How I Met Your Mother
How I Met Your Mother
“No, no, that’s okay – I’ll have the final draft finished by then so you can come by and pick it up.” Andrew Hargreaves said as he cradled the telephone in the crook of his neck. On the other end of the line was his editor and agent, Diana Ingram. There was a gentle yet insistent tugging sensation on his right leg. He looked down into a pair of big blue eyes looking up at him and an expression that was displaying growing frustration with his lack of attention. Oooh, where have I seen that look before? Andrew thought as he tried to finish the conversation as quickly as possible. “Yeah, yeah, that will be great Diana, Leah has been rabbitting on about getting together for dinner anyway, so it will be good to hang out for an evening with adult conversation for a change…sure, see you on Friday.”
He switched the mobile phone off and dropped it down into the pocket of his jeans – then looked at the angelic face staring up at him. With each passing day Andrew found himself surprised and amazed at how much his six-year-old daughter Cassie was beginning to resemble his wife. Delicate features framed by soft curls of hair that were becoming darker every day, she was almost a carbon copy of Leah – and she seemed to have inherited her mother’s fearless attitude as well. Scott – her twin brother – was a different story entirely. He is definitely his father’s son, Andrew thought as he knelt down and scooped Cassie up in his arms.
“Mommy said you’d read us a bed time story.” Cassie said as Andrew carried her up the stairs.
“Really?” He replied. “Which one would you like me to tell you?” He asked as they reached the landing and walked into the bedroom next to the one belonging to him and his wife. As he opened the door he could see Shaun sitting in his bed across from his sister’s, his head buried in a book about dinosaurs.
“The one about how you met Mommy.” Cassie said as Andrew placed her on her bed. In the blink of an eye she had scurried up to the top of the bed and pulled the pink sheet up around her. Andrew sat down on the edge of Scott’s bed and carefully plucked the book from his son’s hands.
“Okay big guy, that’s enough about dinosaurs for one night,” He said. “You’ll have nightmares otherwise.” Scott sulked for a moment before Andrew continued. “Right then, so there was once a beautiful princess who lived in a large castle in a far away land. One day, a young knight rode up to the castle on a large white unicorn…”
Glancing down at the watch on her wrist, Leah Hargreaves was sitting at the dining room table finalising her report on the government-issued laptop knowing that time was pressing. Her fingers danced across the keys, her eyes ignoring the characters that appeared on the screen as she tried to draw her thoughts out of her head and get them down on paper.
The glass of wine was placed on the table – just at the edge of her peripheral vision. A small smile flickered across her lips.
“Are you trying to distract me?” She said. Andrew mumbled.
“Oh no, if I was trying to distract you I’d have just walked into the room naked,” He replied. “I’m simply offering you a drink.”
“Thanks.” Leah said and then threw her hands up in the air. Her frustration was evident as Andrew leaned over her shoulder and looked at the screen, his eyes scanning her work.
“You need to change that last paragraph – it just doesn’t flow correctly.” His hands reached around Leah’s shoulders and started to flow over the keyboard. In a matter of two minutes he had retyped her final closing paragraph and restructured it. Leah’s jaw dropped.
“How do you do it? How do you just take something and re-write it without really understanding it and make it so bloody good like that?” She said as Andrew’s hands retreated – although only as far as her shoulders. The sensation of his fingers rubbing at her knotted muscles prompted a low moan from her lips.
“It’s just my natural ability to produce bullshit coming to the fore,” He jokingly replied. “I could have a look through the rest of it for you if you like?”
“No…no,” Leah answered, her voice becoming dreamy as she began to give in the signals her body was sending her brain. “Because they’ll realise that my husband – the author – has re-written it for me and I’ll get into trouble.” Leah knew that she was in danger of getting sidetracked. “Did you speak to Diana?”
“Yup – she’s coming for dinner on Friday night so I’ll make reservations at Gepetto’s if you like.” Andrew answered. Leah’s mouth opened with a follow on question that he quickly answered for her. “Mom will take the kids for the night and we can pick them up on Saturday morning once we’ve been to Sainsburys.” Closing her mouth and replacing it with a smile, Leah leaned her head back into Andrew’s chest.
“Are the kids in bed?”
“All tucked up and sound asleep,” Andrew replied. “Fancy getting drunk and fooling around?”
“Mmm…I need to finish this…maybe…did you read them a story?”
“Indeed I did cupcake – Cassie wanted the “how I met your mother” story again.” Leah’s eyes closed as she could feel her body relaxing.
“You know that when they are older they’re going to read your books and see through all the fiction and figure out how we really met don’t you?”
“I hope so, otherwise we’ll have raised a couple of idiots,” Andrew laughed. “But for tonight it was the Princess in the castle and the Knight on the Unicorn.”
“I like that one,” Leah said. “You should write that one for a children’s book…” Andrew’s fingers became more insistent. “Mmm…Andy…okay, that’s it,” She grabbed her glass of wine and managed to get up from the table. “We’re having sex right now, otherwise I’ll never get my work done…”
The Surfer’s Paradise Bar
10 years ago
Tonight she had just one aim in mind – she had decided to get drunk. As Leah Bennett found herself sitting in the only bar she had found that sold genuine English cider, she tried to unwind and clear her mind of the events of the last 48 hours.
Sitting at the end of the bar, away from the rest of the patrons, she was hoping to have a quiet and peaceful evening. However, that wasn’t to be the case.
Several of the customers – obviously regulars – had entered into some sort of drinking contest surrounding the defeat of the Australian cricket team in the recent Ashes series. Instead of drowning their sorrows as Leah had expected them to, they were engaging in a raucous chorus of songs intending to upset any foreign interlopers to their natural habitat.
“Gentlemen, please!” the figure of a young man appeared behind the bar with his hands raised. “If you don’t keep it down then you’ll wake the baby.” His warning seemed to be good-natured as it was accompanied by some jeering from the locals – then he walked over to where Leah was sitting. “Evening. What can I get you?”
“A pint of cider.” Leah replied, realising that the host was English like her.
“One pint of stomach rotting liquid acid coming straight up.” He quipped as he grabbed a glass from underneath the counter and began pouring it from the tap. “On your own?”
“Yup.” Leah replied, slightly hesitant. She was aware of the fact that lone tourists had a tendency to disappear around some parts of this country, however she was confident she could take care of herself in that sort of situation.
“Well be careful,” The barman said as he handed her the glass. “I might fire up the karaoke machine in a bit and get you to sing.” Leah smiled and reached into her bag for her money. “Forget it,” he pointed to a sign above the bar that read Englishmen drink for free. “House rules.”
“Thanks.” Leah was genuinely impressed. “I’m Leah.”
“Andrew.” He said, shaking her hand and noticing her firm grip. “So, business or pleasure?”
“Why are you in Australia? Business or pleasure?” Andrew repeated himself.
“Oh, business.” Leah replied. “Is…this your bar?” She said, suddenly noticing that there were no other members of staff present.
“No, it belongs to my cousin Shaun – he broke his leg last week so I said I’d come out and look after it for him while he’s in hospital,” Andrew said, pausing to cast his eye across at the group of Australian cricket fans as a new song began. “Plus someone needs to watch over the baby.”
“Oh, right,” Leah took a drink from the glass. “Oh god that’s good!” She exclaimed.
“It should be – it’s imported from home. Oddly enough the locals can’t stand the stuff.” Andrew added. He noticed something sticking out of Leah’s bag. “Oh, I see you read horror books.”
“What? Oh, yeah.” She said, picking the book up out of her bag. Staring at the title – The Watcher Out Of Time – she wondered where the conversation was heading. “I started reading these about two years ago, sort of became hooked on them ever since – sort of my guilty little secret pleasure if you like.”
“Want to know how it ends?” Andrew asked. Leah looked horrified. “Not that book specifically – the series I mean.”
“How could you possibly know that?” She asked. Andrew turned the book over and placed it back in her hands so that she was looking at the back of it. Leah then realised that the black and white photograph matched the face of the man standing behind the bar. “Jesus – you wrote this?”
”And the other four before it, plus – in theory – the five after it.”
“Okay…” Leah’s curiosity was piqued. “How does it all end?”
“I’m not telling you now, you won’t buy the others in the series.” Andrew said with a smile on his face. “If I tell you then how do I know you won’t sell your story to the newspapers? I have to consider my future book sales…” he was laughing by this point. “Okay, well, the Englishman saves the Severn Valley when the Nuclear Reactor goes into meltdown courtesy of the Shan, but the Messenger saves him at the last minute, dumping him into the Dreamlands.”
“Seriously?” Leah said. “That’s it?”
“That’s it? That’s it?” Andrew acted as if he had been mortally wounded. “I’m condensing it tremendously you know, there’s another five books before you get to that point…not that I’ve written them yet.” There was another chorus of songs erupting from the group of Australians at the far end of the bar. “Hang on, I’ll be back in a minute…” Leah watched him pour another round of drinks for the customers, engage in some gentle ribbing of their cricket team’s failings and then he returned to the end of the bar she was sitting at.
“So,” Leah asked as she finished her drink. “What’s so important about not waking the baby?”
Andrew had led Leah around the back of the bar, guiding her through the rear of the building and to a slightly ramshackle construction attached to the outside. Leah could see that just behind the bar there was a narrow creek – and that’s when she saw it.
“I give you Gus,” Andrew said. “Otherwise known as The Baby.” Leah found herself staring at an eight-foot long freshwater crocodile that slothfully moved around. She heard the sound of a fridge door being opened, then watched as Andrew threw a raw chicken at the creature below them. She watched the savage beauty as Gus tore into the flesh of the snack presented to him and almost seemed to snort something back at Andrew. “You’re welcome.”
“That’s a crocodile.” Leah stated. Andrew nodded.
“Shaun reckons it’s like a cat – once you start feeding them they get lazy – they figure why hunt when this stupid human will feed me?” He said. “Fantastic way to keep the patrons in the bar in line.”
“Yeah,” Leah mused. “Mess up my bar and I feed you to the croc out back.”
“Indeed.” Andrew said. “You’re staying at the Ramada aren’t you?” Leah looked at him, raising an eyebrow quizzically. “You’ve got a tag on your bag from there.”
“Oh, right…” she realised he was right and silently berated herself for leaving something like that so visible.
“Do you want to meet up for a drink once I close the bar?”
By the time they had gotten back to her room, Leah had already made the first move, kissing Andrew in the lift. As he was staying in the same hotel – and it was less than a five-minute walk from The Surfer’s Paradise – it had been easy for them to meet up.
As Leah moved Andrew towards the bed, she pushed him backwards. He landed on the soft mattress and laughed. She looked at him with a barely concealed passion burning in her eyes as she peeled her t-shirt off. As she threw it to the floor, she heard Andrew gasp.
“Sweet bejeezus – what happened to you?” Leah glanced at her reflection in the mirror – and saw the bruises and welts across her body. She looked back at Andrew.
“Okay, here’s the thing,” She said, climbing on top of him as he lay on the bed. “When I said I was here on business, I didn’t tell you the whole story,” she paused as she looked into his eyes, her mind screaming at her to give him the cover story, but something else inside her wanted to be honest with him. “I’m a field operative for the secret service of the British Government – I got the bruises doing my job.”
“Seriously?” Andrew’s eyes were wide open.
“Yeah, seriously,” Leah kissed him, feeling the smile on his lips. “Now shut up and fuck me.”
48 hours ago
As she lay in the long grass outside the remote building, clothed in a black form-fitting body suit and rubber soled boots, Leah’s mind rolled back over her briefing in a cramped office back in London a month ago.
“That is one Natalia Kukulska,” the image on the screen was of a severe looking woman with blonde hair and angular features. She was statuesque, easily standing the same height as the other men gathered around her. All of them were dressed in military fatigues. “Born in Siberia in 1967, she was a member of an elite Russian anti-terrorism unit until the wall came down, then she disappeared off the radar.” The image on the screen changed – there were a series of photos showing Natalia pictured with a variety of other men, although one of them appeared in the photos more often than others.
“Until she reappeared in Afghanistan about two years back with this group who call themselves Al-Khayal or The Shadow,” more images flashed up of Natalia with a wiry, nervous looking middle-eastern man. “This is Karim Sallah, who appears to be quite high up within the internal structure of Al-Khayal. Natalia seems to have hooked up with him – either as business partners or she’s provided logistical support to the organisation as a whole.” Leah nodded.
“These are your primary targets – in addition, we need you to recover whatever intelligence you can on the organisation as a whole.”
“Are they connected to the Embassy bombing back in March?” Leah asked. There was a pause before the voice responded.
“We believe so, however we have no conclusive proof of that.” Another pause. “Both targets have been reported as entering Australia within the last week – however we wish to resolve the matter without involving any outside agencies at this time.” Great – that means no backup from the locals, Leah thought to herself.
“When do I leave?” Leah asked.
For the last two weeks Leah had been working in the remote mansion as a cleaning maid, getting to know the layout of the building and just how many people were permanently located in there. Fortunately, no one in the group had been able to bring any weapons with them into the country – a covert check with the Australian customs database had confirmed this – although it didn’t remove the fact that they could have since acquired weapons through a thriving criminal underclass in the larger east coast cities.
She had also made a particularly startling discovery – Natalia and Karim seemed to be in some sort of relationship. A particularly domineering relationship from Natalia’s perspective, Leah thought, but a relationship none the less. Taking this factor into account, Leah had taken every opportunity possible to smile at Karim whenever she saw him with Natalia – hopeful of making her target’s violent jealous streak take over and maybe remove one target before she even got involved.
Looking down at her watch she knew that there was to be a change over in the nominal security that roamed around the perimeter of the building. Despite the fact that Leah had also been hampered by the embargo on bringing weapons into the country, she had been able to improvise something for the first part of her plan.
She lifted the heavy crossbow up to her shoulder and loaded the bolt. One morning spent in a local sporting goods store on the outskirts of Melbourne had yielded dividends for her, although she was only able to purchase three bolts for it without having to register the weapon as anything more than a piece of sporting equipment. It would prove to be too cumbersome once she was inside the property, but for now it was perfect for her purpose.
Enclosed in the darkness, she took aim at the first guard as he walked around the edge of the building. The sight on the top of the crossbow was just good enough with the lights in the grounds of the building to give her some accuracy with her shot. She tensed her body for the recoil and pulled the trigger – the carbon fibre bolt was sent spinning silently through the air. Leah allowed herself a small grin of satisfaction as she saw the guard fall to the floor in a heap.
Getting to her feet, she broke out of the long grass and scurried across to him. Grabbing his feet she dragged him back into the grass. Turning to make her way to the building Leah heard the sound of something rustling behind her. Looking back over her shoulder she realised that the crossbow bolt had struck her target in throat and rather than killing him, it had performed a sort of emergency tracheotomy.
She shook her head. What are the chances of that? Leah wondered as she turned around and walked back to the guard. He was trying to crawl in a sort of circle back towards the building. Leah found herself following behind him at a snails pace, shaking her head. Kneeling down and straddling him, Leah grasped his chin with one hand and gripped the hair at the back of his head with another before twisted sharply to the right. His neck snapped and his body convulsed a few times before Leah left him, certain he was dead.
Advancing towards the building again, she realised that she’d lost some time in having to deal with the guard and his replacement was already beginning his patrol route. Leah realised that at some point he would become aware that he hadn’t passed the man he would have been relieving. Picking her way through the bush that surrounded the property, Leah soon picked up her target.
Leah snuck up behind the guard, her rubber soled boots enabling her to walk right up to him and give him a spank on the butt. As he whirled around in surprise, she grabbed the sides of his head. Although her wrists were slender, their appearance belied the strength within them. Leah calmly snapped his neck with one fluid twisting motion, and then released the corpse to fall to the ground. Pushing the body up against the side of the wall where it wouldn’t be noticed until it was hopefully too late, Leah backtracked to the entrance of the property.
Keeping to the shadows, Leah used her key to enter the house and found herself skulking on the ground floor. From memory, she knew that there was at least one more member of Natalia & Karim’s personal security detail on the ground floor, in the study that doubled up as a rest room for the guards. There were always three on duty at any one time – with the others lounging around on the first floor or in the local bars. Have taken out two of them already, Leah was confident she would find the third where she expected him to be.
As she quietly pushed the study door open, the guard had his back to her and was oblivious to her entrance. He sat in a swivel chair, reading a magazine; ignorant of the danger that he was in. Leah kicked his swivel chair so that he spun round to face her. With a wry grin, her right hand flashed out in a blur too fast to fully see; her extended fingertips jabbed in the man's throat with terrifying ease. The guard stumbled out of his chair, his eyes wide in panic at not being able to speak or, more importantly, breathe.
His stumble was interrupted by Leah’s right knee flashing up to meet his forehead in a perfectly placed strike. His head buckled with a brief grinding sound; the bones of his cranium separated and fractured in too many critical places to count, driving shards of bone inward and with devastatingly lethal effect. He was dead the second she struck him, the slumping drop of his body to the floor was merely the encore.
Closing the study door behind her, Leah turned her attention to the upstairs section of the house.
Leah reached the second floor where both Karim and Natalia normally slept. In her cleaning duties she’d never been admitted to Karim’s room – it was always locked – however now she understood why. She entered the bedroom and the sight that greeted her made her stop in her tracks.
Karim was naked, spread-eagled in the middle of a huge four-poster bed. His wrists and ankles were tied to each corner of the bed and his mouth was covered by duct tape. As Leah calmly walked towards him, his eyes were looking quizzically at her, with a hint of anger flashing behind them as he saw her body suit clad figure approach him. Maybe she was part of the game, he thought, but surely not – she was just one of the cleaners.
Karim’s eyes changed from a hint of anger to flat out fear as he watched Leah raise her right leg high in to the air. Driving it down with all the force she could muster, Leah brought her heel crashing down on to Karim's throat. She rapidly followed this by smashing her left elbow into Karim's ribs, directly above his heart. If the first blow didn't kill him, the second one surely did, Leah thought as his eyes bulged in horror as he was left defenceless to his fate.
Turning to leave the room, Leah found herself staring at the black latex cat suit clad figure of Natalie looking at her from the open bathroom door.
“Impressive,” Natalia said in broken English. “Did me favour, da?”
“Don’t bet on it.” Leah replied, dropping into a combat stance. Natalia moved across the room as quickly as she could, but the six-inch stiletto heels she was wearing visibly slowed her progress. Leah knew from her military background that she was well drilled in martial arts – a fact clearly illustrated as Natalia aimed a swinging axe kick at Leah's head.
Despite not making contact, but the stiletto caught Leah's body suit below the right shoulder and tore it, highlighting the power in her kick. Leah reacted quickly, punching Natalia in the kidneys and knocking her off balance. She teetered on the dangerous heels for a moment before crashing to the floor.
Natalia rolled over several times on the floor, in order to put distance between them. Managing to quickly discard the cumbersome shoes, Natalia athletically regained her feet in one swift movement. She leapt forward and aimed a right-handed fist at Leah, using her momentum enabled her to follow this with a left-footed roundhouse. Leah avoided the punch, but could do nothing to evade the kick. Trying to press home her advantage, Natalia drilled three powerful front kicks into Leah’s chest, who countered by smashing her elbow painfully into her thigh after the third one. Natalia managed a back-handed blow with her left arm, catching Leah on the mouth and causing a small cut.
The two women circled each other warily, both of them well aware that the other was capable of landing a single lethal blow. As both women appraised each other, the door opened and another of the guards entered the room. He was unprepared for the scene that greeted him. Two women dressed in black one-piece outfits circling each other. He heard Natalia bark something at him in Russian
By the time he acclimatised and processed the order Natalia had given him, Leah had turned around and hit him with a right cross to the face, she then executed a surprisingly powerful throw which sent him flying across the room, causing him to collide with Natalia. Getting to his feet, he produced a vicious looking knife from his pocket and ran at Leah with the blade pointed forward. Using his momentum and her aikido skills, she grabbed his wrist and threw him across the room; the knife clattered as it fell to the floor. Leah grabbed the handle of the knife and threw it at him. The blade buried itself in his heart, killing him instantly.
Natalia used this opportunity to leap at Leah from behind. Using the momentary benefit of surprise, she punched Leah in the kidneys and then gripped her in a stranglehold. Her momentary advantage was lost as Leah stamped on the instep of her bare foot with her right boot before driving her elbow into her stomach. Her chokehold weakened, Leah was able to throw her over her shoulder. Natalia landed painfully on the floor.
Leah knew that if one of the guards from the first floor had heard the commotion there was a chance that any others still in residence might have. She needed to finish this quickly. Leah then moved in for the kill; as she approached, Natalia swept her legs from beneath her, taking her by surprise. As Leah hit the floor, Natalia managed to put her legs round Leah's neck, crossing her ankles to increase the strength of her grip.
Natalia had her in a vice-like grip and was slowly choking the life out of Leah, who tried to loosen the grip, but Natalia was an expert at this type of hold. It seemed that it would just be a matter of time before Leah would surely pass out and succumb to the constricting nature of her powerful leg muscles. Sensing that Natalia wasn’t going to do the sensible thing and simply break her neck, Leah tried one last desperate resort.
She tickled the soles of Natalia's bare feet.
This moved produced precisely the result Leah hoped it would as Natalia screamed and her legs opened as a natural reaction to being tickled. Leah rolled clear and managed to stand up, although she was still weak from the relentless pressure of Natalia's legs.
In turn, Natalia lunged forward, but Leah produced a stunning front kick that caught Natalia viciously in the face. Natalia was stunned at the strength of the blow and did not see the right elbow that thudded into her temple. In Natalia’s now dazed state she was completely oblivious to Leah as she leapt into the air and brought her right heel crashing down on the back of Natalia's neck.
She was dead before she hit the floor.
Leah was breathing heavily as she surveyed the room – three dead bodies and a job well done in her opinion.
By the time she was back in her car she had already arranged the timers on the high-powered charges to detonate in the kitchen where someone had carelessly left the gas on. Having encountered no further problems in the building it had been easy to scour the place for intelligence information o on “The Shadow” – something that had paid unexpected dividends. Patting the two laptops she had recovered along with a raft of documents, Leah drove away from the building and made a resolution.
She had to find a bar – and one that served English cider.
“I must say Andy, this new work of yours is fascinating,” Diana Ingram said as she skimmed through the manuscript in her hands. “And this protagonist – this Leanne Barnett – where did you come up with her from. She seems so…real. It’s almost like I know her.” Andrew looked across at Leah and squeezed her hand under the table.
“Oh, you’d be surprised where I found my inspiration,” He said as Leah smiled at him. “It’s much closer to home than you’d think.”