The Sarah Lea
I pushed my way through the glass swing doors onto the dock and walked out into the bright sunshine, the cries of the seagulls circling above and the shouts of the deckhands loading the passenger’s luggage snap me back to reality as I walk slowly towards the massive cruise liner, the Sarah Lea sat sedately in the water, like a white whale basking in the sun, the size of the ship was incomprehensible.
“We see ships every day on TV and on postcards but to see one this close is awe-inspiring,” I thought, I craned my neck almost to the point of breaking; the hull seemed to rise forever, the paint so clean and white you could almost smell it drying, hundreds of portholes dotted the side like precisely aimed bullet holes, she was an old ship that had currently undergone a complete refurbishment but the brochures had guaranteed a ‘second-to-none’ cruising experience. I looked forward again to soothe my aching neck and made my way to the gangplank.
At the bottom of the gangplank stood a young man, his freshly pressed blazer reflected in the paintwork of the hull,
“Your boarding card, sir?”
I reached into my pocket, pulled out the card and handed it to him,
“Business or pleasure?” he asked, professionally,
“Strictly pleasure,” I replied laughing,
“Then may I wish you have a memorable trip, sir,” I winked and smiled broadly,
“Thank you,” I said, turning, I walked up the gangplank and into the ship.
I was met at the top by George, my steward, a cheery character, who, in the space of 7 minutes, had told me where everything was, what was going on that night, who the regulars were and what they were like, and at the same time, dodging other passengers, staff and negotiating narrow corridors, by the time we got to my cabin, my head was spinning.
“Here we are, sir,” George opened the door, “can I get you anything to help you settle in?” George stood there with his hands clasped.
“How about some pain killers for the headache you have just brought on,” I thought satirically, “no, be good” my conscience kicked in, I took out my wallet and gave him $20, George beamed and walked backwards as he said, “If there is anything you want or need, sir, just ask fo……shit,” his heel caught the step in the cabin door causing him to stumble backwards out,
“Ask for shit, huh?” I laughed, George looked up suitably embarrassed, I held out my hand and helped him up,
“George, if there is anything I need or want, rest assured I will ask you,” I laughed again.
George, looking more composed now, brushed himself down and shook me by the hand, “thank you, sir,”
I quickly corrected him,
“No never sir, just Bill, OK?” I smiled
“Sure thing, Bill,” and with that he turned and walked away.
I unpacked and freshened up, checked that everything in the cabin worked and then decided to go up on deck to witness the departure, I left the confines of my cabin and made my way up the corridor. I rounded a corner and I saw a lady struggling with two heavy suitcases, “May I be of some assistance?” I asked.
She dropped the cases, and looked up, her cheeks were ruddy in complexion due to the weight of the cases and she was out of breath, “tha…thank you,” she puffed. Just at that moment a familiar face came around the corner,
“George, any chance of helping this lady out?” George looked shocked,
“Where and who is your steward, madam?”
The lady, still breathing hard, puffed,
“His name…is Dave…I think and… he wasn’t at…the door…. when I came on.”
I looked at George who was looking horrified that a member of his team was not at his post,
“George, can I ask you to sort out this lady’s…” I looked round at the lady questionably,
“Sally,” she said,
“Sally’s cases, and take them to her room,” George nodded and picked up the cases. “Please follow me, my cabin is just up here, you look like you could do with a drink.”
She smiled, “Thanks, I could murder one.”
We walked up to my cabin door and went in.
Sally, a beauty consultant, had come on the cruise to relax, away from the rigors of life in general and was determined to have some fun, although my motives mirrored hers, the reasoning was different, I had lost my wife six months earlier. The police had been involved, but I felt no need to elaborate and changed the subject quickly, the coffee went down well, not like the battery acid they serve in hotels these days, we laughed and joked for a while, but every time I looked into Sally’s eyes. I felt myself becoming more and more attracted to her, she had a kindness about her, someone to whom I could talk about anything, and a wicked sense of humor.
We spoke for thirty minutes or so, before she stood and said,
“I am going to see the departure, care to join me,”
I put my cup down on the side, “sure,” I replied, “lets go.”
As we left the cabin, we caught a glimpse of George, who had cornered a young lad at the other end of the corridor,
“That must be Dave,” I thought, George was finger-wagging and Dave had his head down looking sheepish; George looked across at me and gave me the thumbs up.
We went up on deck and looked down onto the crowds that had gathered on the dock to see the ship off; there were boxes of streamers and tickertape hung on the rails, we had all heard on the tannoy that, no-one was to throw any over until the ship’s horn had sounded, everyone was poised to launch their decorative media upon this signal, the buzz of excitement flew around us like friendly bees and the atmosphere was euphoric.
BARRRRRRRRP, BARRRRRRRRP. The ship’s horn signaled its departure, the sound almost deafening, made our ears ring and many jump in fright, the media was launched and resembled a blizzard floating down onto the heads of the well-wishers below, all apart from a young lad, who thought it was fun to throw unopened streamers at selected targets. While he was busy doing so, I picked up a packet of streamers and gently lobbed it in his direction, scoring a direct hit on the side of his head.
With a small smile of satisfaction, I looked forward, and threw some more streamers over the side of the ship, leaving the lad dazed and confused as to the origin of his karma, the Sara Lea gently moved away from the dock as the tug-boats powerful engines cut into the water and pulled countless hundreds of tonnes of steel and wood out into the bay.
We walked around the deck acclimatizing to our new surroundings, the tugs were dismissed at the mouth of the bay and the land disappeared into the distance as the massive propellers sucked the water from under the hull, the night was closing in, the seagulls swooped and whirled, white spectres against the night sky as they were illuminated by the powerful lights of the ship, we stood at the rail, looking into the night sky,
“I have never seen the stars so bright,” I said in a whisper and then cringed as I realized I had just quoted a line from a popular song,
“Lady in red,” Sally whispered back and laughed, I noticed Sally shiver a little and feeling a chill in the air, said “fancy a quick drink before we retire,”
Sally smiled, “That would be lovely.”
We found an empty table, settled down and continued the conversation we had started in my cabin, from the corner of my eye, I noticed a young man, fair skin, shoulder length sandy colored hair and piercing green eyes. He was sitting four tables to my left and was staring over the top of a book, his eyes burning,
I have not seen eyes burn like that since,
“NO,” I snapped as I dropped my head into my hands, my fingers pressing on the side of my head as if to squeeze out the demon memory.
“Bill, what’s the matter?” Sally’s head tilted slightly to one side as she asked, I glanced over to the left again and the young man had disappeared,
“Headache,” I lied.
“Here, take these,” two red and white capsules rolled towards me, Sally sat there smiling,
“They will take care of it. I knew you were not with me, you seem preoccupied with something.”
I placed the capsules on my tongue and swallowed them down with a gulp of beer,
“I apologize Sally but it has been a tiring day.” The day, itself, had been particularly busy and I wanted to be fresh for my morning jog. I turned to Sally, “I am going to get some sleep, would you like to meet up tomorrow for a spot of lunch?”
Sally laid her hand on mine, and said “Yes,” she replied with a smile, “I would like that,”
I rose from my seat, “Then I will wish you a good night and sweet dreams,” I lifted her hand, gently kissed her fingers, smiled, then walked towards the door, there were raised voices coming from the bar, the barman was engaged in conversation with a passenger who was demanding his right to another drink, the barman, however, was refusing to serve due to the fact he considered that the passenger had already consumed more than he could tolerate, “He will have a sore head in the morning,” I thought with a wry smile.
The past returns
I walked along the corridor and hesitated as I felt uneasy, I feel evil eyes burning into me, the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, I stop and turn, I see no one behind me, only the empty corridor, the ships lighting reflecting on the white painted walls giving them a yellow glow, the gentle hum of the massive engines, almost a whisper within the confines of the superstructure of the ship,
“Coming for ya, coming for ya, coming for ya,” they seem to say,
I walk quicker now, is it me? Or is the light fading? The corridor looks darker now as I feel I am being toyed with.
Each corridor looking the same as the last. My chest rising and falling as my breathing gets heavier, my heart pounding, I stop and turn again, nothing, nothing there.
I glance at the cabin door opposite me, 45! My cabin, my fingers grab the key from my pocket, I know there is nothing in the corridor but I have to get into the cabin now.
The panic rising, I push hard on my door, it opens quickly and I fall into the cabin, I roll onto my back and kick the door shut, I lay for a moment, my heart pumping hard, I feel a rising sensation in my chest, I roll to my side and vomit.
Picking myself up, I head towards the couch, I pull my jacket off and let it fall to the floor, my shirt almost translucent due to the sweat, I fall onto the couch and pass out as footsteps slowly pass my door.
I awake with a start to a loud ‘thump’ on my cabin door and the sound of voices outside, I move closer and hear a male and a female voice arguing. Throwing the door open I see a man standing over a woman, his hand raised, ready to strike.
“HEY,” I move like lightning out of the doorway, a red mist of anger descending, I jump over the woman and grasp his raised hand as it starts it’s downward stroke, I push his arm down and round to his back and then push up, locking his arm in a half-nelson, I throw my other arm around his neck and tighten my grip.
“GERROOOOFFFFFF ME YEW BAZZZTARRD,” he slurred, the smell of alcohol strong on his breath. He started to struggle and kicked back with his foot, his heel finding my shin, I released my arm, twisted and threw him to the ground behind me, away from the woman, I stood and faced him, my chest heaving from exertion, my shin throbbing with pain, he was on all fours, looking at the floor and shaking his head, I looked back at the woman on the floor, Sally was sitting up against the wall with her legs drawn up to her chest sobbing.
My head snapped back just in time to see him launch at me in a clumsy drunken attack, I pivoted back on my right foot so my side was facing him, he bought his right fist around in line with my face, I took his right wrist with my left hand and twisted the arm to immobilize it, my right hand snaked out simultaneously, flat fingered, my four fingers connected with his throat and dug down behind his collar bone, pushing against his larynx, I pushed down harder and he went down onto his knees gasping, at that moment, George came running down the corridor.
“Bill, What’s happening? I got a call to say there was a fight going on,” he puffed,
“not to worry, George,” I snarled, “I am just going to put the rubbish out! Where does it go?” I looked down at the drunk with malice and sneered, “Over the damn side?” George took hold of the drunk,
“Easy Bill, he isn’t worth it, the captain is on his way and we will deal with it, if we need you for information then you will be called as a witness,” the words stung worse than the heel to my shin, I stepped back.
“My god,” I thought, “I could have killed him with that move.” I shook my head to clear the mist and get my thoughts together, “You cant let it happen again,”, my mind screamed at me, “NOT AGAIN,” I looked down straight into Sally’s eyes, fear, uncertainty, but understanding, yes there was understanding there. I offered my hand to help her to her feet.
Sally looked at the form leaning against the wall, Bill, the gentleman, the joker, yes, but the animal? She had not seen that part of him, the way his face had contorted when he had leapt to her defense, the way he had spoken to George, and yes, she truly believed that if George had not come, he would have thrown this guy over the side, that wasn’t the Bill she had been drinking with earlier, she looked down and saw the blood pouring out of my leg, covering my foot and soaking into the carpet, she looked up straight into my eyes, confusion, fear, and there was something else, something hidden, but not hidden from her, sadness, a deep sadness, she raised her hand and took mine, together we stood facing each other.
The captain marched down the corridor and arrived at the scene followed by two more stewards,
“What’s going on here? And why, George, why is that man bleeding on my carpet?” Sally looked toward the captain,
“Leave Bill with me, I will sort his leg out,” the captain looked down at the drunk with disgust, “Pick him up and bring him to the purser’s office!”
George nodded to the two stewards who came over and picked the drunk up under his arms and dragged him away along the corridor, George came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder,
“Where were you last October?”
My eyes narrowed defensively and immediately I replied,
“Sunbathing,” his hand fell on my arm and patted it, he sighed, and then looked at Sally, “look after him tonight, and don’t let him out of your sight.”
Sally helped me into her cabin and sat me down on the end of the bed; she examined the wound, a nasty looking 1 inch tear but not too deep, she cleaned and dressed it, she pulled a chair across the floor leaving two small furrows in the pile of the carpet and sat down.
“Talk to me,” she said, her eyes fixed on mine, my hands on my knees with hers resting on the top of mine.
I relive the past six months, I tell her of my happy marriage, my beautiful wife. Judy, our little house out in the country with the willows hanging over the river at the bottom of the garden, the day I was called away by a fictitious emergency call concerning a relative,
Sally sees my fingers press into the flesh behind my knees,
pulling up at our little house and seeing no lights on, walking through the door and seeing the table set with candles and two place settings, hearing a noise from upstairs,
Sally sees the veins standing proud from my arms as my muscles tense,
Walking into the bedroom to see Judy tied to the bed,
My eyes watering,
The creak of the floorboard as he creeps up behind me,
My head falls to my hands, tears running down my cheeks,
The way I spin round and grab his wrist,
I raise my head; Sally holds my hands and looks into dead eyes,
The way his arm snaps as if it were a twig,
Eyes without emotion!
Of the frenzied attack,
Eyes that are darker than the pits of hell!
A wild animal, intent on nothing but killing, maiming, destroying,
My grip on her hands tightens,
he pulls a knife and pushes it up into my chest, the blade piercing a lung,
“Bill, you are hurting me,” Sally’s voice in the distance, my thoughts still in the past,
no pain but the sound of Judy screaming, oh my god she is screaming, SCREAMING!!!!
“BILL! My hands, please honey,”
My strength ebbing, my vision clouding,
My hands release their grip on Sally’s,
“Why didn’t he kill me? Why?”
She pulls her hands away and blows on them,
“Let me get you a drink.” She brings a tumbler of golden liquid and hands it to me.
“Drink this and lay down, it’s OK now, try to relax.”
My hands shaking, I raise the glass to my lips and knock it back, the liquid warms my throat, I close my eyes and see him standing over me,
The blood dripping off the knife onto my face, a sucking sound from my chest, he says something then smiles and walks away,
“Why didn’t he kill me?” the words dying on my lips as the alcohol invades my brain, I lie back on the bed and sink into a dreamless but restless sleep.
I woke, on my side, to the gentle rolling motion of the ship and opened my eyes to see Sally looking across, smiling as she lay beside me, “good morning, honey, how did you sleep?”
I roll onto my back and stare at the ceiling,
“OK I guess,” I wince as my shin gives me a gentle nudge to remind me of the previous evening’s events, I swing my legs out of the bed and my feet connect with the carpet, I sit up and gingerly put weight on my injured leg, Sally’s nursing skills had been proven. The bandage had a large red stain at the site of the gash, but it had stopped the bleeding.
“George popped in earlier while you were sleeping to see how you were. He asked me to give you this and said he would be back when you woke, he asked me to call him as soon as you did,” she handed me a spent shell casing, I recognized it immediately and my fingers closed around it.
They say the past will always come back to you, George had asked the question “where were you last October,” was it really him? The question had played on my mind since boarding. The shell casing had confirmed the validity of his true identity; there was only one more check I had to make.
“He also said something strange to you last night, something about October, what does it mean?”
I stood and walked into the bathroom with no intention of answering the question, I put my hands either side of the basin and leant forward, my weight supported by my wrists, I stared hard into the mirror and then shut my eyes, concentrating on wiping my memory, I felt a hand on my shoulder, I spun round knocking the hand away, George was standing there,
“There was a time when you would have heard me a mile away, you are getting soft old man,” Sally stood in the doorway, watching intently,
“Show it!” I barked, George smiled, reached down to his shirt cuff, took out the cuff link, placed his hand on his upper forearm and dragged the sleeve back to his shoulder, the tattoo was identical to mine, the head of a black panther impaled with a hunting knife with blood clinging to the blade, I smiled,
“George Baker, hell boy, where the hell have you been?” We fell together like long-lost brothers, hugging as if we were trying to crush the life out of each other, we separated.
“Non existent, just like they wanted us to be when the unit was disbanded,”
I nodded, they could give you a new identity, but they couldn’t erase the past memories, even though you had been trained to forget. Sally walked over to us, head to one side, “don’t ask!” we said together.
George sat down at the table, “any others that you know about?”
“No George, we are the only two left,” George looked shocked,
“How do you know?”
“How?” I looked up at him, “remember the last job, we all took five spent casings and made our own mark on them. If I remember you scratched a cat on yours, mine was a…”
“Tree,” proud that he had remembered, George smiled, “well, where are your casings?”
I spoke slowly and quietly, “My casings are with my solicitor. In the event of my death they are to be sent to the other four of you. We all made the promise never to contact each other again, but the receiving of the casings were to inform of the demise of the owners,”
“Yeah, I remember that.”
I sighed heavily, “I got three casings a week ago.” The smile melted from George’s face,
“On the same damn day too, what are the chances of three of the team dying within a week George?”
His head in his hands, he asked quietly, “How did they die?”
“I got a call from Anna in Intel, she thought I ought to know, they are pro hits. There was one case of shooting, one vehicle-related and the other a supposed accident,” Sally sat down at the table, I looked at Sally and carried on, “Charlie was stung to death by bees,” George looked up,
“How could someone plan that?”
“I don’t know, all that was reported was that his car was full of bees, it was like they had swarmed,”
“In the car?”
“Yeah, sounds crazy,”
I winced and took a deep breath, “Pete was shredded,” his eyes opened in horror “shredded?”
“Yeah, he was working on a farm, the baler he was working with got jammed up, the guy he was working with said that Pete had hit the isolator switch and crawled inside to free a piece of wood that was stopping the cam the blades were connected to, Pete freed the cam and the baler kicked in, further examination of the isolator switch showed that it had been bypassed, the baler was started remotely and Pete was minced.”
George screwed up his eyes while shaking his head, then stiffened as the realization dawned, “Carrie?” he asked, not wanting to know the answer, I remembered that George had always had a soft spot for her, and although they both denied it, you could see the chemistry between them, I nodded slowly.
“George, really, you don’t wan….”
George shot up and slammed his fists down onto the table, his eyes blazing, “HOW!!!”
Sally sat back in her chair bolt upright, both shocked and scared at the same time, I looked up at George with emotionless eyes. “Keep calm and in control,” my old drill sergeant had beat that into me, “if you lose control you lose your life in the field, and none of my boys are gonna do that, ARE YA?” “SIR, NO SIR!” was the reply in unison, thirty two voices in perfect synchronization,
“Sit down!” my voice flat, “get a hold of yourself, soldier,” he sat and wrung his hands,
“How did she die?”
I fought back the bile that had risen in my throat as I spoke. “It was covered up as a burglary by the local police, the barrel of the lock had been eaten away by acid, that’s how he had got in,” I closed my eyes as thoughts of Judy came back.
“He had managed to overpower her, and tied her, spread-eagled, against the wall, five shots… knees… elbows… and….”
George looked intently, my eyes shining as a solitary tear rolled down his cheek, “and?”
I looked down at the table, not wanting to see his reaction; “he raped her, and then shot her through the head when he had finished.” George’s head bounced on his arms as he sobbed, Sally stood and went to him, “that’s enough for today,” I thought, “more than enough.”
I spoke to the captain and he released George from duty, on compassionate grounds, for a couple of days. I told him that there had been a death in the family, a lie maybe, but I had been lying for the past five years. Not even Judy had known of my involvement with ‘The Surgeons’. A specially trained force who’s only task was to kill those who plan terrorist attacks, a kind of pre-emptive strike thought up by military chiefs with plausible deniability built in, highly trained, silent killers with only one thought in mind, take one to save more, very effective until the accident.
It was the usual brief, terrorist chief, planning big attack, he had to be taken out and it was to be made to look like an accident, Carrie was the planner, Charlie, the explosives and mechanical expert, he could take down large buildings and repair anything with wheels and tracks, Pete was ordinance and procurement, anything from a tank right down to a washer for a garden sprinkler, George was our gadget man, electronics and miniaturization, and me? Well I was the shooter, slingshot, arrow, bullet, and shell, anything that flew? It came from me.
The story goes; the hit was a Mr. Edward Hawke the top man in a dissident organization, another group that didn’t agree with other countries’ policies.
This group was planning blanket bombing of four large cities; the last report that got to Intel mentioned four hundred separate bombing points, targeting transport, hospitals, communications, and government with incendiary and fragmentation devices.
Because they wanted the impact to be felt around the world, the hospital bombs were going to be the last ones to go off. It would have been total devastation if this diabolical plan had succeeded, so we had to take out the top man, to push the group into disarray and give the other agencies a chance to move in and take out the cell leaders, this was a worldwide operation and we were the catalyst. No-one would be able to move until we had completed our task.
So surveillance was put in place, consisting of George and Carrie. George monitored his phones and recorded conversations. In the dead of night, Carrie fitted a GPS system underneath his vehicle to monitor daily movements. By the end of the second month Carrie had come up with a plan. On a Thursday afternoon, our target drove past a deep quarry, the road was winding, secluded, and separated from a 500ft drop by a small loose stone wall.
We needed a small pump to be fitted to the power steering system which would take control from the steering wheel and jam the front wheels hard over to the left. The brakes also needed to be disabled by virtue of a hydraulic piston which would emerge from the foot well and push up against the brake pedal at the same time the brake cable running from the handbrake would need to be clamped. Charlie would see to the wall with some small charges at the impact site. With the basics covered, we sent Pete shopping but we needed my car to make the ‘modifications’.
Once the equipment had been procured and tested on a similar make of vehicle, a small accident was engineered, I drove my vehicle into the back of Hawke’s car causing a small amount of damage.
It was, of course, my fault and my offer of a speedy repair with no expense to him was readily accepted, I gave him the details of a friendly garage and even arranged an appointment for him. We had the vehicle for an afternoon the damage was repaired, the modifications were applied, tested and then reset, he collected his car and the garage was dismantled soon after.
The day of the hit is one I will not forget, my vantage point allowed me to see a good distance and the markers set on the road to time the activation of Georges gadgets, I glanced down at my watch and noticed that he was late, a change of plan? Had he discovered our little toys? Should we abort and re-plan? I contacted Carrie, “No,” she had said, the GPS was showing him heading for the hit point, but he had made a small detour which explained the lag in time, finally a call from Carrie informed me that he was five minutes away, I armed the system and sat ready, his car reached the first point, I hit the switch and the braking system was disabled.
At the second point, I hit the second switch which made the car swerve towards the wall, the laser detonator set off the charges as the car came within three inches of the wall, the wall crumbled and my mouth fell open, for in my binoculars I saw a small child, in the back seat, she had her hands against the window, her mouth open in a silent scream as the car went over the drop, the detour turned out to be a trip to his daughters nursery school to collect her as his wife had been called away.
The child’s death affected the team; the effects were profound and were considered to be a danger to future missions. The unit was disbanded and all involved sworn to secrecy as public knowledge could cause embarrasment for the government, the team were given new identities and instructed not to contact each other again, the papers and news reports full of the tragic loss.
Hawke’s wife had requested to see the point at which her husband and child had gone off the road, once there, she had walked to the edge and thrown herself off, her body disintegrating as it dashed against the sharp, unforgiving rocks.
The most haunting thing for the team was the soulless eyes of their fourteen year-old-son, holding a small brown knitted teddybear.
His full page photo in every newspaper.
I wandered around the ship for the next couple of days, looking on in envy at the young couples and families; I saw a father and daughter sitting at the top of the water slide, the girl was giggling as she sat on her fathers lap, he pushed forward and as they went down she lifted her arms and screamed falsely. They shot off the bottom of the slide and entered the water with a big splash; they emerged, the father holding her by the waist, above his head, both laughing.
I turned my head, walked to the rail and looked out to sea, the tears stinging my eyes.
A small piece of seaweed catches my eye as it floats serenely towards the hull of the ship, it moves along the side of the hull and disappears as the water is sucked under the ship.
“How easy would it be?” the thought pushing into my brain, The shock of the cold water, the feeling of helplessness as the current took me towards the massive propellers, a flash of pain as the steel blades liquidize my flesh, but then….. Peace….. No pain….. No memories…
“Bill? Bill…..are you OK?”
I looked round; Sally was walking slowly towards me,
“Where have you been, I have knocked on your door…No answer, I even tried to call your cabin, but you always seem to be on the phone, what’s going on?” I started to walk away,
“Stay away from me…please?” I heard her pace quicken and felt her hand on my arm,
“Bill…please talk to me,”
I spun round and took her hand from my arm, the momentum caused her to lose her balance, she fell back against the side of the superstructure of the ship, I stood against her pinning her there.
“I said…stay…away…from…me!” I growled, I released her arm and walked quickly away, leaving her rubbing her wrist, a shocked and hurt expression on her face. “It’s for the best,” I thought, “can’t get involved, not again,” I walked quicker, almost jogging, my heart beating fast as the realization dawned that feelings were forming between me and Sally.
“I will not be responsible for the death of another innocent,” I ran to the stern, grabbed the railing and shouted “DO YOU HEAR ME, NOT AGAIN,” I looked down at the deck, the tears running steadily from my eyes, “I will not kill the one I love.”
I see a group of empty loungers and choose one, I swing my legs up and lay back, my head throbbing and my eyes hot and aching.
I concentrate on the wisps of cloud hanging in the light blue sky, pushing all thoughts from my mind, not noticing a passenger looking down from the upper deck. His unblinking, green eyes peering through a sandy fringe, his mouth thin and straight, his hands gripping the rail, his knuckles white with pressure, “soon,” he whispered, “soon.”
“Hello, are you having a good time?”
James spun round, Sally stood behind him, her long hair being blown around her face by the breeze, the sun caught in her hair, making it shine, her pretty blue eyes sparkling, her hand extended,
James smiled, “Andrew, Andrew Hawkins, at your service ma’am,” his hand went to his head to doff an invisible hat, Sally giggled, “Sally Fletcher,”
“So Sally, what brings you on board the Sara Lea?”
Sally walked to the rail and leaned against it,
“I thought it was about time I treated myself, I have always wanted to go on a cruise and this one just called to me, and you?”
James smiled, “just meeting up with old acquaintances, I came into some money a while ago and found out they would be on this ship,”
“Have you found them yet?”
“Oh yes,” James smile broadened, “but I haven’t spoken to them yet,”
“Why not?” Sally looked puzzled,
“Oh, I want to surprise them, they don’t even know what I look like, that’s what makes it fun,”
Sally smiled, and looked towards the stern, as she did her eyes caught me looking up at her,
“Where’s the lucky man and children?”
“Sorry?” Sally turned back to James,
“The lucky man, your husband, a beautiful woman like you has got to be married; God would never be that good to me,”
Sally blushed at the compliment, “Either I have embarrased you or you have caught the sun, I am sorry I didn’t mean to pry,”
“No it’s OK, I was married, but he felt the need to learn golf,”
“Yes he liked to play around,” she said laughing, James joined in, “well it’s good that you can laugh about it now,”
Sally looked down at me again,
“Yes,” she said, turning to James “It was a long time ago,”
James looked at Sally, since the loss of his family, he had not formed any friendships, he had concentrated on getting through school and researching the team that had so drastically changed his life. He was lonely and still a virgin at 19. The shape of Sally’s body accentuated by the thin material of her dress being blown around by the wind had aroused him to the point of crossing his legs.
“The wind is getting a little chilly, would you like a drink in the bar?” James asked.
“Sure, shall we,” James held out his arm and Sally linked hers through it.
James and Sally ordered their drink and sat down at a table in the corner,
“So, what about you?” Sally sipped her drink through a white straw,
“What about me?” James replied.
“Well, married? Engaged? Girlfriend?”
“Oh I see,” James laughed, “still young, plenty of time for that, I just need to find the right girl for me, I am a very complex person,” Sally sipped her drink again, “What do you like to do?” James asked, “You know, interests, hobbies and the like,” Sally thought for a moment, “Well I like most types of music, but I love opera, I paint and I love to walk in the countryside on a warm summer’s day, and you?”
“Oh I haven’t really had much reason to enjoy myself really, you see, I lost my family five years ago,”
Sally saw sadness descend in his eyes like a cloud covering the sun, “Oh my god, I’m sorry to hear that,”
“Yes, I was at school when I was told, my father and my sister died in a terrible car accident and my mother on the same day, I remember sitting at my desk, and being excited about having a tea party with Lillian,”
“My little sister, she was five, she loved to play teatime with her teddy and she had invited me to tea that night,” Sally saw tears forming as he recollected the day, “I sat there, excited, counting the minutes until the bell was to ring, the teacher called my name and the headmaster came over to me, he said that he had something to tell me, he took me out of the class and into an empty classroom.”
In his mind’s eye he saw himself being led out of the old classroom in slow motion by his headmaster, the headmaster’s hand on James’ shoulder, the children whispering behind cupped hands,
“He told me to sit down, I sat down, and that’s when he told me that my father and my little sister had been killed in a car accident,” Sally saw the tears rolling down my cheeks and splashing into a small pool on the table, he carried on, “and all I could think about was Albert, the teddy, I just kept thinking that he had noone to have tea with.”
The words became strangled in his throat, James put the back of his hand to his mouth and coughed, he apologized and continued, “Because of the time it was it was decided that I stay at school and be taken home by the headmaster at the end of lessons. He let me sit in his study and watch television. About an hour later, he came back to his office and told me that my mother was also dead,”
“Oh, Andy, you poor thing,” Sally leant forward and reached for his hands which were clasped together on the table; she cupped them and felt a chill start to spread over her hands and up her wrists.
“It was planned!” his statement shocked Sally into releasing his hands like a static charge had passed from one to the other.
“Yeah, I grieved for my family and as time went on, I started to find out things, I got company associates to dig, my family was murdered,” his eyes had darkened almost to the point of blackness, “the accident wasn’t an accident, it was just made to look that way,” Sally sat back as James looked up “Sally, listen, I don’t mean to drink and run but I have some one to meet, would you like to come over later on this evening, I would really like to have another drink with you, if that’s OK?”
Sally nodded, Andy intrigued her and she wanted to find out more.
James walked over to a young man sitting by himself near a red cloth pool table; he had seen him running around for other passengers.
“Hey how you doing, Andy, Andy Hawkins, fancy a game?” Dave looked up and smiled, it had been a long duty, this was his first trip and he had made a couple of mistakes, he had been reprimanded by George the senior steward so a friendly face was a welcome distraction, Dave got up and offered his hand to the most agreeable passenger he had met since the ship had left port.
“Dave, Dave Bennet and, yes, I would love a game,” James pulled some change from his pocket and fed the table, the balls rumbled deep inside the table and rolled into the open dispenser situated at the end of it, Dave pulled two cues from the wall-mounted holder and handed one to James.
“So! What brings you onto this old rust bucket?” Dave grinned,
“Oh, just a break from the hassles of finance, company matters, birds, you know how it goes. And you? Why get a job where everyone is forever telling you what to do, it must be hell,”
“It’s all I could get, I took out a couple of loans, everything was fine until I got made redundant, now the hounds are snapping at my heels. It’s gonna take me three or four trips but I will get them paid off,”
Dave crouched down at the end of the table and transferred the pool balls into the wooden triangle,
James lined up the cue and hit the cue ball with a satisfying crack. He smiled as one of each colour disappeared into the corner pockets, he walked round the table as the balls slowed to a stop,
“So you are not a seafaring man then,”
“Hell no, I get seasick walking through puddles,” they both laughed.
James lined up his next shot and snapped his cue forward, he stood as the ball rattled in the jaws of the pocket and shot across the table, Dave surveyed the position of each ball before choosing a lonesome red at the top corner, he leant on the end of the table and lined his cue up, James leant down on the table beside him and whispered, “What would you do to pay off your loans and not have to come out on this ship again?”
Dave slowly turned his head to James and smiled,
“Anything my new friend, anything,”
“Then come to my cabin, number 6, when you can, that is, and just make sure that noone knows of our conversation or sees you there,” “What have I got to do? Is it illegal?”
“A little, there is some risk, but then risk is all around us, the higher the stakes the higher the risk. Hell boy, if I hadn’t taken risks, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so are you game?” Dave turned his head back to his shot and fired the cue ball at it’s target. The white smashed into the red and pushed it into the pocket, the ball rumbled down into the depths of the table, Dave turned his head back to James,
“Game on,” he said grinning.
“Mind if I join you?” a familiar voice pushed past my thoughts, I opened my eyes and focused slowly on George. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the lounger. He sat down facing me and handed me a glass of cold beer, “from the lady,” he said, smiling, I looked up and saw a couple talking, I recognized Sally but not the guy. From the angle I was and the glare of the sun, all I could see was that he had long hair, I sipped my beer, the amber liquid harsh against the back of my throat but satisfying, “you were pretty rough on her mate, she came to me crying and bruised, what is going on with you?”
“Judy’s dead!” the statement hit George like a boxers glove, I looked up at him, “I can’t allow anyone to get close to me, Carrie, Charlie, Pete, all dead,”
George shook his head, “do you think..?”
“I don’t think, not anymore, but I will tell you what I know, I know someone is stalking us and killing us one by one,”
“But why Judy? She wasn’t part of the operation,”
“She was part of me George, whoever it is, they want me to suffer, to send me mad maybe,” my thoughts returned to the seaweed I had seen, “perhaps even to take my own life,”
“So why push someone away who wants to help?”
I look into Georges eyes, “because if someone is stalking us and sees me getting on well with another? It will put their life in danger as well,” I look up towards the upper deck, straight into Sally’s eyes then I look back to George, “ that’s why I was rough with her, I think…” I trailed off not wanting to say it,
“I think I love her,”
George stood and looked down at the deck, “OK Bill, the long and the short, my duty is over in an hour, meet up then and start to figure this out, Yeah? We can’t go on like this; YOU can’t go on like this,”
I lay back down on the lounger “yeah, OK, see you in an hour,” I closed my eyes as he walked away.
Dreams and revelations
As my eyelids close, my mind returns to the day of the operation, each scene played out so perfectly, each image so clear.
I look at my watch, he’s late, he should have been here on the hour, I stand up and stare into the distance, I raise the transceiver to my lips,
“Grand slam, Eagle eyes, Grand slam, Eagle eyes, birthday boy late for party, ETA? Please advise! Out.”
Carries voice comes back,
“Eagle eyes, Grand slam, Eagle eyes, Grand slam, Birthday boy on way, delay unknown, ETA 5, is birthday present ready? Out.”
I flicked the safety switch off, two green L.E.D’s glowed.
“Grandslam, Eagle eyes, Grandslam, Eagle eyes, Birthday present ready, Green eyes, I repeat Green eyes, out.”
“Eagle eyes, Grandslam, Eagle eyes, Grandslam, understood out.”
In the distance the car came into view, my finger hovered over the first switch, the car reaches the first marker, I press the switch and the piston gently glides up through the floor and touches the brake pedal. At the same time, two blocks press together sandwiching the emergency brake cable, my finger now moves over to the second switch, the car reaches the second marker, I press it, the control from the steering column is passed over to the hydraulic pump and the steering snaps over to the left. The car veers towards the wall that seems to disintegrate just before the car gets to it. That last second becomes minutes, everything is in slow motion. My position no longer up on the hillside, but standing on the road as the car starts to fly, I see tiny hands pressed against the inside of the door window, little green eyes wide open in fear, her mouth open, a muffled scream resonates, “DADDYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!” the scream fades as the car travels in a small downward arc.
I see the rear wheels sink below the surface of the road in slow motion. I run, as through syrup, to the edge of the road where the wall used to be. I am now watching the car falling from the side. Standing at the first impact site, still in slow motion, the front of the car impacts with a small outcrop of rock. The side windows explode outwards. The airbag inflates then deflates as the steering column is pushed up under the driver’s chin and penetrates through the flesh and bone. The back of his head explodes out into the back of the car. The crumple zones, taking the full force of the impact, jolt the little girl forward. She is covered in her father’s blood.
She stares at me through the window, her tears making tracks down her cheeks. The momentum of the drop starts to tip the car over. I am now at the final resting place as the car’s boot hits first. The large boot concertinas in, level with the back cushion. The force of the impact break her restraining straps, her tiny body bounces up from the cushion and is thrown out of the twisted wreck. My eyes follow her flight.
She lands by me and rolls to a stop, her eyes closed, her little arm thrown out. By the side of her hand is a small brown knitted teddybear, I kneel down by the side of her, and my hand reaches out to her cheek.
Her eyes flicker open, “who are you??” she whispers, her eyes wet with tears and blood. “A friend,” I hear myself saying, “What happened? And where’s Albert?” panic rising in her voice. “There has been an accident and Albert is right here,” I reached for the small bear and placed it in her hand, she held it to her chest and a tear ran down the side of her face, “I am tired will, you cuddle me please?”
I looked down at her broken little body and picked her up in my arms, holding her close to me, cursing myself for pushing the button that caused such distress to one so small, she looked up at me, “I want to go to sleep now mister, will you look after Albert for me?” she offered the bear to me, her hand trembling as she did.
I nodded, the words would not pass my throat, my body racked with sobbing, her eyes closed slowly as she drew her last breath, the bear rolled out of her hand and onto the dark gray rock as her grip relaxed, the brightness of the sun stung my eyes as I looked up and forced myself to speak.
“I had no choice, I was following orders, please forgive me,” I whisper, “I’m so sorry honey,”
I open my eyes, disorientated, as the quarry had changed into the Sara Lea, the bright sun making me squint once again, “Mommyyyy, why is that man’s face wet? Have you been cryin mister? My dad says boys don cry,”
“GARRY, you get over here right this instant!” a young woman scolded, she looked over to me, “I am so sorry, sir, he didn’t disturb you did he?”
I looked up and forced a smile, “no,” I stood and ruffled his hair, “no ma’am, he is fine,” I walk away and head to my cabin. I pass the bar window and notice Sally sitting at the bar laughing and joking with her new friend, I don’t turn my head, I keep my eyes looking forward and breath a sigh of relief upon passing the window unseen.
I get to my cabin, go in and start to tidy it. My rooms have always been immaculately tidy and clean, but this one resembled the aftermath of a charity shop sale. This wasn’t me, I knew the signs of depression and this was one of them, George peered round the door, “is it safe to come in?”
“Only if you take your shoes off at the door,” I stood there, mop in hand, the floor shining.
I put the mop in the corner, reached for a bottle and wiped two glasses, I filled both, “OK George, let’s put this thing to bed,” I walked over to the couch and took the drink I had poured as I passed; I sat down in the armchair facing him.
“So what have we got?” I asked,
“We have got a dead terrorist, his daughter and wife, also dead, and a son,” George spoke slowly,
George nodded sadly, “it seems that way, the team, your wife,”
“OK, someone knows about the surgeons, they know who we are, and they know what we have done, can we contact Anna from here?”
George nodded, then smiled, “I have her home number,”
“Then call it, man, call it.”
George picked up the phone, dialed then looked up and mouthed, “It’s ringing.”
Hello, Anna? Yeah it’s Dr George… doing real good, how about you… you getting married? Way to go girl, we are both happy for you… yeah, got him with me… Yeah, he is good but we need some info, can you help us out?” his face fell and he covered the mouthpiece with his palm,
“Damnit the computer room has been closed off, no one is allowed access since the deaths of the team members… what? Sorry Anna, talking to Bill… what do you mean another way, backdoor? OK, OK I will hand you to Bill,”
George passed the phone to me then sat back in the chair; I raised the phone to my ear and spoke.
“Anna, its Dr Bill, what’s this backdoor George has mentioned?”
Her voice, low and solemn filled the earpiece. “Firstly, Bill, I want to tell you how sorry I am to hear about Judy, I know how much you guys loved each other,”
The old feeling of lumps in throats and gut twisting started to return but I fought them back. This wasn’t the time for falling apart,
“Thanks, Anna, it means a lot, but back to this backdoor, what the hell is it?”
She paused and then with her voice, almost a whisper, she replied, “well, it’s like hiding a backdoor key under a rock or plant pot, if you lose your front door key, you can still get in.”
I sit forward and scribble notes down on the complimentary notepad, “Can you still get access to the mainframe?”
“That really is a silly question Bill, it’s my baby but I can’t do it from here. My son was practicing over-clocking the processor on my computer and overcooked it,” she giggled. “Still he is paying for the repair so you can’t fault him on that,” she paused, “do you have a lappy?”
“Lappy?” I questioned,
“Yeah, a laptop you old fool,” she giggled again. I smiled at hearing her voice, it cheered me and always managed to relax me. I never knew why, it was just one of those voices that hugged you in times of trouble.
George nodded and shot out of the door. Within a couple of minutes he reappeared in the doorway holding a laptop and a yellow cable. He connected it up to the ships system and booted it up; he then turned the computer so it faced me,
“You ready?” she asked,
“I was born ready,” I said looking up at George,
“OK you first have to type the URL, www.firstborn.ca, once there, logon as,” she paused again, “nanna robe, an anagram of Anna Beron.”
The website was a first-time mother’s site full of information about breastfeeding, childcare; there were advice threads and a member list which stood at 2,000,
“What do you think?” she said chirpily,
“It’s not a site I would stay too long on,”
“Exactly! What better place to hide my backdoor.
I started it with 25 fictitious members being cared for by Nanna, and the next thing I know, I am getting requests from young mothers all over the world… anyway, the password is, my date of birth…” I laughed, cutting her short
“That’s a bit weak isn’t it? Even I know that,”
“You didn’t let me finish,” she replied indignantly, “my date of birth, year first, go on type it in,”
I typed 1962,
“And now the month in numbers,”
I typed 06,
“And now the day in numbers,”
I typed in 15, she giggled
“And now the minutes past since I was born, and considering you don’t know what time I was born you won’t be able to crack it will you.”
I looked at George, my mouth open, speechless.
“Clever isn’t she,” he smirked,
“OK Bill, write these numbers down and at 19:00 GMT, type them in, and remember you only have sixty seconds to get it in. If you miss it, add ten then try ten minutes later,”
“OK Anna, fire away,”
I looked over at George,
“On my mark… NOW!”
I typed the numbers in quickly and accurately, I hit enter and the screen went completely black, I fell back in my seat, “what the hell? What did I do wrong? ”
“What’s the matter now?” Anna giggled,
“The screen,” I breathed, “it’s blank,”
“No it isn’t, it’s a safeguard, now follow my instructions carefully,” Anna’s voice took on a serious tone. “This isn’t just the internet now, from here you can get into all intelligence files from world war two to present day and that includes your home address, your telephone number and your bank details, the page isn’t blank, there are three black fields that need to be completed in black type. OK field one, A.L.L. Tab, field two, S.U.R.G.E.O.N. Tab, field three, M.I.S.F.I.L.E, now press enter,”
The screen hadn’t changed as I typed, but as I pressed enter the laptop screen instantly changed to ‘search response’ and listed everything concerning our missions, George came over and sat beside me,
“Anna, what can I say but thanks,” there was a pause on the line,
“ I would prefer it if you would say you will stay alive, well, at least long enough to get drunk with me one night,” we both laughed,
“Honey, we ain’t dead yet, but we need to get into this,”
“Yeah, rain check, take care,” the phone went dead.
I pulled up our last mission and we read through, concentrating on the final report twinned with scanned pages of a national tabloid newspapers.
FAMILY DEVASTATED BY TERRIBLE TRAGEDY!
A loving family was torn apart on Wednesday when their car was involved in a freak accident, killing the father and his young daughter, the father, a prominent and successful business-man was found in the wreck by a North Eastern quarry worker, the daughter was found soon after, fifty yards away, it is not known whether she was thrown or crawled away from the car.
The mother committed suicide at the scene of the accident. Names have been withheld until relatives have been informed. This terrible accident leaves a fourteen-year-old boy without a family. He is currently being cared for by relatives.
There was a small picture of a young boy with a black bar across his eyes to protect his identity, a young boy holding a small teddybear, the same teddybear that I had seen the little girl holding in my dream earlier,
I clicked onto the next entry,
MAJOR TERRORIST CAMPAIGN STOPPED
Earlier today crack teams of police and specialist army troops collaborated in a massive sweep, which has seriously damaged the largest terrorist organization that is known to the secret services today, this worldwide operation has saved thousands of lives.
The terrorist group which has not been named, at the request of the police, had planned a worldwide campaign which would have caused hundreds of deaths and millions of pounds worth of property damage, police sources say that the organizations’ leaders are now in custody and a substantial amount of C4 explosive has been seized, as have firearms and rocket-propelled grenades.
A police spokesman said “This is a bad day for terrorism but a good day for humanity, if these people had gone ahead with their plans, hundreds would have died, but by the police, secret services and the army working together, this has been avoided!”
The prime minister was unavailable for comment due to illness but it has been said that he is happy with the outcome and sends his congratulations to everyone involved in the planning and execution of the operation.
The next report showed a smaller entry in the same newspaper 18 months later.
QUARRY CAR WRECK INQUEST.
The inquest into the North Eastern quarry accident which killed a man and his daughter ended today with a verdict of accidental death, A team of specialized mechanics worked closely with police and found that a broken steering coupling and a split in the braking system’s master cylinder caused the vehicle to swerve on the quarry road, and plunge 500ft into the quarry below. The inquest also heard how the wife and mother of the deceased threw herself over the edge in grief, the verdict, Suicide.
Then the next and last entry
James Hawke, son of deceased business-man Edward Hawke, who died two years ago, has finally inherited the Hawke estate rumoured to be worth over four billion pounds, with an annual turnover of 12 billion from three corporations now under his control. This makes James the richest sixteen-year-old on the planet.
James lost his father, Edward, and his five-year-old sister, Lillian, when the car they were traveling in, lost control and plummeted 500 ft down into the notorious North Eastern quarry, his mother, Sian, died soon after when she hurled herself off the point where the car had gone over and crashed.
Talking to reporters after leaving his solicitor’s today, James made this statement.
“I truly believe that my father and my sister were murdered. by virtue of my mother committing suicide soon after, I feel that the murderers should be held responsible for her death. Also.
I feel that those responsible for these deaths have been hidden, and the evidence tampered with to allow the murderers to walk away. Gentlemen, I will make it my life’s work to find these people and bring them to justice.”
“Is there any more on him?” I could see George sweating as I asked the question, my fingers stabbed at the keyboard.
“Lets see, a bit of a rebel at school, authority-hater, close to expulsion, but look at this, after the death of the family, he turned himself around, straight A’s throughout, languages, chemistry, I.T, biology, Engineering and mathematics. Left school at 18 then disappeared for a year,” I puffed out my cheeks as I blew through pursed lips, George looked up at me, “what do you think?”
“I think that if it is him… we are in trouble. The only picture we have on file is the front page one of him holding that damn bear,” I ran the back of my hand over my brow, it felt damp, George stood, then paced back and forth,
“How old would he be now?” my eyes followed his course
“19 damnit and holding a grudge bigger than his bank account.”
The cabin was 1st class, he would not accept any less. He sat on the sofa hunched over a knee level coffee table staring into a small digital camera; his long sandy hair fell over his face masking his features. Spread over the table were photos, photos of his family, a cameo of his mother and father, a portrait of his sister. The tears dripped from the ends of his hair and landed next to a small glass of whiskey.
James grinned with smug satisfaction, his lips trembled as the two emotions met head-on, “Two left, only two, and then I can rest,” he thought. His sources had done well, uncovering the truth behind his family’s murder, once armed with that information; he had traced one of the team. He picked up the photo of a naked woman spread up against a wall. She had blood running from her knees and elbows, and in her forehead was a small but neat hole, a dribble of blood ran down over the bridge of her nose and stopped at the top of her upper lip.
He sat down on a brown leather sofa and leaned back, his eyelids closed as his mind played back the events of his night with Carrie. Darkness turned to a kaleidoscope of colour, small coloured points of light merging into a moving picture. The corners of his mouth turned up into a sardonic grin, his breathing grew shallower and more rapid as he recalled the recent events.
The rain spattered onto the windscreen of his car. He peered through the rivulets of water that ran down in ever-changing lines. A light above the door he was watching snapped on making him jump, his hands reached for the door handle of the car and pulled. With a soft click the door moved and the chill of the night entered the car.
The door to the house opened and a woman emerged, she turned quickly and waved. An older lady appeared and hugged her. The wind took the words spoken and blew them into the night.
She turned back to the road and walked away as the old lady closed the door.
He followed her to a nightclub and had bumped into her accidentally. They started talking and ended up dancing the night away. He had insisted on getting the drinks and had spiked hers after getting them from the bar. He walked her home through the park and they sat on a damp bench as she fought against the drug which was making her head spin. She turned to James and fell forward onto his lap.
He picked her up gently and carried her home. The old lady opened the door on the first knock. Her eyes widened as she saw the limp body of her daughter in his arms, “Oh my god, get her inside, quickly! In here, in here,” James hurried into a small lounge and laid Carrie down on the couch. Her mother bent over her then turned to face James, her legs collapsed beneath her as the back of her head exploded. The bullet smashed its way through her skull and embedded itself in the wall behind the couch.
Carrie came to only to find that someone had pinned her against the wall. The excess of alcohol in her body and the drug induced sleep had sapped her strength. Her ankles were tied to heavy furniture either side of her and her mouth was gagged.
James went back to the front door and took two syringes and two small vials, he filled the syringe from one and injected the liquid into the lock of the front door, he then filled the second syringe with the other liquid and repeated the action, a wisp of smoke rose up from the keyhole as he shut the door.
It had been exquisite as he had been able to torture her slowly before raping her, after he had finished, he calmly pulled out a handgun and screwed a silencer to the barrel, he saw her body stiffen and writhe as the first knee exploded in blood, flesh and small slithers of bone, her face red as she forced the screams out from behind the gag, she begged him to stop after the second knee had gone.
He had walked toward her and ripped the gag off. He had pressed the silencer into her thigh, ran it up over her breast and onto her shoulder. The gun moved along her arm until it had got to her elbow. The gun was so close the powder burnt the edge of the wound black. The bullet passed through her elbow and into the wall she was held against.
That’s when she had got nasty with him. Her head had flown forward and her teeth grabbed his cheek, biting through the flesh and spitting blood into his face. His face ragged and the hole in his cheek screaming in pain. He had taken out her other elbow, put the gun to her head point blank and pulled the trigger.
He leaned forward and carefully placed the photo on the table. His fingers went to the wound on his face, it was knitting and he would be scarred forever, but…hell she was worth it.
The guys were easy, specialists? HAH! They were no match for him, incompetents. He picked up the photo of a skinned man and closed his eyes, the dancing colours combined and the movie started again.
James was in a large hay barn, the odour of heavy oils and vegetation mixed in the damp air. A bailing machine stood, silently, in the center of the shed. He approached the bailer and got to work.
The setting up of the bailer had been the difficult part, positioning the wood and then setting the reset of the isolating switch with a small radio control servo. The only light to work with had been a penlight, but it had been sufficient.
He had found a two by four piece of wood, crawled into the bailing chamber and positioned the wood near the main sprocket and drive chain. At the top of the piece of wood, there was a concentric gear which moved slowly out as the bails progressed. He had estimated the angle where the two by four would move and overbalance, fall against the chain and jam the machine. After he had cut the wire to the inspection hatch inhibitor switch he had crawled out backwards and gently shut the inspection hatch.
James pointed his penlight to the isolation switch box, pulled the clasp away and opened the door. He fitted the servo, connected it to the switch then checked the operation, it moved easily. He reset the switch, closed the door, then moved away with the remote unit in his pocket, his trouser pocket moved slightly as he hit the switch, with a loud clunk, the isolating switch had moved to the left. He went back to the machine and reset the switch. He had then climbed up into the hayloft and closed his eyes
The fluorescent light tubes clicked and buzzed as power surged through them, bathing the barn in a yellowing light. The sudden flashes of light and the sound of deep voices snapped his eyes open. He rolled to his left and peered through the matt of straw that covered his head. A man and a younger lad had come into the barn. One was definitely the hit but the other, a viable witness. His eyes had sparkled as the rhythmic thrashing of the machine reverberated off the wooden walls.
“Any second now,” he had thought, his mouth dry in anticipation of what was to come. A loud ‘thunk’ came from the inside of the bailer followed by a whining sound as the large machine ground to a halt. Smoke pushed out of the vent of the electric motor as it strained against the obstruction. The smell of burning rubber filled the air as the drive belt failed to find purchase on the large drive wheel. The older man leapt to the isolating switch. He pulled it up so it was pointing to the roof of the barn and the whine from the motor lost it’s pitch as the wheel slowed and finally stopped,
“Hell, that’s all we need, the old man ain’t gonna like this Harry, hand me that rake and get the hatch open,”
“OK Pete, here ya go,” the younger man passed a long rake and opened the inspection hatch.
James looked down from his vantage point, he could see the older man light up a torch and look inside, “Can’t see anything Harry, gonna have to go inside,” the older man’s voice boomed as his voice bounced around inside the chamber,
“You sure that’s wise?” Asked Harry. A worried tone in his voice.
“Sure Harry, there is an isolation switch on the outside and a switch on the door, if the door is open, the machinery will not start,” James snickered evilly behind his hand, his heart beating wildly, this was part of the thrill, like an angler watching his float bobbing in the pond, if you strike too soon, you loose the fish, if you strike to late, you lose the bait, James watched as the older man climbed up into the belly of the beast.
“Can you see what is jamming it up?” Harry was looking into the darkness of the machine,
“Yeah,” Pete’s muffled voice came back, “it’s a piece of wood jamming up the works, it’s stuck in there pretty good but I think I can free it, hang on, it’s moving.” James took the remote control out of his pocket and ran his thumb gently over the top of the green button, caressing it as you would a baby’s cheek. “This is for you Lilly,” a single tear ran down his cheek.
“I got it, it’s free! Here, take this” the voice from inside the machine sounded triumphant as a hand appeared holding the piece of wood. James closed his eyes as his thumb pressed down on the button and the switch on the machine pushed over to the left, re-establishing power to the powerful electric motor. “PETE!” Harry’s words were drowned out by a bloodcurdling scream as the cold steel of the blades stripped the living flesh from Pete, the soft tissue offering no resistance to the cruel metal. Harry ran to the isolating switch and forced it back to the upright position. There was a sickening crunch as the machine shuddered to a halt. Blood ran out of the bottom of the machine,
Harry reached inside and took what used to be a hand, he pulled, Pete screamed again as the machine gave birth to a bloody lump of flesh. James looked intently and took his camera from his pocket. Harry hovered over the steaming body for a moment, regained his composure and ran out of the door. James slid down the ladder and went over to Pete, “for Lilly, my mother and my father.” the flash of the camera sparked in Pete’s remaining eye, his last breath rasped out of his throat as realization dawned.
James opened his eyes, rose from the couch and went to the bar. He picked up a photo of his family, his mother and father smiled up at him through the glass of the frame. Sitting at their feet were two children. A younger version of him and a little girl in a white lace dress clutching a small brown teddybear. Her little face beaming up at him. The tears started to flow again.
He tipped the bottle over his glass. Some of the liquid ran up the side of the glass, splashing over the polished wood of the bar. He slammed the bottle down, raised his hand and swept the glass, and the bottle from the bar. The glass hit the bottle and shattered, broken shards from the glass puncturing the flesh on the back of his hand. He looked down at the blood seeping from the open wound, raised it to his mouth and sucked on it. He turned back to the couch and sat down again. The whiskey took the taste of blood away and warmed his throat as it passed on its way to his stomach.
His eyes returned to the table. The next two photos showed a young woman tied to a bed. Her pretty blue dress stained a dark red around her breasts and a man laying unconscious on a rustic wooden floor.
James leaned back, his eyes staring at the ceiling of his cabin, his eyelids closed once again.
The points of light swirled and formed into a small but pretty cottage with roses climbing up white walls and blacked timbers. The roses framing the windows with different shades of red and green.
James walks up to the door, using the acid mix, he disables the lock. He pushes a screwdriver into the keyhole and turns, the door opens easily. The woman is standing in front of the cooker, her back towards him. He moves up behind the woman silently. He raises a small iron bar and brings it down smartly on the back of her head.
He wraps his free arm around her as she falls and lays her on the floor. He looks around quickly and listens intently. The call he had engineered earlier would keep the guy away for a while.
He lifts her in his arms and takes her upstairs to the bedroom; the bed was the old-fashioned four-poster type. He ties her legs together and then her hands, the free ends of the ropes are then looped around the posts and pulled taut. His head swings round as he hears the front door swing open, “Judy.... I’m back” the man’s voice muffled as he walks into a room. “Judy?” the voice sounding concerned now, “the call was false, honey, must be kids mucking about.” Doors opening and closing as each room is checked, footsteps on the stairs, James moves to the bedroom door and hides behind it. The footsteps reach the top of the stairs.
“Judy, honey where are you!” the voice louder now as he approaches the open bedroom door, “JUDY NO!” the man runs past the door, across to the bed.
James moved like a cat pouncing on an unsuspecting prey, the woman’s eyes flicker open and look straight past her husband, that damn floorboard, the knife in James’s hand heads towards the guy’s neck, in mille-seconds his victim had turned completely round and took hold of James’s wrist, snapping the bones with ease, the arm now with two elbows as the sharp ends of the bone poke and cut into muscle and sinew.
The guy’s eyes like a dead fish, every muscle in his face taut, James falls back and rolls over to his right to retrieve the knife that had fallen from his now disabled hand. He feels the guy fall on him, sitting astride him, the guys hand grasping James’ shoulder and his strength pulling James onto his back. The guy balls his fist and raises it high above his head, “I must strike, I must strike now,” thoughts travelling at light speed in James’ brain, he grasps the knife in his left hand and pushes the blade forward, hard up into the guys chest. The sharp blade of the knife cutting through the soft flesh, jerking up a little as it glances off the edge of a rib, the hilt touching the guy’s shirt, the blood forming a large red flower on the material. The force of the blow pushes him off of James’ legs.
James moves away from him and pulls himself up with his good arm, the pain screaming in his head with each move.
He staggers over towards the man on the floor. One side of his chest is rising but the other is sinking as he breathes in. James walks to the edge of the bed, sits and said softly to the bound woman, “I will let him live, but without his love, just as he took my sister from me. I will take you from him. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
The justification for the three thrusts into her heart, his sister, his mother, his father.
Her eyes opened wide in terror as James examined the shining blade. He positioned the point just below her right breast and pushed firmly. Her eyes shut tightly as she felt the cold steel pierce her skin and cut through muscle before slicing into her heart
The knife entered easily, her fragile body unable to resist the cold unforgiving steel of the blade. Her screams begging him to stop, piercing his eardrums, made no difference to the speed or angle of the blade. “He has to suffer as I have these past five years,” James whispers as he strokes her face. He sits by her as her life ebbs, his tears falling onto her cheek. The man gasping her name from the bottom of the bed, the blood frothing from the wound between his fingers, the woman’s eyes glaze and her head falls slowly to one side, James stands and walks to the man, he looks down and smiles at him, the flash from the camera reflecting in the pool of blood laying on the floor,
“We will meet again and we will fight again. You have no choice for if you choose to accept this, I will find you and take everything that you love from you … for now you have something to fight for, your hate will drive you… Or it will destroy you.”
The guy’s eyes close as he passes into unconsciousness; James calls an ambulance then blends into the night.
A sharp knock at the door dispersed the dream like dust in the wind. James pulled on the door to reveal Sally standing in a sheer white sarong,
“Hi Andy, I was going for a walk around the deck, I was wondering if you would like to…” Sally hesitated as she noticed the blood dripping onto the white wood floor, “you have hurt yourself, here let me...” James pulled his hand away and turned,
“It’s nothing, nothing to worry about, just a nick,”
“But how…” “I said it’s NOTHING,” he snapped. He turned his head to look at her, seeing the hurt etched in her face; he moved towards her and took her hand gently.
“Please, I’m sorry, I think the sun is getting to me and the cut, well it’s silly. I am a little embarrassed as to how it happened, please come in and have a drink, then we can go for a walk around the ship,”
Sally eyed him nervously and gently pulled her hand from his,
“I will meet you upstairs in the bar Andy, we can have a drink there.” There was something about his eyes that made her feel nervous, his black pupils framed by the green cornea pierced her very soul, she shivered as if touched by the hand of death. Sally smiled weakly, turned and walked away, pushing the desire to run to the back of her mind.
James walked over to the sink and turned the tap, the cold water stinging the wound as it washed the blood away. He took a towel and dried his hands. He went back to the bar in the cabin and poured another drink. He took a photo from the table and walked to the porthole, he gazed at the photo, this one looked like a car crash scene.
A large brown station wagon had hit a tree and the driver’s door was open. The driver was hanging half out of the vehicle staring sightlessly into the camera.
He went back to the couch and lay along its length, his head and feet resting on the soft arms. The photo fell against his chest as the stark images started to form and move once more.
James walked up the untidy drive; beer cans rattling as the wind pushed them around on the asphalt. It was a blustery night that would help mask any noise he made, a violent gust hit him in the back causing him to widen his stride to keep his balance.
The big garage door shook as if in fear of his impending touch. The telegraph and electric cables sang an eerie aria and the surrounding bushes came alive, their branches shying away from him as he moved towards the door. From his pocket he pulled a small back box. He knew he would have to move fast when the door started to open. He lay on the ground 6 inches from the base of the door and hit the button.
The whir of the small electric motor was muffled by the sound of the wind. The door moved easily up it’s greased tracks, the drive was flooded with light as the gap widened to twenty four inches.
James rolled quickly under the door and hit the button again. With a loud clunk the door started it’s downward journey and the light shut off, he moved low and fast to the car.
He could hear footsteps approaching and a man cursing. In the blackness, his shin connected with something metallic and solid. Pain shot up his leg and into his groin, the thing he had hit skittered off across the garage floor and into the pit. His hand fell onto some heavy material and he grabbed it instinctively. He got to the far corner of the garage and covered himself up as the internal door swung open.
The barrel of a pump action shotgun appeared in the doorway. “Who’s there, c’mon, show yaself!” The material James had found was an old drape, with holes eaten into it from numerous bug attacks. The heavy perfume of used oil and exhaust fumes almost stifled him, but, through one of the many holes, he was able to track the man’s movements, “Come on out fella,” the tone had changed to one of a request rather than an order. “Look, we have all been through hard times guy,” the light came on flooding the garage with intrusive light. “How about you and I crack open a beer.” He leaned the shotgun against the jamb and walked into the garage with his hands out in front of him in a friendly gesture.
He carried on looking round near the garage door, then moved round by the car. He knelt down and looked under it. James took the remote and hit the button, the motorized door whirred into life and it started to open. The man scrambled to his feet and went towards the door. James hit the button again, and with a loud clunk, the door reversed its direction. The man stepped back and laughed out loud, “well what do ya know, it’s a goddam short.” He looked up at the motor, “surgery for you tomorrow my friend, can’t have you wakin me up every night.” He walked towards the internal door and took the gun. He looked back, laughed and shook his head, “goddam short,” the lights went out and his voice faded as the door closed.
James looked at his watch, 03:45. In the distance, a door closed and the house was quiet again. James emerged from his hiding place and headed for the car, he popped the trunk and emptied it out. He then cut the power to the door motor and manually winched it up a little to allow access.
James ran down the drive to his car and opened the back. Inside was a large plywood box with two clear flexible tubes protruding from the top, he picked it up carefully and walked slowly back to the garage. He placed the box on the ground; a strange sound came from within. “Not yet little ones, you time will come,” he whispered to the box.
He removed the rear speakers and jack’s the speaker grills up so he was able to get his fingers inside the car, he picked up the box and placed it against the back of the rear seat, the tubes fitted neatly inside the speaker holes. Two servos were fitted to the top of the box near the base of the two tubes, two small motors, fitted with offset disks slid into metal slides attached to the side of the box. After he had wired up the motors, servos, and a small receiver, a battery pack was inserted.
James picked up the items that he had originally removed from the trunk and packed them back inside. He checked his watch, 04:30, his eyes stinging from the sweat running from his forehead. He shut the trunk carefully and moved round to the driver’s door, he opens it and takes the climate control grille off. He placed a small box with a nozzle just inside the tube and replaced the grille.
James dropped the garage door and reconnected the power. 05:10. He had one last look around and lay by the door. The door activated and moved up, he rolled and hit the button again; the garage door does as it is ordered. James got to his feet and run to the car, his eyes scanned the area for possible witnesses before he opened the door and settled into his seat. He let the seat tilt back a little and closed his eyes.
The sound of the garage door opening snaps his eyes open, the car rolled forwards and down the drive, the garage door closed automatically. The guy turned onto the road and pulled away, the thickness of the exhaust smoke increasing with his engine speed, James pulled away from the kerb and followed closely.
The big old car lumbered up the hill to the forest road and started to cruise. The sunlight cutting through the canopy of the trees’ branches with golden rays, the birds singing and swooping around them as if playing a child’s game of tag.
James’ sweet thoughts of his sister turn to night as he hit the first switch. The two little motors either side of the box start to turn causing the box to vibrate. Inside the box the noise got louder followed by small knocks against the sides, the second switch is pressed; this released the spray behind the grille.
The car swerves a little as the spray takes the driver by surprise. The droplets settle onto the drivers face, clothing and hair. Some settle onto the sealing disks of the box through the speaker grills. The noise from the box grows ever more urgent. The third switch is pressed as James drives up closer, the disks slide back, the force behind the 200 angry African bees flip the speaker grills up and off of the parcel shelf, each of the bees know the smell of a queen in danger and centre on the source instinctively.
The driver swats frantically, but for every bee that he kills, eight land and deliver their venom aggressively. The car leaves the road and smashes squarely into a large oak tree, the rear of the car lifts with the force of the impact, the drivers airbag explodes, pushing a cushion of angry bees towards and into the helpless driver’s face, most of the bees are crushed instantly, apart from the ones that are pushed into his mouth and eyes.
James brakes gently and lets his car roll to a stop. He walks over to the smoking wreck, the door had popped open and the driver is laying half out of the car, staring sightlessly into the sky. His face was a deep red and blue, the skin like a lunar surface. What was left of an eyeball, hanging down by his temple. Deep gouges by the dark red socket indicated that he had removed it himself in his haste to pull the bee out of his eye.
James reached into his pocket and took out his camera. Just as he sighted the lens on his victims face, he sees the lips move a little. Centering on them, he sees two small black legs waving from between them. James reached for a stick and pushed it in between the driver’s lips, with a sharp twist the jaw fell open and two bees crawled out, James activated the shutter of his camera, then walked back to his car.
The flash of the camera turned into a flash of lightning reflecting from the white ceiling. His eyes now open he swung his legs from the couch and sat up.
James reached for the glass, lifted it to eye level, and examined its contents. He raised the glass to his lips and saw black storm clouds forming on the horizon, the lightning illuminating the purple sky behind them, he closed his eyes and thought about the battle yet to come.
I walked into the bar with George and half sat on a stool, George called the barman over, “Gaz, two doubles of the good stuff for me and my friend,”
“You want ice in that?” Gaz asked, polishing a small tumbler.
“Yeah, hey Gaz have you seen or heard anything out of the ordinary these last couple of days?” The barman looked thoughtful, “Well, come to think of it, there is this one guy, well he is more of a lad really, just don’t feel right somehow.” George moved closer to Gaz.
“What are you talking about?” “the word is that the lad in the executive suite has shed loads of money. Money the old man left him, and we ain’t talking a couple of thousand here either.” Gaz nodded and winked as he touched his nose with the tip of his finger, “The strange thing is…” he trails off, as if thinking,
“The strange thing is, where’s the fun, the ladies, the clothes?” I went over to them, and sat closer, George looked confused,
“Sorry, still don’t get you,” Gaz rolled his eyes,
“OK, picture you as a teenager, just about to leave school, all of a sudden, you get a couple of million quid dumped into your lap. What’s the first thing you do?”
“Jesus, George,” Gaz slapped George centre-forehead with the heel of his palm,
“You have fun, you buy clothes, you buy cars, you get pissed, and you have girls around you.” Gaz poked George with each word, “you…have…fun!”
“So what’s with this guy you are on about?” I pushed into the conversation. Gaz turned to me leaving George rubbing the spot he had been slapped.
“He comes in here in clothes that would get him thrown out of a mission. He has only spoken to one lady here.” he gestures with his thumb, over my shoulder, towards Sally,
“And the night I was having problems with one of the guests, he left the bar soon after you did. Through that very door, and that ain’t the way to the executive suite.” My skin went cold as I remembered the walk through the corridors on that first night. The eyes burning into the back of my neck,
“What else do you know about him?” Gaz looked over my shoulder and laughed. “Why don’t you go and ask him, he has just walked in and is sitting by the lady that I pointed out earlier.”
I looked over and saw him take a seat next to Sally at the bar. George looked over at him. “What now big fella?” I sighed,
“I have no idea,” my guts twisted into a knot as I saw them sitting together, George turned to face me.
“Go over there and join them Bill, see what you can find out.”
I walked along the bar towards them; Sally looked up, smiled then got up and hugged me,
“Hey Bill, come and join us, this is Andy,” I offer my hand,
“Hello Andy,” he looks with some distain at my hand and refuses it,
“You don’t mind if he sits with us do you Andy?”
“Do I have a choice?” he spat, Sally looked surprised and then angry, “No you don’t.”
James got up from his chair, the back of his knees pushed it back, there was a loud rasping noise as the legs scraped the wooden floor.
He walked away, leaving his drink untouched. We watched him go then Sally turned to me, “thanks,” a look of relief on her face.
“I thought you guys were friends. You seemed to be having a good time earlier,”
She looked at me with a smile on her face, “I started to talk to him outside and we came here for a drink. He was OK, you know friendly? Anyway, he said he had got something to do and that he would see me later. I went back to my cabin, read for a while and then went to his cabin to see if he wanted to go for a walk around the ship, but…” She trailed off as if in thought.
“When I got there and he answered the door, I felt a chill, something about his eyes. I can’t put my finger on it but it felt like I was looking into the eyes of a dead man.” Sally shivered
“So…what do you know about him?” I took a drink and placed the glass on the bar, softly; Sally shifted in her chair and looked down at the bar as if trying to remember the conversation between them,
“I told him that I was single, professional, we talked about our interests, music, standard stuff, you know? And then I told him about my family,”
I leant forward, “go on,”
“It was very sad, he was at school and the teacher came in and took him to one side. He was told that his father and sister had been involved in a car crash and that they had both died. He didn’t get to see his father much but Andy and his sister were inseparable. Anyway later on that day he also got the news that his mother committed suicide leaving him on his own,” she shivered again as she remembered.
“Anyway, I remember reaching forward and taking his hand, you know, to comfort him? And…”
She looked up with tears in her eyes,
“It was cold, it felt like the hand of a corpse. Then he started to go on about a massive cover-up. He truly believes others were responsible. I mean, who would do such a thing,” my eyes widened.
“James Hawke, your Andy is James Hawke, and he is on this ship?” I held her wrists tight; she looked straight into my eyes as things started to come together,
“Oh, my god,” she screwed up her eyes in disbelief,
“You, George, the accidents, the bullets, you are all something to do with this,” she got up, pulling her wrists from my grip,
“No, I need time to think, how could you? HOW could you?” she shook her head and walked away quickly, I felt as if my heart had been pulled from my body and crushed in front of me.
That night the dream returned, more vivid than the last. This time I was in the car as it went over the edge. I saw Hawke’s head explode as the column punched through. Lillian was holding my hand and looking up at me with tears in her eyes, “Will it hurt, mister?” she asked just as her little body was catapulted from the wreck. My eyes snapped open, I was in my cabin; sweat pouring from every pore in my body, my head pounding, breathless… I pulled myself from the sodden bed and went into the bathroom; I sat on the lid of the toilet, the chill from the hard plastic cooling me slowly, my head in my hands as rolling thunder reverberated around the cabin.
The lightning from the storm flashing like a strobe, filling the dark room with a blue light, illuminating a small figure standing in the doorway, holding a small teddy bear to her chest and her other hand reaching out towards me. “This has to end,” I said out loud, dropping my head into my hands, then softly “this has to end and soon.” I looked up , the figure had disappeared.
George stirred, the storm hadn’t been too bad, the ship had been tossed about a bit and the lightning had woken him on a couple of occasions, but it had passed without incident. He reached for his watch, 07:30, an hour before his duty. His head fell back on the pillow as his peripheral vision caught something propped up against the clock on the shelf. He turned his head and screwed up his eyes as he tried to focus,
“What the…” he swung his legs from the bed and sat, staring at the item. The small brown bear sat, looking towards him with sightless yellow button eyes. He walked towards it and stood staring.
“Where the hell did that come from?” he whispered, pushing all thoughts to the back of his mind. George went into the bathroom, and opened the door to the shower. He didn’t notice the white cables that lead to the showerhead and the non-slip mat. Still half asleep he stepped into the shower and turned the water on. A small transformer activated and, as the water covered his body, 500 amps coursed through his body. His muscles went into violent spasms and he fell to the base.
The weight of his body pushed the door open, the skin covering his body smoked and blistered as the cruel current cooked his internal organs until finally his heart stopped. His limbs still thrashing, his muscles receiving stimulus, not from his brain, but from the electricity still running through the soft tissue of his body.
James walked into the cabin and into the bathroom. He disconnected the transformer from the power supply, took the cables from inside the shower cubicle and collected the bear from the shelf. With a small wry smile forming on his lips, he pulled out his camera and took a picture through the light greasy smoke that was hanging in the cubicle. His job was almost done but the feeling of vengeance was overwhelming. So this Sally preferred his family’s murderer to him, what’s one more life? He will have to die and James may be able to use this woman against him too, wouldn’t that be sweet?
He looked towards the bathroom then left the cabin as silently as he had entered.
A hammering on my cabin door woke me instantly. I ran to the door and swung it open, Sally almost fell through the door,
“Bill, its George!” I shut the door,
“He was found dead in the shower, he didn’t show up for his duty. The captain sent Dave, the young steward, to his cabin, and he found him in the shower. At first they thought he had slipped and hit his head but the burning on his body could have only come from electrocution,”
I walked to the bottle I had kept on the shelf, “drink?” The word came out monotone, no feeling, no compassion, no reaction to the news,
“My God, haven’t you heard what I said, George is DEAD, what the hell are you?” She got up to go, I turned and pushed her back onto the couch,
“What the hell am I?” I poked myself with my thumb in anger. “I am a human being who has seen death in all of its forms.
I have seen men with limbs blown off, their guts spread all over their bodies, still steaming,” I gestured, angrily, with my hands as I walked back and forth in front of her.
“I have seen more internal organs than most surgeons, not cut and removed, but blown apart. I have seen a child still holding her mothers hand while she lay 50 feet away as a result of terrorist bombs, how do you tell that child to let go of her hand huh? HOW?” I shook my head and breathed out noisily in exasperation then sat down on the table in front of her. I dropped my head to my hands and said quietly, “What am I? A machine? No,” I looked into her eyes and breathed, “I was just someone who wanted to stop things like that from happening again.”
All protocol blown to the wind, I sat and told her the whole story, all the gory details, the murder of my wife, the dreams of Lillian,
“We are trained not to feel pain, the job is the only thing that matters. We all know that if we fall, we have to fend for ourselves. The company denies all knowledge, only when the mission objective has been achieved. We go back and collect fallen comrades, but just because we have been trained, it does not mean we don’t have feelings. What we did saved hundreds of lives. Mothers, fathers, children, the only one who was meant to die was Hawke. Circumstances dictated otherwise, Don’t judge me!” I got up and walked back to the bottle, “please, do anything, go if you want, never talk to me again, but, don’t judge me,”
I gulped the alcohol down in one swallow and refilled the glass to its brim. Sally sat there silently for a moment, got up and walked to me; she put her hand on my shoulder and pulled gently. I turned to face her, the pressure behind my eyes unbearable; she raised her hand to my face. Looking into my eyes, she smiled and my defenses crumbled, we fell together, her mouth close to my ear she whispered,
“You are not alone, not while I am here,” my shoulders racked as the bottled up emotions came bubbling to the surface, for the first time in years I actually felt human.
A knock on the door interrupted the flow of my emotions; I opened the door to the captain, who came into the cabin,
“Shut the door,” I obeyed his order, he walked with the authority that his position demanded,
“In all my years, commanding ships, I have never had a death occur, and I believe…” I turned to face him.
“That you know more about this than I do, you are, or used to be services, I could tell that the night of the fight in the corridor. So you know when to open your mouth and when to keep it shut, but you also know the importance of briefing senior officers.”
He turned to Sally, “I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave.” Sally nodded and stood hesitating,
“She stays!” my tone assertive, uncompromisingly.
The captain could see there would be no compromise in the situation,
“Bill Carter,” I pushed my hand towards him,
“Captain Foster, Brian to my friends.” He accepted the gesture and shook firmly. We sat and, for the second time that day, the story was told.
Brian sat back into the chair and let out a long sigh, “so are you telling me that we have a serial killer on board my ship?”
“No, not a serial killer, this is not indiscriminate, he has targetted his victims and there is only one left… Me… Once I have been taken care of, he has no reason to hurt anyone else. I hope it’s quick and not too embarrassing” I sat back and crossed my legs. Sally looked horrified, “How can you make jokes at a time like this?”
“You are right, Sally, I am sorry,”
“Well I am not convinced that the other passengers will be safe,” Brian said, he stood up and walked to the porthole and looked out. “While you are onboard, what would stop him from taking a hostage to use as an incentive if you prove to be too much trouble,”
“So what is your intention Brian?”
“My intention is not to have any more deaths on my ship. We think we know who it is but we have hardly any proof and what we do have is purely circumstantial. All I can do at the moment is to monitor his movements.”
“How can I help?” Sally looked at the captain, Brian turned to her, “You can help by being natural and yourself, if people change now, he will know that we suspect him,” I turned to face him, “And the same goes for you Bill, act natural but be aware. Even the most innocent of situations could end in disaster,” I nodded in agreeance.
The captain left the cabin, I shut the door and looked at Sally, “And now?” she stood and walked to me, “do we lock ourselves in here and wait,” I shook my head.
“No, we have to behave normally until we know what his next move will be.” Sally stared into space for a moment as thoughts formed within her head.
“I, I could get close to him, you saw the way he was when you came and joined us for a drink. He was jealous, perhaps if I let him get close to me, I could find things out for you,” I held her by her shoulders and looked into her eyes.
“And perhaps he could kill you too, No, you are not going to take that chance for me, promise me you will stay away from him, please promise me,” she smiled weakly,
“Tell me you love me and I’ll promise,” I stood open-mouthed, I wanted to tell her that I loved her but I would be sentencing her to death if I did,
“I…I…” the words stuck in my throat, she started to shake her head slowly, her mouth lost its smile,
“I can’t because I don’t,” I forced the words out, her eyes moistened,
I shook my head and let go of her shoulders. Turning my head away from her so she could not see the pain in my eyes.
“It’s too soon after Judy and the love we shared could never be matched by another, I think about her every moment of every day, I am sorry but I can’t love again. I am still and always will be in love with my Judy,” I walked to the porthole, still not able to look at her.
Sally walked slowly to the cabin door, her heart breaking, “Judy is dead, Bill, but I am alive. When you return to the land of the living, give me…a…call?” Her voice broke as she stepped through the door, her sobs clearly audible as she ran down the corridor.
I headed straight for the bottle. I didn’t need a glass; I put the open end in my mouth and tipped the bottle up, filling my mouth with the dark spirit. I swallowed heavily and gagged, the precious liquid escaping from my open mouth and running down the sides of my face, soaking the front of my shirt. I swallowed again and spat the rest onto the floor. I stared at the bottle and in blind rage, hurled the bottle at the wall of the cabin. The bottle bounced off the wall and hit the floor. Unbroken, it lay on it’s side, it’s contents pulsing out onto the floor.
I fell onto the couch and willed my heart to stop. My thoughts of Judy and our little house torturing me to the brink of madness. I closed my eyes and let the alcohol wash over the images in my head, washing them away as rain washes images from a freshly-painted watercolour.
James sat in his cabin furiously scribbling notes down. This death would be the last, the grand finale. I will give him a choice, his life for hers, or hers for his, it would be exquisite to see one or the other kill the one they love.
A knock on the door jolted him out of his thoughts. He went to the door and opened it to reveal Dave, he motioned him to come into the cabin. “Be quick, has anyone seen you outside this door?” he snapped, Dave looked shocked, this seemed to be a different Andy to the one he had met the other night,
“Sit down and listen, you can either be a steward for the rest of your life or you can be a very rich man by working for me. Do you know who I am?”
“Andy Hawkins, a very successful business man, and that’s all I need to know, what do I have to do and how much is it worth?” Dave replied
James smiled and went to the bar, “let’s have a drink and talk business.” He poured out two scotches, handed one to Dave and sat facing him.
“I need a substantial amount of money for a new venture. There is a business I have shares in and to gain control over the board I need to buy a considerable number of shares. Some shareholders are ripe for the picking but I need ready cash and most of my money is tied up in assets. Now… a distant cousin will be the sole beneficiary in the event of my death.
Everything I own will go to him should I die… and I am going to die in this cabin…” he swallowed hard, “tonight… I know that this ship carries a small morgue and that is where I am going to end up. Your job, my friend, will be to open the drawer when noone is around… and that’s all you have to do. As soon as the ship docks, I will sneak off, assume the new identity, and once the insurance has been paid out, your bank account will be very healthy. Your loan company paid off and…” James sipped his drink,
“It will be a long while before you have to work again,”
“How are you going to feign death?”
“You don’t have to know that, all you have to do is get me out of that drawer before I suffocate and die for real.”
“And after that?”
“Help me to get off the ship as we get near our destination. I will need a map to figure out the best way to go.”
Dave made a mental note, “A map…Ok,”
James smiled and said “A walk in the park, and then no more debts, hell if you do good I will put you on my payroll, how’s that for a retirement plan,”
Dave lifted his glass towards James. The glasses touched with a clink,
“The best I have heard for a long time.”
“Then the next time we talk will be in the morgue, take that bag with you. Put the map in it and bring it to him when you come,” James pointed at a black hold-all,
“Do not talk to anyone about this, noone can know about this arrangement or even this meeting, am I understood?”
Dave nodded and swallowed the remaining alcohol in his glass, “Have a nice death.” He said as he got up and headed for the door, James sat back in his chair and smiled as he heard the door close behind Dave, “and you my friend, and you.”
James returned to his notes and added a couple of details, the next thing to do now was to die, the photos had been printed out, and concealed in a thick book. Once the notation had been completed, James went to the bar and poured a malt scotch into a large glass, the ice cracked as the liquor warmed the surface area of the cubes. He took a small brown pillbox from his jacket pocket and twisted the top off, he tipped three small white pills into his palm and stared at them, he closed his eyes and slapped his palm over his mouth, throwing the pills down his throat. He raised the glass to his mouth and drank urgently. James could hear the soothing sounds of the sea coming through the open windows as he undressed and lay on his bed, he tapped the side of the glass with his finger, put it on the bedside table and closed his eyes as the pills slowed his heart. “Soon,” he thought “my family can rest in peace.”
The cabin was dark, my head thumping so hard I could hear it, my mouth and throat dry to the point of soreness and my stomach tight. I moved slowly so as not to disturb the large hammer in my head, I got to the toilet and took the tablets out of the cupboard.
I ripped the box open and removed a sleeve of four; I opened the sleeve and dropped the tablets into the glass. I turned the tap and let the water run over them, they instantly changed into white foam, which hissed and bubbled furiously. I drank them down even before they had finished dissolving; I belched loudly, and headed for the door. I looked up at the clock, 03:42. I stepped into the corridor and shut the door.
I walked up and out onto the deck, the sea like a millpond reflected the stars in the night sky like a mirror. You could almost imagine flying through space if it wasn’t for the sound of the ship cutting through the water.
I went to the stern and sat on a lounger looking through the railings at the white trail caused by the massive propellers sucking the water from the underside of the ship and pushing it out into the ocean again. I walked to the rail, “how difficult could it be?
Without Judy my spirit was dead, all I had to do was to kill the physical body.” I laughed softly, “they say it a good death once you have accepted the water into your lungs. Who says that? The only one who could say that would be one who died from drowning.”
I lifted a leg and put my foot onto the first spar.
“Beautiful isn’t it,” I looked to my left and saw a lady with a small child looking out at the wash, their bodies bathed with light from the ship’s aft lighting.
“Yes,” said the child, “but where do they go?”
“The bubbles, where do they go?”
“They go back into the sea,”
“I will miss them, they are so pretty,”
“Ah,” said the woman, “but the ship makes more, and when it does, they are more beautiful than before.” The lady pointed to the wash, “you see, just there,” the young girl jumped up and down and giggled,
“Yes, yes, I see, I see,” the lady crouched down by the side of her, and hugged her closely,
“Just because you can’t see the bubbles that have gone, it doesn’t mean they have gone forever. They are still there, you just can’t see them, but the next time you put your foot in the sea, you will feel them,”
“Will they tickle my feet?”
The lady laughed quietly, “Yes dear, they will touch you, and you will feel them, but there will be new bubbles forming all through your life, and it would be silly if we just thought about the one bubble that we saw in the past, wouldn’t it?”
“Is people like bubbles?” the little girl asked.
“Yes, darling, sometimes we love someone so much, that when they have to go somewhere where we can’t go, it blinds us to other people, but like the bubbles, just because you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they don’t touch you, that’s why we have hearts and heads,”
The child touched her chest and then her head as she said, “We use our hearts to love them and our heads to remember them,”
“Yes darling.” They hugged again.
I stood and listened to the conversation between the two of them with tears in my eyes, I looked down at the little girls hand, she was clutching a small brown teddy with yellow button eyes, Lillian? And the lady, I strained my eyes to try and focus but the tears kept blurring my vision. It sounded like, but it couldn’t be, “Judy,” my voice caught in my throat and went to a whisper. They both looked back at me, Lillian spoke first,
“It’s not your fault mister,” she smiled up at me and wiggled the bears paw with her fingers making the toy wave as Judy carried on,
“I know you miss me and I know you are worried about the future darling, but there is someone for you, talk to her, be happy with her. Noone knows the future, but that is no reason to stop living. We will meet again when the time is right.”
I reached out, my hands inches from her form. Unable to speak, I mouthed, “I love you,” she smiled, then turned back to the railing and melted into the night. I returned to my cabin and fell into a fitful sleep.
The lull before the storm
I woke to golden rays of the sun reaching into my cabin. Everything seemed to have a golden hue, a dull ache in my head made me realize that the memories of the previous night were real.
I had intended to take my life, but seeing the, what were they? Spectrs? Ghosts? Spirits?
My mind struggled to fathom out what I had actually seen, but her words, so clear, kept repeating in my mind, a feeling of happiness covered me like a warm blanket on a winter’s evening.
“Sally,” the name bust forth from my lips, my heart had started to beat again, it felt warm, powerful and full. I looked up at the ceiling, and closed my eyes, “thank you Judy, thank you Lillian.”
I stood in front of Sally’s cabin, my hand poised to knock, after a while I summoned the courage to complete the action. The door opened after the second knock, her hair dripping, the towel wrapped tightly around her.
I felt like a teenager on my first date, awkward and embarrassed, “Sally, I…” the words being absorbed into my throat, not quite reaching my mouth. Her eyes questioning, her lips inviting, I cleared my throat, and searched for the words, “I want to live again, I have been hiding away for far too long, would you? Could you?”
She turned from the door, leaving it open in invitation and walked towards the sofa. Her wet feet marking the floor, she sat and covered her legs with the towel. I sat beside her and took her hand in mine “Bill, You know how I feel about you, why did you keep pushing me away,”
“I wanted to protect you, the psycho is on this ship and is after me,” I looked down at the floor, “I wouldn’t have been able to bear it if something had happened to you.” Her thumb gently stroked the back of my hand, she smiled and touched my cheek, “Oh come here and kiss me,” our lips touched and I knew, at that moment, that Judy was smiling.
“Ahem, if you would excuse me,” Brian stood in the doorway, his hand covering his eyes, “I have some news for you. It seems that our Mr. Andrew Hawkins died sometime last night. May I?” he swept his hand before him in a dramatic gesture, “h how did he die?” Sally asked as she got up.
“Heart attack it seems, well that’s what the ships doctor has declared, the time of death has been put around 03:30 this morning. No sign of a struggle though, it’s like his heart just stopped,” I sat, relieved that the situation had eased. Sally walked into the bedroom and emerged in a bikini and sarong; she moved to the small galley and filled the kettle from the tap over the sink.
“I was up at 3:30 and went out onto the deck,” I confessed.
“I know,” Brian smiled, “Mr. Hawkins wasn’t the only one who was under observation.” Both Sally and I looked quizzically as Brian continued, “With what just happened, to George I mean, and your history I. I thought it prudent to keep an eye on you, too, I don’t need a loose cannon on my ship.” I nodded in agreement. “And me?” Sally looked over at Brian,
“yes and you young lady, you were a prime target for him and if he struck, we would have been there for your protection, but now he is somewhat incapacitated, I can put my staff back to their normal duties,”
“Where is he?” Sally asked, “Is he still in the cabin?”
“No, that has been locked and is out of bounds, because of his age and our suspicions, I think the police would like to have a good look over it,”
“So where is he?” Sally asked again,
“We cater more for the elderly and although I have never had a death on this ship, there could be occasions when they die before we get back to shore so we have facilities underneath the medical area.”
“Secure?” I stood and looked over in the direction of the galley at Sally, Brian looked a little puzzled and replied, “Well the door has a lock fitted but we find that once someone goes in there, they very rarely complain about the door being locked, and we have never had anyone try to get out.”
I looked in surprise at Brian, my shocked expression changed to a small smile as the corners of my mouth turned up a little, I started to laugh and Brian joined in, although inappropriate and dark humoured, it seemed a good way to close the last seven days. Sally walked into the room with the drinks, shaking her head and carrying a small smile on her lips, “men!” she said.
Total darkness enveloped him, the smell of PVC was overwhelming, the pain in his chest was like a steel pin being forced into it and the pins and needles ran over his body like a colony of fire ants, “where is the little fool?” James gritted his teeth as the prickling sensation turned into one of pain, he needed to get up and move about.
“THUNK,” the noise shot through the drawer like a small explosion. He felt the drawer moving out and then fingers fumbling at the zip of the body bag.
Dave opened the bag and looked down at the face before him, he went to touch James’ cheek as he turned his head towards him quickly. Dave stumbled back in shock, his backside hitting a steel table knocking a metal bowl off and onto the floor,
“Fool,” James hissed, “let the whole ship know. Why don’t you,”
“Sorry man, Christ I crapped myself,”
“Get me outta here,” James swung his legs over the side of the open drawer as Dave pulled at the zip. He emerged from the bag like a butterfly from a chrysalis, his body warming and the pain subsiding. He put weight on his feet,
“My clothes, give me my clothes, it’s like a bloody freezer in here!”
Dave picked up the black hold-all and passed it to him,
“What time is it?” James searched for his watch in the bag.
“A little after midnight, so no one saw me come down here,”
“You better have a look outside and make sure noone is coming to see what the noise was.” Dave nodded, went to the door and disappeared into the dark corridor, James quickly dressed and reached into a small pocket in the end of his bag. He pulled out a length of small gauge wire with toggles either end. He held the toggles in both hands and pulled them apart quickly, the wire made a small crack as it cut through the air and became taut. He put one toggle into the lip of his jeans pocket and let the other end hang.
Dave came back into the small morgue and gave James the thumbs up,
“Come over here and help me get this thing back in!”
Dave walked over and turned his back to James as he grasped the handle of the drawer. James reached for the toggle in his pocket and pulled gently,
“Hey, I would love to see their faces when they find out there isn’t a body in this drawer,”
James threw the wire over Dave’s head with the speed of a snake striking and pulled it tight, moving back slightly then raising his knee and pushing it into the small of Dave’s back.
His brain’s first reaction was to tell his arms to stop the fall backwards thus keeping his fingers away from the wire. By the time Dave reached for the wire, it was already cutting into the skin and too tight to allow his fingers any purchase. His strength ebbing, his vision fading as his eyes rolled back into their sockets, James hissed into his ear, “then they will find a body my friend… yours!” Dave struggled against the wire, his fingers scraping at the flesh on his neck, his legs kicking wildly, slowly; he weakened and collapsed to the floor.
James delivered the coup de grace by releasing the wire and karate chopping the back of his neck, parting the 1st and 2nd vertebra. Killing him instantly. James grabbed the body bag and laid it on the floor by the side of the new corpse. He rolled Dave into the top of the bag, tugged the edges over and pulled the zip to the top, James grunted as he struggled to lift the body onto the drawer.
“Who would have thought someone so small could weigh so much,” he thought as he lay Dave down in his new home, he looked down on the cadaver and said, “well my friend… at least you don’t have to worry about your loans now, thanks for your help.”
James pushed the drawer closed then reached into his bag for the map. He opened it out, three rooms had been crossed with the word unused in red marker, one with food in blue and one with you are here in black. James folded the map and picked up his bag. He opened the door quietly and made his way down the corridor.
He felt a quiet excitement as he crept around, he knew that the night crew would be operating. The low lighting cast large shadows which concealed his progress as he moved silently into the bowels of the ship. He rounded a corner and was met with a grey steel door between two sets of old steel shelving. James checked the map and found that this room was marked as unused.
He grasped the bar and pulled it toward him, it offered no movement, it had seized in the shut position. He dropped his bag and used both hands to try and pull it, still nothing, with beads of perspiration forming on his forehead, he started to jerk the lever by pulling his whole body back, the pivot emitted a small creak and the bar gave a little. Convinced that his jerking tactic was working he pulled back harder, sweat now running into his eyes. With a loud crack, the bar gave and the bolt slid back, such was the release, the momentum achieved threw him back against the shelves, his wrist connecting with the blunt edge of one, instantly numbing his fingers.
Two old cardboard boxes balancing on the edge of the shelves, fell and hit the floor, their contents spilling out noisily, the crash bounced off the steel walls and ceiling amplifying the sound.
James stood bent over forward his hand wrapped around his injured wrist, his anxiety rose as the soft echo of voices travelled up the corridor.
“What the hell was that?”
“Oi dunnoo, sounded loike sarmethung fell ovarr,”
“What’s the weather like tonight?”
“A damn soight bettar than the other noight. Thought I wars gonar blow chunks all damn noight!”
Laughing! Getting closer, James quickly looked around, the door was slightly ajar, he made a grab for the bag, closed his fingers around it and threw it into the room, with the other hand, his wrist screaming at the slightest movement, he grasped the door and pulled it open.
Breathless from the pain, he stumbled into the room and shut the door. He reached for the locking bar and pulled it down, the bar moving easier once the initial seal had been broken. He rested his head on the door, his ear flat against it,
“It sounded like it come from round here,” the voices louder now followed by heavy footsteps,
“Oi ope it ain’t wok’n Foster, ee goes ape when ee gets disturbed,” James held his breath, his wrist no longer screaming but nagging him severely. He heard a young voice, soft but authoritive, through the thick steel door. “Well I can’t see anything, we’d better check inside this room,”
“Whart room?” “That one! Are you blind?”
The second engineer laughed, “If you can get it op’n then feel free, it ain’t been op’n since oi star’ed work’ng arn this wreck, the barr is seized, we ave had guys tryin’ with ammers an all sorts to get it op’n, soome say it’s spooked, ornted,”
“Get out, what are you on about?”
The engineers voice became low and mysterious, “Used to be a machine sharp, a yong lad got the loife crushed outta him when some machinery ee was warking on fell on top o im, squished him flart you know, now on dark noights and still warters ee can be eard screamen,”
“You will be screaming if you don’t shut up,”
“Sow whart wars thart crarsh then, explain thart!”
The younger engineer laughed, “How about an old box of steel plates hitting the floor from…” he paused, “up there, look the dust has settled around where the box was, that’s your crash, must have been jiggled about the other night and balanced on the edge, didn’t take much to knock it off,”
“Maybe, but it took sarmeth’ng.”
He sighed in exasperation, “So you are telling me, a lad who got crushed, has come back from the dead to nudge a shelf and make a box of steel plates hit the floor in order to wake Foster up? I mean the door has been jammed for years, how did he get out of the room?”
“Ee slid under the door… ee’s flart you see,” both men laughed as they walked away down the corridor.
James breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the footsteps getting fainter. In two days they would be docking so he didn’t have much time, if they found out that his body had been replaced, they would search the ship and his quest would be over. He looked around the room, it had indeed been a machine shop, he looked up by the door and found a switch marked ‘Emergency Lighting’, he reached up and turned the knurled knob, with a click the circuit completed and a bank of old and dusty bulkhead lights illuminated the room of death. With the pain in his arm and hand down to a dull throb he busied himself in surveying the room and the items it contained.
Falling in love again
Bill and Sally walked slowly to the stern of the ship. The warm breeze that had blown across the Sahara caressed their bodies like an angel’s kiss. The cloudless sky revealed her shimmering stars and the full moon shone brightly. The music from the ships band played in the background, and the gulls circled overhead in what seemed to be never-ending circles. As they walked, hand in hand, their thumbs stroked the others hand in affection, the energy of their life’s force flowing through their touch.
Their souls and their hearts, combining as one, neither spoke, no words were needed, their world was one of total peace, understanding, and unconditional love. they reached a solitary lounger and sat down. Sally’s hair moving gently in the breeze framed her pretty face, the moon creating new stars in her eyes as they sparkled and shone.
They sat almost facing each other their heads turned, and they moved forward, their lips just touching, as tender as the touch of a butterfly’s wing, Sally looked down like a first time prom queen out on her first date, her head came back up, her hands went to Bill’s and lay gently on top.
“I have to know, is this really what you want? I know your past and accept that, I have seen all sides of you, you hide your emotions and fear like a child would hide an unwanted toy. You see them as a weakness, whereas I see them as part of your humanity, you are a trained killer but a killer with a heart. You are disciplined and would follow orders without question but for those that would go against what you believe, you have a strength that most men will never possess but yearn for all of their lives. Your job was one of extremes, never knowing what country you would wake up in. living in danger almost every day, bullets flying past your head I would imagine. Then there’s me, a beauty consultant, married to a man who moved on, no children, just a little woman in a little flat. The most exciting and dangerous thing I have ever done was a bungee jump during my college days and then I had to be pushed off the platform, Bill? I have had my heart broken so many times, I’m not sure I should open it again, but when I am with you I feel that life is beautiful, it feels like my first date did at school,” she smiled as if thinking for a moment.
“I would hate for you to be with me and miss the life you had, so I have to be sure, sure that this is really what you want, but before you answer, I want you to know… to know that you hold my heart,” Sally lifted my hand and placed it flat against her chest, “my heart only beats for you I, I love you and nothing will ever change that, but…” Sally looked down again, “if you feel the need for more, more that I can offer then say it now… please?”
I raised my hand to her chin and lifted gently; I looked lingeringly into her eyes and spoke softly,
“Sally, I have done what I have done for the preservation of life and, yes, I have put my life on the line on occasion so that others may have what comes close to a decent life. The day I saw that little girl die at my hand, part of me died to. If the unit had not been disbanded, I would have left. For the first time in my life I questioned my existence, then Judy came along, I felt then as I do now, then… when she died… I blamed my past, I blamed myself. It may have well had been my hand on that knife, I had found what I wanted, got what I wanted but because of my past, it was taken from me. At that moment I swore that I would never put another in harm’s way again, that day when Judy’s murderer left me laying there he said something to me, he said…”
I closed my eyes and spoke the words that were imprinted in my memory as they flashed past my eyes like a news bulletin,
“We will meet again and we will fight again, you have no choice for if you choose to accept this, I will find you and take from you everything that you love… for now you have something to fight for, your hate will drive you… Or it will destroy you,”
I reopened my eyes and continued,
“The day you told me you loved me, his words came back to haunt me. I would not have been able to live with myself if my past had killed another but now, his death is my release. My life reborn and my love released, Sally, after the life I have lived, your life seems like an adventure, an adventure that I want to share… and I want to share it with you my darling,”
I let my hand fall to hers, lifted it gently and placed her palm on my chest,
“My heart beats only for you Sally. I love you heart, mind, body and soul and will do for the rest of my days.”
We leant forward and kissed, our tears mixed and fell to the deck as the Sara Lea cut her way through the mirror like surface of the sea, We turned our heads and looked out over the stern of the ship, we both smiled as we see two translucent figures, a beautiful woman, and a small girl, Judy and Lillian, dressed in flowing gowns of light colours, playing and dancing on the water’s surface.
They looked back at us and waved happily, Lillian holding her teddy bear up and Judy blowing a kiss to us both, the lights intensified, then dissolved into thousands of fireflies, swirling up towards the moon, taking the past with them.
Captain Foster surveyed the horizon and went to the weather radar and stared at the screen. He had felt the storm even before the radar had seen it; the heavy black clouds were forming like angry warriors on a battlefield.
The sea’s surface had started to swell and the Sara Lea had adopted a gentle, but worrying, dipping motion, Brian had anticipated this as the warm winds that had caressed the lovers the previous night had blown out to sea and collided with the cool air hanging above the waters, the interaction of both had produced clouds and a swirling vortex which had pulled surrounding cloud in and whipped the waters up into a frenzy.
He turned to the Navigation officer, “any chance we can skirt this thing, Steve?” Steve tapped the keys on his keyboard and a prediction of the storms path came up on his screen, “it isn’t looking good, Captain, we have three choices, we are close to the coast, we could put into a bay about twenty five nautical miles north east of our current position and hope the bay shelters us from the worst of it, sail at full ahead due west and hope the storm stays its course as per prediction, that would put us off course by 67 nautical miles, or…” he trailed off.
“Or,” Captain Foster walked over to the screen and looked at the weather front rapidly heading towards them. “Or we head straight into the storm and hit it head on.”
Brian took his cap off with one hand as the other brushed his head from his forehead to the nape of his neck. “Captain?” Steve looked up at his superior, Brian looked up through the bridge windows, “Mr. Taylor, we will take this bull by the horns, I feel that the consequences could be disastrous if we try to outrun it or hide from it. Plot a course straight through the middle of it.”
Steve Taylor, a navigation officer with seventeen years experience, had only, once, navigated a storm in his career and had managed to steer the ship through with minimal damage to the super structure, but that had been a smaller and much lighter ship.
Brian sensed his officer’s anxiety, laid his hand on Steves’ shoulder and said, “Plot your course Mr. Taylor and hold your speed at two thirds,” Steve turned to the navigational computer and began to tap the keys quickly.
Brian walked calmly to the intercom and conference-called the ships crew; his message of only four words took the smile from each and every ones face,
“Prepare for storm conditions.”
Sally woke to a knock on her cabin door. Still half asleep she opened the door. Surprised to see no one standing there, she noticed a note hanging from the handle. She rubbed her eyes and read,
My darling Sally,
Captain Foster has found some information concerning George’s death; he has chosen a room out of the way to pass this on. He cannot come to our rooms as this may have far-reaching consequences for the security of the United Kingdom.
Follow the directions on the reverse of this note; I have gone on ahead, don’t tell anyone about this.
I love you, Bill.
Sally leapt into action; she grabbed the typed note and shut the door behind her. She hurriedly dressed, shook her curls into place and left quickly, making sure that she wasn’t seen.
The further she descended into the heart of the ship the more she noticed the wood-paneled décor being replaced by open conduits and grey piping, the smell changed from fresh flowers to engine and diesel oil and the lighting from bright cheery wall lights to dusty yellow bulkheads.
She followed the directions to a grey door between two shelving units, and saw it was ajar. Sally looked up and down the corridor, pulled on the edge of the door and stepped into the gloom.
I woke to the sound of my alarm. I felt different, no longer dreading living but looking forward to the day. I washed and shaved, then donned my tracksuit, “feels as if it is going to be a little rough today,” I thought to myself. I left my cabin and stepped out onto the deck, it moved under my feet like a fairground ride. The dark clouds on the horizon touched the sea and the wind gusted back and forth,
“Twice round the ship then breakfast,”
I set off, my mind set on seeing Sally again.
The strong overpowering smell of oils and metal bought Sally round, the back of her head throbbed as she tried to focus in the gloomy yellow light, her movements restricted by wire that bound her wrists and ankles. She screwed up her eyes and tried to focus on a lone figure working feverously at a work bench under a desk lamp. Her eyes widened in fear as the realization dawned, she pulled gently against her bonds to test their integrity and although crudely formed, they held fast, as she moved more, a small pin that was attached to her bonds was pulled.
James saw the flashing bulb in the corner of his eye, turned on his chair and reclined, resting his head on the back of the chair,
“Good morning, Sally, did you sleep well?”
“Who are you? Why am I here?”
“My name is James, James Hawke, you know me as Andy, I apologize for the deception but I was incommunicado. You have heard my name from your boyfriend, and his dead partner, George was it? Please excuse me for using the past tense but it is apt don’t you think?”
James stood and walked towards her,
“As to the reason why you are here, well firstly… we are both here because we have a common interest,”
He stopped and clapped his hands once, then gestured with his hands as he talked,
“William Carter, a lovely guy by all counts, likes classical music, opera, living in the country, walking, and kind to his mother…”
He stopped and raised his finger to his chin; he glanced towards the corner of the room as if in brief thought,
“And let’s not forget…”
He looked down at her,
James walked over and lifted her by her shoulders and helped her to sit up, he stood back, then, walked back and forth in front of her,
“Our interest in William may not be the same,” he gestured again, “I mean you love him… and I want him dead.
I thought that killing his wife in front of him would have been enough, but then I thought… people… well… move on? Would that be the correct definition?”
He looked questioningly at Sally but continued, not waiting for an answer.
“The thing is… they all have happy lives, so…” He clapped his hands again, “I have decided to kill him.”
He walked towards Sally and squatted down in front of her,
“So now we get to why you are here,”
James spoke to her as you would to a small child,
“At the moment he thinks you are tucked up in your ikkle bed, all snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug,”
He reached forward and pinched Sally’s cheek and shook her head playfully. Sally glared back,
“But later on when he calls woo for bweakfast, woo won’t answer, and he will be sooo sad.”
He pulls a sad face his fingers imitating tears running from his eyes,
“Then later… when he gets a note from you, he will be all happy and come here to meet you, then…”
He pulled a happy face and got up, started to walk towards the bench he was working on but spins round quickly.
“Whammo, he kills himself by trying to save you while I sit and watch. It will be magnificent… because if he fails… you die, but… it will be at his hand.”
He jumped up and down like a child receiving a birthday present.
“Did you learn how to be this mad or did you have to practice, or is it hereditary?” Sally spoke with disgust.
James rounded on her,
“And what would you know, you bitch, how many family members have you lost to professional killers?”
“None but I have lost my mother and father, I know what it’s like to lose your parents,”
James sat back on his haunches and shook his head,
“Oh my GOD…your ignorance astounds even me,”
“My parents? My parents? You think I would do what I have done to avenge my parents,”
Sally looked confused.
James sat with his head down, his hands on his knees,
“My so-called father…always busy with one thing or another…always shouting that he was going to change the world…did he play football with me? No, he was meeting people… Did we go fishing together? No, he was organizing bombings. He was a stranger to me.” His eyes glistened in the gloom, “And my mother?” his hands trembling and his voice threatening.
“She had no time for me, she was just a gold digging whore” he spat, then his voice softened, “Lilly was my only family, she was the only good thing in my life. Then along came your boyfriend and she was gone,” his eyes burned with hatred. He stood quickly and walked back to the bench,
“Enough talking, I have to concentrate, Oh and by the way, any attempt to escape…or scream?” he turned to look at her, his eyes piercing, his mouth forming a small smile.
“I will slit your throat without question or compassion.”
I came up upon my start point to finish the first lap of the ship. The movement of the deck beneath my feet had caused me to stumble twice, both times my knees had hit first causing grazing and bruising and now they felt tight,
“I had better call it a day,” I thought, I held onto the railing and looked out to sea. The swell had risen and foam was forming where they had broken into small waves.
Some brave souls had decided to come out for some air and were staggering along the promenade. One passenger in particular stood at the railing with his head over the side while a steward stood by ready to help him back into the bar.
I matched the movement of the ship by shifting my weight.
“I wonder how Sally is?” I thought, and looked at my watch.
“Surely she should be up by now; I’ll call her on the phone.”
I nodded and smiled to myself. A cleaner walked by pushing a large trolley. She gave me a quizzical look as she went past then went on her way.
I punched Sally’s number into the phone and waited for her soft voice, but was only greeted by harsh tones.
Thinking that the motion of the ship had laid her low with seasickness, I walked to her cabin. I knocked, then knocked again, the cabin sounded empty so I made my way to the dining room for breakfast hoping to see her there.
James inspected his handiwork, Sally was lying down on the sacks, not daring to move in case the light gave her away again. He turned to her, “Not bad for a mornings work. Would you say?”
Sally didn’t answer. Thoughts of how she could contact Bill and Brian were flashing through her mind, and her mobile phone was in her bag in the cabin.
“I asked you a question, woman, ANSWER IT!”
“Yes, yes,” Sally cried, “What are you going to do?”
“Well,” he sighed, James pointed at a large electric motor joined to a bank of four cylinders with steel cable wrapped around them, each of the ropes went to an iron ring which had been welded to the floor, the rings formed a large square.
“There is a switch on the door, as soon as it’s opened, that switch will supply power to the motor, the motor will turn the cylinders and the cables will wind round them,”
He walked to the middle of the square where he picked up one of the cable ends. “This is a very special shackle of my own design.”
The shackle looked like two tubes of metal joined at one side on a hinge assembly, one side was closed, the other open,
“The beauty is that the trapped person can be released by another person putting their arm in it… you see?”
He demonstrated by clicking it shut on his left arm,
“You can see that there is no way of getting it off unless…”
He lifted his right arm and placed it inside the open end of the device, immediately it snapped closed, releasing his left,
“Ta daaa,” he said playfully.
“Once the shackle has been snapped shut onto the rescuer, the cables will continue to be wound around the cylinders, the force on the cables will pull the limbs from his body…” he paused,
“The first thing to go will be the joints, the ball joints will be popped out, the muscles will be pulled from the joints just before the skin splits…you see… the gearing on the motor has been slowed down so the cylinders will turn real slow.
Once the slack has been taken up, he will have plenty of time to think about the pain I have suffered for the last five years.”
He laid the shackle on the floor with the other three then walked over to Sally, sat beside her and smiled down on her, his finger stroking gently over her cheek, wiping a tear from her eye,
“Does he love you?” He asked.
“Yes, he does,” Yes he does.
“I mean really love you, not just a quick roll in the hay but the ‘spend-the-rest-of-his-life-with-you’ kind of love”
“Yes, I believe he does,”
“Well, we will find out soon enough, for to save you, he will have to take your place, hey I’m hungry, are you hungry?”
Sally shook her head.
“OK please yourself,” he reached for a strip of material that was laying by the side of her, flipped it over her head and across her mouth,
“I would not open my mouth if I were you, this stuff tastes terrible and God knows what you would catch,”
He tied it tightly at the back of her head, and walked to the door, he took some dirty brown overalls and climbed into them, he twisted his hair into a ponytail on the top of his head and placed an old baseball cap with the liner’s name stamped into it over his twisted hair, the peak covering his eyes, he turned to look at Sally,
Sally nodded her head sadly; he reached for the handle and opened the door slowly. He checked the corridor and turned the light switch. He slipped through the doorway and closed the door as the room went dark.
With his head down and shoulders hunched, he walked up the corridor, he smiled as he passed the mortuary and climbed the stairs, the door to the surgery was ajar. His pace slowed, James cocked his ear to one side and strained to hear any noises emanating from inside. Satisfied that the surgery was empty, his pace quickened, his heart beating quickly he ran up the stairs to the door that led to the deck and pushed it open.
Bill finished his breakfast and saw Brian walking down the deck reassuring passengers who were concerned about the weather, He tapped on the window, Brian looked up and walked over to the door. Bill met him halfway,
“Captain Foster, have you seen Miss Fletcher this morning?”
Brian shook his head,
“No sir, I have one or two problems myself today,”
Bill nodded towards the sea, “The weather, huh?”
Brian leant closer and whispered, “No we are missing a steward, Dave Bennet, the staff has been looking all over the ship but noone has seen him, I am worried that he may have fallen and hit his head in this swell.”
“What does he look like; maybe I could help look for him,”
“Well he is 23, short brown hair, about 5’ 7,”
“OK where do you want me to start?”
“We started from the bow; can you go astern and look down there for me? We can’t contact the engine room as the com link is out,”
“How can I contact you?”
Brian handed me a small walkie-talkie.
“I am on channel 5, the ships crew is on channel 6, and talkthrough has been approved,”
“Ok Brian, I will call you first if I find anything” I turned and started to walk to the rear of the ship. A guttural noise made me look to my left; a male passenger had his head over the side. The ship’s hostess was standing by him. After he had finished regurgitating his breakfast she took him back into the bar area.
I walked aft towards a small door, before I could get close, it swung open and an engineer in a brown overall and baseball cap stepped out.
“Excuse me…hey! Sir?” I raised my hand in an attempt to get his attention but to no avail. The engineer carried on walking round to the other side of the ship; I ran to the door and managed to catch it before it shut.
I followed the stairs down to the surgery. I pushed the surgery door open and walked in; the movement of the ship was causing the bottles and tubs to move in the glass-fronted cabinets.
“Hello? Doctor? Dave? Anyone here?” the silence confirmed that the doctor was busy in the ship tending the passengers affected by the ship’s movements; I walked out and shut the door behind me.
Going down the second set of stairs, I noticed the mortuary on my left. Three steps past the door I stopped and turned, I had only seen Hawke twice. Once in a photograph and once when he killed my wife.
The desire to see his dead body burned in my veins. I walked to the door, looked around and went in. The chill hit me as I entered; I looked around and saw the wall thermometer, 12 oC.
I shivered and noticed a steel desk in the corner of the room. There was some paperwork, concerning George, scattered on the top, I walked to the drawers and passed a steel trolley. There was a loud clattering noise as my foot pushed a metal bowl aside. I knelt down to pick the bowl up, “must have fallen from the trolley,” I said quietly.
I reached out then noticed a damp feeling on my knee and I looked down. I had knelt in a brown-red liquid. “What the…” I picked the bowl up and stood, looking down at my knee while I returned the bowl to the trolley. I touched the stained material and raised my fingers to my nose; it had the unmistakable coppery smell of blood.
“But Hawke died of a heart attack, and George was burnt, so where the hell has this come from?” My mouth forming the words but no sound coming out. I looked towards the drawer and focused on some small brown spots, the plate had the word HAWKE hastily scribbled on it, I reached for the drawer and pulled it open. The perfectly balanced drawer slid open, I looked down on the cadaver as I pulled the zip to his chest, my trembling fingers grasped the teeth of the zip and parted the opened body bag.
A young dark haired man stared up at me, his eyes bulging unnaturally and his purple tongue pushed forward out of his mouth. A thin red line circled his throat and a small pool of blood had formed under his neck, on the breast pocket of his jacket was a white and gold name badge.
I switched the radio to channel 5, raised it to my mouth and spoke slowly,
Bill to Brian, Dave located, mortuary, get over here!”
It felt like minutes rather than seconds before Brian answered,
“On my way, now!”
James went through the door clutching a large polythene bag and walked down the stairs. He froze when he noticed the surgery door had been closed. He placed his feet carefully to minimize any noise and continued down the stairs. As he got to the bottom he could hear a man’s voice, then the crackly response of the radio. His heart sank and anger built up inside him. They had found Dave and now they would be looking for him, his head spun round as the door at the top of the stairs crashed open and the tapping sound of boots running on steel sailed down from the stairs.
James ran around the corner and reached the door to the machine room he jerked it open and shut it quickly. He rammed a small length of iron into the locking mechanism just as he heard Captain Foster shout, “FIND HIM!” He ran to where Sally lay, he fell down beside her and covered their bodies with sacking. He lay panting and hissed, “one word, just one… and I will kill you where you lay.”
The piece of iron rattled, shook, then fell as the lock slid back, the door swung open, James reached for a piece of jagged metal and pulled it beneath the sacking, moved it up to Sally’s throat then moved himself against her. The crewman stumbled forward, his eyes darting from side to side, he had been told the horror stories about the haunting and although they were humorously told, it didn’t stop his skin from prickling.
He moved over to the other side of the room, moving boxes, looking behind benches. He came closer to the pile of sacking, James tensed, Sally stiffened and breathed in, she was ready to scream if James tried to kill her. The crewman now stood by the sacking and reached down, his fingers closed around the top cover and tightened.
“HEY, not in there, that place has been empty for years!” another crewmember stood by the door,
“Come on, the old man wants us to comb the ship again, he ain’t gonna stop. Till whoever it is, has been found,” the crewman pulled his hand away and walked over to the door, he hesitated and looked over his shoulder in the doorway, then stepped out and shut the door. The lock slid forward and the footsteps faded.
The sound of men searching and shouting was muffled by the heavy steel door, gradually, the noise died down, James looked out from under the sacking then pushed it off, Sally lay very still.
“Hey,” James whispered, Sally didn’t move, his eyes widened.
“HEY!” James hissed louder and poked her sharply in the shoulder. She rolled back violently and glared up at him, the gag had slipped into her mouth, he pushed her away from him and reached for the knot, with one pull it was off, Sally choked then spat the oily taste from her mouth,
“You had better have something to drink, something to take the taste away.” He reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of orange juice. He twisted the top off and handed it to her, Sally snatched it away with her bound hands, her eyes never leaving him, she took a mouthful and spat it out on the floor washing the taste of oil from her gums, the rest she drank greedily.
Brian was looking into the drawer at Dave when a young seaman appeared in the doorway, “Captain?”
Brian sighed and then lifted his head and looked towards the door, “My apologies Captain, but Jonesy claims to have heard a noise last night,”
Brian turned back to the body, ruffled the dead lad’s hair then zipped the bag up. He grasped the drawer handle and pushed the cadaver home, his head bowed in silent prayer, then without turning he said, “Bring him in here.”
Jonesy appeared at the doorway,
Brian walked away from the drawer to the desk and leant against it,
“What have you got for me Mr. Jones,” he sighed sadly.
“ Well it ain’t murch Sir, me an Smithy were work’ng down in the engine room, when we erd a massive crarsh frarm arp ere. We came arp an ad a look around, all we found wars a barx which ad farllen arn the floor from off a shelve.”
“Did you look around; did you see anything out of the ordinary?” I asked quickly.
Brian shot me a glance, I stepped back, Jonesy looked at me then looked at Brian, Brian nodded as if to give permission but just this once. Jonesy turned his head towards me,
“No sir, at least oi don’t think sow, jarst the barx arn the floor,” “what about the old machine shop? Did you check in there?” Brian’s fingers were rubbing his chin as he spoke,
“No sir, the larks been jammed fur years, no ones loiked it in there since the lard diode so no one goes in thare,”
“Sir?” the young seaman spoke again. “My apologies but I overheard you talking about the old machine shop, I checked that area 20 minutes ago, it seems to be clear in there.”
Brian looked at Jonesy quizzically,
“I thought you said that the lock was jammed,”
“Arlways as been afore,” the old engineer looked hurt,
“It was at first,” the crewman added, “but then it gave, I couldn’t see a lot but from what I could see, nothing has been touched for a while…” He paused as if thinking, had there been something he had missed?
The radio crackled with Steve’s voice. “Bridge to Captain Foster, the storm’s coming in, assistance required,” Brian raised the radio to his mouth, “on my way.”
He turned to the crewmen, “ Mr. Jones, I need you and Smithy at the engines. Bill. I would suggest you return to your cabin and the rest of you? Go to your posts, we have a storm to ride!”
I went up the stairs and out of the door onto the deck. The pitch and roll of the ship making it difficult to walk in a straight line, The crew had ushered all passengers in to the superstructure, the sea had become two beasts which fought in earnest, the waves clashed like knights in battle, the spray mixing with the rain, lashed the deck, the wind driving the droplets in every direction.
I put my hand to my eyes to aid my sight and head toward the bar area. As I staggered across the open deck, a wall of water descended, hitting me squarely in the back. The force exerted, pushed me over and pulled me towards the side of the ship. The beast was hungry and wanted to feed, instantly chilled and in pain from the fall, I scrabbled for purchase.
“BILL, HOLD ON,” Brian, his voice lost in the howling wind, ran towards me and grabbed my arm. He pulled me to the bar door and made a grab for the handle, the door swung open and Gaz ran over, he took my other arm and they pulled me inside. Salt water and blood stung my eyes. Gaz took a pitcher of water, splashed it in my face then handed me a napkin to clear my eyes, Brian took another one and pushed it against the side of my head to stem the bleeding. “It’s just a nick,” he said, smiling.
“You’ll live, how do you feel?” Gaz looked concerned, my head throbbed and I shivered from the cold,
“I would feel a lot better with rum inside me, any chance?”
Gaz looked at Brian and acknowledged his nod.
“Coming right up,” Gaz walked smartly to the bar and I heard the familiar sound of glass on optic.
Brian stood and addressed the passengers in the bar who had gathered around him. “I can understand your concern about the weather but please try not to worry, this ship is manned by a very experienced crew but please try to stay in your cabins until the storm has passed. If there is anything you want, please contact your designated steward and we will try to get it to you as soon as possible, please do not use the lifts and use the handrails provided.”
The passengers started to disperse one by one until there was only a handful left in the bar.
The rum went down well, warming my throat and chest, and numbing the pain in my head, I sat back against the seat and closed my eyes. A thought struck me like a speeding bullet, my eyes flicked open wide and I sat forward quickly, “SALLY!”
There was a crash as some steel pipes that were stacked up in the corner fell, ricocheted off some shelving and fell across an old mannequin.
James looked up from his meal and across at Sally. She sat with her back to the wall and her legs drawn up to her chest. The motion of the ship had made them both feel queasy,
“I think it’s about time that you and your boyfriend were reunited.” The tone was flat and menacing, “Do you think he will do it? For you I mean, do you think he will take your place?”
Sally raised her head slowly,
“What makes you think I will let him? What makes you think that he won’t kill you first before he rescues me,”
She spoke slower, equally as menacing and through her clenched teeth, the hatred for her captor could not only be heard, it could be felt, “And my death will be worth it just to see him rip you apart.”
Her eyes became dark and narrowed, like lasers they bore into James’ very being and cut onto his soul, James felt a chill run up his spine, he hadn’t thought of that. What if he didn’t try to save her? After all she was just another person and Carter was a trained killer. James needed an edge, he needed to know.
James cleared the uneaten food up by gathering the corners of the tablecloth and lifting them together; he tied then in a knot and swung the makeshift bag into the corner.
He walked towards Sally; his eyes shone with malice as he bent down and grabbed her blouse. He yanked her to her feet,
“Come over here,” he snarled. She struggled as he dragged her to the centre of the room,
“No…NO…get your hands OFF me you…ahh,” sally was cut short as James pushed her down; the impact knocked the breath out of her.
James rolled her over so she was face down then placed her wrists in the shackles. He stood and walked round to her feet,
“Be a good girl now, I know how talented ladies are with their feet. If I see your foot so much as twitch, I will break both of your legs here and now,”
He took hold of Sally’s ankles; the metal of the shackles felt cold and very rough against her skin.
“I have been thinking and I think a change of plan is in order, I need to work out the time it will take the cables to tighten.” He thought for a moment and reached for his pad and pen,
“So if the cables are…and the drums turn at…hmmmmmmm, that means,” the pencil wiggled faster as he mumbled to himself.
He went over to the drums, unlocked them, and proceeded to turn them until the length of the cables matched his calculations. He looked across at Sally.
“Well honey, I am sorry but I have to go out to meet a friend for a drink,” he staggered as the ship lurched to one side,
“I do hope he’s in,” the tone mocking and sarcastic,
“Perhaps you could run around with a duster, you know, make the place look a bit nicer,” he chuckled,
“Oh and by the way, do not shout or scream.” He turned a key in a large switch, the motor whirred into life and the drums started to turn. He opened his mouth, held the key above it and dropped it in, he swallowed hard, struggling not to choke, then walked back over and crouched down by Sally’s head.
“There is no way to turn this motor off unless you have this key, you have 35 minutes, give or take a couple of seconds, it would take a while to get the key out of me as I will not just sit there and let someone cut me open. Hell…I might even jump overboard, and then where would you be, you would go to pieces,” James laughed softly, “Unless your action man comes to the rescue and takes your place, remember they have already searched down here and no one knows where you are, so be a good girl and keep this…” he touched her lips with his finger tip, “Buttoned.”
He stood and staggered to the door, the movements of the ship making him lose his balance,
“Back real soon honey,” he blew Sally a kiss as he shut the door and pressed hard down on the lock.
I sat in the bar and looked at my watch, 1:30pm and there was no sign of Sally. I reached for my cell phone and typed her number in, my thumb hovered over the call button, I shook my head and sighed heavily as my hand flopped down onto the padded seat.
I laid my head back and closed my eyes, the pain was sitting in the background like a teasing child who was just out of reach.
“Don’t turn around Mr. Carter or your pretty lady will die and you know I mean what I say.”
My muscles tensed immediately, I recognized that voice, it was the same voice that I had heard in my bedroom the day Judy was “murdered!” the word slipped from my lips as they drew back in a snarl.
“Murdered, murderer, criminal…assassinated, assassin, hero, ironic…isn’t it, one name is socially acceptable and the other isn’t but they both do the exact same thing, they take life for a reason,”
The voice was calm, quiet, almost surreal, but the knot that was forming in my guts was very real, every muscular fibre of my being tensing harder and harder, the mobile phone in my hand cracked and folded as my fingers met my palm, my nails digging into my flesh to try to control my emotions,
“And your reason is different. HOW?” I hissed the words through clenched teeth,
“We both lost someone we loved, you lost your wife and I lost my sister,”
A small brown teddy with yellow button eyes and a little yellow scarf landed on my lap.
“Look at that and tell me you have never seen it before,” I looked down and closed my eyes,
“I have made my peace,” I sighed.
“Well that’s where we differ, you see, because my five-year-old sister didn’t deserve to die, she had no experience of life. My mother, my father. Made choices that killed them. Your friends. Made choices that killed them. That I can live with,” the voice got more tense and a little louder,
“But my Lillian, so innocent, so fragile, she had so much to look forward to.”
“It was an accident; we didn’t know that the targ…,” Bill corrected himself, “your father was picking her up,”
The voice harder but quieter now,
“And noone thought to check? Noone thought to confirm that he was in the car alone? Or was it that you guys knew that she was there…” he paused. “Tell me, would you have still carried on if you had found out that she was there before you made the car go off the road?”
The question pierced me like a stiletto, and there was only one answer, because of the timing and the situation, the answer was yes,
“Yes,” I whispered, “yes damn you, we had no choice,”
A moment’s silence, then,
“Do you love your new lady?”
“Yes I do,”
“Would you give your life to save her? I mean… you would take a life to save one, so would you give yours to save hers?”
“Yes…Yes I would, but…” my mind racing, my eyes darted around the room looking around for weapons.
“How would it be if I killed you now?” I said, “Right now, right here!” I started to turn my head,
“If you look round, raise the alarm, make a scene of any kind, she dies instantly,” James bluffed, “Otherwise you have twenty minutes to save her,”
The realization dawned,
“What have you done with her?” the anger in my voice was evident.
“Shh, my friend, she is safe for the moment, but…” he sucked air between his teeth, “not for much longer. You see Mr. Carter, I am giving you the choice, your life or hers, once one of you is dead, I will stop the killing, I will disappear,”
“Sally is not part of this, let her go and take me. It’s me you want, I am the one who killed your sister,”
“Yes… you are, and as I said you have a choice, take her place and die…or…let her die and live your days out with the guilt of causing another innocent to die,” he said calmly,
“Where is she?” I spat,
“Well my friend, you have about twenty minutes to prove yourself, she is waiting for you in the machine shop, down by the mortuary, shall we go?”
I rose to my feet and walked quickly towards the door to the deck,
“Take it easy my friend; we don’t want to arouse suspicion. Do we?”
I slowed my pace and without looking back, walked through the door towards the stern. The storm had calmed a little allowing us to walk normally to the small door I had used earlier. Within minutes we were standing by the machine shop door. I lifted the handle and swung the door open. The light fell on Sally; the cables had started to tighten.
“Ten minutes to swap positions, I’ll give you two lovebirds a chance to say goodbye, but don’t take too long,” James laughed, as he pushed his hand into the middle of my back.
As I fell forward, the door slammed shut, footsteps faded down the corridor.
I raised my head and saw Sally, laying face down struggling against her bonds,
“Bill…Bill…is that you?” she breathed,
“Yes…yes. It’s me, it’s me. What’s he done to you?”
“He wants you in this Bill. If you put your limbs in the shackles, I will be released.”
I took off my jacket and pushed myself under her body,
“Wha…What are you doing?” she cried, her eyes wide open, “NO, I won’t let you… no!” I looked into her eyes and kissed her gently.
“It’s me he wants honey, he says the killing stops if I die but it will carry on if you die,” I lied. “It has to be this way, I told you I would protect you with my life, and I will,” I positioned my wrists and ankles in the shackles and kissed her gently.
The tears running down her face wet my cheeks as she pushed the shackles down, four loud clicks reverberated in the room as the shackles closed around my limbs. Sally moved from the top of me to my side and lay with her arm over my chest.
A shaft of light fell upon us as the door was opened.
James was framed in the door with a broad smile on his face,
“At last a man who means what he says, but then… I knew you would.”
The motors whirred in the background, I could feel my heels being dragged, slowly apart as the cables pulled against them, he looked down at me from my feet,
“Best tell the little lady to move away, the blood will cover a good area when your arms and legs are pulled away from your torso,” I looked at Sally and smiled, she bent down, kissed my lips lightly then moved back to the shelves.
“Five years…Five long years I have waited for this. As soon as I knew who you were. I have watched you, studied you, I know you better than your mother did. Even killing your wife in front of you pales into insignificance when compared to this,”
“But why the theatricals, the deaths, why not a clean shot to the head?” I grunted as I fought the pressure increasing on my limbs.
“I mean, bailers, bees, the rape, this, why?”
“Why my friend? WHY?” his face changed, the light falling on it grew dimmer but his eyes seemed to shine more, his smile turning into a grimace.
“WHY? Because I want you to suffer, I wanted you all to suffer,” he ground his teeth and spat as he talked. “I want to hear you BEG me to kill you, I want to hear you scream as your joints are pulled from their sockets, I want to see your flesh tear.” He lowered his voice and growled from his throat.
“I want to see you SUFFER.”
I tensed my muscles and tried to pull against the drums hoping that it may slow down the inevitable.
The cables started to creak as the pressure increased, I feel the pain at all four points of my body, I look him in the eyes.
“So scream then, come on, you know you want to,”
I grit my teeth and speak through them, “Never. I am not going to scream for you, I wouldn’t give you the pleasure.”
My anger building, the adrenaline pumping around my body nullifying the pain.
I feel my spine being stretched as the cables pull my body off the floor. James smiled, “you will my friend, you will. Say goodbye James.”
A movement catches my eye; Sally is standing behind James with a large metal bar raised high.
“Goodbye James,” she spat, “Rot in hell you bastard.”
Then, with the strength of a warrior princess, she bought the bar down on the back of his head, James fell to his knees, a look of surprise on his face, his hands shot to the back of his head, she pulled the bar over her shoulder like a baseball bat and swung, she hit him square across the shoulders, the force of the blow sending him forward onto my stomach.
Sally took his wrists and pulled him up towards my head, she laid his arms along mine and pushed his wrists into the shackles, they immediately released me as they secured him. My head hit the floor as the pressure was released; Sally ran round to my legs and did the same with his ankles.
She grabbed mine and pulled me from under him, I reached up to her. She took my hands and pulled me close to her, we embraced, then she pushed me back, her eyes blazing.
“If you EVER do anything like that again, I will kill you myself.” Sally pulled me back to her and we hugged tightly.
“You think you have won?” James sneered, his body suspended above the floor, the shackles pulling at his legs and arms. “Do you think that this is over?” we turned to face his floating form.
“Switch it off, Sally.” I looked towards the motor, “we can’t” she said, “He used a key to start it and then swallowed the damn thing.”
“There must be a switch somewhere, an isolator switch, look for it. Quickly!”
The drums continued turning slowly, the cables tightened.
“I will haunt you for the rest of your miserable lives, every time something goes wrong, I will be there. I will be the footsteps behind you in the dark, the figure in the shadows, you can’t get rid of James Hawke that easily.”
He chuckled, and then started to laugh.
We heard his clothes start to tear at the seams as his body became ridged; his laughter became more intense and louder. The whine from the motor changed in pitch as James Hawke lifted his head and started to scream.
His screams, low at first became higher in pitch as the pressure intensified, there was a loud ‘plop’ as the first hip joint popped out of his pelvis, his back arched as the vertebra in his spine was torn from the cartridge.
He screamed in agony, his right shoulder was to go next, his head thrashed up and down as he vomited.
Sally held me close as we heard his left shoulder dislocate, James shouting, screaming and crying all at the same time, his words incomprehensible.
Then a new sound, a wet tearing sound you would get if you pulled the leg from a hot roast chicken, the skin on his upper thigh, visible through the now split overalls, turned almost translucent before tearing, exposing the muscle, then another sound, like wet liver, hitting a tiled surface.
His leg had been torn from his body and was creeping towards us, a scene reminiscent of a horror movie, but still connected to the cable.
The door flew open, “Dear Jesus!” Brian gagged and turned back towards the door, “Bill, Sally, what the hell is going on here? Where the hell is Hawke?” he pushed his head through the open doorway and barked “SMITHY! CUT THE POWER TO THE MACHINE SHOP. NOW!”
My legs went from under me, my chest and neck hot and my scalp wet with sweat, I raised my finger and pointed at the remains, just as Hawke’s left arm was pulled away from his torso, James screamed again as his body hit the floor with a sickening ‘THUD’
Brian looked away again, “SMITHY, FOR GODS SAKE MAN!” the motor became silent and the drums stopped, the only sound was that of guttural groans and whimpering from James.
I stood on unstable legs, and moved over to him, his left arm and leg had been torn from him but the cables on his right had released the pressure on his limbs once the power had been cut.
I knelt by him and lifted his head slightly. I shuffled forward and laid his head on my knee.
His long blonde hair had fallen over his face, I brushed his hair back into place gently and stroked his head, I whispered “James. I am sorry for the way things turned out and what I made you into.”
James opened his eyes, all malice and hate seemed to have drained from them, he moved his mouth and whispered, “then finish what… you started, I know…I don’t deserve it, I know that I should stand trial and be… a cripple for the rest of my life.” His eyes left me and looked forward, “there,” he whispered again, his trembling finger pointed to a large club hammer. As I looked toward the hammer, his hand grabbed something and pushed it into my jacket pocket.
“Please, I want to be with Lillian again, you were the one who took her from me, you can be the one to reunite us,” he closed his eyes as I laid his head in front on my knees. “Please?”
I reached for the hammer.
“BILL! NO!” Sally screamed.
The hammer flashed past my face in slow motion and crushed his skull; his body jerked once then lay still.
Sally pulled me to my feet and led me toward the door; Brian stood on the outside as we climbed through the doorway and closed the door on the horror behind us.
Brian put his hands on my shoulders, “it’s over Bill, now you and Sally go and get washed up, then get drunk with my compliments, I will square things with Gaz.” I nodded, then turned and faced Sally, she kissed me gently on the lips and looked at me, it was a look of love that I had not seen since my Judy had been taken away from me, we climbed the stairs and crossed the deck, the storm had passed and the sun was forcing through the last of the storm clouds, I put my hand to my pocket and pulled out the little bear, the yellow button eyes stared up at me and I remembered my promise to Lillian in my dream.
After all that had happened. It was all I could do.
We docked at our destination 3 days later, an ‘old friend’ who had suddenly appeared on the ship had debriefed Sally and me. Confident that the tabloids would be given a cover story to explain away the deaths of George and Dave, my ‘friend’ disappeared into the night as he had a tendency to do.
It was late once all of the passengers had disembarked; Sally and I had stayed in my cabin until the passengers had gone.
Brian appeared at the door, “Have I got to have you two escorted off my ship?” he said laughing. Two stewards came into the cabin and took our luggage as we walked up onto the deck and towards the disembarkation ramp, Brian turned to face us by the gate and held his hand out to me, I took it readily and shook it firmly, Sally held out her arms and they hugged.
As I put a foot on the ramp, I heard a young girls’ giggle in the breeze, I looked back over my shoulder to see two figures, a small girl and a young man. They were standing by the opposite side of the ship and both were waving, I lifted my hand and waved back, a warm feeling of happiness filled my soul.
Brian and Sally looked in the direction I was waving then looked back at me quizzically; I smiled and offered my arm to Sally, we walked down the ramp to the waiting taxi, she turned to me as our bags were being loaded into the trunk, her head to one side, “who were you waving to, darling?”
I smiled and replied, “A couple of new friends’ honey.”
Sally smiled back and pulled me to her; I closed my eyes and held her tight.
At last, the past had died and now I could live again.
ÓPhil Payne 2008