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Mary McCluskey

It is market day in Hereford, which is why I notice him. The town is crowded with farmers in thick boots, tweed jackets and he's dressed like a London businessman. Or a New Yorker. He looks Wall Street in his custom suit. Immaculate.

When he glances at me, I feel a jolt of recognition. I know him, or knew him once. The memory is impossible to retrieve. I watch him as he reads timetables outside the rail station.

"Missed the London train," I say. "By ten minutes."

"And Manchester?"

"That will be along. My train. To Ludlow."

He looks at me. His eyes are dark, amused, and I blush like a teenager. Then he turns away. On the train I study the back of his head. The haircut was recent: his smooth neck so pale, his face a warm brown. At Ludlow, as I step off the train a mass of dark suited men rush to get on. This is so unusual that I pause, and find my stranger beside me. His hand is on my arm; he is smiling. He helps me off the train, takes my bag of groceries like a husband.

"So where to stay in Ludlow?" he whispers, as I stare, astonished.

While he showers, I cook for him. I want to touch that smooth skin, the slim, hard body. It is a long time since I felt like this. He talks of business interests, of medical sales worldwide.

"Your accent?" he asks at one point.

"English, but many years in the States. I married an American."

"Oh, so that's it," he says. "And where is your husband?"

"Still in the States. We're separated."

"I'm sorry."

I offer him the bed, but he insists on the floor and in the middle of the night, I lie down beside him, just wanting his warmth, searching every cell of my memory to recall when, how, I had known this stranger. I cuddle against his back and at my touch he wakes instantly, moves away.


"Sorry," I say. His eyes glow in the dim light.

"You're married?" I ask.

"Yes," he answers after a moment, and turns away.

But he does not move when I lie close to him again and sighing, sighing, he turns at last, comes inside me with such slow reluctance that I am already aroused, breathless with longing. I move quickly, to ride him, but he turns me onto my back again, pinning my arms, and looks into my eyes. As I come, he smiles.

And then I know him.

This face, then bearded, had appeared on television, in newspapers, magazines, even on tee-shirts. The most wanted man in the world. To many, a monster. To others, a God.

He falls immediately asleep. Trembling, I watch him. Long dark lashes, like moths' wings. Without the blazing eyes his face looks older, ordinary.

I slide away from him, searching along the carpet for my cell-phone. I should call someone. I must. But he stirs, reaches for me and I lie quite still, thinking it is better to wait until morning. My heart is pounding, and there is a dampness between my legs. I cannot distinguish fear from arousal.

I move closer again, to lie against the warm hard body of the world's most hated man.

In the morning when I wake he is standing over me, dressed. His eyes are flat and cold now. He holds something in his hand. It gleams, like steel. I remember an air stewardess with a slashed throat. He steps back, there is a click. I look at him, he must see fear in my face. And recognition.

He turns and is gone. I switch on the news to hear that yesterday the SAS base outside Hereford had been hit by a terrorist bomb: eighty men and women killed. I lift the phone, trembling, but I cannot make the call. He had known that I could not. As he had not been able to use that knife upon me. Our cowardice and shame unite us in silence.


Mary McCluskey is a British journalist, usually based in Los Angeles, presently in Shropshire, UK. She has had short fiction published in The London Magazine, Atlantic Unbound, Salon, Dim-Sum, S Magazine (Sunday Express, UK) and many other literary mags. She has just completed a novel, which is presently with an agent.

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