Tomorrow we shall meet,
Death and I -.
And he shall thrust his sword
Into one who is wide awake.
“Give me one.”
“Leave me alone.”
“Come on, Lucretia, just one.”
“Are you fucking deaf?”
The kid made a grab for her, so desperate he was willing to try and snatch the lit fag from her hand. Without thinking, she knocked him back, then pinched the cigarette in her fingers and jammed the cherry end into his eye.
He screamed and went to his knees. Lucretia, who had once once observed a standard of engagement, expected that would make her feel guilty. She found she was fine with it.
She dropped the half smoked fag on the ground in front of his snivelling face. “Here, since you wanted it so badly.”
She lit another as she walked away, searching for an easy path to get off the strand where she could slip off into the shadow and hopefully finish this fresh smoke in peace. The side of the water pumping station provided the ideal shelter. She spent a few minutes enjoying the quiet as she wondered where she was going to scrounge her next meal. She’d left Dublin on a ferry to France in order to escape a string of terror charges. She hadn’t expected the sea to swallow the world en route.
The cultured male English voice made her jump, then brace herself for an assault, but the man now smiling thoughtfully at her from the open side of the wall did not appear to be in any rush. He slipped his hands into his jeans pockets, appraising her with interest. She stared back at him, taking in his high boned face, his olive skin, dark hair with a few silver streaks. He was north of forty, but he had more vitality than any other man she’d encountered in recent weeks. Most of them were more like the idiot she’d left half blind on the beach. More of them were barely alive at all.
“What are you looking at?” she demanded, exhaling smoke at him.
“I was just wondering if you’d like to be my girlfriend.”
He’d said it as mildly as though he was asking her the time, but she had the gist. As they walked side by side, she shot a covert glance at him — her first john. She’d seen him before, of course, but only at a distance. There were thousands of people now populating the shores of this jagged new island, but she had quickly begun to recognize distinctive faces.
“You’re English,” she observed pointlessly.
“Agus is bean álainn thú.” he replied with a grin that stretched back to his ears.
And you are a beautiful woman.
“Where’d you learn Irish?” she asked him, keeping pace with his long, lazy strides.
“My father’s mother,” he said, his smile now mellowing slightly. “She was a professor at Trinity. Brilliant woman.”
Warming a little in spite of herself, she looked more directly at him.“Do you speak other languages?”
“Arabic, some Farsi,” he said, and she thought he did look rather like an Arab, thought his accent was unadulterated public school. “What about you, lovely girl?”
“Just English and the Irish I remember from school.”
“Not the Irish you remember from Fás Ard.”
Carefully hiding the sudden ripple of anxiety, she shrugged. “I wasn’t a nationalist. Carried the occasional message for a bob or two.”
“Not the occasional bomb?”
As they passed under the shadow of the high road, she turned to him. “Are you really asking?”
“I wouldn’t hold it against you,” he said with an indulgent smile. “They paid well. And a fresh young girl like you is perfect for making a policeman or a soldier forget his caution.”
Suspicious of what he might know, Lucretia was about to ask him to explain this strange choice of words when he pressed her back against the nearby pylon, took her face in his hands and kissed her. His tongue went deep into her mouth, no restraint or holding back. When she pulled one of his hands to her breast, he hesitated slightly, then laid his palm over it and smiled against her mouth.
“Soft,” he murmured.
“You don’t have to be so gentle.”
He’d given her a cockeyed grin, and then withdrawn, offering her his hand. Something was strange about him. He kissed her with all the passion and skill of one long experienced, but his hands seemed shy of the rest of her. His expression and attitude seemed to convey a confidence inconsistent with this. Furthermore, she was starting to get the sense that he might know more about her than he was letting on.
His dwelling was at first not prepossessing, a small shed in the heights set a few steps off a narrow, beaten track just wide enough for a vehicle. But once inside, he popped open a clever little trap door, which led down to a cunningly constructed bunker. It was clearly still in progress, but he’d made a comfortable enough workshop, and had installed a kind of bedroom, partially obscured by a curtain.
As she moved further into the space, she realized that most of it was supported by walls cut from cargo boxes, shored up to hold the weight of the backfill above and around them. She looked over her shoulder as he stripped off his jacket, and while he was lean and strong, it seemed unlikely to her that he had accomplished all of this heavy lifting alone.
“How did you do this?” she asked, indicating. “This is really… ”
“With help,” he said. “The original plan was to build others, for two other engineers who assisted me.”
She picked her way across the still-uneven floor to him. “What happened?”
He looked her in the face, and now his was sober, expression flat. “I shot them.”
Lucretia tilted her head, finding this rather quaint, then wondering if perhaps he had led her here for that purpose. When he reached for her, she did not step away, but allowed him to lay his fingertips on her cheek. He moved them down, letting them find the line of her jaw, then the soft sensitive flesh of her throat.
“If we’re to be close,” he said. “You must understand this about me.”
“You’re actually serious about that,” she said with a tight smile. “You don’t even know my name.”
“True,” he conceded. “Unforgivable lapse on both our parts.”
He took her hands and gently urged her to follow him over to the rumpled bed. She sat down on it, letting her hands sink into the mattress. She hadn’t slept in a real bed for months.
“My name is Edward Blythe,” he said, pushing her curls aside and leaning in so he could kiss her neck. “Lovely to make your acquaintance.”
“Lucretia Byrne,” she replied, suddenly feeling a flush rise up in her face and chest.
She pulled the snaps apart on her blouse with one hand, then dragged his hand to her bare breast. He was again gentle as he squeezed it, taking his time as her nipple hardened under his palm. Again she was struck by a sense of his inexperience, but that didn’t tally at all with the extremely mature application of his mouth and tongue.
Finally she pulled back to look at him. “I’m not going to break, Edward.”
“My apologies,” he said, teasing a lock away from her face. “I confess, I’ve never done this before.”
“Never?” she wondered, but he smiled.
“Lifelong member of the gentleman’s only club,” he said brightly.
She cocked a brow. “So does this make you bisexual?”
“I’ll let you know.”
At first he was slow, and his touch light, but not because he was truly hesitant. He was making an inventory of her body, exploring her, peeling back her clothes, kissing her in some places that were conventionally erogenous, but others that were not, but pleased her all the same. He pulled her dress down off her shoulders and began kissing her back, first the base of her neck, then her shoulder blades, and then between them, finding odd spots to place his lips.
Then it occurred to her. “Are you counting my freckles?”
“I’m making rough estimates,” he said seriously as he pressed his lips against her shoulder. “You have a lot of them.”
She laughed. Just a small chuckle at first. She tried to hold it in, but it only made it harder. And then she found she couldn’t stop. It was like every feeling of delight that had left her when the world died had come rushing back and she couldn’t control it. She laughed so hard her shoulders shook, and she could feel Edward grinning against her back, trying to fight it. Soon he was giggling too, and the moment took them, leaving both of them breathless.
He threw himself onto his back and smiled at her with bright eyes, his face flushed from some combination of arousal and amusement. She reached out and touched his face, letting her fingers move over his chin, surprised to find the stubble was quite soft. He used some kind of beard conditioner and it smelled like something musky and bitter, combined with a softer scent of rose. When she looked at him now, she realized that his scruffiness was artful, that he was careful of his appearance just as she was, something neither of them had wanted to surrender as so many had.
“I want to make love to you, Lucretia,” he said almost casually, as though he was asking her to coffee. “But I want to know something about you first. So be honest with me.”
She sat up, stretched, her face a little sore from laughing so much. She brought her knees together against her chest, and crossed her arms over them, giving a little shrug. “Not much to tell. Ma was a seamstress, and she taught me how to make clothes. We ran a shop in Dublin.”
“That explains your lovely frock,” he said, admiring her now unbuttoned shirt dress. “When did you get involved with the rebellion?”
Lucretia bit her lip, unsure of why she was withholding the information, except that even now with the British Isles miles under the sea, it still made her nervous. Not because of her affiliations, but because the nature of her work was not something most sane men were willing to overlook. She realized she was starting to like this one, and she didn’t want him to know who she’d been.
“Come on, love,” he prompted. “I’m not going to report you, am I?”
She sighed, summoning up the cover that went over her cover. “Ma was the true believer. I helped her with sewing messages and documents up in clothes, and I carried supplies for… ”
“Car bombing,” Edward finished for her. “Bad tactic. Fastest ways to get coppers driving tanks.”
She stared at him, irritated he’d jumped so many of her narrative pieces, arriving far closer to the truth than she wanted him to. The again, he’d casually confessed to murdering two people who had helped him, not to mention approached her after she’d half-blinded someone, so maybe he needed to understand his peril a little better.
“They were already in tanks.” She looked at him deadpan, just to see his reaction. “We’d get them at home.”
He smirked. “I thought you said you weren’t a true believer.”
She said nothing, only gazed down at her feet, then back at him again, hoping this was enough and that he’d go back to kissing her. That he wouldn’t ask her for more detail. She didn’t want him thinking about her that way, not when they were just becoming comfortable with each other.
“Acts of terror aside,” he said with a smile. “What did you do for fun?”
“Parties. Drugs. Most of the Fás Ard kids were just punks who liked the excitement. A lot of sex, a lot of raves. I was just thinking about getting my life together and going to college somewhere on the continent.”
“What did you want to study?”
She remained quiet for a long moment as she tried to resurrect her memory of that other person and what she’d wanted. “Art. Maybe sculpture, textiles. Try a bit of everything.”
“Hmm,” he said, as though contemplating a problem. Then he reached out and touched her face, his eyes searching hers in a way that perplexed her. Then he relaxed his attitude, and withdrew his hand.
“You’re some kind of some kind of…” she tried to think of something innocuous, seeing if he’d commit to the lie. “Gunsmith?”
“Among other things,” he said, also clearly a little reluctant to give her an account of himself, which only made her want to know more. She knew it was hypocrisy but she didn’t care.
“What other things? Come on, you asked me.”
He reached out and toyed with another one of her buttons, pulling on it, threatening to unsnap it. “Mechanic, machinist, all around craftsman.”
“And a killer,” she observed mildly. “That wasn’t the first time, was it? The men who helped you build this place.”
His hazel eyes flicked to hers and now they were dark, as though deterring her scrutiny. His mouth was thin, almost a smile, but not quite. He gave the slightest inclination of his head.
She rose abruptly and went over to his workbench, she could feel him shifting behind her, annoyed, but he didn’t try to stop her. She looked down at his current projects, and was interested to see the number of weapons, and the variation. There were knives, bludgeons, incendiaries, things even she she didn’t have a name for. Rifles and pistols, mounted on a peg board. He had a handgun separated into its parts, apparently for the purpose of studying its make, because the jury-rigged 3D printer nearby was set to print out one of the pieces.
She could feel his presence behind her, not close, but hovering at the edge of the screen that separated the sleeping area, his eyes on her. Without care for his work, she shoved aside the disassembled gun and the various other instruments of death, then turned, and lifted herself easily on to the bench.
“Here,” she said, unbuttoning the dress further, letting it hang open over her breasts. “I want you to make love to me here.”
He went to her, slid his hands over her thighs, pushing the dress up, his mouth coming down on hers, then halting when she put her fingers over it. He looked at her, brow cocked, about to speak.
“First tell me the truth,” she said. “About who you were Before.”
He lowered his eyes and took a deep breath, fingers tightening in the hem of her dress, then met her gaze.
“I was a sapper — an engineer — and a weapons specialist in the British Special Air Service,” he said quietly. “A soldier, in other words.”
“And were you…”
“North America,” he said. “Exclusively.”
He gave her a slight smile, and she understood at once that discussing this occupation hurt him, because it was something he had loved. It also increased her suspicion that she was less of a stranger to him than he was letting on, but there would be time to discuss that later.
She reached out and put both hands on his belt, pulling him forward. He stood still for her as she unbuckled it, drew the supple leather out of his belt loops, then dropped it on the floor with a small metallic rattle. Then she unzipped his old denim jeans, pleased to find he hadn’t troubled with underwear.
He gasped as she slid her fingers around him, letting them slide down, finding that she liked his shape, and the way he leaned into her, his breath catching. She wrapped her legs around him, guiding him into her, falling a little love with his whimper, the way he gathered her hair in his hand and gripped it as he pressed his forehead against hers.
“You’ll have to tell me,” he breathed as he began to thrust experimentally into her. “What pleases you.”
“Like that,” She put her lips to his ear. “But harder.”