A Torn Page

Sept 12th 2017 – AD v I – P HT 3.00 p.m.

©Enda Osin checked the entry in his diary again. Adam Denton, his wife Jessica’s friend, was marrying Irma in Prague at the Holy Trinity church on the 12th September at 3.00 in the afternoon. He flipped to the next page. It was blank.

Enda thumbed through a few more pages. Diaries exposed all the failures and inadequacies in one’s life. One had to read the truth between the lines to find them, but they were there as well as the good stuff. Scribbled initials inserted between the pages were records of past or future events or reminders of a meeting with someone he knew well.

His aunt gave him a diary when he was nine and told him he should use it to record the journey of his daily life. The idea of exposing an inner-self filled him with horror. That was before he read excerpts from a few famous diaries and realised that without one, one’s personal life remained unknown and without colour. It was not until he went to university that he found in journal writing a release from tension and a way to express himself honestly about his life and tragedies like the fire that killed his parents.

He closed the diary and read the Anne Frank quote embossed on the cover. What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.

Without worrying about the time, Enda wandered into the bathroom and stood to look at the grey stubble on his chin, greying hair over his ears, and puffy skin under grey-blue eyes. Early morning was not a good time to look in the mirror.

“I love Prague, especially Wenceslas Square,” he said, smiling at his reflection remembering Jessica had said it the previous day as she greeted him at the door of their Chelsea mews flat. An invitation had arrived. Adam, who worked at the British embassy in Prague – someone she knew from way back, was getting married.

As the razor zizzed through stubble, he remembered the bloody running battles between police and SIB agents against university students in the square. Then he remembered who else had said they loved the square. It was his editor Max who said it. He had given Enda his first assignment just two weeks after Enda joined the Herald as a reporter in ‘89 with instructions to cover the Jan Palach Memorial week. It was supposed to be a quiet week of protest. Enda wrote his first article and impressed the boss. Max sent him back ten months later as communism came to an end in Czechoslovakia and thousands of Czechs shook their keys near Jan’s memorial. The experience moved Enda and sealed his fate. He’d been a pain in Max’s side ever since, and a love-hate relationship with Richard Hart, the owner, and himself had developed as Hart schmoozed at every opportunity with Number 10 and the conservatives, much to Enda’s annoyance.

Enda carefully ran the razor over the thin white scar on his left cheek and finished shaving. Twenty-eight years on, he looked forward to returning to a fantastic city filled with a wealth of historical imagery and scenic grandeur. It was strange, he thought, that Prague earned the reputation as a romantic spy centre. The word romantic far from painted an accurate picture of the oft-times murky world of politics. What dark side there was lay carefully hidden behind plastic smiles and innuendos, both well practiced within Whitehall and Westminster’s corridors of power.

Jessica’s voice came up the stairs, interrupting his train of thought.“Breakfast is ready, and before you come down, please tidy up the bathroom.”

He poked a tongue out in her direction and buttoned up his shirt, trying to ignore a slightly wider waistline that was slowly developing, especially during the last year. Jessica jogged every day. He excused himself most times with his workload but jogged a couple of times a week to keep her happy.

The mouth-watering smell and sizzling bacon and eggs wafted around Enda as he bounded downstairs. Jessica was sitting at the breakfast bar munching toast as he entered. “I’ve just been reading an interesting article about Prague,” she said, without looking up.

Enda leaned over and kissed her cheek. As usual, her long black hair was pinned up, accentuating high cheekbones and a beautiful nose that gave her a regal West Indian look. He had fallen in love with her four years earlier and married after two.It was the large almond shaped brown eyes that had stolen his heart. They could still melt him into submission and despite being almost twice her age, she had the ability to make him feel youthful.

“So what’s going on in Prague?” asked Enda.

He poured breakfast tea and dropped a single cube of sugar into his cup. Jessica flipped her long slender fingers at him from behind the newspaper as though it was he who had disturbed her. He turned his attention to the breakfast in front of him and buttered toast before tucking into the egg and bacon.

“The Bilderberg Club are meeting there next week.”

“I know,” Enda answered mischievously. “Just think we might get to see Richard’s best friend complete with MI6 ‘toadies’ in black suits and Ray-Bans.”

The owner, Richard Hart, graced the paper with his presence on the rare occasions he stayed in London. His home was a mansion in New York State or aboard a comfortable yacht in the Mediterranean. The chances of him being in Prague were pretty slim, but Enda loved teasing Jessica.

The newspaper folded and hit the table with a loud slap. “If you even think about getting involved in anything other than the wedding I will be talking divorce while we watch Adam getting married.” She pointed and waggled a finger at Enda. “You leave Richard and the P.M. alone until you are back at your desk. We have a week’s holiday, and any activity you might have planned other than attending the wedding is a non-starter. Trouble follows you whenever you travel abroad, Enda, and it’s not going to happen this time. We are going to Adam and Irma’s wedding, and that’s it.”

Adam Denton was a close friend Jessica had met a few years before while she worked at an art gallery in Paris. They were close friends, and Enda guessed at one time were more than that. Adam’s parents were both dead and had no siblings; he centred his life on the diplomatic corps. His whirlwind romance with Irma ended in a proposal after just three months.

From Jessica, Enda had learned one other interesting piece of information. Adam worked in Whitehall for a couple of years before moving to Prague. The move came after a rather strange incident in which a drafted speech the Foreign Secretary was to give to the European Union went missing and reappeared after a few hours. Adam, who worked as one of the junior staff, attended an interview with security personnel. Cleared of any misdemeanour, he received what many thought was a slapped wrist. Whitehall transferred him to Prague. According to Jessica, Adam didn’t seem to mind.

Enda winked and carried on eating while Jessica raised the newspaper and resumed reading. Still thinking about his first visit to Prague, he closed his eyes. The paper rustled again.

“What are you doing?”

He opened his eyes as she folded the paper.  “I was trying to visualise the statues adorning both balustrades of the Charles Bridge over the Vltava River. You know – the bridge you cross to get to the castle.”

The folded newspaper hit Enda on top of the head twice.

“Stop it, stop it. I suppose you knew the Bilderberg Club are using the castle for the conference so we’ll not be going there.” She hit him again and laughed. “Did you get Saturday’s post?” She shrugged without waiting for an answer and left him.

Enda opened the paper and read the headlines. The Prime Minister was quoted as saying that the world, in general, was getting far too complacent about terrorism and that he would be making a speech suggesting a meeting of all EU members to combat the threat of ever-increasing violence which was spreading across Europe. Enda agreed but wondered if the rhetoric would be converted into action. One suggestion made by the opposition leader had been to integrate several of the smaller members into one state and provide better security to help combat terrorism. Expansionism was not a favorite subject, and the right honourable members shouted the idea down. Enda snapped the paper shut as Jessica returned.

By arrangement with the postman, he delivered the mail to an outside post box with a lock because Enda wanted a front door with no letterbox. Jessica joked he watched too many crime movies, but the thought of someone pouring petrol through the letterbox and setting light to their home worried him. Two fires nearly ruined his life, and both were harrowing experiences.

There was only one letter for Jessica, postmarked Prague.

“Came yesterday,” Enda said, looking over her shoulder. “There was nothing on Friday.”

The envelope, a long business type with the flap taped down, looked empty. Jessica ripped it open and unfolded a page torn out of a diary with the name Erik Eben printed across the top. Under it a message read, Aurora, if anything happens to me, you must find this diary a Czech official is hiding. She wants to cross the road and will bring this diary she stole from Eben. Listen to her and trust her and no-one else. Enda will know who to give the diary too. Stay away from the embassy.

They stood looking at the note, speechless. A small card embossed with the Da Capo Cafe & Cocktail Bar legend dropped out of the envelope. Enda picked it up and turned it over. Inked on the back was, Every Tuesday 7.00 Table 22.

Both of them jumped as the phone rang.

“You’d better get that, Enda. It could be Adam.” She looked worried and reached for the coffee pot.

Max’s gritty voice invaded Enda’s ear. “Enda, get in here as quick as you can…and bring Jessica too.”

Enda protested. “Max, it’s Sunday. Can this not wait until tomorrow?”

Max Edwards was one of the best editors in the business but as far as Enda was concerned, a pain in the rear. Nothing could hold up a good story, not even a Sunday morning.

“No, Enda, you get your backside in here.” Apologetically, he added, “Sorry but something big is breaking.”

Enda didn’t have time to argue the point with him and grabbed his jacket. Jessica was already at the front door. She could read Enda’s mind most times, but could also hear Max’s voice from ten feet away.

As they drove into Wapping, Jessica was on her phone changing their airline tickets for Prague. After four years of marriage, Enda had learned how easy it was to step into each other’s mind and instinctively know how each other felt and what their reaction would be. For Enda, it was a good sign of a healthy relationship. Jessica would never leave a friend in the lurch. There was no need to discuss the arrangement.

Still dressed in her tracksuit and sneakers, Enda trailed Jessica to the lift after parking the car. A couple of minutes later they rode up to the fifth floor and walked through rows of desks and computers manned by a few journalists dealing with Monday’s news. Enda acknowledged a couple as he passed by but wasn’t in any mood to smile or crack a sarcastic aside, his usual hors d'oeuvres as he entered Max’s office. Adam’s strange letter was still playing on his mind.

Jessica sunk into an armchair crossed her legs and stared with large brown eyes at Max with a fixed expression of irritation. Enda felt scruffy looking at her. Sunday was the one day he hung out, dressed in a shirt, jeans, and a worn out pair of mules, unlike Jessica, who never had a hair out of place. He slid into the armchair next to her.

Max pushed some wavy white hair away from his eyes and pulled a cigar from a pouch on the desk. He flicked a Zippo, avoiding Jessica’s wary expression. Clouds of blue smoke drifted up to the ceiling. Enda mindful of Jessica’s aversion to smoke rose and stepped over to the wall to turn on the extractor fans.

“What do you know about Erik Eben?” Max asked. He blew smoke from his nostril and picked a small piece of cigar leaf from the tip of his tongue with a little finger.

Jessica feigned ignorance. “I can’t remember what he does, but I’m pretty sure he’s in the European Parliament in Brussels. MEP perhaps?”

“No,” corrected Enda. “Erik Eben’s the EU Commissioner for the Czech Republic.”

“Not anymore, he’s not. Someone bumped him off a couple of days ago in his office.” Max paused and let the news sink in. “The rumour has it that he was corrupt. He annoyed someone, and that person or persons got rid of him. Brussels are screaming about the lack of security; the Czech government is recalling its MEP’s for an urgent meeting in Prague and the Americans are worried about security arrangements for their attendees of this year’s Bilderberg conference being held in the city next month.”

A sudden thought crossed Enda’s mind, but he kept it to himself. His concern was Jessica’s friend.

“I suppose you two are still having a week off for a wedding, and that’s fine as long as you, Enda, get me a quick opening story on the murder with statements from the police and EU officials. You can follow up with a fuller account on Wednesday.” He snapped his fingers at Enda. “And don’t forget the Americans. Hart reckons it may have been political robbery. The police found Eben’s attaché case empty on the floor beside his bed. There’s no telling what was in it, but he’d recently been working on a trade deal Brussels were putting the final touches too with the Ukraine so there might be a connection to Moscow.” He pointed a finger at Enda as he opened his mouth. “Richard knows about the case. He got the news last night from Eben’s secretary. She’s a friend of Richard’s so talk to her but tread lightly. She used to work for him in New York, and as I understand it, they are still close.”

Enda remained quiet while Max rummaged through some notes on his desk.

“Here it is,” Max eventually announced. Holding out a small sheet of paper with the secretary’s details scrawled across it, he scowled at Enda. “Whatever their relationship is, it has nothing to do with you. Focus on the attaché case, not Richard’s love life.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Max,” quipped Enda. It’s bad enough tip-toeing around his love affair with the Prime Minister.”

Max ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He took a long draw from the cigar and then drank steaming coffee from his mug while smoke still escaped from his nose.

Enda often wondered if his mentor enjoyed coffee that way. Max reminded him of Frank Sinatra performing as the melancholy drinker, smoking and singing ‘One for my Baby’ in the empty nightclub scene. Enda smiled inwardly. Max didn’t sing – he just shouted.

“This is not the time for wit, Enda.” Jessica uncrossed her legs and ignoring Enda’s expression of false surprise asked, “Max, is there a way we can get hold of a list of Bilderberg attendees?”

Max put the mug down, placed the cigar loosely between his lips, and studied Jessica over the rim of his glasses. “If you think there’s a connection here you’re way off. What the hell would Eben’s death have to do with that organisation?”

Enda could see a connection and applauded Jessica’s thinking. The Bilderberg conference took place each year. A steerage committee put together a list of subjects for discussion that ranged from world finance to manufacturing to global warming and terrorism. What made these conferences special was that the Bilderberg Club was a secret society formed in 1954. Heads of state, presidents including some from the U.S., even Prime Minister Tony Blair attended, plus two politicians from each EU country. Together with 120 captains of industry, banking, and nuclear power they discussed the listed topics but no minutes existed, and no-one ever appeared for an interview after. One-third of the members come from North America, and the rest were from the EU countries. Attendance remained strictly by invitation only.

“Could be nothing but I don’t believe in coincidence times three.” Jessica stood and straightened her track top. “Eben worked in government and lived in Prague, and was involved in some way with the conference. If he wasn’t attending himself, someone he knew in the Czech government is on the list. As you say I could be way off.”

Max ignored her. “Don’t get involved with anything other than the commissioner, Enda, you hear me?” he growled.  “Enjoy the week, Jessica but please keep him in check.” His eyes darted to me and back to her. “Forget the bloody conference and don’t use it as an excuse to start pulling politicians apart.”

Enda joined Jessica at the door and crossed his heart. “Promise I’ll stick to the plot…you know me, Max.”

Max raised one eyebrow and waved them out.

Enda wanted to discuss Adam and the Bilderberg Club on the way home, but Jessica was unusually quiet, and experience had taught him to be wary about talking business or cracking jokes to lighten the atmosphere at such moments. It was time to keep his mouth shut. Max could have his story, and with luck, there might be one or two politicians to ‘pull apart.’ Despite the warning, Max thrived on political intrigue for his editorials. Past experience had taught Enda that within every political faux par whether departmental or something to do with the private life of a politician, there was always something being hidden. Still, Adam’s letter needed investigating, and that was just as important. Enda was sure a phone call would alleviate Jessica’s worries.

“We’re flying out this afternoon instead of next weekend,” Jessica announced as they turned into the mews lane. There was a slight tremble in her voice. “Let’s pack now and then you can take me to lunch at the Hilton.” She leaned into him and kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”

“What for? Not that it matters,” he added quickly, parking the car opposite the front gate.

“For not getting all excited about the Bilderberg conference and Adam. Let’s discuss that over lunch.”

***

They had a table with a view. The 28th floor of the Hilton afforded a magnificent outlook over Hyde Park and a restaurant Jessica loved for its excellent cuisine. She joined Enda at the table, shaking her head slowly with a worried look on her face. “I just called Adam, but he’s not answering.”

After ordering lunch and a bottle of Chianti, Jessica approached the subject of Adam and the diary again.

“At any other time, you know what I would think.”

Enda knew only too well. Despite typically getting his own way, she would fire a warning shot across his enthusiasm to unravel a mystery. This time, things were different. A friend was in trouble.

“We will sort this out, won’t we?” She hesitated. “I have tried calling Adam three times, but there’s no reply. I am worried Enda.”

“Absolutely and I promise I will not get us into trouble…on purpose,” he answered. There was a moment’s silence, and then they both burst into laughter. Enda’s record for getting into trouble wasn’t good, but at least he had managed to have a few happy endings to his scrapes with authority.

Slender fingers tipped with blood-red nails glided across the table and held his as they locked eyes. “Aurora is the name of a Greek goddess – goddess of the dawn. Adam used to call me that. I -”

“That’s none of my business,” Enda interrupted softly. “No need to explain, Jessica. I’m sure he loved you just as much as I do now.”

The soft scent of Gardenias floated gently around them as the wine waiter arrived, wafting air over them. Jessica lowered her eyes and withdrew her hand. A half smile accentuated by partly opened lips set Enda’s heart thumping against his chest. He was still madly in love with her.

She mouthed ‘thank you’ and picked up her napkin as the wine waiter uncorked the bottle.

They chatted about other matters during lunch, but Adam’s strange message played on Enda’s mind. He waited for coffee before pulling Adam’s note from his pocket. “The message is quite straightforward, but there’s nothing we can do until we meet the Czech, who has the diary. I assume he or she will be at the Da Capo Café and Cocktail Bar. As we have a couple of days before that happens – if it happens, I suggest we do as planned and see Adam and Irma, and then Eben’s secretary and perhaps you can see the police. We can deal with other enquiries after Tuesday night.”

“So the embassies are out, and I assume MI6 too?” said Jessica. “Surely if this agent is defecting he or she will have to see someone at…which embassy?”

Enda was ahead of her. “Probably was the British until Adam found something that made that a no-go, which means no MI6? He must be wary of them. Adam is very specific. Trust no-one. My problem is Max. If Eben is up to his eyes in all this, then we have a huge story. Another thing, you need to get that list of attendees of the conference.”

“I’m curious. How has Adam got involved? If he’s a diplomat, then surely MI6 would be dealing with a defector.” Jessica studied the torn page and pushed it in front of Enda. “What do you make of these entries?”

The page was large, suggesting an A5 size diary divided into two days. The first date showed two appointments three hours apart. In the next day’s space, Eben had written Pořadíbudezahájenaprvnífáze v Londýněpopříštívšeobecnévolby.

“I have no idea how Adam would get involved in this. With regards the sentence; I think you should translate through your tablet. Google it.”

While Enda got the check and paid, Jessica was busy tapping at her tablet. As they left the restaurant, she pinched his arm and steered him to some armchairs opposite the lift.

“The sentence will knock you off your feet.”

They sat, and she whispered. “The order will start the first phase in London after the next general election.”

Enda’s reaction was immediate. “We will have to talk to Max. If Adam is not working for MI6 and somehow got involved on his own, then he appears to be in way over his head, especially if it has anything to do with the Bilderberg Club. Let’s get to Prague but call Max tonight. We need someone else in the know just in case.”

Enda didn’t want to alarm Jessica, but was worried they were likely in over our heads too. ‘The Order:’ What the hell was that? He feared it might have something to do with the Bilderberg conference. The next General Election was just a month away, but that didn’t mean they could take things easy. Powerful men controlling over half the world’s finances were involved and despite warnings in the past, the public and parliament either refused to believe or ignored the danger signals published by a few journalists each year. Enda had written an article myself, a couple of years before. He hoped the Czech, whoever it was, would be sitting at table 22 in the Da Capo Café and Cocktail Bar.

They left the Hilton and hailed a taxi. While the cabbie wrestled with the afternoon traffic, Enda had an idea. “Whatever this order thing is it sounds pretty scary to me. It could be hackers or some idiot programming a worm, or whatever it is that these people do, to cause systems to crash.”

Jessica started scribbling notes. “You are aware, Enda, Max will shout and scream at you for getting involved.” She stopped writing and raised her head. “How much are you going to tell him?”

“Everything. If this turns out to be something to do with the conference every security service in the bloody world will get involved, and I don’t want Whitehall hanging us out to dry. We need an ally we can trust. I’ll call him and let him have the hotel number. He can rant while I’m sitting comfortably but not while I’m at Heathrow.”

The sky turned dark grey, matching Enda’s mood yet he couldn’t help feeling a twinge of excitement.

Comments

This chapter starts really well. You give us information that raises questions so we have to keep reading.

For example: 'Enda carefully ran the razor over the thin white scar on his left cheek and finished shaving.' This makes us ask how did he get that scar? And we have met the guy and so we are interested in him.

I think this could do with some editing and check every piece of dialogue and check if it is acting as exposition. I think you might find some is.

I like the way Enda and Jessica interact. How do people fill pauses in their speeches? 

“Surely if this agent is defecting he or she will have to see someone at (what would she do in this gap?) which embassy?”

Thanks. I'll check but this is not the final edit. Appreciate the comment as always.