I’m locked in a Titanium cube, exposed on all sides and nowhere to hide. I have a gun with only four bullets left in it. I’m as good as dead but determined to go down fighting, and take at least one Dreek with me. I stand up and move towards the mattress, up-end it and put it between my body and the footsteps. It might just stop a few slugs before it’s torn to shreds, giving me enough time to get my four shots away.
I see them. Two Dreeks, both dressed as cops. They ignore all the death and the carnage, and walk toward the cage, slowly, confidently. They’re in no hurry and know they won’t be disturbed, all the time in the world to pump me full of slugs.
‘Hello boys,’ I holler at them as they approach, ‘I hope you don’t mind but I put a couple of holes in your buddy over there.’
They keep walking towards the cage. They unclip their holsters and slowly pull out their guns.
‘Come any closer and you’ll get what your buddy got.’
They split, one walking straight towards me, the other circling round the back of the cage. I might be able to drop one of the bastards but not the other. I know this is it for me. I say a quick hail-Mary as I point the gun at the one facing me up. I’m just about to shoot when I hear the roar of an engine in the distance, then the wail of a siren. The noise stops the Dreeks in their tracks. They were probably told not to expect company. They look at each other then towards the source of the noise, a low growl but getting rapidly louder. I recognize the sound and know what it is. It’s a traffic cop’s Harley, and not for the first time in the last few days I say to myself, ‘What the fuck?’
The machine is racing at high speed towards the factory and in a split second hurtles through the open doors towards us. For a moment it has the Dreeks transfixed. This wasn’t in their agenda. I waste no time and spin round and plug the one circling behind me. I figure being shot in the back is a bad option. At least the mattress is a little protection should the Dreek out front start shooting. It’s a great shot, smack on the end of its nose. The impact of the slug as it hits the Dreek’s head throws him backwards onto the concrete floor, its head splitting open as it cracks hard down onto the hard surface.
The other Dreek is caught between killing me or the cop on the Harley. He chooses me and swings his gun round at me.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
Three slugs pound into the mattress. Only one gets through but it hits me in the shoulder and spins me round through 180, and my back is now exposed.
I hear the shell and expect death but nothing happens. I slowly turn back to look at the Dreek. It’s dead, the top of its head blown clean off, the shower of brains and blood spatter cascading towards the floor. The Dreek’s body folds as if in slo-mo, like a mannequin collapsing underwater. It hits the deck without a sound.
My savior is still sitting astride the Harley, smoking gun in hand. The cop kicks the stand down, balances up and steps off the machine, putting the gun back in its holster. As the cop walks towards the cage I can see now it’s a woman. She takes off her shades and wriggles out of the helmet. Guess who? It’s my guardian angel, the non-existent Jane Krieff. This time I’m glad I didn’t put a slug in her head when we were on the subway.
It’s no surprise to me when she ignores the heap of dead bodies scattered around the room and walks straight past them towards the door of the cage.
‘How the fuck do I get you out of this?’ she says by way of a hello.
‘Well it’s great to see you too,’ I say, ‘The key’s on the floor over there.’
I point towards the keys and she goes over and picks them up. Seconds later I’m free again.
Jane looks me up and down. There is a trickle of blood coming from my shoulder where the Dreek’s slug penetrated the mattress. It’s barely broken the skin but it stings like hell and I’ll have a massive bruise there in the morning.
‘You’ll live,’ she says, as near sympathy as I’m going to get from her.
‘Is that a promise?’
‘Pick a couple of guns,’ she says, ignoring my last remark and pointing to the array of weaponry scattered around the corpses, ‘We may need them later.’
I take this as an ‘all is forgiven’ signal, seeing as I was pointing a gun at her head not that long ago.
I do as she says and pick up a Heckler & Kock MP5 and a couple of spare magazines, an automatic pistol and a Hi-V, then load them into the panniers on the Harley. There is no chit-chat as I climb on the back of the Harley behind her. That’ll come later. Right now I want to get as far away from this mess as I can. I’m sure Jane will explain all when we’re both safely tucked away somewhere. I’m sure she knows more about what’s going on by now, and I’m sure she’ll have a plan. I was ever the optimist.
To my surprise we don’t travel far on the Harley, just a couple of miles. Jane pulls in at a beat up old garage about a hundred yards from the slip road to the highway. Out back is a car park. In the middle of this is an RV, not a monster, just big enough for a small family that doesn’t mind hunching up. It’s nothing to look at, the sort of vehicle you’d walk past in the street, the type drunks would take a leak against and not feel guilty.
‘Get the guns,’ she tells me as she parks up the Harley and heads towards the RV. I don’t. I’m not used to having orders barked at me unless it’s the Sheriff. She opens the side door and steps inside. It’s starting to rain, not torrents but slow, dolorous rain in big drops, so the first thing I notice when I step into the RV is the steady pounding of the raindrops on the roof. The second thing I notice is my old pal Noone. He’s sitting at the table in the small kitchen area in the middle of the van, a mug in his hand.
‘Ah, Mr. Redwood,’ he says in that oh-so-refined accent, as if he was expecting me, ‘I trust you are well.’
I bite down any feelings I have of blowing him away just to play safe and say, ‘Could be better.’
He offers me coffee, all nicey-nice.
‘I thought all you English drank tea.’
‘Mr. Redwood,’ he says, as if talking to a half wit, ‘I thought you’d have figured out by now I’m not English. It’s very good coffee, I promise you.’
He nods towards Jane and she steps over to the pour-n-serve and pours us each a mug of Joe. He’s right. It tastes good. I sit down opposite him at the small table. Jane remains standing, leaning her back against the kitchen. She takes off her traffic cop’s helmet and puts it on the work surface behind her.
‘Should you be doing that?’ I ask. I figure that it’s the helmet that stopped her pulses giving her away, preventing the Dreeks back in the old factory from picking up it was a Torp hurtling towards them on the Harley, ‘Shouldn’t we be on the move, going under ground?’
‘It’s not that much of a problem any more,’ she says.
I look at the two of them. My first thought is that we’re being used as bait again, and I’m ready to high tail it out of there and leave these two to their fate, but Noone fills me in with the story.
‘Mr. Redwood, there are very few Dreeks left around here, half a dozen at most, and I think Krillik has them focused on other matters.’
‘So they are getting off the planet,’ I say.
‘It appears so,’ says Noone, ‘They’ve left this area en masse. They’re on the move all over the continent. They’re clustering. There are large gatherings in Florida, Maine, California, Nevada, Illinois, and Iowa. We’ve picked up four clusters in Canada, and six in Mexico.’
‘When they gather there’s a much stronger pulse,’ she adds, ‘It’s easy to detect them. We figure the gathering points are where the portals are. It’ll take a while to move them one at a time but we figure in about a week all the Dreeks will be gone, possibly all the Torps as well.’
‘Where do you stand on this, Noone. Is it good or bad news?’
‘Oh, bad, most definitely,’ he says, ‘Krillik is putting his people out of harm’s way. That can only mean one thing. He has a plan for getting mankind to do his job for him, and he’s confident of the outcome.’
‘Then we’re safe,’ I say, thinking like any human would, ‘All we gotta do is bomb all the portals. If they can’t get off the planet I assume they’ll die like real people would. Krillik wouldn’t go ahead if it meant the death of all his crew. Surely whatever he’s planning would kill him too if he was still on Earth.’
Noone smiles but doesn’t answer. Jane does.
‘Krillik is a monster. All his people are expendable as far as he is concerned. His crew sign a contract waiving all rights. If they get killed doing their job, then tough.’
‘He’s also very important to Grow,’ adds Noone, ‘Individual portals are mind bogglingly expensive but Krillik has one. It’s disguised to look like a Maglite pen torch. He carries it with him at all times. He doesn’t need to get to any of the static portal sites. If things go wrong for him he can disappear off the planet any time he likes. All he has to do is jab the end of the torch against the side of his head and he’s gone in seconds, back home, safe and sound in Grow’s HQ.’
I sit back in my chair and try to make sense of it all, and what part I play in the game. I decide I need some answers, it’s time to clear the air. I decide to start with the simple things.
‘How did you find me? How did you know I was back there in a Titanium cube?’
Jane smiles, ‘You’re supposed to be a detective. Go figure it out.’
‘Okay,’ I say, ‘Correct me when I’m wrong. I figure this. You went about a hundred yards into that tunnel on that train. Then the driver must have seen something hurtling towards him and backed up real quick. Back in the station you hopped off and followed me at a discrete distance. You watched me check into the hotel and waited for the creep on reception to call the cops. Then all you had to do was follow.’
‘Good try and almost right.’
‘What did I get wrong?’
‘It was me that called the cops,’ says Jane.
‘Hell, Jane,’ I say, the anger rising, ‘Why the fuck did you do that? You nearly got me killed back in that cage.’
‘I had to,’ she says, ‘There were two Dreeks homing in on you. They’d picked up your trail before you dumped your cell phone. They were following you just like I was.’
‘How the hell could they do that?’ Then I figure it out for myself, ‘The FBI?’
‘We think so,’ says Noone.
‘The agent that arrested me,’ I say, ‘He as good as told me someone high up in the Fibbies gave him shoot on sight orders. He got curious as to why. That’s how come I’m still alive.’
‘So, why would he risk losing Dreeks in a shoot out if the forces of law and order would have gunned you down legitimately? Whoever it was didn’t figure on me still trailing you. I picked up on the Dreek cops heading for the factory and figured there would be a blood bath. I blagged a traffic cop’s uniform and his Harley and the rest you know.’
‘The cop that arrested me,’ I say, ‘He told me you don’t exist. There are no records of you anywhere. Even the witness statements taken all say I was alone when anyone got killed. How do you explain that?’
‘Easy. He was told what they wanted him to believe. They could have done that either by changing the records or even simpler, just have a Dreek nearby when he read them. He’d only see what the Dreek wanted him to see.’
It makes sense. If she’s in the mood for answering questions I pop the big one.
‘Why do you reckon it was me that called in the air strike on that portal? How is that even possible?’
‘Do you have a conscience Mr. Redwood?’
I don’t like this change of tack. I’m a guy that likes a straight answer to a straight question, but I play along.
‘…and what form does it take?’
‘I don’t understand,’ I say. Another fucking riddle.
‘If you do something bad…real bad,’ he says, ‘how does your conscience handle it?’
‘I’ve never done anything real bad,’ I say.
‘One in twenty,’ he says, ‘That’s the official statistic isn’t it? One in twenty of all those things you kill turns out to be a human child. Doesn’t that keep you awake at night?’
‘It ain’t easy,’ I admit, ‘but not weeding out the Zygs would be a lot worse for society.’
‘…but surely? Innocent children? Broken hearted parents?’
I feel the mean rising in me. I do my job to the best of my ability with the best tools I have to hand. Of course it hurts when I discover I’ve fried a real kid. It’s me that has to face up to the parents and their heartbreak. I reckon I’m a pretty tough guy but it cuts me up when the one in twenty happens.
‘I swallow it down, bury it deep inside my head, so deep I can pretend it didn’t happen. There’s no other way I could carry on with the job.’
Noone smiles, a smile that says, ‘there you have it!’
What’s your fucking point?’ I snap.
He picks up on the bite in my tone.
‘My point is this. If you feel that way about the half dozen or so children you’ve accidentally disposed of, then how would you feel if you were responsible for the lives of everyone? There are six billion human souls on this planet, Mr. Redwood. If you were responsible for their deaths, how would you feel?’
‘I still don’t see your point. What’s this got to do with me being capable of calling in air strikes?’
Noone looks at Jane then nods at the kitchen cupboards behind her. She understands what he wants, opens the cupboard and pulls out a bottle of Scotch and a shot glass. I watch in silence as she fills the glass and puts it down on the table in front of me.
‘You might need this,’ says Noone.
I don’t touch the drink. I want to keep my head clear.
‘Mr. Redwood…Jake,’ he says, staring deep into my eyes, ‘You might not like this. You certainly won’t believe it at first…but you are a Torp.’
We sit looking at each other for a short while. I can see he’s looking for a reaction, so I give him one. I push the chair back and stand up.
‘Fuck you! Fuck you both.’
I turn round, open the RV door and step back into the world of sanity again. These two jokers are mad, bad and dangerous to know. I hear Noone say to Jane, ‘Go after him.’
She’ll have to be quick. In moments I’m sitting astride the Harley, flick the key and fire up the engine. One loud growl later and I’m purring down the highway at eighty miles an hour, putting as much distance between me and those two freaks as possible. I have no idea where to go or what to do next but it feels good cruising the highway through the hammering rain, alone and free.
After an hour the cold starts to grind me down. The rain is relentless and I’m soaked to the bones. My hands are numb and I need to take a break. I count myself lucky not to have been pulled over, riding a cop’s bike in civilian clothes at well over the speed limit, but I’ve had a clear run so far. I’ve been left alone. I know I can’t show my face in public places, Digby taught me that much. So I need to think of a safe place to hole up for a while, somewhere I can get some food and dry out. There’s a lake I know nearby. It has holiday cabins dotted all around it, some of them remote and rarely used. I swing the Harley off the highway and head up towards it.
A few minutes cruising the back lanes and I spot the perfect place. You wouldn’t have known it was there hidden amongst the trees. The house looks well used but deserted now, all in darkness and no recent tyre marks in the muddy track leading up to it. I play safe, park the Harley out front and walk up to the door. A few minutes knocking confirms the obvious, that the place is deserted, but I still check in the windows and round the back. There are no signs of life, or even recent occupation, so I wheel the Harley around to the back yard and cover it with an old tarp I find folded up in the wood store. Getting in is easy. I don’t have to break any windows or locks. People are predictable. I lift a few plant pots and sure enough there’s the back door key hidden safely in a place everybody would look.
Inside it smells a bit musty but it’s warmer than outside and it’s a merciful relief not to have the rain pounding on my head. The first thing I do is check the house, all the rooms upstairs and down. No signs of life. I’m confident I’ll be safe here for a while. The next thing I do is check what’s here, energy, water, food, communications, whatever I can find that might help me.
There’s no power but I’m not surprised. It’s too far from the main drag. No power company in its right mind would run a cable up this far to a holiday home that’s rarely used. The place is probably fitted with a generator but I won’t use it. The noise might alert somebody, a distant neighbor. They might figure out that there’s someone here who shouldn’t be.
There’s a log fire with a stack of wood beside it. The same reasoning applies. If I light it now, then the smoke might be noticed by a neighbor. I decide not to risk it, but I’ll need heat overnight and I’ll have to risk it when it gets dark.
I go through the cupboards in the kitchen.
There’s a ton of canned and packet foods. At least I won’t starve up here. I wander upstairs to check the bedrooms. There are three, two kids’ rooms and one for grown ups. I check the wardrobes in the adults’ room. There’s one full of ladies clothes, the other is all men’s, quality stuff, thick, warm, camouflaged jackets and pants. It’s obviously a place they use for hunting trips. I can’t believe my luck when I try on one of the jackets. It could have been made for me. I strip out of my wet clothes and pull on warm, dry ones from the wardrobe. When I’m fully dressed again I pull the comforter from the bed and wrap it around me and head back to the kitchen. I find a couple of tins of stew, open them up and eat them cold, straight from the cans. It’s salty but tastes okay. When I’ve eaten enough I go looking for something to drink.
I find a well stocked drinks cupboard in the lounge. I pick out an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels, grab a tumbler and settle into one of the two armchairs by the fire hearth. I fill the tumbler to the rim and take a long pull. The liquor burns its way down my throat but I don’t care. It’s a great feeling, warming my stomach and making my cheeks glow. It doesn’t take long before I feel less jittery and start to relax.
‘You’re supposed to be a detective, work it out.’
Jane’s words echo in my brain. So, after a while I start to churn things over, particularly the meeting in the RV with Noone and Jane. I’m not a Torp. The idea is ludicrous. I’m Jake Redwood, a detective in the SOS. No way am I a fucking alien contractor intent on the eradication of all human beings from the planet. I think I’d have noticed if that were true. So, taking it as read that I am Jake Redwood, human, then why is this character Krillik trying to kill me?
I rack my brains but can’t think of anything that would piss off a powerful alien with an army of killers at his behest so much he’d want to hunt me down. My head aches from churning it all over but I get no further forward. Half way through the bottle of JD I turn my thoughts to the shoot out at the FBI incident room in the old factory. I learnt from that somebody in the FBI is working for Krillik. Digby was given orders to shoot me on sight. Orders travel down not up. In the morning I need to get onto the internet somehow. I have a plan. I’ll check out the FBI chain of command and find out who was Digby’s boss. I might even pay him or her a visit, just like Jane and I did to old Harvey. If it turns out it’s a dead end I’ll go another rung up the ladder. If that’s a dud then up another step till I find out who it was signed my death warrant. I’ve no idea what I’ll do if anything comes from this but at least it’s a plan, a lame, shitty plan, yes but it’s mine, not Jane’s or Noone’s.
Exhaustion and the booze finally get the better of me. To hell with lighting a fire, it’ll only let some nosey bastard know I’ve broken in. I pull the comforter around me, close my eyes and in moments I’m in a deep sleep.
The dream is intense and vivid, but not the recurring dream I’ve been having where I’m strapped down in a chair in a cell. This time I know exactly what it is and it scares me shitless.
I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of a M998 armored Humvee, dressed in combats. Outside it’s blowing a hoolie, with sand and bugs battering against the windshield. I feel thirsty. I’ve been working with the men under my command outside in the desert. I open my flask and take a long pull on the warm water inside then screw the cap back on. Then suddenly I’m looking at a photograph fresh from the printer in the Humvee. There is a man sitting next to me. He’s also dressed in combats but those of a senior rank. I look up from the photo into the man’s face. I know exactly who it is, Major Harvey Keen, my commanding officer. He puts his hand on my shoulder and shakes it as if he and I are best buddies.
‘Only you and me know about this, Red,’ he says, his face deadly serious, ‘…only you and me.’
‘You’re not gonna call it in, are you?’
‘Nope, so keep your mouth shut.’
I don’t feel like I can trust him, and whatever we’re talking about, it’s too important to rely on the word of this man. I can’t tell from his eyes whether or not he’s lying. I feel a sense of panic rising, a feeling of gut wrenching hopelessness.
Then suddenly I’m wide awake. I think I must have cried out before I regained consciousness. I know I’m drenched in sweat and shaking. This dream was not a premonition. This dream was not a random collection of recent events rattling around my brain then thrown together to make a dream. This happened. It’s a memory, but one I must have buried deep inside my brain. I get up and go to the sink and run some water. It’s ice cold but I drench my face in it over and over. When I know I’m wide awake I strain my memory in the search for other fragments of this story but very little comes back to me.
I remember this much, though. I knew Harvey Keen. He was my Commanding Officer when I was on active duty in Iraq. Why the hell didn’t I remember that when I met him, talked to him, watched him push his tongue down his own throat when he tried to kill himself? What was so abhorrent about the time I knew him that I’d bury all memories of knowing the guy so deep in my mind?
If you chase a memory it’ll outrun you. Much better to leave it be. When it’s ready, when you’re ready, it’ll pop into your head, just appear, and you’ll wonder why something so obvious was so hard to retrieve. I’ve woken up to a stunning morning. The sky is crimson turning blue and completely cloudless. The lake is a sheet of silver, not a breath of wind to ruffle the surface. The woodland around the cabin looks beautiful, so beautiful you could cry just standing gazing at it. The view from the cabin is magnificent and for a minute I can’t stop myself moving my head from left to right then back again, trying to take it all in. But this is a luxury I can’t afford right now. I have more pressing matters to deal with, like the station wagon that’s just driving up the muddy lane towards the cabin.
The vehicle is a Chevrolet Caprice Classic. I recognize the make straight away. My neighbor back in Polk has one. This one could be burgundy but it’s so caked in mud it’s difficult to tell. The roof bars are loaded to capacity, two bikes and two kayaks. There’s an adult couple in the front and kids in the back, he’s driving. They probably own the cabin. The Chev sways to a stop by the front door. I go outside to meet them, very much aware I’m probably wearing his clothes and this little fact is likely to not go unnoticed. He gets out when he sees me and yells at the others to stay in the car. He’s a big guy, forties, Tee shirt and jeans, arms a mass of tattoos, military haircut. He puts his hand out towards his wife as he stands up, and she gives him something. It’s a gun, and he takes no time pointing it at me.
‘Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my cabin?’
‘Just calm down,’ I say, half raising my hands, palms towards him, waving them slowly, ‘I’m a cop.’
‘Yeah, and I’m Madonna. Talk or I’ll put a slug in your belly.’
‘Easy, fellah. I’m SOS. I’m on the trail of an implant on the loose out here. My badge is back there in your cabin. I came up on a highway patrol Harley. It’s parked round the back. Go take a look.’
He stares at me for a moment, and I can see he doesn’t believe a word.
‘Thel,’ he yells back to the woman in the car, ‘go round the back. See if there’s a Harley parked there.’
She gets out of the car and circles round us in a wide arc till she can scuttle round the back of the cabin without coming within my grab range.
‘Yeah,’ she hollers, ‘He’s telling the truth about that at least.’
She’s quiet for a minute. I figure she’s checking out the bike.
Then she hollers, ‘Hun, you won’t believe what’s in the panniers.’
She circles around me again till she’s back beside the Chev. This time she’s holding the MP5 she’s taken from the panniers on the Harley and, just for good measure she’s pointing it straight at me.
‘Step off the porch and walk over to the side,’ says the man.
I do like I’m told. It’s been a long, tough journey over the last few days to get this far. I wouldn’t want it to end with a bullet in the guts from a redneck camper.
‘D’you want me to check inside Hun?’ He nods, still with his eyes locked on me.
I hear her scrabbling around inside for a few moments. Then she shouts, ‘His badge says he’s called Jake Redwood. Yep! It’s him alright.’
‘Thought it was you,’ he says to me, ‘Recognized your picture off the TV. You’re that cop killer they’re looking for.’
The woman appears back on the porch still nursing the MP5 and I sense eager to see how it works and what damage a quick burst would do to me.
‘Jeb! Marie!’ shouts the man, ‘Get in the cabin, shut the door and stay there.’
The rear doors on the Chev open and two sulky kids slide out, one either side. They look like balloon effigies of teenagers that have been over-inflated.
‘Aw, Pa!’ whinges the boy, who clearly wants to be part of the action.
‘Get in there like I told you,’ yells the man, and the sulky fat kids slouch into the cabin, closing the door behind them.
‘This man is armed and dangerous,’ says the man to me, as if reading from a script he’s seen on the box, ‘Do not approach him under any circumstances. I’m s’pposed to call the Feds, but you don’t look that tough to me.’
I wouldn’t at the wrong end of an MP5.
‘What says we go for a little walk in the woods, Jake? I don’t want to pop you with the kids staring out the window.’
‘Suits me,’ I say as cool as I can, ‘I could do with an early morning constitutional.’
He nods his head in the direction of a path leading towards the lake.
‘Hands up high and walk real slow. Any sudden movement and I’ll blow the back of your head off.’
I set off at a snail’s pace and he slips in behind me keeping about two yards distance between us. His woman follows. She wants some of the fun too. The man talks to me as we slowly make our way through the woods towards the edge of the lake.
‘Y’see, you’ve put us in a kind of predicament,’ he says in a drawl, a real cowboy, ‘What the fuck does a guy do when he catches a low life, one hundred percent scumbag cop killer on his property?’
‘You call it in, like it tells you to on the TV.’
‘No can do,’ he says. I can’t see his face but I can sense the smirk all over it, ‘Ain’t no signal out here. To call it in I’d have to drive all the way back to Shelbourne. That’d take me twenty minutes and you’d be long gone.’
I know he wants to take the easy option. I know he wants to kill me, not for the sake of his and his family’s safety, or that I might escape. Not even to further the cause of justice by removing a felon, a man accused of killing cops, from society without society bearing the expense of a fair trial. He wants to kill me just because he wants to kill me. Chances are he’s never willfully taken the life of another human being before and he’s aching for the experience. This is his big opportunity. What’s more, he knows he’d get away with it. He can cut me to ribbons with the MP5 and the authorities wouldn’t bat an eyelid. In fact the reverse, he’d be the local hero, the man that wasted the cop killer. He’d have succeeded where the whole might of the FBI had failed. The bastard would dine out on this for the rest of his pathetic, pointless small town life.
We arrive at a clearing, a strip of grass by the water’s edge. There’s a small wooden jetty at the shore going out about ten feet into the lake. A battered old aluminum punt is tied up to one of the posts at the end of the jetty. I immediately know what he’s going to do. He’s not interested in the kudos, the glory of capturing and killing a fugitive from the law. He wants the thrill of the hunt and the pleasure of the kill, that’s all.
‘Now, Jake…you don’t mind me calling you Jake, do you?’
‘My pleasure,’ I say, my mind racing, looking everywhere for an escape opportunity.
‘Jake, I want you to walk to the end of that jetty. Then I want you to untie the punt and bring it ashore.’
I walk slowly to the end of the jetty and untie the punt. It’s a wreck, half sunken, about eight feet long and about two feet wide, a kid’s boat. I drag it to the edge of the lake and step down from the jetty.
‘All the way out, Jake, till it’s free of the water.’
I pull the punt into the clearing away from the jetty. The water flows out of it from holes in its hull, spilling onto the grass by my feet. The man is still a couple of yards away from me, so there’s no chance I can take him. Anyway, I’m not sure that if I tangled with him his woman wouldn’t spray us both with bullets, so I bide my time.
‘Step into the boat and lie flat on your face, hands together behind your back.’
I do like I’m told.
‘Thelm, come over here.’
I hear her approach, her feet squelching into the water that has just emptied from the punt.
‘Press that gun of yours into the back of his neck while I tie him up.’
I feel the cold, hard barrel of the MP5 cutting deep into the back of my neck. I feel the wet rope from the punt being coiled around my wrists and tied tight, very tight. This redneck really knows how to hog tie a man’s wrists.
When he’s finished he says to his woman, ‘Now back away, Thelm. He ain’t goin’ anywhere.’
I’m face down in the punt with my hands tied tightly behind my back, the other end of the rope tied tightly to the rickety old punt. I’m breathing slow and easy, doing the best I can to keep calm. I know something very bad is coming my way.
‘Well, Jake, I’ve got good news and bad news,’ he says. I figure he’s about ten yards away now, heading back along the trail to his cabin, ‘The good news is I’m letting you go. I’m going back to the cabin to get my hunting gear on, pick up my rifle and have a quick drink. Shouldn’t be more than half an hour or so.’
‘Let me guess what the bad news is,’ I say.
‘Yep! I’m gonna hunt you down. I got a brand new Shilen DGV back in the Chevvie, day and night sights that I’m just itchin’ to put through its paces. It can blow a man’s head off at half a mile. I’m giving you a half hour start, so don’t start bitching. See ya later Jake.’
I lie still till I can’t hear their movement up the trail any more. Then I struggle out of the punt and get to my feet. I check all over inside and outside the punt. There are no sharp edges, nothing I can cut through the rope with. I try pulling out one of the struts inside the punt but it’s impossible with my hands tied behind my back. By the time I’ve finished kicking the hell out of the punt to try to get the rope free I’ve wasted about ten minutes of my head start.
So, I’ve got about twenty minutes left to put as much distance between me and the redneck as I can, hands tightly bound behind my back and towing an eight foot aluminum piece of junk behind me. I’m fucked and I know it. What’s more, my redneck friend turns out to be a liar. As I stand there wondering how the hell I’m going to get out of this mess the first shot cracks into the side of the punt.
End Of Part Eight