The Carlson Imperative
Book 1: Svetlana Curuvija
© 2010 J.W.Brown
Chapter 8: Preparations
It had been a long warm night. We had made long and passionate love on going to bed, and afterwards had fallen asleep in each others arms, only for us both to awaken hot and thirsty. I brought us cool drinks and we lay and cuddled. She had talked about Vasilov, and about what he had done, in more detail than she had told Katya. As she spoke, sometimes in English, other times in Serbian, I realised that her anger had gone, replaced only with contempt, and the all-too-present concern for her sister.
She told me of the inside of the house where she had been kept with the other girls, of the squalor and discomfort, and of the constant to and fro of the girls as they were taken away and returned. She had been kept in a separate room from her sister, so had been spared watching her departure and return, though she was aware that this had happened.
As she talked of her sister she snuggled in to me and held me tightly, as if afraid I would go. Later, her upset had turned to passion and we had made love again, then to fall into sleep.
I woke to find her head on my chest, her leg straddling my stomach, and for a few minutes I lightly caressed the side of her face, her neck and shoulder. Slowly she stirred and gave a gentle moan of pleasure, then moving her head looked up at me smiling. “Don’t stop. It is lovely.”
She snuggled in and I continued to caress her gently, the touch of her velvet skin under my hand sending little shivers through me. Finally, I reached out to the side table and picked up her prescription cream. She needed no prompting but lay on her tummy beside me. I began with the bruised area just below her shoulders and worked my way slowly down her back. She moaned softly with pleasure as I worked the cream into her skin. When I put the top back on the tube, I sensed her regret that I had finished, so I continued to caress her, first her lower back, buttocks, then the inside of her thighs.
Tremors ran up and down her body as I touched her and finally she murmured softly “Joe, plis?”
I placed myself above her and as I entered her silky vagina, she raised herself to meet me with a gasp. As I moved inside her I continued to caress the whole of her back and sides. Her moans grew louder and she shivered uncontrollably from head to foot. I thrust harder and deeper inside her and she gasped and sobbed in pleasure as she orgasmed over and over again. I waited until she was almost delirious with pleasure before I let myself come, and exploded with a force that surprised me, as I buried my face in the pillow beside her to mask my screams.
I lay above her, gently covering, but not letting my weight squash her, and kissed her neck and shoulders. Finally, I lay beside her and wrapped her in my arms.
She looked into my eyes “Oooh! That was so lovely.” she said “Thank you.”
I smiled. “And thank you. You are truly gorgeous.”
“What we do today?”
I brushed the curls away from her face. “This morning, we relax. Then I would like to have a walk with you, if you like, as well as have lunch. Later this afternoon unfortunately, I have business to discuss with the others. That business is about what is to happen early tomorrow morning, amongst other things, and we should talk about that now, if that’s OK?”
She sat up excitedly. “You fetch Katrina to me?”
I laughed “That is my intention. Unfortunately, it means that you will need to be awake from very early tomorrow morning, so I suggest that you have an early night and Zee will wake you at 2:30am tomorrow morning. Zee, Tomas and Jane will keep you company down here in the basement until I come back. I may need you to talk to Katrina on the telephone, to reassure her, so try not to get too excited.”
She held my head in her hands and kissed me deeply and sensuously, then she spoke “I love you. You are beautiful, kind man.”
After we breakfasted she went upstairs, and just before 10:00am I went into the garage and opened the doors. On time, as always, his ‘taxi’ pulled up outside the door. He stepped out with a large heavy holdall, put it down in front of me, and shook my hand.
“Good luck and God speed Joe.”
“Thanks George” I replied, and he was gone.
I closed the garage doors and took the bag into the waiting room. I inspected each of the weapons in turn and checked the ammunition, before placing everything in the small safe.
I checked that everything was cleared away and made my way back to the basement, where I grabbed a lightweight blue jacket, my wallet and a small digital camera, then headed upstairs.
In the day room, an art class was in full swing. All three easels were in use, and some of the girls had sketch pads on their knees. The subject was Anna, and she was perched, half-sitting, half-lying on one of the tables, as Svetlana walked around, talking animatedly to each of the girls, and demonstrating on her own sketchpad the points she was making. I was happy to notice that Lizzie had a sketchpad and was joining in. Up until now, she had been a bit of a loner. Some of the girls that weren’t drawing, were watching and listening, hanging on Svetlana’s every word.
She saw me, and she grinned and waved a kiss to me, and I sat down and watched her. Like most very good teachers, she both loved and knew her subject intimately, and I was surprised at the quality and expression she managed in her English, stumbling only rarely, and eliciting good-natured help from the girls when she got the words wrong.
I looked around the room. The collection of sketches had grown, with those by several of the girls also, and what they lacked in skill was made up in enthusiasm.
“Добро јутро, Џо.”
I turned around in surprise. Jane was standing smiling at me, a small tattered Serbo-Croat phrasebook in her hand.
“Добро јутро Џејн, и како си?” I answered smiling.
She laughed. “Sorry. I’ve not got far with this.”
I smiled broadly at her and she sat down.
“Are you going to learn Serbian?”
She nodded. “I’d like to, and with more and more girls coming from eastern Europe, I think it would help.”
“I think it’s a great idea. And you have a native speaker to help you if you need it.” I gestured to Svetlana.
I pointed to the phrasebook. “Is that all you have?”
“Yes, up till now.”
“I’ll get you some better resources, including a couple of CD’s to listen to.”
She smiled. “Thanks, that would be great.”
I sensed she wanted to ask me a question, but was a little reticent.
“Ask away.” I said “The worst that will happen is I’ll say no.”
She grinned “From what you say, Svetlana will be staying with us permanently?”
I smiled. “Yes, she wants to, and I want her to, but quite apart from my love for her, she will be a tremendous asset to the Refuge.” I waved my hand at the engaged art class.
“I agree” Jane said. “And I’m very happy for you Joe.”
“Thank you Jane. I appreciate that.” I replied.
She got up and joined the girls.
I watched the activity for about an hour and a half, and eventually Svetlana had sat down, sketchpad in hand, with Lizzie sat next to her. I walked around looking at the girls handiwork and making what I hoped were complimentary noises. Later, I walked over to Svetlana. She beamed up at me.
“Hi Joe. You take me out to walk?”
I nodded. “A visit to a bookshop, some lunch, then a walk in the park?”
She folded the pad closed, got up and kissed me. “It is good. I will enjoy.”
I noticed Lizzie’s disappointment. “What about Lizzie Svetlana, would she like to come?”
Svetlana flashed a big smile at me and turned to Lizzie. “You come for lunch with Joe and I, and walk in park?”
Lizzie’s face lit up. “Yes please.”
As we left the day room, I told Jane we were taking Lizzie out and she smiled. “Good. I’m glad she feels safe enough with both of you to go out. Enjoy your lunch.”
The late morning heat hit us as soon as we left the house, and we headed up Sussex Gardens and on to Praed Street. Lizzie was between us, holding both our hands, and was enjoying the walk. It crossed my mind that she hadn’t been out at all since arriving at the Refuge.
I turned into W H Smith’s and headed for the Foreign Language section. I said to Svetlana. “Take a look around. If there’s anything you would like, I’ll treat you.” I looked down at Lizzie. “Would you like to walk around with Svetlana? If there’s a book you would like, I’ll get it for you.”
She smiled and nodded and they walked off slowly, looking at the shelves of books.
Whilst keeping one eye on both of them, I picked up a good Serbian Foundation course which included grammar, phrase book and 2 CD’s, and then stood for a moment looking at the two girls.
Lizzie was stood in the Literature section and Svetlana was pouring over large Art books. I made my way over to Lizzie. She had her back to me, a book open in her hands, and as I drew closer I heard her reading aloud from the book. It was Welsh. I stood behind her and listened to her read the poem, her pure, lilting voice matching the ancient tongue beautifully. I noticed too, that there were several other people standing by listening attentively also.
Lizzie had herself an audience.
She finished the poem, and became aware of the silence in the shop, then looked around a little puzzled as some of her audience gently applauded.
I spoke. “That was lovely Lizzie. You have a lovely voice.”
She turned and grinned shyly at me.
“Do you prefer Welsh to English?”
She nodded. “I like the sound of it better.”
“Would you like that book?”
Her face lit up. “Yes please, Joe.”
“Come on then, let’s find Svetlana.”
She took my hand and we walked across the store. Svetlana watched us as we approached. “You find lovely book Lizzie? I hear you read very good!”
Lizzie laughed “Have you got a book?”
Svetlana nodded and held up a small book on life drawings.
“OK?” I said, “Let’s pay, then get some lunch.”
I had intended crossing Edgware Road and going to a small Spanish restaurant I knew, but as we were passing Junction Place, Svetlana suddenly stopped. For a moment I was worried that I had inadvertently dragged her back into bad memories, but she smiled at me and said. “Can we go to lovely pub where we first talk?”
I laughed. “Of course.” So we turned into Junction Place and walked down to ‘The Three Keys’.
It was still early, so there were plenty of empty seats. Svetlana took Lizzie over to a window seat and I turned to the bar.
Alfie’s gaze was firmly fixed on Svetlana, but he turned slowly to me. “Sorry Joe. But is that..”
“Yes.” I laughed.
“God, she’s stunning! What a transformation!”
I laughed again. “I’ll pass on your compliments Alfie. Now can I order some lunch?”
“Oh! Sorry.” he said “But you understand?”
“If by that you mean do I know that every man who sees her falls instantly in love with her, then yes, I do.”
He shook his head. “What would you like?”
“A round each please of beef, pork, ham, chicken and cheese sandwiches, three side-salads and a couple of packets of crisps. To drink, can we have three large freshly-squeezed orange juices and a jug of water and glasses please?”
“My pleasure Joe. Sit down and we’ll get them to you as soon as.”
I joined the girls at the table. They were sat next to each other. Svetlana was telling Lizzie how we had met, and that she had come in here to eat with me.
Lizzie looked at me. “Were you going to thump that man who touched Svetlana’s bum on the train Joe?”
I laughed. “Yes, if he hadn’t stopped, I would have thumped him.”
“I need someone to thump my new Dad for touching me.” she said.
I looked at her. “Do you miss your Mum, Lizzie?”
She lifted Svetlana’s arm and cuddled in. “Yes. But I won’t go back if he is there.”
I nodded. “Quite right, but what if your Mum was finished with him and he had to go away?”
“I would like to see her first to find out.”
The drinks arrived, and we were all thirsty, Svetlana draining her glass almost in one gulp. I poured half of mine into her glass and she thanked me.
I turned back to Lizzie. “Would you like your Mum to come up to London to visit you Lizzie?”
“Will he come?”
I shook my head. “Definitely not – just your Mum, and only if you want her to.”
“Then I would like to see her.”
I thought quickly. It might seem like haste, but maybe she would change her mind and I wanted to let her mother know she was at least alive and well. I pulled out my notebook and a pen and asked her for her Mum’s name and address. She told me. I wrote the name, Catherine Davies, but the address I couldn’t fathom, and Lizzie laughed as I messed it up, then she took the notebook and wrote out the address in neat script, together with a telephone number.
The food arrived, as if on cue, and we all dived in to the beautiful sandwiches and salad, and I ordered more juice.
They looked lovely together, and I couldn’t afford to miss the opportunity. I took out my camera. “Do you mind if I take a photo of you both Lizzie?”
She grinned. “’Course not.”
They cuddled up and I took a couple of shots, before putting the camera back in my pocket.
I looked around. The pub was filling up with the one o’clock lunch-time crowd, and several men stared openly at Svetlana. She was either oblivious to them, or had decided to ignore their rudeness. We ordered some strawberries and cream, which disappeared in a matter of a few minutes, and I got up to settle the bill. Just after Alfie had given me my change, there was a loud shout behind me. “Watch your mouth kid!”
I made my way back to the table. Lizzie was close to tears and Svetlana nodded to one of the men on the next table. “Him.” was all she said.
I turned to him. “Are you tired of life?” I said quietly. He froze, looked up at my face, then said sheepishly “She spoke out of turn.” he gestured to Lizzie.
“And what did she say that hurt you so deeply?” I asked.
He didn’t want to answer my leading question. I raised my eyebrows. “Well?”
“She said ‘Don’t you know it is rude to stare?’”
“And don’t you?” I said quietly. His friends were shaking their heads, it looked like he was out on a limb.
“I’m sorry.” he said, “It’s that your girl-friend is so pretty.”
“That’s right.” I said, “I agree with you, she is, and I can understand your staring, but your response to Lizzie’s justified comment is entirely and totally out-of-order, and you should apologise to her.”
He looked relieved and nodding, turned to Lizzie. “I’m really sorry I’ve upset you. Can you forgive me please?”
She looked at him, tears still on her cheeks, then nodded with a quiet “Yes, OK.”
“Thank you.” he said, and turning to me, “I apologise to you and your girl-friend too, for any upset I’ve caused.”
I nodded. “OK, then. Apology accepted.”
The pub was in silence, and the young man had gone a deep shade of red. I looked at the girls. “Are we finished?”
They both nodded, so we made our way to the door. Alfie said as we passed “I’m sorry Joe, I’ll have a word with him.”
“Thanks Alfie” I said, and we left.
We walked in silence down Sussex Gardens, and I was concerned that Lizzie had been frightened back into the limbo she had been in for weeks, but by the time we reached the park, she was chatting amiably to Svetlana. All was apparently well.
We spent an entirely enjoyable two hours in the park. I took more photographs of them both, and then Lizzie, then Svetlana took photographs of me and them. Finally, we were sat on a bench with an ice-cream each and I glanced at my watch.
Svetlana said “We have to go now Joe?”
I nodded. “I’m afraid so.” I turned to Lizzie. “How do you feel about what happened earlier in the pub, Lizzie?”
She smiled. “It’s OK Joe. He was just a silly man.”
I laughed. “Yes, that describes him exactly. Shall we make our way back home?”
She nodded “Yes, OK, and thank you for taking me out, it’s been lovely.”
I smiled. “Lizzie, it was our pleasure.”
I went upstairs with them, but let them continue to the day room alone, and I knocked on Margery’s door.
“Come in Joe.”
I went in and sat down.
She busied herself with the kettle. I got out my notebook and when she sat down I handed it to her. “That’s Lizzie’s Mum’s name, address and telephone number.”
She beamed at me. “Well done!”
“Can you check the police missing person notifications for that area and surname Margery?”
“Yes, I will. But we have already, for all of Wales, over the last few weeks ever since she arrived, and no-one answering her description or name has been posted as missing.”
She turned to the computer, and I got up and made us a pot of tea.
“There’s nothing Joe.”
“What the Hell is going on?” I said. “You don’t think her mother hasn’t reported her missing do you?”
She shrugged. “What else is there to think? Is her mother OK?”
We looked at each other. Margery poured two cups of tea.
“To Hell!” I said “I’m going to ring her and find out.”
I picked up the telephone and rang the number Lizzie had given.
After two rings the ‘phone was answered. It was uncanny. She sounded exactly like Lizzie, with a beautiful musically-modulated voice. “Hello, Catherine Davies here. Who’s calling?”
I gestured to Margery to pick up the other receiver. “Hello. My name is Joe Carlson, and I’m the manager of a girls Refuge in London. Have you got a daughter missing?”
There was silence. Then I heard her whimper. “Brangwen, you have found Brangwen. Is she alright?”
“Mrs. Davies,” I said “the girl that gave me your address is fine and healthy, but her name isn’t Brangwen. Does she use another name?”
“She calls herself Lizzie. I try to stop her, but she insists..”
I cut in “That’s her Mrs. Davies. It’s Lizzie.”
Then the tears and sobs came and I just sat and listened until she had calmed down.
“Can you answer a couple of questions for me Mrs. Davies?”
“Yes, OK. Go ahead.”
“First. Why haven’t you reported your daughter missing?”
There was silence then a mumbled reply.
“Can you speak up please Mrs. Davies, I didn’t hear what you said.”
“I was afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid that they would take her from me and I’d never see her again.”
I was nearly speechless. “Who are ‘they’ you speak of?”
“Why would they take your daughter from you?”
Again she mumbled, and again I asked her to speak up.
“He told me. He told me what he’d done.”
“Mrs. Davies. Just tell me exactly what he said to you.”
“I can’t, they were awful words.”
“Try.” I said “It’s important, and I won’t be shocked.”
“I had told him to leave and he said ‘fine’ and ‘that was OK’ by him, and my daughter ‘was a better fuck’ than me anyway.”
She started crying again. I swore silently and waited until she had calmed down. I knew it was a waste of time but had to ask. “Have you reported him to the police?”
“No.” she said almost whispering. I looked across at Margery and raised my eyes to the ceiling.
“Can I see her?” she said.
“Yes, of course, but I’m afraid there are a couple of things that you need to do first.”
“Yes?” she said.
“You need to report your boyfriend to the Police for the rape of your child. They will be curious to know why you have waited so long and also not reported her as missing. My advice, Mrs. Davies, is that you talk to your family solicitor or the citizen’s advice bureaux, before you go to the police, so that they can advise you of your rights and responsibilities as a parent.”
“Oh Christ! What have I done? Does she hate me?”
“No, she doesn’t hate you.” I said more gently. “In fact she misses you. Now I want you to act immediately to do the things I have said, and tell the local police of my ‘phone call to you. When I hear from them that you have been interviewed, I will contact you with a view to your coming to London to see her.”
“I have no money.” she said.
“I’ll arrange rail travel and accommodation for you, free of charge Mrs. Davies. Now I want you to take a note of my name, telephone number, and the address of the Refuge, so get a pen and paper.”
I waited then told her my contact details, and made her repeat everything.
She thanked me.
“There’s just a couple more questions Mrs. Davies.”
“What is your daughter’s date of birth?”
“It’s in three days time, she will be 12.”
Margery wrote it down on her pad.
“You know that Lizzie loved her Dad very much don’t you?”
“Yes. She did, and so did I.”
I asked quickly before the tears started again. “Was he Welsh Mrs. Davies?”
She sounded puzzled when she answered “No. He was Irish.”
“Just one more question. What were his favourite band?”
Now she was genuinely puzzled. I didn’t give an explanation but simply waited.
“The Chieftains.” she said softly.
It all clicked into place in my head, and I thanked her and hung up.
I sat back in the chair and shook my head vigorously. Margery replaced her receiver and laughed. “Don’t let them get to you Joe.”
“Why Oh Why Margery? She is like a child herself, hopeless and lost! No wonder tragedies like Lizzie happen.”
“What was all that about her Dad’s favourite band Joe?”
“Is your Dad still alive Margery?”
She smiled. “Just – the old fool is still clinging on.”
“Lizzie has lost hers. I’m going to try to give her a little bit of him back.”
She looked at me and shook her head laughing. “You are a strange man Joe Carlson, but loveable with it. Now get out!”
“Hi Everyone, and thanks for joining me a such short notice.”
I looked around the table. Thak and Pash on one side, Zee and Tomas on the other.
“I’ve called this impromptu meeting of the trustees, because of recent and currently unfolding events, and I wanted everyone to be here because there are certain things I have to propose that need early consideration by all of you.”
I paused. They all nodded and smiled, so I continued.
“My first proposal may or may not come as a shock. I propose that we invite Jane on to the board of trustees.”
They looked across at each other and then back to me.
“Let me explain. Previous to Jane joining us, just over two years ago, Zee had the full weight of psychiatric assessment for all girls on her shoulders alone. That was unfair on Zee, and we had to do something about it. Since then, almost every aspect of what we do here has improved, and due to the combined efforts of both Zee and Jane, our success rate, if I can call it that, with the girls has nearly trebled. Margery has statistics available for you, should you wish to verify this.
Jane has assumed a supporting role to Zee in the training of new staff, as well as her other duties. These things, not to mention that all of the girls love and respect her, have made her a valuable, some would say essential, member of our team.”
I paused for any comments, but they knew there was more, so I continued.
“I believe Jane has a lot more to offer than that she currently brings to our Refuge, and I believe it is right she should have a suitable forum for her thoughts. That forum is this Board. Further, we have talked informally of increasing the effective size of the Refuge, and that means either adding yet more responsibility to existing senior staff’s remit, or divesting some of it to worthy members of staff.”
Again I paused, but this time mostly for breath.
“I believe the clue to a large part of the success of our small Refuge is just that – it is small. The girls know all of the staff, and can have a one-to-one relationship with us when they wish it. I want to take that model on into our expansion, to create, if you like, another ‘family’, separate, but together with us, and I believe that the understanding and expertise Jane can bring, will help us to achieve this.”
I paused then added “I could go on, but that is my 1st proposal. Can I have a seconder?”
There was no hesitation, all four held up their hands.
I looked across at Pash. “Pash, it looks like we don’t even need a separate vote.”
Pash smiled back and added notes to the minutes in front of her.
They knew I had more, so all looked at me expectantly.
“Because of the nature of what we do, and the hard work that lies ahead, I propose that Jane be asked to join us for the remainder of this meeting, so that she can make an informed choice about whether she should accept our invitation.”
They all nodded. I picked up the ‘phone and spoke to Margery. “Can you ask Jane to join us in the basement please Margery?”
She was expecting my call “Will do Joe.” she said and hung up
I got up and walked around with the coffee pot. Zee opened the door when Jane knocked, and we sat down.
“Hi Jane, thanks for joining us. I’m sorry to spring this on you so suddenly. The Board of Trustees would like to extend an invitation to you to join us, as a full and equal permanent member.”
She looked at me and smiled nervously.
“Oh!” she paused “you have taken me by surprise. I don’t know what to say. I’m honoured of course..”
I smiled at her. “At this point you don’t need to say anything. This is an invitation, not a request or command. I’d like to explain a few things to you, and we would like you to sit with us for the rest of this meeting, and then, in your own time, you can make your mind up. Whatever you finally decide, we will accept your decision, and your non-acceptance will not in any way change your status as a trusted and valued member of the staff.”
She looked around at us and smiled shyly. “Thank you.”
I looked around at everyone.
“OK Jane. First of all, you retain your status as staff. However, as a board member, and because of the extra responsibility, your salary would be increased substantially. In addition, instead of the single-room accommodation you have currently, a fully-autonomous 2-bedroom flat will be put at your disposal. I’ll explain how I propose to do that at a later date.”
She was listening intently, so I continued.
“Rather than go over any new responsibilities with you, I propose to carry on with the rest of this meeting, as I hope that as a result, all will become clear to you, including the hard work we have ahead of us. Please feel free to comment on anything we discuss. Is that OK?”
She nodded. “Yes Joe.”
“Very well. That leads me to my second proposal then.”
I looked around the table. “I have made an informal offer to Alec Soames for the purchase of the guest house next door, in it’s entirety, with the exception of his mews flat. I am pleased to say that yesterday, after fully discussing the matter with his wife Stella, he has agreed to go ahead. I will be putting the details before all of you shortly. For now, let me say that this is a unique opportunity for us to increase our capacity by more than 100%, without moving from this house, within which we have all been very happy. Alec has invited us all, either separately or together, to a tour of the hotel at a time to suit any of us. I suggest a ‘phone call first though, in case he’s busy. I estimate the cost to the Trust to be within the region of seven million pounds, and Pash will confirm that we can more than meet this from current funds. I need your formal agreement before we can go ahead. Can I have a seconder please? “
Again four hands went up. I laughed “One more vote like that and it will be a first for us.”
“Just one more thing from me please, and then I’ll throw the meeting open.”
I had their attention again.
“Everyone on the Board is aware that on occasions I take a personal role in the organisation of the extraction of female victims from criminal traffickers.”
The room was very quiet. I looked at Jane.
“Jane, I suspect, has become aware through her own observations and talks with some of the girls.”
“It is absolutely essential to the well-being of the girls, and to the continued existence of this Refuge, that no-one employed by the Refuge should be linked in any way with activities that could be regarded as questionable, however well-intentioned. That is why I will allow no-one, other than myself, a non-employee, such involvement, despite an evident willingness to help from others.”
I looked at Tomas and Thak, and they both nodded.
“Moreover, I cannot share either the detail or outline of anything that I may be involved in, with any of you, without putting you at risk of charges of complicity or even worse, risk to your lives.”
“Early tomorrow morning an operation to extract Svetlana’s sister Katrina from the group of criminals holding her is to be carried out.”
They all waited.
“I cannot carry out this operation without giving you one truth about it however. The same vicious thug that holds Katrina prisoner, is the torturer and murderer of my wife, Christine.”
There was complete dumbfounded silence. Then Zee exploded.
“Christ!” she said. “How long have you known this?”
“Not long enough.” I replied evenly.
There was silence. Then Thak spoke.
“You tell us this because you feel guilt regarding your intentions Joe. I say that you should feel no guilt. This man deserves everything that happens to him.”
Everyone around the table nodded, including a stunned Jane.
“Thank you Thak.” I said, “What I’m trying to say is that all of you may see news items shortly, and wonder who it is, that you have called your friend these many years.”
I looked around the table. “My intention is to go ahead and attempt a rescue of Katrina. After that, I will put my future with this Refuge to a vote by this Board, by all of you, whom I love and trust.”
There was immediate protest, but I held up my hand.
“Please. You will have time enough to dwell on this. Can I now throw this meeting open?”
I got up, and walked around with the coffee pot again. There were some private conversations, but quiet when I sat down again.
Zee looked at me, she looked hurt, but said quietly “I understand now why you wish to strengthen this Board.”
“You do? Good.”
She smiled sadly at me and shook her head.
“I thought I’d explained.” I said gently.
I should have known better. Zee could read me like a book.
She turned to the others. “Since Joe will not tell you what is in his mind, I think I should.”
I sat back in my chair. It was useless to protest, for to do so would be to insult her.
“Joe has invited Jane to join this board, and for all of the reasons he has given, he is correct, it is a right and proper proposal. However, the most important reason is, that he wants there to be a strong Board of five persons already in place, in case of his untimely death during this raid early tomorrow morning.”
There was complete silence.
There were tears in her eyes as she finished, and she looked at me as if I’d betrayed her. “Deny it.” she added.
I felt two-foot tall. “I’m sorry Zee. Of course I don’t deny it. You are quite right.”
She got up and left the table, clearly upset. Tomas followed her. I looked at Thak and Pash. Thak knew, so did Pash, and they both understood.
Jane sat looking slightly bewildered. I touched her arm. “Are you OK?”
She looked at me. “How can you be so cool, accepting that you may die within a few hours?”
I smiled. “I’ll answer your question, if you will answer one for me first.”
She nodded and I continued “As a trustee, will you be able to accept that I do what I have to, and live with the fact that I may go out one night and not come back?”
She looked straight into my eyes. “I don’t want you to die, but yes I accept if it must be, then it must be.”
“That is, above all, why I want you on this Board.” I said “And to answer your question – I’m a soldier.”
“And the people who help you?”
I nodded “Soldiers also. I cannot tell you more, I’m sorry.”
She took my hand. “I will not wait to make my decision. My mind is made up. I want to help as much as I can. I accept your invitation to join the board.”
“Good. And thank you.”
I looked around. Tomas and Zee appeared to be having an angry and animated discussion. Pash and Thak sat quietly.
I cleared my throat. “Well, if there is no further business, I’d like to bring this meeting to a close. I’ll talk to those of you concerned with the proposed reception of Katrina later.”
I nodded to Pash and Thak, then turned to Jane.
“Sorry this has been a bit of a scary fairground ride for you – 1st time as well.”
She smiled. “I have found it both exciting and informative. I look forward to the next.” She got up and left, followed by Pash and Thak. Tomas and Zee were still talking as they got into the lift.
I sighed. I felt punch-drunk. I poured myself some juice from the ‘fridge and sat down on the sofa, trying to clear my head. I dozed for about ten minutes, and there was a knock on the internal door.
“Come in.” I said.