The lovely Julia sat at a small table with a cup of tea in front of her. The table was one of a few set out on the patio of the tea house. Across a grassy swath of lawn some twenty-five yards wide flowed a slow-moving stream along which, from time to time, a punt would float. Her face was beatific in the soft light. Hers was a face that could reflect many and any mood. It had that inherent plasticity. In repose, as she was now, she would have modeled for the pre-Raphaelites. Presently, she had thoughtfully plotted William’s demise having conjured a ruse that would put him in a place, at a time where the deed would be without witness.

Three months ago, Julia was engaged to David, a man she had gone to primary school with, to grammar school with, and to university with. For twenty-five years they had been adventuresome playmates, caring friends, valuable business partners, worst enemies, trustworthy confidants, ruthless business rivals, and ardent lovers, sometimes at the same time.

William was introduced to Julia at a party. He waited until the next day to tell her there were fifteen reasons she could not, absolutely could not, marry David and many, many more reasons she must marry him. William was suave, not at all physically unattractive, and horribly persuasive, enough so for Julia to accept a dinner date with him the following Thursday. Julia was racked with anguish during the intervening days. After the waters calm and tempestuous she had voyaged with David why should she entertain hearing of him from someone else. There could not possibly be anything about David she did not know, if not factually, or would not intuit instantly after hearing three words of an anecdote.

Furthermore, what could William say during a dinner, what reasons might he proffer for himself that would create an incursion into the armor build up in her heart and soul around David, positive and negative, over more than two decades? She called to cancel. William was not available. She felt, always had felt, it inappropriate to leave messages of cancellation. That must be done in person. And she thought again how personable William had been, not pushing, not worming his way into her graces. In fact, she was not sure how William had pierced her social carapace so unnoticeably and lanced this dinner invitation. She knew she was stronger than that. What did he have that she wasn’t able to defend against? Perhaps that was reason enough to go to dinner, find out how he slipped through. Yes, she would go. She was happy he didn’t answer the phone.

La Gavroche was an excellent understated choice on William’s part, elegant, not fussy. At the outset, Julia told William she wanted to hear nothing of what he had to say of David, “Tell me the reasons I must absolutely marry you. I only want to hear the positive this evening. I’ll learn the other side by my own means.”

William started with his wealth of 100 billion pounds. Not an awful start. He wanted to give it away responsibly. He had done research into Julia’s background. He wanted her to be his partner in everything: loving, living, and giving.

Julia blurted, “Why have I never heard of you?”

“With that much money I can pay to be unsung,” he said.

“You interest me,” said Julia, forgetting David.

“I am pleased,” said William, remembering David.

They left the restaurant with the promise to talk in three days. Julia did her homework. From the net, from friends, from banks, from sources, overt and dark, she confirmed there was 100 billion pounds. His father had spent some time on the West Coast of America in the 70s and 80s, met three men with whom he was taken, Moore, Gates, and Jobs, then sat back. William’s offer as head of a foundation was a dream job. Everything else she had done, could hope to do, ever hoped to do, was small water, compared.

Julia called, “When do I start?”

“Ah, dear Julia, there is the question of David. You cannot work with me while you are with David, as a friend, as an associate, as a mere acquaintance, certainly not as a wife.”

“And that would be because?”

“Didn’t I tell you there were fifteen reasons you could not marry David?”


“The fifteen reasons are fifteen dead Corsicans, men, women and children.”


William explained that the French secret service engaged David to eliminate the nucleus of the FLNC (Fronte di liberazione naziunale corsu) at Calvi. The slain women and children were a message; “It was effective. The FLNC declared a cease fire a week later, in 2014.”

“David did this? How do you know?”

“I have a video of him and his crew in the plane.”

“Show me!”

“I can’t.”

“You will, and you will tell me how you got it and why you have it.”

Overnight, Julia thought about 2014. It was the year she and David were apart over a long period of time and when he returned, he had no explanation of where he had been and seemed truly different from times he had been away earlier. Changed, no, bewildered, less sure, shaken, unsettled, un-calm, not David, months passed before normality returned, if it did. Could this have been the reason?

Julia strode into William’s office with the demeanor of someone going to deposit a large sum in a bank. William sat her in front of a small screen in his office. He plugged a USB drive into the computer. The quality was not good. The images though were unmistakable. David was in a small plane talking to two other men about how they planned to eliminate the Calvi leaders of the FLNC. The clip broke off. It started again with low murmurs of satisfaction about the success of the mission, how it had been accomplished in five minutes with no sound, but a whimper or two from one of the animals who had been roused, no human whimpers.

Julia cringed at the coolness of the voices, particularly David’s, sounding the leader congratulating the others. This was David, the voice, she knew it, gravely though it was, this was his face, grainy though it was, this was David. No. No, this was not David; this was not the David she knew. It could not be. But it was. All evidence said she was wrong. Upset, but determined not to let her face crumble, she got up from her chair; “William, you have to give me time.” She had made a copy of the recording.

Julia reckoned that delay in talking to David would create more delay talking to David. She called him and asked him to dinner at a neighborhood café; “I am so horribly sorry about this my darling, this job I’ve been offered at the P-K Foundation will allow no time for anything especially us, for at least two years. It is such a dream job.”

“Oh, Will’s new project?”

“You know Will, before the other night?”

“Of course, Dramatic society at Oxford. We were there together. Poor old Will. Caesar to my Brutus, Claudius to my Hamlet, Falstaff to my Henry. All of this in the two years before you came up.”

“He must have felt quite aback by the end.”

“Quit trying out. He’ll feel quite pleased at this turn of events. But as its only temporary, and we’ve survived much.”

They gave themselves a proper night of departure snuggle in a small quiet hotel around the corner, neither sleeping until the last hour. Julia had of course not mentioned the extent of William’s intentions in her regard, and she had naturally stored in the deep recesses of her mind all she had recently learned of David’s Mediterranean ventures.




Julia had pieces, did not know how they fit together: the P-K Foundation projects, project timing, FLNC, P-K Foundation staff, control over finance, how to continue seeing David, management of William, USB video. So she packed her bag, took a taxi to St. Pancras, on the way dropped the USB drive with her AI expert, took the Chunnel to Paris and the flight to Ajaccio where at Gendarmerie HQ she talked to Inspecter Gilbert over breakfast, lunch, drinks, dinner and breakfast to learn the 2014 deaths in Calvi were the work of a rival FLNC faction. And back in London her AI expert showed her that using Hugging Face, Illuminary, AI Voice Detector, Wasitai, Eleven Labs, GPTZero, Deepware and a few other programs, they detected that the video and the voices were created: no stutters, hesitations, breath sounds; pitch and emotion didn’t match words; eyes blinked awkwardly; mouths moved unnaturally. Video a fake! Damn William!

Water supply, sanitation, hygiene. Africa. 400 million people without enough water, 800 million without sanitation. The need exists. Fill it. Start with one government. Julia hopped on a plane to Nairobi and spent two weeks with Suleiman Hussein Adamu, with whom she not uncoincidentally read courses in Design at Oxford. Back in London, she gave William the preliminary outline for spending five billion pounds, “I’ll have to ask Father.”

“You’ll have to ask Father?”

“I’ll have to ask Father. Money is not immediately available for the Foundation. Soon.”

Foundation a fake! Damn William!

Julia called David, “Finnian here.”

“Where is David?”

“Out on a mission.”

“A mission?”

“The ice cracks are expanding at an unprecedented rate, and we need to know immediately if we need to move the station. David is leading the team. Left thirty minutes ago.”

“Finnian, this is Julia.”

“Ah, Julia, he said you’d call and to tell you he’d be in touch.,”

“He bloody well better be.”

Finnian explained that David signed on for the Halley Research Station in Antarctica two weeks ago, he’d been approached earlier, turned it down, said his time freed up unexpectedly, and if they still had a spot, he was theirs for the next two years.




“Damn William!”

“What was that?” Finnian asked.


“Well, I’ll tell David you called and to call back day or night, very important . . . Hold on there . . . Hold on there, Julia. No, I’ll call you back, I’ll call you back. Stay there. I’ll call you back.”

Julia held the phone in front of her, arms outstretched, stared at it.




The phone rang. Julia swiped it so quickly, she disconnected. The phone rang again, “Julia, this is Finnian, I am so, so sorry, what I have to tell you . . .”


Townsend Walker draws inspiration from cemeteries, foreign places, violence and strong women. “3 Women, 4 Towns, 5 Bodies & other stories,” a short story collection, 2018. “La Ronde,” a novella, 2015. Over one hundred short stories and poems published in literary journals and included in fourteen anthologies. He reviews for the New York Journal of Books.