Part 1

Look at the stars. Just look, he said to himself, trying to keep what was left of his mind focused. He heard music coming from outside.  He knew they were all singing and dancing. He remembered that he had been dancing with them the last time… the last time. Then he had never dreamed of the horror going on below his feet. No, don’t think. Don’t think. Look at the stars.

The stars are eternal,” he repeated to himself. Don’t look at the crones moving around you, he willed himself, don’t look at them doing what they are doing, dressed in their white robes, in their white and red blood soaked ... no, no!

He tried to breathe, but it was hard, so hard to take even a shallow breath.

He felt panic again, but now it was just a ghost of an emotion. He no longer felt cold.  He didn’t feel pain, just a slight pressure on the parts of his body that the women were... No! He said in his mind, look at the sky and think about the stars. Aren’t they noble? Aren’t they wonderful? And they will always be there.

He almost smiled. For all the planning and scheming he had done in his long life, for all the lust he had for money and power, it all came to this.

Only the heavens will continue. Only the stars will survive. And he will be there amongst the stars. Yes, yes.

He felt his heart beating fast, fluttering in his chest trying to circulate what little blood was left in his veins. He didn’t want to think of that. He didn’t want to think of his life being taken from him. Precious rubies, stolen from him, drop by drop.

His vision was going dark but by then he no longer cared about reflecting on the stars. For, by then, he could see beyond them.

And as the blood slid and trickled from his open veins to gather and run in rivulets to the thirsty ground, his small, feeble heart quivered a little. Then stopped.

 

Robert McCall and Mickey Kostmayer walked past the world’s best collection of French Renaissance art with hardly a glance. The Cloisters in the Bronx, New York, was said to be one of the most peaceful places in the city, but it wasn’t able to calm Mickey’s nagging suspicion that there might be trouble ahead.

“Remind me to look at the Unicorn tapestries that hang on display here some other time,” McCall said.

“Rugs on walls?” Mickey shrugged, trying to hide his disinterest, “Right, I’ll be sure to remind you.”

“Surely you know the story of the unicorn and the virgin?” Robert asked, amusement very evident in his voice.

“They had virgins in the Renaissance?” Mickey laughed as they continued past religious friezes and statues. “So come on McCall, on a scale of one to ten – with ten being the most serious – how bad is the trouble Control’s in this time?”  Mickey glanced across and caught the ghost of a smile on McCall’s face as he searched for the familiar figure.

Whatever makes you say that?”

I remember what you said a couple of years ago about the more out of the way the meeting place the more trouble Control was in.  And this looks pretty out of the way to me.”

Perhaps Control doesn’t want to be seen to be talking to us?”

Maybe.”  Mickey looked around at the high vaulted arches that made up the main halls of The Cloisters. “Damn, you know I haven’t been here since I was in high school,” he said with a small smirk playing on his lips, “They brought the class here for a history project, something to do with the European Renaissance.”

Well, I would imagine that you would have found a lot of educational things here, if you had cared to try.”

Mickey tried not to laugh; he still had very vivid memories of that day trip.  “You’d better believe it.”

McCall glared at him as though he was expecting another of his long stories.  But he had no intention of telling McCall about that day trip over twenty years ago. 

He and Kristina had been dating each other for nearly three weeks before the trip and, though he had tried, she had never let him get past first base. Whether it was the medieval story about the passionate romance of Abelard and Heloise, that they had been reading in English class, or just the atmosphere of the place, but she had agreed easily when he suggested that they sneak away from the group.

After walking through a nice looking courtyard, they had found the chapel. The idea of slipping under the rope barrier so that the pair of them could make out in a secluded corner tempted the rebel in him.

With a little pleading Kristina had let him slip his hand up under her shirt and he had touched her breasts for the first time.  Mickey sighed at the remembrance.  That had been a holy experience in itself.

Mickey looked at Robert; he hadn’t seemed to notice that he’d been lost in memories for the past five minutes. It had been a long time since he had thought about Kris, but he hoped she was happy, wherever she was. 

He followed McCall through yet another arched doorway, and there was Control, sitting on a bench reading a newspaper.  He stood and folded the paper when he saw them.

As usual, McCall spoke first and bluntly.  “Just tell me what you want, Control.  I hated these contrived meetings when I was with the Company and I hate them even more now.”

Mickey saw his boss about to reply angrily then he stopped and calmed himself. 

Right, McCall, why bother with polite pleasantries.” He threw the paper on the bench and put his hands deep into his pockets. “Do you remember Walter Kohler?”

Mickey was sure he didn’t know the name. Maybe the guy was before his time with the Company.

Yes I remember Wally.” Robert’s face, which had lost all warmth when he had first seen Control, remained expressionless. “He was a financier. He gave the Company information on several not quite legal transactions that the KGB and the Libyans put together, as I recall.  Didn’t he also give us some information about certain bank accounts in Switzerland?”

Yes that’s him.”

Mickey leaned against the smooth stone wall and watched the older men.  So Kohler wasn’t with the Company.

Control continued, “He’s missing.”

Mickey could hear the frustration in McCall’s voice when he answered, “So? Why involve me with the mysterious absence of your obscenely wealthy friend? I am neither Company nor interested in your problems. Why bother me when you have an agency filled with drones eager to do your bidding?” He looked at Mickey, “No offense Mickey, I didn’t mean…”

Mickey shook his head and smiled, “ None taken.”

Control sighed deeply. “I have made some inquiries but I’m limited by what I can do unofficially.  Kohler was always my private contact, he never had any official ties with the Company.  I’ve traced his movements to Scotland and then there’s nothing.”  Control rubbed his hand over his face wearily, “I need to know if his disappearance is Company related.  But I need it done quietly.”

McCall sat down on the bench that Control had recently vacated.  “And you want me to...?”

“Take me on as a client and check it out, old son.  I’ve uncovered rumors that Kohler isn’t the first wealthy recluse to vanish in the same way over the last few years.”

Mickey decided it was time he joined in the conversation, “Some places in Scotland are pretty remote. You got any more information?”

I’ve found out that Kohler was attending a retreat run by The Cymric Foundation at a place called Druidean, on a private island off the west coast of Scotland.  The retreat is led by a man called Beltane Cymri.”

Robert snorted with laughter, “Beltane Cymri?  However did he think up that name?  Beltane is a pagan festival celebrated on the first of May with bonfires and Cymri is something to do with other Celtic pagan traditions.   The man must be a fraud.”

Control nodded in agreement, “That he is. And he has created a new religion to go with the name.  I had Jonah do some hacking and he’s discovered that Cymri’s real name is Kevin McQueen and over the last three years he’s become a wealthy man.  He has money in tax havens all over the world.  And from the look of the accounts the money is paid in via a trust fund setup in the name of a religious retreat.”

Mickey shrugged, “So Kohler got himself mixed up with a bunch of guys who like to run around in the forest and commune with nature, worshipping trees.  What’s the problem with that?”

Control gave him a withering stare.  “When we did some more checking it seems that a few other rich, older men have attended these retreats and most of them have never been seen again.  Or rather I should say that the rich, very private ones with no close family or friends, like Kohler, are never seen again.”

You can’t want me to attend one of these things?”  McCall was incredulous.  “Why in the world do you want me involved with this problem? Why me?”

Control continued talking. “From what I have learned, Cymri’s headquarters is very luxurious.  He bought the island three years ago and has had a castle built. No expense was spared at all, it’s a place put together to lure in the right kind of mark for Cymri: older, wealthy and unscrupulous. Think of it as The Equalizer busman’s vacation. Fresh air, fishing…”

“And possible mayhem for the more mature man?” Robert interrupted.

Mickey saw that McCall was looking thoughtful and his heart sank. The last place he wanted to be was an island off the coast of Scotland.  It was the end of October for Christ’s sake, the weather would be lousy.

What about Mickey?” McCall suddenly looked towards him,  “He hardly fits into the profile of a rich, older man does he?”

Control smiled slightly, “Mickey fits in nicely.”

Damn!  Why don’t I like the sound of that?”

Control produced some papers from his inside pocket and handed them to Robert.  “I’ve built you a background and was able to finagle an invitation for Rupert Morant to attend the retreat. 

“Morant is a very wealthy, reclusive, Australian citizen with no close family.  He made his money from investing heavily in the mineral resources mined in Indonesia in the early seventies.  He was clever enough to sell all his investments before the conservationists began to make noises about his methods. 

“Morant has a very interesting past, he has been involved in some questionable activities in his private life but they have always been hushed up.  He’s very like Wally in that way. He’s just the type of person that Cymri would welcome with open arms.”

Robert nodded, “And, what about Mickey?  I take it he is to be my backup should anything go wrong.  How do we get him inside?”

Control passed his hand over his lips, trying to hide a smile. “Mickey is now Mick McCabe your Mr. Fix-it and your well paid go-fer slash bodyguard.  He has the contacts to arrange almost anything that you want, especially if it’s illegal.  You met him when your car was being repaired once and offered him a job because you liked the look of him. Rupert, you fancy yourself a sophisticated well-educated man; you like to associate with the rough and ready types, proving to yourself that you are superior. McCabe here has a criminal record and will do anything for money – and I mean anything.  The invitation from the Foundation includes Morant’s aide.”

Warning bells were ringing in Mickey’s mind, “Er, level with me, Control, when you said that Morant liked my looks, what exactly did you have in mind?”

Control grinned, not a reassuring sight. “Nothing physical.  He’s intrigued by your lifestyle and the people you know.  He gets you to find women for him, or arrange for other entertainment.  Completely jaded by his own life, Rupert here looks to you to supply new and novel outlets for his somewhat eccentric tastes.”

Mickey looked at McCall to try and gauge his thoughts on the trip. He was deep in thought, so no help there. “Great.  So I get to be a servant and a pimp all rolled into one.” 

Mickey saw McCall begin to speak and he held up his hand to stop him from saying anything, “ Don’t, McCall. I know – a job’s a job. Do what‘s needed. I know.”

McCall smiled then he turned to Control, “So how do we get to this island?”

Cymri’s foundation make the travel arrangements after they check that you meet all their requirements, which I’ve ensured that Rupert does. They’ve booked you both on first class flights out of JFK to London. You’ll transfer there to another flight to Glasgow and they’ll meet you there and take you to the island on one of their own launches. You’ll be civilians so you can’t carry weapons with you, the British have airport security sewn up tight. You’re going to have to use whatever you can find locally.” Control frowned, “One more small thing. The locals have always thought of that island as a cursed place. When they find out that you’re a guest, I doubt that they’ll be any help to you at all. They dislike the people who go to the island and look on anyone who touches that place as evil.”

Wonderful!  Superstitious nonsense too.  Just wonderful.”  Robert looked at Control, “I am going to make sure to call in this marker - you can believe that.”

Suddenly Mickey felt cold, he didn’t say anything, but he wasn’t as sure as McCall that local superstitions could be brushed off so easily.

Part 2