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Two men dissimilar in both appearance and personality sat opposite one another in a small cafe in the bustling city centre. The sun glowered furiously in the sky and the heat was tremendous, bouncing off the cobblestones and the brickwork of buildings in great shimmering waves, the cause of many a droplet of perspiration or huff of overheated annoyance. Citizens of all shapes and sizes went about their business, businessmen clutching black briefcases, mothers balancing a gurgling baby on one hip, gossiping woman seeking shelter from the heat in the doorways of various establishments. It was all very pleasant and regular and no one spared a second glance at the two men and the dark shadow that seemed to hang over them as they spoke in clipped, hushed tones. The Man closest to the entrance of the cafe, Theodore S, leant forward in his seat, causing the rickety wooden framework to groan from beneath his rather obscene bulk. He dabbed at a trickle of sweat from his upper lip with the sleeve of his ragged coat jacket and stared at his companion with imploring eyes, ‘Please Richard, I beg of you, you must hear me out” he breathed. Richard Thillings in turn leant slightly backward, craning his neck upwards to get his nostrils out of reach from the stench of coffee and tobacco that lingered on the breath of his frantic colleague, and blinking nervously at the other mans behaviour. “Theo you must understand why it is difficult for me to come here, to meet with you and hear such wild notions...it is not a proper thing, these theories of yours” he said softly, his pale fingers tapping at the surface of the table. Theodore snorted and the many chins beneath his jaw wobbled in unison, he reached up with puffy fingers and scratched at the overgrown stubble upon his cheekbones. “Theories? Rubbish Richard, you think me the same as those nonsense spewing fools with their banners and their protests, rubbish Richard. This is no theory, this is no mere hunch, I’ve seen it myself, I’ve seen what they’re doing, what they’re hiding from you, me...what they’re keeping from every single one of us! It’s incredible, it’s life-changing what I’ve discovered, it will change this country and who rules it forever, it will the undoing of this government and the making of a new country, and I barely made it out it alive to tell someone today” Richard watched uneasily as Theodore droned on, spittle forming on his lips and pupils growing wide as he grew more desperate to get his point across, he took it as a moment to properly observe The man before him. If what Theodore said was true, and he had indeed uncovered a hidden truth long buried by the government, Richard was sure he would have the ability to bring down the Fascist regime or pay for his incessant nosiness with his life. Richard watched Theodore as his gestures became more wild and he knocked his delicate cup of tea over off the table into a heap of china and brown liquid on the floor below, The man’s skin was blotchy and dark bruises could easily be noticed beneath his eyes from lack of sleep. Richard noted his suit would once have been quite dapper and expensive, but was shredded in places and coated with a layer of grime and dust, Theodore himself was still largely overweight, but seemed to have lost an extensive amount of fat and there was a feverish spark in the black of his pupils. Richard shuddered slightly and pursed his lips, shaken by his normally composed colleagues behaviour and reaching for his own drink with a pale, slender hand. “I’m sure you are over-excited” he murmured, stopping Theodore dead in his tracks, “It is perhaps the large amount of travel you have been doing that has got your marvellous mind over-stimulated, put these eccentric ideas of revolution to rest hm? Tell me how the rest of your career in journalism has been coming along?” he offered, taking a small sip of his milky broth and peering at Theodore from behind the thick rims of his spectacles. The man in question huffed impatiently and took a long drag from the cigarette he had recently acquired from what remained of his left breast pocket. “This is the work of my journalism Richard don’t you see? I know you are fully aware that we have not spoken in years, do you really think I would call you up one afternoon and seek your company for a mere chat between friends, no!” he spat and Richard was forced to remove his now saliva dotted glasses and wipe them delicately on his handkerchief. “What then? “He sighed wearily, “What is the purpose of this meeting then Theo?” Theodore stared at him with dark eyes from behind a sheen of smoke; the ember of his cigarette twinkled red at against his lips. “I am trying to tell you of the corruption, what I saw amongst the walls of downing street that day will change everything if brought to the public eye, but the officials, M.I.6 and all that tosh, they all know what I can do with this knowledge so they have been hunting me Rich, imagine it, hunting me. And every person I have tried to speak to, to share the secret with, has been mysteriously taken out of contact, they are trying to silence me” Theodore exhaled shakily, grey mist fluttered out from between his clenched teeth. Richard shook his head and looked out at the street before them, shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun. The breeze was sweet and perfumed, the heat clung onto the air and the clamour of the crowds drifted over to their secluded spot. Richard sighed deeply and turned back to his company, “do you not see Theo, this is nice, and so what if you have a rather massive secret, life seems fine without it no? Why not drop it, it’s running you into the ground my friend” Richard said, his tone laced with worry. Theo hissed in disapproval and shook his head viciously, his greasy hair falling in unruly locks of his forehead. “We all have a right to know the truth, especially this truth, you must listen Richard, let me tell you now, let me tell you the secret, it’s unbelievable, it’s astounding-“ Richard held up his palm in a plea for silence, his thin, ivory skinned face set in determination, “you’re playing a dangerous game Theo” he whispered.
“No, Rich I’m ending the game...I’ve waited so long for some relief, for someone to tell, for someone to trust and your it-so just hush all your silly little warnings and listen to me!” Theodore cried, slamming his fist down on the table with an almighty crash. “You have no idea what you’re doing Theo, please, stop now and everything can go back to how it was” Richard tried once more.
“I saw-“Theodore began, leaping up from his seat and looming over his smaller companion.
“Stop!” Richard exclaimed, jumping to his feet in unison.
The bullet came so suddenly Richard hadn’t noticed a shot had been fired even as a small circle of red appeared at the centre of Theodore S.’s forehead; it was only when the man slumped forward onto the coffee table that his shocked senses caught up with him, and he heard the piercing echo of a gunshot, the screams and the thunder of fleeing footsteps. Richard stared at the crumpled form of Theodore, mouth opening and closing wordlessly, and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up when the red liquid began to spread across the table and drip over the side, turning the brown puddle of tea below them crimson. His knees buckled and he found himself once more sat down on his stool, unable to take his wide eyes away from his colleague who had, up until moments ago, been breathing raggedly and cursing and over-gesturing with a look of intense outrage and defiance upon his portly features. “Oh” Richard murmured. He sat for a few moments, fumbling with his teacup dumbly and sparing glances at poor Theodore, then contemplating whether or not to adjust the corpse’s hand, as the outstretched fingers mere centimetres from his own elbow were making his skin rise in goose pimples. Moments later when the telephone began to ring inside the cafe, Richard at first believed it to be the shrill beginning of a migraine inside his own head. However, when he looked briefly to his left through the nearby open doorway of the (by then deserted) establishment, and noticed that neither of the trembling waitresses were making a move to answer, he assumed it must have been for him. He climbed unsteadily to his feet, shuffled inside and reached for the receiver, barely noticing when the girls backed into the corner of the room and the last pedestrian outside reached a house or shop to dive into. All was quiet. Richard nibbled at his bottom lip and pressed the telephone to his left ear, marvelling at the wonder of the cool plastic against his skin in the sweltering heat. It took a few second of heavy breathing on the caller’s part for Richard to remember he had to say something. “Hello” he croaked, wincing and rubbing at his suddenly parched throat.
“Good morning Richard Thillings” A brisk voice spoke.“Ah”
“Ah indeed Mr.Thillings, excuse me as I get straight the dilemma at hand, what, pray tell was that?”
“I’m afraid I could not persuade him, it was difficult, he is...he was rather stubborn”
“I’m aware, but you will agree it was in fact yourself that first approached us with the idea of persuasion, was in not you who convinced us all that you had the ability to lessen the bloodshed by silencing the snitchers with words?”
“Answer my question, was it you, yes or no will suffice”
Richard swallowed painfully and weaved his fingers through his now sweat matted hair.
“Precisely, I know I am correct when I say we will not have to resort to snipers up nearby church towers again will we?”
“Very good, and you will go back to informing us of all those aware of our little secret so they may be promptly disposed of and those innocent civilians will be none the wiser” He could hear the smile in the Callers voice. Richard blanched at the venom in the word ‘innocent’, images of a daughter and a wife bound by rope and locked in a dark room swam dizzyingly in his mind and he gasped and shook his head quickly against the receiver, the message of that last sentence had been clear.
“But if you would just let me try once more, I’m sure there is no need to kill everyone who-
“You have been forgiven for your foolishness Thillings, but do not make the mistake of thinking you have still have the place to contradict our methods, you will return to your former position in the company, you will find every last one of those reporters, every last one. It no longer makes a difference if they are friend, colleague or even your own bloody mother; you have lost that privilege, are we clear?”
Richard noticed how every last morsel of air had left the room and momentarily swayed on his feet, pulling on the telephone cord slightly to regain his composure; a bead of sweat trickled down his side beneath his beige trench coat. “We are clear” he whispered, hearing but not listening to the muffled sob of one of the waitresses as they slipped out of the cafe door and fled onto the deserted street. “We had better be” came the Voice again. “Otherwise we might find ourselves losing what little trust we have left in you, and you know very well what happens to those we do not trust”
Richard rubbed at his watering eyes roughly. “Yes” he managed to say.
“Are you someone we can put our faith in, or someone those whisperers, those rumour starters can put their faith in, because there is a large difference in life expectancy between the two”
“Which is it Thillings, who is it that can trust you?"
Richard twirled the cord around his finger till it was white and bloodless, and then dragged his gaze slowly out of the window to his right, seeing the unmoving form of Theodore and the very deep red of the blood that still dripped from the tabletop. He sniffed. “You” he said once. And when he was met with only a loud sigh on the other end of the call he repeated himself. “You” he muttered again, eyes never leaving Theodore, “It is you who can trust me”