|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
After the Glorious Revolution
Inside the Palace, there was all the stuff all the gilt and red velvet, still there. It looked like the pictures. Untouched. But there was something wrong about it. It felt dead. Dust was settling. They led him up wide, curving staircases, across acres of thick red carpet. Through heavy, ornate sets of double doors and along endless corridors. From the walls, the paintings of the great and the good and the dead stared down at him.
He'll see you in the White Drawing Room, one of them had said. His face gave nothing away. He carried a gun.
It was a ridiculous room. It was white and it was gold and it was red, and the high ceiling looked like a cake decoration. There were the giant paintings again, and tall windows, and giant chandeliers hovering ominously above like flying saucers.
What have you done to your hair? said Russell. He was sitting on the floor in a corner, but he stood up as Matt stepped forward. Matt looked at Russell across the great expanse of floor, and little gold sofas, and stupid spindly-legged bits of furniture. He looked thin. He also looked like he hadn't shaved recently, but then neither had Matt.
He pulled a small piece of paper from his inside jacket pocket, and unfolded it. Dear Matt, it read, The Revolution's kind of got away from me. Don't really know what to do. Help?
Matt sighed and dropped the note. It fluttered gently onto the soft carpet.
You got it, then? said Russell.
You idiot, said Matt.
Russell nodded. He almost smiled. How's America?
Still there, said Matt. Um, I've been going around a bit, though. You know. India. Japan. And that.
Right. What d'you get up to there?
Matt shrugged. Working on my martial arts and stuff. You know.
Yeah? Oh, well that's cool. Anyway... it's good to see you, mate.
Yeah, said Matt. You too. Sorry about all that stuff you know, before.
Nah, don't worry. Me too. He half-smiled again, wrapped his arms around himself and stood looking out of one of the large windows.
I liked her, you know? Her Maj. I did like her.
How did you get here, anyway?
Boat. Got sick of waiting for a plane, there was always some excuse. So I talked my way onto an aid ship. Fucking horrible. Do you He stopped. I dunno have you got any idea what's going on out there?
Russell turned and looked at him. You do get it, don't you? This place... all this shit. It's not a reward. It's a punishment! There was a raw, pleading expression on his face, which made Matt want to look away. You do get it, though, Matt? I didn't
I know, said Matt quickly.
I never thought... Russell's voice trailed away, and he turned back to the window. Outside, birds sang, and soldiers patrolled the grounds.
Paul Dacre, said Russell.
Editor of the Daily Mail. They executed him.
I know, said Matt. It was on the Internet. We still have that.
On Tower Hill. A public fucking execution on Tower Hill.
Funny, Matt couldn't help saying, I always thought the Mail wanted to do that to you.
It's not funny! Russell shouted. Do you think it's funny?
No, said Matt. Course not. I didn't mean it like that.
Do you think I I didn't want any of this! Never! I didn't mean any of this to His voice dropped suddenly to a wail. I was just having a laugh.
Shush, ssh! Matt put a finger to his lips in caution. He went over to Russell and caught him by the shoulders, trying to calm him down. Keep it down, will ya, or they'll come running to see what's up. They already think I'm an American spy.
Russell covered his face with his hands suddenly and just stood there. Matt resisted the urge to shake him. I didn't mean it, he said again, through his fingers.
Russell, come on.
They're killing... everyone.
I know... I know that. That's why
I don't know what to do!
Listen Matt tried to prise Russell's fingers away from his face, but he wouldn't budge. Stupid bugger'd always been stronger than he looked, and any kind of mood made him worse.
I know, said Matt again. Sod it, you can't help being an idiot. He put his arms round Russell. How had things gone so wrong? It was all insane. He felt like he wanted to apologise again, but he didn't know what for. None of this was his fault. Not the Revolution. Not the murders. Not Russell's idiocy. Russell removed his hands from his face so he could hug Matt back, and Matt held him tighter, as though by doing so he could block the chaos that seemed to emanate from him, or just squeeze the fucking life out of him, or keep him safe. It wasn't enough. It never would be. In desperation, he kissed Russell, hard and blindly and until they were both stumbling and tripping over the gold sofas and spindly antiques, and until neither of them could get their breath. He broke away and stood still, breathing hard.
I'm sorry, said Russell, and sat down heavily on a gold footstool.
Yeah, well, said Matt, and scrubbed a hand over his face. You deserved that.
Neither of them moved for a minute or two. An antique clock ticked away on an antique fireplace.
Come on, said Matt. Get up. He pulled Russell to his feet and went over to cautiously check the windows.
Why, what's going on? What's that thing?
This? Matt had pulled an object from his inside pocket. Very small radio transmitter. You didn't think I came here on my own, did you? And this... He reached down and flipped another object from under the cuff of his trouserleg. This is a very small gun.
Russell stared at him.
What the fuck are you doing? And how did you get that stuff in here, past... them?
It's called technology, Russ. Matt grinned. Perks of being an American spy. Come on, let's get out of here.
Oh. Right. But Russell didn't move. Just for a second there, he said. I thought you'd come to kill me.
A dead and buried part of Matt wanted to cry. He rolled his eyes. That's because you're an idiot, he said. Come on, will ya!
All right, you don't have to go on about it. He stared at Matt again, his eyes glazed. He was hugging himself and shaking. I just I can't believe this. Is this real? What's gonna happen if we get out of here?
I dunno, said Matt. He put one hand on the door-handle, and held onto his gun with the other. He could feel the blood pumping through his veins and it felt good. Up to you, I reckon. Ready?
Russell stood there. And then he smiled, and it was a slow smile, a real smile. Hello, Matt thought. Welcome back.
Ready, said Russell, and Matt opened the door.