Epilogue

Luke settled back into his seat. He always enjoyed the sensation of the plane taking off, but the fully reclining bed seats and free drinks added to his enjoyment. He murmured to himself, “How things change in a couple of years.”

He remembered the police interview, “Did she seem depressed?”

“No”

“Did she have a history of depression?”

“Yes. She slashed her wrists after her fiancé’s funeral and was in hospital for a while, but we all thought she was better,” he covered his face and his shoulders shook with grief. “She said it all in the note. She has gone to be with him, Jason.” The explanation seemed to satisfy them, even though they never found her body. But they all knew it was unlikely. The cliff was high and so was the tide.

He shuddered at the memory of Cass’ mother’s scream at the coroner’s verdict of death by suicide, “She isn’t dead! She isn’t bloody dead!” She had to be removed from the court.

Shaheen, Luke, Alec and Sam had all helped to clear Cass’ flat. It was nice to be close to her again. It was all there including her will on the kitchen table. She had thought of it all. Cass had left him the choice of renting her flat at mates’ rates. He would have preferred a less tragic solution to his housing problems but he was helping Cass’ family by looking after it. Pen popped over every couple of weeks to make sure he was okay. She stopped asking after a teddy bear after a couple of months.

After the initial sadness and then annoyance of the scandal, the publicity seemed only to help Ulric and Sabina’s business, but after that night, Luke’s heart was not in it anymore.

Then the headhunters started calling him. He was surprised because he had not been any recruitment sites for ages. He kept telling the recruiters he was fine and he would keep them updated. He was not looking to change career at the moment. It was beginning to look up. He was in the clerks’ good books and had been receiving a few more briefs. He was just about managing.

Then there was the call from the CEO. He was not sure you were supposed to call your new boss “fucking mad” and hang up, but he got the job anyway.

Narodniki Ltd needed a solicitor/advocate and he was the one everyone wanted. Who could blame them? He assisted the CEO with daily running and any litigation arising from being a property company.

This company was different. It made sure that the rents were manageable and the property was good. This combined with their strict tenant vetting, meant people wanted to be on the list. The cheaper rent meant tenants could save a house deposit. Their stock was good and tenants wanted to buy their flats.   The company started making money, bought more buildings and did the same thing. They were small but they reputation was excellent and growing.

Alec over pillow talk kept trying to persuade him the company would be better as a charity, but the less scrutiny the better.

In the beginning, he was not too sure about the PR assistant, Rebecca, but she was learning quickly and was very good at organizing work dos and client parties. Dolores, the tax adviser and accountant, was an experience but she was good at her job and there was no point arguing with the CEO. He was slightly pissed off at the thank you card from Semyon on Dolores’ desk.

The debtors suddenly turned into investors when they could see that the returns, which were slower but safer. New investors liked the company name. It made them nostalgic.

Alec broke Luke out of his reverie, with a hand squeeze and a kiss on the cheek, “We are landing soon. I still can’t believe Jens is getting married.”

Behind them, Sam was wrestling with her one year old, who was trying to lick an unsuspecting steward’s back, “I know, she seems nice.” Sam worried whether her mad juice diet was enough to make Jens feel just a little bit sad on his wedding day. Shaheen was not helping by trying to push more flight drinks at her.

Stepping out of the airport was like walking into a wall of fragrant warm cotton wool. Jens was there to greet them with a tall and beautiful fiancée, Jamie. Sam really wanted to like her but she was too brown, too natural, too fucking perfect. Sam busied herself with the baby to hide her irritation, when Jamie made everyone else laugh.

The coast road to their accommodation snaked around the island. The visitors were enjoying the sea view when Jens unexpectedly took the 4×4 up a dirt track into the forest. The bone shacking journey only ended when they reached a small village at the top of the hill on the other side of the forest. Goats, chickens, bright bungalows and wood panel buildings were the only signs of civilization.

Jens pulled up next to overgrown bushes of lilac. They were hiding wonky battered gate and poorly painted sign, which read “Glided.”

They hauled their luggage up gravel path. More goats and chickens greeted them, either catching some shade under the large Holywood or scratching around the verdant red-earthed vegetable patch. The scent of hibiscus and lilac filled the garden. In the center of the garden sat a tired light blue wood paneled bungalow with a yellow and pink veranda, which they would be calling home for a week or so.

Pen appeared through the front screen on the veranda, waving a greeting as they approached. Suddenly a small boy, pushed past her. He shouted “Uncle Jens” and charged full force towards the group.

Jens picked up the boy and threw him high in the air, the sun reflecting off his mane of red curls. Jens caught the child easily, who squealed with joy and hugged him. Jens held the boy proudly in his arms and introduced the child to his old friends, “Everyone, meet Jason.”

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Midsummer

“Seriously, why don’t you buy another car? This is embarrassing,” Luke go into the passenger seat, pushing papers and an empty carton of Camel on the floor.

“Why don’t you?” Cass retorted. “Not getting enough briefs?”

“I live in London, I don’t need to,” he stated loftily.

“Until you need a lift to The Midsummer Party.”

“We were both going. I am being environmental, making you car share,” eager to change the subject from his own failings, Luke asked “What are you wearing tonight?”

“Sabina sent me the mask. I am going as an enchanted deer, but I will be a spectator tonight, I am afraid.”

“On the blob?” Luke asked delicately.

“Yep,” Cass peered intently out the window at the on coming roundabout.

“Thought so,” Luke liked to think himself as a sage of human behaviour, “there are chocolate bar wrappers all over this car and your tits look enormous.”

“Thanks,” Cass stated flatly as she flicked the indicator and carefully negotiated the horror of driving in London.

“A real waste. Nature is so cruel,” Luke stated insouciantly and leaned back in his seat.

“I am sure you will find someone to amuse you. Anyway Alec thinks we’re going to far with this thing. I think this is going to be my last party.”

“When have you given a fuck about other people’s opinion?” Luke tried to push down a sense of hurt. “You’re not seeing that Semyon guy?”

“No, he is married,” Cass blushed as she remembered passing Semyon his phone. The display showed five missed calls from a “Malanyia” and several long loving Cyrillic texts. “I was just babysitting him because of work.”

“How is that?” Luke enquired curiously. Cass had told him about most of the situation, minus the FSB involvement.

“Weird, it is all coming out of the woodwork now. Caroline has resigned,” Cass smiled to herself mirthlessly.

“Well at least something good happened out of all this shit you have had to deal with. Are you going to stay?”

“I think they need me to try and work out what has happened. Most of the clients have decided to stay.”

“Better the devil you know,” Luke laughed. “I don’t think Julian was alone in skimming the cream. He must have learnt it from somewhere.   It is probably endemic in that type of work. At least by staying with you, the clients know the worst. But why haven’t they sued?”

“Some are. Rebecca is going to lose her house. He had nothing left. The others, well, I think too many embarrassing questions would be asked if they did that,” Cass accelerated as she joined the motorway.

Once off the motorway, she slowed down to take the windy country lanes and finally turned off into what looked like gated woodland.

They drove for another 10 minutes and drew up at the end of the wooded driveway to an enormous early Victorian mansion. Cass squinted at the white stuccos pillars illuminated by the sun in the clear noon sky.

Luke decided to pick up the bags from the boot.

“You can leave that one,” Cass instructed.

“Don’t you want it?”

“No, it’s stinky old gym kit. I keep forgetting to take out of the car”

Luke dropped the bag abruptly back into the boot, “You are a slob!”

“And you are a great big wet wipe,” Cass retorted. “Don’t you think you are in the wrong place to be such a precious flower?”

Sabina and Ulric greeted them and showed them to their rooms. “Get some rest before tonight, darling,” Sabina said to Cass tenderly. “You look like you could do with it.”

Cass took Sabina’s advice and decided not to take umbrage. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her skin had taken on a grey hue with all the stress. It was probably a good thing she was off the market tonight.

Cass slept deeply until 9.30pm, when Luke woke her by banging on her door. “Don’t you answer your bloody phone? Are you ready? I’m bored and I want a drink.”

“We aren’t supposed to go until 10.30pm.”

“Just let me in.”

He pushed past her into the room, wearing a fox mask and a tight fitting huntsman uniform.   Scarlet suited him and the whip added to his appeal.

He plonked himself down in a large winged armchair, and unceremoniously stood a bottle of Pol Roger on the side table, “Get some glasses, they’re over there by the kettle.”

“I need to get ready,” Cass protested.

“If you would just take those awful PJ’s off, you would be ready to go.”

“You start. I will get showered and join you shortly.”

Luke lingered over his first glass as he listened to Cass in the shower. He was annoyed with Alec. Why had he interfered? It had just made Cass more attractive than ever.   Luke knew it was dangerous too. But that was what made it so exciting. He always pulled back before it got too emotional, so he was in control and keeping it fun. Cass did not want anything serious either, that is why she was so brilliant and fun. This was the perfect equilibrium, neither a relationship nor the friends’ zone. Why hadn’t anyone thought about it before? So why was he so fucking upset that she was going to stop coming to the parties.

He tried not to gawp when she stepped out the bathroom, ready to go.   He steadied himself as he poured her a glass, watching her face attentively as she closed her eyes to savour the creamy taste of the bubbles.

Fuck, Alec is right. I am in fucking love with her, he thought. I have got to stop this.

Cass dressed as Luke tucked into the rest of the bottle. She was wearing the lace pencil skirt and black satin wrap bra, which she was thankful still fitted. She asked Luke to secure the back with a bow. He willed himself not to smell her hair or bury his head into that beautiful part of her neck, which joined her shoulder. He thought he was going to break as he watched her pull the cord hard around her wrist to secure her ceramic Victorian paddle.

He admired her décolletage in the wrap so much; he did not notice she had only drunk half of her glass as they left the room.

They descended the staircase to the main hall, where footmen were ushering guests outside to golf carts, to be transported into the woods. It was a bit naff seeing mythical people/ creatures precariously balanced in golf carts, trying to make sure that boobs, willies, sex toys or gimps did not fall out along route. Cass guessed fantasy and practicality sometimes couldn’t go hand in glove.

The party of about 150 assembled in a wooded grove. The grove was made to look like a great hall. The floor had been carpeted with an enormous Persian rug. Several suits of armour were stood against trees. Medieval weaponry and coats of arms hung from branches. Trees had been linked together to give the impression of a great fireplace. Cass looked up to find that there was an enormous chandelier suspended from the canopy.

Despite the golf carts, Sabina and Ulric did not hold back on their entrance. Eight “horses” drew them in a carriage once all were assembled. Sabina whipped them with glee to spur them on faster, much to the harnessed men’s evident excitement. She looked like a moon goddess, with a silver band adorned with a sapphire half moon wrapped around her head, her breasts bare under a diaphanous robe of midnight blue chiffon and sparkles.

Ulric was wearing a stag mask. He was naked under his green damask and fur robe. He had a gold collar around his neck with a sun in amber. There was a chain from the collar, which was linked around Sabina’s waist.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, ask you can see I have brought the sacrifice,” Sabina tugged on Ulric’s collar theatrically. “We will all gather here again at dawn to finish the ritual, until then please explore the woods. You do not know what you might find.”

Footmen pulled back black curtains, which had hidden torchlight paths out of the grove.

A wolf-woman approached one of the footmen lasciviously but stopped when the moon goddess called out from her carriage, “Staff are off the menu tonight my darling! There is still much to enjoy! Go! Go explore!”

After greeting their hosts, Cass and Luke decided to stick together. Luke was irritated Cass was finding the whole thing very exciting. He was a city boy. Nature and greenery made him nervous.   “Why couldn’t it have been somewhere civilized like the house? “ he thought as Cass bounded ahead like a feral nymphomaniac.

They peaked around a bush and saw an enclosure holding the moon goddess’ steeds. They were being washed down by two very excited wood sprites. One sprite bent down for more water and was quickly mounted by one of the more spirited man horses. The man horse did not seem to want to desist, even when the other wood sprite started to whip him. Strangely it appeared only to encourage the other animals to join in.

Luke could see that Cass was flushed and excited by this scene.   God, he wanted her.   He took her hand and they went further into the woods.

They went down a side path light by fairy lights and found a maroon knight’s tent. Inside Cass and Luke were confronted by a large black box on a podium with a pair of shapely legs and bottom extended out of a tight opening at the side.

The box moaned and the legs bucked and twitched, as a woman observed critically between them. She sat languidly in a box chesterfield armchair, alternatively sipping from a vodka martini and occasionally tickling the clit of the legs with an ostrich feather or smacking it with her ruler. The woman finished the boxed legs off with a buzz gun, fist deep.   As Luke walked out of the tent, he lightened up, “I think I might be giving that ago later.”

They eventually found a refreshments tent. It was kitted out like a 1920’s speak easy come brothel, except the pictures on the walls were not tableaus but gauzed recesses silhouetting the activities inside.

Luke and Cass wandered around examining the pictures as if in a gallery, to the soundtrack from the jazz band and breathy singer. They found a table next to a picture of two women torturing a minotaur into exquisite submission. Luke found this the most interesting and kept distracting him from their conversation.

Cass did not mind, she was more interested in the band. Cass knew it was stupid but the singer had magically encapsulating all her feelings. Cass was good at hiding her feelings, keeping the panic and the demons pushed down. She knew she had to go soon. She did not have a choice. Yes, she did feel like a prized shit. She knew she would be hurting those closest to her but this was the only way. After Jason died, she only had her career left. It was now gone. Julian’s fuckwittery had put play to that. There would be an investigation. She had very little confidence in the Law Society and SRA. Their myopia would not reveal her innocence. Anyway they always needed a sacrificial lamb, to show that they were making an example of unprofessional behaviour. Julian was gone, so she was the last man standing. On top of that, Zubov was trying to exert control through a combination of fear and bribery, “Cassandra you are so useful, so diligent. Please take this as a sign of my appreciation.”

The singer was getting to the end of her song.   She sighed into the microphone, “Every cop is a criminal”

The singer caught Cass’ eye, then moaned, “And all y’all sinners saints.”

Cass put her head on Luke’s shoulder, “I have got to go. I don’t feel too great. You are going to be okay here?”

Luke was shocked out off his reverie, “What now?”

“Yes, you know how it is. It is not as if I am up for playing tonight.”

“I know but, shit Cass, I just like being with you,” he looked despondent. He had not met anyone who could be cool, funny and look so good at the same time. She got him. She was never needy, never seemed to need anyone, even him. Is that why he loved her so much? And then she said the perfect thing, he could have cried. She did not even realise.

“You don’t need me here to enjoy yourself,” Cass laughed. She did not want to have this conversation with him, not now, not when she was decided. Luke put is hand gently over hers to stop her from getting up from the table.

Cass pushed down her irritation at his forcing the point. She took his hand and rested her forehead gently against his, “ I love you too, but you know it would last a week and then we would kill each other. I love you too much to take this further. We have to stop this now, otherwise we will destroy something very rare and I need you more than you know.”

They shared a brief soft kiss.

“Jesus Cass. Don’t over complicate things,” Luke laughed off his disappointment.

“Yeah, sorry just being a girl. Have fun tonight,” her smile did not hide the pain in her eyes and got up to leave.

“I will walk you back to the beginning,” Luke jumped up gallantly.

“Now who is over complicating things? I will be fine on my own.”

Luke watched longingly as Cass walk out of the marquee. He needed a drink after that encounter. A beautiful brunette smiled at him as he walked past her table to the bar. Yes, he would be fine on his own as well.

The Funeral

Cass was always surprised at how quickly funerals happened.   Weddings took years of planning but funerals were done and dusted within days.

Julian had an autopsy because he did not die in a hospital. It was clear his liver had decided enough was enough and to surrender in the Julian War. Cass kept quiet about Julian’s gift. She did not want the financial taint of suicide to affect Rebecca. Cass hoped Julian had some life policies, which would pay out.

The missing watch was assumed to have been lost in his escape from the Rehab Centre. Julian was always misplacing things; the Wealthies’ life savings, Oligarchs’ hidden profits, over entitled 40-year-old Perma-Children’s trust funds. A £40,000 watch was considered small fry in comparison.

The night before the funeral, Cass dutifully followed Julian’s last instructions and paid a visit to Hatton Garden. What she found would not solve all Julian’s indiscretions. It would have to be a leap of faith. But at present that was as good as it got. A white plastic stick and anonymous pictures sent to her phone, of her niece playing at school, made sure of that.

She sat in the back row of the Crematorium with Dolores, who sobbed noisily. Dolores started to shake as the coffin was carried past. She did not resist Cass’ protective arm around her shoulders. Cass wondered darkly if Dolores would be as upset at the death of her actual parents.

Julian would have been gratified. The house was packed. Cass knew a lot of people fell for Julian’s charm but there were vultures as well.   Usman was trying to network with some clients, who had known Julian as a friend. Cass caught a glimpse of the card, he was handing out. It was for a different company. Caroline strode in late and decided she needed to get a good seat at the front. Rebecca remained dignified. Cass worried she would fracture under the strain.

Julian had never struck her as a fan of Motown. Cass stifled an inadvertent laugh as he descended into the flames, “Papa was a rolling stone…”

The Hunt

The sun streamed through Cass’s window onto her bed. She felt her knees come up to her stomach and the rush of saliva to her mouth. She managed to drag herself to the bathroom in time to bring up most of her Saturday evening’s extravagances.

As she rested her head against the cool porcelain of her toilet, she realised was still in her clothes from the night before. She could not understand how she had become so drunk, so fast. She could not remember getting home. She heard loud snores coming from her living room.

She wasn’t normally sick. She must be due a period. That was it. Definitely. Then she calculated backwards and realised in horror, she was two weeks late. Stress. She couldn’t be pregnant. Could she? No. Definitely stress. If she stopped thinking about it, she would be fine and come on tomorrow. She just had a hangover. Her dehydrated brain was making her paranoid.

She heard the snore again from her living room. She went to investigate and found the only culprit, not that she was pregnant, lying in his pants and t shirt on her tiny sofa. His lionel head was hanging slightly off the edge of the sofa and his huge feet protruded over the side table. Why couldn’t she get rid of Semyon? He was like an attractive and likeable form of herpes.

She made him coffee, and he grunted his approving thanks from the sofa. She perched herself on a stool by her tiny table. She finished half her own coffee and looked at her work phone. There were 10 text messages and four missed calls, from Rebecca and Dolores.

Julian had escaped from the rehab centre. Have you seen him? Has he contacted you? What should I do? Rebecca’s messages had a sense of resignation. One of the voicemails from Dolores was just tears.

Guilt and slight fear washed over Cass. What if he had done something stupid? What if he wanted to do something stupid to her?

Cass decided to call Rebecca, because her messages were less hysterical,” I will go and check the office. If he is not there, I will go to that club again. Is there anywhere else? Can you call Dolores? She is very upset. Have called the hospitals? How long has he been missing? Have you called the police?”

Semyon lay quietly on the sofa through the conversation, nonchalantly rearranging his testicles in his pants. When Cass finished her call, he asked,” What is it with you? Why do you chase after him? Cleaning up his mess. Why do you care?”

“I don’t know,” Cass said honestly. “He has done some really good things as well as bad. He looks after Delores and all the other damaged goods, which are in the office, including me, I suppose. I have already let him down. I can’t do it now.”

She pulled on her coat over her day old clothes and headed for the door. “Wait. I am coming with you,” sighed Semyon.

As they opened the main door to the office, they could smell vodka. As they reached Julian’s office door, they could smell death.

Julian was sat upright in his leather chair behind his desk staring at them as they entered.   The waxy grey sheen of rigamortis made him look like a grotesque mannequin. His mouth gaped open as if he was surprised by his own condition.

Cass was shocked into silence. Semyon walked over to the body, he was about to close Julian’s eyes, when Cass snapped, “No! Don’t touch him.”

“He’s dead, let him have some dignity,” Semyon plead, shocked at her tone.

“I can see that, but if you touch him, there will be questions,” Cass said. “Get away from him, you idiot.”

“I think you’re going to do well in the FSB,” Semyon smiled ghoulishly.

“I don’t give a fuck about your stupid Bureau. He is dead because of them! Now shut up and let me think,” lashing out made Cass feel better. Her own sense of culpability began to dissipate.

She went to Julian’s desk to use the telephone, but changed her mind when she realised the floor near Julian was covered in piss and other bodily fluids. She felt a wave of nausea come over her again and backed away.

“Come with me,” she ordered Semyon, pushing down the desire to vomit.   She called Rebecca from her office. Cass recalled the same visceral wail, when she heard about Jason’s death. Cass then rang Delores. Delores calm chilled Cass. Semyon waited with her as the police, paramedics and doctor arrived. He did not know why he did this, Cass was right, there would be more questions if he was there. He just felt that he could not leave her.

The police eyed them both with suspicion. Police officers can smell guilt, even if it is misplaced. Cass and Semyon gave statements and showed them the telephone messages. Their stories were confirmed on the arrival of Rebecca and Delores who took over the practicalities.

Semyon had to return with Cass, he had left all the paperwork at her flat. Not that it mattered now, but Cass could still be useful. She understood the business and she was malleable.

When Cass saw Semyon out and bid him farewell, she decided to check her postbox.   There was a hand delivered package in it. She opened it gingerly. She recognized the scrawl as Julian’s manic penmanship.   “You were always a clever girl. You will work it out. I trust you to do the right thing – you always do. ” The package contained his watch. The receipt for the watch was in the package as well, confirming it was worth a small fortune. She turned the watch over, there were numbers purposely engraved in the back of the watch. She looked at the receipt again. The watch had not just come from any jewelers but one of the biggest stores of safety deposit boxes in Hatton Gardens.

The Soldier

One of the Snowdrops looked down at the money given to him. He had not been begging. He did not beg, he just could not find a place in one of the homeless shelters. It was a mild night and his shop door alcove was one of the better places he had slept recently. His kids kept him going. At least he would see them tomorrow. At least they had a roof over their head and their mum was looking after them, the best she could.

He had been on the streets for 6 months, since their landlord had decided to sell up and keep their deposit. The Council had moved his girlfriend and his children into a hostel. It was one room but at least they had something and Jeanette could get to work and the kids could get to school.   He was not permitted to stay at the hostel.

They just had to wait until they moved up the list. He had been keeping clothes at his work and showering there. He sometimes slept under his desk, but he had to be careful because of the cleaner. His military training meant he was good a roughing it. He had not turned to drink or drugs yet but it was tempting. He had to remember his kids. It was like being deployed, it would not be forever. Well, that is what he kept telling Jeanette. He hated to see the tears in her eyes when he came to the visitor’s room of the hostel. The love of his life was fracturing in front of him and he was helpless.

He thought he would treat himself to some fried chicken. He could see his alcove from the shop. He laughed to himself how ironic life was. If you don’t have a home, everything becomes more expensive. Food becomes more expensive when you do not have a kitchen and beds are expensive when they are rented by the night.

As he got up he was accosted by an extremely drunk well-dressed man in expensive tweed,   “Could you help me? I will give you money.”

“It’s alright mate, what’s the matter? Lost?”

“No, no,” chuckled the man to himself. “I found the place, I was looking for just fine. No, the problem, you see, is the bars don’t seem to want to serve me or let me in.”

The drunkard lent heavily against the alcove, rooted around in his heavy over coat and pulled out an expensive ostrich leather wallet. He started fishing in it, finally pulling out a £50.00 note. The drunk waved it expansively at him, “If you get me some vodka, you can keep this.”

He thought this man had more than enough vodka, but 50 quid could get him quite a nice room for the night. “Alright,” he held out his hand. The drunk was not stupid and gave him £20.00. He went into the off license next to him and bought the vodka.

“Keep the change,” said the drunk happily. “And here is your reward.”

“Cheers,” he replied. Then he felt guilty for taking advantage. “Look mate can I find you a cab or something? You don’t look like you should be out here like this. “

“No, no I am fine,” slurred the man staggering along the pavement away from him towards the City. ” This is the greatest night of my life. I am free!”

“Poor fuck, he doesn’t know he is alive,” he thought as he gathered his sleeping bag into his rucksack.

Free speech disappearing in Turkey — Why Evolution Is True

Under the despot Recep Erdoğan, the wonderful country of Turkey is becoming a nightmare, with people arrested for insulting the President (this includes a former Miss Turkey), the media muzzled, social media shut down when it calls attention to the President’s malfeasance, and an increasing censorship that is going to take a once-enlightened Nation back […]

via Free speech disappearing in Turkey — Why Evolution Is True

Snowdrops

They wobbled through Covent Garden past the rear of St Martins. There was a queue for the soup kitchen. This was an evergrowing queue in the last five years. There were more and more homeless in London, even though there was perpetual propaganda on the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation that we had the strongest economy in Europe and London was a Global City.   She was sure she was going to see children living on the streets in her lifetime.

She told Semyon, she had walked once with her niece through the City. People looked at her niece with confusion and surprise.   The City, no matter what people said, was an old boys club where children and family were not allowed. Childcare was for pussies and what they did, just did not matter. Only the money matters. People out did each other by bragging they had not been home and not seen their kids for days. Outdoing each other in their dedication to the job. Child neglect was cool and successful.

Cass pointed out the empty new apartment blocks to Semyon on the way back home. “I don’t mind selling them, but there should be some rent controls. To leave these new homes empty is disgusting, when ordinary people can’t afford to live in London. The world cannot survive on lawyers and bankers alone. You can’t eat or live in money. You only need so much in a lifetime. “

“You sound like a revolutionary,” he laughed. “You could be Russian!”

“I am no revolutionary,” Cass said sadly. “ I am a fraud and I disgust myself.”

“You have drunk too much. I will take you home. I will even take Tube! I love London,” Semyon now had boundless alcoholic enthusiasm.

Cass leaned against Semyon on the way home. He put a protective arm around her waist to steady her against the judders of the Tube.

They took the short walk to her flat. Semyon noticed several crumpled heaps of humanity in doorways. He gave a few of them five pound notes, mistakenly thinking it was small change. He turned to Cass took her hand, “We call them Snowdrops in Moscow.”

“Why?” Cass was confused at the beautify euphemism for such unnecessary tragedy.

“Because we know when Spring is coming, when their dead bodies emerge through thawing snow, just like snowdrops.”

Dear President Putin

Dear President Putin

I want to say how sad I was at the assassination of Ambassador Karlov, a man who was a true diplomat. He was a victim of a mindless act of terror and hate. Ambassador Karlov’s family must be devastated at his barbaric slaughter.

With his family in mind, please stop irrationally blaming the West for this horror. Your words degrade Ambassador Karlov’s diplomatic legacy and belittles his family’s pain.

Yours truly,

Cass

Donald Trump Is All Vladimir Putin Wants for Christmas on Saturday Night Live — TIME

Saturday Night Live skewered Donald Trump‘s relationship with Vladimir Putin following President Obama’s warning to Russia over election hacking this week. The cold open sketch for the show’s final episode of 2016 featured Alec Baldwin returning to play Trump and Kate McKinnon as his senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, with the two discussing cabinet picks and…

via Donald Trump Is All Vladimir Putin Wants for Christmas on Saturday Night Live — TIME

Gordons

Cass decided to take Semyon to Gordon’s on Embankment. She pointed at the entrance, a thin door that looked like a derelict Nineteenth Century shop. He looked at her suspiciously, “You are not serious. This is not a bar.” She ignored him and ushered him down the stairs. Semyon found himself in an ancient wine cellar.  Cass remembered fondly when the bosomy French Landlady used to smoke by the bar, considering what ever you ordered with disdain. The sadly the disdain was all that remained of Gordon’s edge. Cass loved this place.

It was early enough for them to find a table in the vaults. The candle light was the only light. She went and ordered a bottle of vino verde. The Landlady had seen Cass’ taste improve over the years, she even managed to smile at Cass as she passed over the glasses and the bottle.

“Someone told me this place has been a cellar since Roman times,” Cass informed Semyon.

“English people are so sentimental,” Semyon was not impressed.

“Have a drink and lighten up. Enjoy the ambiance,” Cass ignored his brattishness. Semyon did start to relax. By their second bottle, they talked about Moscow and the Kremlin. He was sure that the sanctions were unjustified. “Crimea had been Russian since Catherine the Greats. How would you feel if Scotland won independence?” he muted.

Cass was not so sure it was comparable. She could not imagine government backed Georgies charging Hadrian’s Wall to liberate English settlers, but still she listened with interest. It then got onto Putin in general.

“But Cass, if people want change they will make it. You forget we are people of revolution!” he laughed expansively. “It is one thing we are very good at.”

Cass suddenly hunkered down in her seat, she should have thought about this, “Fuck, it is my friends.”

“Invite them over,” Semyon was in full flow now, they had not eaten anything and he was enjoying the light fizz of the wine. He turned around and then asked loudly, “Where are they?”

Alec, Luke and Shaheen joined them. Semyon was quite taken by Shaheen. Cass tried to bury her irrational irritation.

Luke was acting over chummily with Semyon. Cass found Luke’s enthusiasm even more grating. She did not want Semyon to know more about her. She was showing him London and hoping he would disappear thereafter.

At the bar Alec helped Luke with the order, “Dude, what the fuck?”

Luke looked down at the tray, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“She is on a date. If you want to stay friends, get over it.”

“I am being absolutely delightful,” Luke retorted. “I am just getting to know the guy. He could be Russian Mafia for all we know.”

“You are territorially pissing, and you know it. We will finish this round and leave them to it,” commanded Alec.

“Yes darling,” flirted Luke.

“Fucking repressed Brits,” Alec smiled at Luke.

They all left together. Semyon bear hugged Cass’ friends goodbye and their wobbly separate ways in the June evening.

Cass walked Semyon up Charings Cross Road into Theatre land. “ I want Sushi,” Semyon insisted expansively. Cass was not too sure it was wise having sushi with a secret FSB officer, but she needed to soak up the booze and she could not see a Nandos.

They found a restaurant near Covent Garden. Tiny colour coded dishes – check! Conveyor belt – check! Going to eat so much you are going to find it difficult to lie down in bed – check!

Semyon talked excitedly with his mouthful, “I love London. It is so messy and the people are so different.”

“I am not too sure that is a compliment,” Cass laughed as she struggled with her chop sticks and then gave way to her hands.

“Your friend Shaheen. She is so beautiful,” Semyon said gauchely. “And funny!”

“Yes she is,” Cass had no right to disagree.

“I have not met many Muslims who are funny,” he said.

“I don’t think I know many Muslims but she is definitely funny,” Cass found his stereotyping annoying. Cass wondered darkly, why did everyone have to be catagorised. Jewish, you should go into stand up, banking or partitioning the West Bank. Christian, makes a good friend and a good cake but watch out for your kids. Muslim, serious, industrious and will behead you over a bacon sandwich.

“She told me about your fiancé,” Semyon said tentatively.

“She shouldn’t have,” Cass stated flatly. She turned to a waitress, “Please can I get two Saki?”

Trying to change the subject even more ineptly, “Your men friends are funny too. Are they all gay?”

“Not all of them,” Cass was surprised. She had not picked up on Luke’s split loyalties until a few years of knowing him.

“We do not have many open gays in Moscow. It is bullshit. My uncle is gay, he has had the same partner for 40 years. They cannot even hold hands in public. He has to be especially careful now. He is a University Professor. He must not disseminate his lifestyle or he will loose his job.”

Cass now felt a bit guilt for judging Semyon on his “funny Muslim” comment.

“Putin compared gays to paedophiles before Sochi, “ Cass said sympathetically.

“I know and that is why I do not vote for him,” Semyon downed the saki. “My uncle and, well, my other uncle, you know, my uncle’s partner, were like fathers to me. My real father left my mother after my sister was born. I was three. Being gay does not mean you want to hurt children.”

“Does Putin know Tchaikovsky was gay?” Cass asked.

“I don’t know,” Semyon laughed. “But he doesn’t ban the Nutcracker at Christmas for disseminating homosexual lifestyle. “

“I think Putin’s bare chest bareback riding photos have done more to disseminate a homosexual lifestyle, “ laughed Cass.

Semyon looked at her blankly, ”He looks strong and masculine in those pictures.”

“Yes,” Cass smiled. “ A real Russian Bear.”