Chapter One -
North’s leg bounced as he waited impatiently for the investigation leader to walk through the door. He craved the warmth of his flat and the knowledge that his wife was safe. It was becoming increasingly difficult, sitting at this table every day, his colleagues and boss oblivious of his secret. Paranoia pricked at his skin and North glanced around hastily, scanning the faces of his colleagues with suspicion. Not one person glanced his way.
Swallowing hard he looked down at the glossy mahogany table. There, he saw his reflection. Cold, dark eyes in clear need of rest, hard skin covered in stubble around his jaw. He looked haggard and unkempt. But the gloom that had intoxicated humanity saw that it was only a minority of people who cared for their appearance so his tattered manner went unnoticed these days.
The large arched door finally opened as Kieran Johnson shuffled through. He looked aged and fatigued, his wrinkling skin appearing all the more creased and his crippling walk seeming even more painful. His knowledgeable gaze met North’s and pierced him to his core. Glancing toward the table guiltily, to avoid the old man’s gaze, North found himself regarding at his reflection once more.
His colleagues quietened as the investigators that sat around the large table looked up at the man who stood in front of them. His presence was commanding and potent. North felt his heart thud violently as he scrutinised the man a second time. Without Johnson’s eyes on him, he was a bearable sight.
“I want somebody to tell me what the purpose of this investigation group is.” Johnson began, his voice dominating the air around him, despite the weariness lacing it. “What do we want to find?”
The members of the team simply regarded him, probably attempting to figure out whether Johnson’s was being serious.
When Johnson simply gazed back at them, North spoke. “We are to find a woman who has the ability to become pregnant and carry an embryo without any complications.” North didn’t look at Johnson as he responded with the too-obvious answer, but studied a bookcase that stood to his left instead. Despite his effort to not look at the man, North could feel Johnson’s scrutiny burning into him. Swallowing, North returned to observing his gaunt reflection.
“And then what will we do with this woman?” Johnson asked.
Potentially kill her by conducting tests to find the cause of her fertility, and forcing her to carry the children of other men until she is of use no more. Clenching his fists along with his jaw, North watched as his knuckles whitened. He inhaled deeply in attempt to calm his inner rant.
The man sat opposite to North answered the leader, clearly uncomfortable with the obvious nature of the question. “We will offer the woman protection from external threats and help in all way that is possible for her to give birth to a healthy baby.”
Johnson’s eyes closed and his withering hand shook on his cane. “For seventeen years we’ve been searching” he told his group of investigators “and found nothing.” His voice fell slightly and it was clear the meaning his words held saddened the man. A blanket of sorrow fell over the team of investigators as they regarded their leader, a pioneer whose life-long work had amounted to nothing.
“I always thought that I could entrust every single one of you” Johnson addressed his team “with my life. Over these years that we have worked together, I have grown close to each of you.”
Johnson’s tired gaze skimmed the people sitting around the table. It could have been his imagination, fuelled by paranoia, but North was certain that Johnson’s eyes lingered on him more than anyone.
“It confuses me then, how someone…no, how one of my friends…could betray me” he continued, dissecting his team of investigators with his contemplation.
North was vividly aware of the sudden shaking of his hands, the intensive heat in the room and the beads of perspiration developing on his skin.
“Betrayed?” North heard a woman’s voice ask.
It was as though the occupants of the room were holding their breaths in the empowering silence that muted the room, whilst they awaited their boss to continue speaking.
“Yes, Vivian. I have been betrayed” His voice boomed. “As have all of you. What we have been searching for, for years has been found. A pregnant woman has been discovered by one of my own investigators.”
There was an upsurge of noise, protest and disbelief as the investigators conversed in serious, incredulous voices. North’s skin prickled and his breathing quickened as he glanced nervously at his colleagues. Fear pinched his stomach as bile crawled up his dry throat and he swallowed hard to hold back vomit. How could Johnson possibly know?
“One of us…as in, someone in this room…knows of the existence of a pregnant woman?” Vivian’s tone accelerated.
“Yes. I don’t know who, but I received some information. I know someone here is hiding a pregnant woman from the government. You should own up. There are external forces of which are dangerous to this woman. We have the means to protect her.”
North didn’t look at Johnson knowing that with one glance at North’s pale face, he would decipher the secret North had put so much effort into concealing. Despite North deliberately not meeting the old man’s wise gaze, he could feel Johnson’s eyes scorching a hole in him, seeing right through his façade of nonchalance.
“For now, I will leave you to it” Johnson continued. North looked up, accidently meeting Johnson’s stare. The tired eyes simply regarded him and then he turned and left through the door.
North didn’t stop to listen to his colleagues talk excitedly as they attempted to identify their betrayer. He left as soon as Johnson did to plan an escape with his pregnant wife.