Latent Sample – A.M.C. Robinson

Latent Sample

Following is a sample of Latent…

Introduction: Feliz Navidad

Anywhere else in the world and the warm, balmy evening would have been called unseasonable; but, for Guatemala, December was quite a pleasant time of the year for a stroll down the night-darkened, yet lively, streets. The temperature, twenty-something degrees centigrade, would have been appreciated by anyone taking to the night for a breath of fresh air.

It was almost time for midnight mass and the streets had grown quiet. People had already gone to their respective churches or homes, but a few active souls thought to take a stroll before mass. Charlotte and Dave Stuart were two of the few who were enchanted by the night. They strolled hand in hand, so much in love that they didn’t need to speak aloud; it was as though they had an almost telepathic ability. They loved the air, the night, and especially each other.

Passing a narrow alleyway, Dave Stuart—what everyone called him, though Stuart was his middle name—pulled her into the dark opening. Once hidden in the shadows, he kissed her deeply and she protested only mildly, fearing that they might be spotted by passersby. This was a rare impetuous moment. Work kept them both pretty busy and it wasn’t often that they got the opportunity to be spontaneous, so she wasn’t about to spoil it by being prudish.

Charlotte was just allowing herself to be swept away by his kisses when she thought she heard something. It sounded distant, but the close architecture of the streets often made sounds echo for miles. Still, it was rapidly growing louder. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Someone was running. In fact, the louder it became, the more it sounded like many someones.Charlotte wondered if it was a family late for mass; and how late was it anyway? Maybe they should be making a move instead of making out. The footsteps were close; any minute, they would see the first person pass the entrance of the alley. They stood pressed close together. Charlotte pushed Dave Stuart a little away from her, not wanting to be caught in a seemingly compromising situation no matter how relatively innocent it actually was.

“Don’t worry!” Dave Stuart whispered into her ear, beginning to nuzzle her neck. “Nobody can see us in here.”

It was as if his words had been overheard because, suddenly, there was a figure standing at the entrance of the alleyway. All they could see was a male silhouette, but it felt to Charlotte as if the man was looking straight at them. She cowered against her husband, wondering what they’d got themselves into, when the shadowed man suddenly hunkered down. Disturbingly, he seemed to be whispering to himself. The couple stood frozen, holding each other tightly. The man then pushed something into the alleyway, stood up, and took off running again. Seconds later, a group of figures dashed past the hiding place, not even giving the huddling pair a passing glance. They stood in the darkness, wondering what the hell was going on.

Dave Stuart was the first to move; it seemed like an eternity. He released his grip on her and crept towards the aperture, towards whatever the man had pushed in their direction. Charlotte grabbed the back of his shirt.

“Don’t, David!” she only called him that when she was highly stressed or extremely aggravated with him. “You don’t know what it is!”

But he was already opening the box.

“Good Lord!” he exclaimed. Despite her fear, Charlotte was curious to see what was inside. She peered over his shoulder into the now opened box and her eyes widened in astonishment.

 

Chapter 1: It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like…

There was sunshine—strong, burning like a laser beam, blinding in a sky so blue, so cloudless, it seemed almost artificial. The heat lacked moisture; not only that, it wrung the moisture from every living thing. Everywhere the eye turned was dirt and brittle, desiccated vegetation. Nothing lived long here—not even the people. The parched horizon promised more of the same: heat, thirst, hopelessness and death.

She was too young to be feeling this way, but she couldn’t get away from it; it surrounded her like a blanket. It was in the air, in the dust at her feet. But she tried to ignore it…tried her best to see past it, on to some semblance of hope. Her brown eyes searched the parched horizon for something—anything—to distract her from the desperation that sat on her chest like a leaden weight. She wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else.

Everything was still; there wasn’t even a breeze to stir the stifling air. It was like being trapped in a waterless snow globe—nothing ever stirred. She wanted the wind to blow, the rain to fall, or even for it to hail…anything out of the ordinary, so she wouldn’t have to turn around and see her!

She knew she was there; she was always there, with her big, grey eyes wide with fear. She didn’t want to turn around and see her crouching there, as always. She wanted to be somewhere else. Unwillingly, she turned around and the sandy-haired girl stared back at her. They were sneaking around in the shadows of tents that seemed to loom high above them, at times blocking out the sun, but not the heat—never the heat. Without looking, she grabbed the girl’s hand and they ran to the shade of another makeshift abode.

She wanted to cry, wanted to stuff her fists in her mouth; but instead, she said, “Okay. When I say go, you run.”

The other girl nodded solemnly, her grey eyes stretched wide with apprehension. They hunkered down, both trembling, waiting for the moment. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. She didn’t want to wait; she wanted to run, far away…or lie down and hide, and wait for it to be all over. But, once again, it all seemed predetermined.

“GO!” she whispered, and they both took off at a sprint. She tried her best to hold the other girl’s hand, but it slipped from her grasp. And before she could even turn around fully, IT was upon them. Rumbling and growling. She should have done something—anything—but was paralysed with fear. She watched in horror as the dark shape seemed to swallow the other girl right before her eyes, giving the child only a moment’s chance to scream out in terror.

“Beth!”

*          *          *

“Megan!” Beth jumped up in bed. Her long, brown hair was plastered to her sweat-covered face. For a moment, the room seemed foreign and confusing. Where was the sand, the glaring sun? Even in their absence, the heat was still present, but it was coming from the duvet that had somehow wound itself around her body like a boa constrictor. Beth untangled herself, shrugging it off, needing to be released from its suffocating grip. She pulled her knees up to her chest, resting her elbows on them and letting her head rest in her hands.

“It’s only a dream,” she told herself, wiping the wet strands away from her face. But although it was a dream, there was no only about it. She’d had the dream before, when she was younger. Back then, it had been an almost nightly occurrence, but as she’d grown older, it had become less often, until she barely dreamt of it at all. But, in the last year, it had returned to disrupt her sleep and bring back bad memories. With some difficulty, she pushed the thought of Megan back into the hidden recesses of her mind.

Beth turned and looked at the inert figure lying in the bed next to her still-trembling form. His black hair was bed-tousled—though, when awake, he styled it more or less the same—and his torso was naked, showing his bottom, which Beth had to concede was rather perfect. Even so, right now, with him snoring loudly, she could have easily pressed Tom’s face into the pillow until the noise ceased. Instead, she rolled out of the bed, even her movement unable to wake her boyfriend from his death-like slumber.

She strolled over to the wardrobe and grabbed a white shirt, black cardigan, and skirt from inside. She shut the door and was forced to look at herself in the wardrobe’s full-length mirror which, at times, could be very unforgiving. Her five-foot-six-inch frame looked dumpy in the reflection. She tried to suck in her stomach and stand on tiptoes to make her waist seem slender and her legs look trim. It didn’t work, so she gave up trying and went down the hall to the bathroom.

Thirty minutes later, Beth was dressed and ready for the world. She was down in the kitchen cooking breakfast when Tom shuffled into the room, wearing only a pair of wrinkled boxers. A lit cigarette hung from his lips and he looked extremely disgruntled. He sat down at the table without saying a word to Beth. Slouching in the seat, he began to leaf through the paper, which had been left folded on the wooden surface, just how he liked it.

Beth placed the food in front of him. Tom removed his cigarette, balancing it in a well-placed ashtray. He began to eat, without a thank you, with his head buried in his paper. The young woman—still technically young at twenty-seven, though feeling twenty years older—stood nibbling on a dry Ryvita. She then drained her cup of coffee, went for her bag, and took a cotton handkerchief out of the large side pocket. She preferred to use disposable tissues, but handkerchiefs and silk scarves were an affectation instilled by her mother that she now couldn’t break. After all, you never knew when it would come in handy. Speaking of unbreakable traditions, Beth looked over at her boyfriend stuffing his face. Had she thought she’d be cooking Tom’s breakfast for the rest of her life when they first met? She could honestly say that, at the time, the thought hadn’t even crossed her mind.

*          *          *

Beth and Tom had met in 1994 when they had both begun secondary school. Prior to that, she’d been homeschooled with her sister Crystal, who was nearly four years younger. Beth had been content to carry on with this arrangement for the foreseeable future. Crystal, on the other hand, had not, throwing a tantrum that had never since been repeated, demanding they go to a regular school like normal kids. And, as it had always seemed in those days, the youngest Moore had got her way.

Tom’s circumstances had been somewhat different. His mother, who had brought him up single-handedly since his father had walked out when he was only three, had been working her fingers to the bone to give her child a decent education. He had spent the first year of private school skipping class and smoking. At the end of the year, they had told Ms Whitely that her one and only progeny would have to repeat the year. She had wasted a lot of time soul-searching and finally acknowledged that her son wasn’t at all academically inclined. She couldn’t spend any more of her hard-earned cash on an education he cared nothing about. So Tom was being enrolled in the local comprehensive and would be entering second year. He had refused point-blank to be placed in the third year even though his date of birth made him eligible, saying he would rather be the eldest in second year than the youngest in third. He’d later explained his real motives to Beth; why should he spend a year slogging away learning new stuff when he could take it easy doing work he already knew?

They had been drawn to each other mainly because they’d both started a new school in the same grade. They had become friends—or rather, she had become the person to ask for help with homework and he was the boy everyone wanted to be near or simply wanted to be. She liked his polished charm. Wherever Tom was to be found, so was Beth, and vice versa. As the school years passed, everyone assumed they were a couple, so that’s what they became. Not that she’d minded. Tom Whitely had always been a good-looking boy with a ready grin; but as he grew older, and Beth grew more introverted in his presence, the looks had become less polished—more of a careless handsomeness. In his own words, he didn’t have a beer gut; he had a loosening of muscle and if he did a little more toning, he would be perfect.

*          *          *

A grown-up Beth was now packing away several Tupperware boxes of cupcakes she had made and decorated with her own fair hands. She glanced up at Tom as she closed the bag and slung it over her shoulder. She stood with her shoulders hunched and her eyes automatically dropped to the floor as she asked, “Are you going into work today?”

“What day is it?”

“It’s Wednesday, the twenty-fifth!” she said, smiling a little more eagerly than was warranted. Tom looked at her hard, but she didn’t meet his gaze. Instead, she began to nervously drum the fingers of her right hand against the back of her left.

“I’ve got a shift tomorrow,” he finally said, immediately returning his attention to his rapidly emptying plate. Beth’s eagerness disappeared; she would have liked to have told him that there were plenty of jobs around the house he could get busy with since he had a day off. The curtain rail in their bedroom was loose, the bins needed to be taken out, and there was also the squeaky stair that was growing creakier every day. But she was disappointed and in no mood for an argument; she could tell by his demeanour that he was spoiling for a fight.

Ever since he’d come into money, he’d been…weird! She supposed it was to be expected. To have a father, who had abandoned you at such an early age, die and leave you an estate would make anyone act a little peculiar, she guessed. Earlier that year, Tom had notified her that he had become the sole beneficiary of a substantial amount of money set up as monthly supplements. She considered it nice that a man who had barely had a moment for his son in life had at least remembered him in death. It wasn’t a fortune but enough for him to live comfortably on and only need to work part-time at the FoodSaver.

Beth knew she should point out the ever-growing list of things that needed to be done in the house. Instead she asked, “So what do you want for dinner?”

“Not bothered!” he replied.

He stood up and kissed her on the lips—just a quick peck. Beth tried not to grimace; she hated the taste of nicotine first thing in the morning. She waited for a moment, expecting him to say something more significant. But there was nothing more. She was staring into his grey eyes, but there was not a hint of playful mischief in them. Beth gradually became aware that they were standing very close to each other. She smiled and, a little disheartened, left the house.

 

CHAPTER 2: Blue Christmas

It was the beginning of another crisp, cold November day in London. The streets were dry, although the sky was gunmetal grey and the clouds threatened to relieve themselves of moisture at any given moment. Beth was wrapped up warmly in a long, green military-style winter coat, which she had buttoned to her chin. Her journey to work was a quick one—a train from Blackheath to London Bridge, followed by a short walk to a very tall glass building by the bridge, which housed Donalyns Consultancy Group Ltd.

Beth crossed its marble-floored foyer, ignoring the lifts ready and waiting to convey her to the third floor, taking the stairs instead. She didn’t like the lifts; she had a fear that one day they’d stop working and she’d be left at their mercy. So she walked up the three flights to her department and into the hallway that held the two elevator doors, a large conference area, and a small photocopier room. The rest of the third floor was quite airy. There were several offices that divided the otherwise open-planned space. The internal walls were glass partitioned so as to make the room seem as one. There weren’t many people in at that time of the morning as Beth preferred to get to work early. That way, she was always on time and missed the worry of being delayed because of signal failures, or leaves on the tracks, or snow on the track, or other trains on the track, or…

Donalyns was a company involved in several aspects of business and, it would be fair to say that, most of the time, Beth would be hard-pressed to tell anyone exactly what the company did—and she had read the company bio numerous times. But her department dealt with overseas projects related to transport. There were many visiting foreign missions and outgoing projects; it could be exhilarating work if you got to travel. Beth, however, never got to travel—unless you counted to the photocopier room and back.

This morning, like any other, she manoeuvred her way to the far side of the room to her seat near the window. Despite the season, and the fact that London streets were festooned with twinkling lights, the office was suspiciously devoid of anything festive. In previous years, they’d been allowed to hang tinsel and have a small Christmas tree in a corner; but the higher-ups had decided that since it was an international building, it would be discriminatory to openly celebrate any religious holidays. Still, some chose to flout the rules by having little trees, baubles, or the odd Santa on their desks. Beth, however, wasn’t one of them.

She took off her coat and hung it on a nearby stand. She then seated herself, kicking off her boots and replacing them with the black pumps she kept under her desk. Her computer was booted up before any of the other employees began to arrive.

Two hours later, Beth was in the break area, setting out the cupcakes she had brought from home. The room was basically a small alcove with a water dispenser, a kettle, and a couple of tables—no chairs; they didn’t want people slacking off for too long. She had placed the food on plates and knew that she wouldn’t have to announce it to the office. When it came to free food, her colleagues had the ability to sniff it out with their apparent bloodhound qualities.

“Cuppa Joe,” said a familiar Southern drawl. A hand came around and placed a paper cup full of coffee on the table before her. Beth turned to her benefactor. A very tall, attractive black man stood behind her. She smiled up at him.

“Morning, Santana!” Santana came around and leaned on the table beside her. He looked at her and seemed to be asking something with his eyes. Beth answered with a confused, blank expression. He gave up on the silent communication, opting instead for a more direct approach.

“So?”

Beth took a sip of the coffee, “Oh that’s lovely. Thanks!”

“I’m not talking coffee,” Santana shook his slightly greying-at-the-temples head. “I’m talking presents. What did you get?”

“So far, not even a ‘happy birthday’!” Beth looked a little dejected.

“NO! You’re kidding me!”

She shook her head and sighed miserably, “No. I’m not.”

“Girl, you need to get yahself a new man. If I had a woman like you, I would wake her up in the morning with breakfast in bed and send her off to work with a ‘happy birthday.’ When she got to work, there’d be flowers waiting on her desk, and when she came home, we’d have dinner at a fancy restaurant.”

Beth couldn’t help but smile. “If you had a woman like me, you’d be the strangest gay man I know.”

“You’d be surprised!” he said, standing up tall. If it wasn’t for the slight sprinkling of grey, it would be impossible to believe Santana Morello was in his late forties. His chiselled, dark face was ageless and he dressed in very flattering charcoal suits that complemented his tall, athletic frame. That particular morning, he wore a pink striped shirt that shouted class rather than homosexual.

“I think you need a boyfriend upgrade! I’d offer but you’ve got a bit too much up front for my liking,” he winked as he held his hands in front of his chest, cupping pretend bosoms.

“Santana, you are terrible!” Even when she berated, she had a soft-spoken tone.

“No! What’s terrible is yah guy not taking the time! You’ve obviously been together too long.”

Beth thought about it. Thirteen years. Thirteen unlucky-for-some years. She had to push that thought away, but it truly had been a long time. And seven of those years had been spent living together.

Beth didn’t recall what she had originally thought living with Tom would be like; but whatever it was, reality certainly didn’t live up to it. Her hopes and dreams for the future, whatever they might have been, never seemed to manifest into anything more than hopes and dreams. She’d wanted to go places, see things. They’d had discussions about it; they’d both wanted the same things. But then it all changed. She couldn’t remember the exact conversation, but she had been talking about travelling around Europe after graduation. Her plan, if you could call it that, was just to go from country to country for a few months. Tom had been completely supportive. But, the next thing she knew, he had moved in and started working full-time at the FoodSaver and she had begun a low-level entry job at Donalyns Consultancy Group. Once that happened, it had seemed irresponsible to throw away a perfectly good job to go aimlessly roving around the world.

Now, Tom worked part-time due to the inheritance and she was in a slightly less low-level position at the same company. Beth supposed she was just lucky not to be shackled to the kitchen stove with a brood of kids nipping at her ankles. But then, Tom wasn’t fond of children.

“Anyway enough of me,” Beth said, pulling herself out of her funk with effort. She smiled up at Santana. She had to smile up; her height of five feet six inches was no match for his six feet two. “How were the hols?”

“Europe was fantastic. We had a good time!”

Beth had just finished setting all the cakes out on plates, each on its own perfect little doily. She stopped and turned, raising an eyebrow.

“We?”

Santana smiled but his answer was stalled. A horde of people had figured out it was cake time and had descended on the little alcove like a pack of starved coyotes. Santana took a step back as people grabbed the food and wished Beth a happy birthday. It took a little while, but once there were barely any cupcakes left, and everyone else had disappeared with their fare, Beth stepped closer to Santana again.

“So? Who’s we?”

He smiled again, looking a lot like the cat that got the cream. He seemed about to answer but his focus was inexplicably drawn away. Beth turned to see what had grabbed his attention and at once understood. The Execute Director of Overseas Business walked into the small break area.

James Planter was tall and beautifully attractive, with tanned skin, an easy manner, and a Hispanic arc to his accent. Most of the women in the office would have gladly given their souls, their firstborns, and their husbands/boyfriends as a sacrifice to spend the night with him. But he was married, which didn’t bother as many as it should, and, worst of all, faithful, which still didn’t stop the more wanton creatures from continually making lascivious advances.

“Mr Planter, I didn’t realise you were b-back in the office,” Beth stammered. He always made her feel unsettled. His easy charm made everyone else turn into a drooling mess but she always felt like she wasn’t living up to his expectations.

“I just got back to the office today. And I’ve told you before, ids James.” Beth just smiled and nodded. It just felt wrong somehow to call him by his first name. There was no rhyme or reason to it; she just did. She tried to divert.

“How can I help you?”

“I was looking for Tanya. She’s got dhe Crenshaw files on dhe Chilean Red Line deal.”

“She was over here a minute ago.” Tanya had indeed been in the break area. Beth had seen her loading her plate up with more cake than was good for her, or fair for others. Beth glanced at the nearly empty plates of food. “I can get her to bring them over to you.”

He was nodding but no longer seemed interested in the files. His eyes had wandered over to one of the few cakes left.

“Please! Have one,” she said, lifting one of the plates and almost sticking it under his nose. James took one with blue icing and bit into it. His face changed into a surprised look of glee.

“Bene.” Beth gave him a quizzical look.

“Dats really good,” he said, taking another bite and enjoying it. “Maybe you should go into baking.”

Beth was unsure whether it was meant as praise for her baking skills or a dig at the standard of her office work. Was it merely a suggestion or a strong recommendation? But she didn’t have a chance to think about it for long because Santana was busy making kissy faces behind James’ back. Then he picked up one of the cupcakes and was pretending to tease it with his tongue in an overtly sexual manner. It was all she could do to keep a straight face; her eyes kept widening, warning him to stop. Then she realised James was still looking at her.

“Is there anything else I can do for you, M—” she cut herself off before she could finish saying ‘Mr Planter.’

“I juss wondered, if either of you are going for dhe promotion?” he suddenly swung round to look at Santana who, startled, shoved the whole cake into his mouth. Then, almost choking, he tried to answer after clearing his throat.

“I didn’t think I was eligible.”

“Usually you wouldn’t be. But dhey’ve decided dhe position is too important juss to go with seniority. Dhey’re looking for dhe right person for dhe job and even if dat person’s been with us less dhan a year, dhey’ve got as good a chance as anyone. We’d really like to get dhe position filled in-house as quickly as possible.”

“Are you involved in the interview process?”

“Ah, now dat would be telling!” James winked, confirming Santana’s query, and then walked away. Before he’d gone too far, he stopped and turned back. “Oh, Beth!”

“Yes?”

“Happy birthday!” he popped the rest of the cupcake in his mouth and walked away.

Damn that man is fine!” Santana exclaimed. Beth said nothing but nodded. He was indeed a very good-looking man—the kind of man she knew she had absolutely no chance with, forgetting for a moment that he was utterly devoted to his wife. He was sophisticated, well travelled, and gorgeous. Beth knew that men like that were completely out of her league.

“His head is so…bald,” Santana stared hard at the departing man’s cranium. “What do you think—quick shave every morning followed by a polish with a chamois?”

 

Several monotonous hours later, the big hand was on five and it was time to leave. It had started to drizzle a few minutes ago, but now it was crashing against the windows as if God had decided to empty his bath water in one great slosh. Beth had begun packing up and tidying away all her papers when Santana leaned across his table.

“So, what do you think about the promotion? A year in Tokyo, that’s a big move!”

“It will be for whoever gets it,” Beth began the slow process of shutting down her computer.

“Not even thinking of entering yourself?” asked Santana, slyly.

Beth paused. Truth be told, she had considered it. Tokyo! It was on her list of places to see. In fact, there were a lot of places on that list, and she’d seen not a one so far. What would it be like to live there and be a part of the culture, if only for a short time? But then, there was Tom. She doubted very much he would want to move to Tokyo even for a year. But then again, that might not be such a bad thing. Some time apart might do them both good. Still, there was her family; they were away right now but they’d be back. Could she desert the family home like that? Also, there was the risk of moving to a different country; what if it didn’t work out, what then? And all of that was before she even thought about the whole interview process. She hated interviews. They were like oral tests, but you were never told if your answers were at all good unless you got the job. And sometimes there wasn’t a single interviewer, there was a panel. She just didn’t know if she could take that kind of scrutiny.

“I…I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head.

“It might be just what you need.”

“What about you?” she asked, deflecting. “You’ve been here…what? Nine months.”

Santana grabbed his raincoat off the coat stand and slung it on. “Well, I will if you will!”

Goodnight, Santana,” she said firmly. He smirked, making his chiselled face seem momentarily crafty. Then, with a flourish, he wrapped his scarf around his neck and began to make his way towards the lifts.

“Goodnight, B. Moore. And…happy birthday!”

“Thanks. See you Friday!” she waved him on his way and watched him press the button for the lift. A few moments later, he was gone. Soon, her computer finally shut down and she was dressed again for the winter weather. She ignored the lift, took the stairs at a quick pace, and entered the foyer at speed.

*          *          *

Schoft was standing in a darkened corner of the foyer, nonchalantly flicking mint green Tic Tacs into his mouth every so often. Anyone who might notice him—and there were very few who did—would simply think he was waiting out the rain.

He felt the successive vibrations of his mobile phone receiving a message and fished it out of his pocket. He didn’t need to look to know who had sent the message. He typed in his pin to unlock the phone and pressed the message app. There was no long list of people who had sent him messages because this was a phone for one single purpose. He tapped the message and it opened.

Has the asset been verified?

He pressed the reply button and began typing.

No verification as yet. Subject still under obs. Continue?

He pressed the send key and waited a few moments for a reply. It didn’t take long.

Yes!

Schoft replaced the phone in his pocket. His eyes suddenly turned towards the stairway exit. A moment later, a woman pushed the fire door. The agent watched avidly as Beth Moore entered the foyer and crossed towards the door. His eyes followed her progress, while the rest of him didn’t seem to move a muscle. He watched as she fumbled with an umbrella, standing outside in the rain, completely unaware of being observed.

 

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