It was winter when chimneys could not stop smoking, groups of young bundled people emerging from the bracing cold into nearby bars with windows clouded with heat, army of candles lit. Gabriel never liked winter; for him, all seasons but winter. In winters, his paths for morning runs would be snow-blocked, numbing the toes. There was no seeing far distance clearly and the day could even go dim between three and four in the afternoon, casting the silver into darkness.
He hated to be cast into darkness or had his sight obscured, so he had to install these Chinese sensors that would trip on an alarm on the closeness of anything alive to his house. He hated Germany once, the holocaust history echoing all of the gloom of the twentieth century, but then Jessica came into his life, illuminated it and gave him new eyes to view the world by.
When this terrible vibration accompanying an alarm spiraled through his auditory meatus into his sleep, he grunted self-pityingly and rose onto his elbow. It was his mum, he wouldn’t use the sensor alarm as ringtone for anybody else but her; a call from her wouldn’t be any different from the danger the sensor alarm could’ve meant. Madam Hobbs wouldn’t call to ask if he had slept well or if he was fine, when she calls, trouble calls. And there the phone was in his hand, Hobbs blinking on the screen. Hobbs… that was his mother’s name in his phone’s register, Jessica would have suggested Mother but she didn’t seem to like Madam Hobbs and wouldn’t care if Gabriel had saved her name as Monkey. He swiped his finger across the phone screen finally.
“Mum? Mum, she’s—mother! Okay… but what could possibly be so urg—all… right then. I understand… thirty minutes.” He buried his face in his hands after dropping the phone back on the bed. What a mother!
Chloe started to cry and he was jolted out of his terror.
“You woke her!” complained Jessica who appeared immediately at the door with a novel in her hand.
“Madam Hobbs did, not me.” Gabriel raised his hands up.
“Yes, she called. She woke me too.”
Jessica came in, dropped her novel on the vanity table and lifted Chloe out of the cradle. Eight months old she was, the youngest Hobbs in town. Ever since she joined their family, Madam Hobbs who used to send Gabriel on a lot of errands that Jessica was never happy about had withdrawn, giving them their long craved peace. Right until that very morning, she never even called to ask what they were doing or how they were faring in the cold. But disappointingly then, she finally called, inviting Gabriel to her home again, thirty minutes away.
“Baby, my gorgeous little princess, c’mon now, mum’s here now.”
It was sometimes as simple as that, gorgeous little princess, mum’s here and Chloe would stop crying, but most times, she would cry until they wanted to beat themselves up in annoyance. Few years back, Jessica wasn’t a type anyone would imagine a mother; she was a model for fashion houses but after she met Gabriel and came down to Germany with him, she had settled down for love. She had all a romance writer would call sophistication; sartorial elegance, moderate sense of humour, intelligence and a bit of physical ruggedness, but she had become a mother, an ex-spy’s wife, a novel lover, modeling was her past.
“Your charms work on her today. She must have taken after you in this crying game,” Gabriel cracked.
“Your mother woke her. If she has taken after anyone in crying, it’s her.”
“Can you even imagine that woman cry?”
“She always looks like she’s crying to me but my baby takes nothing after her. I’m her mum. She has to stop crying when she sees me. That’s it.”
“She must love her mum more than her dad then. I pray she’s not a lesbian.”
“Les—are you—you’re not serious!” she grabbed a pillow with her free hand and threw it in his face.
“I’m definitely not serious,” he laughed.
“So, what was her call about?”
“She wants me to come over.”
Silence… tension mounding in Jessica. Madam Hobbs’ phone call couldn’t have meant anything good, she was sure of it.
“I think she just wants to give us stuffs for the baby,” wheedled Gabriel.
Jessica gave him a weeping look. “She could’ve sent someone,” she said wearily and turned around for the living room.
She finally sat by the fire place, Chloe cooing innocently in her hands. Gabriel stood across the room, rubbing his hands together restlessly.
“What should I do?” he finally asked indecisively.
“She’s your mother, what do you want me to say, don’t go? Go see her.”
“Go see her, really.”
“I’m sorry. I promise I’ll be back before breakfast gets cold.”
“Before breakfast gets… errgh—check your time, breakfast is already cold.”
He looked up, 9:42am.
“Damn!” he purred.
“Go now please. Let’s hear what Madam Hobbs wants this time.”
“I’ll be back in a jiffy. I love you, Jessica.”
“Go meet your mother. When you return, bath and eat, you’ll hear my I hate you too then.”
* * *
Madam Hobbs’ house stood close to the Port of Hamburg’s train station. Train tracks, now silver lines of snow ran few yards away from her mansion. It was a house built of bricks from the past century on a rocky ground. She had almost a hundred employees living with her, none of them unarmed. They knew Gabriel’s car and didn’t have to question him before allowing him entrance. He was nervous; he breathed unusually hard as he took the steps leading to his mother’s apartment, but he wouldn’t look nervous, he was inflexible.
He found her playing her grand piano, which he suspected, was intentional because out of all the songs she could have played, it was Gabriel’s favorite of Beethoven she was playing. He stood there quietly and waited, whatever she was going to ask, he was determined to turn her down. Soon, it ended and she stood from the duet bench in a smiling face.
“Wie geht es dir, Gabriel?” she asked.
“Überhaupt Gut, Mutter.”
“Tut mir leid für die Belästigung, das Kind?”
“Sie ist gut, Danke.”
She walked towards Gabriel, touched his cheek and then walked past him, into the living room which was through a door behind Gabriel.
“Come,” she told Gabriel and he followed her, got served a steaming cup of tea and beckoned to sit.
“Sit,” she said tiredly.
Gabriel sat, sipped his tea and watched as his mother poured herself tea too from a jug Gabriel had known since he was ten. Madam Hobbs came to sit across to him so that she could look directly at him. And quietly they sat for like three minutes, sipping tea and sighing until Madam Hobbs finally cleared her throat and said in a rather sad voice, “Francis is alive.”
Gabriel set his cup down gently and leaned forward in his chair. “What Francis?” he asked.
“Francis Whyte,” said Madam Hobbs clearly.
“That’s not true. He died. I was there.” Gabriel shrugged.
“So we believed but he was spotted in Nigeria few hours ago. I placed a call through to some friends in the NIA there. They told me the CIA has called on something of such. I have reached out to my old friends in the White House, it checked positive. As we speak, troops are being prepped for mobilization to Nigeria.”
“But mother, how can you buy that? Francis was killed, I was there. I saw it done.”
“Yes, you’ve said it before. He was killed and cast into the ocean. I never doubted you, have I? But right now I have reliable sources telling me they spotted him at a Nigerian airport, arriving.”
“Reliable sources… really, mother? There are not many of us who know what Francis looks like. Not even you! How could they have spotted someone whose face nobody knows?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
“God damn it! Mother! Don’t tell me you’re gonna send me to Nigeria now.”
“Only you know what Francis Whyte really looks like. Wouldn’t it be most sensible you go verify for yourself?”
“Yeah, there you are again, grandmother. In case you’ve forgotten, I have a little child who doesn’t even know me yet and I’m supposed to be going after Francis Whyte all over again?”
“It seems after all you agree he’s alive.”
“I don’t give a rat’s fuck about whether he’s alive or dead! Why are you so interested in this Francis anyway? How many more lives do we have to waste running after him? The guy is a ghost, mother! With my evaluation, he’s the best assassin in the world!”
“He’s not better than you.”
“Mother, j—jus—just stop… stop please, will you? I’m done with all these, I’m a father now and I sincerely want to remain so.”
He lit a cigarette, went to look out through the window, and puffed anxiously. He knew it. She was as dangerous as the devil himself.
“I can’t do these, mother. I’m sorry!” he nearly cried, knowing he couldn’t escape it. “I know you want this Francis badly but I—I—I can’t just… I can’t leave Jessica! Chloe too!”
“Listen to me Gabriel. You think I do not care about Chloe and Jessica but I do, hell, what kind of grandmother would I be if I don’t? I sincerely do. But anytime I stand where you’re standing right now, looking out through that very window, beyond the mournful echo of the public address system in the platform of the Warschauer Strasse to Gleis 17 of S-Bahn station at Gruenewald, I—I… Gabriel, just try to see through my eyes, do you not understand why a neck like Francis’s must meet our noose? Visit Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Ravensbrück, see what must never again be, see my fear.”
“That’s completely irrelevant! What do all those have to do with some American assassin? He’s not German after all, is he?”
“Gabriel, it’s not about his nationality, where doesn’t he go to wreak disasters? We both know the world is never going to be a safe place for anyone, Jessica, Chloe, or me if Francis Whyte walks our streets. They could use him to start a world war. I know what I’m saying. Do you know how many people are after him now? How many countries? They don’t want to kill him, they want to use him! We need to stop him. We need to stop them. That’s our own role now… our responsibility.”
“I’m sorry to say this mother but I doubt he can be stopped. After what I witnessed on the ship, if this Francis is still alive, then truly, he cannot be stopped. To him, all this is just some game and he’s a damn good player I assure you. He knows when someone is coming after him and he knows how well to run.”
“And you think he’s better than you?”
“Mother, but I’m not an assassin like him! I am not available for comparison with some… barbarian who knows his way around guns.”
“That will be all, Gabriel. When you’re ready, a freight car will take you to Hamburg. You can fly from my platform there. Don’t kill Francis. Don’t let anyone do. I need him alive, unharmed. Whatever you have to do to bring him here alive, please do, in one piece. After this assignment, I promise you, I’ll never separate you from your family again. I promise.”
She stood and left Gabriel in the room. He was very angry then. He had promised Jessica to never leave her again for any pesky mission of Madam Hobbs’ but there he was yet again, he had to think of a way to tell her he was going to break the promise after all; to assure her he would return in just a matter of weeks; that Nigeria was important and he had to go.
…continues EVERY SUNDAY!
-Lord eBay (and his action series, 2017)