CHRISTMAS EARLY MORNING
חג המולד מוקדם בבוקר
A BRIGHT FLASH, NO SOUND, crushing impact, instant pain.
Body collapses, heart races, impact barely recedes as spurting blood in moonlight melts through fresh snow. Sliding down against a blackened, smooth gravestone after knees give way, the breath fast exhales, it hurts like hell, a twisting in my side that gathers strength. Below freezing and the shiver on my lips spreads instantaneously, helping my fast transition into a corpse.
So much for hoping that if a day like this came, I’d be able to leave with some sense of dignity and decorum.
Though I have Hazenfelder in my sight, I just cannot pull the trigger and instead watch in slow motion as his muzzle turns on me, because the idea of killing a man weighs heavier on my mind than in my hand. Lesley made me promise never to kill again, that the eternal sin outweighs the temporary gain and because of that, he gets the drop on me.
An abdomen knot tightens, hard to breathe.
Through blurry vision, in the far distance, beyond the grove where the black iron fence stops, the familiar silhouette of a small castle tower sits high on a hill under a clear winter sky infused with twinkling stars. As a younger man in the army and stationed nearby, I ran there regularly for exercise. Another lifetime, when I had the world before me; but time flows even if we are not paying attention to it, too wrapped up in our schedules, quiet conflict, overt dramas, the next distraction.
The constriction continues its slow assault.
Nearby, the coloured bulbs blink along the hedges and windows of the long block of squared beige apartment rows where our informant said the target would spend the night. Even the poor in this world are celebrating this day. Our wealthy fugitive thought hiding among the dispossessed would disguise him long enough to get away. But as greed commits him to steal the money, cash induces someone else to talk.
The exquisite pain turns onto itself.
Peace on earth, goodwill toward man indeed.
Early Christmas morning when the Lord and Saviour is born and I am lying in an ever spreading pool of my own blood, the irony not lost. Being in a Lutheran Church graveyard means I can discount a Catholic priest giving me last rites, not that I was much of a believer considering my mixed background.
Spyder and Bugsy yell in German telling our target to put his weapon down as they run from behind a sarcophagus. “Schnell! Schnell! Schnell!” Too late for me but not for them; they have just learned from my example. The man screams back, dodging, moving back and forth between two pillars, frightened as a caged animal.
“Ich bin nicht Öbergemau! Ich bin nicht Öbergemau!”
He protests yet again in thick German-accented English, “I’m not Öbergemau!”
Hazenfelder is an accountant in a green bathrobe with a white half shirt that does not hide the later middle-aged beer belly or his three day beard growth, the colour matching the corona of greying, unkempt hair that is dissipating with age. Below red tartan boxers, his gray socks stick out from the glistening snow while his gold oval glasses sit haphazardly upon his face. He is the key to this whole Öbergemau mystery, would solve the puzzle we have been chasing this whole time but now I will never know.
“You will kill me!” Hazenfelder yells, defiant and scared, the sickening smile widening as he pops off a few more rounds that shatter the chilled night air in multiple explosions. “But I will kill you first!”
In the near distance, the German police’s klaxon sirens shrill in their approach, the blue klieg lights twirling above the green-white checkerboard painted VWs. It is too bitter cold for spectators so there are no witnesses to my tragic little scene.
The approaching, screaming police siren stops suddenly as the vehicle screeches to a stop. Through sweat stinging eyes, below the hill, the now hazy lights are still swirling, a distant beacon; another siren stops, and soon another arrives. It will not be long before I will be arrested and dead as the Germans will be more interested in detaining and questioning than giving first aid. But it does not matter anyway as I do not think I can bleed much more.
The blood is collecting in the back of my throat, and I taste it fully as if I am dining on my own self while the heartbeat, which revs up in the adrenaline-shocked impact, is slowly fading. The cinch tightens so sharp that breath is becoming shallower as I calmly tilt over, cheek nestling into a small drift, the snow wetting my entire body along with the bladder relieving itself.
The smartphone beeps a text from Jaya but the mortality clock is winding down.
A darkness flows around the back of my eyes, the distant images twirl around creating a tunnel.
Lesley ... please forgive me. Forgive.
In a white sundress, she is twirling slowly around in my Paddington Station flat; her small smile emerges under lowered hazel eyes. Lesley stops and looks for my response as I breathe in her signature amber perfume while Nat King Cole’s 1961 version of ‘Smile’ plays in the background in an endless loop on the iTunes player stereo.
With his subtle velvety voice lifts just above the orchestral arrangement, Nat’s cool patina in evidence over the string bass reverberation. It filters through me, and I get lost in the song’s melancholy words. God, how truly beautiful Lesley is I realize, both in body and soul. Not many men get that privilege in life, to be truly loved by a woman without the cynicism or bitterness that years of love’s inadequacy builds up.
Slightly above me on the parquet floor as I sit on the couch, her ivory, slender legs gleam even in the half shadows of the blinds while the goose bumps and small hairs of her arm edge up because there is a small draft of cool air. The long, silky-brown hair with light blonde streaks rests just above her breasts, bordering her favourite necklace: a gold oval encrusted with small diamonds on a slender chain. Approaching her, moving my fingers through her hair, I kiss her soft lips and apply more pressure to show my emotional affection which she returns and we slowly dance pressed together tight, lost in the quiet moment.
Afterwards, with her scent settling into my being, holding her slightly by her bare arms, her smile relaxes while the gleam in her hazel eyes tries to discern what it is that I am too much of a coward to reveal as she puts her cool, dainty hands on my cheeks, her soft London accent so serene.
What’s wrong, Jonathan?
The constriction releases itself and the pain moves away, separating me from mortality, finishing its job. Closing my eyes, that ethereal passage narrows Lesley for she is escaping forever.
Please forgive me, Lesley.
I loved you more than anyone else. And I never told you.
Senses fade, calmness enters.
Lesley quietly smiling at me in her innocent way when she still loved me, still needed me; warmly nestled in her waning image, something violently rages, yells, pokes, hits, screams, pummels, tears, shouts, abruptly pulls me from the dwindling periphery.