Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chapter 19

Chapter 19

It was hot. Very hot. During a rare lull between appointments Nick Dowty stared out of the first floor window of his office upon the parched lawn and recalled some of the innocent people he had played a part in killing during a lifetime of ruthless propriety.

Without a doubt the death that caused him most remorse and anguish was the one he had perpetrated while he was still a child. Hardly a day had passed during the last thirty years when he hadn’t recalled how he had failed his father as he lay upstairs on his deathbed, a virtual skeleton weighing less than five stone. He had been sent to summons a doctor but acute shyness had overcome him as he approached the surgery. Wriggling out of filial responsibility he had betrayed the only person in the world he had ever truly loved. The only person who had ever really loved him in return.

Almost as bad, because he played an active role in condoning her euthanasia, was the death of his mother many years later. His motive then was simple. He hated her. In the catalogue of his crimes against humanity this was the one act for which he felt no remorse. On the contrary, he had felt nothing but relief as he sat at her bedside solicitously holding her hand during the five long days and nights it took her to drown so indecorously in her own saliva.

And then there was last year. When the fortunes of his business took such a vertiginous turn for the worse that he had embarked upon a desperate scheme to avert bankruptcy and with it the ruination of his family. That ludicrous episode had claimed two more innocent lives, the first with no blood connections. Whichever way he looked at it the scale of the slaughter seemed totally disproportionate to the modesty, not to say mundanity of his moral ambitions. He felt his neck reddening with shame. What atrocities might he have committed, he wondered, if he had been a truly evil man? He bit his lip. Well, it was too late now. He knew only too well that no useful purpose could be served by dwelling upon the collateral damage that had resulted from his pursuit of goodness. Not even goodness. Just the desire to be ordinary. An ordinary, regular guy, loved by his nearest and dearest, respected and liked by all who knew him. Jesus, liked by anybody, anybody at all. He swivelled away from the window and stared down with fierce concentration at the pile of notes strewn across his desk. Thank God he was busy. Blanketing the unpleasant memories of the past beneath the humdrum problems of his everyday working life was the only chance he had of staying sane.

There was no mistaking how busy he was. Although it was only three in the afternoon he had already conducted meetings with six client groups. And all of them demanded the same intensive brain-mangling support and guidance. Brilliant though they all undoubtedly were without his input they hadn’t the remotest possibility of developing their high-growth business concepts to the point of even modest profitability. Experts in their respective fields they were invariably commercially naïve. None was even remotely streetwise. The constant intellectual challenge he faced in deconstructing and remoulding their half-formed ideas into schemes that would eventually turn a profit was stimulating but exhausting. It didn’t help that every group demanded instant answers, as if he was in some way omniscient. He was sure that they believed he could somehow guarantee them success in their mostly half-baked ventures. They simply couldn’t grasp the point that no one could predict the way the market would react to their propositions.

“What do you think of our idea?” was the earnest chorus they all repeatedly bleated like sheep released into an unfamiliar field. He always gave the same reply. The verdict of the market was the only opinion that mattered, not his. He wasn’t sure whether they actually listened but they invariably wrote down everything he said. Indeed, he found it scary the way they hung onto his every utterance, as if his they were catching pearls of wisdom scattered by Richard Branson himself. Despite the fact that they knew nothing more about him than they did about a stranger they had just bumped into in the pub they trusted his judgement absolutely.

Their blind faith placed an enormous burden on his shoulders, subtly transferring much of the responsibility for the success or, more likely failure, of their ventures onto him. Sometimes he felt as if he was the one gambling everything, not them. Except of course that in reality if their projects took off they would gain all the rewards. Not that he resented this unequal risk/reward ratio. Anyone who was brave, or foolhardy, enough to start their own business deserved everything they got. With the benefit of hindsight he knew only too well how they risked losing everything, as he had almost done a year before.

Satisfied that he was properly briefed he folded shut his file and leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He was so weary, completely worn out with the demands of the job. It didn’t help that he was no longer sleeping at night. So many nightmares recently, the inevitable outcome of his growing awareness of how far his life had gone off the rails. Looking back it was extraordinary how subtly this moral degeneration had developed. On the face of it he had led a perfectly ordinary existence, yet his time on this earth failed to stand up to even the most cursory forensic examination. That it had all started with the death of his own father was particularly shocking, a tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions. Even sleeping tablets couldn’t prevent him dreaming about that fateful morning when his mother had appeared wild-eyed and ashen-faced at his bedroom door, her tatty pink nightdress hanging from her fleshy shoulders. “You’ll have to go and fetch the doctor,” she had gasped, the characteristic bitterness in her voice tinged with fear, making her voice hoarse.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s him.”

His father had been lying ill in bed for the past six weeks, tossing and turning continuously. His constant groaning kept them awake at night. Because she hated his father and was terrified of her own impotence his mum maintained at first he was just putting it on. As the days turned into weeks they both knew that this couldn’t be true. When he stopped eating altogether his mum began to panic. Because of her guilt she hadn’t let Nick in to see his father for more than a week. Nick loved his father more than anything in the whole world and he prayed continually for him, getting down on his red raw knees on the linoleum in his bedroom, pleading with God for a miracle.

“Can’t you go?” he replied, terrified by the responsibility.

“You know fine I can’t leave the house.”

“Why can’t you?”

“You know I’m not well.”

His mother never went out. She suffered from depression. She always had done, ever since he had been born. He hated his mother.

“Please, mum, you go.”

“Don’t be damned so lazy. And wipe that stupid look off your face. Get dressed and go and fetch the damned doctor otherwise it’ll all be your fault. “

He ran all the way to the doctor’s surgery but when he got there it was packed and everyone turned and stared at him like he was something the cat had brought in and he panicked and turned round and fled back across the playing fields. He stayed overnight at his best friend Billy Beckworth’s house until a man in a black raincoat he didn’t know came for him the next morning. “Your father’s dead,” the stranger told him without preamble, glaring at him in such an accusatory way that Nick figured that his mother had already blamed him, while at the same time absolving herself from all responsibility, as she always did. The sense of loss stayed with Nick all his life. So did the remorse. If he hadn’t been such a coward his dad might still be alive. When he got home the house smelled of burnt mince and they had taken his father away. The realisation that he would never see his father again almost drove him mad.

He spent the next few months being looked after by old Mrs O’Brien next door, a devout Catholic. His mother got back out of hospital six months later and they fled to Scotland on the train because his mum couldn’t cope. They lived with his aunt and uncle on a farm in the middle of nowhere. After they had been there a few weeks and there had been lots of rows his mother threw some plates and was taken back into hospital where she stayed for the next six years. His aunt hated him because he was clever and lazy, lurking up in his room all the time, his head forever buried in books about goodness knows what. When he grew into adolescence she scolded him constantly. She referred to him as “six foot of nothing”. She made him scrub his neck until it bled but still his shirt collars got filthy, giving her more work to do because they didn’t have a washing machine like other people. She hated him, the cuckoo that had been dumped in her nest. Nick was sorry for the trouble he was causing her just by his very existence. After a while he came to believe that the way she treated him was his punishment for killing his father.

The recent killing of his mother had none of the drama surrounding his father’s death He recalled the brief, pious discussion with the family doctor on the telephone three months before. He had agreed, without a hint of remorse, to the discontinuation of his mother’s treatment for pneumonia, thereby ensuring the termination of an existence almost unique in its total pointlessness. The deaths of his father and mother created a strange symmetry in the family history, matching bookends of familial slaughter. In between the two incestuous killings, separated by the forty hard, fraught years when he had struggled to survive, another three people had died at his hands, two of them violently, innocent victims all. During his frenzied pursuit of middle-class respectability he had lied, cheated, bullied, sweated blood, neglected his family, manipulated and killed as he had clambered up the social ladder, and all the while, such was his desperate desire to be liked, he had adopted a pleasant and solicitous air, even towards those he had crushed and, ultimately, sacrificed. Nothing had been allowed to stand in the way of his desperate need to attain society’s approbation.

Amazingly, despite his lifetime of lawless conformity, no-one had ever suspected him of committing any crime. That was the most extraordinary thing of all. Never an inkling. Not his wife nor his son nor his closest friends, nor even his long-neglected priest Canon Murphy, the last person to hear his carefully sanitized confession. His catalogue of death remained securely tucked out of sight, its pages turned only behind the unscaleably high walls that protected his innermost thoughts. Which begged the rather terrifying question: what did the other “respectable” people all around him have to hide? What dirty little secrets were hidden in their apparently spotless closets? Or was it just him? Was he the only one? It was impossible to know, but it certainly made him wonder. If his own experience was anything to go by the world was a far more dangerous place than anyone imagined.

He sat up and rubbed his eyes. He wouldn’t finish work much before nine for the third night in a row. He was dead tired, his brain hurt, every meeting was a brush with failure, every new client represented a leap into the unknown. Despite what people thought, being a business adviser was a tough occupation.

And yet, despite all the pressures of his job, he loved every minute of it. The world might be in recession but at least in his own small way he was doing something positive to help turn things round. Some of the guys he advised would surely go on to create companies that would become world leaders in their fields. Companies that would expand beyond their parochial Scottish base and go on to develop lucrative niche markets around the world. Replicating the achievements of Marconi and Dunlop and Carnegie they would once more reclaim Scotland’s place as an industrial powerhouse in the developed world. In the process too they would established political influence far beyond the country’s tiny size, creating yet more opportunities. He smiled to himself at the thought. There was no doubt about it, the Scots held a special place in the annals of innovation and industry. A brief glance at the history of commerce, especially in the nineteenth century, proved as much. If the application of his vision succeeded in helping to recreate the country’s entrepreneurial spirit that might be the catalyst that could unleash forces that would challenge even the industrial might of America. This dream of regaining his country’s trading pre-eminence was an exciting prospect, one that drove him to work as hard as he did. A vision that culminated in nothing less than the creation of an all-powerful mittelstand, the group of world-class medium-sized companies upon which Germany had built its industrial might. His mission to transform the country was heady stuff, especially since the reality of his daily meetings with his coterie of aspiring entrepreneurs was very different. He sighed. They were for the most part a sad succession of tiny minds and timid aspirations, of failures waiting to happen. Nevertheless, although he knew in his heart that he had an enormous task on his hands to turn his vision into reality, he gladly accepted the challenge. After years in the spiritual wilderness during which his only dream had been to build up his own company he knew he had finally found a vocation that might offer him some hope of redemption.

He studied the notes for his next scheduled meeting. The proposal, which he had already been working upon for several weeks, seemed like a good idea to him. The business plan had a decent pedigree for a start, being based upon a research project which had originated in the local university. He didn’t think it was too far fetched to say that the proposal, which was based upon the ability to alter certain genes relating to an individual’s susceptibility to various malarial-type diseases, even had the potential to alter the future of the Third World. His confidence was underpinned by a growing belief that the country’s industrial renaissance was most likely to emanate from the universities as they increasingly recognised the benefits that could accrue from the commercialisation of their research. This one was all about re-mapping the human genome. Cloning. Eugenics. Eugenics? He wondered if that was the correct term. It didn’t sound quite right somehow, with its sinister historical overtones. A shadowy legacy that might scare off potential investors. He would address that problem when he came to write up their business plan. Not that the ethics of the underlying science mattered to him. Nor did he need to know anything about the detailed science behind the proposal. Given that there was bound to be a market for such a product, what really mattered to him was the presence of the essential commercial framework that underpins every successful company launch. Innovation, differentiation, cash flow, time to profitability. Morality didn’t come into it. All that was important was the presence of the vital ingredients that could be melded into a sustainable competitive advantage. That and getting the right people to implement the strategy. Indeed, that was the most important - and most difficult - challenge. Success was all about the people. With the right people in place almost any idea could be made to work, whereas in the wrong hands even the most brilliant scheme was doomed to failure. He knew only too well that in life there were only winners and losers. In his short time in the job he had already learned that it was almost impossible to pick winners. The trick, he had rapidly discovered, was to screen out the obvious losers. The dim, the feeble, the indolent, the weak, the strange, the downtrodden. No vegetarians need apply. He sought out entrepreneurs red in tooth and claw. Tough, visionary, dedicated, utterly calculating. He was ruthless in his suppression of those who lacked the necessary attributes.

He wolfed a tiny tuna sandwich, a recurring metaphor for lunch, as he punched the latest figures from the group’s business plan into a spreadsheet. Sarah, his young PA, waltzed into the office holding his revised daily meetings schedule. He gazed in dismay at the crowded printout. “Jesus, Sarah,” he grunted, “How about just occasionally you schedule me a proper lunch break for pity’s sake?”

She laughed, her wide smile lighting up the office. “You don’t have time to eat, you know that. Everybody wants a piece of you these days. How does it feel to be wanted by the way?”

“You know what, I feel like the only thing these people are interested in is my brain.”

“Stop complaining. I’m sure they admire you as a person too, just like the rest of us.” She had a facetious grin on her face as she spoke.

He enjoyed it immensely whenever they embarked on one of their mildly combative dialogues. It was part of his special relationship with her, their private language, almost like lovers. Dangerously like lovers. “Don’t give me your pretend sympathy. The truth is you collude with them. Keeping me here on a caffeine drip while these guys come by and expect me to solve all their problems for them.”

“You know you love it really.”

“Do I? For your information most of the time I feel like a my brain is being squeezed in a vice.”

Sarah laughed again. She was only twenty-five, tall, elegant, short blonde hair that exposed a long slim neck that was almost swanlike. She had worked for him for nearly a year and he knew he was falling in love with her. Which was hardly surprising. It wasn’t just that he was an emotional accident waiting to happen. There really was something special about her. Bright, confident, beautiful, she didn’t give a damn what anybody thought, she laughed at the world, for her life was a ball. Recently he found himself thinking about her more and more. Because you only see one dimension of a colleague at work you have to invent the rest, leaving the imagination free to construct the person of your dreams. And what dreams they were. And of course it didn’t help that she was twenty years younger than he was. Naturally. Or that he was already married. To Maureen, the still-beautiful student he had met at university twenty years before. Happily married. Sort of. Trapped in a happy marriage to be more exact. Fortunately, up until now he had kept his feelings about Sarah to himself and under firm control. The trick would be to keep them that way. And that wouldn’t be easy even though he had been faithful throughout his married life. In deed at least, if not in thought. Definitely not in thought where Sarah was concerned. Every second she was out of his sight was agony for him now. At that moment, as if she had been reading his thoughts from afar and had sensed the looming danger, his wife phoned. Nick switched instantly into loving husband mode, not a pretence, more a way of being. Like most people who lead busy lives he was a man of many guises, not all of them entirely fake. “Hi, dear, how are you?” he said, with genuine affection in his voice. Sarah meanwhile hovered nearby, busily re-arranging papers on an adjacent desk.

“Nick, I’m afraid I’m going to be late again tonight. Had to call a staff meeting about another new set of guidelines we’ve been issued from on high. It means I won’t get finished much before nine.”

“That’s a bummer. I’m working late too. Why don’t you come round here when you’re finished and we’ll go out for a meal.” He didn’t really want to go out to eat but it felt like the decent thing to do. Some sort of penance for his adulterous thoughts. Besides, it wasn’t fair to expect Maureen to cook after a hard day’s work, and he couldn’t be bothered.

“That’s a lovely idea, love. I could murder an Indian. Oh, by the way I got an e-mail from Martin.”

Martin was in his first year at University studying mechanical engineering. “Oh yes. How is he getting on?”

“He got top marks in his essay.”

“That’s good.”

“I always said he was bright.”

“You did.”

“Nick, you might sound a bit more pleased. You know how much he worries about trying to please you.”

Nick sighed. He loved his son but…but the truth was he wasn’t convinced that the boy worked as hard as he should. These days getting a degree was essential to survival in a world where everyone had some sort of qualifications after their name and full employment was rapidly becoming a distant memory. Martin was so laid back about everything, he made it all seem so easy. Which it wasn’t. “I am pleased, Maureen. As long as he passes his exams it’s money well spent. We’re the ones making the sacrifices after all. I just wish he would acknowledge that fact occasionally.”

“But he does, Nick. Maybe not to you. He has his pride too. But he’s often told me how grateful he is for what we’re doing.”

“Okay, okay. Let’s not argue, I’m too tired. I’m sure he’s working hard. I’ll see you later.”

“All right then. I’ll come round to your office about nine.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”


“Bye, love.”



“Is everything okay?”

“What do you mean?”

“You sound…preoccupied.”

Nick was watching Sarah out of the corner of his eye as she leaned over a desk with her back to him. Her slim silhouette made him feel faint with desire. “I’ve had a tough day, that’s all. Don’t worry about it.”

“I do worry. You work far too hard and they take you for granted.”

“You’re sweet.”

“Just don’t take it so seriously, Nick. It’s only a job after all.”

“You’re right. Take it easy yourself. You’re the one who really works hard. I’ll see you later.”
Sarah came back to his desk holding out his revised diary printout. “You’re going to be working late again you poor thing.”

He leaned back in his swivel chair and looked up at her. The way her eyes twinkled with laughter made him feel light-headed as he breathed in her beauty. “As usual,” he sighed, mock heroically.

She laughed. “No rest for the wicked.”

“When have I ever been wicked?”

“That’s what I’ve been wondering.” She gave him a bold, meaningful look that set his pulse racing. “Anyway, I don’t think you really want to go home that badly.”

He immediately wondered what was behind this last observation. She regularly quizzed him about his home life, his marriage, how happy he really was. Once when they were having a drink together after work he had told her that his marriage was not a happy one, which was actually only true in a very particular way. The relationship was, in fact, no more unhappy than the average marriage where longevity had dulled romance, where familiarity had bred a thousand irritations, where a once-exciting future had faded into the dull certainties of the present. The proof, perhaps, that the only thing worse than a marriage that fails is one that succeeds. As Oscar Wilde might have said. Probably did say. “What middle-aged man does?” he responded eventually, chancing his arm.

“It’s not about being middle-aged, though, is it?”

“Aren’t you dying to rush off home?”

“That depends, doesn’t it.”

She laughed coquettishly. This time her laugh disturbed him, made his stomach churn with apprehension. There were limits to their flirting beyond which he daren’t go, at least not yet. One day, he knew, he would break her heart. At the moment though, if their relationship became serious it would raise difficult moral questions that he wasn’t sure he wanted to confront. Not just moral questions either, all sorts of questions that a middle-aged man is not equipped to answer. Although he was addicted to the thrill of flirting with her, in his heart he knew it was all too dangerous, even, he had to admit, scary. He preferred the status quo where at least he enjoyed the illusion that he was always in control of the situation, the wise old uncle expertly taking the lead, a role in which he felt safe. Besides, there was something vaguely shocking in her forwardness, a brazenness which dimmed the aura of innocence he preferred her to radiate. To lower the temperature, which he knew from experience could easily become febrile, he said sternly, “How about doing something useful and making me a fresh coffee before YOU go home.”

She made a face. “Alrighty, keep your shirt on. I’ll be your slave as usual.”

As he waited in Meeting Room Three for his next clients to be shown in he stared out of the window across at the row of copper beech trees shimmering in the autumn breeze and reflected once more upon the remarkable change that had taken place in his circumstances. It was only eighteen months since his business had gone bust and his world had collapsed around him. He had found himself unemployed for the first time in his life, up to his ears in debt, at the end of his tether, beaten, fearful, broken. Now he was gainfully employed once again, a respected member of the business community, had even been able to put his harrowing commercial experience to good use. Even more amazingly, as he had grown into his new job his crushed spirit had become revitalised, his depleted energy reserves had increased by leaps and bounds. His rehabilitation had been so remarkable that within a matter of weeks of starting his new job he started to galvanise everyone around him. His brain hummed continually with brilliant initiatives designed to enhance his department’s performance. He soon became the star of their weekly team meetings, the catalyst for a dozen new initiatives. As a result it was no surprise that in a short time he was promoted to head of department. Although, to keep things in perspective, he frequently reminded himself that it was easy to float to the top in a sea of mediocrity. Nevertheless, nothing like it had ever happened to him before. For the first time in his life he felt appreciated and he responded with a superhuman effort on behalf of both his clients and the organisation that had unexpectedly given him a second, maybe a last, chance.
He smiled to himself. Equally amazingly, things just kept getting better. Only last month, following an external appraisal by an international firm of consultants shortly after his promotion, his department had been singled out for praise. He had been told that his ideas on nurturing high growth start-ups were being evaluated at the highest level. Already in the past six months he had twice been summoned to an audience with the Industry Minister in Edinburgh. His department’s budget was about to be doubled. Almost overnight he found himself in a position of influence in the business community. Suddenly he had an entrée into the world of politics too. In particular, his paper advocating the creation of an elite cross-network team of successful businessmen to promote the development of ultra high-growth companies capable of becoming world-class players had been adopted as official policy.

Looking back on his life, of course, he could see that it was axiomatic that all great leaders throughout history experienced periods of extreme adversity in their lives. Like Churchill, for example in his wilderness years. You had to pay the price to join the club. And he was confident that he would join the club when he revealed his next big idea. The one that he had been nurturing for years. Thanks to his recent forays into the political sphere he now knew the right people to help him get the scheme off the ground. He smiled as he ran his cherished idea through his mind for the millionth time. Climate change. Water shortages. Droughts. Polluted water supplies. Creeping desertification. Scotland a wet country, getting wetter. Leith a major port. Fleets of supertankers laden with pure Scottish water sailing around the clock to arid countries all over the world. Water the new oil. Scotland the next Saudi Arabia. It was more than a dream. Once he had finished the business plan he intended to use it to leverage his new-found influence with the country’s movers and shakers to make sure he got a share of the action. Without a doubt the future was looking bright. Hardly a cloud in the sky. Except that there was a cloud, even if it was floating above a distant horizon.

He shivered. He’d thought about it a million times.

What lay decomposing in that isolated cottage could still bring his world tumbling down. He tugged at his shirt collar, suddenly finding it hard to breathe. It was a mistake to dwell on the dreadful events of just over a year ago. He had to put them behind him. So far he had successfully re-built his life out of the rubble of the past. All the same, just the thought of how close he had come to disaster was enough to make him break out into a cold sweat. Even now he wasn’t sure he was safe. DNA was a potential time bomb, carbon dating could destroy any alibi. What was the half life of a corpse? How long would he be haunted by the ghostly traces he had left behind at the scene of the crime? His past lay dormant like a fossil waiting to be discovered.
At that moment the door opened and his star clients, the quartet of exuberant biologists in their early thirties who were going to rid the world of malaria, bounced into the room. He immediately switched into professional mode as he greeted them warmly. “At last,” he enthused, “A chance to study some cash flow forecasts that aren’t based on complete fantasy.”

His clients laughed, deprecatingly. Their leader, an earnest young man with a long curly ginger beard and a faintly unwashed appearance, coughed nervously.

“What’s wrong?” said Nick.

“The cash flows…”

“I can’t wait to drool over them.”

“I’m afraid we couldn’t do them.”

Nick couldn’t hide his disappointment. “Why ever not? I showed you how to do them when you were here the last time.”

“It’s too complex. The market. The competitive forces at play. All that stuff you told us about. We’re scientists. We couldn’t figure out the rate at which the company will grow its market share?”

Nick shook his head, a wry smile on his face. These guys were so out of touch with commercial reality which was mostly based on fiction anyway. “Guys, you’re making it way too complicated. Listen, let me tell you a story. I’ve been having the same dream for a while now. A really strange dream. It’s so vivid. I don’t know what it means though. I keep dreaming that I’m in a room with Jane Fonda. We’re sitting together on a couch. I keep putting my arm around her and pulling her head towards me, trying to bend her double. She struggles a bit but she doesn’t really protest. Before I can find out what happens next I always wake up. Always. What does it all mean I ask myself? Is it symbolic? What is the earth-shattering significance of that dream?”

The group looked blank. “I’ve no idea,” admitted their bearded leader.

“A friend of mine’s a Freudian psychoanalyst. I told him about my dream. You know what he said? What the deep significance of it all meant? What my unconscious was telling me? You know what he said?”

More blank looks.

“He said it meant I wanted Jane Fonda to give me a blow job.” Nick stared at the group expecting them to burst out laughing but they gazed back at him in bewilderment, their eyes troubled, deeply worried. “You don’t get it. Not exactly complicated was it? The point being that the answer is often staring you in the bleeding face.”

“I don’t understand,” said the bearded leader, eventually. “Who is Jane Fonda?”

And suddenly Nick thought, maybe the woman in the cottage hadn’t died after all. Maybe her story had a happy ending too. Except that such an outcome would defy logic. Couldn’t miracles happen? Please, God, make the miracle happen.

The group were watching him expectantly, waiting for him to break the lengthening silence. He looked back and smiled. They didn’t understand what was going on in his head. No-one did. No one understood the way his childhood dreams had decayed, the half life he had led, the new beginning he was trying to build out of the contaminated, radioactive debris of the past. Which was why he would help them now. To atone for his sins. That was all he could do. There was no point pretending otherwise. The others were dead and he had killed them. There was no doubt about it. None at all. Salvation was beyond him, all that was left was penance, the washing of his sins.

- The End -