How much war can a man wage with his past? How many miles would he have to run to be free from it?
These are questions I unwittingly was trying to answer when I sat down to write THE RABBIT’S MAN. However, I never consciously thought of them that way. Thoughts of theme have never been a steady occurrence to whatever writing I choose to endeavor. To me, it’s much like plotting. Plotting has always seemed to me like one packing a bag and heading out to a known destination. That’s fine for some writers of notable repute, except for me it’s all about being on a journey: There is a start, but the end is one I know I might never get to . . . perhaps not in my lifetime. But who knows, maybe the characters might. After all, it’s their story I choose to tell, not mine.
One of my favorite scenes in THE RABBIT’S MAN involves the bickering between the character of Nigerian businessman and former gun smuggler, Kingsley Azobi, and the suave and seductive British spy, Lionel Parrish. Here is where Lionel Parrish attempts to persuade Kingsley to do his bidding of resuming his alliance with the Nigerian militants and becoming a spy for him. Although Kingsley at first tries to push him off, but when he realizes the dirt and secrets Lionel has on him, he has no chance but to capitulate.
* * * * *
The kitchen was hotter compared to outside. Kingsley opened the windows to let in fresh air. Everything about the room was spotless. Lionel looked in two of the cabinets and found utensils and glass cups laid out. A formica table occupied the center of the room with four chairs on opposite sides. Lionel didn’t bother checking the fridge, knowing it would be empty. All the house needed was a tenant.
“I still admire what your boys did to this house, King. Quite outstanding.”
Kingsley didn’t reply—he was less charmed by the man’s friendliness now that he knew it was all a façade. How stupid and dull-brained he’d been not to have noticed something back at the office, or the jabbing questions Lionel had been throwing at him on the sly. Years ago, it would have been hard for him to fall for a con like this. He turned on the sink’s faucet, glad to see water gushing from it, and splashed some on his face. Lionel reclined his back against the table, waiting for him to finish. Kingsley turned off the faucet and wiped his face with his handkerchief, feeling better.
“Who are you, Mr. Lionel Parrish?” he asked as he folded and pocketed back his handkerchief. “If that really is your name.”
“I don’t recall having another beside it, ol’ boy. Are we back to the Parrish thing again? I thought we’d made some progress at being friends.”
“You’re no friend of mine,” Kingsley spoke sharply. “And seeing how ingenious you’ve been to entrap me into giving you a listening ear, I’m inclined not to take you at your word at all. That leaflet you’ve got in your pocket is worth less than the toilet paper it was printed on. Go ahead and do your worst with it and get done with whatever it is you’re here for.”
“Let’s not get hostile, Kingsley. I’m here as a friend, and that’s what I intend to be, if you’ve got the time. I’m sorry I fooled you earlier. All I wanted was a chance for you and I to have a private talk like we are now instead of at your office. I can take a wild guess you would’ve thrown me out your window if we’d stayed back there, wouldn’t you?”
“Without a doubt I would have,” Kingsley admitted.
“Perfectly reasonable. But I’m not here to hand you to the sharks out in the world. You’ve turned your life around, became a good soul, gotten yourself a family, and you seem to be doing all right except for this real estate mess you’re in. I want to give you a chance out of your situation.”
“You’re talking a lot but not saying anything yet. Start with telling me who you are and whatever the hell you want from me.”
“There’re two answers to that first question, King: the official and unofficial part. Officially, I’m chief liaison officer for a conglomerate called Ever-Blue Inc.; got certified papers, phone numbers, soup and nuts to prove it. Unofficially, I work for Her Majesty’s Foreign Service, or if you’d prefer an easy sentence, I’m your friendly spy.”
Lionel got his wallet out off his back pocket and unearthed a laminated card from it and gave it to him. The card bore the owner’s name as belonging to one Lionel T. Parrish, including a snapshot of his face with the Mi6 insignia printed on it. Kingsley looked at it then gave it back.
“Cute ID,” Kingsley remarked. “How do I know it’s not a fake?”
Lionel returned the card to his wallet. “You wouldn’t, and it’s not the real deal, but close enough. The higher-ups won’t permit me to walk around with the real one.”
“I’ll buy that for now. You knew about my talk with my friend Ralph this morning. How was that possible when I met you only some hours after that?”
“You didn’t know of me then, but I knew of you, and your schedule for today, too.” He took something out of his shirt pocket and threw it at Kingsley. It was a black, circular disc resembling a large piece of coin. Kingsley turned it over in his hand and looked back at him.
“It’s a mini-recorder,” said Lionel. “Latest super-spy technology. It’s got an adhesive magnet underneath with a recording disc built inside. I made a deal with your friend’s secretary, and she planted that in his office.”
He weighed it in his hand, thinking hard before throwing it back at him. “How could you have known all this?”
“I did lie about my arrival time here. Actually, I’ve been in the country going on three weeks now, much of it spent keeping you under surveillance. No chance you would have spotted me even if you’d tried. I stole into your house last Sunday while you, the wife, and the kids were out, and had enough time to go through your diary and take note of your bank date.”
Lionel raised his hands in innocence. “I didn’t touch anything else, if that’s any consolation to you. I was on the clock and didn’t want your neighbors noticing. Lovely home you’ve got, though. Tell me something: Your wife, she by any chance know about the hole you’re in with the bank?”
“None of your business,” Kingsley snapped.
Lionel shrugged. “I’ll bet that means she doesn’t know. Such a smart devil you are.”
“Cut the dumb talk, will you? What is it you want from me?”
“I’m going to need your undivided attention first. Am I getting that, or are you still turning red on me?”
“You’re trying my patience. Get on with it right now or you and I can call it a day.”
“There’re four things I want from you, ol’ boy. Your time, your health, and most important, your eyes and ears. Believe me when I say that I’ll make it worth your while and take away the hangman’s rope your friend and the bank have got around your neck.”
“You going to wave a magic wand or something?”
“Better than that. I’m going to put you to work—clandestine sort of work.”
“Ralph, too, promised a similar thing. Tell me why I should listen to you and not him?”
“Mine isn’t as dirty as his. Also, what we do involves saving people’s lives, including yours. You’re not in the gun business anymore, and me and the people I work for believe you. Your friend Ralph Lawson is affiliated with the same buggers who murdered those engineers a month ago, and they’re planning something big to hit this city. I’m here to make sure they don’t, and I need your help to make that happen.”
“Why don’t you go work with the police on this. It’s their turf.”
“Your police are much too narrow-minded and crooked for my liking, ol’ boy. And you and I know they aren’t going to be of much help before your friend and his pals start making stuff happen.”
“James Bond to the rescue,” Kingsley sneered.
“I’m being serious here, ol’ boy. This is where you come in.”
“You want me to find out what he knows? You want me to get involved with him?”
“Is that too much to ask? The way I heard your conversation, you didn’t exactly say no to his offer. Give him a call and say yes to whatever he wants you to do, anything short of murdering someone. He’ll want to let you in on more of what he and whoever’s backing him are into. That’s where we start from.”
“You want me to risk my life, and that I can’t do. I don’t ever want to go back to stuff I left behind years ago. Not anymore.”
“No one’s talking about you going back to it. I’m going to be your safety net. You act nice to your friend and his pals and agree to get them the guns, which I’ll deliver to you, and you to them. Easy as pie.”
“Nothing is easy, pal. You’re asking me to be an accessory to whatever thing they’re plotting.”
“With the hole you’re in already, I find it hard to believe you were even thinking of saying no to your friend. People will get hurt if you don’t do this, King. More people than you can imagine. Would you go to bed happy one night and wake up to find the city’s in flames and be comfortable with that?”
“You’re James Bond, aren’t you? That’s your problem, not mine. I have enough crosses to bear on my conscience; not thinking of adding more. Are we done now?”
“I’m not finished, ol’ boy. The people I work for know the risk you’re going to be taking and are going to compensate you handsomely for it. That includes eradicating your debt. It’s a sweet offer, my friend.”
“Then why don’t you give it to someone else dumb enough to take your deal?” Kingsley retorted. “Why does it have to be me?”
“Because this is your turf, King,” Lionel argued. “You’ve been there before, and you’ve rolled with these sort of people. You’re familiar with what they do and what they’re capable of. Why else would they be coming after you if they didn’t want you on their side? In the end, you’re going to be a hero. Think about it.”
“I don’t care about saving this city or of being a bloody hero—my care goes to my family. I’ll take my chances settling with the bank on my own.”
“Now wouldn’t that be interesting to see. You’re going to borrow a little from here and there, and who knows, maybe your sweet wife won’t find out about it, now, would she?”
Kingsley’s eyes burned with fury. “I told you to leave my wife out of this. Whatever scorecard you’ve got against me has got nothing to do with her.”
“I’m sorry, King, but that choice isn’t up to you, and if you keep sounding foolish the way you are right now, you aren’t going to leave me any choice at all. I’ve been honest with my intention to help you, but I can’t help you if you don’t reciprocate. My bosses back home won’t be happy either. But if that’s the way you want it, then I guess we don’t have anything more to say to each other. Now there’s absolutely nothing that’s going to prevent me from showing your wife this leaflet with your face on it and letting her know of the situation you’re in. I don’t want to do it, and I’d hate doing it to someone like yourself, but you’re going to leave me no choice.”
“What do you intend to do?”
Lionel took out a miniature tape player from his pants pocket and placed it on the table. “Here’s how it’s going to play out, and I’m just talking out of my head here. One morning, maybe this week or next, or maybe in a month’s time after the guys at the bank are done butt-fucking you of your livelihood, your Hillary is going to arrive at work and find a letter on her desk from an anonymous address. It’s going to have a copy of your leaflet, along with archived Interpol documents and information regarding your gun-running days in Europe, not to mention some of the lives you got paid for to snuff out. You might think I’m playing because here no one remembers or has any records of the crimes you and your buddies committed, but where I’m from, we’ve got tons of goods on you. Imagine how the world will look when you wake up one morning and find your face splattered all over newspapers and people think of you as they would a mass murderer. And for the coup-de-grâce, I’m going to play this for Hillary.” He pressed his finger on PLAY, and as Kingsley listened, he was transported back to Ralph’s office, recalling everything they’d said to each other while the miniature tape player spoke aloud their recorded conversation; Lionel increased the volume so he’d hear every word:
“ . . . got caught the last time I attempted this sort of thing back in Europe. Most of my old contacts didn’t make it. It’d be suicide for me to return to it.”
Lionel’s finger stopped the tape. “Believe me, I’ve got all the goods on you, King. I can destroy you whenever I want, in ways you can’t begin to comprehend. I’ll mail copies to the police and every news station in the country, including the bank. Your kids will be so ashamed to even look at you. By that time, you will have lost everything.”
Kingsley looked at the tape player, his mind replayed everything Lionel just said to him. He shut his eyes and imagined it all happening, the nightmares of his past reaching at him from the bowels of hell. Everything he’d hoped to escape was now standing in front of him, in the form of Lionel Parrish. When he spoke, his voice croaked.
“I’m sorry, King, I really am. I want only what’s best for you, as I know you want what’s best for yourself as well. Help me out, and we’ll both win. Walk away from me right now, and your life is going to be a living hell starting tomorrow.” He returned the tape player back into the same pocket he’d pulled it out of. His bonhomie spirit instantly returned, and he laughed as he came over and wrapped an arm over Kingsley’s shoulder. “But enough of that, how about you and I go outside and talk some more? Let’s find something to drink first. I’m thirsty.”