The Lost Years, page 1
Copyright © 2019 Colin Wade
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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For Liz, Hannah and Thomas
Anya opened her eyes. Her heart was racing. She was in her bedroom. She was in her bed. Not in that place.
Three letters. She had seen them somewhere…in that horrible place?
No, not again! The memories were fading.
She knew that whatever these dreams were, they had to be memories. Things she had blocked. The lost years rising up in her mind. Threatening to spill their secrets. Calling to her to remember.
A hand touched her shoulder. Rob, sleeping next to her. “It’s OK,” she said. “Go back to sleep.”
He mumbled something and turned over. Oh, she loved him. She had from the moment they met, and yet she still couldn’t talk to him about this. About the nightmares.
She lay awake, the darkness only pierced by the digital alarm clock that glowed out… 3.43 a.m.
The family home that she had known all her life suddenly felt cold and lonely. She played over how they met in her mind, trying to force happier memories into her psyche.
She was walking through the village, wrapped up against the bitter cold wind that reminded everyone that winter was here. Christmas was a few weeks away and the shops, houses and streets were pretty with festive lights. She hadn’t walked down this end of the village for a while, certainly not since she had returned from her… she didn’t know what to call it… bad times, nightmare, lost years?
Then, like a beacon of hope, she saw it. Simmons Art Gallery. Anya loved art. It is what university should have been about, until the tragedy that changed her life. She quickly walked towards it and went in.
“Hi, what can I do for you today?” said a rather handsome man, standing behind the counter.
It was like a thunderbolt to her heart. Did this really happen? Love at first sight?
Anya was a bit dumbstruck and stumbled over her words. “Oh, um, I love art and I didn’t know this was here.”
“Well, I have only been here a couple of months. I moved down from Hertfordshire to set this business up. It has always been my dream to sell art and own a gallery. I love to support local artists and get their work out to the wider world.”
“Wow, me too,” replied Anya, with the merest hint of gushing enthusiasm.
“Do you live round here?”
“Yes, in the middle of the village, just across the road from the river. How about you?”
“Yes, just around the corner, in a little end of terrace.”
Anya felt herself reddening up. An inner glow. This was all so natural. She had only spoken to him for a few minutes but it just felt so right. He was tall with a tidy, short-cut hairstyle, clean shaven and a fit well-toned physique. God, he was gorgeous.
She must have gone into a bit of a dreamy trance because she suddenly realised he was looking at her, smiling, wondering whether she was going to say anything else.
“So, now we know where each other lives, can I help you with anything?” he said, breaking the awkward silence.
“Oh, er, no,” she said stumbling over her words again. “I just wanted to see what you had.” Oh God, what was she saying. “See what he had.” Could she be any less subtle?
He just smiled again. “Well, please feel free to look around. We are still developing our full range but there should still be plenty for you to see.”
Anya tried to look interested in the various pieces of art but she couldn’t concentrate. Her heart felt like it was beating so hard it would burst out of her chest. She hadn’t felt like this since her first stirrings of teenage lust.
She eventually made a decent fist of looking interested and after about ten minutes of browsing she went to leave.
“I’m Anya, by the way,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Nice to meet you Anya,” he replied, gripping her hand firmly. “I’m Rob. I hope to see you again soon.”
Anya smiled to herself. The memories comforted her. She knew she would have to tell Rob about these dreams – nightmares – at some point but she was scared about what they meant. The darkness of those years was still there. The huge gap
Rob and Anya were eating breakfast the next morning, the late summer sun streaming in through the window.
“What was the matter with you last night?” said Rob.
“Oh, nothing really,” replied Anya, the classic deviation phrase to give her time to construct the lie.
“I have been thinking about Mum and Dad a lot recently. I think my subconscious is playing mind games with me and disturbing my sleep.”
“Well, I guess that is understandable. Grief is a strange thing. You never really told me what happened to them. I am here for you, if you ever need to talk.”
God, Rob hated that word. ‘Fine’. Nobody who said ‘fine’ was ever fine. The dictionary definition should be changed to say ‘word used to deflect from what you are actually feeling’.
He didn’t push it but sensed that Anya was hiding something from him.
Anya was unnerved by this exchange. When she had met Rob, for her, it had all been about looking forward. Forgetting the past. She didn’t want the past to draw a wedge between them. She didn’t know how to deal with it. She didn’t understand it herself.
They both busied themselves, trying to ignore the awkwardness that was left hanging in the air, and got ready to go to work.
As they left, Anya was still fretting. She had been working with Rob at the gallery for a little while now. The bad period of her life that was now invading her sleeping hours had also affected her employability. A university flunky and someone with her issues was not top of anyone’s list. The gallery job had been a godsend but, after this morning, the constant proximity of Rob was going to make this a difficult day.
Clark tapped away at the keyboard. He had almost done it. Hacked the bank. He would do to them what he had done to many other corporate lepers. Replace their public facing web pages with a picture of a penguin holding a banner saying:
‘Hello greedy corporate bastards, welcome to your new website. The penguin is now in charge.’
A few minutes later it was done.
Clark punched the air.
Let’s see how long it takes you to fix that, you scumbags.
Clark was only twenty-two, but what really drove him on in life was getting revenge. Against the corporate bastards that had ruined his father’s life and the dirty, sleazy politicians that never did anything to hold these people to account.
He would never forget the day at ten years old when he walked in after school, to find his mother cradling his father’s dead body. Crying uncontrollably with a piece of paper in her hand. A suicide note.
‘I am so sorry but I can’t carry on. They have taken everything. I have no job, no savings and they have stolen the money from the pension. I can’t support you, so I must stop being a burden, being a failure.’
Clark’s father had worked for Jakeman’s, the local factory in Mansfield, close to where they lived. It seemed like it employed half the town, making all types of quality handmade furniture. Things went wrong when due to deteriorating health, old man Jakeman had to sell up to a couple of millionaires. The Brady Brothers. They asset stripped, killed the business, took all of the money out and left the company pension scheme with nothing in it. They left the country leaving 5,000 workers out of a job with no pensions. The criminal case was hopeless. They had disappeared, somewhere where UK extradition did not work. The parliamentary enquiry was a whitewash, with many accusing the local MPs of being on the Brady’s payroll, to make it all go away.
The injustice of it burned inside of Clark. His mother was never the same. It was one of the reasons he had to move away. To university in London, and later a job and home in Reading.
And then of course, there was the final thing. Something he had subsequently forgiven his parents, Mr and Mrs Kent, for. His name. Clark Kent. What were they thinking?
School was so predictable.
“Here comes Superman,” they would chant.
“Fuck off,” Clark would retort.
“Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s Supernerd,” they would continue.
“I hope you never need your printer fixed,” was often the best next response he could muster.
This was always followed by the pants outside the trousers gag after numerous PE lessons. It all got a bit tired. Schoolkids’ humour; just so basic.
All this had shaped who he had become. In adult life people liked him, but he preferred the company of his technology, the awesome technology-rich ‘man cave’ he was now sitting in.
The penguin hack was one of his favourites. Clark always believed that animals were so much better than people. It wasn’t too malicious but it wiled away many an hour and proved how much he could control the type of people he hated.
He spent most of his time looking for conspiracies, tracking the type of people that had killed his father. Any companies that had politicians connected with them were ripe for his attention.
He became obsessed with any conspiracy. He believed all the famous ones. The fake moon landings, Princess Diana, JFK, aliens at Roswell. He wanted one of his own.
The phone rang. He picked it up and a voice he had not heard for a while said, “We have some more customers.”
“I told you, I am not doing this anymore.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“I do and I won’t bow to your bullying tactics anymore.”
“You piece of shit. We kept your failing business afloat with our previous deal and now we need you to step up and sort this out.”
“And what if I refuse?”
“Do you really need me to spell out the obvious? We have the evidence of your depravity. I don’t think you or your business will survive a leak to the press.”
He sighed. They would always have him, playing this card. “We’d better meet in the usual place.”
A follow-up call was made to the boss. “He is going to do it.”
“Did he take much persuading?”
“No, I just had to remind him what we have on him. He soon agreed and said we should meet in the usual place.”
“Good. I assume he wants his usual £200k?”
“I presume so.”
“Actually, tell each client that the cost is £700k, so we get a clear £500k to share between the rest of the team. If this ever goes pear-shaped, I want to make sure that our offshore accounts can’t be traced. I also don’t need to remind you that we will finish you if you betray our family.”
“Don’t worry Boss, I understand. You can trust me. After these ones, I don’t plan to stay in this country. I want to live somewhere exotic and live off our profits.”
“Good, make the arrangements to meet tomorrow. I assume our field agent is nurturing the right type of girls.”
“Yes, he is still running his network. I’ll get him to support the meeting.”
“Agreed,” said the boss. “Thank you. Let me know what happens.”
Anya was dreaming. Nice dreams. Nice memories.
She had made an excuse to go back to the gallery. Rob was pleased to see her and after a few minutes he said exactly what Anya had hoped for.
“Anya, I hope you don’t think this is a bit forward, but would you like to get coffee? I am closing in about half an hour.”
She almost squealed with excitement. “I would love to.”
They went to the local tea room. She had a chai latte, he had a cappuccino.
Anya leapt right in. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, I was brought up in Hertfordshire by two loving, hardworking parents who you would probably describe as a bit ‘conservative middle England’. My mother was the artist, which is where my love for art came from. My father was a good, hardworking businessma
Anya laughed. “No, not at all. Boring might be just what I need right now.”
Rob laughed back. “OK then, let’s hear about your not boring life.”
Anya was excited but apprehensive. Rob was the first real thing that had happened to her since she got out of that place. How did she handle this?
“Oh, I don’t know. I am an only child. I lost both my parents just under three years ago. It is still quite raw. They were wonderful people. I had such a happy childhood. I flunked uni and ended up back at the family home, which I inherited when they passed away.”
“God, that is terrible. I am so sorry to hear that. What are you doing now?”
“I am still considering my options. Our family solicitor was great, sorting out the house for me and the little bit of inheritance that was left after…”
She stopped. She couldn’t say it.
“After what?” Rob probed.
“Oh, um, after uni. After I flunked, I found it hard to get a job. The house was paid for but I had living costs. I guess the money just helped me live during that period. It’s surprising how quickly you can go through money.”
Lies. Lies. Lies. What was happening? The dream was changing. Rob’s face was changing. His brown hair was changing colour. It was fair. His face was changing, morphing into someone else.
“Don’t lie to me Anya.” The new face was taunting her.
What, who, where? It was Bradley. Evil Bradley.
“Where is my stash? Have you snorted it all up your nose again, you bitch? You aren’t paying me enough to keep doing this. We’ll have to have one of our special parties. I am sure my mates will enjoy you again. The little slut paying her dues.”
The dream was fading, changing again. Where was she now?
LEX. LEX. LEX. LEX.
She was being taunted. The face changed again. An old, wiry little man. That place.
She screamed. She sat bolt upright in bed. At home. With Rob.