© 2012 Simon Jenner
Book cover designed by Ares Jun using images by
VisualDestini.com and DarrenDeans.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be copied, sold, reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form, in whole or in part, or by any means, mechanical or electronic including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, or transmitted by email without prior written permission from the copyright holder.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and incidents are products of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual people or events is coincidental or fictionalised.
I remind my captive of the need for obedience by stubbing out my cigarette on his forehead. The smell of singeing skin is exquisite. He is tightly gagged to prevent the noise from escaping his detached home. His screams are merely loud groans that die inside these walls. The bouncing wooden chair settles as his energy levels deplete, welts red and angry where rope has rubbed against ankles and wrists.
“Are you ready to talk?” I ask.
He nods his head urgently. The pain has done the trick. Compliance will spare him pain. He understands.
“Tell me everything you know about Bradshaw and his invention,” I say, pulling up a matching chair and sitting opposite him, taking hold of the spittle-soaked material wrapped tightly around his mouth. “If you make a noise, you will die.”
He nods his understanding, and I unwind the makeshift gag.
He is a pen-pusher and doesn’t understand the science behind Bradshaw’s invention, but my breath quickens at the power he describes. I see vengeance unfolding before my eyes as he continues, without further encouragement, to stammer out Bradshaw’s address. I sense truth behind wide-eyed fear, but I need an angle.
“What’s Bradshaw’s weakness?”
He jerks back in the chair. “What?”
“Little boys, little girls, drugs ... what’s his poison?”
“I’ve ... I’ve heard ... he gambles heavily,” he splutters. “Owes more than he can pay.”
Perfect. It’s enough, and I should be moving on. I pat him on the head and reapply the gag. He begins to fidget as he ponders my next move. I walk to my black gym bag and remove the hatchet, slapping it against my free palm. It is cold and heavy. I need to know for sure that he has spoken the truth.
“Place your little finger flat on the arm of the chair,” I say, pointing to his left hand.
The chair jumps, and the groans return, his eyes fixed on the hatchet. I twist his balled fist sideways so his little finger is against the arm. His mind will not allow his hand to open up and release the finger.
“It’s a finger or the whole hand,” I tell him, raising the hatchet. “Your choice.”
The finger creeps out, and I bring down the axe before he has time to retract it. His eyes close as the cutting edge meets the digit halfway down. The small axe buries itself into the hard wood beneath. The chair shakes and creaks, like it might fall apart, as he thrashes from side to side, tears streaming from his eyes and leaping from his cheeks. I doubt he has ever experienced real pain before. He is lucky I can’t hang around to educate him.
I place my foot between his legs, pressing down on the chair, keeping it planted to the floor. “When I come back, I want you to nod if all you have told me is true. Shake your head and you will have a chance to correct your mistake without further pain.” I lean down until our faces are close, and I smell the cold sweat that drips from his brow. I feel his shakes travel into the chair and up my leg. I smile. “If I doubt your nod, then I will take another finger, and we’ll try again. Understand?”
He nods, red eyes blinking, face slack and drooping in defeat.
In the kitchen I open up the gas valves of the hob and oven, setting the boiler to spark in fifteen minutes. It is an easy adjustment, one that will not survive the explosion and subsequent fire. A deliberate nod greets me as I walk back into the lounge.
I exhale through pursed lips, sorry to be leaving so soon, but I have taken too much of a risk already. There will be other opportunities. I collect my things and leave, confident that the fire will cover my trail and darkness my departure.
It is time to start the dance with Bradshaw.
1: Sunday 18th September, 13:30
John Smith was sitting alone in his parents’ dining room, a shrine to designer opulence. What was taking so long? Where were his parents and sister? Where was the delicious smelling roast lamb?
Three loud raps at the front door aroused his curiosity.
Adelaine House was at the end of a two hundred yard gated driveway which required authorised entry. John would have heard if the intercom system had been used, so it had to be somebody with the code - Uncle Michael perhaps ... or his best friend, Mark Bradshaw.
Thank God. Now he would have an ally at the table, and his parents would lay off the subject of his career, or more correctly, the lack of one.
John heard his father greet Mark at the door.
“Good to see you, Mark. How’s the world of finance treating you?”
“Pretty good, thanks, Adam. Is John here?”
“Yes but...” his father’s voice dropped to a whisper. As still as he could be, John strained his ears but was unable to hear. He had an uneasy feeling that he was being kept out of the loop on something.
“Got it,” Mark said finally, in a failed attempt at whispering in baritone. “We’ll put him straight.”
John’s stomach sank, and his appetite plummeted with it.
Thirty minutes later a thick and heavy silence blended with the smells of the steaming cuisine laid in front of John. He had so far parried every attempt at small talk with short, sharp, not-to-be-followed answers. The others shared knowing glances when they thought John’s attention was elsewhere. He had hardly touched his appetizer and was equally unable to appreciate the main course.
John rested his head on his hand as he guided a roast potato around a lamb island and through a moat of gravy with his silver fork. He raised his eyes from his plate.
“Come on then,” he said. “Let’s get on with it.”
City whiz Mark, wearing a dark power suit as always, was sitting opposite John and next to Rachel, John’s sister. Rachel had left home over a year ago when she was twenty-two. She had purchased her own property with an obscene mortgage, met by a more obscene salary at one of the larger prestigious fashion houses. For the life of him, he could never remember which one.
Mark looked to his left, past Rachel to John’s father at the head of the table. Adam Smith nodded, and Mark cleared his throat as if addressing a board meeting.
“Listen, John, we’re all a bit concerned about you.”
Here it was. Time to duck out. John stood up and glared at Mark. “Not you too. I thought you were my friend.”
“That’s why we asked him here.” His mother, sitting to his right, tugged his shirt, and he half expected her to tell him to tuck it in - but she didn’t. “Don’t blame Mark. He took a great deal of convincing to come here today.”
His mother was such a drama queen. “Look, Mark, forgive me if I don’t want to be a super-preened city stiff like you. I can’t believe you’ve let them rope you into this.”
Rachel, dressed in a figure-hugging, high-fashion, pink dress of her own design, dabbed her matching lips with her napkin. At least she wasn’t wearing a ridiculous hat today. “Jonathan, Mum and Dad just want the best for you. For Christ’s sake, you’ve got a maths degree from Oxford, and you’re working as a clerk in an office.”
“Don’t call me Jonathan.” Pretty and successful, Rachel had it all. Why did she have to be such a huge pain in the arse? “What the hell use are
services to the world, Rachel? Created any new designs for the third world recently? Let’s give the starving some street cred, why don’t we?”
John’s father raised his hand. “John, leave your sister alone, and sit down, please.”
“Forget it, Dad. I know I’m a disappointment to you all, but it’s my life, and I’m living it my way.” John turned to leave.
“If you don’t sit down, son, we’re taking your flat back.”
John froze. “You’d do that?”
“It’s in our name.”
“You’d really take my home?”
“Jonathan,” his mother said, “you’re thirty-two, and you dress like you’re seventeen. We have given you every advantage. Why can’t you just use them?”
John turned back to face his detractors. “I support myself,” he said to no one in particular. Why had he said that? He braced himself.
His father made fists with his hands as they sat by his plate. “We pay your rates and utility bills and don’t charge you rent. Just how is that supporting yourself?” He gestured to Mark whose pock-scarred face, the result of acute teenage acne, looked decidedly uncomfortable. “Mark here lives in Kensington and makes a seven figure salary. You, on the other hand, make ... I don’t know? Are you into five figures yet?”
Yes, of course they thought Mark was wonderful, but they didn’t know of his out-of-control gambling problem or his fondness for high-class prostitutes. He wasn’t the saint they thought him to be. Boy, could John tell them some stories, and by coming here the turncoat would deserve it - but he couldn’t do that to his only real friend. Besides, it changed nothing. What they were saying was all true. John was a waster. He knew it, Mark knew it and his family knew it.
“Another banker, that’s just what the world needs,” he said under his breath as he returned to sit at the table. He had lost. It was time for damage control.
John nudged at his potato with his fork, but it had taken on too much gravy and fell apart. “What is it you want?”
“We’ll give you six months,” his father said, again gesturing to Mark. “We were going to make it three, but Mark told us six was fairer. It’s the eighteenth of September. Why don’t we agree to a deadline of the end of March?”
Mark had his uses after all. How would John celebrate Christmas properly if he had a proper job to hold down?
“How about twelve months?”
“Not a chance.”
“And who’s going to turf me out?” John poked his mother’s shoulder. “What would the neighbours say, Mum? Just think of all the gossip.”
His mother’s cheeks reddened, and she shifted in her chair. “Adam?”
His father banged his fist on the table, shaking the cutlery. “I’ll sell it for next to nothing to a slum landlord if that makes you pull your finger out.”
“Calm down, dear.” His mother took hold of his father’s hand. “Remember your heart.”
John jerked back in his chair as if someone had pushed him. “What? What about your heart, Dad?”
Adam Smith shook his head and squeezed his wife’s hand. “It’s nothing. You know how your mum fusses.”
Elaine Smith snatched her hand back. “You call quadruple bypass surgery fussing?”
John turned to Mark who shrugged. He looked over to Rachel who nodded. His attention returned to his father. “Dad?” His father avoided eye contact by looking over to Rachel. This was all becoming too much. “Will somebody please tell me what’s going on?”
“Your father needed emergency surgery after a massive heart attack two months ago,” began Mrs Smith. “If we hadn’t been able to pay for the operation privately, he’d be dead.”
John couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “But Dad’s always been so ... healthy? He’s only fifty-four.”
His mother continued, ignoring her son’s interruption. “Anyway, ever since the operation, he’s been worried sick about what’s going to become of you if he dies. He wouldn’t tell you, but he lies awake at night trying to come up with ways of getting you back on track. The stress will eventually kill him and...”
“Really, Elaine, please...” his father complained, eyes wandering around the room, anywhere but on John.
“No, Adam, it has to be said.”
Nobody could do disappointed better than his mother - not even Rachel, although she was catching up. “You’re killing your father, Jonathan.” Her hand rose to her forehead. “Can’t you see that?”
Despite the added drama, the message hit home hard and deep.
A heart attack - Jesus Christ.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
Elaine Smith looked her son squarely in the face. “Because seeing you might have killed him.”
On Monday morning John called work to tell them he was sick. He feigned a weak voice as it seemed only proper to play the part. It was his first instance of sickness in the two years he had been with the company, and regardless of his lowly position, he had always performed his clerical duties to the highest standard. At least he was his father’s son in one regard.
Discovering a new vocation within six months sounded relatively straightforward for a man with an honours degree from Oxford University. He needed to brainstorm his options, and as he always thought better with a drink inside him, he sat in his - no, in his
- flat, with a notepad and a half bottle of cheap Scotch whisky.