder.
‘Move up the bench you old fart and let me sit down, I’m knackered,’ he ordered. ‘And get a bath when you go home you stink…. go on move up further.’ He added as his nose took in the old tramps unique street bouquet.
The old man reluctantly gave up the best viewing position and Geordie sat down still panting. He watched Williams slowly regaining conscious as the smelling salts took their effect on him. Geordie explained what had happened.
‘The young un done well, there was huge crowd in minutes, you know what bloody cockneys are like. He took a right hiding but he didn’t lose him.’
The sergeant smiled as the young man slowly regained consciousness.
‘Don’t tell him that or it will go to his head.’ He said grinning, then to Williams, ‘You all right now?’
‘I’ve got a bit of a headache.’ Williams said shakily.
‘You know what you need son. A cup of tea. Do you fancy a cup of tea boy?’
‘Yes Sergeant, I could strangle a cat for one. I’m spitting feathers after all that.’
‘Good boy, you go and make yourself one and while you’re there, make me one as well I’m bloody parched.’ He winked at the older constable.
‘Yeah I could do with one as well,’ Geordie added. Anyone else fancy a cup?’ He called after him.
‘I’ll have a cup,’ said the old tramp.
Jacobson stormed into the police station.
‘Where is Mikael Buitekant? He demanded to know.
‘He was locked up for his own protection Sir.’ Answered the desk Sergeant.
‘Well go and get him now.’ Jacobson barked.
‘We are waiting for detective Kelly to arrive to interview him, Sir.’ The Sergeant added.
‘Tell detective Kelly he can interview Mikael at my house later on, the address is on the card.’ He handed the Sergeant a printed calling card with his details on. He was in a foul mood, he had been preparing his speech for the house of lords when the carriage driver returned and informed him that Mikael had been arrested, the detour had made him very late. The desk Sergeant pushed his luck a bit further.
‘We have a witness who identified him at the scene last night Sir.’
‘Do you, well he was in my house last night, he is my guest and a friend of my daughter. So your witness is wrong as I and all of my staff will stand in a court of law and testify. Go and get him out. Now!’ The Sergeant didn’t argue, he didn’t need the card to know exactly who the man standing before his desk was, thoughts of annoying him any further disappeared from his mind. Mikael was brought to the desk.
‘Good god, bring me the officers who did this to him.’ Jacobson screamed, as he saw the cuts and bruises on Mikael.
‘It was the mob that did this Lord Jacobson, the police protected me. I cannot thank them enough, especially this man.’ Mikael tapped Williams on the shoulder as he walked passed him and smiled a thanks. Jacobson’s expression softened as he held his hand out to Williams who was also covered in cuts and bruises.
‘Well in that case thank you constable.’ Jacobson spoke gently to him. Williams wiped his hand down the front of his trousers before he accepted Jacobson’s, his shoulders went back as he stood to attention.
‘Come on Mikael I am late for the house of Lords.’ The desk Sergeant held a paper out for him to sign.
‘Can you sign this Sir?’ He asked.
‘No, now get out of my way and go and find a murderer.’ Jacobson replied curtly, brushing past him. Mikael followed him. He recognised Geordie’s face as the constable that saved him from being stabbed. ‘Thanks.’ He nodded, Geordie nodded back.
‘Well for all of fifteen minutes, we held the record for the quickest arrest of a murderer.’ The desk Sergeant said as he looked at Williams.
‘We’re lucky he didn’t make a complaint,’ said Williams. Then he thought for a second and added, ‘Wait a minute that means I got a bloody good hiding for bugger all.’
‘Jacobson felt the carriage slow down as his driver peered through the thick fog to distinguish the house numbers.
‘Can you see it yet, Edward?’ Jacobson called to him through the thin material that separated them. Although Edward knew London well, he had never been to this area before, but he used to be a hansom cab driver and knew the London streets were usually numbered with the lowest number closest to the centre of the city and odd numbers were on the left, it was a good tip to remember during London’s many fogs. ‘Difficult to make out, it’s a bit of a pea souper tonight.’ He replied. The street curved around a small park and was occupied mostly by foreign dignities. Finally they stopped outside a large building. Jacobson looked up at the grey building that used to be white. Edward jumped down and stood by the carriage, he waited until the main door of the house had been opened and the host stepped outside. Only then did he open the carriage door. Jacobson stepped down unaided, normally he opened the door himself, but tonight he was trying to impress some potential investors for his East End project. Evdokimoff was informed that Jacobson would visit anybody who showed an interest in his East End project and had instructed his Consulate to arrange the meeting at his London home.
‘Good evening Lord Jacobson, thank you for coming. Welcome to my home.’ Evdokimoff said warmly as he held out his hand to Jacobson.
Jacobson shook his hand firmly and then handed his hat and cloak to a servant. He stopped in the hallway and looked around at the exquisitely furnished house. Artwork and statues from around the world adorned every possible space.
‘Thank you for inviting me, Count Evdokimoff. What a wonderful house you have.’ Evdokimoff smiled graciously and waved his arm towards a door. They entered a large white room with high ceilings that held two identical chandeliers above the largest mahogany table Jacobson had ever seen. The walls were adorned with Russian artwork, depicting hunting scenes, battles and many beautiful women. Evdokimoff poured out two Cognacs himself, allowing Jacobson a few moments to take in the expensive surroundings. He handed the glass to him and invited him towards a large open fire in the centre of the room surrounded by several large brown leather chairs and a bearskin rug that stretched the length of the entire fireplace. Jacobson was a very rich man and not easily impressed, but he had only ever seen grandeur on this scale at a royal level. Evdokimoff impressed him. Jacobson continued speaking to the Count without yet acknowledging the others in the room.
‘I consider myself a hunter but I must say I am not sure I could be brave enough to stand before that monster,’ Jacobson indicated to the bear.
‘Did you shoot this beast?’ Evdokimoff feigned shyness
‘I did.’ He said smiling. The mutual admiration was now over and the Count could see Jacobson starting to relax in his company. He began the introductions.
‘Lord Jacobson, these gentlemen are interested in your proposal for the new housing in East London. If it is viable they are prepared to invest in you.’ He then introduced him to Mikhailovich and two Polish businessmen, They swapped cards and nodded to each other.
‘And lastly to General Ivanov, he is a Russian General, have you met before?’ Evdokimoff watched Jacobson’s face as he looked Ivanov directly in the eyes. Jacobson knew exactly who the General was, and his background and he hated the man, but he hid his feelings and smiled courteously. The small, fat man, who was responsible for the death of countless Polish and Russian Jewish boys, rudely ignored his acknowledgment.
‘Please, let’s sit down by the fire, it is a little less formal,’ the Count said simply, as he sunk back into one of the lush brown leather chairs, inviting the others to do the same. The chairs were set in a semi-circle around the fire that made it easy for him to speak to them all without turning his back to anybody. Jacobson began to explain.
‘It is not just housing but more sanitation and street lighting. The East End of London has the highest crime rate in England, possibly higher than Europe. Streets are inadequately lit and robbing and murders occur on an hourly basis after dark. Even our Police Constables are forced to wear special collars around their necks to prevent being garrotted. We need more Doctors, especially ones who came from Russia and Poland and who can speak to the locals.’ Jacobson stopped and took a sip of his Cognac. ‘I have already made several proposals in the house of Lords to demolish the slums and provide better housing.’
‘And what was the response, do you have their backing?’ One asked.
‘I have all of their backing and support, but no Government money. The plan has to be completely independently financed. The Government is busy expanding the Docks to take bigger ships, Warehouses to store goods and more trains to take it from London, it does not care about the people whose homes are demolished to make way for the expansion. They are evicted and have to move to the already overcrowded slums of the East End.’ Evdokimoff listened to Jacobson with growing admiration.
‘It is a shame we are on opposite sides,’ he whispered to Mikhailovich. ‘He is obviously a man of great conviction and he speaks with passion.’
‘Do you want to call it off?’ Mikhailovich asked him.
‘Absolutely not. We are on opposite sides, remember!’ The tall grandfather clock chimed nine times, Evdokimoff looked at the clock then turned his head to Mikhailovich and nodded.
Mikhailovich stood, excused himself and left the room. General Ivanov stood without speaking and followed him outside. Evdokimoff cursed as he saw Ivanov leave the room.
‘How much longer must I sit and listen to this drivel about poor Jews?’ He scowled at Mikhailovich. ‘I did not even want to come here in the first place.’ Evdokimoff stepped out of the room and stood behind Ivanov listening to him complain.
‘You are here because I need you here.’ Evdokimoff said sternly as if to a child.
‘May I remind you that I am a General.’ Ivanov sneered as he turned to face Evdokimoff.
‘And may I remind you, General, that I am a Count. At first I asked you politely to attend, but you declined, then I insisted, and you refused and finally I had to order you. Now, General, I am ordering you to go back into that room, sit down and shut up.’ The General turned red and his face twitched with anger, nobody had spoken to him in that tone for many years. But Evdokimoff was a count and he had to do as he was ordered. He turned and re-entered the room. Jacobson smiled politely at the General and nodded. The General stared back at him without speaking, poured himself a very large Cognac and sat down.
‘As I was saying to your colleagues…’ Jacobson began.
‘Don’t bother repeating yourself.’ Ivanov said rudely and looked at the fire. They continued talking for almost an hour. Only the Russian said nothing the entire time, he sat there bored, making it obvious he was uninterested.
‘Lord Jacobson may I borrow these two gentlemen for a few moments, we need to discuss some other business. I am sure General Ivanov will keep you entertained for a short while.
‘How much longer are you going to be?’ Ivanov said bluntly. Evdokimoff gave him a cold look and left the room with the two Polish business men. Jacobson walked to the drink cabinet and poured himself a fresh coffee, he didn’t really want one but he had enough alcohol for one evening and it also meant he did not have to speak to the Russian he was alone with.
He turned at looked at the General. He was old and unfit now, but Jacobson knew he had killed more with his pen than most had with weapons, his signature alone devastated complete families and villages. As a young officer, the General had been instrumental forcing Jewish families to hand over their sons for compulsive Russian military conscription. To ensure his quotas were met he had been responsible for ordering boys as young as eight to be taken from their parents. Marched in oversized boots and heavy coats during the freezing depth of winter across Russia. They were destined for the Cantonist youth camps. Those who did survive the trip were then subjected to fifteen years of military service.
Jacobson hated the man with a passion. But he was not in Russia, he was in London and the guest of a Russian Count, he pushed his thoughts out of his mind and waited for the two Polish businessmen to return. Jacobson heard a carriage stop outside, the horses snorting in the cold air.
‘It’s a bit too early for Edward,’ he said to himself under his breath, as he walked to the large bay window and moved the heavy drapes to one side. ‘Or maybe the Count has more interested investors arriving?’ He leaned closer to the glass and looked out into the dark London night. The fog was too thick to make out the two figures that stepped down from the cab and walked briskly towards the house. He heard the front door open and close again and then the door to the drawing room flew open.
Putchin and Jaak, dressed in black cloaks and top hats walked in and looked around. Jacobson turned and smiled, ready to introduce himself to the two new potential investors, but he stopped abruptly, they were wearing face masks. Putchin pointed at the General who stood up angrily, Jaak walked towards him.
‘Who the hell are you?’ He barked in Russian.
Jaak’s arm came from under his cloak. He pushed the small thin dagger through the General’s throat. Jacobson dropped his cup and gasped. The fragile bone china splintering into a hundred pieces as it hit the marbled floor. The General grabbed Jaak with one hand and lifted the other towards the small hole in his throat. Blood seeped through his fingers as he attempted to stem the flow. Jaak removed the knife and stabbed the General repeatedly in the face, penetrating one eye as he did. He spun the General around to face Jacobson, then waited until he was sure Jacobson was watching. Jaak’s arm came around the face of the General and then back again, the knife slicing deep through his jugular vein and across his windpipe. Jaak held him up for several seconds, his eyes completely expressionless, almost bored.
Jacobson held the table to support himself, his breathing came in short bursts at the shock of what he had just witnessed. His stomach wanted to empty itself but nothing came out. He shook so badly his teeth chattered. He had never been so terrified before. Jaak let the General fall to the ground then stood over him lifted his mask and spat on his body with contempt. Putchin walked directly up to Jacobson, staring at his face. Jacobson believed the man was about to kill him, he stood with his mouth open his two hands held up in surrender. His mind raced as Putchin stared in his face. He knew he had to tell him he wasn’t a threat, to explain that he was not a colleague of the Russian.
‘Thank you.’ Was all he could think of to say. ‘Thank you. This man was also my enemy.’ Jacobson spluttered the words out.
‘I am a Jew, I hated this man.’ Jacobson said. Putchin removed his mask and replied in broken English.
‘You will not be harmed, this man is our enemy, he is an enemy of Circassia and we are avenging our dead, more Russians will find the same fate.’
‘Thank you, he is an enemy of the Jews also.’ Jacobson’s voice trembled as he spoke. Jaak turned and casually walked out without hurrying. Putchin followed him. As the door closed, Jacobson felt faint. He looked at the dead body and his legs became weak. He collapsed into a sitting position on the floor, one hand still holding the table for support. He listened to the horses hooves slipping on the cobblestones as the carriage drew quickly away.
The drawing room door was opened again. Evdokimoff entered, saw the dead body and pulled out the pistol he was carrying, the two very frightened Polish businessmen turned and ran out of the room. They looked around the room, then Mikhailovich bent down to check the General and Evdokimoff ran to Jacobson.
‘Are you hurt? What happened?’
‘I am uninjured thank you, two men entered, one killed the General and they left. It was over so quickly.’ Jacobson was shaking.
‘I have never seen anybody killed before, especially that close.’
‘Did you see their faces? Could you describe them to the police?’ Jacobson was silent for several seconds he answered slowly and thoughtfully.
‘I am sorry Count Evdokimoff but I did not see their faces they wore masks.’ He said.
‘Did they say anything?’ The Count asked him.
‘They never spoke a word.’ Jacobson replied. Evdokimoff helped him to a seat and then left the room taking Mikhailovich by the arm. As he closed the door behind them he looked at Mikhailovich.
‘He blatantly lied. He did not give them up.’ Mikhailovich said excitedly. Evdokimoff spoke calmly. ‘No, he didn’t did he,’ he smiled. ‘We have got him Androv. He is the radicals banker.’
Robert (Bob) Bidecant is a Cockney. An ex Royal Engineer Sapper that has travelled extensively around the Globe working as a commissioning Engineer. Now settled in Asia he finally found time to write that story.
1888. "Just tell Jaak they are Russian and he will kill them, it is that simple." The Russian Secret Service, The Okhrana has captured a Circassian killing machine and has every intention of using him as an assassin to draw out the leader of a gang of Jewish radicals based in London, who plan to assassinate the Tsar. Alone and imprisoned in an East End lunatic asylum, his handler Gurin keeps Jaak in a drugged surreal world, unknowingly obeying orders from the very people he hates, "Russians". With no possible links back to them if Jaak is caught and time running out before the Tsar arrives Gurin's overzealous boss pushes him for results. But even Jaak's handlers are not sure if they can control him when he is let out on a killing frenzy, and Gurin has a dark secret that he must keep from Jaak at all costs. But Jaak is not alone, he has been followed to London by his brother Mikael and the hunt is on to find him. Jaak's past is catching up with him, but is he past redemption? Is he too evil to ever return to a normal world?