The Great Divide

Martin Clark

Needless to say, the Mounties don't always get their man.

It wasn't a survivable explosion.

I kept well within the tree line, in case this hadn't been an accident and there was someone out there, viewing their handiwork. Even from my limited vantage point it was obvious that the underground petrol tank had gone off like a bomb, levelling Bob's Food & Fuel. The diesel tank was still burning though, sending up a thick column of smoke into the wintry sky, like some latter day funeral pyre. I'd half expected there to be crows circling in the early morning sky, waiting for the flames to die down, but I guess they didn't like their meat that well done. British Columbia looked cold, empty and uninviting.

So much for the anonymity of witness protection.

I figure a small incendiary in the last fuel delivery, pumped straight into the tank. Probably on a long timer, a real hands-off operation.
Hollis and Barnes came walking up the slope towards me, leaving no footprints in the fresh snow. They were semi-transparent until close up, when they kind of slid into focus, crunching to a halt in front of me.

There was a moment's embarrassed silence before Barnes spoke. "Well, this is a real pain in the butt, eh? At least you're still in one piece though."

I gave him what I hoped was a sympathetic smile. "Yeah, well, not much I can say, given the circumstances. Really tough break, given you only had a few days before I was left to my own devices. Ah, any idea what happened?"

Barnes stroked his chin. "There was an explosion, about three a.m. The-"

"Two explosions." Hollis cut in. "Both tanks, I figure. The whole place just got swept away."

I frowned. "Deliberate then. How do you think it was done?"

The two Mounties exchanged glances. Hollis shrugged. "No way anyone could have gotten close enough to plant something without one of us noticing. I mean, it's not like we were ever that busy. I figure a small incendiary in the last fuel delivery, pumped straight into the tank. Probably on a long timer, a real hands-off operation. You were due back hours ago, so the delay saved your life."

I nodded, distracted. "Yeah, I had some, ah, personal business in Edge City after my dental appointment."

Barnes grinned. "You mean the masseuse in Portland Street, above the Hanoi Barbers?"

I cleared my throat, feeling my face go red, but Hollis saved me any further embarrassment.

"It's no biggie, we've always known about your visits to Nancy. Stuck out here you weren't likely to meet anyone socially, and that's a fact. Did you really think that Anderson wouldn't keep tabs on you?" He frowned, "Where is Anderson, anyway?"

"You've been bleeding," Barnes cut in, "a scalp wound, right side. It's been tended to. I can see a Band-Aid under your cap."

I raised my hand but felt nothing through the glove, although my head did smart when prodded. The mention of my escort made me look round. "Anderson? I don't know. I'm not sure. He must have stayed with the car when we saw the smoke and I came up here to take a look."

Both men drew their firearms on reflex, a futile gesture which I didn't comment on. Hollis kept his voice level, with only a little tension showing through the self-control.

"No, that doesn't sound right. At the first sign of trouble Anderson would have gotten you well away, let alone send you up here to investigate. Don't you remember what happened?"

I frowned, realising the immediate past was a blur. All I could grasp were brief images, like some esoteric trailer for the film version of my day out. "We rear-ended someone, a pickup truck, at the lights, on our way back. I banged my head. No seatbelt. I got cleaned up someplace, the rest room at the bus station, maybe. After that it's all a bit hazy."

"You could be concussed. As soon as the emergency services get here you should be hospitalised and checked out in case of cranial bleeding. I'm surprised they're not here already, that smoke must be visible for miles."

"Still doesn't explain what happened to Anderson." Barnes had an edge to his voice, almost an accusatory tone.

"Look, guys, sorry. I simply don't know. Maybe he spotted someone following us and stashed me here, then took off to act as a decoy."

That sounded weak, even to me. Luckily at that point the faint sound of an approaching siren reached us, heading off any further speculation. Barnes looked down towards the road, keeping behind what sparse cover the pine trees afforded.

"RCMP out of Mountain Gap. Probably. I'd stay put until either the fire service or an ambulance shows up. Preferably the fire service as it's harder to fake. Still, it looks like you're on your way out of here."

There was an awkward silence until Hollis cleared his throat. "So, what happens to us now?"

I resisted the impulse to shrug. "Sorry, guys, but that's the kind of thing you ask a priest. I was able to bring you back, but it's only temporary. I don't know where you go from here. I've heard of people being brought back two, three, times, but what you get is less and less, ah, coherent. It's a kind of psychic Alzheimer's and I've no idea if it affects you once you do, ah, pass over."

Barnes put away his gun and stretched. "You ready, Hollis? I've never been one for long goodbyes."

Hollis nodded but remained silent, thin-lipped. We shook hands and I stepped back, letting them go. Both men became transparent, indistinct, and were gone. Gone like the fading memory of a dream, but one that left footprints in front of me.

I shivered and suddenly felt hungry, as the concentration required to summon the dead burns me out like heavy exercise. Some of those I've brought back cling to the moment, desperate for whatever extra time I can offer, and cutting them loose tears at my very soul. At least when I'm dealing with the police they generally have an underlying realisation of how badly things can turn out. Not fatalistic, exactly, more a grim acceptance that the chance of violent death goes with the territory, and that's enough to make the transition a good deal easier.

It started to snow - large, lazy flakes that drifted like blossom in the still air. One landed on my upturned face and stung for a moment, then faded like a lost soul.

I waited until all the emergency services had arrived before leaving the trees and floundering down the slope. The snow was knee deep in places and my legs were chilled long before I reached the road. At least I recognised one of the Mounties watching my approach; big Pete Frobisher, a regular at Bob's as it was one of the few places on this road you could get a cup of coffee after hours. Although I'd owned the place less than a month you make friends quick up here, or not at all.

As I struggled up the gravel bank he held out his hand. "Don! Hell of a thing, eh? What happened here?"

I'd been chewing over what to say and decided to write Anderson out of the scenario. I couldn't account for his absence and didn't think he'd have spent the night nearby only to hang back now. "Damned if I know, Pete. Something woke me around three and when I went out back there was a bear nosing around. Great big beast, raking through the trash. Anyway, you know how I'm still taken by the novelty of life out here so I just hunkered down to watch it a while. Next thing I know its like a bomb went off. Huge blast, the buildings went down like a house of cards. I figured it was the underground gasoline tank, but I didn't fancy getting close enough to check it out."

"Yeah, that's what it looks like. Electrical fault maybe, if the pumps had been left on. Look, who else was here? The fire department are all for letting the diesel tank burn itself out, as there's no risk to life or property. We can't get near the site just now, but if there are bodies in the debris..."

He trailed off and I put on my resigned voice. "Yeah, Pete, I'm afraid so. Bill Anderson is away in Edge City but his two friends, Ray Hollis and Todd Barnes, were still staying with us. I don't see how they could have survived."

"Ray Hollis? I knew an officer Ray Hollis some years back, but there you go." He scratched his chin. "Hell of a thing, hell of a thing. We'll need contact details, next of kin, whatever information you have concerning the deceased."

"Can't be of much use, Pete. Like I said, they were Bill's friends, just here to help us get up and running."

Frobisher looked over the spread of smashed and smouldering timbers. "You were damn lucky, now that's a fact. Not getting caught in the blast and then surviving out here all night, given as how you're not dressed for it."

I caught the questioning tone in his voice and decided to head off that part of the investigation, or at least buy some time. Turning, I pointed back up at the ridge. "There's an old cabin up there, a ways back from the tree line. Still weather tight, so I laid up there until you dragged your sorry ass out of bed."

He followed my gesture and frowned. "Can't say as how I noticed any wood smoke."

"It's not exactly equipped as a rescue station, Don, and I had nothing to light a fire with. Couple of old blankets and my own company is all I had."

He hesitated for a moment and then his stance relaxed. "Right then, you go get checked out and I'll have the fire department start dampening things down. There'll be an accident investigator along presently and I guess he'll want to talk to you. And Bill, when he gets back. You'll be staying local, I take it, until things get sorted out?"

"Ah, yeah, yeah. I expect we'll try the inn back in Mountain Gap."

"Margaret's? Brave man." He turned to go and then hesitated. "Insurance?"

"What? Sorry?" I tried to appear flustered, caught unawares, but I knew exactly where the conversation was going. Bob's had never been much of a money spinner and unlikely to make us rich, so arson had to be a consideration. "Well, we have a small safe, if it survived in one piece, and all the documents are in that. Bill handled that side of things, so I couldn't even tell you who the policy was with. Sorry"

Frobisher nodded, more to himself than me. "Not something to worry about just now, Don. You go see to yourself and we'll talk later, when your partner gets back."

I evaded his contemplative gaze and sought out the ambulance crew, who supplied me with dry trousers and a pair of over-large boots to be going on with. I'd barely sipped the obligatory cup of coffee when Frobisher and another officer came over, their body language tense and formal. Pete sounded well pissed off.

"Mr Wylie. I've been instructed to place you in protective custody. You are to be transported immediately to the RCMP station in Edge City. Officer Rogers will drive you there. Apparently they even considered having you airlifted out, but there's a weather front moving in and your safety is of paramount importance. Before you go, is there anything you wish to add concerning recent events?"

I guessed my name, or at least my current identity, had caught the attention of someone in higher authority and they'd decided to spirit me away. The big no-no in witness protection is ever admitting you're part of it, even to local law enforcement. Pete Frobisher was a decent guy and I disliked lying to his face, but I stuck with 'bewildered innocence' as a defence mechanism.

"I don't know what to say, Pete, honestly. Maybe Bill Anderson has something to do with this, although I can't see how. I must have friends in high places, eh?"

I tried a half-smile in an effort to lighten the atmosphere but no one returned it. Pete nodded to Officer Rogers who took up position behind me.

"You'll be required to make a formal statement later. Good day to you, sir."

We semi-marched over to the car and Rogers put me in back - I didn't even rate the informality of riding shotgun. As we pulled out I saw that the bus to Mountain Gap had stopped and a few passengers had got down to chat with the firemen. One sallow-faced onlooker stood out, if only because he was wearing a suit amidst uniforms and winter clothing.

Vigo Hanesh, a man I knew to be dead. Because I'd killed him.

I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and when I looked again Hanesh was gone. I realised how tired I was, having been up all night, and relaxed. I'm pretty much the poster boy for port-traumatic stress disorder, so hallucinations are part and parcel of the recovery process. The only thing that stood out was the normality of it all, it really had looked like Hanesh standing there, gawping, not even gazing in my direction. Satisfied I wasn't really being haunted, I sat back and tried to let time pass.

The road meandered either side of the arrow-straight railway track which led to Edge City, and I kept an eye out for Anderson's car as we travelled. The gap in my memory stubbornly refused to yield any answers, not that I was concentrating too hard. I have the kind of imagination which will start to fill in the gaps if pushed, and I didn't want a concocted, though plausible, scenario to block reality when it decided to put in an appearance.

Bill's disappearance really bothered me, though, as he wasn't the type to just bug out like that - especially if two brother officers had just gone up in flames. Why he'd left me behind remained a mystery, and I'd discounted the possibility he was in some way connected with the explosion.

The miles passed, snow continued to fall.

Edge City - a fair sized settlement but not exactly what you'd call metropolitan. The RCMP station there is stone and brick, quite a substantial building, and as we pulled into the cinder covered car park a sergeant stepped out of the side entrance to greet us. To greet Constable Rodgers, actually, as they left me in the car during their conversation, and neither man looked overly pleased when it finished. The sergeant motioned for me to join them and I quit the tepid security of the cruiser for wet snow and obvious irritation.

"I'm Sergeant Muldoon and you'll be staying with us for a while, Mr Wylie. Apparently some bigwigs are flying in to question you, although..." he looked up at an overcast sky the colour of a dead salmon, "...that could take a while. Follow me, please."

We went inside and at least they put me an interrogation room rather than a cell; a blank-walled box containing four chairs, a Formica-topped table and a buzzing overhead strip light. What it lacked in amenities it made up for with an absence of charm. I sat and waited for almost two hours, with only one cup of coffee to break the tedium. Eventually the door opened and a man entered; thirties, suit, tie, shoes not boots. Short dark hair, thin mouth, close-cut fingernails. He had one blue eye and one gray. Mr Neat placed a manila folder on the desk between us and sat down facing me.

It would seem you know something, the significance of which has escaped both you and your erstwhile handlers, or they would never have let you go in the first place.
"My name is Walker, Mr Kelso..." I winced at the use of my real name, or rather the recent past associated with it, "...and I'm here to manage this situation. Let me be quite clear at the outset, we only took you on as a favour, a professional courtesy, to our British cousins. Apparently at some point you had expressed a desire to see Canada and, quite frankly, they wanted rid of you. Naturally we requested a copy of your file, in case your presence here posed a threat to our national security, but what we received was so heavily redacted as to be almost useless. The most we could glean was that you were a compromised intelligence asset they wished to protect from any potential retribution, as compensation for services rendered. We, in turn, passed you over to the RCMP witness protection program, who undertook to provide you with a suitably low-profile lifestyle here in British Columbia." He opened the file and scanned the first page before continuing. "The result of all this time and effort being two officers feared dead and a third missing, your place of residence reduced to matchwood, and you sitting here without a scratch."

Instinctively I raised a hand to the Band Aid on my head, but given what had happened to Hollis and Barnes I decided not to make a big deal of it. "Sorry, Mr Walker, but who are you again?"

"CSIS." I must have looked blank because he sighed, exasperation written clearly on his face. "Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Look, Kelso, the RCMP, or at least those in the know, want you turned over for questioning. I've read the initial report from the scene of the explosion and there's no indication this was other than a tragic accident. So normally we wouldn't concern ourselves, as even those in witness protection have the right to blow themselves up through incompetence."

He sat there, his composure recovered, waiting for some response from me. I cleared my throat, trying not to sound as nervous as I felt. "So I take it something happened to make this out of the ordinary?"

He turned to another page in the file. "Around the estimated time of the explosion we, not the RCMP, received a phone call. Just a name, 'Donald Wylie', from an untraceable cell phone. We're working on that. Obviously the call red-flagged your file so when formal notification of your involvement reached us we decided to take charge, regardless of the preliminary evidence."

"So, now what? I get moved on? Another identity, another out-of-the-way spot?"

Walker smiled, although it was more a 'problem solved' satisfaction than genuine good humour. "No. The good news for us is that you obviously still pose a threat to someone out there, so as an active intelligence asset you're being handed back to the British. Internal flight to Calgary and then direct to Glasgow, as soon as the weather improves. Hell, if it doesn't improve in the next eight hours I'll drive you out of here myself."

There was a hard knot in my stomach at the prospect of being thrown back into a life I'd barely survived the first time around. "Someone wants to kill me? This is good news for us, how, exactly?"

"Sorry, Kelso, I was using 'us' in the sense of 'not you'. Sorry for any confusion. Look, if someone wanted you dead they would just walk up and put a bullet in your head, or use a car bomb. Something obvious, especially if it made the point that witness protection couldn't shield you. The problem with that approach is it would trigger a mandatory investigation by the RCMP into how they found you, and, more importantly, a review by the intelligence community of those cases you were involved with. It would seem you know something, the significance of which has escaped both you and your erstwhile handlers, or they would never have let you go in the first place."

He sat back, looking slightly smug, and I could feel a pit opening up beneath me. I had no desire to plunge back into that twilight existence of scorn, disbelief and half-truths. Walker closed the file and while he didn't exactly wipe his hands clean, the inference was there.

"So, you're out of here ASAP, Kelso. Unless you can come up with a damn good reason for us to keep you around."

Now it was my turn to sit back, hands in my lap and out of his sight. His gaze hardened as he tried to work out why my eyes were fluttering, obviously worried I was experiencing some kind of fit. I showed him the pair of Enfield .38 revolvers I was now holding.

He took it quite well, all things considered. When I pull a stunt like that, there's always the chance my audience will try and jump me or go for their own weapon. As I didn't know Walker's background he could have been one of those taught to regain the initiative, regardless of risk, and that could have been very messy.

Producing the revolvers had been the easy bit and now I had to stage-manage the aftermath. I ducked the guns under the table and jumped to my feet, showing him my now empty hands. For good measure I raised them above my head, as I knew how this was going to play out in the short term.

Walker jerked upright like a puppet on a string, Glock materialising in his hand like one of those quick-draw guns strapped to your forearm. He wasn't pleased. "Preston! King! In here now!"

The door burst open and two other men in suits appeared, guns drawn. All three covered me while I stood there, arms up, trying not to smile. Walker gestured with his firearm. "Preston, frisk him. King, look for weapons taped to the undersides of the table and chairs."

They went through the motions while Walker slammed the door shut and stood with his back against it, fuming.

"He's clean."

"Nothing here either, sir. No weapons of any kind."

There was a tic in Walker's left cheek and I wondered if I'd pushed him too far. "Get out. Both of you. Make sure no-one disturbs us."

His two associates exchanged glances. "Sir, perhaps it would be best if-"

"I said get out!"

Neither man actually shrugged, but the way they holstered their weapons and left the room gave me the definite impression this interview was heading into the realm of 'no witnesses required'.

Walker and I stood for a moment, facing each other, and then he seemed to regain his composure. "Sit down, Kelso, and keep your hands where I can see them. " We returned to our chairs and he placed his Glock on the table in easy reach. "So, neat trick. What was it, some kind of subliminal suggestion? If it was a straightforward illusion then you've obviously missed your calling."

Despite his warning I reached inside my jacket and pulled out a Glock. Walker went white-faced, trembling, and for a moment it looked like he might go berserk. I slowly reached over and placed the pistol on the table in front of him. "Pick it up, Walker. It's your gun, after all."

He stared at the new weapon and then lifted both, one in each hand, to inspect them. I saw his knuckles tighten. "The serial numbers match. You could only have pulled this off in collusion with my superiors. Which means this whole incident has been contrived from start to finish." He pointed both guns at me. "Care to tell me just what the hell is going on?"

I tried to keep my voice soft and reassuring. "Put the second gun down, out of my reach. It isn't going to be here for long."

The tic in his cheek had returned but his eyes were hard, locked on mine. Nevertheless he placed the duplicate Glock down and sat back, so as to keep both it and me in plain sight.

The gun wavered, became transparent, and was gone.

Walker was breathing heavily, a trickle of sweat running from the hairline down past his right ear, but the gun in his hand didn't waver. When he spoke I could hear the strain of a man barely under control. "You've got ten seconds. Then you attack me and I'm forced to shoot. Ten."

Despite the countdown I hesitated, as I have a set spiel to explain what I do, but generally not in front of so hostile an audience. I opted for the cut-down version. "Ideas exist. Ideas of people, of places, of things. They exist in what Jung called the collective unconscious. Like a sea, a pool of ideas shared by everyone. Everything that people think about, dream about, in a place where they exist independently of the real world, the conscious world. I'm able to tap into this place and make these ideas real, for a while at least."

Walker flexed his fingers, getting a better grip on the Glock. "Nine. And that's bullshit. Try again."

I could feel sweat on my brow. "If enough people believe in something, in an idea of something, then it exists as, as a tangible entity in the collective unconscious. Some of us can get in there and, ah, replicate the physical form of that idea in the here and now."

Walker frowned. "What, you thought up those two revolvers? Out of nothing?"

I leaned forward, trying to sound eager and trustworthy. "No, no, I saw them coming in here, in a display case. Look, the more people believe in something the more real it becomes in our world. I couldn't keep those guns here for long because only a few people know about them. Same with your Glock. The idea of it was nearby, in a manner of speaking, because it featured so prominently in your mind. Conscious and unconscious. What you saw, and touched, was the idea, the ideal, of your gun. Its pure form."

Walker sneered at me. "Parlour tricks. It's nothing more than mental conjuring, even if I believed it was true. Get a stage act together and impress the gullible."

I sat back, suddenly feeling weary of banging my head against a wall of official scepticism. "While objects are here, they're real. If you'd shot me with that second Glock I'd be just as dead as if you'd used the original. Of course forensics would have a field day, as the bullet would match the remaining gun which hadn't been fired."

"So, what? You were some kind of assassin for the British? Or maybe an armourer, able to supply temporary weapons inside high security environments?"

I shook my head. "There was a man called Vigo Hanesh. He produced, he made real, the bomb which destroyed the American embassy in London. Then all forensic trace of the device simply vanished, although the effects of the explosion were permanent."

Walker stared at me. "You can do this? Manufacture ordnance out of thin air?"

"No, nothing so major, and Hanesh is dead, so that threat is gone. My fear is that someone is about to attempt something similar, and they want me out of the way so they won't be traced. Imaginary weapons, the next big thing." I gave Walker a half-smile. "You can't fight an idea whose time has come."

Walker looked sceptical, obviously torn between assessing my supposed abilities logically and dismissing the whole thing out of hand. He pulled a tissue from his jacket, left handed, and wiped his face, while still keeping me covered. "Back up a bit, Kelso. You said you traced this Hanesh, so you'd be able to find who was behind this latest explosion?"

This was the tricky bit and I tried not to shrug. "Not directly, no. Not like I could give you an address. With Hanesh it was more like I could get a sense of the man, what was important to him, that kind of thing. I could produce small objects that were significant to him, like I did with your Glock. All these clues were turned over to the true investigators, and they were able to put together a picture of where Hanesh was in the real world. They found him. He died."

Walker snorted. "You sound like some kind of psychic skip-tracer. So why can't you do the same bloodhound act now?"

"The big advantage with Hanesh was having access to his dreams. When they raided his address in London they found a Sony Dreamcatcher down the side of the sofa. Just a short sequence on it, some kind of empty nightclub interior, but it was enough to use as a starting point."

"So you're saying you already need to know the who before coming up with an idea of where? Not really that useful, and I can see why the British let you walk. Except that you obviously do know who the next terrorist will be, right? Which is why you're top of someone's hit list, apparently."

Walker holstered his gun and flexed his neck, looking a good deal more relaxed. "Anyway, Kelso, this is all just supposition. If you can't be of any direct use to us I'm inclined to send you packing, regardless of what the RCMP want. Are we clear?"

I cleared my throat. There was one last card I could play, but I very much doubted it would increase my credibility in Walker's eyes. "Ah, Hollis and Barnes, the two RCMP officers who died at the scene, they confirmed the blast wasn't accidental. Two explosions, one in each fuel tank."

Walker frowned and flipped open the file again. "I was given to understand they died instantaneously. Are you now saying they survived long enough for you to reach them? Can Anderson confirm this?"

"No, no, it was, ah, more in the way of a port-mortem conversation."

He looked at me, his eyes blank. "Now you're saying you can talk to the dead? Which particular mental institution were you in, back in England? I just ask so I can write and tell them what a bang-up job they did prior to your release back into the community. Jesus!"

I knew this next bit would be hard to explain. If not downright impossible. "No, no, not the dead per se, more the idea of who they were while alive."

There was silence. Walker licked his lips. "Is that supposed to make any kind of sense? Even in whatever version of reality you currently inhabit?"

It's no wonder your case file was so heavily censored or we'd never have touched you in a million years.
I sighed and let my shoulders sag. "Look, Walker, I'll explain this once and you can believe me or not. There's a version of everyone in the collective unconscious, a composite, an amalgam of who we believe ourselves to be and what others think of us. Obviously how close it is to reality depends on the trade-off between your ego on the one hand and public perception on the other. If you're a high-profile media personality and the world in general thinks you're a twat, then this idea of you will predominate."

He sneered at me. "So if you're a worthless nonentity living in obscurity..."

I shook my head. "Not necessarily. That's why psychopaths, real out-and-out ego-maniacs, are so dangerous in the unconscious - but you're missing the point."

"Which is?"

"Everything which Hollis and Barnes experienced, including their own deaths, influenced, informed, their unconscious selves. I was able to reproduce this idea of them, for a short while, long enough to get some idea of what happened, at least."

Walker drummed his fingers on the table, frowning. "Not exactly evidence that would stand up in court. Unless you can summon up these apparitions at will?"

Again I shook my head. "No, strictly a short-term window of opportunity. The version of someone in the collective unconscious continues to exist while others remember them, but once an individual accepts they're dead it starts to, to atrophy. Gradually the dead become a collection of knee-jerk reactions and predictable aphorisms. Sad but true."

"And if someone refuses to accept that they're dead, regardless of all evidence to the contrary?"

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "Well, I suppose..."

"Kelso? You feeling all right? You've gone white as a sheet."

I felt sick to my stomach at the idea forming in my mind. "Look, Walker, there have always been rumours of objects materialising, just popping into being. Objects that were the focus of intense and widespread belief, as if the very concept of them was so real they became real." I wiped my mouth. "If someone was egotistical enough, and enough peopled believed in him, I, it can't be."

Some of the fear in my voice obviously rubbed off and Walker lapsed into an aggressive posture, leaning towards me, eyes fixed on mine. "What can't be? Out with it, man!"

I felt helpless, my mouth filled with the taste of ashes. "Vigo Hanesh. It's the idea of Vigo Hanesh, making itself real."

Walker slapped me, the sound gunshot-loud in the small room. I jerked in my seat, half raising a hand to my cheek, blinking rapidly.

"Enough of this nonsense, Kelso. Pull yourself together, for God's sake. You were becoming hysterical." He switched to a rational, encouraging tone of voice. "Look, are you quite sure that Hanesh is dead?"

I nodded. "Oh yes. I killed him."

Walker looked at me for a long, hard moment. "Really? I didn't have you down as a field operative. There's nothing in your file to suggest you were employed in anything other than an intelligence gathering role."

I felt my hands tremble at the memory and clenched my fists to quell them. "Hanesh turned up on my doorstep one evening, in London, with a bottle of wine to celebrate tracking me down. He started going on about how it was a classic vintage and the... the normality of it just freaked me out. I went a bit berserk, ended up stabbing him through the eye with a corkscrew. Superhuman strength they said." I gave him a nervous smile. "Not really me. I couldn't work after that, after watching Hanesh die."

"Oh yes? And the authorities were quite happy this was the real Hanesh? Not some stand-in or close relative? It's a damn sight easier to believe he faked his own death than the idea of a larger-than-life ghost stalking you, intent on revenge." Walker sat back and rubbed his eyes. "Don't bother answering that, I'm sure my British and American counterparts are competent enough. Look, at this moment I'm inclined to hand you over to our psych boys and let them sort out fact from fantasy. It's obvious you can pull some kind of mental slight-of-hand, but I'm not going to issue an all-points for someone who, in all probability, is safely dead and buried. I just don't see how the memory of someone, no matter how vivid it might be in the minds of others, can possibly affect us here in the real world."

I could almost hear the 'case closed' suffix to that statement, a finality ripe with the promise of institutionalised hell. It had been a real struggle to avoid a lifetime of padded rooms and restraint, and I didn't relish the prospect of going through it again on this side of the Atlantic. I held up a hand.

"No, please, just listen for a moment! Even the idea of Hanesh can pose a threat, a deadly threat. That's what I meant when I said that psychopaths can be dangerous. Their ego, their sense of self, can transcend death and create a kind of bubble of reality in which they're still alive. A true ego-maniac simply refuses to accept the world can exist without them and so they-"

"Do you actually listen to what you come out with?" Walker cut across me, his patience clearly exhausted. "Transcending death? Bubbles of reality? Give me something concrete to work with or I'll skip the funny-farm and ship you back to the British, air-freight."

I hesitated, knowing how this was going to sound. "Let me sleep on it."


"Let me sleep on it. Let me see if the memory of Hanesh is just that, a memory, a fixed idea, or something more."

Walker stared at me. "You want to have a nap? In the middle of a murder investigation with potential terrorist involvement?"

"It's what I do, it's how I do it. Directed dreaming. It's how I can trace someone through the ideas they consider important. If the memory of Hanesh is, is alive, for want of a better term, then he'll be bloody easy to find. It'll only take an hour or so, and if he's not real I'll get out of your hair ASAP. Hell, I'll even pay for my flight back to the UK. Sounds fair?"

"It sounds ludicrous. Directed dreaming? It's no wonder your case file was so heavily censored or we'd never have touched you in a million years." He paused, drumming his fingers on the table. "Thirty minutes. I can give you thirty minutes and then you're out of here, one way or the other."

"Thanks, I-"

A raised hand cut me off. "But you can forget flaking out in what passes for hotel accommodation here. It'll be a cell, under guard." He smiled, "After all, you're still in protective custody." Walker stood and raised his voice. "King! Tell Sergeant Muldoon I want to speak to him."

I tried to tune out the next few minutes, not exactly a Zen state but simply ignoring my surroundings as far as possible. Muldoon, a corridor, a blank-walled cell, a cot, the door closing. I closed my eyes, concentrating on the images inside my eyelids. Letting them lead me down a route I knew from memory...

I started near the bar, with its long under-lit glass counter to my right and the row of floor-length windows to my left. There was very little in the way of other illumination apart from down at my left ankle where a steady source, diffused by the gauze curtains, filled my peripheral vision. I assumed this was from a street light rather than passing traffic and I wasn't conscious of any vehicle noise despite it being early evening. The blonde woman in the pale grey halter-neck dress passed me and I started walking away from the light, still conscious of the windows beside me and the dark, empty space of the seating area now stretching out opposite.

The memories of Vigo Hanesh, as recorded on his Dreamcatcher. Memories I had accessed so often they were now mine, a way to access whatever trace remained of the man in humanity's collective unconscious.

The lights came on and I stopped, shielding my eyes from the sudden brilliance. Confusion and surprise swept over me, as this sequence had never, ever, changed all the times I'd been here before.

"He's waiting for you. Through the door at the end of the corridor."

I turned. It was the blonde woman in the pale grey dress. She was standing by the bar, smiling, toying with the cherry from a half-empty martini glass. There was an Asiatic-looking barman behind the counter, replenishing the supply of bottled mixers from a crate. Beyond him I could see several staff cleaning tables that stood in a semi-circle around the dance floor. The slight sense of unreality you usually get in a dream was noticeably absent; this was pixel-perfect clarity, complete with the background smell of stale cigarette smoke and last nights sweat.

"Thanks. This way?"

She nodded and I began walking, feeling almost like an bit-part actor with a walk-on role. A speaking role, but one limited to banalities. The carpet felt slightly tacky beneath my shoes and the whole establishment, obviously a seedy nightclub, made my skin itch. The door at the end of the corridor was all quilted red leather and brass studs, which matched the over-all feel of a low-rent dive, firmly mired in the 1970's. The bouncer on the door, wearing a car coat and roll-neck sweater, nodded as I approached and stood to the side. The door opened. I stepped through. It closed behind me.

"Hi Donald, glad you could make it. Glass of champagne?"

It was a large room, all discrete lighting and lava lamps, with a sunken seating area in the middle. A man sat there, facing me, sprawling back against the upholstery and saluting my entrance with a raised champagne glass.

Not Vigo Hanesh.

I let out a sigh of relief and felt some of the tension leave my shoulders. This man was a stranger to me, but however strange the setup it was preferable to confronting someone who should be dead.

My host waved me closer. "Sit, sit, have a drink. I'm sure you're finding this a bit strange and the alcohol will help, I assure you."

I walked over. The seating area was a series of semi-circular sofas divided by short flights of steps. The centre was dominated by a circular Perspex table which surrounded an open fire, the flue being one of those free-standing burnished copper funnels which extended from the ceiling. It was like being in the lounge area of a Bond villain's lair. The only thing missing was an exotically clad hostess, or perhaps a homicidal butler.

Three steps down and I sat, lifting the glass waiting for me. I'd planned on acting cool, maybe even trying for suave, but the champagne bubbles caught in my nose and I sneezed, snorted, and coughed.

My host just laughed. "Nice to finally meet you, Donald. I'm Alexander Neel, but call me Alex."

I set my glass down and blew my nose, using the action to look at Alex more closely. He was English by the sound of him, but with a slight oriental cast to his features. Mid-thirties, with straight, slicked-back dark hair and a wide smile of perfect teeth. The clothes and dentistry reeked of money, but there was an unmistakable air of violence about him I found unsettling.

"Ah, well, Alex, this place, I've never seen it quite like this before."

"This is the..." he paused, as if mentally translating, "...Mariners Club, in Vladivostok. It catered for Soviet officers, both Red Banner fleet and merchant marine. A bit down-market, but it suits my tastes."

I shifted in my seat, feeling the glow of what little champagne I'd managed to swallow. "Look, I associate these surroundings with-"

"Vigo Hanesh?"

"Vigo Hanesh, yes. Did you know him? Did he come here?"

Alex smiled, ignoring the question and draining his glass. "Do you know the term 'tulpa', Donald? From Tibetan mysticism?"

"What? What are you talking about?"

"I created the person you knew as Vigo Hanesh. Sent him out into the world, the real world, to do my bidding. Come now, the consummate mercenary, acting for some shadowy terrorist organisation with a grudge against the United States? Didn't you find him just a tad stereotypical? I created him in the same way you make real those mementos of the imagination."

I felt confused, flustered, as if reality had taken a wrong turn. It was like listening to a foreign language you understood along with a real-time translation into English, but the two versions didn't match.

"You made Hanesh? You can't make a person-"

"You pulled up Hollis and Barnes, yes? Same principle, but Hanesh was always just an idea, an idea in the minds of hundreds. There's a mosque in Damascus which venerates him, offers up prayers for his well-being. With that kind of belief to work with it was simple enough to fashion the real thing." Alex refilled his glass while I sat there, trying to make sense of his words. "And to answer my own question, Donald, a 'tulpa' is a being or object which is created through willpower, visualisation, attention and focus, concerted intentionality and ritual. In other words, it is a materialized thought that has taken physical form." He raised his glass, "God bless Wikipedia!"

There was a gloating edge to his voice and I needed to say something that would steer the conversation back to the real world. "But Hanesh, I killed him for God's sake! That was real enough, believe me."

"Yes, you did. Best thing all round, in the long run. That's the trouble with these thoughtforms, they take on a life of their own, start acting independently. Hanesh became obsessed with you, once he realised who was tracking him, and thought you could fill in some of the blanks, as it were."

"Fill in the blanks?"

"I had some ex-Soviet contacts create a background for Hanesh, a legend, as it's called, so that intelligence agencies would find out enough about him to believe he was real. Trouble was, Hanesh believed he was real as well, and the gaps in his memory bothered him. Well, not gaps exactly, more a lack of detail. He came up with the idea that you had in some way stolen these memories, and decided to confront you." Alex shrugged. "Oops."

I stared at him, aghast. "Oops? That's all you have to say? I killed him with a bloody corkscrew, for Christ's sake! I stood and watched him die on my kitchen floor, so don't you tell me he wasn't real!"

"He was as real as you are, Donald, and that's the problem. Some of us are able to walk both sides of the fence, to live in the realm of imagination as fully as the real world. You weren't that strong, but your subconscious obsession with Hanesh was in danger of bringing him back, giving him a second chance at life. Now that was potentially embarrassing for everyone concerned, so I decided to remove you from the equation."

The room suddenly felt really cold. "Remove me from the...You were behind the explosion?"

He raised his hands in mock surrender "Mea culpa! But you're still here. A survivor, or more accurately, the survivor. I should have guessed that would happen, Hell, you even look a bit like Robert Powell, now I see you close up. Even the memory of Hanesh tried to save you, by alerting the authorities. God knows why." I struggled for a reply as he looked at his watch, a Rolex, of course. "And our time together is about up. I'm not sure what you'll do now, but don't try and find me again. It would definitely be another case of 'oops', understand?"

I blinked.

The cell was crowded; Walker, his two associates, three RCMP filling the doorway and corridor. Everyone had a firearm trained on me and Walker tossed an unsealed manila envelope on the cot beside me. I sat up, bemused, and began to open it.

"I've received the initial forensic report, Kelso, and it makes interesting reading. They're recovered four bodies at the scene - Hollis, Barnes, Anderson...and you."

The envelope contained black-and-white glossies of four bodies. There was little or no burn damage, and my face was clearly recognisable.

It wasn't a survivable explosion.

© Martin Clark 2011 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 01:00 Sat 26 Feb 2011
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