7 Days in May by Peter Barns - HTML preview
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Private Matthew Adams staggered from the club, looking at his watch with bleary eyes. It swam in and out of focus and he couldn’t make out what time it was. Shaking his wrist, he held the watch to his ear and gave a grunt, studying it again under the dim street lighting. Feeling suddenly sick, he steadied himself against the building and bent over, spewing the contents of his stomach onto the road.
Feeling a little better, Adams wiped the sweat from his forehead with his beret and tried to remember the way back to camp. He’d only been on the island for a day and was already bored by the operation. Shooting cats wasn’t half the fun he thought it would be when his platoon had been posted here.
Operation ‘KatKill’ was dead in the bleeding water, he thought.
Chuckling at his joke, Adams staggered across the empty car-park into the quiet back streets of Ryde. Spotting a dark alley he headed towards it, tripping on the kerbside as he crossed the road.
“Bleeding beer always goes straight through me,” he muttered kicking a tin can out of his way.
The tin can rattled along the pavement, bouncing off a large wheelie bin before coming to rest alongside two dark figures watching him from the shadows.
Entering the ally, Adams undid his trousers and spread his hands on the wall, relieving himself with a satisfied groan of pleasure. As Adams’ urine splattered over his boots unnoticed, the two shadows turned into the ally behind him.
Finished, Adams did up his trousers and gave a long, loud burp. Then turning around, his bloodshot eyes widened when he saw the two figures standing behind him. Alarmed, he looked down the ally for somewhere to run, but it ended in a high brick wall.
The first kick landed between his legs and Adams went down to his knees. The second kick landed on the side of his head and he dropped to the floor, rolling over onto his back.
The bigger of the two dark shadows stomped on the soldiers head, then kicked him in the ribs. When Adams didn’t move, the shadow squatted down, rifling the soldiers pockets, pulling out a scuffed wallet. He smiled, holding it up to his companion.
But before the wallet could pass from one hand to the other, the ally was filled with a cacophony of loud hisses that seemed to come from everywhere at once. For a moment the mugger thought a nearby car must have blown a tyre, but then, through the gloom, he saw a line of yellow eyes watching him. Others moved along the ally towards him, hugging the walls.
The mugger’s companion moved deeper into the ally, feeling behind her with an outstretched hand, her face drawn into a terrified mask. As the two teenagers were forced deeper into the ally, the entrance filled with more and more cats of all shapes and sizes.
The clowder had come together for one purpose only - to relieve the rage that filled their minds like hot coals.
Gonzalez dropped the throw-away razor in the waste-bin and washed his face. He felt a little better after the shower and was looking forward to eating, even if it was the crap that the English served up as breakfast.
It had been a long night and he’d got little sleep. The hotel was small and didn’t have an internet connection so he couldn’t pick up his messages, and anyway, the internet was down. Just one more petty irritation with which to start his day. He’d have to report in on his secure radio later. Right now he needed some food.
The waiter took his order for coffee and a full breakfast. They weren’t serving waffles so he had to put up with toast. As he ate Gonzalez went over yesterday’s events in his mind, making sure he’d miss nothing that could bite him in the ass later.
He had spotted Doctor McKenzie talking to a policeman, which hadn’t registered for a few minutes. Those moments of inaction had cost him dear because when he realised who it was, she had already disappeared. And wouldn’t you know it, PC plod didn’t have the faintest idea who she was or what car she was driving, let alone the numberplate. So much for the great British bobby!
After tearing a new asshole in the constable, Gonzalez had tried contacting Sir Craig Holland but had been told by his snotty PA that he was unavailable at present, and no, he didn’t know when he would be. Using a secure line Gonzalez had contacted his employer in America and updated him on events. As expected his next assignment was to tie up any loose ends and get out. When he enquired whether Holland was considered a loose end, he was told that the man had already been taken care of.
Ordering more coffee Gonzalez turned his mind to Doctor McKenzie. He wasted no energy on worrying how she’d managed to escape, that was fruitless. He needed to find her again and quick. Why had she turned up at Area 7 and not gone straight to the police? At least if she’d done that, the good doctor would be in his hands right now.
Gonzalez toyed with his half-empty cup, thinking. McKenzie must suspect something bigger was going on. The quicker she was silenced, the safer they’d all be. The laptop hard drive was already on its way back to the States, as were the papers he’d recovered from Area 7 and Booker’s study. With the doctor out-of-the-way, his employer would have sole ownership of the virus and Gonzalez would get his nice fat bonus.
Finished with his breakfast he left a tip on the table and went back to his room. The TV was flickering in the corner and he turned the volume up, not really listening as he packed his things - not until the name Sir Craig Holland impinged on his consciousness that is. Gonzalez turned the volume higher.
.” . . late yesterday afternoon in Wooten Woods behind his large estate. Sir Craig Holland’s body was found by a man walking his dog, and is believed to have cut his wrists with a penknife and taken a large quantity of paracetamol. The Prime Minister . . .”
Gonzalez killed the sound and sat on the end of the bed, a smile spreading across his hard features.
One less loose end to worry about.
Dawn opened her eyes with a start. The sky was streaked with red. It was morning, she’d slept through the night!
Too afraid of what she might find if she checked on her dad, Dawn stayed in the car and turned on the radio, pushing the buttons, trying to find some music to listen to. She hesitated as the words came from the speaker before disappearing again.
.” . . octor Sheena McKen . . .”
Sitting forward Dawn desperately retuned the radio trying to find the station she’d skipped past, but by the time she did so, the news had moved on to a new item.
Jumping from the car Dawn rushed into the shack, her mind a whirl of confusion. As she entered the shack Sheena raised her head from the table and looked at her with sleep-filled eyes.
“Sheena you’re on the news. I didn’t hear what but . . .” Dawn stopped, looking at her dad, her eyes taking on a glow. He was sitting upright, leaning against the wall, his eyes bright and alert.
“Hi baby,” he said.
“Dad! You’re okay,” Dawn shouted, pounding across the floor and throwing herself down, enveloping him in a big hug.
“Whoa, easy there,” he said hugging her back. “I still feel a little out of it.”
Sheena knelt and checked Alex’s temperature. It was normal. “How do you feel?” she asked.
“A little light-headed and I ache all over like I’ve run a marathon or something.”
Sheena smiled at Dawn. “Looks like it worked.”
Dawn launched herself at Sheena giving her the biggest bear hug she’d ever had. “Thank you. Thank you so much,” she said, her breath tickling Sheena’s ear. “You saved his life.”
Sheena disentangled herself from Dawn’s embrace and stood up. “You were saying something about me being on the news?”
“Yes but I only heard your name.”
Dawn and Sheena turned as Alex shouted, “The door!”
A cat stood in the open doorway, watching them with alert, intelligent eyes.
Without hesitating Sheena swept the camping lamp off the table and threw it at the cat. The white glass shattered on the floor and the cat ran from the shack. Dawn jumped up, following it out.
“Dawn!” Alex shouted trying to get to his feet, his face twisted with pain. “Dawn come back.”
A second later they heard the sound of a shot echo through the wood and Dawn reappeared back in the doorway, a sheepish smile on her face.
“Guess I forgot to close the door,” she said.
Alex chuckled, shaking his head.
Was this really his daughter? His little girl?
He looked at the young woman standing in the doorway, so self assured, the shotgun cradled in her arms as though it belonged there, and felt a deep pride sweep over him.
Just when had she grown up?
“We’d better get out of here,” Sheena said. “There’s a house not far away on the other side of the wood and they may have heard the shot. We can’t take a chance on the police turning up. Can you walk Alex?”
“I can with some help.”
“Good. Come on Dawn let’s get him on his feet.”
Together they made it to the door where Dawn stopped them. “Hang on, let me check.” She darted outside then back in again. “All clear.”
They made it to the car with no further problems and settled Alex in the back seat. Dawn sat beside Sheena as she drove the car along the track, fiddling with the radio.
“Where too?” Sheena asked.
“The police I guess,” Alex answered.
“Hey, listen to this,” Dawn said as she found the station she was looking for.
The news item brought a depressed silence to the occupants of the car as they heard an account of how Doctor Sheena McKenzie, believed to be a terrorist, had taken part in the bombing of a government facility on the Isle of Wight known as Area 7, killing at least four people and injuring numerous others. An accurate description followed. Sheena’s face turned a deathly white as she listened.
Dawn snapped the radio off and sat looking out of the window, tears of anger filling her eyes.
“Guess that rules out the police then,” Alex said quietly from the back seat.
“Guess so,” agreed Sheena. “Only trouble is, what do we do now?”
“We could still go to the police and explain it’s all a mistake,” Dawn suggested, turning to face her dad. “I’m sure they’d believe us.”
“Not a chance,” said Sheena shaking her head. “Not with this Gonzalez guy running things. He wants us all dead.”
They lapsed into silence.
Reaching the main road Sheena stopped the car, looking first one way, then the other. “Which direction?” she asked.
“Okay, turn right,” Alex said leaning forward. “We’ll use the Dawn to get off the island.”
“The Dawn?” Dawn asked.
“Yes,” Alex nodded, smiling at his daughter. “My new sub. I named it after you.”
Sheena turned the wheel and headed the car along Military Road praying that they wouldn’t meet a road block.
“Not far now,” Alex assured them a while later, leaning forward in his seat to point at a large rock shaped like a stooping figure. “I recognise that rock over there. It’s just around the next bend.
Helping Alex from the car they hurried across some sand dunes towards the sea. The coast was a mixture of rocks, sand and shingle, the sun heating the lumps of seaweed so the sulphurous smell made them wrinkle their noses.
“Over there, by that rock outcrop,” Alex said as they helped him across the beach, supporting him between them. “That’s it, dig there.”
Sheena dug in the sand with her hands, uncovering a pair of flippers, some goggles and a wetsuit. She laid them on the rock and looked at Alex.
“Sheena, you put the suit and flippers on and you can help me out to the Dawn,” he said.
Sheena disappeared behind the rock and was back in five minutes wearing the wetsuit. Picking up the flippers and goggles she took Alex’s arm.
“Where’s this sub thing?” she asked.
“See that yellow shape out there?” Alex pointed. “That’s a buoy. The sub’s anchored to it.”
Sheena squinted, her gaze searching the waves. She could just make out a dark shape. It looked to be miles away.
“The ocean’s pretty calm thankfully,” Alex said. “If you help me, Dawn can swim in front.”
“No!” Dawn’s voice trembled and she shook her head from side to side, eyes wide.
Alex turned to her, holding out his hand. “Come on Dawn, we have to. It’s the only chance we have.”
Dawn stood rooted to the spot, unable to move, watching the waves break along the shore. She hated the sea, it had taken her mother from her. What if there were jellyfish out there? At the thought Dawn turned and fled up the beach to the dunes.
“Stay here,” Sheena said to Alex, running across the shingle after Dawn.
Dawn was standing with her back to the sea, head bowed, hands covering her face, sobbing gently. Sheena put an arm around her shoulders, speaking softly, telling her that she understood, that her father needed her now more than ever.
Dawn turned to look at Sheena, her bloodshot eyes filled with tears. “I can’t do it. I can’t.”
Sheena drew Dawn down the beach again, speaking to her, telling her how brave she was and how her mother would be proud of her if she did this thing. Alex hugged his daughter tightly as they reached him, his own eyes misty.
“Dawn, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” he said quietly.
She pulled back and looked up at her dad, a half-smile on her lips. She nodded once.
“Yes dad, I do,” she said, turning and walking into the water.
The swim out to the buoy was arduous for them all. Dawn hadn’t swum for years, and Alex found it hard to do more than a slow crawl supported by Sheena. They were all tiring fast. The buoy had steadily grown in size and now they could see the top of the Dawn riding in the shallow troughs as the waves broke over it.
Alex turned his head, holding his hand up to stop Sheena, treading water, listening. What was that? A buzzing in the distance, like an angry wasp.
“Quick, get going,” he shouted. “It’s a helicopter!”
“There, over there,” Gonzalez grabbed the pilot’s arm, pointing down at the road. The car was pulled onto a grass verge, doors hanging open. “That’s got to be it. Where the hell are they?”
The helicopter landed on the metallised road and Gonzalez scrambled out. “You get up there again and see if you can spot them,” Gonzalez ordered the pilot over the two-way radio, plugging his earpiece in. “I’ll have a look round here. They can’t have got very far.”
The helicopter took off with a clatter and Gonzalez walked over to the car. This was the part he loved. The hunt. Pitching his wits against the enemy. Chasing them down until he had them at the end of his gun. And then . . . Well that depended.
The car was empty, the engine still hot to the touch. He was right, they’d only left it a short time ago. Looking around at the secluded scenery Gonzalez frowned. Why the hell would they stop out here in the middle of nowhere? No houses, nowhere to hide.
He turned around slowly and faced the sea, a smile puckering his lips. “Check with the coastguard,” he told the pilot. “Find out if any small boats are showing on their radar.”
A few minutes later a voice spoke in his earpiece. “Negative.”
“Would their gear pick up a small row-boat?”
“They say it would.”
“Okay get back down here and pick me up.”
Gonzalez walked down the beach and stood beside the big rock staring down at the hole that had been dug in the sand. Footprints led away towards the water - three sets of footprints, one of which had the outline of flippers.
“Dog it tight Sheena, that’s the way.”
Having overseen the tightening of the hatch Alex settled himself in the pilot’s seat. Dawn sat beside him and he held her hand, trying to settle her trembling.
“You did it,” he said, looking into her eyes.
“Yes, I did.”
Dawn couldn’t believe that she’d managed the long arduous swim, helping Sheena with her dad towards the end, pulling him up onto the top of the submersible by herself because Sheena was too exhausted to manage.
“I’m so proud of you baby,” Alex said planting a wet kiss on her cheek.
“Daad!” Dawn responded, rubbing her cheek with her sleeve, but never-the-less pleased.
Her dad laughed and she couldn’t help joining in with a giggle.
“I think we’d better get going. That helicopter could be back any minute,” Sheena said, a worried look on her face.
“Okay, I’ll drop the Dawn to the seabed. It’s not deep but it will be nice and murky, so if the helicopter comes back it won’t see us. I need to take some time to check the sub out before we get under-way.”
The small craft lurched as Alex released the grab and a muted whine came from underneath them when the pump began flooding the small ballast tank. They sank slowly to the seabed, settling into the thick seaweed.
Ten minutes later Alex was satisfied that everything was okay and the Dawn hadn’t cracked any seals by being buffeted by the sea. He started the electric motors and they rose upwards, levelling off before breaking the surface.
“Okay, here we go guys. Hang on tight.”
Dawn sat behind her dad on a seat facing Sheena, her body moving rhythmically as the craft was rocked by the swell. A while later they moved deeper and the rocking motion stopped. Dawn glanced at her dad, watching his eyes moving among the various instruments, his big hands almost stroking the levers and controls as he guided them home.
How could I have been so blind, she thought.
The realisation suddenly hit her that her dad was a man who led an exciting life. If she had bothered finding out, she’d have known. She felt a sadness when thoughts of her friend entered her mind. Carolyn, sweet Carolyn who she’d never see again. She wondered where she was now, what she might be doing, missing the loud laugh and mischievous smile her friend always had on her face.
I’m sorry dad, Dawn thought. Sorry I ever doubted you.
Dawn looked up and saw Sheena watching her. It was as though the doctor could read her mind, see the mixture of love and pride, sadness and emptiness that she was feeling.
Sheena smiled at her and nodded. Dawn leant back and closed her eyes, her mouth falling open slightly as she slipped into a light sleep.
“This is wonderful,” Sheena said watching a shoal of fish pass by. “Pity its so murky.”
Alex nodded. “Yeah, the seas around the Pacific are much clearer. You can see a far greater distance.”
“Must be nice,” Sheena mused leaning forward to look out of the Perspex bubble. “Like floating through a picture.”
Alex looked at her and chuckled. “In a way,” he said, “but not so poetic.”
“Dawn told me your wife died when she was young.”
Alex trimmed the craft and tapped at a dial with his fingertip.
Sheena smiled. “You don’t really have to do that, do you? That tapping thing.”
Alex shook his head. “No, not really.”
“Do you ever talk to Dawn about her mother and the way she died?”
Alex shifted uncomfortably.
“She loves you deeply you know Alex. She needs you to be there for her, not off on the other side of the world while she’s stuck in a private school, no matter how good it is.”
Alex’s face hardened. “Look . . .”
“I’m just saying Alex, that’s all.” Sheena wet her lips and looked out into the murkiness around them.
Alex glanced over his shoulder at Dawn. She was snoring gently.
“It was hard for her,” he said. “She blamed herself.”
Alex told Sheena how his wife had died and how deeply it had effected his daughter. How it had taken years before she could even look at a picture of her mother, let alone talk about her. How he’d felt trapped all these years, knowing that she resented him, somehow blamed him for not being there to save her mother.
The cabin quietened as they stopped talking, each a bit embarrassed at what had been said. Then Alex jumped as an unexpected kiss was planted on the back of his neck.
“I love you dad,” Dawn said in a quiet, self assured voice. “I always will. No matter what.”
Alex brought the submersible to the dockside and undogged the hatch, telling Dawn to jump ashore and secure the mooring rope to a cleat.
It was early afternoon and he felt tired but drove himself onward, knowing their problems weren’t over yet. He suspected they’d only just begun. Walking up to his workshop he inspected the lock carefully. It looked okay, but what did he know?
Leading the way into his office at the back of the workshop, he filled up the kettle and plugged it in, then dropped some teabags into three cups. Sniffing the milk, he wrinkled his nose. It had gone off.
They sat around his desk, drinking hot milk-less tea, discussing their options. Sheena said that she could go back home to Scotland but Alex doubted that was a good idea. There was a nationwide security alert out for her and she wouldn’t last two minutes out on the street. They kicked ideas about for a while but couldn’t come up with any sensible plan.
They jumped when the workshop echoed with a loud knock on the door. Alex walked over and looked through the crack between the rolling door edges. It was Harry, his big ruddy face scowling. Alex slipped out of the door, closing it behind him.
“What the hell’s been going on Alex?”
“Look, about your boat Harry.”
“What about it?”
“Isn’t that why you’re here?”
The big man shook his head. “Nah. There’s a shady looking guy looking for you. What you been up to mate?”
Alex thought fast, knowing that the more outrageous the lie, the more it would be believed.
“Well, its Carol,” he said, looking sheepish.
“The barmaid down at the Drake?” Harry’s thick eyebrows had risen.
“Yeah, well like, her old man found out and has got a couple of his mates down from London looking for me. You know how it is. Anyway, she’s terrified.” As Alex unwound his tale of woe, an idea suddenly came to him. “Look mate, could you do me a big favour?” Harry looked uncertain. “Hang on here a sec, I’ll be back in a minute.”
Rushing back into the workshop Alex span the dial on the front of his old safe and pulled it open, grabbing a bundle of cash and a passport. Before Dawn or Sheena could say anything he’d disappeared again.
“How much was your inflatable worth?” Alex asked the big man when he reappeared at the door.
“There was a little accident Harry. I’m sorry, your boat sank.”
They settled on a price and Harry turned to go.
“No wait a minute. I still need that favour.”
“I thought letting you sink my boat was the favour!”
Alex took Harry by the shoulder and led him over to the dockside. “Look,” he said, “That’s my new submersible. Fully sea-trialled.”
“And Carol and I need to get away, if you know what I mean.”
Harry nodded his big head, the skin at the corners of his faded blue eyes crinkling. “And?”
“And I need a boat. I want you to sell the Dawn for me, to raise some cash so I can buy a decent seagoing speedboat. Here.” Alex held out his passport. “This’ll do as proof of identity.”
Harry took the proffered passport and flicked to the back, looking at the photograph. “Don’t look nothing like me,” he said, handing it back. “And why can’t you buy the boat yourself?”
Alex sighed, his shoulders slumping. “I can’t take the chance on being seen. You’re my only chance Harry,” he said.
Harry studied Alex for a moment, wondering if he was being conned. Then making up his mind, he nodded.
“Tell you what. If you’re willing to take a loss on that there sub of yours, I think I can swing something. I got one or two contacts. Give me your mobile number.”
The big man sauntered off and Alex made his way back to the office wondering if he was doing the right thing.
“What’s going on Alex?”
The worried look in Sheena’s eyes deepened as he slumped himself down in the chair at his desk.
“Look, someone’s been poking around here asking about me. From the description I’m pretty sure it’s Gonzalez. I’m trying to get my hands on a boat that we can take over to the continent or somewhere further.”
“But what about passports?” Sheena asked. “Mines back on the Isle of Wight.”
“Yeah, well let’s cross that bridge when we come to it shall we? In the meantime I’d like you to take this and get us some supplies.” He held out a bundle of notes and Dawn took them. “Sheena’ll have to stay here out of sight.”
“What are you going to do dad?” Dawn asked.
“I’m going back to the house. I’ve got some money there that we’ll need to keep us going till we sort something out, and I’ll pick your passport up while I’m there. Oh,” he said turning back to Dawn and handing her two credit cards, “max these out before you use the cash, then dump them. I won’t be able to use them after today anyway. And get us all some clothes too.”
Dawn picked up the credit cards and smiled. “Max them out? You sure dad?”
“Get going,” he growled at her with a chuckle.
After Dawn had left, Alex talked over his hastily devised plan for their disappearance with Sheena. He knew at the back of his mind that it probably wouldn’t work but could think of nothing else that might. Having Gonzalez after them put Dawn’s life in danger - something he didn’t even want to think about.
Sheena sat silently for awhile, then looked up at him, a sad smile on her face. “Wouldn’t it just be simpler if I went to the police Alex?”
“We both know Gonzalez won’t allow that to happen,” Alex replied. “Or if it did, that he has ways of getting you on your own long enough to . . .” Alex didn’t finish the sentence and Sheena didn’t ask him too. “No we have to disappear, the three of us. Maybe we can find a way of sorting this out when things die down a bit.”
They stood up and looked at each other for a moment, Alex strangely drawn to the woman who had jumped into his life. Sheena leant forward, head tilted, waiting for his kiss.
But it didn’t happen. Instead Alex turned away and headed for the door.
“Stay here out of sight,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ll be back a soon as I can.”
Sheena sat at the desk, rubbing her face with gritty hands. She could do with a wash. Hell, she could do with a shower. Standing up she walked through the office to a small toilet at the back. It had a sink and some soap. It would do.
As Sheena washed herself in the back office, the two big doors at the front of the workshop slid open, then closed. There was no further sounds except that of gentle breathing and the soft rustle of a mouse moving in the ceiling void.
Alex stood at the gate of his front garden, studying every window in turn, searching for signs that somebody might be waiting for him inside.
“Oh come on, don’t be so bloody paranoid,” he muttered, pushing open the gate.
Walking up the path he opened the front door and stepped inside. As soon as he did he knew something was wrong - a strange tingling at the back of his neck told him someone had been in his home. Nothing had been moved so far as he could tell, but he knew. Just walking into his comfortable lounge, he had no doubt that someone had stood there just a short time ago.
Alex stood head bowed, every nerve taught, listening to the noises the house made. He’d become familiar with every one of them over the years; the ticking of the hot water pipes as they expanded and contracted, the hum of the fridge in the kitchen, the drip of the bath tap, each one now loud in his ears.
Slipping off his shoes, Alex went to the kitchen and pulled a large carving knife from the black wooden block, its blade swishing free with a satisfactory sound. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stab Gonzalez if he was here but at least it gave him a sort of moral support.
Keeping to the edge of the stairs Alex worked his way from step to step, stopping when the third riser from the top creaked underfoot.
How could he have forgotten that?
Easing his foot off, he cringed as the wood settled back with a groan, cocking his head to pick up any sound. All was quiet.
On the landing he was faced with three doors - his bedroom, Dawn’s bedroom and the bathroom. He could see that the bathroom door was slightly ajar, the leaking tap hitting the bath with a steady tap, tap. Holding his breath he nudged it wider, his knife held low, ready to stab a leg rather than a chest.
Nothing. The bathroom was empty.
Taking a shuddering breath he backed out, his body tingling, the scent of aftershave alive in his nose. His bedroom door often stuck, so he stood with his hand on the handle, shoulder against the panels. Then turning the handle fully open, he pushed with his shoulder and the door came free, silently, without fuss.
His bedroom was ‘L’ shaped and as he came to the corner he looked over into his wardrobe mirror. He could see almost all of his bedroom reflected in it. He studied the reflection, his gaze darting here and there. It all seemed okay but he still had the feeling that someone had been here, someone who could search a room and leave no clue that they had.
Then he spotted it, a faint outline on the polished wooden floor. Walking over, Alex placed his foot beside it. The imprint was at least one shoe size bigger than his. He knew he’d been right!
One room left.
Dawn’s room was a similar shape to his but smaller. The bed was to the left in the long leg of the ‘L’, her computer desk around the corner, alongside her second-hand dresser with the tilting mirror.
Alex licked his lips and slid the door open, holding his breath. Crouching down he checked under the bed. Nothing. Feeling better he stood up and walked to the corner.
As he turned into the smaller leg of the ‘L’ he was faced by a man holding a knife.
Dawn shuddered at the scampering above her head, looking up at the white ceiling. She didn’t like mice, never had, couldn’t understand how otherwise sane school friends, petted and kissed their pet rodents. Ugh!
Stacking the numerous bags she’d unloaded from the taxi against the wall so that her purchases didn’t fall out onto the dirty floor, she walked through to the office at the back.
It was empty and for a moment she felt a flood of panic hit her. Then she heard the noise of a toilet flushing from behind a door in the far wall.
Sheena came out rubbing her hair with a small towel. “Could do with a shower,” she said smiling at Dawn. “How did you do?”
“Got it all ready by the door,” Dawn said proudly. “I think I thought of everything. I bought stuff we could eat cold. I hope that’s okay.”
Sheena dropped the towel on the table and fluffed up her hair. “Sounds good to me. I could eat a horse right now. I hope Alex won’t be too long.”
“Just going to the loo,” Dawn said, disappearing into the toilet.
Sheena flicked her hair up one last time and smiled. Turning she headed for the workshop, wanting to take a peek at what Dawn had got her to wear.
The door opened before she got there and a large figure filled the opening.
“Hello Doctor McKenzie,” a soft voice said. “We’ll have to stop meeting this way. Folks might get the wrong idea.”
Alex shouted in alarm as the man turned to face him. Then he took a deep breath and slowly let it out, his heart hammering in his ears. It was just a reflection of himself in the dressing table mirror.
Jesus, much more of this and I’ll have a bloody heart attack, he thought, turning to leave the room.
It was then that he saw the photograph on Dawn’s bed. It was a picture of her that he had taken during her last school break earlier in the year. Someone had drawn a big red cross through her face and written the message: ‘I’m coming for you and your daughter, Alex’, across the bottom.
Alex felt his world tilt and the room shift out of focus. He sat on Dawn’s bed, the photo clutched in his hand, a numbness flooding his mind. Then his eyes hardened and a deep anger rose in him.
Don’t loose focus Alex, he told himself. That’s exactly what this guy wants you to do.
Walking into his bedroom, Alex pushed the bed aside and slipped the blade of the knife between two floorboards, pushing the handle sideways, levering up a short piece of board. Feeling about in the space he pulled out a big bundle of banknotes.
Alex sat back on his heels, riffling through the bundle. He didn’t need to count it, he knew exactly how much there was. Some of it was money that he’d put aside for Dawn’s university education, but the majority was a slush fund he’d built up over the years. Most of his work took him abroad, to countries where bribery was rife and such money helped oil the wheels of industry. It was untraceable ready cash.
Back down in the kitchen Alex rummaged in a cabinet, pulling out a thick plastic shopping bag. Dumping the money inside, he took a last look around the house. A lot of things had happened here, good things and bad, and he was going to miss it. When they had settled down somewhere and knew what was happening, he’d get in touch with his solicitor and sell it. Wondering who would live in the house over the coming years, he closed the front door for the last time.
Nodding at Mr Waverley, Alex made his way down the garden path.
“A gentleman was looking for you earlier,” the old man said.
“So it appears, Mr Waverley,” Alex replied getting into his car. Winding down the window he stuck his head out. “Hey, Mr Waverley.” The old man turned, looking at Alex with rheumy eyes, his back slightly stooped. “You take good care of those roses now, you hear?”
Alex drove back to his workshop and parked the car. Harry was waiting for him at the quayside. A small rusty tug was berthed where his submersible had been moored earlier.
“It’s the best I could do at such short notice,” Harry said, holding out some papers. “These are all in my name but when you get settled let me know and we can transfer ownership.”
They walked over to the tug. Originally it had been painted white but now big red rust stains showed through every surface. Alex climbed the plank and Harry followed. They stopped on the aft deck.
“It’s a Nordic tug,” Harry said.
“Yeah I know. Didn’t they stop building these things sometime in the nineties?”
“Ninety-seven I think. Sleeps four. Hundred and fifteen horse power.”
“Fifty-five grand with a full tank. There’s a set of charts in the wheelhouse too.”
Harry shook his head.
Alex went back to the car and pulled out the shopping bag. “Here you go Harry,” he said tossing it over.
Harry caught the bag and stood looking at Alex for a moment. Then he shook his head and walked off.
Alex went over to his workshop, feeling a little more in control of what was happening in his life.
“Hey,” he called opening the office door. “You ready to leave yet?”
Dawn and Sheena were sitting in the middle of the office on wooden chairs, their faces pale and drawn.
“What’s the matter?” Alex asked, walking into the room.
The door closed behind him and something hard pushed against his spine. He instinctively knew that it was a gun.
“Go join the others like a good boy, Alex.”
The voice was calm and measured and Alex did as he was told. Pulling his old office chair over, he joined Dawn and Sheena. The wheels set up a loud irritating shriek as he pulled the chair across the floor, adding to his already unsettled nerves.
Alex looked up into the cold dark eyes and knew he was going to die.
“Let them go,” he managed between dry lips. “Let them go and take me instead.”
Gonzalez laughed loudly, his face creasing as his body shook. Then he stopped and crossed his arms, tapping the gun barrel against his forearm.
“What film is that from Alex? Take me and let them go. That’s really good.”
“What do you want from us?” Sheena’s voice trembled as she spoke.
Gonzalez stared at her for a moment then pursed his lips. “Oh I think you know what I want from you doctor. I need you to disappear.”
“And that’s just what we’re planning on doing!” Alex retorted, his voice rising.
“I mean permanently,” Gonzalez replied. “Such a shame really. Three nice people like you, killed in an explosion. These welding bottles can be so unreliable at times, don’t you think?”
Alex followed Gonzalez’s nod and saw the stack of acetylene and oxygen bottles piled next to three large propane gas canisters.
“Should make a nice little bang,” Gonzalez said, bringing his gun round, aiming it at Alex’s head.
“But why?” Sheena cried out. “We can’t do you any harm.”
Gonzalez looked at her for a moment. “Loose ends,” he finally said. “You could replicate your work and certain people don’t want that to happen. They want to protect their investment.”
“So this is all just about money then,” Sheena said flatly.
“Isn’t it always?” Gonzalez asked, raising his gun again.
Grabbing the arms of his chair Alex kicked out, catching Gonzalez’s gun hand. The gun flew from his grip, hitting the wall, bouncing off to land on the floor near Sheena.
As Alex propelled himself out of the chair, Gonzalez caught him with an uppercut that rattled his brain and blurred his vision. Staggering backwards, he managed to fend off Gonzalez, recovering from the punch.
Alex backed away, trying to put space between himself and Gonzalez. He knew that if the man landed another blow like that the fight would be over.
Alex’s foot hit something and he glanced down. It was Gonzalez’s gun. Stooping he picked it up, but before he could use it Gonzalez had his arm around his neck, squeezing hard, gripping his right wrist so he couldn’t bring the gun into play.
Alex’s head began to pound and the room darken. In a panic he fired the gun, twice. It was enough to startle Gonzalez for a moment and he managed to break free of the man’s grip.
Gonzalez rammed an elbow into Alex’s side and he cried out in pain, disorientated for a moment. Gonzalez gripped Alex’s wrist again, slowly forcing the gun around towards his head. Seeing the bandage on Gonzalez’s arm, Alex bit into it, triumph flooding through him as he heard Gonzalez’s scream of pain.
They both fell to the floor, the gun skidding away. Alex saw the glint of steel just in time to grab Gonzalez’s arm as he plunged a knife towards his chest.
They rolled on the floor, grappling, their breaths coming in heavy grunts as they fought. Gonzalez rolled Alex over onto his back, his face reddening as Alex’s fingers dug into his neck. Then slowly, his face contorting with the strain, Gonzalez pushed the point of the knife closer and closer to Alex’s chest.
Alex fought to push the knife away, his breath hissing between clenched teeth, face bright red with the effort of holding the stronger man’s arm back. He was tiring, fighting a loosing battle. No matter how hard he tried to stop it, the blade kept coming, millimetre by slow millimetre.
Gonzalez’s eyes were bright with the knowledge that he had won, adding to his strength.
Alex fought on, his legs and body twisting, trying to throw Gonzalez clear. Then his foot hit the gas bottles and as the tip of the knife pricked his skin, he slid his foot along the bottom of the pile, kicking away the wedge holding them in place.
The bottles clanged and rumbled down onto the floor. Alex threw himself sideways.
Gonzalez saw a bottle heading straight for his head and quickly rolled off Alex, stumbling clear.
Alex continued his roll, one of the bottles clipping his shoulder as it flashed passed.
The office was filled with the banging and crashing of metal on metal, then a deep silence fell over the scene.
Alex shook his head, sitting up, looking around for Gonzalez. The man was standing by the office door, gun in his hand, a jubilant smile on his face. He winked, squeezing the trigger.
Alex caught a flash of movement behind Gonzalez and the man stood stock still for a moment, a look of complete surprise on his face. The surprise quickly turned to pain and he dropped to the floor, revealing Harry standing behind him, tapping a crowbar in the palm of his hand.
“Have you killed him?” Dawn gasped.
“No, I just belted him in the kidneys. Painful but seldom lethal.” Harry bent down, picking up Gonzalez’s gun. “This the guy from London then?”
Alex nodded. “Sort of.”
“Came back to give you your receipt,” Harry explained, laying the gun, crowbar and receipt on the desk. He looked at Sheena, then back at Alex, his eyebrows asking a question.
“No time to explain Harry. We’ve got to get going. I’ll email you as soon as I can.”
Harry nodded, took one last look at Gonzalez, then made for the door.
“Hey Harry?” Alex called after him. Harry stopped and looked back. “There’s six months rent paid on the workshop. Why don’t you make use of it, and take the car as well.”
Harry nodded, catching the keys Alex tossed to him. Then winking, he left, closing the office door with a soft click.
After Alex released Dawn and Sheena, they hauled Gonzalez into a chair and tied his wrists, then picking up the gun, Alex stuck it in his pocket. He’d dump it in the sea later. Collecting the backpacks and supplies Dawn had bought, they hurried out to the tug.
“Is that it?” Dawn asked, her face showing her scepticism. “Will it float?”
“Get on board before I keel haul yer,” Alex growled. “Yer mutinous swab yer.”
Dawn giggled, running up the gang-plank onto the vessel, looking about in distaste. Sheena followed at a slower pace, smiling at the interaction between father and daughter, knowing it was probably the excitement of what had just happened and that they’d all suffer a comedown later on.
Ten minutes later the tug’s engine was vibrating beneath the deck and they were headed out to sea. Sheena spread the chart on the wheel-housing in front of Alex.
“Where are we going then mon capitan?” she asked.
“There,” Dawn said, bringing a decisive fingertip down on a long coast line.
“There it be then, maties,” Alex agreed with a big smile, spinning the wheel onto the new course.
Gonzalez finally felt like he could breathe properly again. It had seemed like hours since he’d been hit in the kidneys. The pain had been incredible, like getting kicked in the balls.
The cords binding his wrists hadn’t been tied very tightly and he soon had them free. Easing himself from the chair, he stood up, still crouched over, rubbing his lower back, wondering if whoever had hit him had done any permanent damage.
Stumbling his way from the workshop, he found his hire car and sat on the drivers seat, feet outside the vehicle, unable to pull his legs inside just yet. Digging out his two-way radio from the glove box, Gonzalez got in touch with his base back on the Isle of Wight. They patched him through to his helicopter.
Having given his instructions to the pilot, Gonzalez settled down to wait, listening to the latest news on the car radio. The broadcasts were full of reports about the soldiers that had been sent to the Isle of Wight to cull all the infected cats.
Gonzalez smiled at the indignant uproar this was causing amongst the island’s pet owners. Operation ‘KatKill’ was well under-way and he hoped every last damned cat on the island ended up dead.
Ten minutes later his pilot contacted him. “I’m over you now sir.”
“Check the immediate area, then begin a search pattern using Christchurch as a start point. You’re looking for any small boat heading away from the coast. If you see one I want its name and registration number.”
Having set the search into operation Gonzalez felt better and decided to get himself a coffee. He’d noticed a small café down by the shore when he’d driven into Christchurch and easing himself into the drivers seat, started the car and headed for it.
Later that evening Gonzalez was back in touch with the pilot.
“I’ve done a complete sweep for a radius of ten miles and there was only one boat sir. A beaten up old tug registered to a Harry Granger out of Christchurch.”
Gonzalez tapped his fingers on the steering wheel trying to think. The pain in his kidneys was growing, he needed to get to a doctor to check it out.
“What does this Granger do for a job?”
Gonzalez heard the rustle of paper over the radio, then the pilot again. “He’s a semi-retired fisherman.”
“Okay get back to the base.”
Gonzalez started the car but didn’t drive off at once. Instead he got back to his base. “Check if Alex Winters had any other vessels besides an inflatable,” he ordered.
“Says here that he recently purchased a submersible,” came back the reply.
Gonzalez killed the connection and swore loudly.
Fucking idiots! Why didn’t they tell him that in his briefing notes. Did he have to do everything himself! No wonder Winters had managed to disappear without a trace like that.
The car lurched as he put it in gear, making him gasp in pain, he wasn’t used to a stick-shift.