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Shutdown

237

 

COPYRIGHT 2016 Shakespir

BY JASON VANEZ

SHUTDOWN

 

1

It was the first time such a monster had entered Elysium Fields.

Long before it entered, they knew it was coming. Dishes rattled in cupboards, windows shook, water in cups shivered. If anyone missed these things, they didn’t miss the great roar of the beast. Confused, those in the houses pressed their noses up against windows. Intrigued, those on the street went to the entrance gates. Fascinated, the residents of Elysium Fields watched the mammoth beast approaching their enclave.

It was a tractor unit with a sixteen-metre semi-trailer. The causeway connecting the island to the mainland was laid with tarmac and split into two lanes, but the big truck had to straddle both as it rumbled up the incline.

The truck stopped at the gates with a snort of its airbrakes and a guy leaned out the driver’s window. He wore some kind of pale army uniform. He didn’t wave or make any gesture at all, but the gate guard must have felt some kind of affiliation with a fellow soldier – although the guard hadn’t served in eight years – because the gate started to slide open on wheels. The truck growled and pounced forward. Intrigued, those who had been at back windows now transferred to windows at the front, or exited their homes and went out onto the street. Confused, those who had congregated near the gates now stepped aside, moved back, made room. Fascinated, the residents of Elysium Fields watched the mammoth beast enter their enclave.

Once inside, a driver had two choices: he could continue straight ahead along the north road, or he could turn onto Elysium Field’s main street. If he continued north, he was headed for a whole different section of the island, a place these residents had no business with, which meant he was not here for them. But the truck started to turn left, and everyone’s curiosity notched up a gear, and the ground vibrated under their feet.

The main street was a curving smile of cinnamon flag-paving running along the entire contour of the southern half of the island, like a line drawn round the edge of the bottom half of a clock. It was barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other without sharing paint, and everyone was curious to see how the big truck would manage the sharp turn. But the big truck didn’t manage it. The driver didn’t bother trying. He curved across the road and onto the grass on the other side, then drew the truck parallel to a row of convenience shops and killed the engine. The road was left clear for the vehicle that entered behind the truck.

A Jeep of some kind, army-green, with a canvas roof. It made the sharp turn easily, staying on the flag-paving road. It drove a short way in and stopped. A man jumped out the back. He wore the same pale uniform as the truck driver. He had a backpack over his shoulders, and in each hand carried what looked like a pair of laptop bags.

There were workers in the shops. A lady came out of a doorway, angry at seeing the lines gouged in the grass by the truck’s wheels. She stopped dead when a third man in pale uniform jumped out of the cab and aimed a pistol at her. He banged on the trailer with his fist and its unlocked rear doors flew open and more men with guns slipped out, all dressed in the same army uniform.

For four years the residents of Elysium Fields had enjoyed the comfort and security that a gated community offered, but today their high protective fence became a prison wall.

 

 

 

 

2

There were twenty-six people in army uniform and they posed an intimidating sight as they raced around, waving rifles, shouting. Like a real army unit invading a city, only these guys weren’t real soldiers. There was one man who realised this immediately. He was at his upstairs bedroom window, staring out with his wife by his side. He’d never been a soldier, but he was a retired American history teacher, and he recognised the uniform the soldiers wore. Desert battle dress, he told his wife. American issue in the nineteen eighties and nineties, but discontinued. Need more proof? How about that Jeep? The Willys MB, the iconic utility vehicle of the Second World War. Today’s soldiers with uniform from the nineteen eighties and a vehicle from the forties? I don’t think so. He watched the fake soldiers round up his neighbours and felt his anger rise. Some kind of joke, this. Told his wife he was going to put a stop to this foolishness and went downstairs to do just that.

Four soldiers were manhandling the shopkeepers across the grass. Others were grouping everyone in the road. Three men were stood up in a roofless second Jeep that had reversed out of the box trailer and were aiming their rifles down at the growing crowd of terrified residents, and looking smug about it. People who tried to run or didn’t move got a rifle butt in the arm – women – or stomach – men. Some tried to duck behind the cars in their driveways, but the men with guns soon got them moving. Mobile phones were being ripped away from those who had them. Everyone was scared, except for one man. The history teacher pushed through the growing crowd in the road and stepped out ahead of everyone else and shouted and pointed.

“You there, what in the name of God is going on here? You aren’t real soldiers. I demand an explanation.”

His finger was aimed at the one man amongst the soldiers who wasn’t doing anything. He just leaned against the side of the truck’s plain trailer and watched the action. He was a big black guy, and his uniform was different. Grey and bland, it had padded knees and elbows and a multitude of pockets. The history teacher didn’t recognise the uniform, but knew it wasn’t American, or modern. It was actually the pattern 50 combat dress, worn by British soldiers in winter weather during the Korean War, made from heavy duty cotton sateen and designed to be baggy so padded clothing could be worn underneath. But the outfit didn’t hang off this guy. He was muscular enough to flesh it out without padded clothing. He leaned and watched and casually drummed his fingers on a silver pistol tucked into his belt. His fingers froze in mid-drum as the teacher yelled and pointed at him. Half the guy’s pseudo-soldiers froze at his shout, too, and the teacher knew this was because of shock, and he knew that the shock was because these men were unaccustomed to seeing their leader challenged. And then the history teacher knew he had just made a hefty mistake.

The man in grey pushed away from the truck with a jerk of his shoulder. He stopped on the edge of the grass, booted toes on the kerb, and scanned the townsfolk with eyes that moved in a frozen head, counting them as his men continued to corral everybody, forcing them closer together, eroding gaps, shrinking the mass. Sixty-nine people lived at Elysium Fields in forty-one houses that stretched along the western half of the main road, from six to nine on a clock. The man in grey knew that two of the townsfolk were in the local hospital, four were away on holiday, and nineteen were at work or school, so he expected to find forty-four panicking, jostling souls before him. His count came up thirteen short. Maybe all in the bath, wearing headphones, oblivious to all the shouting, but he doubted it. More likely, they were the ones who hadn’t come out to be nosey and had been safely indoors or elsewhere on the island when hell broke loose. He ordered a number of his men to fan out and check the estate for stragglers, then turned his attention back to those his net had already captured.

He scanned the crowd for two specific faces and pointed a finger at each. “You and you, up front, next to this guy,” he said, and then pointed both fingers at the history teacher. He made sure his voice was deep and commanding and that he stood straight and tall, presenting an image of power.

He scrutinized the crowd again and sighed. The face he really needed wasn’t here. The round-up had gone smoothly, but now this was a problem. But he wasn’t worried. Nothing went easy in time of war.

The guy who carried the backpack moved beside the man in grey. Now his backpack lay flat against his back, empty. He carried a video camera with an antenna, and he was aiming it at the history teacher and the terrified middle-aged men who’d taken up position next to him.

The crowd murmured and turned their heads to the left. The man in grey looked, too. To his right and behind, what the camera saw was plastered big and obvious on the screen in the outdoor cinema. Filling that screen were the history teacher and the two guys beside him, five metres tall, their fear clear on their giant faces even seen from roughly a hundred metres away. The man in grey smiled at seeing the shocking images. The distance lessened the impact, making him wish he’d gathered everyone much closer to the giant screen, but he was aware that the cinema was so placed to be visible from all the houses, and he imagined the horror felt by those still hiding in their homes and watching events unfold. He had visualised this moment in his dreams. He wished the screen was fifty metres high.

The man in grey raised his arms and flapped his hands in a be quiet gesture. The cacophony of voices lowered and died, as if a volume knob had been slowly turned. Every set of eyes was on him, and he loved it. He spoke to the two men bookending the teacher.

“Doctors Peterson and Mussen, hello.” Mussen was a surgeon, Peterson a general practitioner based right here in the gated community. Shocked at the fact that this army guy knew them, they each croaked back a hello like meek children. “Doctors, please, tend to this loudmouth.” The man in grey paused a second, enjoying the puzzled looks on the faces of the two doctors, and especially the history teacher. Then he whipped out his pistol and shot the history teacher in the shin.

The shot was loud, the sound of shattering bone even louder, and the teacher’s shriek of agony louder still. All three were overshadowed by the panicked cries of the injured man’s friends and neighbours. They didn’t quieten until the man in grey fired a shot in the air and called for silence. On the big cinema screen was a close-up of the history teacher writhing on the ground, leg spouting blood. His friends and neighbours heard his moans from vocal chords and speakers. Then the cameraman whipped his machine around and the man in grey was once more the leading man of this show. He was smiling. Artists and sportsmen loved applause and compliments, but he preferred to bask in others’ fear.

He pulled out a photograph. It was one that he’d had a guy take two days ago, when the subject was at a supermarket with his wife and sixteen year-old son. It was a close-up of the head and shoulders of a man in his late-thirties with a petite nose that belonged on a woman, dark brown eyes, and short brown hair neatly styled, but with the sides cropped short and greying just enough to look like it might be an image he chose. The photo wasn’t needed, because the man in grey knew the subject’s neighbours would know who he was in a community of fewer than seventy. The picture was his way of communicating to these people that he knew exactly who he was after and had come prepared. He held up that photo now for all to see. The cameraman, knowing his role, moved in for a close-up of the stern face of the man in grey. When the man in grey spoke, he did so with as much bass and authority as possible, knowing that wherever those still missing from his net cowered, they would hear him through the cinema’s giant speakers. And fear his voice.

“We’re here for William Mackenzie. William Mackenzie, and him alone. Give him up and no one else gets hurt.”

He waved the cameraman away and grinned as the shouts came. Such loyalty, eh? Friends and neighbours, and they sold him out in a second to save their own hides. He jabbed a finger at three of his men and sent them to number 24. Of course, he already knew who lived where, but it was good to be sure, and you never knew if one of the residents had made last minute plans to head into town. Or if the one you wanted was in another part of the estate. Besides, he had to put on a show of authority to keep these people subdued.

“I want to go with them.”

He turned to face the owner of the voice. It was a tall woman, with skin as black as his own. His face was leathery, tough, while hers was as smooth as milk chocolate. She had black hair that she usually wore straight and to her shoulders, but today it was bunched under a boonie cap, which, combined with the uniform, gave her a masculine look. At thirty-nine, she was fifteen years his elder, but looked as young as he did. For as long as he could remember, people had remarked on how youthful his sister, Anna, appeared.

“Why?” he said, turning away from her to face the terrified crowd.

“I want to be there when he’s captured,” Anna said.

He sighed. She had hounded him to be allowed on this mission, and she was hounding him again. He didn’t know whether she genuinely wanted to play a part in today’s proceedings, or was trying to impress him, to prove she had brawn and resolve to go along with her brain.

“Okay,” he said, but wasn’t happy. He knew his men didn’t want her here. They wanted her naked in bed, maybe. But not alongside them, forcing them to watch their mouths, to keep an eye on her. Anna had never worn the uniform for real, which meant they didn’t trust her, thought her a hindrance, and he had yielded to her wish to join the group only on her promise to “keep quiet and stay out of harm’s way.”

She grinned like a kid given a present and scuttled off after the three men. Two of them gave her a glance and then ignored her, while the third shook his head in a show of displeasure. The man in grey totally understood.

He addressed the crowd again.

“Pay careful attention, everyone. Two things. One: my name is Captain Jacobs. That’s what you call me, no deviation. If anyone suddenly decides they have a piece of information they think I might need to know, you go to one of my men and you say, ‘Captain Jacobs needs to hear this.’ If you wish to relay to a neighbour your displeasure at my actions here today, you say, ‘Who the hell does Captain Jacobs think he is?’ If any of you breaks free and tries to kill me, then as you wrap your hands around my neck, you will scream, ‘Die, die, Captain Jacobs!’ And two: you will obey without question and with astonishing speed every order I give you. I am the man in control here, and believe me I have performed a courtesy by using simple words to relay this fact. If I find it necessary to remind any of you of this simple fact, you will not like it and won’t anyone who cares about you.”

He looked at their faces, seeking a hero, a rebel. He didn’t see any, even amongst the five or six here that his research had highlighted as possible irritants to his authority. He would have smiled, if he hadn’t been fuming about his fuck-up in the final sentence of a speech he’d practiced a dozen times in his head that morning. Won’t, he’d said, instead of neither will. No one seemed to have noticed, but then what did he expect from people with guns aimed at them? Sniggering? Maybe someone to raise a hand and say, Captain Jacobs, just wondering if you were aware that you fucked up a word there?

He got back on track. “Then let’s test what we’ve learned today. All of you, in the truck.”

On the word truck, two soldiers stationed at the back of the vehicle swung open the trailer’s doors. Some of the captives immediately moved in that direction, but not quickly enough. And Captain Jacobs was not a man to work from anyone else’s timetable. He gave a nod, and his men started shouting and pushing, herding the townsfolk towards the truck. There were pleas, and cries, and another idiot who ran – the gate guard, a former soldier, of all people – and was caught and made to regret his futile dash for freedom, but he got his prisoners aboard without much fuss. Lesson learned, mostly. By the time the last captive was aboard and his men were shutting the doors, he noticed his other guys had stopped outside a house a short way past the cinema. Just tiny figures seen at that distance, they were approaching the building across the grass lawn. Two stopped outside the front door, one with his rifle in both hands, while the third slipped down the side, heading round the back. With Jacobs’s sister following him like his pet dog.

As a final piece of housekeeping, Jacobs sent more men to check the other houses, thought about what he might have overlooked, decided there was nothing, and then allowed himself to relax, fingers drumming against the pistol now back in his belt.

He looked over as another vehicle entered the enclave. A white Mercedes Vito, a van with a sliding side door. The driver, a pale man with blond dreadlocks and a dirty blond beard, gave him a thumbs-up. He swung left once inside and parked behind one of the Jeeps. He stayed in the van. The gate started to close.

Captain Jacobs felt good. On schedule. They would have Mackenzie soon, and once the man was dead the mission could move on to phase two. A few hours from now, he’d leave this place behind, and much wealthier than when he arrived. While he waited for his men – and sister – to return, he turned in a circle, slowly, and ran his eyes around the gated community. He’d studied photos of this place for months, and it felt a little weird to finally be here. He’d stared at those photos for so long, it now almost felt like being in one. Elysium Fields was neat, kind of pretty. Almost a shame that it was going to get real messed up soon.

 

 

 

 

3

Billy Mackenzie, wearing a grubby T-shirt and tracksuit trousers that he used for gardening, had been in the kitchen when he heard the commotion. He had heard the truck, but didn’t bother with it, figuring that the driver was either lost or delivering something to the assholes who lived up north – either way, nothing to do with him. There was no room to turn a big truck in this half of the island, so he thought he might wander to a window later and watch the driver having to reverse his vehicle all the way back down the thin causeway. That might be funny to watch. At the minute he was making tea, which was far more important. His wife, Lucinda, in a black knee-length skirt and white shirt for her shift at work in a couple of hours, was bent over the tumble dryer, feeling the clothes inside.

“These are still wet. What setting did you put it on?”

Billy squeezed the tea bags against the sides of the cup for extra flavour. “Ready To Wear, why?”

She threw a damp sock at him. It hit his neck and fell onto his cup. He decided she was having that one.

“I use Extra Dry, and I told you to use the same setting. Ready To Wear doesn’t dry them properly.”

Billy dipped the sock nice and deep into her tea, but made sure Lucinda couldn’t see. “Sorry. I forgot about all those people who like to go out in wet clothing. That machine’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid. It just doesn’t expect fools like you. Just use the Extra Dry setting, okay? Now these have to go back in.”

That was when he heard the shouting from the street out front. Curious, he carried two teas into the living room. Billy laid the cups on the coffee table and reached for the remote control to turn the TV on. Lucinda appeared behind him. She moved quickly to the window.

“What’s going on out there?” he said. “Someone else found her husband using the Ready to Wear setting?”

Lucinda didn’t reply. Billy approached the window so he could see for himself what was going on. He put his face close to the net curtains and looked to the right, down towards the entrance. What he saw made no sense at first: his neighbours being rounded up by soldiers.

“What the hell?”

“Maybe they’re after the Donaldsons,” Lucinda said. The Donaldsons, Mr and Mrs, were former army. “AWOL or something. This is scary, Billy. Is this right? Can the army just storm in here like this?”

“They can if it’s Martial Law or whatever it’s called.” Billy still had the remote control in his hand. He turned back to the TV and started flicking for a news channel, certain he was going to learn that some kind of disaster had occurred. A terrorist nerve gas attack, or a nuclear power station meltdown.

Billy found a local news channel, but was confronted by some bullshit story about a listed building under threat from a sinkhole. He turned back to the window.

They watched for a few more seconds, concerned. The angle and the net curtains made the view awkward. It was hard to make out what was actually happening, but clearly his neighbours weren’t partying with the soldiers.

“Should we go out?” Lucinda said. Billy put his hand on her shoulder. He gave her a look that said no way. Her own look said this was the answer she wanted.

“Don’t worry about it,” he told her, and turned away from the window. But he was slowly failing to take his own advice.

“Jesus!” Lucinda shrieked at a loud bang from somewhere outside.

Billy jerked around. That was when he caught sight of the cinema screen across the road. They’d been so intent on watching the action far off to the right that somehow neither of them had noticed the big, blazing images being played across the grass metres away. He watched, shocked, as a black man in soldier garb filled the screen, seeming to stare right across the road and through their window, and right into Billy’s eyes. He spoke, his voice a bass boom:

“We’re here for William Mackenzie. William Mackenzie, and him alone. Give him up and no one else gets hurt.”

Billy’s stomach lurched. Me? He thought he must have misheard. Lucinda was staring at him, saying something. But all sounds were tuned out. He watched as men in army uniform came down the road, four of them, three white and one black, and his mind raced. He willed them to go past, hoping that it was indeed the Donaldsons they wanted. But it was his name that had been called, his alone. And the soldiers were staring at his house. And then they were on his driveway. He saw himself going to the front door, opening it, showing himself; he saw the four men look at him and call their boss and say, Wrong guy, and move on, away. Because they couldn’t want him. Why would they want him? He’d never had any dealings with the army. This had to be a mistake.

The black soldier and one of the white men slipped out of sight down the driveway, heading round the back, but the other two came on, towards the front door. Through the net curtains he watched them. Lucinda had backed off, but Billy was frozen in place, inches from the window. The guys grew bigger. One had a rifle in his hands, while the other let his own weapon hang from a shoulder strap. They were close enough now to reveal their young faces, complete with sweat and wrinkles, and Billy knew then it was real. His dreaming brain would not have been so attentive to detail.

Lucinda was saying something to him, but again he didn’t hear. But he clearly heard the front door opening, and he wished he’d locked it, and then he realised the door was never locked in the daytime, because the whole point of living in a gated community was that it was meant to be safe enough so you didn’t worry about locked doors, and then he turned to flee, and a noise out the back stopped him. He remembered the guys who’d gone round the back of the house. He turned around again, was confronted by Lucinda.

“Billy, what the hell’s going on?” she shouted right in his face. In shock, he moved robotically, stepping past Lucinda, not really knowing what his brain was planning but suspecting it was pushing him to the living room door to shut it, bar it, prevent access by the men who were coming in uninvited.

Too late. In they came, brash and big, as self-assured as entertainers walking onstage to rapturous applause, and grinning at Billy like they were old friends who’d popped round for a chat. One had a mobile phone, which he looked at. Held it up in such a way that Billy knew he was checking a photo against the man standing in front of him.

“This is the guy,” he said. The other guy aimed his rifle at Billy’s chest, and Billy felt his legs wobble. More noise from the back now: clearly the back door opening. One of two doors that was never going to be left unlocked ever again, he decided. Not unless the local police were throwing their Christmas party right in his living room.

“You can’t just burst in here,” Lucinda yelled right by Billy’s ear.

He felt himself tugged by the arm, Lucinda’s nails in his skin. He turned, moving towards the kitchen door. He heard a guy say something about being trapped, then that door flew open, and Lucinda threw her arms over her head and ducked, unleashing a yelp. Billy stood there as a third soldier walked in, his mind in shock still.

It was the black soldier, but up close he saw that it wasn’t a man. The woman was tall and had severe green eyes that seemed to glow in her dark face, as if lit from behind. And she was pointing a strange-looking handgun right at him.

 

 

 

 

4

Harris Island was originally the home of Pinnacle Waves, a commercial fishing company that once employed 300 people and made 20 million dollars a year. The landscape was flat and featureless and the building work took only eight months. It took eleven months to tear it all down a few years later. A sixty-metre tall lighthouse at the end of a rock finger jutting off the northern coast is all that remains of the fishing company.

When the fishing company ceased trading, wealthy investors opened their wallets and heavy machinery started to roll. Some bright spark decided that Harris Island would make a great gated community, but there were arguments about the type of people who should live there. In the end, a compromise was reached: a gated community within a gated community. The southern half of the island lays lower than its counterpart by six metres, creating a natural divide. At the top of the incline, developers bisected the island with a thick wall of live oak trees, and inserted a fence within and a road running from its entrance to the main gateway. Two communities then, one in the south, one in the north.

In the wider northern half of the island, the land was razed and a nine-hole golf course smeared across it. Nine luxury homes went up right on the golf course, one for each of the 3-par holes. Six additional and even more deluxe homes were erected along the flat north coast where fishing buildings had once stood. The builders then installed a whole host of leisure facilities, including a riding range, although you had to bring your own horses. The final touch was the insertion of a marina and a runway, so the affluent could arrive to holiday in the summer months and avoid cross-contamination with the residents living in the southern half.

The northern half, then, was the gated community within a gated community. In the summer months this section is crawling with the ultra-wealthy and their plastic wives, but out of season the northern half of the island is deserted. Security personnel drop by every day to make sure everything’s okay, and in the weeks leading up to the scorching days of December, a team materializes to clean and restock everything for the arrival of the rich. But while the northern half remains free of life, the southern half thrives.

The southern half was designed with the less-wealthy in mind, for year-round living. Developers threw up all the pre-requisite amenities for a retirement village – tennis court, swimming pool, convenience stores, et cetera – and made it all look pretty with lawns and paths, and then they got short of money. The plan had been to arrange exactly one hundred houses along the flag-paving road around the island’s bottom curve, but for the second time men in suits gathered to reach a compromise. Eventually forty-one brand new homes were erected and put on the market eighteen months before completion of the entire gated community. They were advertised only overseas so working emigrants could contribute to the economy. All that remained was to find a name.

“Elysium Fields,” Captain Jacobs muttered to himself. In Greek mythology, a place in the afterlife where people who’d pleased the Gods were sent. But the name was an error, he knew. It was Elysium, or the Elysian Fields, but not Elysium Fields. Obviously some idiot in a suit had come up with that one after careful thought for all of ten seconds.

He drummed his fingers on his pistol, which was once more stuck in his belt. He turned and looked north, towards the inclining grass bank and the boundary of trees at the top. He would soon be in the Gilded Sector, as the southern residents called it, with free reign to do as he wished. His men, knowing that the fifteen giant homes up there were empty, had already asked his permission to loot the buildings, but he had denied that request. They weren’t common thieves. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have a nosey around, see how the better one percent lived.

During his research of Elysium Fields, he’d studied many photos and documents, like a military general scoping out the battlefield, but the Gilded Sector hadn’t had much available online. The rich owners didn’t want publicity. They were wealthy, so he could understand that. The southern sector had been splashed all over the Internet during the sales period, however. The estate agents had gone in with cameras and documented everything that they saw: the cinema, the swimming pool, the interiors of the houses, everything that might pique a potential buyer’s interest. So Captain Jacobs knew this sector like the back of his hand, including the residents, whose names and occupations and indeed their whole lives had also been listed in various places on the Internet, chiefly the major social networking websites. The houses here were nice, but they were adequately nice. Nothing in these homes would astonish him.

Up north, though… The houses themselves, well, he’d read the specs: over 5,000 square feet of living space, six bathrooms, 8 bedrooms, grand foyer, high vaulted ceilings, 12-seat dining room, wet bar, games room, cinema, wine cellar, alfresco dining area and swimming pool – and that was just the smaller homes along the golf course. But these were the design details. It was the personal touch he yearned to see. What kind of bedroom would a pop star want? How would a software entrepreneur kit out his study? What colour fluffy cover would an energy baron choose for his toilet lid?

Captain Jacobs could hardly wait to find out.

These thoughts turned his mind back to his men. Four of them, sent to capture Mackenzie seven minutes ago. Seven minutes ago, a two minute job. The men he had sent into other houses had been in and out, dragging stragglers or not, in a minute or two. Not seven. Something was wrong. He hoped his incompetent sister hadn’t messed up.

He snapped his fingers at two soldiers who were playing on a hopscotch pad cut into the grass. When they looked at him, he gave a signal that ordered them to follow him. All three men, with Jacobs three feet ahead, walked down the cinnamon flag-paving stones, passing houses with patterned curtains and flowery window boxes and neat lawns. On his right was the cinema, set forty metres back from the road. It had a low brick wall and rows of all-weather seats. He thought the seating must be a social thing, since it wasn’t necessary. The houses at either end of the curving row might not offer a brilliant view, but the residents could sit and watch a movie from the comfort of their own bedroom windows.

Behind the cinema were the tennis court, outdoor bowling green and roofless bar, running left to right. That was it for fun-based amenities. There were tables with chairs and parasols scattered about everywhere. The whole place looked like a holiday camp, one of those places in Greece or Spain with names like Vacation Village or something cheesy like that. To Jacobs, such places seemed like summer prisons for adults in the same manner that children had a summer school. He thought the rich had the right idea: use the place as a holiday destination. He could holiday here for a month, no problem. But live here? No. It was winter and, although not cold, the sky was overcast. It ruined the image, made the whole place look bleak and depressing. It needed bright sunlight the way an ugly woman needed lipstick and mascara.

Number 24 was just past halfway. A good spot for a voyeur to see the cinema screen, or watch ladies play tennis in mini-skirts. As he thought about ladies in skirts, Jacobs noticed a second bar. It was way over at the western end, by the coast, so patrons could see the sea, albeit it through the perimeter fence. The bar hadn’t been on the blueprints he’d spent hour after hour memorising. He remembered thinking the other bar was in the wrong place, that the coastal edge should be the location. Someone had clearly had the same idea recently and slotted an extra one in.

He was angry. The second bar was a new development. He didn’t like new developments.

He told himself to stop letting his thoughts run amok. They were here. Number 24. The house, like all the others, conformed to no obvious style, as if the developers had decided that a design that appealed to person A might alienate person B. Flat walls in white and a gable roof in black, the only flash of colour being the guttering around the eaves, which was red plastic for some reason. The car in the driveway was a four year-old Toyota, nothing special. The front lawn boasted a border of plants, a few garden ornaments, and nothing else. A bland and forgettable house, like all the others.

The front door was closed, which intrigued him. If he was going to rush in and right back out, he wouldn’t have shut the door. And you didn’t want to have to free up a hand to open a door if you were manhandling a guy struggling to get free.

Something was wrong.

He gestured at his men to wait at the front, while he slipped by the Toyota and headed for the back.

There was a low brick wall between the driveway and a concrete path alongside the neighbour’s house. The path led to a tall close-board gate in a brick archway. Jacobs paused as he realised the significance of each house having a driveway on the left and a path on the right: two ways into the back yard. His men hadn’t covered the gate on the far side of Mackenzie’s house when approaching.

Between the house and the wall ran a picket fence, just two feet high, so more of a boundary marker than a barrier, a way of showing where the back garden started. They thought they didn’t need barriers inside their sweet little world, but he’d proved them wrong on that count. Jacobs ignored a small and unnecessary gate in the fence, just stepped right over the low barrier.

The back garden was another lawn, with a small shed and a rockery at the back, by the tall wrought-iron fence that protected the island from intruders. Or not. Captain Jacobs stepped around the corner of the house, and froze.

In front of the back door was one of his men, down on his face. His head was in a pool of blood leaked by his nose as it crushed against the doorstep as he fell. He lay upon the step like a man on a pillow. He had obviously been dropped fast by something. Someone.

Jacobs pulled his pistol. Fear rippled up his spine as he thought of what might have happened in the house. His sister was in there.

 

 

 

 

5

The southern half of Elysium Fields was split into two quarter circles, one either side of the north-running road, that the residents called Wedges. The West Wedge had everything a person could use to have fun. It was the East Wedge you visited to relax. The curving flag-paving road ended at a large garden in the north of the Wedge. Ponds, deck furniture, a mini maze, elegant small trees in pots, and an array of deck chairs surrounding a swimming pool. South of the garden were a child’s playpark, next to the north road, and a long, single storey building that contained four businesses: post office, doctor’s surgery, dentist’s surgery, and beauty salon. This was a bland concrete building, each establishment having only a single door on the south side with a basic sign above, and a single round window in the north side. The East Wedge was for relaxing, despite the presence of the two surgeries (and the post office, which should have been in the West Wedge with the other shops), so the long north wall of the building was painted to look like an aerial view of an area of countryside, with the blue-tinted windows representing lakes. Nobody with a bad tooth or chest pains wanted to sit in the garden or swim in the pool and see that building and be reminded that all was not well.

All was well, though, for the soldiers patrolling that Wedge. Captain Jacobs had sent a number of them over to check if any of the missing residents were there, especially those who might be working. They had the dentist and the doctor and both the women who ran the beauty salon, but the captured did not include the dentist’s assistant, Mrs. Hannigan, or the old guy who owned the post office, Heafield.

Two guys went into the post office. The door was open and they strolled in like they had legitimate business there. Heafield, in his sixties, skinny as hell except for a big, round belly that might as well have had an alcohol-by-volume percentage printed on it, was not visible, but they heard his voice, singing along to an Elvis track. The place was small, cramped, ordered disarray. The kind of place where you had to ask the owner where something was, and he’d point it out by telling you it was next to another item you couldn’t see. Strip lighting in the ceiling was bright but the yellow of a jalopy’s headlight. Left side was a counter, no security screen, and in the wall behind was an open doorway. From beyond this doorway came the duet between Elvis Presley and Donald Heafield.

A guy called Miko went to the counter. He rang a small reception bell, but the noise was too faint to carry over the music. He flipped the serving hatch up, meaning to go through and grab the proprietor, but the hinges made an almighty screech that the old guy must have heard, because a second later the music was cut off.

Heafield appeared in the doorway and froze at seeing a guy in army uniform standing on the wrong side of his counter.

“Got a good fence for postal orders, ‘ave ya?” the old guy said. “Get out, ya dickwads, or I bring the police.” He waved something he took from his pocket. A mobile phone. Looked smug about it.

Miko put on his own smug grin. “Number one, old fuck, I’d have that off you and your neck broken before you got to type one number. Number two, look at your signal. You ain’t got one. No one has, because we’re smart dickwads.”

The old guy glanced at his phone. Then he flicked his hand under the counter and up again and sideways and grunted with the effort. Miko staggered back, reasserted himself, and aimed his gun, and old Heafield stood there with a sneer on his face and a sawn-off baseball bat in his hand, like he was ready for them. The second soldier, further back, laughed. Heafield stepped out through the hatch in the counter and swung his bat again. Miko jumped back and easily avoided the blow, dropped his gun on the floor and stepped forward. He rammed his elbow into the old guy’s forehead and the man staggered, dropping his bat. The he dropped to one knee. The second soldier was laughing. He was still laughing when Miko picked up the bat. The short handle had been sanded smooth where it was cut and wrapped in tape for grip. The business end looked as if it had been chewed by some big animal, because it was dented and pitted and coarse, and clearly looked designed to do extra damage.

“Who the heck do you expect to come rob you in here, you silly old twat?” the second soldier said, still laughing. He abruptly stopped when his comrade raised the lethal-looking weapon and brought it down hard on the old guy’s head. He stepped forward to intercept the second whack, but by the time he wrestled Miko away, enough blows had landed to make the old guy a bloody mess on the floor. Elvis would go solo from now on.

Mrs. Hannigan had gone to the dentist’s surgery early to review some paperwork. Or so she told her husband. But when a tall soldier with a fire-scarred pair of hands kicked in the door, it wasn’t Mr. Hannigan kneeling before her as she lounged back in the dental chair. The soldier strode in and stopped and laughed as the guy with his head between her legs scrambled to his feet. Hannigan crossed her ankles and pulled her skirt down.

The soldier unzipped his fly and pulled out his penis. “I think I’ll have a portion of that,” he said. But it wasn’t Mrs. Hannigan who stepped forward to oblige.

The soldier flew into a rage. He whipped up his gun and swung it. The barrel caught the bald temple of David Smith hard and loud. He dropped as if stomped from above. He was down and out, but the soldier wasn’t finished. This particular soldier had been molested by a group of homosexual boys when he was twelve and had a precise and acute hatred of men who loved men. He swung his rifle in his hands and now used the stock to batter the knees and elbows of Mr. Smith. Mrs. Hannigan leaped in to tear him away, but the soldier stuck an elbow in her teeth and she staggered back, mouth bleeding. She tripped over the chair, hit the dental engine that contained all her husband’s tools, and fell on her ass with her legs wide open once again. The soldier got two more hits against Smith before she came at him again, roaring like a beast. The soldier sensed her coming and put his elbow up again without even looking. But this time he hit something sharper than teeth.

The drill’s burr bit into his flesh and he yanked his arm away. The drill came with it. He yelped and flung his arm like a guy being electrocuted and finally the drill flew free. He was pure anger as he turned back towards the woman. She had another piece of machinery in her hands now, ready for him, but clearly petrified. The soldier reached into the back of his belt and pulled out a switchblade.

Seven minutes later the soldier exited the dental surgery. He locked the door and stuck the key in his pocket. Just then two of his comrades came out of the post office.

“Anything?” the one called Miko said, and the guy with the scarred hands shook his head. “Boss ain’t gonna like this. Hannigan should have been there.” The guy with the scarred hands just shrugged. Miko sipped from a hip flask, replaced the lid and tossed it over.

The guy with the scarred hands caught the flask and took a sip. “What about your man?”

Now Miko shrugged. “He’s not there, either.”

A hundred metres north, two soldiers, Grisham and Pickford, approached the swimming pool, grinning. There was a woman in there, doing lengths. They strode up nice and casual, because this was Ms. Toni, a middle-aged clothing store manager, and Ms Toni always started her day in the pool and always wore headphones playing music. She was oblivious to their approach, until she hit the east end of the pool and flipped around for the return journey. Then she saw them, way over by the west end. Two guys in army gear, guns hanging by their sides, smiles on their faces as they waved for her to get out. Ms. Toni froze, wondering what was going on. She yanked the headphones from her ears.

“Out you get, lady. Quick as you can,” one of them said.

She wanted to know who they were. And who let them in here.

“We ask the questions,” the same guy said, and lifted something off his belt. He held it up.

She wanted to know was it was.

“It’s a teleporter. You get out now, right here by my feet, or this will teleport you fifty feet over there.” He waved the item. It was a grenade. It was a fake, but he used it for scare tactics.

She wasn’t even dressed, she told them. And she would only get out if they turned their backs.

Her clothing was piled near the feet of the soldiers. The guy who hadn’t spoken yet picked up her gear and threw it in the pool.

“Now you can dress without us seeing your wrinkly old ass.”

Ms Toni objected a few more seconds, but then the soldiers aimed their guns at her. She didn’t know what to do, but felt her first step should be to do as she was told. Ms. Toni swam to her clothing and started to drag the sodden items onto her body.

Over in the West Wedge, things were about to go bad for another resident.

Her name was Elaine and she was seventeen years old. Fresh out of school, she had gotten a job as a trainee lifeguard at Bamber Beach, and today was her second week on the job. It was a role that required she keep herself fit, and that was why she was in the tennis court when the commotion started over at the houses.

Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, she was running around the inside of the chain-link fence surrounding the court. She wore headphones and heard nothing above the beat of rap music. No rumbling truck, no shouting soldiers, no screaming townsfolk. And her eyes were down on the floor, so she saw nothing, either. No truck entering the estate, no soldiers cascading out the back, no townsfolk congregating on the street. Snoop Dogg and grass, that was her world.

But she heard the gunshot.

Her head flicked left fast enough to disorient her. Her left foot caught her right ankle and down she went, rolling on the grass. She came to her knees, yanked out her headphones, and that was when she heard the commotion. Lots of people shouting from somewhere past the cinema screen, over towards the entrance.

Her breath caught as she saw figures emerge from beyond the big screen as they moved along the road: men in army uniform, carrying guns. Terrorists popped into her mind. Her neighbours popped into her mind. She watched the guys move across the garden of one of the houses. The house of the electrician, the guy with the petrol-head son who kept trying to chat her all up night a few days ago.

Something was wrong here, she knew. So she got up and ran for the gate in the western side of the fence. Ahead was the new Coconut Bar. The bar was up on a raised wooden platform. Designed to resemble something beachfront in Hawaii or someplace, it was nothing but a square counter with a thatched roof held aloft by a thick bamboo post in each corner. Stools lined each side. She ran for it, climbed over the counter and lay down. She was down before she realised she could have gone up the grassy slope and hidden in the trees. Too late to move now, she figured. So she lay still and silent against the empty fridges arranged under the counter, and waited.

 

 

 

 

 

6

The back door was closed. He ducked under a window next to the door and, keeping low, grasped the door handle. He scooted to the other side, so he could inch the door open slowly. This he did, pistol up, finger on the trigger. He sighted down the barrel as he opened the door. A kitchen slowly revealed itself. When the door was open wide enough to disclose that no one was in the kitchen, he stood and shouldered the door the rest of the way open, hard, because behind the door was the only place anyone present could hide. The door hit a doorstop and bounced back at him, but Jacobs was inside before it got to him.

The kitchen was empty. The sink was under the window, full of dishes. Under the counter were a washing machine and a dryer. There were wall cabinets on the left side, a blank wall with a pantry door on the right. In the far wall was the door to the living room. He ignored everything else and ran for that door. He booted it open without losing momentum. In another half second he was through and turning and aiming and then cursing as he spotted his other two men, down and out on a thick pink carpet.

And then he saw his sister, sitting on the sofa, holding her head. There was blood on her hand against her forehead and trickling down her face.

He knelt in front of her. She looked dazed.

“What the hell happened, Anna?”

He moved her hand. There was a laceration near her temple, just under the hairline. Small, just an inch of split skin. Not as bad as the blood suggested. Forehead wounds could bleed badly, especially if the heart was racing.

“I don’t know,” Anna said. “We came in, and that’s all I remember.”

“Who was here? Mackenzie? Anyone with him?”

She nodded. “Just his wife. They went out the back.”

“Yeah, there’s a guy out cold on the back step. They must have gone over the fences between the gardens. My man on the gate would have seen them if they tried to swim to the mainland.” He shook his head. “Since when did Mackenzie become such a tough guy?”

She shook her head. Jacobs patted her shoulder. Her first real taste of action, and she seemed to have coped with it. Had one of his men told him what had happened here, he would have expected to rush in and find her a crying mess on the floor. But no. Jacobs rose to his feet and turned his attention to his men.

One was on his front, no obvious injuries, but the other, Hendricks, a guy Jacobs was sure liked his girls illegally young, was on his back and the cause of his downfall was evident. It was right there, sticking out of his chest. Some kind of dart, some kind of tranquiliser, the kind fired from a gun, the kind a gamekeeper might use on a tiger that he needed to tag or get into surgery. Jacobs confirmed that both guys had gone down by dart by kicking the other guy, Woodward, over onto his back. Woodward had taken his dart high in the shoulder, which suggested to Jacobs that he had gone down after Hendricks: less time for the assailant to prepare the second shot, adrenaline pumping and irritating aim. Hendricks had gone to the door with his rifle in his hands, Jacobs remembered, and any worthwhile assailant would have chosen to put down him first. Which had happened. So whoever did this knew what they were doing.

“Did you have your rifle out?” he asked Anna. “Why did he strike you, but shot these two?”

She shook her head. “Maybe because he doesn’t shoot women.”

Jacobs wanted to laugh. Then he didn’t. He got serious again. Someone had taken out four of his team. But was that someone really Mackenzie? Why would an electrician have a tranquiliser gun, and to hand? How could an electrician have such skilful aim against two moving targets, and the balls to pull it off against men with weapons? And the ability to knock out another two? He knew Mackenzie had been a nightclub doorman while studying at university, but that was a long time ago. Anna had claimed the assailant was Mackenzie, but she might be confused after her blow to the head. So if it wasn’t Mackenzie, then who? And how had they known Mackenzie was in danger? One of the missing neighbours, perhaps? Pops round for a chat, ends up saving the guy. But that scenario seemed far-fetched, too.

Whoever it was, that someone had taken out Jacobs’s men and now Mackenzie had vanished. And quickly: the TV was on, some British news program, and a pair of full and steaming mugs of tea sat on a table. A serene day at home rudely interrupted.

Jacobs grew concerned. He was here to do a job, and its success relied on planning and good information. This kind of development had always been the only thing Jacobs feared on a mission. Unknown factors creeping in. You could do all the homework you wanted, but if things were different when it came to the exam, you could face a heap of trouble. And someone out there with the skills to take out men with guns was certainly different. He’d had people research Elysium Fields’ residents in the months leading up to this day, and not once had anyone been flagged as dangerous to the mission. A few with army experience, but a long time ago. A few hot-headed souls, but a gun aimed at the face had a calming quality. Mostly he’d worried that he’d arrive to find that someone had a big pet dog, which wasn’t allowed, or a child under 8 years of age, which also wasn’t allowed, probably because they could be as destructive and noisy as dogs. Little details that could cause headaches, that had been his concern. But he hadn’t worried that bad intelligence might have missed a ninja amongst the homeowners.

The worst possible scenario had become reality: he had successfully taken the island, but Mackenzie was missing. The man they had come here to capture had slipped away from them.

He raised his pistol and fired, pure anger. Dust and paint filtered down onto his shoulders from the hole the bullet bored into the ceiling. He looked at the hole and thought about checking the upstairs rooms, then dismissed that idea. No one with the skill set possessed by his new enemy would choose to take out armed men downstairs and then go hide upstairs under a bed.

Annoyed that his easy start to this mission had taken a funny turn, Captain Jacobs stormed out the front door, and nearly got knocked down by the two men he’d left outside. They had their guns up and scared looks on their faces, no doubt alerted by the gunshot and about to storm inside in a fog of testosterone and ego. They backed away, almost tripping, and parted to let him past. Jacobs marched into the road and stopped there, his back to the house, as if shunning it for allowing Mackenzie to stroll nice and easy out the door.

He had a choice: rush in search of Mackenzie right now, or continue as planned and get the guy later.

“Back to the truck. We go on as planned. Someone get those idiots out of Mackenzie’s house. Help my sister. And don’t forget the guy round the back.”

He returned to the entrance, where most of the others were congregated, awaiting their order to enter the Gilded Sector. Jacobs gave his drivers a signal. Engines fired up. His men started to walk up the north road, chatting amongst themselves. But Jacobs hung back, still angry. He was no longer thinking about how good his new enemy might be. He was worrying that Mackenzie was getting closer to permanent escape with every passing second.

“Stop,” he yelled. His men turned to face him. Engines died. Jacobs was fuming. He started pacing back and forth. They knew something was coming.

He stormed towards the truck, waving, shouting for the doors to be opened. “Drag someone out.”

Four soldiers hustled to the truck. Forty seconds later, they had the back door open and three of the men were trying to shut it against a tangle of arms and legs. The fourth soldier was standing beside a chubby, middle-aged guy kneeling on the grass, hands behind his head, chest heaving as he tried to hold back tears of fear. Jacobs fired a bullet into the air. There were screams from the people in the truck, and a moment of frozen fear that his men took advantage of to ram shut and lock the trailer’s big double doors. Jacobs aimed his weapon at the kneeling man. With his other hand he waved over the soldier with the video camera. The man came scuttling.

“Stockbroker Alan Jacobs,” Jacobs said. “Nice name. Tell me why I have three men on their faces in Mackenzie’s house.” The other Jacobs shook his head, total fear in his eyes. He didn’t know, he didn’t know. “This guy wires plugs, he ain’t Rambo. Who else was in that house with him?” The other Jacobs didn’t know that either, he promised.

Jacobs knelt before the man and spoke in a low voice, like someone sharing a secret.

“I believe you, Alan. Which is good. I like you a lot. That buys you an extra bit of time.”

The man’s wide eyes fixed his own, trying to fathom what that statement meant.

“But the thirty years after that depend on how much your friendly neighbourhood electrician likes you.” He stood and moved beside the man, facing west, towards the houses. And then he pressed the barrel of the gun against the top of the kneeling man’s sweaty head.

 

 

 

7

Captain Jacobs was a big man, with a big chest, and his shout was loud. If Mackenzie was in this half of the island, he certainly heard it. Jacobs waited, snorting like a bull, forcing himself to get angry so he would have the resolve to do what needed to be done.

He waited ten seconds. No Mackenzie. He could feel the sweat on his hand, tricking between the fingers wrapped around the gun’s handgrip. He watched a drop fall onto the other Jacobs’s head. The man flinched as he felt it.

Jacobs was in a quandary. He had never killed a man before, although he believed he was ready for murder. He was geared up for it. He was planning it. This was something else, though. This wasn’t killing a man who had a gun. This wasn’t killing Mackenzie. This wasn’t even putting one in the spine of a man fleeing from him. This was worse. This was executing an innocent man who was on his knees, a man who had done nothing wrong.

He filled his lungs and shouted again. Gave Mackenzie one last chance. Ten more seconds. As he counted down in his head, he could feel the stares on him. All of his men, watching him. They believed he could do it. He had convinced them of as much. They expected him to do it.

“What are you doing?”

He turned his head. Anna was right there, her face in shock. Just feet away. And right then she didn’t look like the weak little sister he knew. Her green eyes blazed with more than just shock. Outrage. He knew he was crossing a line with her. He scrutinised the faces of his men, arranged behind her, and saw as many horrified looks as he did eager ones. Jacobs waved the cameraman away. More scuttling.

He screamed once again, and tightened his finger on the trigger.

“Stop this,” Anna said, low, just for his ears. “We’ll get him, just not this way. Where can he go? He’s trapped here.”

Stockbroker Alan Jacobs started to cry, his whole body shivering.

As if woken by the knowledge that Anna was trying to talk him out of murder, some of his men risked an input of their own. But again they were split. For every meek voice that called out some reason not to kill the man, there was another testosterone-fuelled bark that urged him to do it. He screamed at them to shut up.

Anna put her hand on his. Right on the hand holding the gun against the innocent man’s head. Her green eyes were just inches from his. He saw a confidence in them that he hadn’t seen before, ever. And that he shouldn’t have seen here, in this situation. It surprised him. It unnerved him.

She moved the gun away from the kneeling man’s head. “If you shoot him, you show the violence you’re capable of. And Mackenzie will never come to you.”

He slapped her hand away and stomped his foot against Alan Jacobs’s shoulder, pitching the man sideways onto the grass, where he lay and sobbed and covered his face with his hands. His men started to chatter like people discussing a movie that they’d just watched. Jacobs was about to shout an order for the vehicles to power up again when his ears pricked up.

He could hear an engine somewhere far off, and closing on the island. A motorbike engine.

“Hide,” he screamed at his men. He grabbed Alan Jacobs and yanked him to his feet. “Get those Jeeps hidden.”

As his men scattered, Jacobs grinned. Normally it would have been bad news if one of the missing townsfolk returned home early. It would have caused all sorts of problems. But the person coming towards the island drove a motorbike, and he knew only one resident owned such a vehicle.

Mackenzie’s sixteen year-old son.

 

 

 

 

8

Behind him, the other two soldiers were laughing. He barely heard. He was still transfixed by the woman’s big green eyes. The right eye hovered directly above the gun aimed right at his head. That eye made a single blink, and then Billy jerked as the gun fired. There was no bang, just a strange noise like a sheet of paper tearing fast. Once, twice, with a slight movement of the gun between each phhft!

The big green eyes fixed on his for a moment. Just a moment, but it felt longer. What he saw there was a look he understood. It was like the look you’d give someone you hadn’t seen in a long time, or had only been told about: the brain reconciling what the eyes were saying with what the mind already knew.

Then the woman moved past him, and he turned to watch. That was when he saw the soldiers down on the floor, not moving. She stopped in front of the two men, looking down, making sure they were going to stay down. She turned back to him. Slotted her strange handgun away in her top, hidden. Those big green eyes bore into him again.

“My name is Anna, and I’m here to help you. The man leading those soldiers is here to kill you. If you want to see tomorrow, do as I say, right now. You need to hide upstairs and don’t move, don’t make a sound. I’ll make sure no one goes up there. When the soldiers move into the other half of the island, you will climb the fence and swim to shore. It’s your only chance to live. Go now.”

Billy couldn’t speak, but Lucinda quickly overcame her own shock. “What’s going on here? Who the hell are you people?”

Those big eyes looked annoyed, as if stopping to explain things was a waste of time. “All you need to know is this: if you stay here, you die. Upstairs, now.”

“My son,” Billy croaked. “He…”

“He’s at school, so he’ll be fine.”

“How do you know that?” Lucinda hissed, clearly not as intimidated by this woman as she had been by the two male soldiers, despite the fact that the woman was also armed.

“What’s going on? What have I done?” Billy croaked, feeling his throat constrict.

The woman grabbed his arm. “Get the hell upstairs now, or we’ll all be killed. Move.”

“We’re not hiding anywhere,” Lucinda snapped.

“This must be wrong,” Billy said. “I haven’t done anything. Why…?”

The woman pulled out her pistol. Billy and Lucinda jerked. Then they watched in shock as the woman slammed the top of the barrel into her forehead, drawing blood. The impact didn’t seem to bother her. She touched a finger delicately to the wound, looked at the blood, rubbed her fingers together to get rid of it. She put her hand on Billy’s arm again and looked right into his eyes.

“You’ll be fine if you do what I say. Upstairs, please.”

Amongst everything that had happened in the last five minutes, that word, that please, that was what spurned him into action. He took Lucinda’s hand and rushed to the door. Lucinda now went willingly, as if fully agreeing. Just before they fled through the door, to head up the stairs and find a hiding place in their own home, Billy glanced back. The woman moved to the sofa and sat, as if she had free time, as if she were about to wait for something. Then he discarded her from his mind and raced up the stairs.

Now she was back in his mind, as he went over the events again, trying to work out what the hell was going on.

They were in the main bedroom, under the bed like a pair of kids playing hide and seek. They held hands, heads laid on the carpet, facing each other, not daring to speak, listening to the voices from the room below. The woman was talking to a man, and it sounded like the guy from the cinema screen, the one who seemed to be the leader. Moments later he heard someone storm out of the house. Billy still suspected a trick. Expected the woman who had helped him to yell that he was upstairs, and both of the soldiers to rush this way, guns drawn.

What’s going on, Billy? Lucinda mouthed at him.

“This has to be wrong,” he whispered.

What do you think will happen? Will they catch us?

“We haven’t done anything. I haven’t done anything.”

Are you sure?

He stared at her. Her eyes repeated the question. At first he was shocked that she might be doubting him, and then he was curious. What if he had done something? Something way back, something inert in his mind but massively consequential to someone else, to the man who had come here for him? He tried to think what it could be, but nothing came. Then his curiosity turned to anger. Nothing. He’d done nothing. This was wrong.

The sounds from downstairs had stopped. Outside, he heard the leader shout, ordering his men back to the truck, which Billy hoped meant the soldiers were leaving. Soon after that he heard engines start up, and he relaxed. They’d come for Billy and he’d escaped them, and now they were leaving, and everything was about to go back to normal.

Then he heard the shout. A mighty roar, like it was God Himself yelling down from the Heavens.

“mackenzie, if I don’t see your face in ten seconds, your good neighbour Alan jacobs loses his.”

God, they hadn’t left at all. They had no plans to give him up that easily. Not only was this nightmare far from over, things were starting to get worse. He looked at Lucinda, and she looked right back at him, and then she grabbed his arm as he started to crawl out from under the bed.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to see what’s happening.”

“Stay here, don’t be stupid. Billy!”

But he broke free and crawled to the window and poked his head up. Net curtains here, too, which would shield him.

Way off to the right, by the entrance, there they all were. And centre stage was the big black guy, standing beside a man on his knees. But Billy did not know this because he was looking to the right. He didn’t need to. He only needed to stare straight ahead, thirty metres across the grass, at the big screen that at the moment seemed to exist only for him. On the screen was the man in grey, a giant of a man who dwarfed the poor soul kneeling beside him.

Billy recognised the man, a man he knew very well. Earlier Alan Jacobs had been washing his car, all smiles, not a care in the world. Now he was on his knees, unsure when the world was going to end for him. Billy looked only for a moment, then sat with his back to the wall, but the afterimage burned in his eyes long afterwards.

“What’s happening?” his wife asked. She exited from the space under the bed and knelt before him. Stared up at the window, as if thinking about having a look. Decided against it.

LAST CHANCE, MACKENZIE. TEN SECONDS TO SHOW YOURSELF, OR I KILL YOUR FRIEND AND NEIGHBOUR. YOUR CHOICE.”

The man was way down by the entrance, but his voice was so loud it was as if he stood right outside the house.

“What do we do?”

Billy looked at her. “Maybe I should give up.”

She exploded. No way, they’ll kill you and him anyway – that was her argument, and she wouldn’t shift from it. Billy tried to explain that there was a chance he could save the man, that he couldn’t live with himself if his friend was murdered. Lucinda had none of it.

“I’M GOING TO BLOW HIS HEAD ALL OVER THIS LAWN, MACKENZIE. FINAL CHANCE. COME OUT NOW.”

“Why the hell are these people after you, Billy?”

Again he said he didn’t know.

Just then they heard the noise. The engine of a motorbike. The Mackenzies shared a horrified glance, and then they were up and running. They rushed to the back bedroom, Dale’s room, and stuck their faces to the window, as had two dozen other people minutes earlier. Those people had watched a giant truck rumble up the causeway, and their emotion had been wonder. Now, Lucinda and Billy watched a dirt bike race along the road towards Elysium Fields, and their emotion was fear.

“Dale, no,” Lucinda moaned. She reached for the handle to throw the window wide, as if to shout a warning. But she was too late. The bike had moved out of sight beyond the house closest to the gate. Billy and Lucinda grabbed each other’s hands, mentally praying.

Dale was at the gate, about to step into the mouth of danger, and there was nothing they could do to help him.

 

 

 

 

9

Dale skidded to a halt at the gate. He dragged on his throttle, sending out a mechanical growl across the island. It was his way of announcing his arrival, as if he thought everyone should welcome his return. Actually, he was well aware that it annoyed people. He was staring at the guardhouse through the bars, awaiting the guard’s face at the window. But Mr. King wasn’t there.

A guy in an army uniform approached from behind the guardhouse. It wasn’t a guy Dale had seen before. Past the guy, he could see a big truck on the grass, which puzzled him.

The army guy came close to the gate. He smiled, but it looked all wrong. Dale thought it was the sort of smile you’d give someone who almost caught you doing something embarrassing.

“Alright?” the guy said. Dale recognised the accent as British.

“Where’s Danny?” Dale said, and now his roaming eyes saw legs beneath the truck’s big trailer. People standing on the other side of it. Hiding. A lot of them.

The guy scratched his forehead. “Flu.”

Dale laughed. “You what? Is he tied up somewhere?”

The guy shook his head far too seriously. “No, of course not. He…er…”

“The guy lives five seconds away. What’s going on in there?” The tied up comment had been a joke. But now Dale was getting a bit suspicious. Even if the security company allowed one of their employees to claim illness and sit at home instead of ten metres to one side, why would they send a guy in an army uniform? Hell, security threats were almost non-existent at Elysium Fields, so why send a guy at all? They could just leave the gate open. So he stared at the guy and directly asked him again what was going on.

The guy froze. Didn’t move, didn’t speak. Dale stared at him. Now he was wary that little bit more. Just then, another guy entered the scene. Big, black, wearing a different kind of army outfit. He appeared from behind the guardhouse, just like the first guy. Strolled up nice and casual, hands in his trouser pockets.

“Open the gate for the boy,” he told the other guy, who raced off as if he’d been waiting all year for such an opportunity. It left the big soldier facing Dale through the gate.

“If we let you in, you’re to go straight home and stay in your house, okay?”

Dale’s suspicions eroded, replaced now by intrigue. “What’s happened?”

The gate started to open. The big guy stepped back, took his hands out of his pockets. Their movement caught Dale’s eyes, which glanced down and noted a pistol in the guy’s belt. And a big knife strapped to his thigh.

“What’s going on? Danny done something? Mr King, I mean. The gate guard.”

The big guy ignored the question. “In you come, quick, and go straight home. Your parents can tell you what’s going on.”

Dale revved his engine and powered the bike through the gateway. As he swerved past the big soldier, the man stuck out a hand. Dale wasn’t sure if the soldier tried to knock him off the bike or grab him. Dale’s response would have been the same for either: he skidded to a halt some way past the man, turned his head and said:

“What the hell you playing at?”

The big guy just stared at him, walking closer, eyes not meeting his own. Dale tugged on the throttle just as the guy reached again, his meaty hand catching Dale’s shirt collar but minus the friction necessary to keep hold. The dirt bike leaped away like a startled cat.

“Grab him!” the big guy yelled.

Dale’s gaze flicked to the truck, where the hidden feet were moving quickly. Ten, at least ten soldiers emerged in a run, straight for him.

 

 

 

 

10

Jacobs pulled his gun, but didn’t aim it. It wasn’t that he couldn’t shoot a kid: he needed the boy alive, plus it might make him look bad if he fired and missed, even if the target was moving.

The boy zipped down the main road, pulling a wheelie, leaving Jacobs’s men behind. Others who had hidden in the shops and behind cars emerged with grabbing hands, reminding Jacobs of a scene from some zombie film. The kid was sharp and knew how to handle his bike. He darted left and right, avoiding their hands, ducked under another reaching arm, and veered onto the grass to avoid two men barrelling straight down the road at him, arms splayed wide like kids about to catch a beach ball. There was laughter, as if this was a game, but Jacobs didn’t find it funny. It was making him look bad.

“Spread out and calm the hell down,” he bellowed. “Nowhere he can go.” He barked at three different men: close the gate, he told the new gate guard; finish planting your jammers, he ordered the camera-wielding electronics expert; and get me a Coke out of the convenience store, he instructed the nearest guy to him. Then he put his hands on his hips and watched the action.

A good boxer will cut the ring off from his opponent: that was what his men needed to do to capture the kid. He left them to it to see how smart they were.

They weren’t that smart. The kid tore up the grass as he skidded around the cinema like a speedway rider, curving an almost perfect semicircle, but nobody thought to continue along the road and intercept his path; instead they lunged after him, slipping and sliding in the mud his back wheel churned up. There was a line of soldiers around the back of the cinema by the time the kid made the road again, where he stopped for a moment, staring across at his house. The kid had time to shout for his dad before he was forced back into action. He followed the road until its end. Almost like sniffer dogs on his scent, Jacobs’s men appeared to be intent on following the kid’s trail instead of working out how to head him off. Jacobs had seen enough.

“Cut through the tennis courts!” he yelled. “Block him, for hell’s sake!”

At the end of the road, the kid cut right, riding between the Coconut Bar and the tennis court. Four men lunged out from between the tennis court and the bowling green slightly ahead of him, forcing him to veer onto the slope. Two of the guys stopped, put their hands on their knees, already exhausted. The third ran too fast into the slope and fell on his face. The fourth guy attempted a flying kick that went through the space where the bike had been a second ago and landed on his ass.

Jacobs saw more men moving up the north road, preparing to block the kid’s route. He was about to smile when he saw the gate at the top of the road: it was slightly open, the gap getting slowly bigger.

He yanked out his hand-held radio and yelled into it: “Astley, close that gate, now.”

You said to open it,” Astley’s voice squawked back from the radio. “I just got here.”

“Close it until I say otherwise. Now.” Astley was the guy he’d sent over the gate and into the Gilded Sector to find the gate controls. He couldn’t blame that guy: he was blind to what was happening here and only following orders. Not his fault -

“Astley, you idiot,” Jacobs barked, and slotted his radio away. He stood there with his hands on his hips, watching as the gate started to close. Most of his men had stopped running, but one tried to squeeze through the gap, nearly got his head squashed by iron, and stumbled away. They had all stopped shouting and laughing, were standing around not knowing what to do next, and the only sound was that of a motorbike’s engine receding. The kid had spotted the open gate, zipped neatly past the soldiers, and through the shrinking gap and away. Now he might still be trapped, but he had free reign of a much bigger section of the island, with a lot more places to hide.

All three now. All three Mackenzies had outwitted his men and escaped, free now to run about the island. Jacobs was angry. But he had to move on with his plan. He ordered the gate to be opened again, explained to Astley that no, he wasn’t joking around, then got in the lead Jeep. The other Jeep and the van took a position behind and the truck with its human cargo reversed and turned and shifted and manoeuvred and soon all four vehicles were on the north road, ready for the journey into the Gilded Sector.

Jacobs directed a handful of men to run ahead north with orders to infiltrate and secure. Another bunch were ordered to remain here to reinforce and report, meaning they should continue to search for Mackenzie and hit the radio when they had news. The Captain was big on army terminology, especially the sayings he invented himself.

He stood up in his seat like a general and pointed a hand forward. “Let’s go, soldiers,” he shouted. He tried to remain standing, but his driver’s control of the ancient vehicle was jerky and Jacobs fell back into his seat as it lurched forward.

 

 

 

 

11

A maelstrom of emotions.

Fear had come first. Billy had held Lucinda’s hand as they knelt before the main bedroom window, watching the action. Watching men chase their son, their intent harmful. It had been hard to do nothing to try to help him. It would have been foolhardy to rush out and try to save Dale, but it had felt like a betrayal to remain concealed, forcing him to face the danger alone.

Then fear had turned to elation as they watched Dale escape into the Gilded Sector. But the elation had evaporated quickly as they watched the soldiers head north after their son. He had escaped, but now he was now alone in a strange land, hunted by men with guns.

Now they felt lost and trapped and hopeless.

Not all of the soldiers had gone into the Gilded Sector. A number had been left behind to continue looking for Billy. He watched, just a pair of eyes poking above the bottom of the window, and noted that their search seemed lazy. There was no running, no shouting, no rush or enthusiasm. The soldiers were just loitering, making the odd cursory look in places where a person could hide. He saw one guy kick the bumper of a car rather than spend energy bending down to look underneath, as if he thought the noise might shock someone hiding there into scrambling out like a nervous cat. And some of them seemed bored: he heard laughter, and the odd smashing sound, as if the soldiers were vandalising cars and generally having fun at other people’s expense. He understood their reticence. Apart from the unconscious men in his living room, none of them had seen or heard from him in all the time they’d been here, and surely felt it was unlikely that he’d be discovered lurking nearby. Hopefully they’d soon assume he and Lucinda had already escaped the island, and would leave the area. They were probably just going through the motions of a search until they got orders to move on. So he and Lucinda should be safe here until they found a chance to get out of the house and…

He had started to find hope. It drained away. What would they do even if they escaped the house? What could they do?

“Maybe I should give myself up” he said.

This time Lucinda ignored him. She was picking non-existent dirt from under her nails, her eyes staring ahead at a blank wall, seeing nothing.

The decision had come to him abruptly, but it seemed like the right thing to do. If this was all a mistake – and it had to be – then he would be in no danger. The soldiers would realise their error and release him. They would stop chasing Dale. They would free the other townspeople. They would leave the island, and everything would get back to normal.

He thought of the man that the big leader had shot. He thought of the fear in Alan Jacobs’s eyes as he knelt under a loaded gun. He thought of the terrified screams of those forced into the truck. And he knew nothing would ever go back to normal. Not for a long time.

Then he thought about the woman, the soldier who had called herself Anna. She had taken out three of her own men in order to help Billy. Why?

He felt Lucinda’s head on his shoulder. He saw that her eyes were closed. Somehow, in the midst of all their fear, knowing they faced danger, consumed by thoughts of their son alone and hunted by armed men, she had managed to fall asleep. Overwhelmed, maybe.

Billy rested his head on hers and closed his eyes so he could think better. He hoped Lucinda was at peace wherever her dreaming mind had taken her. If only for a few minutes’ respite from all this. He hoped that dearly.

Wherever she was, a moment later he joined her.

 

 

 

 

12

After a while, there had been no noises close to her position. It had been at least fifteen minutes since she had heard that motorbike racing around with men shouting at it. She had heard another vehicle driving away, a much bigger one, and figured the terrorists or whoever they were had left. But she wasn’t about to go dancing for freedom. So she peeked her head over the counter.

Movement in amongst the cinema seats caught her attention. There was a guy in there, moving slowly. Dressed like the others, but carrying no weapon. Instead he carried what she thought was a laptop bag. He was a good eighty metres away. The southwest corner of the tennis court was between them, so she was watching him through the chain-link. Because of the wall around the cinema, she couldn’t see him below the waist, couldn’t see the seats. But when he bent down out of her sight and then stood up again without the laptop bag, she figured he must have hidden that item, whatever it was, under one of the seats. Fear rippled up her spine. A bomb, it must be, she figured. Terrorists after all, dressed as the army.

She watched the guy move to the wall, climb over, and leave the cinema.

The closest house was just twenty or so metres away. Her mobile phone was at home, but she figured she could get into that house and use the landline. The terrorists must have kidnapped all the other residents, because there was no one else around. Her own house was the third from the end, but that was too risky. Only a few extra metres, but that meant being exposed for a vital few extra seconds.

She was about to move out of her hiding position when she heard voices. Her head flicked left and she saw three soldiers. East of her, walking this way between the hill up to the treeline and the bowling green just past the tennis court. The other bar, the bowling green and the tennis court along with the hill on the other side created a kind of alley. Unless they turned down between the tennis court and the bowling green, then they were going to come right here. She ducked down.

Soon the voices were close. She laid still, this time against the eastern side of the counter, because if they came right up to the bar she would be out of sight.

She heard the unmistakable sound of men plonking themselves on bar stools. Her breath caught. There they were, sitting on the other side of the bar, just three feet from her. There was a thud as someone put something down. Above her, a thin shaft of metal poked over the edge of the countertop. She recognised it as a gun barrel.

“A million or about, I heard,” said one. He was English. Cockney, she thought it was called.

“I heard five million,” said another. English again. “While he sits on his arse and barks orders. And we get a wimpy twenty thousand.”

“Well, he’s the boss,” said the first. He had a lisp. “And twenty grand for a day’s work with a nice Australian holiday thrown in ain’t to be pissed on. Who the fuck do you think you are, the Sultan of Brunei?”

“And the Captain’s giving this lark up after today,” said a new voice. Three of them alright. “So one of us can take over.”

The second guy said, “I say we stay on here, do private stuff. Maybe even on this island. The rich up yonder might need some care and attention. Especially after today.”

They all laughed. The third guy said, “Sun all year round, I read. We could do worse.”

“Dreams, pal,” said the Cockney. “They’ve got security here. If we want to do security, it’ll have to be in some hellhole like Iraq. And who the hell would hire a team with nothing on their CV? Anyway, I want a fucking drink.”

“I say the three of us branch off and do it. We got army backgrounds. Print a few business cards, have a photo of us in this gear, holding guns.”

“We’d look like rent-a-militia, not security experts.”

They all laughed again. The Cockney again barked that he needed a drink, and she heard one of them get up from his stool. Saw a hand reach up to the glasses stacked on a shelf above the counter, just under the roof. It took three glasses down, one at a time.

“Man, I could live here alright,” someone said.

“Dreams, pal,” said the Cockney, but this time his voice didn’t originate from the east side of the bar. She turned her head just as one of the soldiers lifted the hatch on the other side of the counter and stepped into her world. He froze, staring at her.

She got quickly to her feet. As she popped up, one of the other soldiers yelped in fright, but the third guy just laughed.

All four of them were just stood there, as if not knowing what to do.

Then the guy inside the bar closed the hatch. He was tall and skinny, middle-aged with thinning hair shaved short. He might have been good looking twenty years ago, but his face was lined now with a thousand years of stress rolled into it.

His eyes, though, seemed young, and they looked her up and down the way men had looked at her many times. It was a look she didn’t like, didn’t trust, and immediately she regretted her choice to wear such tiny, tight shorts.

“Lot of angry soldiers in here today, girlie,” he said. He was the Cockney one, the lisping one, the one whose voice Elaine would never forget after today. “All pent-up frustration. It’d save your neighbours a lot of pain if you helped ease some of that frustration.”

He winked at his pals and they laughed.

Someone grabbed her shoulder from behind and said, “Me first.” She flicked her head round and threw a fist at his face. The guy was climbing up onto the counter, using his grip on her as balance, but as she hit him, that arm slipped away and he pitched forward, landing in a heap by her feet. The guy still on the other side slapped the counter and roared with laughter.

“Get away from me, you bastards,” Elaine snapped. She thought meekness might be her downfall here, so chose anger. It didn’t work. The guy on the floor kicked her in the knee, which knocked her back, right into the arms of the guy behind her.

“Go watch,” the Cockney said as he bear-hugged her to keep her from fighting. The two other guys moved without protest. Either he was their superior, or all three were a well-oiled team. The latter scared her the most.

“Let me go!” she shouted.

The Cockney tripped her. She landed hard, but ignored the pain and drove her foot towards his groin. The blow slipped up his thigh and caught his hip hard enough to make him grunt. He kicked her in the chin. She yelped, and felt blood enter her throat and spill over her lips.

“I’m not putting my dick in her gob now, twat,” one of the others said.

The two guys ordered to go watch sat on the bar with their legs dangling, looking outwards. Two guys just chilling, to anyone who might have been watching. If any watchers didn’t know there was a woman on the floor in the bar, it would have looked very strange indeed to see a guy pop up five minutes later and swap places with one of his pals. This second guy dipped out of sight for an equal period, before emerging to swap with the last guy, like some relay team. Afterwards, all three men waltzed off, looking content, just chilling still. Anyone watching for further movement at the bar would see none, and would wonder what the guys had been doing in there.

 

 

 

 

 

13

The soldiers spread out, running, shouting, just like kids in a playground. There were fifteen houses in the Gilded Sector, nine located one per hole on the golf course, and six at the back of the island. Jacobs wanted them all searched. He knew that a bunch of men sent out at random might miss something, so he assigned each man two houses.

Jose Benavidez, the only non-European amongst his team, got Zeus. Zeus was the boss of the Greek Gods, and any house befitting the name needed to be grandiose and overwhelming. Jose was eager to see the place, because back home he had a shitty bedsit courtesy of the UK’s benefits system.

According to what he’d read, the houses around the golf course were palatial mansions based on designs from the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, when America experienced economic growth and the rich built themselves vast homes resembling, apparently, French castles. He didn’t really know what that meant, but he knew that someone who had an expensive house would have other expensive things, too.

The house was on the 2nd hole, just off the fairway. Four holes ran east to west, then the final four ran west to east just north of them, with holes four and six connected by a curving Hole 5. From the sky the golf course looked like a big, green letter C, with what appeared to be a tall hedge lining each side. The hedge was actually thin Italian Cypress trees, trimmed to be as straight as rolling pins, laid in three long rows that were staggered to give the impression of an unbroken wall. The illusion claimed Jose until he was fifty feet out and his vision started to notice depth differences between the trees. He saw the “alleyways” he had read about: gaps in the wall for golf carts. From a distance they had looked like holes cut into the hedge; from up close he could see they were green plastic archways, with floors of wood and bushes padding the outside to plug the space between the evergreens either side. Crude, viewed up close, but a quality effect seen from distance.

Jose went through the closest alleyway and stood on the south side of the fairway, staring across at the house. It was snuggled within a garden of water features, rockeries and tall plants. The Italian Cypresses ended abruptly to make room. He thought how much the scene looked as if the house was on a street whose road was made of grass. Like something out of a fairytale or a cute water globe. If a Leprechaun met him at the door, he probably wouldn’t be surprised.

Jose followed a crazy paving path that ran from the fairway and alongside the house. A branch led off to the front door, but Jose continued onwards towards the rear. Despite the high trees looming all around, the area was quite bright.

When he got round the back of Zeus, he saw that all the houses on the golf course had long, sloping gardens that, like the spokes of a wheel, connected to a central hub, a walled area of grass with a boating lake and various buildings made of logs. This bowl-shaped area was dotted with bushes whose leaves were hung with lamps. An impressive and beautiful hidden gem. The big squares between the gardens were plain, mown grass, with a tarmac path running through, to a gateless gateway in the wall of the central hub.

Inside the mansion Jose found two dozen rooms over three floors, each one filled with disappointment. It was as if the owner had left at the end of the summer season and gutted the place of everything he thought common thieves would find valuable. There was nothing. Not a fancy shampoo in any of the bathrooms. Not a drink in the bar. Not even a single DVD in the cinema. But a lot of paintings. A lot. It was like an art gallery, and art galleries were bland and depressing to a guy like Jose, whose home had a 56-inch TV and two of the bestselling games consoles.

The only room with any personality was the main bedroom, which was like something out of a dark fairy tale. The ceiling was black with streaks of colour meant to represent supernova. The walls were hung with long masks of contorted faces. Giant black teddy bears with vampire teeth sat in chairs and corners and propped up in the bed. Carlos thought this was the sort of place where you might find the owner in the cellar, chanting, complete with long cloak, dagger, and sacrificial goat splayed on a table. Maybe the owner had left this room intact to scare thieves, or because there was nothing present that could be sold to a pawn shop. Or maybe the man was just a freak.

Jose had kicked in the back door of Zeus with thoughts of theft, but his eyes knew the value of technology, not art. He didn’t know a Monet from a magnet, and it annoyed him. He put his foot through a canvas on an easel in the kitchen, where it seemed the owner liked to paint while making tea and toast. Only Jose saw no kettle or toaster, either. Just framed paintings and silly wall hangings and bizarre curtains. He went from room to room, destroying things. But he wasn’t sure if what he was destroying had any value. He left knowing that he might have caused sixty dollars’ or six million dollars’ worth of damage. In case it was the former and the owner might not bat an eyelid, Jose put the plug in the kitchen sink and took a piss. He squatted to take a dump in the centre of the dining table, but nothing came. Then he moved off in search of Jasmine, the other house he had been given to search.

Apollo, another God, was the name of the house that Carlos went to. Carlos, the dreadlocked giant who drove the van into Elysium Fields, was the Captain’s right-hand man. They were childhood friends who had joined the Navy together. Carlos was the most trusted of his men, so got the most important job: capture the Carberry family.

Although it was winter, Carberry was staying here while he did business in Port Macquarie. He was in town, but he had a wife and two young children who were at home, with free reign of the entire Gilded Sector, like the last people alive on earth. Carlos refused the use of a golf cart, preferring to walk the mile or so across the entire length of the island, enjoying the view, thinking about life. He had no idea he had been watched by the Carberry kids for at least the first half of his journey.

Pete and James Carberry had heard the truck arrive and had sneaked into the trees to watch the action. The residents of the southern section of the island intrigued Pete. He was five years old and susceptible to everything his ten year-old brother told him. Pete believed that the island was a punishment prison for him, because he’d broken a vase at home a few weeks ago. If he was naughty again, and naughtiness included not sharing all future chocolate with his brother, then the kid police would open the gate, and the southern people would be allowed in, and would again kidnap everyone who lived on this side. Notice how there are no kids your age in there? James had asked. That’s because they send them away underground. Pete was going to share his chocolate from now on, and break nothing else, because he didn’t want the insane beyond the fence to come in. He didn’t want his mum and dad to be locked away in the cells that looked like houses from the outside. He didn’t want to be sent to work in the fiery mines deep under those cells, being whipped by two-headed guards.

The truck that was delivering a new batch of naughty kids to work the mines had drawn them both to the trees, to the fence within. Pete was careful not to touch the fence, because he didn’t want to turn to stone. He knelt next to his brother in the undergrowth and stared through the fence. They were higher up than the prison section and got a good view. No kids in the truck, they saw. Just soldiers. He couldn’t believe that the Bogeyman could be so evil, sending his zombie army to round up all the prisoners just because they hadn’t collected enough kids this week. They watched the Bogeyman’s main henchman shoot a prisoner in the leg because he was found to have a secret chocolate stash. They watched the zombie army chase a boy on a bike because he had ratted on his brother to his parents. And they watched as three zombies took turns lying on top of a prisoner in a little outdoor cell with a roof, but James, normally so brilliant with knowing stuff, admitted he didn’t know why this was happening.

Then the gate had opened, and the truck and the zombies had come in, and James had grabbed Pete’s hand and made him run. And he hadn’t stopped, even though his chest had started to burn, because the run was only a minute, and the hard work in the mines made your chest burn like that for weeks and weeks.

Now they hid in the trees enveloping the golf course and watched as a tall zombie with funny blond hair walked towards them. He had seen them and was coming, and would never stop, according to James, who seemed genuinely scared now, despite having blood that was poisonous to the zombies. Continuing to help his brother because it would make their mum happy, James took his hand again and they ran.

A few minutes later they arrived home. Theirs was the end house on the northern coast, closest to the giant adventure playground. They ran in and started shouting for their mum, who came quickly. At first she didn’t believe what they were saying. Pete thought it was because James had called the zombie a man, not a zombie. Then she went to the window, and there he was, a little dot, coming towards them. And there were others now, scattered about, searching the island for kids to work deep underground, smashing up stolen Christmas toys.

Mum took their hands and ran to the kitchen, where there was a trapdoor under a rug. She lifted it, and forced them down the steps, into the big cellar where dad had his CB radio and his gigantic train set, and his chair and TV, a room he often went into for hours at a time after he and Mum argued over which children’s home to send Pete to the next time he ate all his chocolate to himself. There was a big light in the ceiling, but Mum ran to some kind of electronics box and flipped a switch, and all lights and sounds in the house stopped. The world went black and Mrs Carberry held her boys to allay their fears.

When Carlos entered the house, he found a strange scene. The house was dead but it looked recently lived-in. Very recent. Minutes. There was a book open on the worktop, a pile of washing beside the ironing board, and the oven was open with a tray bearing a jacket potato next to it. These and other sings of fresh activity in the house. The emptiness and the cold, dead silence were unnerving next to these signs of life, reminding him of the story of the Mary Celeste. He put his hand on the side of a cup of tea, but it was cold. Had he known that Mrs Carberry enjoyed iced tea, normal cup, no fruit, he might have investigated further. He might have noticed that the iron and oven were turned on, but without power, and this might have sent him in search of the main power switch, and who knew what might have happened then? But the cold tea decided things for him, made him think his boss’s info was wrong, that the house hadn’t been occupied for a few days.

In the cellar, Mrs. Carberry and her two boys remained silent and still long after they heard the front door close behind the intruder.

Somewhere to the east, two men met outside a house the owner had named The Blades, for whatever reason. Maybe he sold knives, or ice skates. The two men were Dan and Steve. Dan was younger. Dan had been sent to search The Blades, while Steve was supposed to be elsewhere. But both men had seen a chance for a quick meeting.

They slipped in through the front door, which opened with a kick. Dan shut the door behind them. Captain Jacobs, they felt, was a fair man. But he was also very old-fashioned and conventional about army stuff. They knew he wouldn’t approve. They knew they should have a couple of hours undisturbed before their absence alerted anyone. Plenty of time.

Dan scooped Steve into his arms and carried him towards the bedroom like a groom with a bride.

South of them, at a house called Weisse on Hole 8, a short soldier with a ponytail went in through the back door. He entered a large kitchen that had splashes of paint on the tiled floor. There was a giant fridge and a bigger walk-in freezer built into a wall. He was looking for memorabilia. He didn’t know what kind of rich bastard owned this house, but if he found something of personal value to a rock star or film star, he was going to have it. Especially if it was something irreplaceable that he might be able to sell back to the owner. But there was nothing like that in the kitchen, so he moved to the double doorway that led deeper into the house.

And froze.

A guy appeared. Mid twenties, tall, kind of handsome except for the paint in his hair and all over his face and forearms. He wore a one-piece set of coveralls with the top half rolled down around his waist, the arms flapping loose. He carried a bottle that looked like turpentine, which would make sense given all the paint all over him.

He had been walking past the doorway, but now he froze just like the soldier, whose name was Beckham. He stared the soldier up and down, suppressed a smile, even though Beckham carried a rifle slung over his shoulder, said, “Alright, mate,” and went on walking. Out of sight.

Beckham relaxed. He was a born worrier and fidgeter. He jumped at shadows. He should never have been in the army and Captain Jacobs should never have given him a gun. But he did have a gun and he slung it loose now and held it down by his hip, aimed forward as he went through the doorway and into a wide hall. There were doors along here, but only one – far wall, left side – was open. And there were sounds coming from within whatever room lay beyond. Movement, and slapping noises that Beckham thought was the sound of paintbrushes on walls. And a few seconds later he was proved right.

He stood in the doorway, looking in at some kind of dining room under renovation. Two tables had paint cans on them, and five people were applying a coat of fire red to the walls. Four males and a young woman with her long brown hair tied in a ponytail that was stuffed down the back of her coveralls. They all looked young apart from one, a chubbier guy in his late forties or early fifties, who was sitting on the edge of one of the tables and doing something on his phone. Texting, it looked like.

Immediately Beckham thought of his Captain, who would be appalled to discover that there was someone with a phone in this Gilded Sector. And who would be delighted with Beckham when he turned up with five prisoners and the phone and said he’d stopped the guy calling in the cavalry.

They were painting the back wall, so everyone except the older guy was facing away from Beckham. It was the older guy who saw him. Gave him the up-and-down the other guy had given him and snapped his fingers, alerting everyone else. They all stared at the soldier, but all Beckham saw was the girl. Late teens, very pretty. Big baby face and long eyelashes. The paint on her face was sexy, like an abstract form of make-up. He was instantly reminded that he’d never before been with a girl properly. Silly fumbles at school between experimenting children didn’t count.

“You security?” the older guy said. “Not supposed to be here yet.”

Beckham, his hands shaking, raised his gun. He told the guy to drop his phone. That was when all their stares got a little more direct, and a lot more suspicious.

“What the fuck are you doing with that thing?” the older guy said. He got up and stepped forward, and as he moved to his left in front of the girl, she instinctively moved to her right and back, behind him, and Beckham realised she was the guy’s daughter. He was the boss here, this was his team of decorators sent to work on a guy’s house during the off-season, and he’d brought his apprentice daughter along, probably to the great delight of the men around. And certainly to Beckham’s delight.

Beckham shouted now. Drop the phone. All of you, hands up. Get away from the tables, backs against the wall.

“We just painted that wall, dickhead,” the older guy said. “Who the hell are you? And stop pointing that bloody gun before it goes off.”

Beckham raised his voice another notch. He knew an angry guy with a gun wasn’t to be trusted, in case he did something beyond his control. So he went with that angle. Phone, floor. Backs, wall. He moved forward. His hands were shaking, but he could see that the younger men and the girl were concerned by this, as if they thought the shaking was rage. An enraged man with a gun was a lot more likely to do something beyond his control. So they all backed off. The older guy didn’t want to go, but he was dragged by his daughter. Eventually, Beckham had them all against the wall, hands in the air. The girl had her coveralls rolled down in the way the original guy did and below she wore a tank-top, so when she put her arms up, he saw her smooth armpits. Armpits he liked. He found himself staring. The older guy saw him staring.

“You pissant, keep your eyes off her.”

Out, he now told them. That way. Anyone runs, the others get a bullet. Surprisingly, they all obeyed, and Beckham led them easily out of the room and down the hall five feet and right, into the kitchen. Any one of them could have made a break for it, or hidden behind the doorway to jump him. But they didn’t.

“Just tell us who the fuck you are?” the older guy said. No one else had spoken yet. Maybe they thought a person who kept silent was invisible to a degree. Maybe they thought it was safer not to be in the spotlight of an enraged man with a gun.

He circled around them as they stood in the centre of the kitchen, arms up. He yanked on the handle of the big freezer and the door swung open. A musty smell seeped out. The freezer was dark and empty and warm – no power since it wouldn’t be needed at this time of the year.

He ordered them inside.

“You must be fucking joking,” the older guy said, but by the time he’d finished this sentence, he was the only one not already inside. Maybe they figured it was best to let an enraged man with a gun go about his business. The girl called to her dad, pleading again. He went in backwards, staring. The look said, you might have won this one, but I’ll get my revenge.

Beckham moved closer, aimed his gun a little more obviously at them, sweeping the barrel from one face to another, and told them he’d shoot if they tried to get out of the freezer. Everyone shook their heads, except the older guy, who just stared. The guy looked mean with his tattooed hands and grizzled face. Like some guy who’d been through the mincer in his younger days, like maybe he’d been a tough boy way back. Some gangster maybe, or army veteran. Beckham was not only glad he had the gun, he was also relieved the older guy had his daughter here. He thought that without her presence to rein him in, the guy might just ignore the gun and go for Beckham’s throat.

He pointed the gun right at the older guy, and told the girl to come out. Said she was going to show him where the safe was. There was no safe, he knew. Then he revised that thought. In a house like this, owned by a rich bastard, there was probably a safe somewhere. But he wasn’t after that. He wasn’t after valuable material at all. Thoughts of selling something back to the owner were far from his mind right now. Instead, he was thinking about how much he’d like to see this girl strip for him. The safe thing was a trick, a distraction, subterfuge. Unlikely the older guy would let her leave the freezer if he knew Beckham’s real intentions.

“She’s going nowhere,” the older guy said. “Go find it yourself and then fuck off. How the hell did you get here, anyway?”

Beckham didn’t answer. Again he told the girl to come out, help him find the safe.

“It’s okay, dad,” she said. “I’ll be back soon. Let’s not annoy him.”

“I’ll really piss him off in a minute. You stay here.”

Beckham chambered a round. That noise, so distinctive. It signified that a shot was one step closer, the final step away. One tiny squeeze, one half-second away. Best not to put an enraged man one squeeze/half-second away from doing something he might not have control over. The girl came out, shrugging off her dad’s hand as it grabbed her arm.

Beckham told her to shut the door. She did. It clicked shut, locked. No handle on the other side. Someone started banging on the inside. Beckham had seen commercial freezers before, with a big red pad on the inside so anyone trapped inside could escape. Not this one, thankfully.

Now he stood alone with the girl in the big kitchen. He aimed the gun at her. He was feeling a nervous tingle now, knowing he could do what he wanted and she couldn’t laugh at him or slap him like those other girls. Couldn’t stop him.

She threw a glance over his shoulder, a giveaway. He spun, grunting, terrified, sure that decorator number six was behind him with a frying pan, ready to crush his head. She had given away his position with her glance.

But when Beckham spun round, there was no one there. He ducked as he turned back to her, sure now that it had been a trick and she was about to crack him with a frying pan herself.

She was running. Her back was to him, and she was just feet from a doorway and escape. Once through that doorway, she would pull out her own mobile phone, and the police would come, and later in a jail cell he would have to sit under the Captain’s hateful glare, all of their glares. His fear rose a notch. Best not to instil more fear in an enraged man with a gun that was one little squeeze/half-second from making him do something he had no control over.

He fired.

He fired while still turning, so the shot was lucky. Or unlucky, if you wanted to look at it that way. It took the running girl in the back of the neck and threw her forward. She hit the doorway and lay against it as stiff as a plank, her muscles locked for a few seconds. Like a store mannequin someone had leaned against a wall. Blood pumped. Then everything relaxed and she dropped straight down in a crumpled heap. One arm lay outstretched, showing a smooth armpit with blood in it.

The others started screaming now. All of them, not just the girl’s dad. United in anger. Despite the gun he held and the door holding them back, Beckham was terrified. No way this could end well.

Before he could think what to do, he was moving. Terrified men sometimes have no control, either. All in one flash movement, Beckham yanked open the freezer door a jot and stuck his barrel through and pulled the trigger. He leaned his shoulder against the door, jamming it shut against the barrel. He kept pulling the trigger, with his eyes shut.

He stopped when his ears started to ring, staggered back, kicked the door shut fully. He looked down at his gun, at the barrel. It dripped with blood. And there were no sounds coming from the freezer.

Right then all his fear dissolved. This could still end okay for him, he knew. If no one else came here in the next few hours, he could get away with this. But he would have to drag the girl into the freezer, lay her with her comrades. Maybe drag some shit in front of the door, because he didn’t know if one of his fellow soldiers might come round, looking for valuables. Yes, he would cover this, and soon it would be okay. But there was one thing to do first. He yanked out his radio. Called the Captain.

Beckham at Weisse, he said over the secure airwaves. Weisse…all clear.

Off to the east, Captain Jacobs had reached the building that he planned to use as his command centre. As he waited for his man, Astley, to return with confirmation that the building was empty and everything was set up, he sat on the bonnet of his Jeep and looked out at the land. Periodically his radio squawked and another of his men reported an all clear on a searched house or building.

This, he figured, was how generals must feel when they liberate an invaded city. He liked the feeling. He’d always known his purpose in life was to command, and now here he was, in charge of a whole island. A faultless invasion.

His man returned from the building. Another all clear. He ordered the man to get hold of the electronics expert to get the video feed prepared. The video thing was a nice little idea he’d had on the drive over here. It would bring Mackenzie to them, once they had his kid, who wouldn’t last long out there. After that, the old guy would get his wish and Jacobs would get his money and his retirement. And there was no one in the world who could stop him.

 

 

 

 

14

Billy jerked awake to noises in the house.

His movement shocked the sleep out of Lucinda. They both froze, listening to heavy boots clumping downstairs, and at least two men talking. One laughed.

They should move, Billy knew. Any second now, heavy boots were going to thump the stairs. The bedroom door was going to open, and a face was going to grin, shout Got them, and then it was going to be game over.

This image in Billy’s mind popped into nothing at the sound of a door slamming. He heard laughter outside the house now. And below him…silence. No voices, no heavy boots. Whoever had been in the house, they had left. They had left without checking upstairs, amazingly.

Lucinda put her head in her hands. Billy faced the window and risked another look outside, into the safe haven that he knew he might never call home again.

Over time – however long he had been asleep – the soldiers had become lazier. The noises of vandalism had stopped. Men were no longer looking for Billy, it appeared. Even superficially. Some were in the tennis court, sitting and smoking and watching two of their own bat a ball across the net with equipment they must have found in a house. A guy was lounging on the grass in the bowling green, splayed as if crucified, as relaxed as a cat on a warm lap. Others were just wandering around, killing time. Their guards were down. But they weren’t leaving.

“They’re not going away, are they?” Lucinda said, as if reading his thoughts.

Billy knelt before her. “No, not yet. We just wait.”

“But we don’t know what’s happening to Dale.”

“He’ll be fine. They won’t catch him on that bike. Christ, remember how good he was at hiding as a kid, when he always vanished at bedtime?”

Lucinda managed a smile, barely. Billy rubbed her shoulders.

“Took us half an hour sometimes to find him. He’d be wedged in behind a chair or hanging inside a coat in the wardrobe or something.”

She laughed and wiped away tears, smearing her make-up. Nodded. “Little sod,” she said with mirth.

He looked her right in the eyes. “So imagine him in that big, empty part of the island. They’ll never find him. And he only needs to hide for an hour, maybe two. These people can’t keep the whole island locked up for long. Not in daytime. Soon they’ll have to just abandon whatever plan they’ve got and leave. Dale will just hide out, and we’ll just hide out. They think we left the house, and there’s no way they’ll come back to check here for us. So Dale sits tight, and we sit tight. When this is all over, we’ll get to the police. They’ll find out what it is this guy thinks I did, and if necessary we’ll get protection from them. How’s that sound?”

She nodded again. “I’m going to be late for work,” she said, attempting a joke.

Billy managed a laugh. “I can’t get in today, boss, because armed terrorists have taken the entire island hostage. Sounds like bullshit, Lucinda. Just tell him you had a belly ache.”

Now they both laughed. Glad that he’d managed to erode some of Lucinda’s fear, Billy stood to risk another look out the window. Hopefully he’d see the backs of a dozen heads as the soldiers walked away, having given up their search. But what he saw was a soldier on the street, head craned back as he rubbed his throat, and staring right up at him. Billy ducked instantly, hoping, praying he hadn’t been spotted.

“What is it, what’s happened?” Lucinda snapped.

There was no shout. There were no thumping footsteps. He relaxed a little. The soldier hadn’t seen him, probably because of the net curtains.

Then he heard a voice call out: “Dom, man, where you going?”

And the reply, from a point right outside the house, sent a shiver through Billy: “You go on, I’ll catch up. Just going to use Mackenzie’s toilet.”

He had been spotted after all.

 

 

 

 

15

Once Captain Jacobs had seen his operations room and declared it satisfactory, he took a Jeep and went for a cruise around his new kingdom. He wasn’t just out to enjoy the sights: he was waiting for news of a sighting of the kid, and now one came.

Golf course, hole five,” his radio squawked.

Jacobs was south of there, in an area of the Gilded Sector mostly free of trees and buildings, although he still had to watch his driving because of the odd water fountain and bench scattered around. He swung north and pushed the old Jeep as fast as he dared. The machine rattled and vibrated like a washing machine. Ahead, the trees surrounding the golf course ended, so that was where the golf course curved north: Hole 5. He slowed as he neared and fed the vehicle slowly along one of the alleyways through the trees. He nosed the Jeep out onto the rough alongside the fairway, back end still in the alleyway, and stopped, looking to his left. He saw the teeing ground for Hole 5, a raised table of land, and Hole 5 itself curving away out of sight. He killed the engine, hoping to hear another engine instead. But there was no noise except that of gulls circling overhead closer to the coast.

Then there was a lull in the song of the gulls and he heard it, a low purring, faint, distant. The snore of an idling bike, funnelled by the trees standing tall along both sides of the golf course.

Then the noise increased, the bike awake now. But the noise seemed to come from his right. He glanced that way, saw nothing.

His eyes were yanked left again by movement. There was a golf cart with one of his men in it, crossing Hole 5 just before the fairway arced out of sight behind the trees. The cart was gone through an alleyway on the other side before Jacobs could decide whether or not to call the guy on the radio.

As soon as the cart was out of sight, the engine noise of the bike increased. He figured the kid must be over that way and had seen and was trying to avoid the guy in the cart. Jacobs focussed his vision on the spot where the fairway of Hole 5 vanished behind the inner wall of trees, waiting for a front wheel to materialise.

The noise got closer, quickly. Jacobs realised the kid was in the trees across from him. There was enough space between the rows for a bike.

Directly across from him was another alleyway through the trees, through which he saw grass and a path and a gate at the far end. The engine noise emanated from somewhere off to the left, nearing. Jacobs followed the sound with his eyes on the trees until they settled on the alleyway – and that was when the noise changed to a low idle. He grinned as he imagined the kid stopped on the bike, faced with the barrier of the plastic archway.

This was it. The kid had no choice but to exit the trees onto the rough and skirt around the alleyway if he wanted to get back in the trees. If he left on the other side, the far side, he would find himself in one of the untended pockets of land with no way out. The gardens blocked him to east and west, the wall of the central hub to the north. It had to be this side. His side.

He jammed the accelerator, aiming the jeep at the evergreens just to the left of the alleyway, where he figured the kid would emerge. If he timed it right, the bike would exit the trees with no time to avoid a collision. He would crush that bike against his front bumper.

Jacobs kept the pedal to the floor, but the machine was old. Kept in good nick, but still old. He was only halfway across the fairway when the bike sneaked out from between two evergreens. The kid saw him and the bike stopped. Jacobs felt hope soar within him. But the kid’s shock delayed his flight reactions only momentarily. A second before both vehicles were due to collide, the kid turned away sharply. Jacobs hit the brakes and skidded into the rough, stopping just feet short of the trees. By the time he had reversed and turned east and hit the gas, the bike was already fifty metres ahead and increasing that gap. Jacobs cursed, knowing he’d never catch the superior machine.

He pulled his radio, gave his location, asked for anyone along the first three holes to converge on the fairway, block the kid. Ahead and pulling further away, the Mackenzies’ only offspring had started to get ballsy. He had looked back a few times in fear, but now his glances towards his pursuer were not scared ones, and he had a smile on his face. And he was no longer cutting a straight line: he was veering when he came across a sand trap and launching his bike into the air from the rising land.

Two golf carts were further ahead, planning to head him off. The kid zigzagged, making the carts do the same as he tried to fool them. He blew between them as they angled together, and both carts hit each other with enough force to make them rock. Jacobs cursed his men.

The kid swept towards another sand trap, hit the air, released the handlebars for a moment to throw his hands up triumphantly, and landed. And vanished.

The bike didn’t appear from behind the rise. Further ahead was a soldier on foot, running towards the sand trap. Jacobs saw the man’s arm rise to his face, his hand holding a radio.

Little fucker’s crashed,” Jacobs’s radio squawked.

Captain Jacobs lost his urgency. His enemy was going nowhere. So he drove up nice and slow, skirted around the sand trap and drew his vehicle to a halt, like a man arriving at his local shop. He pulled his gun and exited the Jeep.

The kid didn’t seem to be in much pain – yet. Emotions, adrenaline. His bike lay nearby, seemingly undamaged. The kid was hurt, though. His left ankle looked mangled. Mackenzie’s son lay on his side, one arm under his head like a pillow, as if he’d realised he might lay here for a while and had decided to adopt a comfortable position. His eyes were full of fear, and fixed on the big soldier. Jacobs strolled up, enjoying the sense of power, which wasn’t diluted because this enemy was young. The kid was only a year younger than one of his own men. Children younger than this boy had been fighting in wars for decades.

“Where’s my mum and dad?” the kid snapped. There was anger in there with the fear.

Jacobs put his gun away. He waved away the soldiers converging on the kid. He figured he’d enjoy the challenge more if he could talk the kid into coming with him, instead of threatening him. He gave the kid what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but knew he was no actor.

“Kid, I need to talk to your dad. He took out three of my men. Is he some secret agent or did he have help?”

“What you talking about?” the kid barked. He had attitude, for sure, even facing a guy with a gun. “Where’s my mum and dad?”

Brash but a little scared, Jacobs could tell. He reminded himself that the kid didn’t know what had happened back at his house – three soldiers taken out with ease by someone with combat skills.

“Dale, don’t fear me-”

“Who told you my name?”

“I know everything, Dale,” Jacobs said with an appendix on his fake smile. “I have to take you with me so I can get your dad to give up. You see?”

“What, you want me to help you capture my dad? Get real. What do you people want?”

For a moment Jacobs wanted to rise, step closer, backhand the kid. Knock him six feet along the grass, screaming about his smashed jaw. But he held his anger back. Taking candy from a baby was no achievement.

“They escaped, Dale. I got everyone else, but they’re out there somewhere. Trapped on this tiny island. My men are looking, Dale. My men who are all bored of being around men all the time. Been a while since any of them were near a woman, and they’ve got that pack mentality. Know what that means? If my men find your mum roaming around out there… Now, I can promise I will help your mum. Soon as I leave here, I’ll go tell my men to not touch her if they find her. But I can’t tell them that while I’m stuck out here, Dale, think about that. And I’m not leaving here without you.”

The kid's mouth worked, but no sounds came. Thinking what to say, how to say it past the shock and fear. Eventually he said, "Don't you threaten -"

“No,” Jacobs cut in, loud. The kid fell silent and Jacobs smiled again, an apology for his outburst. “Dale, I’m not threatening anyone. I’m saying I’ll help. If you don’t toss a tramp a coin, are you threatening to starve him? No. So I’m not threatening to have your mum harmed. I’m saying I’ll go out of my way to make sure she comes to no harm. Now think about this, Dale. Think about a doctor who knows he can save one of a guy’s legs. Does he decide to lose both just because he can’t save both?” He opened his arms, as if for a hug. “Climb on my shoulder and we’ll walk to my Jeep, and then I’ll go tell my men to leave your mum alone.”

He waited. Five seconds, then ten. Gave the kid ample time to think. The kid put his head back and stared into the sky. Then: “You sound English. Is that what this is about? Why are you here?”

“I’m English, yeah. Just like you. And I’m here because I need to see your dad. It’s your dad I came for. I can’t tell you why. Not yet. Now, are you coming or not?”

“Why don’t you just go home and phone my dad sometime if you want to talk?”

Jacobs laughed. “Good idea. I never thought of that. Bringing all these men here, when I could have just picked up the phone.” He got serious again. “One last time. You coming freely or not?”

“Time’s a funny thing,” the kid said, and now he didn’t sound quite so nervous or dejected. He even looked up at Jacobs, stared him right in the eyes. “Relative to a situation. Four years is a very long time, but not when you think of the continents shifting.”

Jacobs furrowed his forehead, puzzled.

“Three minutes isn’t a long time,” the kid continued, and he was still staring at Jacobs, and the big guy decided he didn’t like it. “But it can be. For instance, you’ve been here three minutes, talking to me, and that is a long time.” He grinned now, showing very white but slightly off-even teeth. And no fear in those eyes. “When I think about how much further away my mum and dad just got in that time.”

Jacobs roared like a bear and grabbed the kid’s uniform shirt and yanked him off the ground. He held him with their heads level, a clear foot of air between the grass and the boy’s shoes. And was glad to see real fear at last staring up at him. “You little prick. For that, I’m going to be first in the queue when my men find your hag mother.”

 

 

 

 

 

16

The soldiers had taken up residence in the clubhouse. It was a cavern of opulence. Over a million Australian dollars to build. The building was square, but this vast room was circular. The ceiling was vaulted and belonged in a cathedral. The top quarter of each wall was a mural of sky, so you could look up and almost believe there were no walls there at all, that the roof floated fifteen feet above a gallery running round the entire length of the room. Doorways lined the gallery. Most were for storage but also up there was the security control room, where her brother had set up his command post, not that it was much of one. From there he could control the gate and there were monitors for the scattering of cameras around the island and a communications system for talking with the homeowners, but that was effectively it. She knew he just wanted somewhere that he could pretend was like a general’s office.

Below the gallery, the walls, painted deep red, bore cabinets containing golf memorabilia and items for sale. In the spaces between were ornate-framed giant photos and paintings of golfing legends and landscapes. This place was for the serious golf freak. Anna was almost surprised the floor wasn’t grass.

Instead it was marble, except for two areas. Front right there was wood flooring with dining tables, including a long one with ten seats, as if the rich like to eat in rows like prisoners. Front left was a similar-sized area, with a deep carpet and sofas and coffee tables, for relaxing after a heavy dinner or a tough nine holes.

There were doors in the walls, four on the left, four on the right. Somewhere beyond those doors were the gym, swimming pool, saunas, shower and changing room.

The whole place was clean, expensive, and a little eerie because of its emptiness.

Upon entering, the soldiers carrying their wounded-in-action, another term erroneously used by Captain Jacobs, had placed the men on the sofas, where they could be watched. The wounded history teacher had gotten a pool table in the farthest room along the gallery. This room was small, with plastic chairs against three walls and the pool table in the middle, like the world’s smallest sports arena. It was a break room for the staff, but of course there were no staff, so the history teacher got it all to himself.

As she moved along the gallery, she glanced down at the ground floor. Five soldiers sat or stood about, just chatting. The guy she had cracked over the head in Mackenzie’s back yard was sitting up but still dazed, maybe concussed. His memory of the event hadn’t been good, thankfully. He was in the garden, at the door, ready to storm in and kick some ass, and then suddenly he was seeing sky, in pain, being carried down the street on Mackenzie’s shed door, ripped off its hinges and used as a stretcher. Anna had spoken to him since and claimed he simply fell. No attack – a fainting episode right on the back step. She had continued inside the house without him. And he had believed this. They all had, and the guy had gotten a ribbing for it.

The other two, though, were going to be a problem. She looked at them now. Still out, splayed on sofas, peaceful looking. They were doped with Etorphine, a drug she had had no problem getting hold of as a veterinarian, albeit on the sly, and were going to be out for a while longer. The stuff was used on elephants, and could render a smaller mammal like a human unconscious for hours. But when they woke, their memories were going to be fine. And they were going to remember Anna Jacobs shooting them with a tranquiliser gun.

But for now she was worried about the history teacher. He had been segregated from the rest of his people because of his injury. He probably didn’t realise how lucky he had been. Over-the-counter painkillers grabbed from the convenience store had worked well enough to lower his screaming to a loud moan. She could hear him as soon as she got to the top of the stairs. She had had to hold her tongue when he was shot, but it had appalled her. She had seen a number of violent actions committed by her brother over the years as he grew increasingly unruly, but nothing like that. Ever since he had assembled a team of men to lead, his ego had upped a gear and dragged his bad behaviour with it. And he was getting worse. Exponentially so. She didn’t like to think what might have happened to the stockbroker if she hadn’t intervened. She didn’t like to think about what her brother might do in the future. Her plan here was to save lives. If even one person died, she had failed terribly.

She put her hand on the door, about to open it and step in and say something – she didn’t know what – to make the teacher more comfortable, when a voice stopped her.

“We’re not supposed to go in there.”

She turned. Behind her, back at the door to the security room, was Carlos, fresh back from his trip north. Staring at her, arms folded, casual as ever. The man never used drugs, but had the constant look of someone stoned. Though it was only his mannerisms, his body language – never the eyes. The eyes were sharp, always. They gave him away, if you knew how to read eyes. They said there was a quick, alert brain beyond. That sharp look was one she had tried to disguise in her own face as she faked girly silliness and newbie naivety around all these men.

“I want to make sure he hasn’t died, because then we might get in trouble,” she said, but knew this explanation sounded weak.

“You can hear him. He’s alive. Pity we don’t have any of the drug used on those two down there. Use it on him, eh? Keep him quiet as a lamb. What do you think it was? Being a vet, you have access to drugs.”

Did she detect a hint of a challenge there, or an accusation? Did he suspect?

“No idea. But at least it didn’t kill them. Guy knew what he was doing.”

“Guy? You sure it was a man? Oh yeah, I forgot, you know because all you got was a tiny scratch. And yet your memory of the event is all sketchy. Well, maybe our guys can shed some light. I’m going to be right by their side when they wake up. Wonder what they’ll say?”

He glared at her, waiting for her response. Not a vocal one: he was trying to read her body language, and her eyes.

Just then someone downstairs shouted. Captain Jacobs was headed back, and he had a new prisoner.

“Let me know what they say, won’t you?” Anna said, and walked past him. Then she forgot about Carlos, and forgot about the history teacher. She was thinking about this new prisoner and what kind of trouble he was in.

 

 

 

 

17

The guy hadn’t screamed for back-up, which probably meant he wanted the glory of the capture alone. That was good. But Billy felt no optimism, because a man with a gun was still about to enter the house.

He quickly told Lucinda what had happened.

“What do we do?”

He shook his head. They both looked at the bed, that safe space beneath it, then at each other, lost for words. And by then it was too late. The guy called Dom had taken a few seconds to reach the house, probably because he was walking, just to make sure his comrades didn’t suspect anything, but once he was in the house he thundered up the stairs, and then there he was, right at the top, right in the bedroom doorway, holding his rifle up, aiming it at them. Both Mackenzies put their hands up.

“Boy, shit, you got some death coming your way,” he said, grinning. Then he raised his eyebrows. “You are Mackenzie, aren’t you?”

Billy remembered the guy who’d had to check a photo of him. So they didn’t all know his face by heart. He thought about a lie. In his mind he saw himself shaking his head. Mackenzie? No, I’m Jones. In the fantasy the guy would apologise, turn and flee.

But Billy said nothing. He watched the guy look Lucinda up and down, and started to get a bad feeling. For a moment he even forgot about the deadly weapon aimed right at him.

“You gotta come with me,” the guy said. “Don’t try anything, because the boss wants you alive and unhurt. So don’t make me smash your teeth out. Turn around, lie down.”

The guy reached for a small hand-held radio, but kept his rifle on them. And his eyes on Lucinda. Billy started to drop to his knees, but rose quickly to his full height following the soldier’s next words.

“And I don’t think the boss likes bras, so that’s gotta come off, lady.” The guy slotted his radio away. He wasn’t ready to call in the capture just yet.

Billy stepped in front of Lucinda, surprising himself. The move made the soldier grin again. “Why don’t you just get down, Mackenzie, and remember the teeth thing?”

Billy took a step towards the man, testing a theory. The soldier took a step back, and his rifle quivered slightly in his hands. “Stop moving.”

Six feet separated them. “You shoot me, your boss will be angry.”

Later, Billy would sometimes think about this moment, the moment everything changed. The soldier’s eyes were the key to everything. Had Billy seen any other emotion in them, no doubt he would have submitted to the man’s orders. He and Lucinda would have been captured, held under the threat of the gun until other soldiers arrived to cart them away – maybe with Lucinda topless – and the man who caught them would have been heaped with praise. But what Billy saw in those eyes was concern, a hint of fear. Just as Billy had hoped. The soldier was worried about his boss, because he had been given orders not to harm Billy, and yet he was trying to subdue the man with a weapon that did nothing but cause harm. So, in Billy’s mind the gun became nothing, redundant, useless, might as well not even have existed. And if it didn’t exist, it meant he faced not a man with a weapon, but just a man. He didn’t even consider the likelihood of the soldier firing in desperation. He just charged. The guy was good, though, in control of himself, not about to react disproportionately to his situation. He didn’t blindly fire, lost to reactions, controlled by shock. He twisted the gun, and Billy knew he meant to swing it round, use it as a club. But before the man had rotated the weapon into a position where he could wield it like a club, Billy was on him, all momentum, bent over, driving into the guy’s chest. The soldier moved backwards, trying to create distance, but his kinetic energy effectively wiped out his heavy weight, and when Billy forced through the man it was as if the guy were hollow inside.

They crashed into the balustrade overlooking the stairs. The soldier went over backwards. Billy hit it with his hips, flipped forward, but managed to halt himself by curling up like a foetus, clamping arms and legs around the handrail. The soldier couldn’t do the same, and had no way to grab anything. He dropped, hard, fast, and hit the stairs five from the bottom with a meaty crack. A twelve-foot drop, head first. He rolled and lay crumpled at the bottom, limbs bent in such a way that his injury had to be real, not a trick as Billy suspected, not the guy playing possum.

Lucinda joined him on the landing as he scrambled back over the balustrade. They stared down at the soldier, silent for a short time, expecting the man to rise and come at them again, maybe this time minus the fear that had prevented him from using the advantage he had had as a man with a gun. And the gun was down there with him, laying near his head, easy to grab.

But the soldier made no grab for the gun. He made no move of any kind, and it was obvious that the man was either unconscious or dead. Something had cracked in him, maybe something serious.

They looked at each other and an understanding passed between them. They had to act now, fast, do quickly whatever it was they had to do. But what was that?

“We’ve got to leave,” Lucinda said. “If they find another one of their men in our house, they’ll search every inch of it.”

Billy’s thoughts exactly. Wordlessly, they went slowly down the stairs, moved tentatively past the soldier. Billy stopped to pick up the gun, surprised at how light it was. He expected it be to really heavy, full of tough mechanical components.

In the living room he stared at the carpet, right where the two men had lain unconscious. They were gone. The house almost looked normal again, except for a drop of blood on the sofa from the head of the woman who called herself Anna. He thought about how many times he had sat on that sofa, drink in one hand, TV remote in the other, and felt comfortable. Now the room was tainted with evil memories and he knew he might never again feel relaxed here.

He went to the window and peeked out, checking for soldiers, certain that the men who’d watched the guy called Dom enter the house were going to come in after him, very soon. Lucinda went to the check the phone.

“No tone,” Lucinda said. “Cut, like that woman said. Who the heck are these people. They’re professionals, Billy.”

He looked again at the gun in his hands. He had considered using it, but it would be no use as anything other than a threat, same problem the guy in the hallway had had. He wasn’t going to fire it at anyone. And wielding it might cause the next soldier to shoot at him without a thought. So he dropped it on the floor and kicked it under the sofa. Then he turned his thoughts to the phones.

There was a junction box out at the mainland end of the causeway. He was certain he’d know what he was looking at, as an electrician, and figured it would be easy for the soldiers to cut off the telephones if they had one amongst their team with similar knowledge.

His mobile phone was on charge in the kitchen and he went for it. The signal was non-existent. He was sure that jamming mobile systems was easier, since you could buy jammers. He’d seen pictures of them.

He returned to the living room with the mobile, and Lucinda saw his disappointed look and said, “So we can’t call. What do we do?”

Billy poked his head round the living room door, and thankfully the soldier out there in the hall was still there. He paced the living room, thinking, while Lucinda stood watching him, the useless telephone receiver clutched in one fist.

There was a thudding sound from outside, and both of them dropped to their knees, staring at the living room window. They saw a blur as a shape zipped past, some soldier running for whatever reason. Then the shape was gone and all was quiet again.

“Get off the island,” he said eventually. “Only way. Back yard. Climb the fence and swim.”

Lucinda was shaking her head. “Dale.”

“He’s only got to stay away from those men for another half hour. By then we’ll be at a phone. One that bloody works. Soon as these soldiers hear a siren, they’ll run. That’s what we do.”

“I don’t like leaving him alone here.”

“He’s alone here anyway, Lucinda. We’re here and he’s over there. We can’t do anything to help. But the longer we hang around in this house, doing nothing, the longer he has to keep running and hiding. So we have to do that. We have to go now.”

She nodded. They went into the kitchen, and to the back door. It was already open. Billy stepped out slowly, scanning left and right. There was no one around. He noticed that his shed door was open and for a second feared someone was in there, but then he realised that the door wasn’t just open, it was gone. And there was no one in there.

Lucinda stepped out behind him and they scuttled across the grass, to the fence. In the house they had felt trapped, imprisoned, but now they had the sky above and the world ahead. Port Macquarie, with beaches and tourist attractions and almost fifty thousand inhabitants. They tried hard to taste a sensation of freedom in the fresh air, but the fence was a reminder of their predicament. Any feeling of liberty, of a vast world beyond the fence, of safety awaiting them out there, was eroded.

What’s this, an audition?

Billy stopped, certain he’d heard that strange line in his head. Until he saw a similar look of bewilderment on Lucinda’s face.

Maybe you’d like to say goodbye to your parents.

Lucinda moved first. By the time Billy understood, she was already gone from sight, back inside the house. He raced after her, found her at the living room window, staring out, the net curtains swept aside, any care for who might see gone. He rushed to her side and slapped the bunched curtains out of her fist, allowing them to fall back across the window, shielding them. But the curtains did not hide what she saw beyond. What he now saw.

“Shit,” he moaned. Lucinda began to curse with fear.

The cinema screen was alive, but no movie played. Billy felt a lurch in his chest as if something in there had imploded like a star, creating a black hole deep in his soul. The curtains created a hazy filter over the screen, but there was no doubting what his eyes were telling him. He tried to blink the horror away, but the horror was real. There was Dale, filling the screen. Helpless, tied up, terrified. He was sitting on a carpeted floor, leaning against a wall with a big skirting board. It was no wall Billy recognised. Not from the cinema, and not from one of the houses. The soldiers had found him, captured him, taken him somewhere. Billy had let that happen to his boy. And now poor Dale was locked in a room somewhere on the island, in his own personal Hell, all because Billy had been too confused to think straight, too scared to do the right thing. Because he had abandoned his son.

It was long-dormant anger driving him to madness, or a father’s love overwhelming logic – either or neither, he didn’t know. But something kicked him into gear. Something energised his mind. Until now, he had been acting reactively, like a counter puncher. Now he felt the urge, the desire to act first, to do something proactive, something offensive. Who knew where they’d be now if he hadn’t gotten off first against the soldier laying unconscious just feet away. That man was proof that you got nowhere by just hiding away and hoping the universe smiled upon you.

If these people had kidnapped his boy to entice him to come at them, it had worked.

 

 

 

 

 

18

“So do you feel safe in your gated community prison?”

Dale glanced away from the big black soldier to the video camera he had placed on the floor, next to the door. Dale could see the red light on the machine that meant it was recording. The guy had gone to the door, but stopped and turned, and now he faced Dale, and Dale suspected a lecture was coming. Dale knew enough about technology to know that the antenna on the camera meant a radio signal was being broadcast somewhere. Somewhere, someone was watching what the camera saw. And all it saw was Dale.

“What’s this, an audition?” he said. He got the feeling that he wasn’t in danger here. This wasn’t going to be one of those YouTube videos where someone got their head cut off by terrorists. The guy’s face said he had a point to prove. Still, Dale was aware of a line he must not cross with this guy. He wasn’t going to take any shit, but he had to be careful what he said.

“Maybe you’d like to say goodbye to your parents,” the big soldier said.

They’d brought him here blindfolded and face down in the back of a Jeep, but he’d worked out the route and the noises and determined that he was still in the Gilded Sector of the island. Some large building. He was in some kind of storage room for towels, but even this room was as plush as everything else in this half of the island. The towels only took up a series of shelves along one wall, that was it. There was nothing else here, except two vacuum cleaners in a corner. The ceiling was blue, the walls a deep purple above high skirting boards, and the carpet was thick and green. He was sat on his ass up against a radiator on the wall across from the door, hands tied behind his back and to that radiator. Despite the thick carpet and having only been here minutes, his butt was beginning to go numb, but he didn’t dare move. He didn’t think he’d have the power or freedom of movement to right himself again if he toppled over. He was sure the soldiers would let him lie there on his side with his arms probably pulled painfully tight behind him. So he sat there unmoving, head bowed in a false image of dejection, and that was when he heard the voice. He hadn’t heard the door open.

“Bet it makes you feel secure, right? Like someone who matters. Happy behind your fence, knowing the scum can’t get in?”

“I sleep well because of it,” Dale said, thinking about the camera. He thought this guy sounded jealous. He was used to such an attitude, since some of the kids at his school were the same. He always had a cheeky remark for them, but was aware he had to tone it down with this guy. “Anyway, the fence isn’t to stop thieves. Just alligators.”

The big soldier closed the door and sat on the carpet, back against the door. Next to the camera. Dale imagined the soldiers grouped around a TV, watching him, maybe with popcorn. Enjoying his fear. What else could they be filming him for? But then he remembered the remark about his parents – surely they couldn’t be watching this? Were they captured, too?

“Of course, a gated community, that’s an anomaly here. In Port Macquarie. I’ve been here ten days, waiting for today, and this whole place is one big gated community without the fence. It’s a retirement resort. It’s an old people’s home for those with money. Tell me, how do you feel about the inner fence? Keeping you and the tycoons apart.”

“Good,” Dale said. “They might have pet alligators.” No, his parents couldn’t be captives also. Why record this for them, if they were? Then it hit him. The cinema. They’d set it up so that this camera beamed its images to the cinema screen. Were all his neighbours watching? Were they tied up in their own houses, staring through windows, watching him? His mum and dad, too?

The big soldier smiled. “So it doesn’t rankle you when they come in their flash cars and go straight through and into this half without even a glimpse? With their doors locked.”

“I don’t worry about other people. I’d like their money, but they’re all pompous to me.” He caught himself. That had been a genuine answer, rather than the sarcastic shrug-off he’d told himself he was going to give this guy.

“Gated communities, hate them. But this place isn’t quite the same as most. See, my mother lives near one. She and her neighbours, they don’t have much. Not quite poor, but not as well-off as your kind. But she has to look out her window and see a gated community, and every time she sees that fence, she might as well see a sign warning scum to keep out. That’s what gates say. It’s a bit different in the English world: here, back home, and in America. Most gated communities are in places like Mexico and Brazil and China. That’s where the divide is greatest. In places like that, the poor are properly poor. There, if you’re rich and want your own exclusive community, you need gates like your house needs a roof. You need surveillance cameras and security guards.”

The guy paused. Dale could sense him getting worked up. That might bring the line closer, Dale realised. So now he said nothing. He thought about his mum and dad and where they might be. He thought they must be safe somewhere. He thought this video must be to let them know the bad guys had their son. That was it. This was to flush them out, which meant they weren’t captives.

“Gated communities are supposed to keep the residents safe, but the gates invite crime. Criminals know there’s money inside. That’s what your fence is saying: we have money here so keep your scum hands off. I know that in the four years this place has been up and running, you’ve had almost twenty instances of crime. I bet that would be less with no fence. Even so, you’ve been lucky, because Port Macquarie is full of people who all kind of think they’re all the same. Everybody assumes everybody else has money. If this little place of yours was airlifted across the ocean and dumped in the middle of Detroit, you’d have twenty crimes a day. You’d need more security guards than Fort Knox.”

He was waiting for some kind of response, Dale knew that. So he gave him one: “What do you want from me? I’m sixteen years old. You want me to talk philosophy, I’ll need a bottle of vodka.” Comedy for his mum and dad, so they’d know he was doing fine, wasn’t scared.

“In America, I read, four out of every five new urban projects are gated. Why do you think that is, boy?”

“You know I’m sixteen, right? Ask me which Call of Duty game is the best.”

“South Africa, for instance, it’s all about crime and being kept safe. In China, however, walls separate classes. It’s a status badge over there. In fact, the law over there is that all new residential projects must be gated. You believe that? And now gated communities are springing up all over the world. Monkey see, monkey do, boy. But since you don’t think about crime, it must be a status thing, right? Why you live inside a fence. You think you’re better than people like me?”

“I’ll challenge you on Call of Duty anytime.”

The big guy pulled a face. Not anger. Like he knew he’d wasted his time. He got up. “You might think you’re safe here, but you’re not. You got a cheap house in a nice compound, but it was all a trick. You’re about to be eaten by Goliath.”

What? Dale was well aware of the line he must not cross with this guy, but he couldn’t help himself. He was sixteen. His brain wasn’t ready for in-depth discussion yet. It still enjoyed rankling adults. “Sounds like you’ve had a bottle of vodka already.”

The guy pulled a false grin. Big and wide. He stood up. “Mackenzie,” he said, loud, and Dale realised the man was speaking for the camera now. “As you see, I have your kid. I’ll swap you for him, dead simple. Turn up here within half an hour or I’ll kill this boy right on camera, right in glorious High Definition. The last thing he hears will be me telling him he’s bleeding to death because his dad ran away and abandoned him.”

Then he turned and left. The camera remained, and continued to record. Dale tried to keep his face calm, drain the fear out of it. But he knew it was a battle he was losing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

19

It was hard, but eventually they had to turn away from the screen. They had watched in shock as the big leader questioned their son, before delivering his ultimatum and then leaving Dale alone in his cell. With the show over, a number of soldiers who had grouped out front to watch sauntered off to do other things, but Lucinda and Billy had continued to stare at the screen. For a few minutes Dale had put on a brave face, knowing he was being filmed, but soon he broke down, and at that point they had been unable to view the video feed any longer.

Dale didn’t look hurt, at least there was that. But he was tied up, a captive. Held by a man who had already shot one of the townsfolk and damned nearly blown the head off a second. Who knew what would happen when the deadline elapsed?

Thirty minutes. More like twenty-five now.

“What do we do?” Lucinda said. They were side by side under the living room window, backs against the wall.

“The soldiers won’t hurt me,” Billy said. “They have orders not to. I’ll be safe. If I give myself up. We’ve got no time to try to get off the island and get help. We’ve got about twenty-five minutes.”

She looked at him, but he noted that she didn’t seem shocked. Last time he’d thought about turning himself over to the enemy, she had ignored his words. This time she certainly heard, but did not shoot him down for such an idea.

“You think it’s a good idea?”

She didn’t speak, and he thought he understood why. Dale might die if he didn’t surrender, but if he did hand himself over to the enemy, both her husband and son might be lost to her. There was no way to know how either scenario would play out, but a choice had to be made.

“We don’t even know where they are,” she said finally. “The soldiers. Where they’ve got Dale.”

“I don’t think that Captain needed to say. The place is overrun with soldiers, they’re everywhere. I go out and they capture me, and then they take me there.”

“But then they’ll have you both. And that woman said the leader wants to…” She couldn’t form the words.

“But maybe he won’t kill me, if he knows he’s got the wrong man. And he must have, because I’ve done nothing to him.”

She looked at him. “Are you sure?”

His jaw dropped. “Lucinda, I’d remember if I annoyed someone enough for them to want me dead. It’s a mistake. I’ll do it. I’ll give myself up.”

He moved away from the wall and knelt in front of her, an idea forming in his head.

“It’s the best way. If I hand myself over, they’ll take me where Dale is. I’ll be closer to him, might be able to help him. This is what we do…”

He outlined his plan. The soldiers were here to search for Billy, and with Billy caught would not need to remain in this part of the island. Once he’d been captured, they would all move to the Gilded Sector, where the remainder of their group was holed up. Lucinda would be free to leave the house. She would make her way to the guardhouse, where there was a radio. She would call the security company for help, help that would hopefully arrive and save the day before Billy or Dale got hurt. Billy would try to get a signal out somehow to alert the cavalry to his position in the bigger half of the island. That was the plan, the only one they had. It was risky, maybe unlikely to succeed, but there was no other option. If Billy didn’t surrender, then twenty minutes from now they might learn to regret that decision for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

20

Billy took a breath. Couldn’t believe he was about to do this.

He threw the door wide and stepped out.

He saw two soldiers. One was across the paved road and to the right, his back to Billy as he headed towards the second shop from the left. Convenience store run by a couple called Taylor.

The second guy was also across the road, facing away, but a little closer. Thirty metres from his door was the south wall of the cinema, four feet high, all but the top five inches hugged by a thick tangle of dense ivy. It was into this ivy that the second soldier was pissing.

Now he saw peripheral movement. Other guys, further away, left and right. Too far away to see him unless they stopped, turned, focussed. Six or seven of them, scattered like lost souls in a ghost town. Not guys actively searching, just guys casually patrolling, like security guards bored of the same old route and the same old scenery. He figured his hunters had assumed he’d found a nice hiding place and knew they’d have to wait until he chose to emerge. Well, here he was, literally on his own doorstep, and no one had seen him. Hiding in plain sight.

A noise to his left jerked his head that way. A guy had stepped out of his neighbour’s house, onto the front step. A soldier. He lit a cigarette as Billy watched. Then he seemed to sense something to his right, and his head turned that way, and there they both stood like a couple of neighbours out to collect the morning paper.

He saw the guy’s rifle hanging down by his hip on a strap over his shoulder. And he saw the guy’s nervous face. Billy had no weapon and the soldier did, but four people with weapons had gone into a house after Billy and look what had happened to them – that was what he was probably thinking.

“Papers are late,” Billy said. That snapped the guy into action. He snatched up his rifle, nearly dropped it, and finally got the barrel aimed at Billy. Now that the guy had his gun up, his nervousness was gone. This was not a guy scared of action. But he had been caught off guard by what he thought was a dangerous enemy. They’re just men like me, Billy thought as he put his hands up. He was pleasantly surprised to find he wasn’t terrified. Scared, yes, but not terrified, which he’d expected to be when faced with the no-shit end of a gun. He reminded himself these people had orders not to shoot William Mackenzie.

“Hands up,” the guy screamed even though Billy’s hands were already up.

“Take me to your leader,” Billy said, again testing the water, and again surprised by his bravado.

“Don’t fucking move!” yelled another voice. The guy from across the road, the pisser. Here he came, trouser zip still down from an interrupted piss, running across the bright flag-paving that was like a thin yellow river through the estate, rifle up, eye sighting down the barrel.

Billy felt his fear rise a notch. Two guys now, which was twice the danger. Twice the chance that one was a trigger-happy lunatic.

Zippy was angry. He got across the road and tried to step over the low wall of shrubbery bordering the garden and stumbled. Billy tensed, half-expecting an accidental bullet in the eye.

“On the fucking ground!” the guy screamed, far too loud for the short distance between he and Billy. Billy dropped on the grass, fast.

“I want to see your boss,” he said. “He wants me unhurt.”

“Undead, dickhead,” Zippy said. “Not unhurt. Stay the fuck down there.” He pulled out a small hand-held radio. “You want me to shoot off your balls?”

“Not really,” Billy said.

Zippy put his radio to his face. “Captain, you copy?” There was a crackle of static from the radio, then a voice came back, deep, heavy, full of impatience. “I got him, sir, I’ve got the prisoner,” Zippy replied to the voice.

“Tell him I’m here as well,” Cigarette said.

Good work. Get him to the command centre,” the Captain’s squawky voice said.

“Will do, sir. It’s McCall, sir, Peter McCall.”

“Tell him I’m here,” Cigarette hiss-whispered.

“Good work, McCall. Out.”

The guy Billy still thought of as Zippy put his radio away. “Now get your ass on your feet,” he said, and nudged Billy’s skull with his foot.

“Hey, man,” Cigarette jumped in, “why didn’t you mention me? I saw him first.”

Billy was on his feet.

Zippy jerked his head. “Now walk. That way. To the gate. Go on. Anytime you decide a bullet in the balls is your thing, you just go ahead and try something hero-ish.”

“I’m bringing him in with you,” Cigarette said. “I saw him first.”

Billy started walking. With each step, he lowered his raised hands a notch, hoping his escorts wouldn’t notice. Hoping he could have his arms down by his sides soon. He wasn’t going to try anything silly, he just didn’t want to walk with his arms up.

They strode in a north-eastern direction. Out of Billy’s garden, over the road at an angle and towards the shops. Between the two Wedges was the road that ran north to the treeline separating both halves of the island. To the gate. As he walked, his two captors followed. Their footsteps were silent, but he could hear them arguing some ten feet behind him. Ten feet was a good distance, he figured. Skilled men. Too far back for him to do anything, too close for him to attempt to run. Unless their arguing was distracting them. Cigarette was insisting on co-credit for the capture, while Zippy insisted that if he hadn’t come along, this “dickhead” would have taken Cigarette down and escaped.

The walk across the grass to the shops took thirty seconds. Fifteen feet out, Billy saw another soldier appear. The guy who’d gone into the convenience store. Now he was back from his shopping spree. This guy should have had the nickname Cigarette instead, because packets of them were spilling out of every pocket in his uniform. He had a bottle of whiskey in each hand and one stuffed under each armpit. He froze when he saw Billy, froze yet softened, because the bottles under his arms dropped and smashed on the concrete apron. Then he saw that Billy was under guard. Billy noted that this guy was just like the other two. His own age, maybe older. Not young and brash. That made him feel better.

“You got him,” this new guy said. “Cool. Told the Captain?”

“Hell yeah,” Cigarette said. “He’s well chuffed. And I saw the guy first.”

Whiskey looked down at Billy’s hand. “Why don’t you let me take that wedding ring off him first?”

“Like you’ve got a free hand to carry it,” Zippy said. “And what if the boss asks where it is? He said no stealing.”

Whiskey thought about that. Didn’t look happy. “Why would he suddenly ask about some wedding ring? Let me take it.”

“Take it. And keep it quiet.”

Billy wanted to make this as easy as possible on himself, so he took the ring off before the guy could grab his hand and tossed it over. The guy couldn’t catch it with his hands full. He put down a bottle of whiskey so he could retrieve the ring off the ground. Then scooped up his bottle again. He kicked at the broken bottles, annoyed that he’d lost whiskey.

“Why ain’t he tied?” the guy said.

Cigarette moved in front of Billy and secured his wrists with a plastic cable-tie. Billy tried not to panic.

“What you talking about? He is tied, look,” Cigarette said. All three laughed. Billy didn’t get the joke.

They moved on, and now there were three of them escorting him. Whiskey wanted some of the action as well, it seemed.

Once past the shops, they soon hit the tarmac road that sliced this sector of the island in half. They turned north on it. The road rose sharply over the last twenty metres as it climbed a natural hill to meet the treeline and the gate nestled within. Billy had been to the end of this road only once before, propelled there, like most of the southern residents, by a curiosity to see how the rich lived. He remembered that there hadn’t been much to see through the gate. The trees surrounding the gate blocked the view to left and right, while ahead there was the golf course, but that was surrounded by trees, too. The gimmick behind the Gilded Sector, he’d read, was to make a gated community that was meant to feel like living out in the country rather than a city, which explained all the greenery. Didn’t look like much from here.

At the gate he was told to stop. He peered through the railings, seeing the tip of the lighthouse poking above the trees.

There was no guardhouse. This gate, he’d heard, was controlled from the clubhouse serving the golf course. The 19th tee, as it was known, although the golf course had only nine holes. This was confirmed – sort of – when one of his captors got on the radio, calling for the gate to be opened. No one responded vocally, but the gate started to swing open away from him, along a groove cut into the grass. A nudge in the back from someone’s gun got him moving. Feeling almost like Alice going down the rabbit hole, Billy took his first step into the real Elysium Fields. One step into unknown territory, but also, he hoped, one step closer to his kidnapped son.

 

 

 

 

21

From the bedroom window, Lucinda had watched it all happen. She had heard all the shouting. She had watched the men force Billy onto the ground and then take him away. And she had noticed that her husband performed without terror in his voice. Either he was certain of his immune status because the leader wanted him unhurt, or he was overcoming his fear quickly. It reminded her of when they were first dating, years ago and back in England. He had worked as a club doorman, a job in which he’d faced trouble many times. While he bathed and dressed and generally prepared for a shift on the doors, he was all nerves at the prospect of unknown danger coming that night. When he phoned her during a break, his voice showed none of that concern. When he returned from work, he was full of confidence, able to laugh and joke about the drunken idiots that had faced off against the doormen that night. The panorama of trouble bothered Billy more than the trouble itself. Once in the thick of something, he did okay. She had watched him approach the front door on shaky legs, and that was before anyone pointed a gun at him. Yet three minutes later he walked with guns aimed at his back, and his legs were not shaky at all.

Once Billy and the soldiers were gone, Lucinda waited. She checked to make sure the soldier on the stairs was still out, and he was. A quick check of his pulse proved that he was not dead. She ate her packed lunch for work, because she didn’t know when she’d get to eat again. She even made sure the oven was off, because she didn’t know when she’d return to the house. She looked at the kettle, at the microwave, at a crossword book on the kitchen table. She wondered if they would ever be used again. Would their lives ever be normal again? She went upstairs to change her clothing, then thought better of it: her work uniform was her classiest outfit, one that made her feel important and elegant, and that was how she would present herself to these intruders if she got captured. But she felt dirty because she had been sweating with fear. She wanted a bath. She wanted to watch TV. This was her home, and she didn’t want to leave it. But at the moment it seemed remote and alien, and she felt like a trespasser. She checked the window again.

And the soldiers were still around.

Fifteen minutes had passed since Billy was taken, and nothing had changed. Men ambled past, this way and that, just killing time. She got the uneasy feeling that they were here to stay, maybe to make sure any townsfolk still missing got mopped up.

Another five minutes passed, and she became certain. Her fear rose a notch. The soldiers had Billy now, but they were not leaving the estate. She would never get to the guardhouse. She would not be able to leave the island, or raise the alarm, and that meant no one was going to come to help her son and husband. They were on their own.

No, she told herself. She would not let them rot. She would not stand around and do nothing, hoping that the big leader would have compassion in his heart. She would not wait to see if he decided to kill her son and husband. She would make sure he never got the chance to make such a decision.

She left the house and crossed the back yard, feeling like a trespasser on her own property. It felt wrong to be creeping about in her own estate, but worse was the silence, the lack of life. The place hadn’t had a quiet period in all the time she’d lived here. There was always someone’s radio playing as he washed his car, or teenagers shouting as they played football, or women talking across their gardens. People living their lives, enjoying their lives. The place was now like something from a post-apocalyptic world. It was eerie.

At the fence she grabbed the bars and stared through them like a prisoner. Just a few hundred metres away was a bustling city, where no one knew anything about what was going on in Elysium Fields, even though it was right under their noses. At the end of the causeway was a road running past that rose up a hill and joined Northern Highway, the main route into the city centre. It overlooked the beach that the causeway cut in half. The beach was spread out before her across the water. On the golden sand were a few surfers and sunbathers trying to ignore the cold wind and a dozen or so dogs running wild around their owners. Such a short distance, but the sound of the crashing sea meant nobody would hear her if she shouted. Nobody but the soldiers. Elysium Fields might as well have been another planet.

Lucinda started to climb. The going was tough because there was nowhere to put her feet, but desperation and adrenaline finally got her over the fence.

The sloping bank was adorned with Zhu-Zhou Loropetalum, a thick, bushy evergreen. The landscapers had let the shrubs grow their tallest by the water’s edge and shorter as the plants climbed to the fence so garden views were not restricted. Where the shrubs ended there was two feet of space before the perimeter fence. Lucinda moved along this pathway, heading not east towards the guardhouse, but west, further away. The guardhouse was not her destination. The soldiers had forced her to change a portion of Billy’s plan.

When she reached number 39, three houses from the end, she stopped. Forty metres away the houses ended and just beyond were the Coconut Bar and tennis court and other places where she expected the soldiers might hang out. Better than sitting in the road. She had to make sure she was quiet.

She asked herself what the hell she was doing. What did she hope to achieve? She didn’t know where the intruders were keeping Dale, she didn’t know what had happened to Billy, and she had no plan beyond about the next five minutes.

Third from the end was Mr. Allen’s house. He was a big, bearded bear of a man, a former lumberjack from Canada who looked the part, as if he’d seen lumberjacks in cartoons and copied their image. Allen kept to himself, rarely venturing out, refusing even to join in the festivities on those occasions when everyone got social, like Christmas and Easter. His wife was either dead or with another man, depending on which rumour you believed. He had a nice daughter, Elaine, who she knew her son liked. She was far more social than her father. Very sweet and outgoing, liked by most of her neighbours. She claimed her mother had left for another man, but people still wondered how Mr. Allen paid his way without a job. Life insurance was the common thought. Claimed and cashed while his wife’s body rotted under the floorboards of a house way away in Canada, a few people believed.

Lucinda hoped both of them were okay. Especially Elaine. Young, innocent, pretty. She wouldn’t want to have Elaine’s looks around all these male soldiers who seemed intent on doing whatever they wanted, with no one to stop them.

She climbed the fence and made a run for the back door. She tried the handle and it turned. Threw the door wide and turned on her heels and ran. She had made sure she pushed the door hard, so it bounced off the doorstop and slammed closed, loud. She ran back to the fence and there she waited, ready to climb and escape through the shrubbery if anyone appeared.

A minute passed, and no one came to the door to investigate the noise. The house was empty.

Lucinda went back. She opened the door and went inside and closed it after her. She didn’t lock it. A locked door meant someone was inside, and would convey that fact to any soldier who tried the handle.

On any other day, a neighbour’s house would have intrigued her. She might have had a good old nosey. But today was different, today she was after a weapon that Mr. Allen owned, according to rumour. So she slipped right through his kitchen without noticing anything, and right across his living room with tunnel vision.

Lucinda headed upstairs, thinking about the weapon she was after. Mr. Allen had a stun gun, people said. He killed the fish he caught with it, they said. Bet he zapped his wife with it, they said. Lucinda could not bring herself to shoot or stab someone, but felt she’d have no problem sticking fifty thousand volts or whatever into one of the soldiers’ balls if she got the chance. With a stun gun, she might just be able to fight her way past anyone she came across as she headed to the guardhouse. It seemed like a fanciful plan, but it was all she had.

There was no carpet on the stairs, so she went up slowly, just in case there was a guy up there who hadn’t answered the door. She didn’t know what she’d do if that were the case, but she couldn’t stop now.

There were three doors on the upper landing. Two were open. A quick peek into the small bathroom. No soldiers. There were a million items of cosmetic value on the window sill and around the bath, all for a female.

Next, Elaine’s room. No one inside. Clothing all over the floor, a laptop open on the bed, posters of posing shirtless men on the walls. Like her own son’s room, only feminine. She thought about trying to call the police using the laptop, but assumed that Internet access depended on either a landline or Wi-Fi connection, which there wouldn’t be if all the phones were down.

That left Allen’s bedroom. She threw the door wide again, but this time held her ground, knowing that she’d have a few seconds’ head start if she saw a soldier and had to bolt. But the room was empty.

It was sparse. Nothing was scattered on the floor. There were no ornaments. Neat and clean, like a showroom bedroom. The only thing denying this image was the fishing rod that leaned against a corner.

There was a set of drawers next to the single bed, which she rushed over to, hoping she’d find the stun gun in there. But she had a bad feeling. The stun gun could be anywhere in the house, and she had skipped through the downstairs rooms without a thought. It could have been lying on a worktop in the kitchen and she would have missed it.

It was as she was rifling through the clothing in the top drawer that she heard the voice. First the noise of a door opening downstairs, then a guy talking. She caught the tail-end of his moaning about a hotel room, then heard him say he was going to check the downstairs so “you go up”. Two of them, then. Fear dumped itself in her gut with a queasy feeling.

She dropped onto her stomach and was about to crawl under the bed when she stopped. Right there in her chosen and unimaginative hiding spot was a girl in shorts and a T-shirt, both torn. Elaine, Allen’s daughter. The skin on her legs was grazed, arms, too, hair a mess, face contorted with some kind of pain/fear mix. Through bloodied lips she mouthed something that Lucinda thought was HELP. She was shivering like someone freezing.

Lucinda froze for a second, trying to work out what had happened to the girl. Then she heard the footsteps coming up the stairs make a different kind of noise, and knew their owner had reached the carpeted top landing. She tugged herself under the bed, right by Elaine’s side, and put a hand over the poor girl’s bloodied mouth to make sure she didn’t scream. And just in time, because the soldier had decided to check this room first. She watched boots and lower legs enter the room, and saw the barrel of a rifle bouncing off the left leg as the soldier strode, and that was when she put her free hand over her own mouth.

 

 

 

 

22

Captain Jacobs sat and took out his mobile phone. The jammers were all in the southern half of the island, four of them set in various locations so their 80 metre radius would effectively neutralise all the buildings, all the spots where someone might try to hide and call the police. Here, he was okay.

The call was answered sharply by a man that Jacobs knew was required to carry his boss’s phone at all times. The man answered by introducing himself as Mr. Edwards’ personal assistant, and how could he help?

“Tell Mr. Edwards I’m in position. Ready and waiting.”

“Who is this? Who’s calling?”

Had Mr. Edwards not told his man what was going on, why they were flying halfway across the world? Or did Mr. Edwards have a lot of teams of mercenaries out there invading islands? “Just tell Mr. Edwards I’m good to go.”

Now the assistant seemed to know what was going on. "You were told never to phone this number. The agreement was emails, Mr. Jacobs. You are to -"

“Call me Captain Jacobs, no deviation, and I know the routine. Emails saved to the draft section, nothing sent over the Internet. No names. Secret offshore bank accounts. And the rest of that spy stuff. Listen carefully, assistant, I am not a terrorist. I am not on a watchlist anywhere. I don’t take subversive novels out of the library. No one’s bugging my phone because I attended some anti-something rally ten years ago. No one cares about me. And when this is all over, nobody will tie me to your boss. Tell him not to worry. And tell him to get ready to send my money.”

He hung up.

Right then the control room door opened and Anna stood there. There was something in her eyes he didn’t like. An assuredness like he’d seen earlier. He could sense that she had something on her mind. He looked at Carlos, who was in the other chair and flicking through a bag containing all the mobile phones snatched from the townsfolk. He seemed in a world of his own.

“What’s with the van?” Anna said.

Jacobs just looked at her.

“What’s in the van?” she pressed.

“Supplies,” Jacobs said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Carlos, let me have a word with my brother.”

Carlos tore his eyes away from the phone for a second. Looked up, then back down, carried on with what he was doing, and said, “Don’t need my permission.”

“I need your arse to be in another room, though.”

Carlos looked at Jacobs, his eyebrows raised. Jacobs just laughed, then gave a nod at the door. Carlos got the message, sighed for effect, and walked from the room. The guy always moved slowly, but seemed to cover distance quickly. He left the door open and Anna had to shut it.

“Now what’s bugging you, sis?”

“We’ve been here in Port Macquarie for ten days now, waiting. And all of a sudden today is the day. The day you got that van delivered by unknown men. I’d like to know what’s going on.”

Jacobs dropped his smile. “You know what’s going on. We’re here to put an end to William Mackenzie. Do I have to remind you why?”

“No you don’t, Carter. I do have a memory. What I don’t have is psychic abilities. Have you got something else planned here?”

“Like what? And call me Captain Jacobs, please. No deviation.” He leaned back in his chair and started cracking his fingers. Anna thought he was being evasive.

“I don’t know. What I know is you certainly didn’t need to bring twenty-five men here to capture one man. You could have sneaked in here at night and snatched him from his bed. But all this. Taking the whole island. Overkill. And during the daytime, which I don’t understand, because I remember clearly that at one point you were looking online for night-vision goggles. So you had a night mission planned.”

“Maybe I like a challenge. And maybe Mackenzie needs overkilling.” He laughed at his own joke. Anna opened her mouth to object again, but Jacobs had heard enough. “Stop, okay. This is the way we’re doing it. We’re here now. And you know who else will be here in a moment? Mackenzie. My men found him. So you can hang around and watch, or you can go help my men do something. Either way, stop giving me earache. You asked to be part of this, and I allowed that. Dismissed, soldier.”

“And why are we here, in the clubhouse? You had this place planned as your base from the start, yet the plan, apparently, was to come in and kill Mackenzie and leave. So there was no need to set up a base, unless you planned to be here longer.”

“I said, dismissed, soldier.”

“I’m not a soldier, Carter, and neither are you. Please tell me your secret plan doesn’t involve holding this island to ransom. You know there’s no way we could fight off a SWAT team. “

Anna waited for her brother to speak, but he just turned away, and that was that. Anna glared at the back of his head for a few moments, then left the room. She had joined this mission to prevents deaths, but had the uneasy feeling that her job was going to get much harder.

 

 

 

 

 

23

Beyond the gate the road continued in a new form, metamorphosed into a ribbon of exposed aggregate concrete, with pigmented blue and red and green quartz and basalt mixing to form a streak through the land like something left in the wake of an exploded star. The lightning bolt of colour curved left and hugged the treeline. Billy was marched along it, heading west. He tried to calm himself by admiring the colours as they sparkled under the bright sky, but couldn’t shake his growing fear, his belief that giving himself up to save his son was going to be an honourable yet ghastly mistake.

A hundred metres along, the road widened into an area of tarmac upon which sat a series of detached double garages in pale timber. There was a wooden bench and a water fountain attached to the side of each. With a small window between the doors and a sloping roof of tile, each garage looked like a small house. The garage door on the left was larger, obviously for a car, and these were all closed. Some of the smaller doors on the right, up-and-over style, were open and Billy could see a golf cart hidden beyond each, their rear ends facing him.

Billy set his mind on the mundane task of remembering everything he could about this particular make of golf cart. They all looked the same as one he’d seen out and about in town once, parked outside a nightclub. He remembered thinking it must belong to one of Elysium Fields’ wealthy and had Googled it to get an idea of its cost, and thus an idea of how rich its owner might be. Road legal with built-in refrigerator, 3-point seat belt, heated windscreen, interior light. There was a four-seat model, but the ones poking their asses at him were the twin-seat version because everyone could afford one of their own around here.

The soldiers marched him across the rainbow of colours and onto the dull black of tarmac. In an effort to meld the two substances of stone and tarmac seamlessly, the constructors had faded one to the next with a series of swirls and tapers, like fruit juice poured into coffee.

He was led to one of the open garages and yanked to a halt before it. The soldier carrying the whiskey moved ahead. Fifteen seconds later he reversed one of the golf carts out of its nest. He stopped the cart and glared at Billy and swept a hand at the cart, as if to say, Behold!

“Come take the last ride of your life,” he said. Billy stiffened.

“Shut the hell up, Miko,” said the guy Billy thought of as Cigarette. There was a pat on Billy’s shoulder. It was a get-moving pat with a touch of softness that said Don’t worry.

There was a plaque on each of the larger garage doors. This one said Weisse. Billy realised he recognised that name. He stared at the plaque and thought, again trying to shift his mind, to stop it jumping ahead to what lay in store for him. The rich had long been a source of wonder to the less-fortunate of their species on the southern side, ever since they first got shown around by an estate agent who made a point of telling them the land beyond the trees was out-of-bounds. He remembered hearing about one of the northern gods, a German entrepreneur who owned a restaurant chain called Weisse. The name was something to do with German folklore: an angel, or demon; something to do with water, or fire; and something to do with saving children, or killing children. So whoever owned the Weisse restaurants owned this garage and one of the houses and had named his property after his business. Billy understood how it worked. Those who came by car rather than by jet or boat parked here and took their golf carts across the land to their houses.

The daydream got his mind elsewhere for a short time, but it was thudded back to reality with a slap on his shoulder. Same as the earlier pat, but with extra force that erased the don’t worry part. Billy moved quickly, knowing he had no choice. He got in the passenger seat of the cart and found himself close enough to the whiskey thief to smell alcohol on the guy. The bottles the soldier had carried rolled around by Billy’s feet.

The two other guys found a place to stand, holding the roof, and Whiskey started to drive. He executed a sharp reverse circle with heavy braking that nearly threw his standing passengers off and earned him an insult.

Then the cart was racing along one of the sparkly rainbow paths that snaked across the land like tendrils. His captors didn’t speak again for a while, so Billy put his mind elsewhere again. The reddish paths against the green of the grass made him think of whip lashes on the skin of the Jolly Green Giant.

But he couldn’t avoid thinking about where they were going. North-east. He’d seen maps of this place on the Internet. The eastern edge of the Gilded Sector had a number of major buildings, including a ranch belonging to the riding range and the golf course clubhouse. The clubhouse was supposed to be a flash place, just the sort of joint where the rich could hang out and talk bogies or share indexes. Comfortable enough for sure for a bunch of mercenary soldiers to camp out. And it was the place that controlled the entrance gate. If they were there, then surely his son would be there, too.

 

 

 

 

 

24

Lucinda felt Elaine’s mouth moving under her hand. She pulled her hand away.

Where is everyone? Elaine mouthed. Her eyes were full of terror.

Lucinda shook her head.

What do we do? Elaine was just a young girl, seventeen, but those scared eyes made her look much younger, much more fragile. Lucinda was also scared, but those eyes made her want to help this girl, make everything better again for her.

But Lucinda shook her head again. She didn’t know what they should do.

The booted legs moved alongside the bed on Lucinda’s side. She turned her head and followed the thudding boots. They stopped in front of the chest of drawers. She heard the soldier sit on the bed, heard a drawer opening. A long rasp of wood against wood, as if he had dragged one of the drawers all the way out. The boots were facing away from her, as if the soldier had sat and laid the extracted drawer on his lap to rifle through it. A rapid machine gun-like tapping on her shoulder made her turn back to Elaine.

The girl was pointing forward, towards the door. Lucinda got the message, and shook her head rapidly. No. They couldn’t risk running for it. The soldier would see, and even if he didn’t, there was another one downstairs.

But Elaine raised herself up on her elbows, just like someone planning to crawl, and Lucinda grabbed the back of her neck. Elaine glared at her, a fragment of anger in that terrified stare now. No, stay here, he’ll leave.

He wasn’t planning on that action any time soon, though. Clothing was pattering down onto the carpet as the soldier discarded it in his search. Both women jumped as the empty drawer hit the floor with a thud. Then that scraping wood noise as he yanked out the next drawer.

A moment later the second drawer hit the floor, scattering its clothing all over the carpet. The guy grunted, angry at finding nothing of value. He tore out the third drawer.

“Anything?” came a shout from downstairs. “I got a tin of Canadian one dollars here. Gotta be hundreds here. What’s the exchange rate?” The guy was English, she noted.

The guy on the bed called back, “About the same as the States!” This guy was English, too, and had a lisp.

Lucinda felt Elaine stiffen beside her.

“They’re not in a bad state, mate. Just creased. Hundreds here. Do we each keep what we find or you wanna split it? What you got?”

Then Elaine began to shiver even more violently. Lucinda grabbed her hand, but used her free hand to cover the girl’s mouth again, unsure of what was going on but fearing she might cry out.

“United States!” the guy above them roared, laughing. “And if they’re paper, you go keep them all to yourself, Dave.”

Elaine started to struggle, trying to move forward. Lucinda grabbed her, well aware that the girl was trying to break for freedom. Elaine’s eyes were screwed tightly shut, but moisture leaked from beneath her lids. Lucinda held her tightly, and Elaine threw her eyes open and stared at her, and that was when Lucinda understood. The guy’s voice had started all this. Elaine recognised his voice, and it had thrown her terror into a higher gear. And, given Elaine’s torn clothing and scratched skin and bloody mouth, Lucinda thought she knew exactly why.

“It’s okay, Elaine,” she whispered, but for Elaine it wasn’t okay. She struggled more violently. Lucinda’s head hit the bed base above her and she feared the jolt or the noise might have alerted the soldier. She let the girl go. Elaine scrambled out from under the bed, a fast but quiet crawl. Lucinda noticed she had left something behind. A black box the shape of a small TV remote, with a grip for the fingers and two prongs on the end. The stun gun. She snatched it up.

Elaine was halfway across the room, out in the open, exposed, and although the guy on the bed wasn’t facing her and had his attention on the drawer he was searching, his peripheral vision caught her. Her movement, unexpected in his mind, elicited a grunt of shock from him, but a fraction of a second later his brain knew what it was looking at.

“Wow, what do we have here?” he said. The drawer hit the floor and he stood. Shocked, Lucinda watched his booted feet stride across the room, saw a hand drop into view and grasp Elaine’s shoulder and flip her over, onto her back. She screamed at him to get away from her and the tears flooded out.

“Hello again,” the soldier said, and he was laughing, and it was that laugh that pierced Lucinda and drove fear aside in place of anger. She gripped the stun gun tightly, wanting to move, but unsure of what to do.

“I’ll share this with you, Dave. Ain’t what you expect.”

The guy grabbed Elaine by the hair and yanked her up and threw her towards the bed. Lucinda felt the bed rock as Elaine landed on it. Next thing she knew, Elaine was struggling against the man. His boots were right in front of Lucinda, his body bent over Elaine, doing the unspeakable as the young girl sobbed and fought him.

Lucinda’s finger found the trigger. She jammed the prongs into the guy’s trousers, just below the right knee. He yelped and kicked that leg backwards and dropped to his other knee, exposing his entire lower body to Lucinda. She hit him again with the stun gun, a half-second blast that felled him. But he started to get to his feet instantly. Lucinda felt his hand grab her hair and pull. She started to slide out from under the bed. The pain was like fire on her scalp. He was cursing.

His grip loosed. Lucinda opened her eyes to see the soldier topple backwards with Elaine on top of him, cursing. Elaine tried to hit him, but he swung an arm up and caught her neck and swatted her easily off him.

Lucinda grabbed his foot and jammed the stun gun into his calf, and held it there. The previous hit had been half a second, but this time she kept the stun gun in place and overloaded his body. He jerked like a landed fish as he lost all control of mind and body and was reduced to a gargling baby. She crawled out from under the bed and sat on her knees, breathing heavily. Elaine lay on her back, full of shock, staring at the soldier, then at her, then back at the soldier, as if not fully believing he was no longer a threat, as if waiting for Lucinda to kill him to make sure he never got up again.

Both women turned their heads as the second soldier entered the doorway.

 

 

 

 

 

25

Captain Jacobs had vast self-belief and undiluted optimism, but also a healthy dose of realism. Anna had been right: a night excursion would have been the safest bet. Only three residents of Elysium Fields worked nights, one woman who serviced rail lines and two mechanic brothers who operated a shop forty miles away. A night penetration would have meant capturing all but three of the residents and, far more important, having a much bigger window in which to work. And it would have gone down smoother: they would have been guaranteed to find everyone at home, in bed, drowsy.

But Mr. Edwards had insisted on doing it his way, and so here they were, middle of the day. The townsfolk had been spread all over, making the round-up harder, more likely to miss people, which it had. More people were at work, which increased the chances of their trying to phone home and getting no answer and becoming suspicious, or returning home sick – Mackenzie’s son, for instance, had left school early. Two who had later starts had missed work, including Mackenzie’s wife, which threw into the mix a couple of bosses who might want to investigate why their employees hadn’t turned up. In the daytime there was more chance of a relative overseas making a phone call. More chance of some tradesman or cold caller or whoever dropping in unannounced and spotting something disturbing from their place at the gate. More chance of some rich bastard arriving by plane or boat, too. That thought reminded him of the Carberry family, not home, maybe out shopping and due back anytime soon. The permutations were endless. Jacobs had cycled through hundreds. But again, Mr. Edwards had insisted.

And the window they had to work with was a risk, especially if they ran into problems. Which they had, with Mackenzie escaping and being on the run for an hour or so. But Mr. Edwards had insisted on today, as soon as the van he sent had arrived. Jacobs had watched the clock ticking away the minutes this morning, waiting for that van. Now here he was, middle of the afternoon, with just a few hours to go before the people away at work started heading home. If he hadn’t cleared out his men before then, he was going to have a new task on his hands. Trying to lure the townsfolk inside their own safe haven and capture them was going to be risky and tough. He could imagine how it could all go wrong. Someone sees a gate guard she doesn’t know and tries to reverse her car away. Someone is grabbed right inside the gate, and the next arrival gets there just in time to hear or see him being manhandled. A guy who drives with his doors locked decides to park in his driveway but sit there for a while, forcing Jacobs’s men to remain hidden, just waiting him out. Then there was the problem of the security firm that sent men in to check the island once a day – those guys would turn up, soon. He had planned this mission as best he could and his men knew their stuff. But they were up against civilians who were not accustomed to action, violence, threat. If something went wrong and word got out and the police got involved, they were doomed. No way could they defend an area this big against intrusion. No way could they escape. Even Anna, naive, along for the ride, realised that much.

Jacobs got up and paced the small control room, like a tiger. He kicked the chair. In the other chair, Carlos tutted. The man had returned to his seat and his stolen phones and hadn’t even asked what Anna wanted. Sometimes Jacobs envied the man’s laid-back attitude to the whole universe.

“Nervous tension,” Carlos said. “Totally understandable. Try to be like me.”

“You haven’t even chosen yours yet,” Jacobs snapped.

Carlos didn’t even look up from the phone he was playing with. “Mine’s going to pick himself.”

“What, you’re going to wait to see who pisses you off the most, and that’s who gets a bullet?”

Carlos nodded. “Sort of. Or maybe I’ll just pick one. Maybe you should have just put one in that teacher’s head, and then you wouldn’t be all nervous like a teenager about to have sex for the first time.”

Jacobs ignored the taunt. He paced again.

“Are you going to do it straight away?” Carlos asked. “So I know when to go bring the van out front?”

“I’m doing it the way I said. No deviation. One shot, right in the brain, soon as he gets here. Right in this room.”

“Thought you said in that other room, so cleaning up is easier?”

Jacobs thought. “No, I’ll do it here. Right in that seat you’re in.”

“I’m not moving. Use that seat.” He nodded at the other chair. He looked up and saw Jacobs pacing again. “If you can’t do it, maybe there’s a cat we can find for you. One that’s terminal and blind, if that makes it easier.”

“Sod you, Carlos,” Jacobs said, and Carlos just laughed.

 

 

 

 

26

This new guy was younger than the other, clearly well-muscled beneath his uniform. He had a soft face, blond streaks in his spiky hair, and a portion of some tattoo poking up along the right side of his neck. He also had a rifle, which he swung up to his shoulder. He flicked the barrel between the two women, and his gaze between all three people before him.

“What the hell’s going on here?” he shouted.

Lucinda saw his gaze rest on Elaine, taking in her condition, then flick to his comrade and turn puzzled. Lucinda jumped on his confusion.

“This man raped this girl. She needs a doctor.”

The guy didn’t look like he bought this. Although she didn’t know this, he was unable to reconcile the damage clearly done to the young girl with the short time his comrade had been upstairs without him.

“Put that fucking thing down,” he yelled at Lucinda. She clearly held some kind of weapon, and his moaning comrade was clearly down and in a bad way. But Lucinda didn’t let the stun gun go.

“What kind of people are you? Raping a teenager! She needs a doctor, now.”

Elaine, on her knees, crying, held out a hand as if for help.

“Mark!” the guy shouted, nudging his pal with his boot. “What the fuck’s happened here, pal?”

Mark was unable to respond. He’d managed to wet his pants, and that was about it.

“You’re both coming with me,” the other guy said.

Lucinda stood up, tall and defiant. “No, we’re walking out of here.”

The soldier focussed his aim at her head, for effect. “No you fucking ain’t.”

“Then you shoot me,” Lucinda sneered at him. “You kill me. You splatter me all over this room. Both of us. Do it now, because we’re walking out of here.”

She took a step forward, and the soldier took a step closer and gritted his teeth and gripped his pointed weapon, but when Lucinda lifted the stun gun, he stopped and she saw hesitation in his eyes, and she knew he wasn’t going to shoot her. He wasn’t even going to touch her. He was just hoping his words would do the trick. So she swiped at him with the stun gun, missing by miles but making a point: you can’t win this.

HehhhhHhhhsssjsjj He swung his weapon onto his shoulder and stepped in front of the door, but he had his hands up in a STOP gesture. “Wait!” he said. “Wait a fucking minute. Just hang on. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

“You and your men have shot people and raped girls,” Lucinda said, trying to muster an angry tone.

“Not me, for fuck sake. I’ve got a bloody girlfriend. I don’t even agree with all this shit.”

He was still blocking the door. Lucinda didn’t want to push her luck. He didn’t want to put his hands on her, but once they were there, she had no way of knowing where his limits lay. She brandished the stun gun.

“Let me stun you. You can claim some men jumped you. The same ones who took out your other men. And I promise if you ever get caught by the police for this, or I ever get questioned, then you won’t get mentioned. You were never here.”

He looked shocked. “You’re joking. I don’t want fucking electrocuted.”

“Then you stay here and wait while we go. If you come out in less than ten minutes, then if we get caught, my friend tells the rest of your people how you and this guy raped her. Specifically you.”

The young soldier seemed to think about this. Lucinda thought he was prepping a story. We were searching the house, I heard nothing, went upstairs, found the other guy in this state. No one around. Don’t know what happened.

Mind made up, the young soldier stepped away from the door, hands up, glaring at the stun gun as if fearing she might lunge at him after all. But Lucinda simply took Elaine’s hand, led her out of the room. She turned and grabbed the door handle, meaning to shut the door, but stopped as the soldier spoke. He looked scared.

“Hey, so…I was never here, right? I don’t exist?”

“Pinkie promise,” Lucinda said sarcastically, and shut the door.

 

 

 

 

27

Billy saw the mansions arranged along the golf course as they drove past. Just a flash here and there through the trees, and of course their upper storeys poking above. He wondered, for maybe the hundredth time in four years, which film stars might own one. He wondered how many of them came in by jet to avoid driving through the poorer half of the island. He wondered if any of the owners were at home during the winter season. Probably not, he figured, or if they were, they would be captured guests of the soldiers by now.

Soon they came upon the clubhouse. Surprisingly, despite the lavishness of this land, the clubhouse was composed of red brick. Two tall storeys high, it had big dormer windows with lacy curtains and a thatched roof like a quaint old cottage. And it was big, easily seventy metres across. The big front door was an ancient-looking oak slab with a lion’s head door knocker.

The building sat in the centre of a square of resin-bonded sea-blue gravel. Four rainbow paths fed into this square, one from each side, from each compass point. At the edge of the gravel out front were benches and tables, just feet from where the grass began and the first teeing ground was located, so the rich could watch the equally rich take their first shot.

The golf cart sped past the building and turned towards the rear. Here the cosy, years-ago appearance of the clubhouse was marred by a stack of rollcages in a small gated compound and by a single-storey annex topped with heavy machinery for the air conditioning.

There was a single door next to a pair of wide delivery doors. Two other golf carts were here. They parked next to them. Billy was told to get out and was dragged out before he could even think about disobeying that order. He was escorted to the wide delivery doors.

The doors led into a square room that was featureless except for metal doors almost as high as the ceiling in the side walls. Freezers and fridges, Billy realised, judging by the digital screen on each one. Dead, though. No power. There was a strip light in the ceiling that was lit, but the whole place seemed deathly quiet.

He was pushed and shoved through a set of doors at the other end. A large commercial kitchen. Three aisles of large grey mincers and tumblers and dishwashing machines and ovens, all silent. Shoved and pushed, he stumbled down the middle aisle. There was a wooden stand on a worktop that held, it seemed, a knife for every kind of meat and fruit and bread. That was on the left, and a hand steered him to the far right as they passed. They were taking no chances with a guy who might have already put down four of their own.

He tried again to cast his mind elsewhere. Started to imagine this kitchen during the summer months. Full of staff, sweating away to cook exotic foods, if that was the desire of the rich. Personally, he didn’t think his own tastebuds would change their opinions just because his bank balance was bigger. He’d still want fried egg on toast, or a steak pie.

He yanked himself back to the now. It didn’t help his cause to daydream.

At the other end of the kitchen were three single doorways with flimsy doors that didn’t have handles and swung both ways. Designed so waiters could rush through them quickly.

Beyond the doors was the main hall. His eyes took it all in in seconds, as he imagined it full of the rich and famous, toasting their own brilliance.

There were other soldiers here, who started yelling and clapping as they caught sight of Billy. The men leading him bowed. All a big game to them. Billy shrank inside himself.

He was shoved to the right, towards the stairs leading up to the gallery. At the top, he and his captors passed the first two of at least ten doors along the gallery. Laundry and Power, said the signs on the doors. They entered the third room, which said Security on the door.

This was a room for the staff, so extravagance had no place. The room was dim, smelled of sweat and a mix of all the ready meals that must have been eaten here over the years. There was a pair of swivel chairs in front of a control panel.

In one there was a tall white guy with blonde dreadlocks, who had a bunch of mobile phones in his lap and one in his hand that he was playing with. But it was the thicker black guy in the other chair that Billy focussed on.

It was the guy from the cinema screen, the guy who’d called for Billy. He had a gun in a holster and a knife in a scabbard on his thigh, but this guy was big enough to instil fear without such weapons. His uniform was different, but it was not so much this as his demeanour that said he was the man in charge.

“Houdini returns,” the soldier said. “William Mackenzie, man of the hour. I’m Captain Jacobs. That’s what you call me, no deviation. Take a seat.”

The tall white guy didn’t look up from the phone, but he pointed a hand at the spare seat. Then he kicked against the floor, sending his own chair rolling towards one wall, creating distance between both seats. Billy was pushed by the men holding him. He turned and sat, facing Captain Jacobs. The bigger man had pulled his pistol and now held it down by his thigh.

 

 

 

 

 

28

They left the house quickly, in case the soldier changed his mind. In her own back garden, Elaine asked what they were doing. Were they looking for a phone? The phones don’t work. Not even the mobiles, because they were being jammed. She had tried. And she had seen a guy plant something that she had first thought was a bomb, but now assumed was a mobile phone jammer.

Lucinda said they were just checking houses, see who might still be here. They were heading for the gatehouse. The gatehouse had a radio. They could use that to call for help.

Lucinda and Elaine made their way from garden to garden. The scary part was crossing each driveway, because that was when they would be exposed. Quickly they jogged out from behind the house, stepped over the small wall that separated each property, and pushed through the tall gate on the right-hand side of the neighbouring house. None of these gates was locked. Not necessary in a gated community. It took only two seconds to get from garden to garden, but for those two seconds they were visible from the street. But no one shouted, no one came running.

There was no one around all the way to number 21 which belonged to the doctor, Mussen. She heard voices from upstairs and figured a couple of the soldiers had hung around to play snooker on a half-sized table Mussen had erected in his back bedroom. They slipped quickly on and past. Over the small picket fence, across the driveway, over the small wall and onto the thin path alongside the next house. There was a moment of terror as this wooden gate refused to open. But it wasn’t locked, she realised as she threw her shoulder against it and felt it move two inches. Just barred by something. She and Elaine pushed and something scraped and then they were through, looking down at a massive stone garden gnome that the owner had blocked the gate with for some reason.

At number 13, Elaine freaked out. They heard voices. Not from the house, but from the street. Close, too close. The lower the house number, the closer they got to the main gate, and it seemed that area was still thriving with soldiers. There was definitely one in the gatehouse, watching for visitors. Elaine had asked how Lucinda was going to bypass this guy to get hold of the radio, but the older woman hadn’t given her a solid answer yet. Elaine then decided she didn’t want to go onward. She wanted to go hide.

“We can’t hide forever,” Lucinda said.

Elaine was starting to shiver. She didn’t wear much and the weather wasn’t exactly warm. “It won’t be forever. Someone will come soon. They can’t keep us locked up for long. The police will find out.”

Probably, Lucinda had to admit, but maybe not before my husband dies. Or my son. “Please, Elaine, I need your help. I can’t do this on my own.”

“Do what?” Elaine spat. “You think two of us can go stun a hundred men with guns? Or me, you and whatever old lady we find in hiding out in one of these houses?” She shook her head. Then she looked back the way they had come, and looked at the fence at the back of the garden, and looked at the garden shed. She was looking for a hiding place, Lucinda knew. Which meant she had given up already.

“We’ll get to the gate and radio out and escape through the gate,” Lucinda said. But Elaine was shaking her head.

“I’m hiding. I’m hiding till the police come. These men have guns and we don’t know why they’re here. You’re stupid if you think you can get to that radio with a guy in there.”

Elaine didn’t know about Billy and Dale, captured. Or that the soldiers were here for Billy. But it wouldn’t swing her decision even if she knew. And the girl was getting erratic, panicky, and would probably become a hindrance. Maybe more so if she thought this was all because of Billy. So Lucinda realised she would be better off on her own, although she really had no idea what to do now she had the stun gun she’d so badly wanted. She told Elaine to go. Suggested she climb the fence and swim to freedom and call the cops. And Elaine went without another word, but she didn’t go to the fence. She went to the shed. She tugged on the door and it opened, displaying gardening tools inside in a mishmash, as if the shed and its contents had been lifted by a giant hand and shaken. Elaine worked her way inside, stepping over and around rakes and spades and hoes, and then pulled the door shut behind her. Not a final word said or look thrown. Lucinda forgot about her and concentrated on moving to the next house.

She encountered no one the rest of the way. Moved from number 2 to number 1 and knelt in the garden of Daniel King, the gate guard, and prepared her next move. There were no more houses to pass. Along the edge of King’s back garden was a row of conifers twice her height. On the other side, she knew, was mown grass studded with flowers. That was where the gatehouse sat, maybe ten metres from where she stood. She knelt in the grass and stared between two of the conifers’ trunks. And there was the gatehouse, a short run away. Much safer if she could have slipped through here, but there was chain-link fencing strung between the trunks and stapled to the wood. She would have to exit at the front again.

Of course, the gatehouse was by the gate, and you could see the area in front of the gate from just about anywhere in the estate. But she had no choice. If she could dart across the grass and into the guardhouse quickly, she might be exposed only for a second.

Across the road and directly in front of King’s house were the four shops, where the big truck had parked. A quick peek around the corner of his house confirmed that the truck had gone, and she didn’t see any soldiers. But there could be others at the gatehouse, keeping their pal company. It was risky, but she had to do it.

The stun gun had a strap that she tied around her wrist. She had hit the guy in the bedroom from a hidden position, but might not be so lucky to have the element of surprise next time. The strap was connected to a pin that would disable the stun gun if pulled out. So at least if the soldier in the gatehouse fought her and grabbed the stun gun, he wouldn’t be able to turn it on her.

She slipped away from the house, onto the grass, and rushed to the gatehouse.

The flat-roofed building had wide windows offering a panoramic view, even to the west, where the only sight was the conifers a few metres away. This meant she could clearly see the building was empty of life.

The door was, thankfully, in the side facing the conifers. The side closest to her. She pushed it open.

A counter ran all the way around the building. There was a sink unit with a kettle and tea bags and a toaster in one corner, an electronics console on another side, a TV elsewhere on the counter, and some paperwork and a half-finished jigsaw puzzle and some books and that was it. Like some fancy prison cell, Lucinda thought. But no toilet, no slop bucket. No wonder King was often seen popping back to his house for one of his hour-long pisses.

She went to the console. There was a phone receiver on a hook, a monitor for the camera that watched the gate, controls for the gate and camera, a panic button that was big and red and shielded under a dusty, never-lifted plastic cover, and some other buttons and switches that she had no clue about and weren’t marked. And the radio. She looked up and around, saw no activity outside the windows, and hit the GATE OPEN/CLOSE button. A few metres beyond the east window, she watched the gates start to slide open with a loud rumble that she was sure was going to bring people running. Then she grabbed up the radio’s handset and looked for a transmit button. She didn’t know anything about how radios worked, but hoped that it wouldn’t be affected by mobile phone jammers.

In the East Wedge there were no houses, but the land between the fence and the road was not bare. Bushes and small rockery formations covered this long, curving area. As she glanced up from the console, Lucinda noticed movement from the bushes. A guy who was obviously squatting and having a shit leaned out from behind a bush, staring at the gate. When she saw his head turn ever so slightly towards the gatehouse, she ducked, fast, hoping he hadn’t seen her. But when she peeked up a few seconds later, the guy was coming out from behind the bush, fixing his trousers, eyes hard on the gatehouse, on her. And then he was rushing her way, his weapon raised.

 

 

 

 

 

29

Despite the gun in the other man’s hand, Billy decided to try to take control of this conversation. He was the one being wronged here. So he said, “What the hell do you want with me?”

Captain Jacobs said, “Who put tranquiliser darts in two of my men?”

Billy’s mouth moved, but he found himself unable to speak. Not because he didn’t want to rat out the soldier called Anna, but because he knew how unrealistic it would sound: one of your own people burst in and shot them.

“Or was it you? Where did you go when you left the house?”

This time Billy had an answer ready. “We hid in a neighbour’s-”

“How long you been separated?” Captain Jacobs cut in, his face annoyed. He was staring at Billy’s bound hands.

It threw Billy and he forgot about trying to defend himself against the accusation that he had abandoned his son. “What do you mean?”

“Bad Intel kills good soldiers,” Captain Jacobs muttered, more to himself than to Billy. “When did you divorce your wife? She’s missing and I need her. Did she maybe have the tranquiliser gun? Do personal assistants carry one at all times? Did she leave the island? If she’s here, does she hate your guts? Will she just laugh and tell me to go ahead if I threaten to hurt you if she doesn’t give herself up? That’s what I mean.”

He seemed genuinely pissed off about something, and Billy didn’t know what. Billy’s own puzzled face must have conveyed something to the other guy, because he queried his own assumption: were Billy and his wife not separated? Billy shook his head.

“Where’s your wedding ring?”

Billy nodded at the guy who’d stole all the whiskey. “In this guy’s pocket,” he said, and took a small amount of satisfaction doing so.

Captain Jacobs glared at the soldier. Angry. The soldier took Billy’s ring out of his pocket. Looked at his boss, who jerked his head as if to say give it back. Billy extended his hands and the soldier, meek as a lamb, stepped forward and slipped the ring back where it belonged. Billy wanted to grin at him, but he was still too worked up, too terrified at everything that was happening.

The soldier put his head close to Billy’s as he was slipping the ring on. “I’ll come take this off your cold, rotting body, don’t you worry.”

Ring returned, the soldier stepped away. Captain Jacobs flicked a hand and his three men backed out of the door almost in rewind. Not even a pause to wonder if it was wise to leave their boss with a guy who might have put four of their own down. Billy decided that meant they trusted their boss’s ability to neutralise any danger Billy posed. And that in turn made him decide he would offer no danger. Not right now, at least.

When the door was closed, Captain Jacobs said, “Do you know why I’m here?”

Billy tried not to gulp in fear. Failed. “Why do you want to kill me?”

“You can’t think why?”

Billy shook his head before he’d really thought about it. He continued to shake his head for the next fifteen seconds, as his brain cycled through all the people he might have pissed off enough to kill him. Like any man living his life and interacting in good and bad ways with his fellow humans, he knew of a handful that might laugh if he crashed his car or spit in his food if they got the chance – other drivers he’d cut-up on the road, shop staff he’d moaned at for bad service, for instance – but would they really want him dead? Dead was extreme. His shortlist came up empty.

The Captain seemed to realise Billy was thinking about recent events. "Go further back. You were a doorman while doing electronics at university -"

“How do you know that?”

“-so maybe there was someone you and your cronies roughed up? You sleep with a tutor’s daughter at University, or burn some classmate’s house down? Think.”

Billy tried but again came up blank. Jacobs didn’t look impressed.

“You do something bad enough that someone wants you dead, it’s unlikely you’d forget. Maybe it was the reason you left England. Maybe you fled because you knew what you did was real bad.”

Faces whizzed through Billy’s mind. None stood out.

“Think hard, Mackenzie. But try not to think of people. Think events. Think of something you did that maybe once or twice made you worry a bit about comebacks.”

Again Billy scoured his memory, but there was nothing. So he determined that it must be a mistake. They had the wrong guy. That had to be it. And this game was getting him nowhere.

“Let my son go. He’s done nothing to you. If I did, tell me what it’s supposed to be. Don’t hurt my Dale.”

“So you’re just Mr Innocent, right? Never put a foot wrong, never harmed a fly.”

“Where’s my son? You have no right to come in here and hurt people. Where is he?”

There was a lull for a second or two. The guy with the phone broke the silence:

“I could still get that cat.”

The Captain exploded. He rushed forward, grabbed Billy and yanked him out of the chair. He threw Billy against the wall. The breath got thumped right out of him. Before he had taken his next gulp of air, the big soldier was on him, a thick knee crushing his chest, the gun rammed hard into his throat. The man’s face was all hate and anger.

“Enough of this crap,” he yelled, staring down into Billy’s fearful eyes. “If you don’t know what you did-”

“I don’t, I didn’t do anything,” Billy yelled back.

“-then that means you don’t give a shit about it. You just cleared it from your mind like it was nothing. Admit it and you won’t suffer.”

“I didn’t do anything, you bastard. Where’s my son?”

Jacobs stepped back. He started to pace back and forth across the room. The guy with dreadlocks finally put aside his phone and watched.

“Eight years ago you lived in Hackney.”

Billy watched the man pacing. Back and forth, fast, all the way to the walls before an abrupt turn, right when it looked as if he might crash straight into the plaster. He spoke without taking his eyes off the floor.

“You lost your driver’s licence. Although the Australians didn’t seem to mind what you did back in England, because they gave you one of theirs.”

The knuckles on the hand holding the gun were white. He was gripping it hard.

“You lost your licence because you were drunk driving.”

Billy stared at him. He remembered that night well, but couldn’t connect it in any way to the events of today, to this man. To a reason someone wanted to kill him.

“You ran down a teenage boy.”

“No,” Billy said. “I was drunk. I didn’t hit anyone.”

Back and forth, faster and faster. Billy knew the man was trying to gear himself up. He got the awful feeling it was going to happen, right here. The man was trying to find the anger necessary to perform the shot. To shoot Billy, right where he lay.

“His name was Liam. You hit him and he died, and part of me died with him. Admit you did that.”

Billy was shaking his head. “My son had just gone into hospital. I was driving drunk because I was upset. I didn’t hit anyone.”

“Admit it and I’ll not make you suffer.”

Billy didn’t say another word. He knew he wouldn’t convince this guy of anything. The man wanted him to be guilty. The man was just building resolve, each step he took adding the fuel to his rage, until he reached the point where he turned the gun on Billy and killed him. Denials were only going to inflame him further.

“Admit it, Mackenzie.”

Billy said nothing.

Captain Jacobs stamped the floor like a bull and turned towards Billy. And raised his gun.

 

 

 

 

30

Anna was getting restless. She had already made a couple of sarcastic remarks to some of the soldiers, which had shocked them. Not the behaviour of a naive girl who jumped at spiders. So she decided to stay away from them, just in case anyone started to suspect that her meek attitude was an act.

She looked in on the room where her brother had planned to kill Mackenzie, but it was still empty. Of course, since they were all still upstairs. She had kept to the shadows when Mackenzie was brought in, just in case he saw her and gave her up with a dumb shout for help or sold her out to save himself. She had watched the soldiers march him up the stairs and into the control room. It had been hard to let that happen. Now the man was in there with her brother, and there was nothing she could do to stop what may come. But the plan was to use the other room, so until they all came down, Mackenzie was safe. What she would do then…that she didn’t know yet.

She went out the front doors, throwing another glance at the unconscious soldiers on the sofas. When she had exited the control room earlier after her failed chat with her brother, she had seen Carlos down by the men, trying to talk to one who was making mumbling sounds. Thankfully Carlos had been unable to rouse the man and had gone back upstairs. Later, when Mackenzie had been brought in and the soldiers had watched and whooped like men viewing a sport on TV, she had slipped over to the two men and given each another dart, jabbed into the thigh this time. The moaning man had stopped making noises. She had slipped away again without anyone seeing anything. Carlos would have to wait a while longer for his interrogation.

Now she went around the side of the building, to where Carlos had parked the van. While everyone was busy, she planned to have a little look at what her brother and his henchman might be planning. For sure they had a bigger plot in the works than just killing Billy Mackenzie. And it involved this van.

The doors were locked. The back windows were grimy, so she stood on the front bumper, leaned forward with her palms on the dirty bonnet, and put her face close to the front windscreen. In the back she saw boxes stacked. Computer boxes, tower systems. She dropped back to the ground, thinking. What could they want with computers, here? And so many?

She heard shouting from the building. Not all of the rooms around the gallery had windows, but the security office did. She glared up at the small window. It was closed, but clearly she could hear her brother shouting. He was getting angry. He didn’t often get angry, unless he had a point to prove – against someone, usually.

He was going to kill Mackenzie, she realised. Right there in the control room. Right now. The plan had been to take him to the other room to do it, and with that plan in effect she would have had time to prepare. But it was going off now, and she wasn’t ready. But she ran anyway, as fast as she could. She had to do something.

 

 

 

 

 

31

Lucinda dropped the handset and rushed out of the door, and then stopped. Where could she go? Her plan had been the gate, but the soldier was out there, right in her path, coming for her.

She turned and faced the building, staring through the long windows. The soldier had now reached the guardhouse and had stopped on the other side. They faced each other through the glass, twenty-five feet apart. The soldier was in his late twenties, she guessed. His face was pocked with old acne scars, some of which bent and creased as he grinned at her. He knocked on the glass and showed his gun, and wagged a finger in a come here gesture. Lucinda shook her head.

The soldier took a step to the left. Lucinda did the same. He went right, which she copied. This made him grin. He did a series of random hops this way and that, not really trying to fool her but just playing. Liking the game. He looked up at the roof, as if thinking about climbing up and over.

“Just come to me,” he called out, his voice hitting her from around both sides of the building. She shook her head again.

Just then a new voice called out, this one further away. “Hey, why’s the gate open?”

Two more soldiers, over near the playpark in the East Wedge, walking this way. Her heart leaped. She couldn’t hope to avoid three of them by running around the guardhouse.

She looked again at the soldier staring at her through the glass. “Come to me and I’ll see you don’t get hurt,” he called out, but this time his voice was a shouted whisper, as if he didn’t want his comrades to hear. And his face looked a little desperate. She got the feeling he wanted to capture her alone, for the glory. She shook her head again.

He darted to his right, which forced her to run to hers. It was perfect. He must have chosen that direction so that when she ran around the building, she did so on the far side from the other two soldiers, so she wouldn’t be seen. He was fast and obviously knew it, obviously thought he could catch her before she could complete half a revolution of the guardhouse, thus capturing her along the building’s southern wall, out of sight of the other soldiers. He could drag her out and claim the glory for the capture, or he could hold her down and hope his comrades went away and then have his way with her.

But she was fast, too, spurned by fear, by adrenaline. By the time the soldier had reached the building’s doorway, Lucinda was at the end of the south wall, the good end, the end closest to the gate. She bolted out into the open and across the grass and didn’t take her eyes off the gateway, the big and glorious hole that led to freedom. As soon as she emerged into the open, the other two soldiers, now just twenty metres away, saw her and shouted and quickened their pace. By the time she had reached the gateway and veered sharply right to exit onto the causeway, they were just four metres behind her. She heard their boots on the concrete, their guns banging their legs, their breathing between shouts of stop and come back and we’ll shoot! Three voices.

Three voices, three sets of boots. Three times the danger and thus three times the fear forcing her along. She pounded the road and her feet flashed beneath her and the lines in the road whizzed by like ray gun blasts, but the far end of the causeway seemed to come no closer.

The bootstomps became a little less thudding. She could hear no more ragged, rapid breathing, although they were still shouting. They were falling back. They wore cumbersome boots and carried guns and the drive to catch didn’t have the power of the drive to escape.

A hip flask she recognised bounced past her, skidding on the tarmac. It belonged to Old Man Heafield, the guy who ran the post office. How often she’d gone into his place to find him asleep in his back room, leaned back in his old wooden rocking chair with that same hip flask resting on his chest, clutched in a fist. He tried to hide that flask from everyone, even though everyone knew he liked his Old Navy Rum. She didn’t want to think about what must have transpired for one of the soldiers to get hold of that flask.

The thrown flask skipped and bounced and slipped off the road and over the edge, and that reminded her there was an edge, and that in turn hit home the fact that she was trapped here on a thin line of road, unable to hide, to go left or right. If she tripped or they got a burst of speed, it was all over. And then she thought of the mainland. It wasn’t as if these guys would suddenly turn back when she hit the end of the causeway. How long might they chase her?

The beach was ahead, both sides of the causeway, but it was almost deserted, the cloudy sky having forced even the die-hard surfers to give up their fun. Only a few solemn dog walkers remained. She wanted to wave and shout at the few scattered humans and canines, but that required energy she needed for running. And they were too far away, all seemingly facing away, moving away. The road that ran past the entrance to the causeway was deserted, too. It branched off the main highway that ran parallel atop a high grassy bank beyond the smaller road, and it was only used by people wanting the beach, or the causeway. No one did at the moment. Not a vehicle in sight. She was reminded of her earlier thought about a post-apocalyptic world.

Behind, she heard someone fall. There was a scuffle sound, then a grunt, rapid thudding, and more grunting. This knowledge invigorated her, pushed her into greater speed. She even felt she could now waste some of her energy by waving. She threw her arms high, waving like a castaway spying a distant ship. She was going to make it, she was going to reach the end of the causeway and escape.

 

 

 

 

 

32

The soldiers watched in surprise as Anna thundered through the doors, across the marble floor and up the stairs. During part of the soldiers’ preparation for this mission, they had run hills and lengthy stairs, and Anna had been careful to keep up the pretence of someone not very good at anything physical. The woman who took the stairs four at a time was nothing like the weak female who had tripped and stumbled and run out of gas long before anyone else, but she didn’t care what they thought, or how suspicious it looked.

At the security room door, she slapped down the handle and kicked the door at the same time, sending the door crashing hard open, right into Billy, who was on his back, hands raised over his face, as if they might stop the bullet that her brother’s face said he was about to fire. He and Carlos jerked in shock as she burst in.

The scene seemed to freeze. Three men were staring at her, each wondering what was going on. She knew she had a second, maybe two, in which to shift the train to another track, but which way?

She calmed her racing heart. “Captain Jacobs, a word please.” She turned and walked out of the room.

Jacobs looked at Carlos, who said nothing. Jacobs left the room, saw his sister further along the gallery, and headed towards her. Soldiers down below were watching them.

“I thought your plan was to kill Mackenzie in the swimming pool?”

“Use your head the next time you decide to burst into a room. I could have shot you instead. What do you want?”

Anna looked out over the gallery. When she was deep in thought, her eyes sometimes drifted, almost like a muscle spasm. Her brother would recognise what was going on, so she didn’t want him to see her eyes. “I thought your plan was the swimming pool. Easy to clean up the blood, no DNA. But it looked like you were about to spread his blood all over a room that has our prints everywhere.”

He looked surprised. “Since when did you grow a criminal brain?”

“You’re changing the plans. Changes ruin missions – how many times have you said that?”

“What, you want me to do it in the swimming pool? You burst in because you were concerned about the police catching us? Or maybe you burst in because you’ve been telling me for months that Mackenzie isn’t the guy, and you knew I was about to end him.”

Now she faced him, their faces inches apart. “It was the odds of it, Carter. The chances of him being Liam’s killer. You based it on weak circumstance. That was why I didn’t want you to kill him. But if you think he was the one, really think it, then say so right now, and on Liam’s grave don’t lie to me. If he’s the one, then he deserves to die. And Liam was my brother, too. All you had was weak evidence, but maybe deep down I thought that was enough, because I’m here, aren’t I? I asked to come along, didn’t I? So you give me the truth. And if you really believe William Mackenzie killed our brother, then I want to ask a favour.” She told him what she wanted. He raised his eyebrows.

Before Jacobs could respond, however, both their radios squawked the same message:

“We got Mackenzie’s wife, Captain Jacobs. Bringing her in.”

 

 

 

 

 

33

Billy broke a second nail and turned his attention away from the screws in the small metal grate. He had already tried to snap the chain on the handcuffs, but the exertion of pulling back with all his weight had bit the cuffs into his flesh, without any sense that the chain was faltering. Now he focussed on the other chain, equally thin, that was looped around the lattice of the grate and the handcuffs. He threaded his right arm through the bigger chain, cupped it in the crook of his arm, and leaned back again. He felt he got more effort into this, but soon the chain started to hurt where it dug into his inner elbow. Soon it really hurt. Soon he gave up and sat there on his knees, still feeling the throb from his right elbow and both wrists.

Even if he broke one of the chains, what then? There was only one way out of the pool room unless he broke one of the windows. That was the set of glass double doors, and he was sure there were soldiers out there in the corridor. So he sat on the cold tiles on the floor of the empty swimming pool and thought about his son.

Dale would be upstairs somewhere. There weren’t that many rooms. Given their size, there were maybe three or four right above the pool room. How thick was that ceiling? He wondered if Dale would hear him shout. But if he shouted, he would bring soldiers running, and for sure they’d enjoy shutting him up. And if Dale did hear, nothing else would come of it. Dale might be glad to know his dad was still alive, but there would be nothing either of them could do about it. Both were chained in a room with captors roaming about with guns. Billy might be able to break his bonds and smash a window and flee across the golf course, but Dale certainly couldn’t. He was on a higher floor, too high to jump from a window, if the soldiers had been daft enough to lock him in a room with such an exit. The image of them both escaping across the grass and finding refuge in some tycoon’s flash house was a beautiful but fanciful one.

Also fanciful was the image of Lucinda in a police car, one of many winging towards the island. But he knew it was not so. Billy had heard about her capture from a radio carried by the dreadlocked soldier, but he didn’t want to believe it. The Captain and the woman called Anna had fled the clubhouse to fetch her, the man with dreadlocks had told him as he was escorted from the security room and to the empty swimming pool. But until Billy saw her in their custody, he would continue to believe that she had eluded them. Too much time had passed for her mission to have been successful – if she had reached the guardhouse safely or escaped the island, surely by now the authorities would have been alerted, but he had heard no approaching sirens, had heard no worried talk or nervous looks amongst the soldiers. And the tall man with dreadlocks had brought him here nice and slow, as if the guy had all the time in the world and a life without worry. He was chained and told to wait and assured there was a surprise in store for him. Billy had not thought on that last claim any further, was simply happy that he had managed to get out of that security room alive. Despite his belief that this was all a mistake and that he would be fine, he fully believed Jacobs had been moments from killing him when Anna burst in.

That made him think about the man’s reason. Somehow he knew that Billy had been arrested for drunk driving one Thursday night in Hackney. That same night, a driver had hit the man’s brother and killed him. But Billy had hit no one. The death of the brother had been a separate act, just a coincidence. Two drunken drivers in one place, maybe just a couple of miles apart. One had been drunk because he was driving to a hospital, having been out with a friend when he got the news that his son had been taken ill. The other had been drunk for whatever reason. One had been stopped by the police and later had his licence suspended for fifteen months. The other had hit a boy in the street while his brother watched and had sped away into the night, never to be caught. Somehow the surviving brother had learned of Billy’s actions that night and made an assumption. And after months of planning had travelled halfway around the world to seek revenge.

His thoughts broke as he heard the double doors open. He looked up to see one of the soldiers there, glaring at him. His unease hitched up a gear when he realised it was the guy who wanted his ring, the guy who stole the whiskey. One of the others had called him Miko.

“Don’t give me grief, Miko,” he said, hoping the use of the guy’s name would help create at least a fragment of a bond. Maybe enough to matter.

“Boss won’t let me turn the water on,” Miko said from the doorway. Their voices had a trace of echo in the large, empty room. “Be cool to get it right up to your chin.” He threw his head back and simulated what he meant: a guy struggling to keep his lips above water, sucking air. It made him laugh.

The guy sounded a little drunk. Billy figured the guy had been at the whiskey he stole from the shop. Actually the whiskey had come from a hip flask he took off a dead man and later gave away, although Billy didn’t know this. But he did know that whatever the soldier had planned for this little visit, it would happen whether Billy called this guy Miko, Grand Master or Asshole. The man was here to play games, which might turn out bad for Billy.

He thought about shouting for the boss, the guy called Captain Jacobs. But Jacobs might not hear, or care. Jacobs might have sent this guy, telling him to go have some fun. And calling out for help would make Billy feel weak, inferior, child-like. He was chained and the guy had a gun, but they were two grown men, one on one. Billy would keep up his brave front in order to keep his spirits high.

“I’d just snap these chains and climb out,” he said. “I’m only still here because I want to prove I didn’t do what he said.” Said with the tone of a man genuinely curious rather than scared. Faked convincingly, he hoped.

Miko shrugged. “Thinks you did. Lived in the same city, same time, in court for drunk driving around the same time? Sound guilty to me. But I ain’t here for you to try talking your way out of what you got coming. I’m here because I’m a fan of money.”

“I gathered as much. Jacobs paying you guys to be here, then? What’s your cut?”

A question Miko was quite happy to answer. “Twenty grand. But I’ll walk out of here with twenty two, once you’ve handed over that Tacori.”

Billy looked down at his gold wedding band. Wondered whether he should give it up, if it would make his life easier. Then he thought of something. “Take it and I just tell the Captain again. Unless you want to unlock me and open a window. I’d probably lose the ring climbing through.”

Miko laughed. “Funny you should talk deals, cos I got one for you.” He shut the doors, then approached the edge of the pool and sat with his legs dangling. “Slide that ring on over here and I’ll do your family a favour.” He waited for Billy to ask the question, but Billy kept quiet. “You know, you don’t have long. The boss is talking to his sister right now. You killed his brother, but it was her brother as well. Right now they’re probably deciding how to kill you. You know, coming up with scenarios. Me, I’d drown you in this pool. I’d slowly fill it, leave you chained there, watch you drown. Make your family watch. So you ain’t got long, Mackenzie. Better hurry up and ask me what favour I’ll do you. Before it’s too late.”

He stopped there, letting this sink in. The woman who had saved him – surely she couldn’t also believe he had killed her brother? Would she have saved him if that were true? Then he pushed the thought aside, knowing he could worry about that later. Priority: get the hell out of here. So he asked – what favour?

Miko grinned, like a man who’d won a point. “After you die, we’re supposed to burn you up. Take you out there and burn you up, man. Can of petrol. A guy’s already got that ready. Hammers to smash your bones into itsy pieces to be buried. No one’s gonna find you, man.”

Now Billy had to stop far more terrible thoughts and images from invading his mind. He tried to straighten his face, take the fear and shock out of it. Calm as he could, he said, “Sweet. So what’s this bloody favour you’ll do for my two-thousand dollar ring?”

“I’ll get the job. I’ll tell the Captain I want to do the burning and smashing, and he’ll give it me because he knows me and you got history with that Tacori ring there. Only I’ll be so over the moon with that ring in my pocket that all burning and smashing thoughts will leave my mind.” He made a flicking motion with his hand, simulating thoughts flying from his head. “I’ll hide your body somewhere, somewhere it’ll be found. And your wife and kid can give you a proper funeral.” He held out his hand for the ring, a grin on his face like thought he was offering a superb deal.

If ever he came back as a ghost and got to see his own funeral, Billy knew he would curse this moment and this decision if he was forced to watch his wife and son bury an empty casket. He would wish he’d taken the morbid soldier’s callous deal. But he knew that wasn’t going to happen, of course. That was fantasy. In the real world, he knew his family might have a better chance of remaining safe if these fuckers thought Lucinda and Dale didn’t mean that much to him, or him to them.

So he said, “Fuck you and the golf cart you rode in on. Take the ring from my cold, smashed body, just like you said you would. And I’ll watch that bitch and her freak son at my funeral and laugh. She’s a cheating whore and that kid ain’t mine. You can even tell them I said that. Now go check if your boss’s boss is here yet.”

Billy held his face emotionless, biting back the acid taste of the horrible words he had forced himself to speak. He hoped Miko would believe all that foul bullshit and tell his comrades. He hoped his ruse would make the soldiers lose interest in Lucinda, and would compel the soldiers to free Dale. He hoped all of that and froze his emotions and prayed Miko would turn and go, quick, now.

Miko didn’t respond at first. But he grew slowly more angry-looking. He abruptly stood up and went for the door. “I’ll get that ring, you watch,” he said, his back to Billy, who was now taking deep, ragged breaths. “I’ll wear it while I’m pissing on your empty grave.”

Miko left and slammed the doors. And Billy lay on his side on the cold pool tiles and screwed his fists into his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

34

Anna and Captain Jacobs walked out to the first teeing ground and Jacobs sat on a bench. Anna remained standing. With them was Sergeant Astley, who would take Mackenzie’s wife into custody. Nobody spoke.

Two minutes later they saw the vehicle. A golf cart, zipping towards them across the grass, following one of the rainbow paths. It cut off the path when close and stopped on the teeing ground. Inside were two soldiers and Mackenzie’s wife. Captain Jacobs noted how attractive she was, even though her clothing was dirty and dishevelled. Jacobs and Anna stood. The two soldiers exited the golf cart and saluted, then dragged Mackenzie’s wife from the vehicle. Her wrists were bound in front of her with a cable tie.

“Watch how you handle her,” Anna said. “She’s a delicate little thing,” she added with a feminine purr that Jacobs didn’t like. He’d never approved of his sister’s sexual leanings.

Mrs Mackenzie had her head bowed like someone embarrassed. She didn’t look hurt in any way. And she didn’t look around, which was an action he would have expected from someone held prisoner: the brain seeking a place to flee, always. She looked spent, beat. He sent Astley to her, with orders to get her into the clubhouse.

“Good work, soldiers,” Jacobs said to his men, then dismissed them. They saluted again and got back in the golf cart. But they sat there, as if not knowing what to do now that all the Mackenzies were in custody and no new orders had been given.

“Shall we do this?” Jacobs said to Anna.

“Just a moment,” Anna said, and grabbed Lucinda’s arm as Astley was leading her past. Anna spun the other woman around and pushed her down onto the bench. Jacobs watched Mackenzie look up at his sister in shock, especially when Anna put a hand on the bench either side of Lucinda’s thighs and leaned in close, their faces almost touching. Anna sniffed at the other woman’s neck.

“Just let me have a moment here,” Anna said. Appalled, Jacobs rose from the bench and stepped away. He gave a sharp look at Astley, who quickly lost his lascivious grin.

“Private Jacobs, let the prisoner go,” Captain Jacobs said. When his sister kissed Lucinda’s neck, he turned away. “Anna, this is not really the time.”

Anna lifted a hand and pushed it into Lucinda’s hair, stroking, massaging. Then she dropped both hands and slid them up the woman’s skirt. Lucinda gasped in shock and tried to push her away, but Anna was stronger. She withdrew one hand and shoved it against the other’s woman’s chest, forcing her back in the seat while the hand up her skirt went higher. All the way. Lucinda struggled. Jacobs ordered Astley to turn around. He then put a hand on Anna’s shoulder.

“Stop, now. We have to get inside, if you want to do what we came here to do.”

Lucinda suddenly stopped struggling. Anna’s hand was in her groin, Jacobs noted with disgust. He grabbed Anna’s shoulders with both hands now and yanked her away, onto her feet.

“Put her with her son,” Anna said.

Jacobs took her arm and led her away, yelling for Astley to grab the prisoner and follow. And to keep his hands to himself.

 

 

 

 

 

35

Another soldier came to see him. The tall guy with blonde dreadlocks. The guy who’d brought him to the pool room.

“Execution time,” the guy said. Billy was starting to get annoyed at how many of these bastards enjoyed winding him up. A jolt of anger worked its way along his spine.

“Can’t it wait? I’m on the last chapter of War and Peace.”

The guy hopped down into the empty pool. Six feet, but he landed at neatly as a cat, as if gravity worked differently with him.

“I see where your son gets his sarcasm.” He started to approach.

Billy thought about Dale. He knew Dale was here, captive, but Dale, poor Dale, didn’t know anything. He hadn’t seen his parents since he left for school that morning. He must be worried sick, not knowing if they were alive or dead.

“Can I see my son again?” he pleaded with the guy striding towards him. He couldn’t let that memory be his last of Dale. That wasn’t how a father should see his child for the last time, the back of his head as he rode away on a motorbike, escaping from armed men.

“Nope,” the guy said. “Or your wife, who’s locked up with him. The Captain is coming for you now right. And there’s been a change in the plan.”

He could hear voices out there in the hall, coming closer. People coming to kill him. God, it might really be about to happen. After being reprieved earlier, he had started to hope it might happen again. But that hope was dwindling. Billy felt fear push acidic bile into his throat.

The guy stopped right before him, staring down. “The change is that Captain Jacobs is not going to kill you.”

Billy was trying to be strong and resilient, but he couldn’t help the relief and happiness that flooded his face. “He’s not?”

The guy shook his head. “His sister’s going to do it instead.” He laughed. He yanked a balaclava out of a pocket, held it out. “She doesn’t want to see your face.”

The fight was seeping out of him. He took the balaclava and slipped it over his head. He had to lean forward to do so because of the chain. There were no eyeholes, no hole for the mouth. Billy entered a black existence and knew he might already have taken his last look at the world.

“I need to see my Dale one last time,” he croaked, very aware that he sounded pathetic, but hoping the emotion in his voice would tug at whatever heart strings this guy had.

But all he got was the clack of the soldier’s footsteps heading away. Then those other voices were right there, in the room with him. Two of them. He recognised Captain Jacobs’s voice, and then the voice of the woman called Anna. Her actions had thrown his mind. She had saved him earlier, but it now looked as if she was firmly on the side of the enemy. Of her brother. A brief exchange between the two voices, soft, only just carrying across the room to him. He tried but couldn’t make out a single word. Then Jacobs shouted.

“This is it, Mackenzie. Any last words?”

Billy tuned the guy out. If he thought he could beg his way out of this, he would have given it his all. But as the fight slipped from him, the empty space was being replaced by a sense of calm. His brain was telling him the pain would be over soon. He let it.

“Fair enough,” Jacobs said. “It’s been an honour, Mackenzie.”

His brain was telling him that his wife and son would live well without him. From his place in Heaven, he would watch Dale’s growth into a man; he would watch Lucinda grieve and then move on and find love again. His brain was getting him ready. He let it.

“Close your eyes now,” Jacobs said after a pause. Loud. “This will only hurt for a second. Soon you’ll be up there with the angels.”

His brain was telling him that despite having no ring, the soldier Miko would hold up his end of the proposed deal and let Billy’s body rest in one peace, and the funeral would be dignified and would capture Billy as handsome as he had ever been. He let it.

“Just seconds to go on this planet, Mackenzie,” the Captain hollered, his voice tinny and with a ghost of an echo in the big, empty room.

His brain was telling him he’d left a great legacy in the form of Dale, who would go on and do great things in the world.

“Are you listening, Mackenzie?” the Captain yelled.

Billy’s brain was telling him he couldn’t break his bonds, he couldn’t escape through the window, he couldn’t avoid the bullet that had his name on it, but he could damn well kneel here and let Jacobs try to upset him and it would feel good to not rise to it. He even smiled under his mask.

Someone, maybe the woman, cocked a gun. The sound of a rifle chambering a round bounced off the walls, louder than anything. The smile died on Billy’s lips. He was being strong in his final moments, but he was only human.

“All yours,” Jacobs said, but this utterance was quiet. It was for the woman, the woman who had helped him escape earlier but now had a gun and plans to kill him.

“I’m innocent!” he blurted, against his wishes. Going out without a word would have been his way of controlling at least one aspect of this thing. But his brain was telling him it had put up one last ounce of fight. “I’m innocent!” he roared, louder still, and the cry bounced back at him off the walls.

His reply was a gunshot.

 

 

 

 

36

Dale looked tired and hopeless, but he perked up like a guy given an adrenaline shot when the door opened and he saw his mother stood there.

“Mum!” he yelled.

She was marched into the room by a soldier gripping her arm, but he was gentle about the way he helped her to sit on the floor, her back against the wall adjacent to where Dale was chained.

“Let my mum out of here, you fuckwit,” he yelled at the soldier. The soldier ignored him and yanked a cable tie from a bunch in his back pocket.

“Don’t touch her!”

“Dale, it’s okay,” his mother said, softly, the way she always did when trying to calm him down. “Are you okay?”

The soldier was considerate. He got the cable tie around her ankles and tightened without once touching her legs.

“You’ll go to prison forever, you know,” Dale snarled at the soldier kneeling just feet from him.

The soldier stood up. “Calm it down, kid,” he said, casual, no menace, no frustration. Then he went for the door.

“Hey, stop, don’t leave her tied up.”

The soldier stopped in the doorway and turned his head back. “Sorry, kid, orders.”

“Yeah, the Nazis said that. Look, untie her, she won’t run. You can stay in here and watch us.”

“Dale, be quiet,” Lucinda said quickly.

“No, mum, they can’t do this to us.” Then to the soldier: “Untie her, just her, and you can stay in the room to make sure we don’t do anything.”

“Dale, stop,” Lucinda said more firmly. “I want to talk to you and I don’t want any of them in the room with us.”

He looked at her. Then he looked at the soldier. The soldier took Dale’s silence as acceptance and left. He shut the door and they both heard it lock.

“Where’s dad, is he okay? What the hell’s happening, mum?”

“Did they hurt you, Dale?”

“Sod that. Where’s dad?”

Lucinda shook her head. “I don’t know, son, I don’t know where your dad is. He knew you’d been taken by these men. He came here for you.” She saw that last line lift Dale somewhat. All kids wanted heroes for dads. But she felt she had to be truthful to him. “I think they captured him. But he’ll be okay.”

“But they want to kill him, mum. They’re here for him, aren’t they?”

She tried to get his mind off that idea: “Why did you leave school early?”

“Swore at a teacher. They tried to call, but there was something up with the phone.”

“What did you say to the teacher?”

Dale ignored the question. He looked ready to cry. Lucinda noticed a staining on his jeans and a wetness on the floor where he sat, and her heart went out to him.

“Oh, Dale, did you wet yourself? Don’t be scared, baby, it’ll be okay.”

Now Dale looked angry. “I hope dad kills every one of them,” he muttered. “He was a nightclub bouncer, he can crack all their heads.”

Moments of innocent kid filtering into his normally adult and practical demeanour. She loved him for that trait, but at the moment, given their predicament, it made her feel sad for him, to want to hold him. He was far too young for all this.

“I’m not scared, mum. I weed myself on purpose. Fuck – sorry, sod them. I needed the toilet and I wasn’t going to beg these twats. And they can have pissy hands if they try to carry me out of here.” A second’s pause, then: “What are we going to do? You think they’ve got dad in this building?”

“I don’t know, Dale.” She noticed a look of pain on his face and asked him about it. He explained: busted ankle, bike crash. Showing off, sorry, mum.

Lucinda was about to say something when they both heard a noise, a bang, close, below them, dulled by the thick floor. Dale gasped, still looking at his mother. Lucinda lowered her head and threw her bound hands to her face.

“That was a gun shooting!” Dale moaned.

 

 

 

 

37

The pain in his shoulder and head from the fall overwhelmed him, but not because the pain was bad. Because it was the only pain.

He had dropped onto his side because his brain told him to control his own fall. To make sure he didn’t fall flat on his face, so he didn’t lie there dying from a bullet and suffering a broken nose, too. But there was only the throb from his shoulder and head, and that meant he hadn’t been shot at all.

The laughter confirmed it. Jacobs, laughing at the joke, really bellowing, surely only for Billy’s benefit. The old pretend-to-shoot-a-guy-chained-in-a-swimming-pool prank. What fun. Billy was almost starting to feel this whole thing had been an elaborate practical joke, but then the woman spoke: “Not here. We can’t leave blood in the drains. Outside, and bring all your men to watch a pro use this gun.” Then he heard the footsteps of many thudding across the tiled floor of the pool, and his brain told him his reprieve was only temporary.

There was no fear. Fear had become an intermittent occurrence past his growing anger, like moonlight glimpsed periodically beyond thick clouds. Anger was good. Fear would freeze his logic and dull his resolve, but anger would keep him alert.

He stayed limp, determined not to help them move him. He wouldn’t assist in any way with his own death. It would all be on them. Let them use as much energy as possible. He felt hands remove the handcuffs and lift him, at least enough for four men, and knew he was being carried away. He felt the handcuffs being replaced even as he was carried through the air. He had been promised he would die here, in this empty pool, but the plan had changed. A new plan opened up new possibilities for escape. His hopes started to rise.

As he was carried away, he tried to visualise the journey. Ahead of him as they moved, Jacobs and the woman were talking , but it was faint and he missed most of the conversation, so he tuned them out and concentrated on mentally following the route they were taking. Out of the pool room and across the clubhouse’s main room. Through a door, and then there was wind on his skin. He was carried a short way and manhandled into a seat. The wind was still there, which made him think he was back in a golf cart. But the seats were different. He must be in one of the Jeeps, with its detachable roof removed. An engine roaring to life confirmed this. He heard another engine start up nearby. His death was going to get an audience.

Forty-five seconds of racing over grass and mud, which he could hear purring under the wheels. If he looked down past his chin, he could see out of where the hood was pushed away from his face by his nose. Saw his own legs, and the brown upholstery of the seat, and part of a seat in front, which meant he was in the back, and a leg in pale cloth next to him, the fabric of the soldiers’ uniform, not Jacobs’s, which meant if Jacobs and the woman were in the front, he was in the company of three captors.

The Jeep drew to a halt, and when the engine died, Billy heard the sea, and the odd cry of a seagull. They had taken him to the edge of the island, he realised. Then his brain told him this made sense. Body disposal at sea, either smashed and burned or not. Miko was not going to be able to give him that proper funeral, even if it was Miko sitting right next to him. The fear and horror snaked up his spine again, and his imagination fought hard for a way out of this, but all it had were fanciful, macho machinations that his logic immediately dampened. He tried to recall the anger, but it wouldn’t come.

Hands on him again, but only one set this time. Room in the Jeep only for one soldier in the backseat, and Jacobs valued his command status too much to dirty his hands with manoeuvring a prisoner. Without the hood, Billy’s brain told him, there was chance for escape. Head butt the soldier once they were out of the vehicle, then run and dive into the sea. Swim to another section of island, climb out, find Lucinda, go rescue Dale, flee as a family and fetch the police. But hooded, he would run around blind, and the rifle would track him, the laughter haunting him, and he would die knowing he darted around like a headless chicken.

So he let himself be walked, ten, fifteen seconds, then he was yanked to a halt. The sea noise was ahead, very close, but he was then roughly turned around. The hands holding him were removed. He could picture himself at a cliff edge, back to the sea, ready to fall. He was upset that he had walked. He had assisted them, after promising he wouldn’t.

“Uncuff him,” he heard Anna call out. “So it doesn’t look like an execution when his body washes up somewhere.” There was a pause, and then he heard Jacobs shout something in affirmation, and then he felt the handcuffs being removed. Then the soldier who did it moved away.

“Since when did you learn to be so killer-smart?” he heard Jacobs say.

He heard the gun cock again.

“Take the mask off,” said the woman.

Billy reached up and grabbed the bottom of the balaclava. And yanked it up. But as he did, he spun, and faced the sea, ready to jump.

He was between two big white houses, three storeys each. Each house had a long garden that extended out above the sea, held aloft on concrete pillars. There were six such houses along the north end of the island, he knew, and so that was where they’d brought him. Before him iron steps that were embedded in the grassy slope led sharply down, and at the bottom, fifteen feet below him, was a wooden jetty jabbing into the sea. At its end it branched left and right, creating a T-shape, and at the end of each branch was a berth for docking a boat, one for each of the two houses, it seemed. No boats there off-season, though.

In the half second his brain got to analyse this environment, it had worked out that his only chance at escape was to flee down the staircase, but also that even if he did this, he would have nowhere to go. The woman with the gun could approach the top of the stairs and aim down and shoot a sitting duck. The water churned and roiled around the jetty’s pilings, violent and angry, so jumping in the water was no option.

He deflated.

“This is what you deserve,” the woman called out.

He wanted to turn, but also didn’t. If this was the end, he wasn’t going to go out staring at the face of his killer. There were worse final images than a beautiful ocean.

“Right here there’s no chance of the tide bringing you back,” she continued. “That’s your grave out there. Forever. Now turn around and look at the reason you’re going to die right now.”

He didn’t want a bullet in the back. And he now decided he wanted her to watch his face as she pulled the trigger: she would have to take that image to her own grave. So he did turn, slowly, if only to grab and clutch and pray for all the extra time he could get.

There she was about fifty feet away with Jacobs standing beside and slightly behind her, and at least six other soldiers grouped nearby to watch, some of whom he’d seen before. The rifle was up at her shoulder and hiding most of her face, her right eye sighting down the barrel.. She looked so sweet and innocent that for a moment Billy wondered if this were another prank, like the bullet fired in the swimming pool. Could a woman like that really murder someone?

For just a second Anna raised her head ever so slightly from the stock, and he saw her face from the nose up. He remembered those big eyes that didn’t seem to blink. Even from a distance of fifty feet, he saw those eyes clearly. And just for a moment he thought he saw fear in them.

 

 

 

 

 

38

Right when his sister was about to fire, to end Mackenzie, she lowered the gun and handed it to him.

“Just a second,” she said, and snatched his knife from its scabbard. She approached Mackenzie.

If he wanted to stop her, now was the time. He had never believed Mackenzie was the one responsible for Liam’s death, had always considered the man’s circumstances to be nothing but a big coincidence. But you never knew, right? Maybe he was the guy. How many guys were out drinking and driving that night eight years ago in the same town? Even if Mackenzie wasn’t the guy, killing him would go a long way to easing the pain, because of that coincidence. He would always be able to think he might have already avenged Liam’s death. Knowing there was a possibility that you had was better than knowing for damn sure that you hadn’t.

But Jacobs wasn’t about to kill him. Anna was. And that was different. Now he would have to worry that his sister had killed an innocent man. Would it make him a bad person, that he had allowed it to happen? Would it be worth it if Anna could also get a modicum of closure, even though she had always protested that Mackenzie was probably innocent, harping on about the same coincidence? Would she feel better or be eaten up later?

Time would tell. Nothing he could do now. He yanked out his radio. He had a bigger plan to concentrate on. He called Carlos and told him to get the van ready.

Up ahead, Anna had reached Mackenzie. She stood right in front of him, blocking Jacobs’s view of the man. She was talking to him, he figured. Threatening him. He could see the knife waving in front of the man’s face. Then she drew it slowly across his face near the chin, drawing a thin line of blood. Mackenzie just stood there and accepted his fate.

When she stepped away, Jacobs noted that Mackenzie had his arms crossed, as if he were no longer scared, as if he were impatient to get it over with. But the fear was on his face.

Anna slipped his knife back home and took her rifle.

“What were you saying to him?”

“I promised him his wife and son would be fine,” Anna said. She raised the rifle to her shoulder.

“You’re okay to do this?” he said. “What if I’m wrong about Mackenzie?”

She sighted down the rifle. “We’ll get them all, one at a time, and that way we’ll know for sure.”

She blinked once and fired. Jacobs gasped as the bullet took Mackenzie in the chest in an eruption of blood, and he was propelled off the island.

 

 

 

 

39

“Jesus. Dad,” Dale said.

It was the first either of them had spoken in a few minutes. After the gunshot, they had listened to voices and footsteps. It had sounded like a number of people, moving across some kind of large room downstairs. Then the main door had opened and shut, and further away a pair of engines had started up. Then silence. And now that Dale had broken their own silence, Lucinda had decided it was time for action.

Her fingers moved up to her head and pulled, hard. Her hair freed itself from the elastic band holding it in a tight ponytail, falling loose around her shoulders.

And something else fell, too.

Shocked, distraught, picturing his dad dead with a bullet in the head, Dale stared at the object on the carpet but didn’t recognise it.

Lucinda picked it up in one hand, and used both to start unwrapping it. Then Dale knew what it was. The blade from a utility knife, bound in tape. Lucinda tossed the tape away and, staring at the door as if that made her ears more attuned to noises from beyond, started sawing at the cable tie around her ankles.

“Mum, where did you get that?” Dale whispered. His eyes were wide and he was grinning, as if his mum had just put on a superhero costume.

She put a finger to her lips, shushing him, which meant lifting both hands, and then went back to sawing at her ankle bonds. The cable tie gave up seconds later. She shifted forward and started to use the blade on the wrap around Dale’s ankles. He was still agog, just like a child who’d found out his mother was a real-life James Bond.

The wrap parted. She moved closer, tugged his upper body away from the radiator, and leaned him on her thigh while she reached across his back to free his hands. When he was free, she handed him the blade, and ten seconds after that she was unbound, too.

“Where did you get that?” he asked again, and again was ignored. Lucinda sneaked to the door, her gait funny, her stance wide, and put her ear against the wood.

“Mum, can we help dad? Do you know if he’s okay? How did you hide that blade in your hair?”

Lucinda faced him. “Close your eyes until I tell you to open them.”

He didn’t move. She told him again, made him promise not to open his eyes.

“What’s going on, mum?” he asked, seeing black. He heard movement from his mother. Clothing movement, a faint rustling, and wondered but did not look.

“I got the razor blade off someone who wants to help us, Dale. Keep your eyes shut.”

His eyes flicked open. “Who, mum, who? What do you mean, someone’s helping us?”

They didn’t have time for an explanation, but she owed him one. He was confused and scared enough without her keeping secrets. So she told him what had happened earlier. And she could tell he was impressed by the woman who had called herself Anna. “Now I need you to come on over here in front of this door. Eyes shut.”

Dale crawled over in the dark. Lucinda wanted to help, but Dale had a big ego and a bigger sense of pride. He was more mature about it now, but in the first few weeks after his accident, he was likely to slap away any hand that tried to help him do anything. So she watched him crawl to the door, feeling his way, and lie down. She adjusted his position with a few instructions, until he was where she wanted him.

“What’s the soldier woman got to do with all this anyway? Where is she?”

For a final few seconds she ignored him again. He heard more clothing being moved.

“Open your eyes now.”

Dale did. He saw his mother holding something, which she was wiping down. It looked like a tiny leather pouch. He thought he knew where she had hidden that object, and quickly put that idea out of his head.

“Jesus, mum, did the soldier woman give you that? What is it?”

Lucinda didn’t know. She flicked the press-stud and opened it. The inside of the pouch consisted of little compartments, like a miniature wine rack. All were empty except one. Her nimble fingers drew out something two inches long, like a dart. It had a sharp, short needle, a thin glass cylinder with a tiny amount of a red liquid inside, not much more than a residue, and a red tassel on the end. The same kind of dart that Anna had taken out the soldiers with, Lucinda understood.

At first, of course, there had been shock. The woman who had helped them earlier had pushed her onto the bench and started feeling her up. The shock had quickly turned to terror, then about-turned and made its way back to shock and onwards, into understanding. She had felt Anna put something in her hair, and whisper that she should trust her. The fingers in her knickers had been hard to accept, even though she had felt Anna placing something inside her.

“That’s a tranquiliser dart, mum. What are you supposed to do with that?”

Lucinda shook her head, but she knew. She knew why the woman called Anna had given her this thing.

“I need your help here, Dale. I need you to come over and sit against the door.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Quickly.”

Her urgency moved him. Careful of his injured ankle, dale scooted across the thick carpet and put his back against the door.

“I’m too small to stop anyone pushing this open, Mum, whatever you’re planning.” He had a ghost of a grin on his face, as if he was enjoying this. Every kid wants his dad to be a superhero, but it would be cool if mum gave it a shot, too.

Lucinda rapped on the door, hard. Below her, Dale stared up. She looked down at him, a finger to her lips, a comforting smile on those lips. “Just stay there, Dale.”

“Even you managed to push the bathroom door open that time when I was sulking. Remember that? Wouldn’t come out so you shoved it open. I can’t hold a big soldier out.”

There were footsteps outside, coming closer.

“I know, Dale. But I had to press right up against the door to force it open. And that’s the point.

Dale looked at her, then at the dart that she held in her fist, with the stubby needle poking between two fingers. And he grinned with understanding.

Whoever was on the other side started to unlock the door.

 

 

 

 

40

Miko had told the Captain he wanted to make sure Mackenzie’s body had gone in the water. Jacobs had given him a suspicious look, but said nothing, because that normally silly sister of his had rushed away, taking one of the Jeeps. Miko had waited until the second Jeep had gone with everyone crammed in it, then he approached the island’s edge.

He smiled. There was Mackenzie, down at the bottom of the stairs, lying flat on his face on the wooden jetty, one leg resting on the bottom step, arms stretched out ahead of him. The water was violent in the wind. It surged at least three feet beneath the jetty, but waves that hit each other tossed sprays up and over the jetty and Mackenzie was already soaked. But not as soaked as the Captain assumed. When Miko had brought Mackenzie to the edge, he had positioned him directly above the stairs in the hope that the jetty would catch his body when he fell and rolled down the slope. No way he was going to watch that lovely Tacori sink out of reach.

Miko walked down the stairs. The bottom few were wet so he watched his step. He stood beside Mackenzie and swung up his gun and put the barrel in the back of Mackenzie’s neck. He could see blood seeping out from under the guy’s chest. He bent down and reached for Mackenzie’s left hand, for the ring.

“Half right, Mackenzie. “I ain’t waiting for you to rot.”

The jetty was supported by squared wooden pilings along its side. A wave hit one of the pilings and threw cold water over both men. The force was enough to push Miko forward. He was balanced in a squat and when he overbalanced, both his knees landed on Mackenzie’s back.

Billy moved.

He thrust his back into the air, which pushed Miko away. Miko almost toppled over backwards. He instinctively dropped his gun, which clattered off the decking and splashed into the sea, and used both hands to grab Mackenzie’s t-shirt to prevent his fall. Billy stood, Miko threw his arms around the other man’s legs and yanked and swept them out. Billy landed hard on his back and Miko leaned over him. He thrust an arm into Billy’s throat and squeezed. Miko raised his knees from the ground, locked his legs straight, and put his left arm on one of the pilings. In this way he was able to keep his right arm straight, forcing downwards, trying to crush Billy’s throat. Billy’s hands snaked around Miko’s wrist, trying to remove the crushing hand, but Miko was leaning over with all his weight.

“Divorce is probably just as painful a way to lose that ring, Mackenzie,” Miko hissed as water again sprayed all over both men.

Billy’s eyes were wide as his air was choked off. He tried to throw his knees up into Miko’s torso, but his target was out of reach.

"I'm gonna get the ring off your slut missus as well, you know," Miko said. "And -"

There was a crack. The piling Miko pushed against tore partly free from the bracket connecting it to the decking. The piling shifted outwards, just an inch or two, but it was enough. Miko’s hand slipped off its sodden flat top, and he pitched forward and cracked his face hard into the decking. His other hand released Billy’s throat.

Billy tried to stand, but black dots were dancing in his vision. He felt no strength in his body. He could only lay there and watch his attacker rise to his feet.

Miko got to his knees, both hands against his face, blood seeping between them. Miko then got to his feet, turned his head, looked at the piling that had thrown him, and tried to kick it in anger. His blow shifted the piling outwards two more inches, which was enough to complete the divorce from its bracket. Unsecured, the decking bowed slightly on that side under the weight of the two men. Only a drop of six inches, but enough to make Billy roll onto his side. And enough to pitch Miko over into the surging water.

Miko slipped under the water and surfaced six feet out. He had time to scream for help, and then the water threw him back towards the jetty. Through a gap between two slats, Billy watched Miko hurtle beneath the jetty and crash hard into one of the pilings on the other side. There was another crack, easily heard over the roaring water. Blood seeping into the water said that this crack wasn’t wooden in nature. And Miko made no more noises.

Billy rolled onto his front and got to his knees. He stumbled towards the stairs, climbed partway and turned and sat on the wet steps. His orientation was returning. And from what he could see, Miko wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

41

The door opened, and then it didn’t.

Dale stiffened when the door hit his back. It had opened only five inches. There was some kind of grunt of surprise from beyond. Lucinda didn’t waste her chance.

She stepped forward, grabbed the door handle for support, and thrust her right fist through the gap at chest height. Right up to the elbow, where she felt her hand hit resistance.

There was a grunt and the resistance fell away, and a moment later there was a thud from out there.

“Move, Dale,” she hissed. Dale rolled out of the path of the door. Lucinda snatched it open so abruptly that the door hit Dale again even as he was rolling away from it. She stepped out so quickly that she ran right into the soldier who was out there.

He was on his knees, already toppling backwards, but his fall was complemented by Lucinda’s weight as she ran right into him.

They went sprawling. The soldier landed hard on his back, cracking his head hard on the carpet. Lucinda went over him and onto her stomach, with her legs across his face and chest. As she scrambled to her feet, she felt those feet catch him in the face.

"There's no need -" he began to say, but then stopped. He was out cold. She felt a little bad, because he was the nice soldier who had avoided touching her legs when he tied them.

Escorting her here, he had used his palm to cover her eyes so she couldn’t see where she was going. Now she saw where they had taken her. She was on a curving landing that she recognised from a picture of the clubhouse she’d seen on the Internet. First floor, far end, where there were no stairs. Doors in the wall behind her, and stairs over to her right. She turned back for Dale.

He was in the doorway, sitting on his knees, staring at the soldier.

“Wow. Got any more of those?” he said, pointing at the dart still clutched in his mother’s fist.

“Climb on my back.”

“You what?” he said with a giggle.

“Don’t mess around, Dale, no time. You can’t walk. Climb on.”

The venom in her voice got rid of his humour. It reminded him of the past hour, everything that had happened, and of their dangerous predicament here right now, and he fell meek again.

“We need to drag this guy in here first.”

Lucinda cursed herself for not thinking of that. She bent to grab the soldier’s legs. Dale helped. Soon they had the guy in the room. Dale reached out his arms. He looked so innocent and sorry like that, on his knees with his hands reaching up imploringly, that she couldn’t resist grabbing his face and kissing his head. Then she turned away and knelt before him, and he threw his arms over her shoulders, crossed them over her chest.

She had to use her hands on the doorframe, with Dale helping with one hand, but soon she was up, and with locked legs his weight was manageable. “I remember carrying you in one hand,” she said, and set off. Dale, thinking of something she had again missed, grabbed the door and shut it behind them. She locked it and threw the key into a nearby potted plant against the wall.

They moved down the gallery, keeping close to the wall. She used her hands on the wall, except when they passed doors, not wanting to cause any sort of noise or movement from a door that might alert anyone in the room beyond.

They were just metres from the end of the gallery and the stairs that led down, down and away to freedom. Lucinda paused, because just ahead there was an open door.

It was only open a crack, but it unnerved her. A sign on the door said SECURITY, and that bothered her, too. If there was one room in the clubhouse that the soldiers might use, it would be that one.

Her plan had been to move to the edge of the gallery, as far from the door as possible when she crept past. But all that changed in an instant.

Down in the main hall, the front door crashed open and soldiers entered, led by the big Captain.

“Carlos,” the man called out. There was a reply, and Lucinda’s eyes flicked. She hadn’t noticed a man already in the room, down by a collection of sofas. He was with two other soldiers, men she now recognised as the pair that had stormed her house. They were sleeping. No, unconscious. Still out from the darts they had taken.

“Now what?” Dale whispered in her ear.

“Did you move the van?” Jacobs said.

“Not yet,” the man called Carlos said. “It’s only round the back, anyway. Been watching these two. Bet they’ve got a great story to tell. Where’s your sister?”

“She said she was coming back here. She didn’t come in? Come with me to the control room.”

They heard footsteps on the stairs now. Lucinda rushed for the open door and banged it open. Dale, smart, grabbed the door and swung it back to its original position. And then they both stood there, in the small control room. There was a window in the back wall and in the left wall was an open door with a much tinier room beyond. The window was no option this high up. She moved into the doorway. Three feet away was a toilet against the wall.

“This is the control room,” Dale whispered. “They’re coming here. Shit. There’s no room to hide. We’re fucked if they come in here.”

Despite the danger facing them, Lucinda managed a mother’s slap against his head for such foul language.

Lucinda felt a shiver on her neck. They were coming in here, soldiers with guns. She knew she should move, but they were trapped. The room with the toilet was tiny, the main room was tiny. A cat couldn’t hide in either one. She knew she should move, try something, anything, pretend to be a bloody coat stand for Christ’s sake, but she was frozen.

The outer door opened.

 

 

 

 

42

The two soldiers moved away from the truck as the Jeep approached.

Anna parked next to the gate and got out. The riding range, northeast corner of the island, was nothing but an expanse of dried mud with a wooden fence around it. There was a wooden building over at the back, some sort of stables, and a few jumps with decorative fillers scattered about. The truck, of course, didn’t belong.

It was in the middle of the riding range, its back towards the gate. Clearly it had been driven inside and parked without care. Anna could hear no noises from within. The soldiers had guns, so maybe they had ordered the occupants into silence. Or maybe the townsfolk had gotten tired of screaming for help. Or maybe they’d been transferred out of the truck. Or maybe the truck was too far away from her.

The two soldiers were young, no more than mid-twenties. As they approached the gate, they did so with a confident swagger and spoke to each other out of the side of their mouths, and Anna knew they were talking about her. When they got close and one started to open the gate, she saw their eyes run up and down her body.

“Miss Jacobs, what can we do for you?”

She stepped inside, onto the mud. She pointed at the truck.

“I’m taking the people to another spot,” she said. “Are they still in the truck? I don’t hear them.”

“And you won’t,” said the taller one. He had a lot of tattoos on his hands and neck. “We convinced them to be quiet.”

“Where you taking them?” the other guy said. His face was a bit more suspicious.

“There’s a new twist in the tale. Need to know basis. I need to know, and so does the Captain, and that’s it. So guess who’s part of the don’t need to know faction? Where’s the keys?”

They looked at each other. Then the suspicious one said, “Captain told us to keep the truck right here.”

“All year? That what he said? Keep them here forever and ever? You’re wasting my time.” She yanked out her radio, showed it to them. “Shall I call the Captain. We have a plan that’s bigger than you two, so should I tell him two of his lackeys are having delusions of grandeur? Keys.”

The meeker guy had the keys and he tossed them right over. Anna caught them out of the air.

“Should we wait for you to leave or go back to the clubhouse or wait here?” He said it like a guy needing direction, like a guy showing he was the boss’s lackey. He might as well have pleaded with her not to tell on him.

“Take me to them, and keep radio silence.”

Months since summer, and the ground hadn’t healed itself. It was torn and worn, the mud hard, awkward to walk on in places. She followed the two soldiers to the large stables. There were eight or nine doors, all closed. No windows. Months ago when the Gilded Sector was alive with residents, the stables probably smelled of horse shit. Now it smelled of sweat. She could almost see stinking vapours rising off it.

The two soldiers stopped at one door and one waved at it.

“You open it,” Anna ordered him.

The soldier swung the top half of the door open. The dark space beyond was small, the wooden walls bare, the floor some hard substance. There was space for just one horse. The soldiers had found that space big enough for one horse could hold twenty people. They were crammed in like Nazi prisoners aboard a cattle train bound for a labour camp. Only a couple of hours had passed since these people were snatched from their neat homes in their clean clothing, but already they looked as if they’d been incarcerated for days. The sweat poured off them. It was cool outside, but Anna figured the humidity inside the stables must be high. There was clothing discarded on the floor and most of the men were in vests or bare-chested.

Despite being crammed in there, shoulder to shoulder, filling the space, the people somehow managed to move away from the door as it opened outwards, squashing against each other. Nobody spoke, nobody moaned, but she could hear their ragged breathing, and sense their fear. Only one reason why a person desperate to escape the room would back away from an opening door. Bruises and cuts and trickling blood on a number of the occupants completed the story.

“Have you been beating them?” Anna said.

One of the soldiers, a man called Pickford, tried to suppress a grin.

“Get them out,” Anna said, backing off slightly, creating space between her and the soldiers.

The other guy, Grisham, unlocked the lower part of the door and ordered everyone out. As he did so, his comrade moved to the next door and unlocked it. Same order, and more people started to file out, slowly, as if they feared where next they would be taken.

She saw many of the females amongst the crew were topless. They carried their bras and blouses clutched to their chests. No woman ever got so hot she voluntarily chose to remove her underwear in front of men with guns. That told a new tale.

Anna slipped her hand in into the back of her jeans. “Get them aboard the truck.”

She watched as the moaning townsfolk were ushered at gunpoint to the back of the truck and forced to climb into the trailer. She felt bad, forcing them from one dark hole into the next. But her plan relied on secrecy, which she wouldn’t have if she allowed the people to remain free. Some might listen to her, follow her, but most would not. They would flee, and the other soldiers would see or hear and then her advantage would be lost. So she watched with an empty face as Grisham and Pickford screamed and waved like drill sergeants. Soon the last petrified person was aboard. Grisham slammed the trailer and locked it. Both men, side by side, faced Anna.

“So where do we go?” Grisham said.

“You’re letting that man go free, then?” Anna said, nodding beyond the two soldiers.

They both turned their heads to the inside, like mirror images of each other. But there was no one there. When they turned back, she had her dart gun out and aimed. Grisham took the dart in his throat. She put it there because of the topless women he had leered at as they scuttled past. Before the unconscious solider had even hit the ground, she was firing at his comrade. Pickford bent double as the dart hit him in the groin. He yelped, but didn’t fall. The clothing was loose and padded down there, his flesh probably not directly where she aimed, and her dart must have missed puncturing the skin. A mistake, she realised.

Pickford rose up and tried to raise his rifle. Anna stepped forward, grabbed the barrel and pushing, ramming the stock hard into the soldier’s face. She took another step and sideways stamped his knee, causing him to scream and drop onto both knees. She bent, grabbed the dart hanging from his groin area, and stabbed it into his shoulder. He dropped onto his face two seconds later.

 

 

 

 

 

43

Billy took off his top to see how Anna had saved his life. Again. Even before he saw the contraption she had shoved in his top as she stood before him with the knife, pretending to threaten him, the smell gave him a clue.

He held it in his hands now, the thing she had told him to hold in place with his arms crossed. It was a metal skillet, no bigger than a DVD case, which meant her shot with the rifle had been a good one. What made the shot even better was that she had not only managed to hit the skillet, but she had gotten the bullet right in the centre of the plastic bottle she had taped to the skillet.

Tomato ketchup. It had ruptured violently, sending the sauce everywhere up his top, soaking it, giving the impression of blood erupting from a wound. He looked at the bottle and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. She must have gotten both items from the kitchen somehow, and taped them together and carried them, knowing what she wanted to do, trying to find an opportunity to get close to him. He hadn’t seen what she carried hidden, hadn’t known her plan, hadn’t understood what was happening when she slid it up his top, her body blocking the audience’s view. If he had known, and been aware of the small surface area of the skillet compared to the firing distance, he wasn’t sure his fear of death would have diminished much. When the bullet had hit, it had knocked him back, and the pain of the metal tray slamming into his chest had been immense. Not until he had tumbled to the bottom of the slope and lay there for a second or two had he realised that he wasn’t dying. Then, slowly, he had come to understand that the bullet hadn’t hit his flesh at all. He had understood that she had tricked them all, faked his death. Doing his part, he had lay still, silent, hoping nobody came to check on him, or if they did that they would do so from the top of the slope.

It was still hard to believe. The way she had tricked them. The skillet. The bottle. It was a ploy right out of some movie.

So, the woman who had rescued him had come back to do it again. And she was the sister of the guy who wanted him dead. But why such opposing missions between the siblings?

He decided he wasn’t going to waste energy trying to figure that out right now. He had wracked his brain for answers earlier, when he was chained in an empty swimming pool and had time to think, and hadn’t come up with anything. So he didn’t think he was going to suddenly find an answer now. He was wet and getting cold and out in the open. The soldiers now thought him dead, but that would obviously change if he ran into one of them. Or if one of them decided to come back for his body. So he had to move, go do something.

He peered over the top of the steps, making sure the lack of noise from above didn’t lie. It didn’t: nobody was there. Anna and her audience had gone.

To his right and left were houses, six of them arranged along the straight northern coast. These were the flashiest, most expensive of them all, each with its own jetty, owned by the wealthiest of the wealthy. This was a secure island, but he didn’t think the Über-rich and Über-paranoid would want to rely on island security for their safety. So he figured there must be a weapon of some sort in one of the houses, or a radio or phone at least. Something he could use. And while he searched, he would be under a roof and behind walls. Decided.

There was one house to his left as he faced south, five to the right. He would go to the right, westwards, which would give him more places to search and thus more of a chance of finding something. And if there was nothing in the houses, he could try the lighthouse, which was built upon a small peninsula jutting into the sea right in the centre of the coast, between houses three and four. Looking right, he could see it a few hundred metres away. If all else failed, there had to be a radio there. He knew he should probably try the lighthouse first, but the tall, thin building would be a trap if he got up there and someone entered at the ground level. Better the houses first, with their numerous windows to escape from.

The wind was drying his clothing quickly, but it was biting cold because it came straight off the ocean and he was starting to shiver. Billy crawled off the stairs, heading west, heading towards the nearest house.

His brain wanted to think about his wife and son, but he shut them out. He couldn’t help them until he had a weapon, so the weapon was priority one. That was what he had to think about. It hurt to cast his family from his thoughts, but he knew it was in their interests that he did so.

These houses along the coast were brilliant white plantation-style homes of 18th and 19th century French colonial design, with pillars out front and a long balcony on the first floor. That much he’d learned online. There were dozens of arched windows, all with blinds drawn. The front door was in a porch with a marble floor, but he chose to go around the back.

Houses like this deserved big, lush front gardens, but they didn’t have them. The loss was made up for around the back. The back garden was a concrete slab as wide and long as the house that stretched out over the sea on concrete pillars, ringed by a low wooden fence. The house was perched right on the edge of the coast, with just a few feet between the back wall and where the land slipped away. Right there was a gate in the fence, but it was padlocked, so he clambered over it.

The garden was boastful. A jungle of small rockeries, pockets of tiny trees and a number of benches next to water features. He found himself on a paved border and decided to follow it round. This paved area was obviously for people to stand at the edge and admire the view. Billy used it to move to the northern end so he could watch the house for movement. But as he knelt there, staring across thirty metres of garden, the wind whipping his hair, he saw only windows with blinds drawn, and a wide rear door of glass that was open. No movement.

He completed a circle around the garden then moved to the door and listened. He heard nothing.

He went into a sun room. The ceiling was high, for keeping the rooms cool in hot weather, he knew. The carpeted room was arranged with wooden chairs facing the window, although they faced north and Billy wasn’t sure how much sun this room would get. Certainly it was a little gloomy at the minute. Beyond was a wide kitchen, no boundary save that the carpet became tiled floor. The cooking area seemed a little small, contained behind an L-shaped counter. The rest of the kitchen was littered with islands, and there was a spiral staircase rising to the upper floor from a spot right in the middle. A dining area was beyond the kitchen. There was a door in the far wall of the dining area, this about halfway across the house, and another door in each side wall. The one on the left was open, and Billy went through it to find himself in a hallway with more doors and a set of stairs, which he took. No phone or radio in sight yet.

At the top, more doors in another hallway. Barely any space on the walls because of all the doors, so the owners had fixed paintings to the ceiling. The house seemed to be a maze, a number of small areas rather than a smaller amount of large ones. At the end of this hallway was a door that was open, and from inside he heard music drifting. Soft, sensual music. There was steam or smoke in there, which made him think of a bathroom. Someone was home, having a bath, it appeared.

If the owner was home, he or she could help. But Billy wasn’t about to go rushing in there just yet. Another door a shorter way down was open. He chose that, and moved slowly towards it.

It led to a bedroom. Thick blue carpet, a vanity dresser and walk-in closet in each wall, as if half of the room had been set aside for one half of a married couple. Right in the centre, with half of it in each half of the room, was a large four-poster bed with tied-back purple drapes. Left side of the room was almost like a mirror image of the right side. He was looking for a phone, but again there didn’t seem to be one. He thought he knew why: because these houses were summer retreats for the rich, they wouldn’t need landlines, just mobiles. And mobiles came and went with the owners.

His breath caught as he spotted something.

On the bed was army clothing. He recognised the pale pattern instantly. And just in case he had any doubts, two rifles leaned against the bed, and two handheld radios with rubber antennas stood side by side on one of the bedside cabinets.

Twin male laughter from the other room, the bathroom, completed this story. Two soldiers, lovers, who had sneaked away from the group for a little lonely time in an empty mansion. And the voices were talking now, and coming closer.

Billy realised they were headed right for this room.

 

 

 

 

44

They heard footsteps enter the room and then the soft squish of someone dropping into one of the padded chairs. Then the tinker of fingers on a keyboard. The laptop they’d seen on the desk.

“Carlos,” the Captain shouted.

Moments later they heard the patter of another set of feet enter the room.

“Calm down,” the new voice said. The guy from downstairs, with dreadlocks, Lucinda realised. The way he spoke to his boss, she got the impression these guys might be equals in rank. Or just friends. “Is Mackenzie dead?”

“It’s done,” the Captain said. “One in the chest, straight over the edge.”

Her mind was in turmoil. Billy dead? Blood. Revulsion and shock were thickening her throat, but logic tried to force them down. She looked at Dale and saw the suffering on his face. She shook her head, mouthing words of encouragement to him, promising him that his dad was fine, it was all a trick, Anna has helped him, trust me. He didn’t really look like he believed her, but he tried his best to put on a brave face.

They both stiffened when the tall soldier with blonde dreadlocks stepped into the doorway backwards and leaned on the frame. Ten inches away, Lucinda pushed her back harder against the wall, and held her breath. He was close enough that she could smell oil or petrol on his uniform, and she panicked that he would be able to smell her sweat, or the remnants of the perfume she had put on that morning, or her fear. Ten inches.

“You sure? You saw him fall? You saw blood? You heard him scream for his mummy?” this guy said.

Her knees were touching Dale’s. He sat on the closed toilet lid, staring at her, a hand over his mouth as if he feared his breathing might be loud enough to alert the man who blocked the doorway of the tiny room. If the man twisted, or stepped back, or even turned his head left, he would see them. They had nowhere to hide, and couldn’t move.

“I saw blood, lots of it. Ye of little faith. I know you don’t trust my sister, Carlos. I don’t know what you think she could be up to. She never was up for me killing Mackenzie, but I saw what I saw.”

“I’ll wait until I hear what sleeping beauties say. Then where is she? If she’s on our side, where is she?”

They heard a fist or something else heavy bang the table. “The money hasn’t been deposited yet.”

“He said when the packages were delivered. We haven’t told him they are yet.”

“I emailed to say half should be deposited when we arrive, the other half when it’s done. That’s the normal way to do it.”

“Well, obviously he hasn’t been watching the same action movies as you.”

Silence for a moment. Then the Captain said, “Come on, let’s go. His plane will be here soon.” There was a crackle of static. “Listen up soldiers, get your shit together and be ready to clear the island. But nobody move just yet. Pack up and await further orders. You know the plan.”

Carlos was chuckling. “You really get off on this Captain lark, don’t you?”

“We’ll come back here after and pick up all this stuff and decided what to do with Mackenzie’s wife and kid. And that big-mouthed teacher. Let’s go. There’s no reason to delay any longer.”

It seemed to good to be true. There was a lot of shuffling and talking, but five seconds later there was silence. Lucinda waited almost a full minute before poking her head round the door, half expecting a trick: both soldiers would be stood there, staring at her head, grinning. But no, the room was empty.

“They gone?” Dale said.

Lucinda nodded at him. He was scared, but she knew it wasn’t because of the soldiers all around them.

“Your dad’s fine, Dale,” she said, kneeling and taking his hands. He nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I promise you. I know it. Dad’s okay somewhere.”

He nodded. “I know. Get me one of the chairs.”

Lucinda moved into the control room and came back with one of the wheeled swivel chairs. Dale slipped off the toilet, onto the chair, and rolled himself from room to room by grabbing the doorframe. Lucinda went to the outer door and peered around, into the gallery.

“That chair won’t go down the stairs,” she said.

“Give me a few minutes here. Here, take this.”

She turned, just in time to catch something he threw at her. It was a little like the stun gun she’d had earlier, but she recognised it as a walkie-talkie, one of the soldiers’ radios. It was like a cordless phone, only smaller and with a thick but flexible rubber antenna about five inches long. A keypad similar to a cordless phone, and a digital readout with things she didn’t understand on it, except the word CHANNEL with 005 underneath. Someone must have left it on the desk.

Dale rolled to the desk and started typing on a laptop left open on the security console.

“Can we call the police on this radio?” Lucinda said, staring at the buttons. Then she looked up at her son.“What are you doing, Dale? They’ll come back.”

“Sly little sod.”

She looked at him. He pointed to the screen. “Wikipedia entry for gated communities. That guy was just trying to show off to me. Bet he’s used that speech on everyone.” He started typing.

“Dale stop playing. Let’s-”

“Shit, his Internet asks for a password for every bloody page.”

This time she let his profanity slide. “What’s that mean?”

“I can’t Instant Message Ali. His dad’s a cop, remember. Can’t call anyone. Good job I used a new tab. I can still play havoc on the page he left up. A lesson in Internet banking security, here we come.”

She didn’t know what he was talking about. She scrutinised the device in her hand. “So what about this radio? Can we call the police on this?”

He turned and looked at her as if she were stupid.

“Those radios are all be connected to each other, so if you transmit, every bad guy on this island will come running. They won’t be connected to police frequencies. And they won’t have the range anyway. Maybe. I don’t know. But let’s assume the bad guys weren’t stupid enough to let the cops listen in on them. So leave it turned off for now so you don’t give us away. And keep watch.”

“What are you doing? We have to leave.”

“Having fun. Then I want to check his emails, see what he’s been up to. Something he said to me earlier. And this money thing he’s talking about. Old emails I can access without the Internet.”

“Dale, I don’t know what you think-”

A banging noise cut her off. Lucinda leaned further out the doorway, realised that the noise was coming from her left, from further along the gallery. Then she heard shouting. Someone calling for help. The solider she’d tranquilised. Something wrong with the dosage, or his resistance levels? Her heart lurched. Whatever the reason, he was now awake and trying to escape from the locked room. Either he’d kick the door open soon, or his shouts would bring someone still in the building.

 

 

 

 

 

45

Anna’s two-shot tranquiliser pistol was empty now, so she tossed it and turned her attention to the truck.

She put her ear to the trailer and listened. She could hear sounds within: movement, low voices. They were trying to keep quiet, and she figured they must have been punished for noise by the two guys now sleeping nearby.

“Can you hear me?” she called out. “I’m here to help. Don’t worry about those two soldiers anymore.”

She heard a clamour of voices, all pleading to be let out, but she banged the doors and called for quiet.

“You’re going to be let out, but not just yet. I have to drive this truck to safety, you understand?” Some of the people inside had gone quiet, listening, but the noise started up again when they realised the doors were not about to be opened. Anna called again for silence, and asked if they understood what she had just said. But the shouting was joined now by hands banging the inside of the trailer, and Anna knew they were not going to listen. She had no choice. She would have to ignore them until she got the truck out of here.

She became aware of an engine behind her and turned. Beyond a rise in the landscape, she could see the tops of the houses ranged along the north coast, tiny things at this distance. Hopefully somewhere over there Billy Mackenzie would be alive and well and trying to escape the island. Same for his family. She’d done her bit for the man and his loved ones and now they were on their own, so she put the Mackenzies from her mind and concentrated on the truck and the others that needed saving.

Six months ago she had learned of the truck’s role in this thing, when her brother arranged to hire one from a dealer in Sydney. Since then she had taken driving lessons in preparation, but only ten. But they had all been in an Actross, and she thought she was skilled enough for what she had to do. It wasn’t a driving test. She got in the cab. They key was in the ignition, thankfully. She started the engine.

The meaty roar of the engine increased the shouts and bangs of the people trapped in the trailer. She tried to ignore the noise.

She turned the truck in the dirt. The turning circle was wide, but so was the riding range, and she made it easily. She had been planning to double-back and exit via the gate, then decided there was no need. She threw the truck towards the fence. It went through with barely a jolt or a sound.

Three minutes, she figured. Past the golf course, through two sets of gates, down the causeway, and to freedom. The day had begun with a plan to rescue Billy Mackenzie, but now, provided that Mackenzie’s wife hadn’t messed up her chance to escape with her son, she’d saved them all, everyone, and she felt good about it. Anna put the cab’s radio on to drown the noise of the people in the trailer, and sang along to Tom Jones as she drove.

 

 

 

 

46

Carlos led the way. When they reached the van, Carlos hit the central locking button on the key fob and both men climbed in. Jacobs took the passenger seat.

“Don’t hit any bumps on the drive, okay?” he said, staring back at the computer boxes filling the interior.

“Don’t worry, I packed a spare,” Carlos said. He started the van, then leaned forward in his seat. He was staring at two faint palm prints on the bonnet. They were sideways, fingers facing outwards, and he concluded that not even a human as tall as he was could have adopted such a position unless he or she was standing on the bumper.

“Your sister’s been here. She’s tried to look inside the van.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Carlos explained, and Jacobs leaned forward to see for himself these so-called palm prints. “Could have been anyone. Stop harping on about my sister, will you? Are you just jealous that she doesn’t like you in that way? “

“I don’t trust her, my friend. Plain and simple. I think she came here to throw a spanner in your plan. But clearly you don’t want to accept what those palm prints say.”

“They say nothing, Carlos. Could have happened anytime.”

Carlos stroked his beard, like a cartoon character deep in thought. “She’s here on another agenda. Playing us. Against us.”

Jacobs pretended to be impressed. “Wow, you mean like James Bond? Christ, Carlos, you’re good. Seeing that shit no one else saw.”

“You mock, but you watch. I bet Mackenzie’s not dead. I bet she tricked you with that one. Would you accept it then?” Carlos started the engine.

Jacobs checked his watch. “If she faked Mackenzie’s death, Carlos, then she’s better than me or you. Now drive.”

“Then let’s wait and see,” Carlos said, throwing the van in gear and pulling away from the building. “And I’m not after your sister, by the way. I always assumed Anna didn’t like any men in that way.”

 

 

 

 

 

47

Billy rushed to the bed, snatched up one of the small radios and stuffed it into his pocket. Then he grabbed an armful of clothing and stuffed it under the bed. He kicked two pairs of boots under there, too, then turned his attention to the rifles. He couldn’t use two, so one of those went on top of the wardrobe. The remaining rifle he took a close look at in his hands.

Same as all the others carried. It was an M4 Type Carbine, semi-automatic by natural restriction but configured for three- or single-round burst. But Billy didn't know this. To him it looked like a lethal assault rifle. To him it was a violent instrument of death and he didn't really want to touch it, although this was the second time he'd held one today and this time he wasn't as nervous about doing so. He looked for a safety catch that might be on, knowing from the movies that people who knew their guns could see if a safety was on. But he didn't know what he was looking for. He grabbed the magazine, trying to jiggle it to make sure it was in place, and it was. Hopefully. By that time the door had started to open wider, and he had no choice but to fling the weapon to his shoulder and hope he could pull this off.

Two men entered the room. One was young, the other older, the young one a bit geeky and the older one a sophisticated kind of mature, and they both had wet hair dripping onto their naked shoulders. Each had a towel around his waist, but as the lead guy froze when he saw Billy hefting his gun and threw his hands up, his towel slipped to the floor, displaying his jewels. It didn’t seem to bother him.

The second guy, the younger one, saw Billy from a place two feet closer to the door, and saw a chance to escape and took it.

“Stop right there!” Billy yelled, but the younger guy was gone. Billy heard his footsteps pound away, and then a nearby door crash open.

“Get down on the ground over there,” Billy told the other guy, saying it calmly, like a man who did this sort of thing often. He reminded himself that some of these soldiers might still think of him as the guy who’d taken out armed men with his bare hands. And if these two had been ensconced in here for the last hour or so, they wouldn’t know what had happened outside, just metres away. They would only know that the guy they needed to capture was here with a gun, and hopefully that would make them think he’d avoided capture all this time. They might think he’d taken out every single soldier except these two. That he knew his stuff. So he needed to keep up his tough-guy act. Hide the fear that was pulsing through him.

He flicked his gun at an area in the corner, and followed the naked guy as he walked over, hands up. He made the guy get down on his face, head towards the corner, which seemed like a position that would make it awkward for the guy to try anything smart. The gun followed the guy, but Billy’s eyes flicked between the guy and the door. His partner hadn’t run far, maybe just inside the next room.

“Call your pal in here,” he told the soldier. Deep voice, full of confidence. “Or I hold this trigger for half a second and you get ten new assholes.”

The soldier lifted his head off the carpet and looked at him. And grinned. “Dan, come fuck this guy over,” he called out. “He’s no one.”

Billy rushed over, hardly thinking. He fired at the wall and at the same time kicked the guy in the head. The guy lay still and Billy backed off. The sound of the blast, and the sound of a grunt of pain: he hoped it had sounded like he’d shot the guy. His nervous tension had relaxed, he realised. The gun no longer felt quite so alien in his hands. There was no guilt at having booted a man unconscious. He knew he was becoming rapidly more resistant to shock and fear with every new event that tested him. And he now had a weapon, which put him on a level with those who meant him harm.

He swung the gun towards the door. That was when he noticed that he still held the trigger depressed, and realised his mistake. The gun was single-shot. The ten assholes remark was what had given his role as amateur away. The soldier had realised Billy didn’t know his guns.

“That’s what you get,” he cried out.

From the other room came smashing sounds, and shouting. The other guy was breaking the hell out of whatever room he was in, and cursing Billy. He clearly wanted Billy dead for shooting his lover. But Billy still had the gun, and the guy was staying where he was, probably behind the door with a lamp brandished like a baseball bat. Or with an actual baseball bat. But not coming for him, because Billy had the edge now he had a gun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

48

The big truck slipped and swerved on the grass, but Anna held it well.

She passed three soldiers who seemed to just be standing around. Two just watched the truck blow past, but the other guy got on his radio, and over her own radio she heard him ask a guy called Grisham what the hell he was doing, and of course Grisham didn’t reply. Clearly realising there was a problem, the guy on the radio lifted his gun and took aim, but he was forty metres away and the truck was already past him.

She cut directly south when about fifty metres from the gate, and increased her speed. Off to the right, she saw two soldiers climb into a golf cart parked by some garages and move to cut her off, but she wasn’t concerned. A battle between a giant truck and a small golf cart was no battle at all.

Luckily for the guys in the golf cart, they were too slow to get ahead of the truck. So they avoided becoming pancakes against the truck’s flat grille. The truck blasted the gate aside easily, and then she was lifted out of her seat as the vehicle dropped down the sloping road on the other side, going too fast, front wheels becoming airborne. The cab’s suspension bounced and shook and she nearly lost the steering wheel. Behind her, people screamed and shouted. The wheels lost the path for a moment, slicing through grass on the left side, blowing past the children’s playpark close enough to lose the wing mirror against the chain-link fence. But then Anna had the vehicle straight and true again, and boring down on the entrance gate.

There were more soldiers here, at least seven or eight closing on the gate, most shouting, one even firing. She heard a bullet zing off the cab, but didn’t know where exactly it hit.

Then one took the windscreen, cracking it like ice under heat. Instantly her view was obscured. She jerked, and didn’t realise that she yanked the wheel slightly to the right. The wheels hit grass, but this fact didn’t register, either. There was a rent where the bullet had hit and she slapped at it, widening the hole. She bent her head to it, and too late realised that the truck was off course, massively.

She rammed the brakes, knowing the truck might jacknife, but knowing the alternative was just as deadly to the people crammed like sardines into the trailer.

The cab crossed the yellow road, flattened the low hedge around the garden of Number 1, already its speed massively decreased. But not enough. The cab slammed into the house with a thud like a grenade exploding. Anna was hurtled into the windscreen, which dropped away out of sight still carrying the seal that had held it in place. Before the pain made her head swim out of focus, and over the noise of the front window of the house exploding, she heard men shouting and running.

 

 

 

 

49

They headed west, cutting slightly north, and came upon the runway. In the middle of the runway was a golf cart, parked there to discourage planes from landing. A hundred metres out, Jacobs radioed his man and told him to move it.

Carlos drew the van to a stop near the runway, just as one of his men climbed out of the golf cart that had now cleared the tarmac strip. That guy was Beckham, he of the mass murder in a mansion earlier. Jacobs sent Beckham to his next task, unaware that such a simple chore was going to result in murder yet again.

Jacobs and Carlos exited the van and stared into the sky. After a moment they could hear the plane. And then they could see it. It was high and circling wide. Mr. Edwards had two Cessna Citation Bravos, bought eleven years ago for two million dollars each, so he’d heard. Soon he’d have enough money buy his own.

Both men turned south as they heard the noise. It was the truck, clearly. Nothing else on the island had such a big engine. The sound rolled across the open land like thunder.

Then they saw it, way off, like a little toy at this distance. They caught just a brief glimpse just before the big beast was lost beyond the evergreens surrounding the golf course.

“What the hell?” Jacobs said. He lifted his radio, but Carlos put a hand on it.

“She won’t answer,” he said.

“She? You think my sister’s driving that thing?”

Their radios squawked together: “Grisham, you maniac, what you doing?

“She’s here to stop us doing what we’re doing, Carter.”

Jacobs lifted his radio again, and Carlos didn’t try to stop him this time. But Jacobs didn’t speak. He thought for a moment, and slotted the radio away.

“Good man, thinking priorities,” Carlos said, pointing up.

Both men turned their heads up to the sky again, watching the plane.

Soon afterwards, they heard gunfire from far away, surely the southern section of the island. Where there should have been no reason for gunfire.

Jacobs barked into his radio, demanding an update, an explanation. Carlos continued to stare into the sky, like a man enjoying the wind on his face. No explanation came at first. The gunfire didn’t last long, and afterwards there was silence. Jacobs screamed for someone to answer him. Finally a voice came back. The truck had been stolen, it said. The vehicle had been shot at by soldiers and had crashed into a house. The driver was missing.

“Find that driver,” Jacobs yelled. “Hold him, alive for me.” He put the radio away.

“Him?” Carlos said. “You mean the elusive ninja who helped Mackenzie escape his house? I think you now know that was your sister.”

“Enough already. Grisham wouldn’t have let her take the truck.”

“Then Grisham’s on his face in the dirt.”

Jacobs stared at him for a long moment before saying, “It’s some resident who didn’t get captured. And yeah, it’s probably the same bastard ninja who helped Mackenzie escape his house.”

Carlos shrugged. Jacobs pulled his radio again. “Anna, are you there? Where are you?”

No answer. He tried again, but got the same result. Carlos was looking at him like he expected this. His mobile phone started to ring. He took it out and looked at the number on the screen. He looked up at the plane, circling the island like a predator. “It’s him. He can wait. Let’s go. Let’s go see if you’re right about Mackenzie. And if you are, I’ll kill Mackenzie myself this time. For real.”

 

 

 

50

Dale grabbed the laptop, and Lucinda grabbed Dale. She carried him piggy-back again, and he clutched the laptop to her chest. They exited the control room.

There was no time for any more caution, she felt. Not now, not with the soldier banging on the door. If they dawdled, they’d be caught. So she went as quickly as she could down the stairs. Another soldier appeared, this time through the door at the back of the main hall, under the gallery, and quickly she ducked behind one of the sofas in the lounging area.

The soldier walked towards the stairs, but he had his head turned and looking up, towards the gallery and the banging and shouting from the room with the captive soldier.

“Dale, what the fuck’s that noise? Keep them two bloody quiet, will you?”

“His name’s Dale as well,” Dale whispered into his mother’s ear with a snigger.

The soldier had to moved right to the foot of the stairs and stopped, staring up. Lucinda, peeking between two sofas, could see him right there, just feet away. Second time a soldier with his back to her had been close enough to smell. This guy needed a bath.

“Christ, Dale, you ain’t messing with Mackenzie’s woman in front of the kid?” He hit the stairs at a run. Lucinda, with Dale’s help, got to her feet, moved out between the two sofas, and walked across the room, breathing hard because of Dale’s weight. The soldier thundered along the gallery, but thankfully he didn’t look down into the hall: he was intent on the door from which the sounds emerged. When he reached the door, he turned to it and his back was to Lucinda. She stopped watching him, knowing she had just seconds before the guy actually listened to what his pal was saying and realised he was locked in there. She vanished under the gallery, through a swinging door, and into a vast kitchen.

She dropped to her knees, arms burning, legs aching. It certainly had been a long time since she’d carried Dale in one hand.

“Mum, quiet,” Dale said. “Soldiers.”

She could hear them. In another aisle in the kitchen, two of them. They were arguing about eggs. She didn’t dare move, but they couldn’t stay here. The guy trying to rescue his pal would be back soon, or would raise the alarm. She saw another door at the end of this aisle, and was just about to run for it when it opened and another soldier entered the kitchen.

She froze, staring at him. He had a bandage over the lower half of his face. Although Lucinda didn’t realise it, he was the guy she’d stepped over on her back porch, now recovered from the blow that put him unconscious and the fall that broke his teeth. He seemed to stare right at Lucinda and Dale as they crouched just metres away, but then his head turned to his right and he moved that way. They heard him approach the two men arguing about eggs. He said something about the townsfolk escaping – didn’t they hear their radios?

“Turned off,” she heard one guy say. “It’s all bullshit chatter. Al thinks he’s a bloody DJ.”

They heard footsteps behind them, from the main hall. Coming closer. Lucinda and Dale looked round, at the swinging doors, knowing what was coming. The soldier who had gone upstairs was coming back. He was coming to tell his pals that the prisoners had escaped their room. And when he burst through that swinging door, he was going to see them crouched ten feet away, in an empty aisle.

“Dale, what are we…” Lucinda said, then trailed off. She saw the swinging door start to open, then silver swung across her vision, blocking everything.

Dale had reached out and grabbed a metal cupboard door and yanked it open. They froze, crouched behind it, as the swinging door crashed open and they heard the soldier shout.

“The kid and his mum have fucking vanished.”

They would be caught, surely. The cupboard door hung six inches off the ground, and he would see them past it.

“You what?” another guy said, a slight tinge of humour in his tone, as if he expected a joke.

“Door’s locked with fucking Dale trapped in there.”

“You what?”

This was it. The next utterance would be Aha, there they are, behind that door, get them. But it wasn’t. The soldier in the doorway called for the others to come see, and then footsteps were thundering stomping the aisle alongside theirs, three sets. They went past, then came closer, and Lucinda tried to shrink as she realised the soldiers had turned down a side aisle to come to the door, the door she and Dale hid just feet from. Surely four sets of eyes couldn’t miss seeing them. But a few seconds later there were no more sounds from the kitchen, and she peeked around the cupboard door to see the swinging door swinging, and nobody near it.

They had gone.

“Let’s go,” Lucinda said.

She got to her feet again, gritted her teeth against Dale’s weight, and stumbled along the aisle. The door seemed to take forever to come to her, and she expected it to burst open to reveal more soldiers at any moment. But it didn’t. She pushed through, into a tiny room, and then through the single door in the far wall, and out into daylight and lovely, cool wind.

Immediately her eyes alighted on a golf cart by the doorway. She put her back to it and Dale dropped into the passenger seat. On tired, wobbly legs she rushed around and into the driver’s seat. The key was in the ignition. She fired it up.

“Now where, Mum?” Dale said, opening the laptop. He began to slide his finger around the mousepad.

“Dale, Christ, leave that thing.”

“Can’t. It’ll log me out if there’s inactivity.”

“What?”

“Get us out of here, mum.”

Lucinda looked around. With the clubhouse in the way, she only had a view of a strip of land along the east coast of the island, with the riding range up north and a marina to the east and nothing much down south. She stared beyond the marina, at the vast and empty ocean. If only they could fly. But they couldn’t, so her plan was to hug the coast, work their way south, and escape to the mainland – somehow.

Dale snapped her back to the now when he said, “Dad’s alive, isn’t he? Is he okay, though?”

She looked at him. “He’ll be fine, Dale. But we will have to leave without him and meet up later.”

“Okey-dokey.”

He said it matter-of-factly, as if she’d outlined a plan no more serious than where to have lunch. He was engrossed in whatever he was doing on the stolen laptop.

“What are you doing on that computer, anyway?”

“Trying to avoid getting eaten up by the Goliath.”

Lucinda just stared at him.

 

 

 

 

51

Billy’s plan had been to get back to the clubhouse now that he had a gun. The last time he’d held one, he’d had no plans to shoot anyone. Back then he was by his wife’s side, and there was still a chance that Dale could elude the soldiers until the police arrived or the soldiers gave up. Now his wife and son were captives, and things had changed. He had already fired this weapon once and would do so again, even if living men stood in front of the barrel. Guilt and the prospect of prison fell a short second to the safety of his family.

But the plan changed when he saw a white van was coming towards the house, fast. He instinctively knew that it was Captain Jacobs. He couldn’t go back inside the house he’d just left, because the gay soldiers were in there, and if he rushed to the next mansion, the van’s occupants were going to see his body clearly against the flat land. So he slid down the side of the house and hopped over the fence, into the garden, just like before.

Just then the two soldiers from the house emerged from the back door. Billy ducked behind a metal garden seat. They had retrieved their single remaining rifle and were on alert, gunman leading. They wore no shoes. They climbed over the fence. He stayed hidden, watching their heads above the fence.

Over the fence he saw the van skid to a halt close to the soldiers. Jacobs and the big dreadlocked soldier emerged, and began a conversation with the two men. He saw Jacobs shaking his head, and looking angry.

Then all of them moved away. He saw someone at an upper a window a minute later. They had entered the house via the front door and were searching for him. A few minutes after that, they emerged into the back garden. One of the gay soldiers came first, talking, looking back over his shoulder at someone. Billy used that moment to climb the fence at the north end of the garden, slipping over just as Jacobs emerged behind the lead soldier.

Billy draped the rifle over his shoulder by its strap and lowered himself from the concrete lip around the edge of the garden structure, thirty feet above the frothing water. Luckily, the concrete garden was reinforced by X-frame steel girders between support posts. He hung by his hands, ignoring the sharp edge of concrete biting into his fingers, and got his feet placed and shifted so he was sat wedged in a V-shape between two rusty girders that were ice-cold to the touch.

And just in time. He heard clumping noises from above, coming to the edge. Two sets of feet, he thought.

Then he heard Jacobs shouting into his radio.

“…How the hell did they get past you, soldier?…You’re bloody joking me. Find them. Find them. Anyone seen my sister?”

They? Billy felt himself shiver. Could he be talking about Lucinda and Dale? They had escaped? Yes, surely. Both of them, which meant Lucinda had managed to do what he could not: find Dale and get him out of there.

He smiled and punched a fist into his palm. If they were both free, then all Billy had to do was…what? He couldn’t wait here, and he didn’t know where his wife and son would have gone. Could they be off the island already?

He tried to listen more intently to the Captain’s conversation, but the noise of the crashing sea made it hard. But he did hear two words from the radio that injected fresh hope into him:

“…radio missing…”

Jacobs barked an over-and-out and then there was silence for a short time. He risked a look up and saw a pair of white hands clasped together, as if a soldier was leaning on the fence, appraising the view.

“Get rid of that smug look, Carlos. We don’t know my sister was driving that truck, and we don’t know what happened here with Mackenzie, and there’s no way she could have helped the man’s wife and kid escape. Coincidence. I’ll talk to her when I see her. I don’t know why you seem to be loving this so much.”

Carlos replied: “Ain’t no fun for me. Tell me why you think it’s such a big deal?”

Silence. Billy imagined Jacobs pulling a confused face.

“We didn’t come here for him, Carter,” Carlos said. “It’s just me and you now, so we can forget the game. So the family has escaped? So what? Matters not, unless you now suddenly believe that you magically found the guy who killed your Liam?”

More silence. Jacobs shaking his head?

The henchman again: “There’s a chance that Mackenzie was that driver, but the odds are too big. You knew that six months ago, and you know it now. You said it yourself: pure coincidence. So Mackenzie became a good excuse for us, like some noble cause. The guys certainly looked up to you for it. They didn’t question it. But that was all to get us here, and now we’re here, so why don’t we just forget about Mackenzie and do what we came to do? Let’s just leave your sister to run around saving people. It’ll keep her off our backs. We’ve got a van over there full of stuff we need to turn into ten million dollars. That’s why we came, so let’s just get on with the main event, eh?”

“Mackenzie’s been a pain. I was geared up for killing him. I can’t just give it up.”

“Hey, boy, I’m in the same boat. We promised each other we’d do a kill here, and we still can. We still need to swing by the clubhouse after everything’s set, so I’ll grab our stuff while you go finish off that history teacher. Plan?”

“He was yours, Carlos. Thought you said you’d need someone already close to death, and that God might let it slide because of that.”

“Different now. We’re in the thick of it. I’m game for some healthy prey. Taking candy from a baby is no test, like you always said. Ain’t a real kill till you use one of these.”

Was he showing his boss something?

“You got someone in mind?” Jacobs said.

Carlos nodded. “Someone who needs putting out of their misery in a different way. And when you kill Mackenzie, his pretty wife is going to be all full of angst.”

 

 

 

 

 

52

Lucinda had planned to head south towards the treeline, where they could hide until they could work out a plan of action for sneaking through the rest of the island and to safety. But that all changed when she saw the boat.

It was in the sea, way out east, just a small dot cutting through the water. Distance: easily five hundred metres. Its noise was faint, barely there, but audible just over the solemn roar of the sea about a hundred metres before her.

And it was coming towards the island.

“Security,” Dale said. “Let’s get them.”

They both knew that there was a private security firm from Port Macquarie that looked after the island off-season. They had seen the odd car enter the island, the occasional helicopter land, but knew that the firm mostly used boats. Once a day they came, just to check over the Gilded Sector, make sure there wasn’t a group of vandals or art thieves ashore and up to mischief. Although the rumour was they came at the same time every day, and if she had heard that rumour, so might have any thieves. She had once thought it was a bad idea to send people once a day rather than pay a couple of guys to man the island full-time. She now thought that earlier thought had been spot-on.

She stomped the accelerator and the golf cart shot forward. A minute later the land sloped down towards the marina, with a concrete path leading all the way there. There were a scattering of palm trees in big red plant pots and small water fountains ringed by coloured rocks to give this bare portion of the island some flavour. The empty marina consisted of a wide central pier with a number of smaller platforms darting out from each side.

There was a guardhouse, also empty. A little wooden building of no attractive value, and maybe that was why Lucinda and Dale barely noticed it as the golf cart raced down the concrete path. The boat was just a couple of hundred metres out now. Their eyes were firmly fixed on that. Some sleek speedboat in white with something green written on the side. They saw figures in green inside, too. Two men, green outfits with green caps.

Dale started waving and shouting, but he stopped almost immediately and said, “Shit!”

Lucinda instantly saw the object of his concern.

There was a golf cart parked behind the hut, hidden from the view of anyone on the sea. That meant the soldier sitting in it was hidden, too. He was turned away from them, face up close to a window in the guardhouse, staring through it and the opposite window and watching the boat arrive. A moment before he turned at Dale’s shouting, Lucinda realised what was happening. The soldiers knew the security team was coming and they had sent a man to apprehend them. His name was Beckham, but they did not know this.

The guy stared at them, and Lucinda saw the horror on his face. He leaped out of the golf cart and ran towards them, but kept a straight line behind the guardhouse so he stayed hidden from the approaching boat. He raised his rifle and waved them over frantically.

Lucinda kept going straight, planning to pass him. He was eight metres off the path and couldn’t risk running out from behind cover. But Dale grabbed the wheel and spun it left, turning the golf cart off the path and towards the soldier.

“Dale, no, what the-”

“Go to him, mum, so we don’t get shot. Trust me.”

She slammed on the brakes and the cart skidded in the grass, stopping just three metres away from the soldier. He was young and had his hair in a ponytail. Good looking apart from his grimace.

He had his gun aimed at them, but flicked his head between them and the sea. He knew he couldn’t move forward, because he couldn’t step out into the line of sight of the security team.

“Get out and move to me, now,” he hissed.

He knew the team might see Lucinda and Dale, too.

“Move or I’ll fucking blast your son!”

“Why’s he picking on me?” Dale said.

Lucinda lifted her foot off the brake and the cart rolled forward. Once it had passed some sort of boundary in the soldier’s mind, he decided it was safe to step forward and yank Lucinda right out of the seat. She fell hard on the grass with a grunt. The guy told her to shut up. Then he rushed after the golf cart, which had continued rolling, with Dale panicking in the passenger seat. He caught it and yanked Dale out just a second before the cart smacked into the other vehicle, which was shunted into the guardhouse and made the whole building shiver.

The soldier aimed his rifle at Dale’s face, but shouted at Lucinda.

“Get your skinny arse over here, or I’ll blast your son.”

“Me again!” Dale said.

“Shuttup!” the soldier warned Dale.

“Don’t do anything to him,” Lucinda moaned. “We won’t try anything.” She started crawling over to where the soldier stood over Dale.

The speedboat was right upon them. Dale heard the engine cut out, and two male voices talking just twenty metres away. They were coming ashore.

“Make a noise and I’ll kill you both,” the soldier whispered.

“Mum, it’s okay,” Dale said. The soldier told him again to shut up, but Dale didn’t. He was proving to have quite the set of balls despite how many people had threatened him today. “He’s not here to kill anyone, he’s not allowed-”

“I said shut your pissing mouth, kid.”

“-and I can’t wait to see how he thinks he’s going to capture these guys while he’s got us.”

The soldier let Lucinda get close enough and then reached down and yanked her hip and she fell onto her back, right beside Dale. He swept the barrel of his gun between them, then moved so he could put his back against the guardhouse. He peeked round the corner quickly. Then the gun aimed once more at his prone captives.

“I’m going to kill all four of you. How’s that taste, kid?”

 

 

 

 

53

A few minutes later, Billy heard their voices receding. He waited another five, just to be sure. And to think about this in more detail. One of Jacobs’s radios was missing. Dale was big on gadgets and technology, and it would be just like his son to think of something like that. To steal a radio in the hope they could listen in on the enemy, get an advantage. If Dale and Lucinda had a radio, then he could contact them that way, arrange a rendezvous.

He waited another five minutes. Despite the cold iron under his ass, he was comfortable. He was hidden. Maybe he should make a nest here, like a bird. As he stared out to see, he thought about money. Was this what it was all about in some way? Not revenge. Just money. What was in that van, that they were hoping to “turn” into ten million dollars?

It made him angrier. He had been put through all this not because of something someone thought he’d done, but just so some guys could get rich? Money was a driving factor for some people, and ten million was a lot. A lot more than Billy was ever going to see in his life. He was a freelance electrician and sometimes the work was good, and sometimes it wasn’t. He was a live-for-the-moment sort of guy, which meant when he’d had a good period, he’d come home with a flush bank account or an envelope of cash and think they were doing well. Dale would get a new present and Lucinda would get some flowers and a night out, and generally he’d have the outlook that life was great. When your pockets were full of money and you lived in a fancy place like Port Macquarie, it was easy to believe that. He would not think about the fact that there was no job planned for next week, if that was the case. Lucinda was more level-headed: she’d take the flowers and other gifts gladly, but quietly remark that they should watch their money. Billy, though, wouldn’t worry. Then he’d have a quiet work period and money would become tight and he’d do his for-the-moment thing again, only this time negatively. He’d start to think they were going to sink, and this time Lucinda’s remarks would be more positive as she reminded him that they had a home in a nice town and their health and a great son who would go on to do great things in the world.

But it sometimes didn’t help living so close to people with obvious great wealth. The planes he saw arriving in the summer. The flash sports cars that sometimes passed quickly through the southern half of the island as their lucky owners went out or came back. The worst way to judge yourself was by comparison with someone else’s lot. He knew that, but it didn’t stop him making a habit of it.

Appearances were deceptive, though. Happiness depended on your state of mind. Maybe things weren’t so rosy for rich people. They still got ill, had accidents, argued with their loved ones. He looked at their cars and houses and assumed their lives were good. He had often sat at the window in Dale’s bedroom, staring out at the mainland, which was as good a view as he could get from his house. And he had seen people on the highway, pointing from their cars, knowing they assumed that the houses they saw belonged to people with good lives, happy lives. Appearances: deceptive.

He used to sit at the window and think about the past, and he started doing that now. He thought about his parents back home, who they couldn’t afford to go visit. Thought about that day Lucinda had told him she was pregnant and they had celebrated with a visit to Australia. She had spun a globe and jabbed it with her finger, and they had loved the holiday so much that they’d decided they wanted to live here. Once the idea was set, living in England had started to feel…wrong, like staying over as a guest of friends. They got homesick for a place where they didn’t even have a home. It had taken another ten years, but here they were. And it was home. But Billy often wondered about fate and what might have been had things happened a different way. Would they have remained in England if Lucinda had not gotten pregnant? Or if she hadn’t told him the great news while the TV was showing a holiday program? What if a food program had been playing instead – would they have simply gone out for a meal to celebrate? And the biggest question – what if her finger had jabbed some other place on the globe? Where might they be now?

His shoulders tingled, a warning from his nervous system. He realised he had been daydreaming – again! – and had been out here doing nothing for too long. Dale and Lucinda might be in deeper trouble. Jacobs might be closer to his ten million dollars.

He climbed back up and over the fence and squatted in the garden behind a bench. The soldiers were definitely gone. He got the radio out of his pocket and turned it on.

Nothing at first. Thirty seconds later he heard some guy say something about darkness coming soon. Then it went quiet again.

Billy put the radio in his pocket and moved. He climbed the fence on the opposite side to which he’d entered, made sure no one was around, then sprinted across the grass. A long distance to the next house, the next fence, the next back garden.

He expected a shout, gunfire, a chase, because no way could he remain out in the open so long without being seen, but he got to the fence without problem. Up and over, and there he sat with his back against the wood, waiting. Thirty seconds. No shout, no shot, no chase.

A voice squawked from his pocket:

Keep checking the coast houses,” came back Jacobs’s voice. “It’s nearly time, anyway, so start to make moves. Whoever’s closest, get to the gate and wait in case they try to get past. Everyone else, start to make your way to the main entrance. We’re out in an hour max. Get that truck fixed up and ready to go.”

The truck. His neighbours, all captured. Jesus, Billy had forgotten about them. But he couldn’t worry about that now. The soldiers were searching the houses. He had to move, stay away from them. But not east, because surely most of the soldiers would be that way, especially if they started their house search at the nearest end to this position. He had to move west, maybe make his way right around the coast. Keep going until he got to the treeline. Early on in their relationship, he and Lucinda had enjoyed a lot of afternoons at country parks, in amongst the trees. The trees now appealed as a place of safety and he hoped she was on the same wavelength. And even if they had entered the trees somewhere east, close to the clubhouse, he could thread his way along, under cover, and find them.

As he stood up, he froze, legs still bent, as he heard a crash from inside the house. Someone was searching this place. He had hoped they would start at the eastern end. Not so. They must have split up to search the houses in no particular order, or all at once.

Quickly he hopped the fence. He crept along the side of the house. At the edge he peeked out, left and right. He saw soldiers to his left, two of them, heading away. The gay pair, forced to make a long trek. The van was nowhere to be seen. Far beyond the walkers he could see a moving golf cart. Another soldier. There would be others, he was sure.

He looked right, past all the other houses. He saw more golf carts zipping about. Three, at least, very far away, just little dots. So there were soldiers off to the west, too. Not good.

Now Billy looked south. To the runway and beyond. The golf course. Much riskier to make a run that way, but if he got there, he could hide in the trees.

His brain was still thinking about the upgraded risk when his legs threw him out into the open, heading south.

 

 

 

 

 

54

The woman who owned the house called Veldt, on Hole 1, was some kind of adult film producer/director/former actor, and the proof was everywhere.

Jacobs entered the unlocked front door and was confronted by a vestibule whose walls were hung with giant framed stills from fuck films. The photographer had been careful in each case to position himself so that something in the foreground covered the genitals of the naked people in the background – a plant pot, the corner of a chair, etc. The work was good, but it disgusted Jacobs. Carlos, right behind him with a computer box in his arms, grinned at the fleshy collection dripping off the walls.

They moved into the main living room, over to a piano. Jacobs pointed and Carlos put the box on the floor and kicked it under the piano.

“Careful,” Jacobs said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Carlos said. “We should have gotten a couple of men to help with this. Sixteen boxes. Hour and a half’s work.”

“And two hours from now we’ll be headed for a hot place with ten million dollars in the bank, so stop moaning.”

They headed back outside. Jacobs got on his radio, calling for his sister. Nobody had seen her. Carlos got back in the driver’s seat of the van, but Jacobs paused a moment by the open passenger-side door. He liked nature, liked to be surrounded by it. He felt at peace. The fairway was like a green river, which he would have preferred. He wanted a place like that: a house in the trees, right on the bank of a river. A boat tied at the shore and a nice piece of decking where he could sit and fish in the green water. Once they were out of here, that was what he was going to find. Spend a few million on it, and that would still leave enough for a happy retirement.

Carlos,” he heard a radio squawk. With the door open, Jacobs clearly heard the conversation that took place.

Carlos lifted his radio. “Here,” was all he said.

You wanted to know when Hendricks or Woodward were waking. Hendricks is coming round.”

Jacobs watched Carlos, and Carlos stared at Jacobs. The man called Hendricks got on the radio. The man was groggy still, his voice the croaky drawl of a man fresh out of a deep slumber. Carlos, normally so laid back, was impatient to get an answer to just one question:

“Who shot you in Mackenzie’s house, soldier?”

The first response was garbled, and Carlos had to ask again. Hendricks’s next words came clear and loud:

Anna, the Captain’s sister.”

Carlos put the radio away without another word. He raised his eyebrows at Jacobs, seeking a response. No smug look this time.

“Bitch,” was all the Captain said.

 

 

 

55

The two guys in green came up the concrete path. The soldier moved around Lucinda and Dale, keeping his gun trained on Dale. He positioned himself on the other side of them, his plan to have all four people in his sights when the security team came into view from beyond the guardhouse.

They walked right past, looking the other way, one pointing out at something.

Dale looked at the soldier, who looked a little distressed. He’d expected to be spotted. But now he didn’t know what to do.

“Don’t shoot,” Dale said. Loud. Being shot wasn’t his fear, however; he simply wanted the security guys to finally see what was going on.

“I caught a couple of trespassers,” the soldier said when the two guys stopped and turned and stood there looking shocked. “You two got weapons?”

Both guys shook their heads.

“Seems like you’re trespassing yourself,” said the one with stubble. “Who are you?”

The soldier stepped away from Lucinda and Dale, apparently now thinking they were no threat. He moved towards the security guys, his gun now on them, and they both put their hands up.

“Hey, man,” Stubble said, “we’re island security. What you doing?”

The soldier waved his gun. “In the guardhouse until I can verify who you are.”

“You’re joking,” the other guy said. “Check the uniforms, dude. Security. Who the hell are you?”

“Guardhouse.”

“This is a joke. Radio in, you’ll see.” He reached for a radio clipped to his belt, but the soldier leaped forward and focussed his aim and told the guy to leave the fucking radio alone and get in the fucking guardhouse.

“Okay, dude, calm down, we’re going.”

Lucinda and Dale lay there, frozen, not daring to move. But they turned their heads to watch the three men move out of sight beyond the guardhouse. They could hear them around the front. The soldier was ordering them inside the building, but the two security guys were stalling, still trying to convince him they had legit business here, and that their boss would verify this.

They heard the door creak open.

“Inside.” The soldier.

“Listen, mate, this is now no longer a joke. You need to put that blinking gun down.” Stubble, with the deeper voice.

A thud, as of a foot or fist hitting flesh. “Get the fuck inside!”

“What the fuck was that, dude?” The other security guy.

More shouting from the soldier, and raised voices shouting back at him. Dale and Lucinda looked at each other, their eyes asking the same question: should we make a run for it?

“Carl, shit!”

Sounds of a scuffle. Lucinda and Dale’s eyes answered each other’s question. Lucinda scrambled to her feet, listening to the scuffling sounds. The two security guards were fighting the soldier, it seemed.

Dale scrambled up, too, and Lucinda helped him into the golf cart. Then she froze.

A gunshot. Loud and terrifying.

“Carl…” A low moan.

“Jesus Christ!” Anger, this from the soldier. It sounded like he was pissed that things had gone wrong. “Look what you fucking made me do.”

“I can’t…I can’t believe what you…”

Another gunshot. This time Lucinda and Dale clearly heard a scream of pain. A curse from the soldier. More moans of pain. Another gunshot. And silence.

“Mum, let’s go,” Dale moaned, his bravado all gone now.

The soldier started moaning and crying. He was talking to himself, and was very upset. “This is bad,” was a line he repeated often, the only intelligible one.

“Mum…”

Just then, another gunshot. And silence.

“Mum, no,” Dale said, reaching out a hand to grab her, but she moved out of his reach, and then out of his sight as she vanished around the side of the guardhouse. Dale strained his ears, but heard nothing. He cursed his busted ankle.

A few seconds later she returned, her face ashen.

“What’s happened?” he croaked.

But Lucinda said nothing. She got in the golf cart, reversed it far enough to allow her to drive free of the guardhouse, then did just that. She drove south, towards the treeline, silent, staring forward. Dale tried to turn and see what had happened back at the guardhouse, but she grabbed his head and made him look forward. But he really didn’t want to see. He didn’t need to. It was pretty obvious what had happened.

 

 

 

56

Anna lay on Daniel King’s roof and listened to the commotion down below.

The soldiers were still looking for her. She could hear them moving about, checking the area. Two men had checked King’s house, one even coming as close as the attic bedroom. But he hadn’t bothered to poke his head through the skylight, luckily for him. So she lay and listened.

She heard the truck’s engine start up again and decided she could use the noise to cover the sound of her radio, so turned it back on and put the volume very low. She heard one of the soldiers tell her brother’s dreadlocked henchman about what had happened in Mackenzie’s house. So it was done. There was no explaining her way out of this one. Briefly she wondered how her relationship with her brother would fare in the future, then cast that thought aside. He was the one who had done wrong. He would have to live with that. If they never spoke again, she wasn’t sure she was going to be that upset about it.

She heard grinding, the scrape of brick, the whine of an engine. The house shuddered as the truck extracted itself from the building.

She had slammed on the brakes just in time. The impact hadn’t been that bad. The truck had lost its windscreen and the house had lost its living room window. She had escaped through the hole where the windscreen had been, and through the new hole in the house, into the living room. There had been just enough of a gap between the truck’s dashboard and the top of the house’s window. Then she had scampered upstairs, narrowly managing to exit the living room just as soldiers burst in the front door. Had they forgone checking the truck’s cab first, she would have been caught. But they had checked, and now here she was.

She peered over the ridge tiles, knowing that she was doomed if someone saw her but curious to see what was happening. She watched with growing anger as the trailer was opened and the townsfolk, moaning and battered to an extra degree when the truck crashed, were hustled out.

Her radio squawked. It was her brother.

Anna, listen to me. You might not want to talk, so try this. Remember that time I ripped that page out of mum’s cookbook because I didn’t want her to make chicken supreme anymore? See you there.”

At first she didn’t understand. But she remembered the chicken supreme even clearly because it had been something they’d laughed about for a long time afterwards. She thought about that page in the book, 303, and stared at the radio, and then suddenly it made sense. She twisted the channel number to 303. But didn’t speak.

Anna?

He wanted to speak to her alone, she knew. Nobody else occupied this channel. She hadn’t planned on talking to him until this was all over and maybe they were back home. She already had a new hotel booked for tonight and a different flight arranged for tomorrow. But here they were all alone, and she couldn’t…not talk to him.

“This has all gone funny, Carter,” she said softly into the radio.

“How long have you planned to mess me over today, Anna?”

“Ever since the start, bro. Ever since you got this obsession with killing the guy you thought killed Liam. Let me ask you, now we’re alone, do you honestly think Mackenzie is the one?”

“Nah. I told you that I was looking for the drunk driver and found him. That was bullshit, I’m afraid. Of course, Mackenzie went to court for drunk driving the very next day, same place, but I knew that was probably just a big coincidence. I chose Mackenzie because maybe I could convince myself that I might have killed the guy who did it. We can’t be sure he didn’t.”

“The police would have found a connection. Wasn’t him.”

“Then maybe I just chose him on a subconscious level. Maybe deep down I have a hatred of drunk drivers. Maybes, maybes. Should I go see a psychiatrist, you reckon?”

Anna ignored the sarcasm. “So why are we here, Carter? Why did you spend months planning to capture an island on the other side of the world?”

“I would have confided in you long ago, but you wouldn’t like it. You’d try to stop me, being the good Samaritan.”

“I am going to stop you, Carter. I came here to derail your plans, and I haven’t finished yet. But don’t be upset. It’s just tough love, my brother. I’m keeping you safe and you don’t even realise it.”

Jacobs laughed. Long and hard, just for her. “You know, secrets, secrets, secrets. I have too many, you reckon? Tell you what, let’s air it. Let’s do it. Go back to five, Anna. Go back and let’s do this for everyone.”

He clicked off. Anna stared at her radio for a moment, then flicked the channel to 5.

 

 

 

57

Captain Jacobs told Carlos to stop the van. They were between holes 1 and 2. The Captain exited the van and stood on the grass, enjoying the soft, cool wind. He didn’t want to do this part while stuck in the van, hearing the engine. He lifted his radio and hit transmit.

“Listen up, everyone. Your Captain has been keeping the main aspects of this mission secret from you. You can listen, too Mackenzie. I know you stole a radio. And your wife, she’s got one. So you listen in, too, Mrs Mackenzie. Soldiers and thieving bastards, all feel free to listen in.”

He paused, picturing all his men stopping what they were doing, raising their radios to their ears. Mackenzie, too, wherever that bastard was. His sister, hiding out also, listening to his voice. And the man’s wife and son, huddled up together, terrified, his voice their entire world now.

“To my men, I apologise for keeping the real mission a secret. But this real mission is the reason I’m able to pay you, each one of you, twenty thousand English pounds. Which I’m now increasing to thirty thousand, for your hard work here today.”

In one of the alleyways leading through the Cypresses and onto Hole 8, Billy held his radio close to his ear, volume low, listening.

You got a free pass, Mackenzie. It was never about you. Maybe you were just one of fifty men that night driving drunk in Hackney. I’ll admit it wasn’t you. I used you as an excuse to bring my men here, for my real mission. Maybe at the start I was hoping you’d admit it. It was a surprise to me that when I was researching the lives of the people here, of this place, I discovered that one of the residents was from Hackney. That he’d been there at the time I was there, eight years ago. That he’d been arrested for drunk driving that same night that Liam died. Maybe I thought it was Karma. It wasn’t. Just a happy coincidence. Or unhappy, if that’s how you see it. So you got a pass, Mackenzie. I do not want you anymore. You can leave the island, or you can come see me and I’ll escort you out.”

In the treeline, Lucinda and Dale sat against the fence, shoulders touching, the radio held between them, staring at it as if it were the radio itself saying these things.

“As for you, Mrs Mackenzie, and your son, well, this must be some kind of big shock for you. I wonder if there ever might have been a time when you heard about the death of my brother at the hands of some drunk driver that night and maybe thought your husband might have been involved. Or maybe his name in the paper was just another name. Just another one of those freak deaths you read about, always happening to someone else. Some faceless nobody.”

On King’s roof, Anna lay back against the tiles, the radio by her head, trying to think. He’d said he was going to admit the truth, but at the moment he was just rambling.

So here it is, Anna. And my men. One of the residents of the northern section is a terrorist. I was recruited by ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. My mission was to uncover this terrorist amongst the rich owners. He has a major security threat planned to the country and I was asked to find out who by planting surveillance devices. That’s what was in the van, Anna. And any of my men who wondered. I have computers with recording devices inside, and my mission is to plant one inside each house for the government. That is what I am here to do, and this is what I am doing right now. This is a vital job for this country’s government. I am honoured to have been asked to lead this mission. To Mackenzie and his family, I ask that you forgive me for my actions today. To my men, I ask that you proceed with the plan. Make arrangements to leave the island and wait for my return. And to my sister, please also forgive me for lying to you. Nobody else will be hurt today, I promise this to you as brother and sister who should have no secrets from each other. That’s it. I urge my men to keep radio silence until I return. That’s it. Out.”

Back on the golf course, Jacobs slotted his radio away and got back in the van. He felt Carlos’s eyes on him.

“She had secrets from me, so I have them from her. Lying bitch.”

Carlos nodded, agreeing. “And Mackenzie? You really going to just let him go? That’s it? Free?”

Jacobs gave him a disappointed look. “Don’t be stupid, Carlos. After all the shit he’s caused me today? I’m going to cut that man’s face off the moment he shows it.”

 

 

 

 

58

“Mum, what are you doing?”

She had the radio to her mouth, about to speak.

Once they had covered the golf cart with fallen branches and gotten themselves hidden against the fence in the treeline, Dale had switched on the radio, then given it to his mum while he continued to sift through the files on the stolen laptop. The radio had stayed silent for a time, with just the odd utterance that meant nothing. Then, just as she was planning to turn the radio off, certain she wouldn’t hear anything about her husband, the Captain had said those things that had proved Billy was alive. She and Dale had hugged each other.

And Billy had a radio, the Captain had said, so she could talk to him. She had listened to the Captain rambling on, trying to explain why he’d ruined everyone’s day, and then the radio had gone silent. And she had seen her chance to talk to Billy.

“We can contact your father,” she now said in answer to Dale’s question.

He looked horrified. “I know, but everyone’s listening.” He didn’t sound sure, sounded torn between both options: ignore his dad and be safe, or try to speak to him and risk exposure. Lucinda rubbed his hair and made the choice. It wasn’t really a choice.

“Billy, are you okay?” she spoke into the radio.

For a second or two, nothing. Then he said, “Jesus, Lucinda,” and she could hear the gratitude in his voice. For a while now he had had no idea of what had happened to his family, she realised. “Are you safe? Is Dale?”

“We’re both good. Safe. But maybe we shouldn’t talk on this radio.”

He was silent for a short time. She waited, staring into Dale’s eyes.

Put Dale on,” he said finally, and Lucinda handed the radio to her son. Dale took it tentatively but eagerly.

“Dad, you okay? Where are you?”

“Yes, and missing you both. I’m safe, son. But let’s not say out loud where we are.”

Just then another voice spoke. “Stop talking, they’re listening.”

It was Anna, the Captain’s sister.

“You’re not safe yet, not by a long way. Now listen to me very carefully. This is the last thing I will say to you, and then I’m leaving this island. The light fantastic. Out.”

There and gone in seconds, leaving Lucinda and Dale bewildered. And scared. Dale pushed the radio down into Lucinda’s lap. Lucinda stared at it. It was her link to Billy, but the enemy was listening. She didn’t know what to do.

 

 

 

 

 

59

Anna released the transmit button and tuned her radio to channel 212 and slipped it into her pocket. She took a breath. It was time for action.

The truck had been reversed all the way onto the north road and two soldiers were tending to it, straightening the panels that got busted against King’s house. Her eyes roamed, seeking other men in army uniform. They swept from far right to far left, and saw nothing until the end of their range. Way over to the left, the tennis court. The townsfolk had been removed from the truck, marched through their own community, past their own safe houses, and into that tennis court. There they all were, grouped on the court, surrounded by high chain-link, and presided over by a lone soldier who walked up and down the length of one side, his gun in his hands but hanging loose.

They were silent and still, like people waiting for a bus. Zombie-like, not even seeing the guard who watched them. She saw blood on heads and torn clothing. Obviously they were still distraught, not knowing what was going on. One minute they had seemingly been saved by a strange woman, the next they were being dragged from the truck by soldiers with guns. There must have been panic and despair, quickly quelled by rifle butts, but she had failed to hear any of it, so fixated had she been on the conversation taking place over the airwaves. Her first thought was: would they trust her again?

She got the radio from her pocket, checked that it was definitely on channel 212. “Come on,” she told the radio, stared at it a little longer as if that would help, and put it back in her pocket.

Moments later, two Jeeps filled with soldiers emerged from the Gilded Sector and came down the slope, followed a few moments later by two golf carts carrying more men. The golf carts were discarded in the grass and all the men, easily fifteen of them, stood around, chatting, obviously waiting. Anna felt a mix of joy and trepidation. The soldiers were clearly preparing to leave the island, which was good, but that was also where the trepidation came in. What were their plans for the townsfolk? Something about her brother’s story didn’t add up. Would the government condone what the soldiers had done here? Surveillance of the northern section could have been done quietly, without guns and kidnapping. Risky for the Australian government to bring in foreigners to commit a crime. Something was off with her brother’s story. She didn’t trust her him, and didn’t know his plans for the townsfolk. So she didn’t have much time to do what needed to be done. And still her radio was silent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

60

Dale continued to play on the laptop, like some kid on a game. Lucinda was chewing her nails, like some kid fretting. What to do, what to do? She couldn’t think what. But eventually she reached out to grab the laptop, to shut it and tell Dale they had to both think of something, because they couldn’t sit in the trees while Billy was out there with soldiers trying to hurt him. But Dale made a noise and slapped her hand away.

“No, mum, I’m working on something.”

Lucinda lifted the radio again, but Dale put his hand over it.

“We can’t just sit here, Dale. Why did you say we can’t use the radio now?”

“Because, mum, that Anna woman is gone. The light fantastic, then nothing. That means she’s gone. It was a warning, obviously.”

“Well I don’t know radio code like you seem to, Dale. The light fantastic, to me that’s a hotel room in Scotland. She said that, first thing I thought of was the holiday we took when you father proposed… What?”

He was looking at her with his jaw dropped. He snatched the radio from her. “What was the light fantastic exactly? Did you say a hotel?”

“I’ve told you the story umpteen times, Dale. A hotel room, all stars and planets and things. Light fantastic, like the chocolate bar caption.”

“What room number?”

“Two twelve. Why?”

Dale didn’t answer. He fiddled with the radio, then cautiously put it to his mouth. “Anna?” he said.

At last,” came back Anna’s squawky voice. “Hello, Dale. We haven’t met, but I’m the lady who’s going to make sure everything’s okay today.” Dale was grinning at his mother, like a kid who’d gotten one up on someone. Lucinda snatched the radio back.

“Anna? How did you know about the hotel thing? Billy, are you there?”

He’s not,” Anna said. “Where are you two? Are you hidden? And don’t worry how I know so much. My brother did a lot of research into the people living here, especially you and your family. Maybe I read all the same stuff. In future, you might want to watch how much of your life you put on those social networks.

“Dad won’t have worked the code out, that’s all,” Dale said to his mum. Then he Dale went back to playing on the laptop. Lucinda told Anna what she wanted to know: in the trees, hiding, not knowing what to do.

We need your husband here, Lucinda. Can you think of something, another code? Some way of getting a message to him to change channels?”

Silence as Lucinda thought. Dale glared at her for a few seconds, then shook his head. “Jeez,” he said, and snatched the radio again from her. “Old people.”

He fiddled again with the controls.

“Dad?” Dale said.

I’m here, son. We should stop talking. They can all hear us.”

“Dad, I’m going to send you to another channel. You go there instantly, okay? Don’t speak. 5462. Got that? Divided by… Ready? Dad, you can speak now?”

His dad said he understood, and again warned him that the bad guys would be listening. Dale didn’t care if Jacobs had heard the first part of the sum. The key was speed.

“Don’t worry about that, Dad. Just be quick. Nineteen,” he said, and immediately pressed CHANNEL and typed 287.

He waited one second, then: “Dad, 408, now.”

At channel 408, Dale waited, breath held. He didn’t want to speak. His dad was good at maths, always seemed able to do sums in his head quickly. Dale wasn’t that good, but this was a sum he’d heard recently and remembered. The plan had been to get his dad to 287 before the bad guys could work it out, then send him away to this new channel. If it had worked, the bad guys would be soon be on 287, and waiting. But if his dad had been a little too slow to catch the order to jump to 408…

“Dad?” he whispered into the radio.

I’m here, son,” came back the reply. “Are you okay? Good plan, Dale. I’m now thinking the light fantastic thing was a channel code as well, but I didn’t get that one.

“Then you’re in deep shit with mum, dad. Anyway, forget that. Listen, I got this thing all worked out. Just give me a second here, dad.” He went back to 212 and told Anna where to go.

“What have you got worked out?” Lucinda asked him.

He just winked at her. “Sporty and smart. How lucky are the parents of this kid, eh? And there’s lesser kids out there who probably have quad bikes that are just sitting gathering dust in the shed.”

She glared at him and he averted his eyes. He went to channel 408. In the moments he had paused to speak to his mum, Anna must have asked his dad a question, because his dad was speaking.

I think they’re leaving,” Anna said. “The plan was to group up outside the island when this was over. But I don’t trust my brother. He’s up to no good, sure of it. Not surveillance.

“Listen up,” Dale said. “I think I’ve got it. I got the Captain’s laptop, dad. Nicked it right out of his office. So he hadn’t shut any of his windows down. I saw emails and bank stuff and some cached Internet pages, so I know the plan, dad. It ain’t looking good.”

 

 

 

 

 

61

Dale said, “It’s got everything here. I can’t look at web pages because it asks for a password, but I can scroll down his history list. All sorts of Wikipedia stuff, and eBay stuff. Hell, there’s word documents that he’s written notes in. And a speech. This sound familiar: ‘Pay careful attention, everyone. Two things. One: my name is Captain Jacobs. That’s what you call me, no deviation’? He’s had this planned quite well. He’s been researching this place, and buying stuff for it. Right here, for instance, some place called Iconic Cars, that’s where he bought those Jeeps. Uniforms from eBay. Guns from some online shop dealing out of Texas in the United States.”

That’s very good work, dale, but I don’t care. I don’t even care that the guy’s making millions for being here. I just want to get out. I want to get back with you and your mum.”

“No, listen, dad, it’s all about why he’s here, and it’s nothing to do with some secret government mission. He’s looked at the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, but it’s on Wikipedia, and why would he need to check them out online if he was working for them? No, it’s because he fears them. He’s here to do something they wouldn’t like.”

Dale paused here, his eyes flying over the screen, seeking, soaking up.

“Dale?”

“Dad, here’s a folder that saves emails. He’s been in contact with some guy called Edwards form something called Goliath Industries. He mentioned Goliath to me. Said it was going to eat us up.”

Lucinda put her hand on his shoulder. "Dale, we don't need to -"

“Yes we do,” Dale snapped, slapping her hand away. He spoke into the radio again.

“Dad, Goliath Industries is a winemaking company. They have vineyards in Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek, and McLaren Vale, and now they’re branching into New South Wales. They look for empty land, then build on it. Did you know there’s a 2.8 billion dollar domestic market for Australian wines? That’s because of you, mum.

“Anyway, as far as I can tell, this island was originally leased by a company called Pinnacle Waves, which did fishing. They went bust and sold the remaining time on the lease to another company, Elysium Holdings, and this company renovated all our houses and built the golf course and the other houses, the big ones. A short lease, option to step away from in four years, which we knew about. We knew we’d might have the land taken from us in four years and might have to sell the house. Goliath Industries wants this land, but they’d have to buy and demolish all the houses. Not a problem with ours, but think about those big mansions in the rich half. That’s fifteen houses, with the cheapest at about two million. And that’s if the rich want to sell them. All it takes is one guy wanting to keep his house, or skyrocket the price because he’s holding all the cards, and it’s game over. The only way Goliath gets to build here is if the houses aren’t here. Without those big, expensive houses, the land is just land, and Elysium Holdings won’t need it. If there are no houses here, there are no people paying ground rent. Elysium Holdings gives the land up to Goliath Industries and hello vineyard.”

Here he paused. It was Anna who broke the silence. “I saw computer boxes in the van. The surveillance thing never made sense. Surveillance gadgets are tiny these days. No one would use a computer, and you can’t just slot a computer in someone’s house and hope they think it was their own.”

“Exactly,” Dale said.

What do you mean?” Billy said. “Explain. I’m not following.”

“They’re not computers, dad. I don’t want to make a presumption here, although Anna has the same idea, I think. But think about it, dad. Jacobs is working for Goliath, and Goliath needs the land, but not while there are houses here. They need fifteen houses to not be here, and right now Captain Jacobs is delivering a box the size of a desktop computer to each one.”

Silence. Maybe his dad was already imagining what Dale was saying, or maybe he hadn’t yet understood. Dale gripped the radio tighter and helped him out:

“Bombs, dad. Captain Jacobs is planting bombs. He’s not here to kill you, and he’s not here to spy on terrorists. He’s here to blow up all the houses and raze this island to the ground.”

 

 

 

 

 

62

Anna knew it was true. All her brother’s revenge talk had sounded sincere, but without emotion. All those months, he had been planning this instead, while pretending that he was coming here to avenge their brother’s death. It made sense now. Within a few months of the accident, Carter had been his old self again. Liam hadn’t been forgotten, but certainly Carter hadn’t become obsessive about catching the guy who killed him. Until this mission. Until then, Carter had never once mentioned revenge, yet he later claimed he had been thinking about it all those years. Bullshit.

She turned her radio to channel 5. “Carter.”

A second later, there he was. “Anna. I heard your light fantastic thing. Your little trickery. What are you and the Mackenzies up to?”

She knew she had a better chance of stopping him if he didn’t know she knew the truth. But she had to try to talk him out of what he had planned, even though it would show him her hand.

“We know the truth about you and Goliath Industries, and now we’re doing this over the radio, all your men will know, too.”

“Go to the other channel, Anna. Chick Supreme.”

“No, Carter. Captain Jacobs. We’ll do it right here. Right on this open channel I will tell your men that the surveillance story is bullshit. He’s planting bombs. You hear me? He plans to blow all these houses up.”

Fine, tell them. Yes, men, I’m planting bombs. I’m sorry I had to keep that part of the mission secret. I’m going to blow up all these houses and be paid a lot of money for it. There, Anna, happy? You think my men are going to kidnap and beat sixty people and then draw the line at knocking down some bricks and mortar? You think they’re about to get a change of heart and side with you?”

“I’m going to stop you, Carter. For your own good. I’m coming to end this.”

Listen up, every one of you. Anna Jacobs is now the enemy, and you will detain her on sight. Shoot to injure if needs be. Detain Anna Jacobs, or none of you gets paid. And it’s a fifty grand bonus to the man who brings her to me in chains. There, Anna, how’s that sit with you? Think you can call the police now? You should have done that while you were this side of the fence. But now you’re in jammer world and you can’t call anyone, and you can’t get out, and now you need to hope you’re smarter than twenty men who’ve got you surrounded.”

“I’m smarter than all of them put together, and their entire family trees right back to the Great Fire of London. And I didn’t say anything about the police, Carter. I said I was coming to end it. That means coming for you. And I pray you put that big dreadlocked sidekick of yours between us. Because I’ve wanted to smash that guy’s nose for a long time now.”

Captain Jacobs laughed. Then he cut the connection. Anna set her radio to channel 408 “Still here?”

Nobody seemed to have noticed her brief sojourn to another channel. Dale said, “Anna, what do we do? Do we leave them to it and wait till they’ve gone? Do we stop them?”

Way across the island, Billy moved out of the alleyway in the trees and rushed across the fairway, towards one of the giant homes here. The garden had giant wild flowers that looked like they belonged somewhere tropical and home to lost tribes, and inert water features that looked like big gargoyles ripped off a gothic church. As he weaved around them, keeping low, he said, “We stop them. We don’t let him get away with this.”

Truth was he would have been quite happy to hang back and have himself a good old view of a bunch of flash houses go up in smoke. He didn’t know much about land leasing. Maybe Goliath Industries couldn’t turf them out. Laws and stuff. This part of the island was like a whole different island, so whatever happened here might not affect his own home, except that there would be more traffic passing through as the Gilded Sector was rebuilt. Hell, vineyards had to have machinery, didn’t they? And machinery had electrical components. Billy might get some long-time work thrown his way.

But what if Goliath didn’t get the land? What if someone came along and simply updated the gated community? He imagined a hundred more families living here, no fence between the north and south. With that many people living here, maybe the developers would finally build a restaurant, which many of his neighbours had complained that the place lacked. And a real cinema. And a bloody pharmacy! The place could thrive. He wanted that. And that could happen. No guarantee that Goliath Industries, whoever they were, would get the land.

But for that to happen. Jacobs had to get his way. His ten million dollars.

“How do we do it?” Dale said. “I can’t call the police on this laptop. If I try to access the Internet, it asks me for a password. Do you know it, Anna?”

“No, that laptop was his baby. No one got near it. If you stole it, he’ll go berserk when he realises you have it. Keep checking it, see what more you can find out about this Edwards man.

“What’s your plan?” Billy asked. He slipped by the side of the house and up a set of stone steps leading round back. Here a long back garden with high walls confronted him. Beyond a swimming pool and dining area, the rest of the garden was grass and stone. The stone was black paving slabs running down the middle. The grass on one side was neat and low and dotted with croquet hoops, mini-football nets, a basketball hoop, and other sports items. Other side, the grass was churned to mud, deep ruts and mini-ramps present, as if used for off-road vehicles. He got a wind of jealously as he realised how much Dale would love such a garden.

I’m kinda trapped here, and there’s no chance I can phone out,” Anna said.I know they planted four mobile phone signal jammers. Only have an 80 metre radius each, so there will be massive pockets where a signal can work, but I have no idea where. Certainly not around the houses. And I can’t be running around with a mobile in my hand, trying to find one. I lost my own mobile somewhere, anyway.”

“Can you find a mobile, dad?”

“Doubt it, son. Who’d leave one here? I found a landline but it connected only to the clubhouse, an internal line.”

Billy passed the pool and dining area and hit the path. He jogged down, feeling a little more relaxed at seeing the walls alongside and knowing he was hidden from view.

I’m going to stop the soldiers and rescue your neighbours,” Anna said. “I’m this side of the fence, so I can do that. Nobody’s getting away with this today. End of today, everyone in an army uniform is going to bed down for the night in a police cell.”

That include you?” Dale said.

“How is Jacobs going to blow all those bombs?” Billy said.

He heard Lucinda’s voice, knew before she’d even spoken that she had realised what he was planning: “Billy, no, you stay away. Don’t go near that madman, you hear me?

“I hear you, babe, but it has to be done. We can’t let him blow up bombs.”

No, Billy, that’s insane. He’s a trained soldier, and you’re not, and you don’t have any idea where he is.”

He’s not a soldier,” Anna said. “My brother was once in the Navy, but never a Captain. He was a sub-lieutenant and he got kicked out. They all did. My brother met most of them through some forum for disgruntled ex-army people. He ran security for a company and got a lot of them jobs there. None of them reached high rungs in the forces and they all got booted out for some violation or other. They’re just idiots who want to be hard men. And they jumped at the chance to play at soldiers here.

They have guns, though,” Lucinda said. “Billy, you are not to go near that man. Stay away.”

Anna said, “You guys all hang tight. Just stay put. I’m going to sort this.”

Hey,” Dale said. “I just looked through more of the Internet history list and found something about remote detonation. It’ll be by phone. That’s how he’ll do it. So it won’t be a timer or anything. Conference calling. Voice broadcasting. Something like that. Set one phone up to call a bunch of others, or send a text message. Put phone circuits inside the bombs, and they can all be set off by one press of a button. Wire the bomb up so it sets off when the phone takes the call or message. Easy.”

“So Jacobs has the phone? I could try to get it off him,” Billy said. He had reached the garden’s end: a wall of upright planks hewn from trees and still retaining the bark. There was an ornate iron gate, unlocked, that he swung open with a grinding creak, tearing away cobwebs. He stepped out into an open world that fell away from him, all grass, like a little country park. The wooden wall encircled the oval area except for a portion over to the left. That was where the C-shaped golf course broke, left side the end of Hole 9, right side the start of Hole 1, and the gap between plugged by large oak trees to keep this area enclosed.

Anna said, “They can’t blow the bombs while they’re still on the island. Explosions will bring the authorities charging. So they’ll have to leave first, make sure they’re far away. We came by truck, and they’ll have to leave by truck. That means they’ll come this way. So it’s down to me. I’m going to stop them. You listen to your wife, Billy, and stay away, stay hidden. All of you just hang tight and don’t move anywhere, don’t do anything.”

“Can you do that? Are you sure?” Dale said.

Captain Jacobs might be a bad man, but he’s my brother. He’s my problem. I don’t want anybody hurt. I’m a good guy like that. So you just watch me. Now I’m going to turn off this radio for a while. Just hang tight. Nobody move. I’m going to save the day.”

 

 

 

 

63

Both men were silent. Carlos was fuming over being called a sidekick. Jacobs was thinking about his enemies. They had pulled some kind of trick on him. He had heard their exchanges on the radio but kept quiet, and had shifted to channel 287 after the maths question from Dale. And had waited. Nothing. He mulled it over as the van drew to a halt at the next house and Carlos got out. He watched the man unload another bomb and carry it towards the mansion.

So his sister and the Mackenzies were off at another radio channel, talking about him, plotting against him. He wished he hadn’t brought radios with five hundred channels. He had quickly scoured the first twenty, then shifted tactic and tuned in to the last ten. Nothing. Then he had decided he didn’t care where they were or what they were planning. Nothing they could do to stop him.

His mobile phone rang. He checked the screen.

“Afternoon, Edwards,” he answered.

The voice that spoke was deep and Australian. The voice made you think of a great beast of a man, rotund, with a thick beard, someone who could crush you to death with his meaty hands. But Edwards was seventy and skinny as a rail.

“Jacobs, what’s happening? You were meant to call. I’m getting dizzy circling the skies up here. I never wanted to come here, and now you have me running rings around this damned island. Are my packages planted yet?”

“Mostly,” Jacobs answered. “But you’re free to land, Edwards. Park your plane but stay inside and wait for me. I noticed no money has been sent yet. Care to explain that?”

“You’ll get your payment when I see flaming rubble, Captain Jacobs. That was the agreement. I see all sorts of movement down there. Are your people clearing out yet?”

“Mostly,” Jacobs repeated. “Never you worry about that. Worry about making sure my money is ready. Land your plane and I’ll come to you. Out.” He hung up. Carlos was returning. The man got back in the driver’s seat. Still sulking.

“All the shit I’ve seen you let slide like water off a duck’s back, and being called a sidekick winds you up like this?”

Carlos started the engine and said nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

64

Billy put his radio on channel 5. He wanted to hear anything Jacobs heard or said, in case something came up that could help his own plan. He slotted it in his pocket and moved to his right, following the wooden wall. It was a long trek. He passed an alleyway and then another garden gate. Kept moving. Another alleyway, and another garden gate further along. He felt tiny and insignificant, because it was taking him ages to get from point to point in this big world.

He stopped at the next alleyway, aware now that he could hear a vehicle. Life at last. He thought it might be the white van he had seen down by the entrance gates when he was hiding in his own bedroom. The noise was faint, coming from the golf course, which was about a hundred and fifty metres away. Then the engine died.

It must have stopped at the house whose rear garden gate he’d just passed. He was on the back four, and figured he was at Hole 6, which meant just three more after this one if Jacobs had started his deliveries at Hole 1. After the golf course, he had the six houses along the coast. Maybe another half hour, and the man would be ready to leave. Call it ten minutes to get off the island, and he was looking at forty minutes. Plus five for delays meant forty-five minutes until the whole island went up in flames. Unless Billy tossed Jacobs’s works a nice, fat spanner.

Billy moved along the alley and emerged into a massive oblong area with a path down the middle. Left and right he could see the tops of the neighbouring two houses poking over their garden walls. The grass portions either side of the path, each like a football pitch, sparkled with flowery squares laid with benches. He ran down the path. Halfway along, he started to feel like a guy standing alone in the centre of an empty football stadium, and finally understood the presence of the golf carts now. Not rich bastard laziness: without one it would take ages to walk anywhere.

At the end was a long wall of tall, thin trees, and another alleyway, which he crept through. He stuck his head out and peeked to the right, and there was the van, parked right in the centre of the fairway about a hundred metres away, back end facing him, the vehicle looking like a plane with both its front doors standing wide open. The back doors were shut.

But where were the occupants? Inside the house?

He skipped out of the plastic archway and turned into the trees. Three layers of them. He moved along one of the aisles, noting there was rubbish here including discarded cigarette ends, until he reached the point where the trees abruptly ended and a flowery garden took over. There was the house, and there was Captain Jacobs, sitting in a swing-chair on the porch, looking content and relaxed, as if he owned the place and was on holiday. The big front door was open. Billy assumed the man’s henchman was in there, planting the bomb. If Billy was going to take the van, he might have just seconds.

He rushed out into the fairway, keeping his head low. The garden plants were lush and tall, and he got to the van without being seen. He crouched by the driver’s door and saw immediately that the ignition key was not at home.

He brain whirred. He had a choice: he could try to steal the van, or he could attempt to disable it. Disabling it would only delay the deliveries, while stealing it would set the soldiers hot on his tail. And modern vehicles, especially those by Mercedes-Benz, had a host of security features to prevent hotwiring.

But it was too late to make that choice.

He heard the front door of the house slam, and Jacobs and the dreadlocked soldier talking. Coming back.

Billy scooted around the van to the other side, and saw that the van had a sliding side door, which was wide open. Inside he could see computer boxes, stacked on pallets. One pallet was almost empty. They looked innocent and for a moment he wondered if Dale had it wrong. Maybe Jacobs was delivering listening devices after all.

The voices were close. Just metres away. Billy froze, aware of the gun hanging off his shoulder, a constant weight, a constant ego-boost. Could he use it, though? Could he aim that weapon at two armed men, former soldiers, and force them to surrender?

He moved around to the back of the van in time to the rising volume of the voices, knowing it could go wrong at any moment. Move too slowly and the passenger would step around the front of the van and see him. Too quickly and he would step out into the view of both men as they walked towards the van. He stopped behind the vehicle and stood there as he heard two doors slamming. The engine started up. As soon as it pulled away, he was going to bolt for the trees and hope he didn’t get spotted in the driver’s wing mirror. Get into the trees and follow the van and try again at its next stop.

That was his plan, and he readied his feet like a sprinter on the blocks. That was his plan right up until the point the van started to pull away and he hopped up onto the rear step bumper and grabbed the door handles and pressed his body hard against the back doors.

 

 

 

 

 

65

They heard the click of a gun.

Dale was facing Lucinda, and his eyes flicked to look over her shoulder. His face grew scared. Slowly, Lucinda turned her head.

No more than twenty feet away, partly hiding behind a tree, was a soldier with a gun. He was pointing the rifle right at them. He had removed his jacket and tied it around his right leg so it covered most of his thigh.

“Don’t move,” the soldier said. “I’m not here to shoot you.” He spoke with a Scottish accent.

“That’s what I thought when I saw you aiming a gun at us,” Dale said. Lucinda put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing hard, her way of telling him to be quiet.

The soldier moved out from behind the tree slowly, scraping his shoulder along the trunk. He was injured, that much was clear. His teeth were gritted against pain. He pushed off the tree and moved towards them and dragged his right leg. Lucinda saw a patch of wet redness on the jacket. Blood.

“Are you hurt?” she said, turning fully towards the soldier. She got to her feet.

“Stay there,” he said. He tried to take a step on his right leg and it bucked, throwing him to the ground amongst fallen leaves. He landed with a grunt and dropped his rifle.

Lucinda moved towards him, but he ordered her to stop and fumbled for his weapon. She stopped.

“Don’t shoot us,” Dale said from behind her.

The soldier dragged himself to a tree and manoeuvred himself into a sitting position against it, facing them. It took almost ten seconds for him to do this and to raise his rifle again.

“I could have taken that gun off you,” Lucinda said. “But we’re not a threat to you.” She was starting to feel that the gun was the boy’s defence, rather than a weapon of offence. He seemed scared, and clearly thought of them as a danger. And he was a boy, surely no more than a year or so older than Dale, with a baby-face and wavy hair not unlike her own son’s. “What happened to your leg?”

The boy looked down at his wrapped leg as if he’d forgotten how he’d hurt it. He freed one hand from the gun and used it to unwrap the jacket, which he tossed away. The effort made him wince. His leg was bleeding from the middle of the front of the thigh, the trousers soaked.

Lucinda went to him slowly, hands up to show she meant no harm. “Let me look at that.”

“Mum, stay away,” Dale said, but Lucinda ignored him. She went to the injured soldier and he tracked her approach with his gun. She ignored the gun as well, knelt in front of him. She was so close that the boy had trouble keeping the barrel pointed at her. She pushed the gun away and he didn’t object. In fact, he dropped it on the ground, obviously aware that he wasn’t going to be able to defend himself if she tried to attack.

She looked at the wound. It looked like a stab wound. She looked at him, and he looked back with something that she thought was embarrassment.

“You stabbed yourself,” she said, not a question. “Why?”

The boy rubbed at his eyes, but not quickly enough to catch the first tear, which rolled past his hand and down his cheek.

“This wasn’t what I wanted,” he moaned. “It was never meant to be like this. People got shot and stuff, and now this stuff about bombs that I heard you talk about. I just want out. Will you help me?”

“Are you saying you knew nothing about the bombs?” Dale called over.

The kid was looking at Dale, but Lucinda took his chin and turned his face back to hers. “You came here to hide, is that right? You wanted to get away from them so you faked an injury and came here?”

The boy nodded. “I was going to say Billy Mackenzie stabbed me, but then they captured him and I realised I would be found out. All the people living here got captured, so who would the Captain believe stabbed me? So I just thought I’d come here and wait till it was all over.”

“Mum, don’t trust him,” Dale shouted over. Lucinda ignored him again, and did something she never would have believed possible five minutes ago: she hugged one of the men who had come here to hurt her family.

 

 

 

 

66

She saw the truck leave.

She counted the soldiers and knew some were missing, including the main two players here: Carlos and her brother. She saw the two guys she’d taken out in Mackenzie’s house, looking much better now that they’d had time to recover from their Etorphine doses, and the guy she’d knocked out in their back garden. He had a thick bandage around his mouth, which was missing at least two teeth, she knew. She’d seen them on Mackenzie’s back step. And the other two were there, the clowns from the riding range, and not looking so well. Dizzy, wobbly, and helped along by colleagues. She also saw the electronics expert they’d brought along, the guy that she knew they’d headhunted from some firm in Scotland. Then she remembered that this guy had a brother they’d brought along, but he was one of the missing. She hadn’t seen him at all since they’d entered in the back of the truck. He was the youngest soldier here, barely seventeen. Where was he?

The soldiers were moving quickly, but not hurriedly. On a timescale, but on schedule. The Jeeps had been loaded into the trailer and the soldiers had climbed in afterwards. The electronics guy and another man had clambered into the cabin of the tractor unit, and then the big beast had fired up. Slowly it crawled through the gate, and vanished from sight, and she heard it rumbling down the causeway. She didn’t think the driver had the angle to see her on the roof through his mirror, but she didn’t take the chance. She slipped back into the house through the skylight.

She ran to King’s back bedroom and peered out. She watched the truck reach the end of the causeway and creep out, turning right. This road curved up and left and joined the main highway, but the truck travelled only far enough so its back end had cleared the entrance to the causeway, and then it stopped. She heard the engine die. She saw the driver wind down his window and light up a cigarette. Waiting.

Waiting for his Captain, she knew. Just as she was. Those bombs were going to cause noise and fire that the whole of Port Macquarie was going to know about, and it made sense to have the big truck already on the mainland, ready to run. The fact that it was already in position meant the detonation couldn’t be far off.

Anna rushed back to the main bedroom and looked out. The guy guarding the townspeople was still there. He was now taking long, slow steps, like he was bored, or like he’d seen this sort of routine in war films and thought that was how you patrolled. She watched him walk west, reach the end of the tennis court, turn and go back. It took him twenty seconds to make each trek.

Perfect.

She went to the wardrobe and flung the doors wide. King was thicker than she, but he liked to work out and show his tight muscles, and that meant he had a lot of tight T-shirts. She grabbed a black one and found it a nice fit, as if it were her own. She threw on a pair of his tracksuit bottoms, too, then found a set of running shoes. What she had planned wouldn’t work if she was still in uniform, still one of the soldiers.

Anna went downstairs and out into the back yard. She looked at the fence between this garden and the next, thought about the other fences, and decided it would be quicker to hop the metal perimeter fence. So she did that. Then she ran along the bank in the thin space between the fence and the shrubs, passing all the houses, throwing glances left across the water to check the truck, make sure no one could see her. But the driver was the only guy visible, and he was too far away, and he was smoking and not seeing anything.

Soon she reached the end house. She climbed the fence and scooted across the garden. She grabbed up a garden gnome without slowing, and opened the gate on the left side of the house. She went through quickly and low, hopped the wall and hid behind a Fiat in the neighbour’s driveway.

Ahead, looking east, was the tennis court. At this angle, the soldier was walking towards her alongside the fence. The distance would be easy to cover in twenty seconds. The problem would be whether she could do it without making a noise. He had a gun and she didn’t. If he heard her and turned and got his rifle up and she was still some way off, it was going to be game over. Fifty grand for whoever captured her. Shoot to injure if necessary.

The soldier reached the end of the fence. He stood on one foot, on tip-toe, and used a hand on the fence to spin himself around. Just a bored mind playing. Then he started walking. Away from her.

Anna kicked off her running shoes and stepped out.

“Hey!” came a shout that made her stop, turn, scramble back behind the Fiat.

The patrolling soldier had stopped, too, and was waving at something. She cast her eyes and saw two more soldiers, jogging this way from the east. They must have hung behind for some reason. She hoped there weren’t others still making their way towards the exit, but remembered that her count had been a few short. They both jogged up to the patrolling soldier and shook his hand. The patroller pointed at their hands and uniforms, which were splattered with blue paint. Whatever reason they gave, all three found it funny. Then they said something about the townsfolk and found that funny, too. Finally, one of the men jerked a thumb, as if to say they were leaving, and they both shook the patroller’s hand again and left. Through the Fiat’s windows, she watched them jog for the exit. The patroller went back to his strolling.

She waited three minutes to make sure the two who’d just left were too far down the causeway to hear what came next.

Out of the garden, across the road, onto the grass, gaining speed, running on her tiptoes to minimise the sound of her footfalls. The garden gnome swung with her arms.

When she was seven or so metres out from her target, he stopped. Too early. Nowhere near the end of the fence. But she couldn’t stop now.

The townspeople had seen her, but they did the right thing by not showing shock. But their eyes gave away her presence: dozens of pairs in turned heads, looking at her. They had tried to keep her secret, but it hadn’t worked, and now the soldier was turning.

“Hey!” someone shouted. Someone down the far end of the tennis court. She couldn’t see who. But it worked. Halfway turned, the soldier flicked his head towards the shout, away from her. It gave her the extra half-second she needed. She ran past the soldier and swung the gnome, and it shattered against the back of his head. Anna didn’t break stride, but started to slow, careful not to attempt a quick halt because she was on grass and had no friction in her bare feet. She was still running by the time the soldier had collapsed face-first into the grass.

 

 

 

 

67

Soon the van slowed and stopped again. Billy hopped off the back step, thought about the trees, and then slipped underneath the van. The decision was wise because the driver went around the back. Billy watched his boots go past. Two sets of boots stood by the sliding door. The owners didn’t speak. The only sound was that of someone dragging out a box from inside, and Billy tried hard not to think about all those bombs just ten inches above his back.

There was a soft thunk and he saw the keys on the grass. Jacobs said something about not being so clumsy with the C4. A black hand snatched up the keys and a moment later Billy heard a clacking noise that he thought he recognised. His hopes flared.

The sliding side door rasped shut and both sets of boots moved away. They passed the front of the van and headed towards a log wall out front of the next house. They passed through a gate and were gone.

Billy exited on the far side and peeked into the van through the open passenger door, and what he saw confirmed his thoughts. The clacking noise had been the keys striking the dashboard right where it met the windscreen. Jacobs had thrown the keys there.

Beyond the log wall and plants that looked like small palm trees, Jacobs and the man with dreadlocks were weaving towards the house, their backs to him. This was his chance. He slipped into the passenger seat, grabbed the keys and hopped across into the driver’s seat. With his eyes never leaving the backs of the heads of the two men, he blindly stabbed at the ignition until the key slipped in.

He watched Captain Jacobs try the door, find it locked, and raise a big boot to it. The door crashed open. Jacobs leaned against the wall as Carlos carried the box inside. They were calm and casual, like real delivery men unloading nothing more serious than genuine computers.

Billy had hoped both men would go inside. Not to be. But Jacobs was fifty metres away, with plants and a gate to bypass before he could get to the van. And he would not shoot, would not risk a bullet striking one of the bombs and ruining his chance at ten million dollars. As long as the van didn’t stall a bunch of times, Billy figured he would be fine. He told himself not to rush. Not to panic.

He twisted the key and the engine roared to life. Jacobs didn’t seem to hear it, but he certainly heard Billy’s attempt to drive out of there. He stamped the pedal too hard and forgot about engaging a gear. The van sat in neutral while the engine screamed. Billy saw the man perk up, realise something was wrong, and bolt towards the van.

Billy stamped the clutch, threw the stick into first, and got the hell out of there.

Jacobs was a dot in the mirror by the time he had exited the garden. Billy saw him raise his rifle. He didn’t hear the shot, but he heard the bullet whine off metal. His stomach lurched. But his life didn’t go up in a fireball, and the van continued to race away. Jacobs was still aiming, but there were no more impacts against the van. Too far away.

I need a Jeep and as many men can fit inside, right now, golf course, seventh hole!” Billy heard his radio squawk. He’d forgotten it was on. The thing could have screeched while he was under the van and it would have been game over.

His ego got the better of him and he pulled the radio. He was trying to think of something clever to say when Jacobs got there first.

“Maybe I should just press redial right now, eh, Mackenzie?”

Shit. He hadn’t thought about that. Jacobs had the detonator and Billy had all the bombs three feet from his ass. He fought the urge to dive out of a moving vehicle. He lifted the radio to his lips.

“You’ve got some men coming to help you, Jacobs. Are they going to grab a sledgehammer each to help you smash down fifteen giant houses?”

Silence for a few seconds. He knew Jacobs was conceding the point. The man could kill Billy in a second, with barely a jot of energy used. But he would be paying ten million dollars for the privilege.

“You’re trapped, Mackenzie. So what are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking about how I had to get a new phone after I dropped the last one in the bath, Jacobs.”

You’re dead, Mackenzie. You’re going to wish I’d blown those bombs up. I was going to leave you alone, you and your family. You could have sat back and watched the show. But you made a choice that’s gonna bite you in the ass.”

 

 

 

 

68

The moment the soldier hit the ground, the townsfolk started yammering at her, all of them, just like before when she’d called out to them in the back of the truck. She held up her hands, shouting for quiet, telling them they were safe. But this time they could see their freedom. This time they weren’t locked in a box. Some of the more able-bodied among them started to climb the fence. Others went for the gate. She let them, encouraged them, told them they were free and the soldiers were gone. Anna watched them exit while keeping an eye to the east, knowing that a van with armed men was going to appear at any moment.

When she moved over to the soldier and started dragging him towards the fence, some of the townsfolk came to help. In thirty seconds he was held fast against the fence by a number of his own cable-ties around his wrists and ankles. Anna launched his rifle one way and its ammunition magazine another.

“This way, follow me,” she called out. She ran towards the house with the Fiat. Some followed, but others didn’t. They ran in all directions. Some ran for home, which was understandable. She tried to call them back, but they didn’t listen – or care. Then she got help. Some of the townsfolk with a bit of respect and clout in the community joined in, urging their neighbours to listen to the woman, to follow her. Eventually, as if an invisible sheepdog were herding them, everyone got together and moved as one. They went across the road at a trot and into the garden of number forty one, jostled for position so they could move down the narrow area between the wall and the fence, and trampled single-file through the gate and into the back garden. There they took a place where they could, some sitting on the grass, some up against the back fence, hands wrapped around the bars like prisoners yearning for freedom, and some leaning against the house. Amazingly, the owner rushed inside her kitchen and started filling the kettle. Anna counted them as they came through the gate. Some helpful soul handed her her running shoes.

Short, she realised. By eleven. Those who had strayed from the bunch to seek their own freedom. And injured ones who had never made it to the tennis court in the first place – including the inevitable one or two that hadn’t survived the last few terrible hours.

A big guy that she knew was a bricklayer moved in front of her.

“Have they all gone? And who are you? And what the hell is going on here?”

She addressed them all. “Forget who I am. Especially later, when the police start taking all your statements. Just know that I’m one of the good guys. As for the soldiers, most have them are gone, but they’re not quite fully gone yet. Their truck is parked just off the island. They’re waiting for the final few to come.”

Questions were shouted. She picked up on three and answered them.

“We can’t go looking for a phone because the phones don’t work. And they are just men hired to do a job, they’re not the real army. You saw their uniforms. Fake. And they wanted Billy Mackenzie because they mistook him for someone else.” She didn’t have time to explain the truth, but needed to make sure they understood that this wasn’t all their neighbourly electrician’s fault.

“So what’s your plan?” said the bricklayer. “We just sit and wait? What if they come back?”

“They won’t. But we’re going to go to them. There’s something we need to do, but I need volunteers for it. Lots of you.”

She explained what she wanted to do, and this was met with a chorus of jeers and refusals. But then some kid spoke up. He was in a tracksuit, looked like he had ten zits on his face for each of his seventeen years. Full of adrenaline and ego. But she could use that.

“Yeah, fuck it, let’s do it. Fuck those bastards.”

His mother grabbed his arm, but he snatched it away.

Then someone else joined the mix. And another. Anna’s smile grew with each addition to her gang, and soon she was grinning.

But she lost that smile a moment later, when she heard the road of a Jeep.

She ran to the fence and grabbed the bars, watching as the soldiers down at the end of the causeway fussed about. A Jeep exited the trailer of the truck and soldiers clambered aboard, at least eight, all packed in there. The Jeep started to drive up the causeway, fast. She turned her radio back on. It was risky, especially if her brother started speaking to her, but she needed to know what was going on.

There was nothing, but she thought she knew already. They were going after Billy, and he was on his own in the Gilded Sector. He must have done something to warrant her brother calling for back-up. She wished him luck, but there was nothing she could do for him. Not yet. She had to continue with her plan. She would capture the rest of the soldiers and the truck and then wait for the others to return, including her brother. Billy would just have to save himself.

 

 

 

 

69

Lucinda had cleaned the soldier’s wounded leg, then ground up leaves in her mouth and used the wet mush to cover the wound, slowing the bleeding. Then she had torn the soldier’s jacket into strips and bandaged his wound properly. While she worked, he had told her about himself.

His name was Brendan and he was seventeen years old. He was undergoing something called the Common Military Syllabus as part of the Army Reserves when his brother got hired by Pegasus Solutions, a firm in London. His brother was hired because of his electronics degree and brought his little brother along. They moved from Scotland to London, into a flat paid for by his brother. Brendan had always wanted to be in the Army, but had fully trusted that this new job was going to take him places. He spoke at length about his brother, was clearly proud of him. Throughout this part, Dale listened with a tight jaw, because he was an only child who had often missed having a brother or sister around.

Brendan had a glint in his eye when he talked about his brother, but the glint soon vanished when he turned his attention back to his story.

Pegasus Solutions was a freight company. There he met Captain Jacobs, his new boss. Jacobs had been hired as chief of security and had fired the existing security staff, hiring all new men, all of them with some kind of army experience. “The job was simply watching a warehouse in London during the night, but Jacobs ran it like an army unit. I think he set up a couple of burglaries there so the boss would agree to him hiring so many people. I mean, eight or nine of us at a time would be in that warehouse. A place like that would normally have just a couple of guards. We didn’t care. We played cards and stuff, just had fun sitting around. When we weren’t drilling army stuff.”

She finished the wrapping and moved back. Brendan stared at her work and she saw a slight nod. While prodding and analysing his new bandage, he continued with his story:

“He called himself a Captain and he made the rest of us privates and lieutenants and a couple of sergeants. At weekends we went paintballing as part of our training, and once a month travelled to an outdoor shooting range to fire real weapons. He got us uniforms, which we had to wear while patrolling the warehouse at night. We carried pellet guns. He told us he had been some bigshot captain in the Navy, but I guess all that was just macho ego bullshit.”

“Damn right,” Dale said. “How did you go from a warehouse in London with a pellet gun to Australia with real guns?”

Brendan looked up at Lucinda when he answered, barely acknowledging Dale. “Jacobs knew his stuff, you know. He taught us well. You gotta remember that all of us wanted to be soldiers. We were all ex-army. A few times he took us out on missions. We went to troubled estates and put the frighteners on gangs of youths who were messing about on housing estates. It felt good. Then he told us about this mission, and we all thought it was a great idea. You know, we studied maps of the place and stuff, prepared for it like the army would for a real invasion. But no one was supposed to get hurt, not really. I never knew the truth, though, until I just heard what was said on the radio.”

“You overheard that?” Dale said. “How long were you listening?”

“I’ve been here since near the start. When you two came in the woods, I tried to sneak closer. I…”

“You were going to capture us, pretend maybe one of us stabbed you?”

The kid nodded. “But then I heard all that radio stuff. And heard the truth about Jacobs. Lying bastard. But until then we all believed your dad was a bad guy. We were to go in and capture him. It sounded great, and we got a holiday out of it. And we were getting paid good money for it. But I didn’t expect all the shooting and I didn’t expect Jacobs to imprison everyone like he did. That’s not for me. And I didn’t know about the bombs.”

“So what were you told?” Dale said. “What did Jacobs say my dad did?”

“He killed the Captain’s twin brother. Was out drunk driving. This was about eight years ago. The Captain grouped us one day in the warehouse. Got everyone who was off work that day to come in, and we sat around and he got on a box and gave us this speech, like he was a general sending his troops off to war. He loved it. He said he’d been contacted by a businessman whose son your dad had killed in a hit and run a few years back. This guy was going to pay us to bring your dad to justice. Your dad had fled to Australia to avoid capture, but Jacobs had found him. Jacobs said he was giving us this mission because your dad was the same guy who had killed the Captain’s twin brother.”

“That’s bullshit,” Dale said. “My dad got done for drunk driving, but he hit no one. I remember it, even though I was only eight. I was in hospital and he’d been out with his mates at the pub and he was driving to see me. There was no crash or accident or whatever.”

Brendan shrugged. “When I heard I wasn’t sure. How could the same guy hit two people and still be driving, you know? But the Captain was certain, and we believed him. No reason not to. He made us believe that your dad was a two-time killer who would probably do it again if he wasn’t caught. And here he was telling us that the businessman was going to hire us. We would get a big payday and we’d get to be in an army unit again. We’d get a holiday in Australia. We had to pay for the trip ourselves, but it was a one-day job and at the end we’d get twenty thousand pounds each.”

“To do what? What was the plan?”

“The Captain’s plan was to storm in and capture your dad. We’d take him to the clubhouse here and give him a trial. He had it all planned out. Your dad would be in the empty swimming pool and we would be like his jury, stood around the edge, staring down. Jacobs would be leading the trial. Some of us heard that he had a judicial combat trial planned. Some middle ages crap. Him and your dad fighting to the death in that empty pool.”

Brendan saw the look on Dale’s face at this last statement. And the anger in the eyes that hovered just inches from his own as Lucinda continued to fix his leg.

“That was just a rumour. Look, you have to remember that we had no other information on all this,” Brendan continued. “All we knew was what the Captain told us. He was showing us newspaper articles about two hit and runs and then maps of this place and backgrounds on the residents. Made it all seem legit, like we were a real unit about to go on a secret mission, with a real bad guy to take down. He said he had it all planned out. We had hotels pre-booked, we had an escape ready for afterwards, everything. We…” He stopped, unsure what to say, as if he thought he might never qualify his presence here today, or feared his attempt at excusing himself had only inflamed matters.

Lucinda finished wrapping his leg and moved away. Dale crawled closer. They both stared at the boy. He looked concerned. Gave a quick glance at his rifle, right there on the ground just two feet from his hand.

“What happens now?” he said.

Lucinda said, “You said you didn’t know about the bombs. Why not?”

“That was never mentioned. No way. The plan was we go in, round up the people living here, get William Mackenzie, do the trial thing, then get the heck out. No bombs were mentioned. No bloody blowing up houses for some wine company ever got brought up. We knew Jacobs had a box with some real grenades in it and he gave a couple of us fake ones to carry as a threat, but that was it. I swear. The Captain must have planned that part on his own.” His eyes flicked between them, seeking acknowledgment that his claim was believed.

“Give me your radio,” Lucinda said as she reached down and snatched away the rifle. The kid handed the radio over immediately. Lucinda kicked the rifle deeper into the woods, then took the radio and tossed it alongside.

“What are you going to do to me?” Brendan moaned.

Dale started to speak, his face contorted in anger, but Lucinda told him to shut up, even before the second word had left his mouth. She knelt beside Dale and addressed the cowering soldier.

“We’re all going to sit here until this is over. Anna is going to stop the bombs, and then we’ll call the police and get you some help.”

“I don’t want to go to jail. I want to make amends.”

“Should have thought of that before,” Dale snapped. Lucinda gave him a stern look.

“I don’t want to wait with you two,” Brendan said. “I’ll go wait off in the woods. I’ll take that golf cart you stashed.”

“No. Stay where we can see you. That way you can trust us not to give you away and we can trust you. Sound good?”

He thought, then nodded. “Yes, Ma’am,” the boy said. This made Dale smile. His mum being tough. He put his arm around her. Her next look at him was one of surprise.

 

 

 

 

70

The trees ended and the fairway continued for another hundred metres. The climax was a small water hazard curving a C around the final putting green, a last obstacle for the players. Beyond, maybe another hundred metres, and over to the right, was the clubhouse. Billy slowed and stopped the van right at the edge of the trees.

He looked around. He was in open land and should have plenty of warning if Jacobs came at him. The man had called for a Jeep full of men, but there had been no response over the radio, so he didn’t know if one was coming. If it did, well, he couldn’t see the gate, so nobody coming through would see him. If men did come and drive along the golf course, they might decide it was quicker to enter at this end, in which case he would have more of a head start, because they would have to drive to pick up their boss while Billy drove away. If they chose to enter at Hole 1, he would see the vehicle coming in his rear-view and still have a head start. Either way, he had a minute or so in which to think.

“You ready to die, Mackenzie?” his radio squawked.

He thought about the alleyways in the trees. Would a Jeep fit through? If so, they could use one to cut him off. He would wait until he saw the Jeep in his mirrors, hundreds of metres behind him. Then he would shoot forward at a slight angle, giving the impression that he was headed east, so they wouldn’t use one of the alleyways. And once out of sight, he’d double back, race west.

“Not for another fifty years, Jacobs, no,” he replied. “I’m enjoying Elysium Fields too much.”

He thought he’d heard an engine in the background. That was quick. They had taken the Hole 1 entry. Now he focussed on the rear-view mirrors, waiting for a little black dot that would be a Jeep full of men. He stared at two little dots he thought might be Jacobs and Carlos, waiting on the fairway for their ride.

Thirty seconds later he saw it, like an ant crawling along the bottom of his wing mirror. He wanted to wait, let the vehicle get close, make sure Jacobs saw him pull away and head east. But his nerves got to him. The closer he let the soldiers get, the more the risk of being caught.

He turned left, onto the rough, and once over that he was on cut glass-smooth grass again. He briefly wondered who kept all this grass cut off-season. He thumped over rainbow paths, skirted by groovy lampposts, avoided the odd flowerbed and nearby bench. He aimed west. Soon he was passing by the first of the six coastal houses. No soldiers walking about this time. He reached the runway and drove along it just for a smoother ride. The boxes in the back stopped rattling against each other. He stared left, watching the trees and all those little alleyways, waiting for a Jeep to pop out.

A loud noise put his eyes on the wing mirror. Behind, a shape was growing in the sky. A plane, some kind of small jet, just the kind that the rich here might own. It was high, still a way off, but descending, coming at the runway. One of the residents coming to their summer retreat? That was going to cause Jacobs a headache if so. And turn into a bad day for the people on board. He considered calling Anna, but she would have seen the plane and there was nothing either of them could do. Billy had bigger fish to fry at the moment.

He wasn’t sure how to do this. It had been nothing but a smart comment to Jacobs, but now he was thinking hard about water and phones. He was an electrician, but he wasn’t about to go fiddling with bombs, trying to diffuse them. Best to get rid of them. He couldn’t just dump the van or disable it, because Jacobs would simply continue his deliveries on foot. His best bet was to dump them in the water. And not one at a time, standing on the edge and heaving boxes into the sea. The whole van would have to go in. But how? Where?

Far ahead he could see the adventure playground. It was like a little plastic and wooden city, no different from all the others he had seen, except in size. One might have expected slides and roundabouts crafted from gold, but children were enthralled by simple toys no matter how much their parents had in the bank. The playground, though, had a wooden wall, no way in with a van. It would have to be the coast. Between two of the houses. He chose the house at the far end. Simple plan: drive fast towards the edge and leap out. The van would sail off the edge, crash down the slope, smash into the sea and sink. The electronics inside the boxes would fail to work after that. The houses would be saved. Goliath Industries would go elsewhere to build their vineyard.

He saw the Jeep because of a glance out the passenger side window. A dark dot against the grass, coming at him. It was loaded with men.

His pressed his foot on the accelerator. The needle hit eighty before the runway ended.

Too late he realised his mistake. Tarmac to grass at high speed – not a good idea.

The van lurched, swerved, and he hit the brakes, causing a skid. Billy let go of everything except the grip his ass had on the seat. The van came to a stop and stalled and for a second he sat and thanked his lucky stars the soldiers hadn’t witnessed a fireball rolling across the land.

He was staring out the windscreen at the Jeep, bearing down on him.

He started the engine again and gunned it. Spun a half-circle and tore away.

The westernmost coastal house started to fill the windscreen quickly. The Jeep started to fill the wing mirror on his left. He saw Captain Jacobs at the wheel, Carlos next to him, a jumble of men behind them.

Now what, Mackenzie?” his radio squawked.

Billy aimed for a fifty metre gap between the house and the corner of the adventure playground. There was nothing but a grass horizon and the ocean beyond. He kept his speed at fifty, not daring a dive out at any speed greater.

He heard gunfire.

 

 

 

 

 

71

Captain Jacobs had literally yanked the driver out of the seat before the Jeep had even stopped. He was in and jamming the accelerator while the soldier was still rolling on the grass. He got the machine up to its top speed quickly, and was genuinely amazed to see Carlos sitting right next to him, the original passenger also dumped back on the grass. The guy was like a ghost at times, able to get from point A to point B seemingly instantaneously. The man’s casual walk wasn’t lethargy, as some suspected, but more like the saunter of a big cat that knows it can be patient, that no prey is beyond reach.

The six soldiers crammed in the back hung on for dear life as the Jeep shivered and bucked through the gears. Jacobs knew where Mackenzie would be going, if he planned to crash the van into the sea. It had to be the north coast. There was no southern coast in the Gilded Sector, the east coast was too far away and littered with gimmicky obstacles, and access to the west coast was blocked to vehicles by the massive adventure playground and the viewing platforms beyond.

Ahead he had seen the van turn left at the end of the golf course. Jacobs cut through the next alleyway in the trees and exited only a second after the van roared past. The distance between them grew as he was forced to work up his speed again, but soon he was matching it. Mackenzie veered right so he could travel along the runway.

Then the van skidded, slowed, stopped. Jacobs twisted the wheel to the right, and bore down on the van. Mackenzie was good now he wasn’t drunk. He spun the van and shot off, leaving a set of curved grooves in the grass.

He was heading between the playground and the westernmost house, which made Jacobs smile. He had researched this place, and Mackenzie hadn’t.

He saw the brake lights come on as the van reached the edge. The vehicle slewed and went over the slope and vanished. Jacobs slammed on his own brakes. Without anti-lock brakes, the wheels locked up and cut grooves in the mud. The men behind were thrown forward. Someone went over Carlos’s shoulder and the big man shrugged him out of the Jeep with barely a shift of the upper body.

“Get him,” Jacobs yelled. His men piled out and rushed for the slope, and over, and vanished. Jacobs took a page out of Carlos’s book and took a slow stroll, knowing what he was going to see.

The house belonged to Carberry, who had made an adjustment. As Jacobs reached the edge and started the slow walk down the slope, he stared at the van and smiled.

The coastal house at each end had a jetty that ran parallel to the land rather than extending out into the sea. Carberry had erected a wall along the edge of the jetty because he had kids. It was toughened Perspex fortified with iron pilings, too thinly spaced to allow the passage of a van. The van was down there, crashed. Maybe the Perspex had been invisible to Mackenzie, but more than likely, given the brake lights he had seen, Mackenzie had tried to stop but failed. Without the brakes, maybe the van might have broken through and hit the sea, the packages soaked and ruined. But as it was the Perspex had shattered and the speed and weight of the van had knocked one of the pilings into a leaning angle, so much so that the van’s front wheels had cleared the jetty and hung over the water. The front of the van was bent around the piling, a write-off, certainly the engine smashed, undriveable. But Jacobs didn’t care because he still had the coastal houses to deliver to, and here they were.

His men were swarming around the van, guns up, shouting at Mackenzie to come out, hands up, don’t make them blast him. But Jacobs saw the open driver’s door and looked further out, into the sea.

Mackenzie had escaped him again, but he didn’t mind. He had his packages back. Captain Jacobs felt a sense of calm overtake him as he stared out to sea. He had wanted this mission to go as planned, but it hadn’t, and at first that had been bad. Now he thought it was good. Anyone could follow a plan. But it took sharp thinking to overcome obstacles, and that was what he had done. He had proved his worth as a soldier and leader. He had never made the leaps in the Navy that he had hoped, but none of that mattered now. The men whose orders he’d followed were probably still in the Navy, following the orders of others. Even the guy right at the top of the pile, the Field Marshall, had to bow to Parliament, and the guys in Parliament were effectively controlled by the public, so what did all that mean in terms of power? Jacobs had true power now. Back in the Navy he had been nothing but a pawn on a gigantic chessboard. Today he was in ultimate command of his own team, whose missions were dictated by him and him alone. He answered to no one. And he would soon have more money in the bank than all of the men he had once served under put together.

Jacobs shook off his reverie. His eyes had alighted on something out to sea without really seeing, but now they did. He saw and he thought and then he knew where the tide was going to throw Mackenzie.

“Stop.” His men froze, turned, watched their Captain running back to the Jeep. “Get to the lighthouse,” he barked.

 

 

 

72

His mother was asleep, so James Carberry went to see what was happening in the outside world.

They’d heard the commotion outside and both brothers had wanted to investigate, but Mum had said no. At the minute, though, Mum was sleep on dad’s sofa. Pete and James had played a round of Paper/Scissors/Stone to see who got to go, and James lost.

He opened the trapdoor and peeked out, just a forehead wrinkled in curiosity and a pair of wide eyes, like a cartoon troll. The noises had all been outside, and there was no one in the house. There was a big bay window on the side of the house where Mum had all those exotic vases. James was sure he could get there and peek out between two of the vases and not be seen.

Belowground, Pete turned his attention to his dad’s radio. He knew that his dad liked to talk to the other people with houses on the island, only none of them were here today. Dad had told him off many times for sneaking down to use the radio. Mum had told him off. Even James had warned him against using it. But Dad wasn’t here, Mum was asleep and James had gone to see what all the noise was about, see if the zombies had gone.

So Pete went to the radio and turned it on and lifted the talking bit. There were no sounds, just a low hiss from it. He glanced at his mother, asleep on the sofa with her head lolling on her shoulder. He pressed the button that made it so you could talk and quietly spoke. “Anyone there? We need rescuing.” Then he remembered that his dad had always started off by giving his “position.” “Position Apollo,” he said. Then he thought: what if that meant something else? So he described his position another way, and waited. Nothing. But what if nobody out there knew what that meant, either? There were planes and ships and people in other countries. “Island in Australia.” But he’d never heard his dad use that term. He tried to think of another way to describe their position.

He jumped as James came thudding down the stairs. James hit the switch that stopped all the electricity again, plunging the room into darkness, everything except the radio. That had a battery and in the gloom Pete stared at a row of lights that started green and turned red.

“Pete? James?” his mother whispered. She was awake.

They all froze at a noise from above. Someone was in the house.

That someone was Carlos, carrying a box. He crossed the living room and stopped, looking left and right.

“The hatch,” Mum whispered. Over in a corner was a shaft of light on the ceiling. The trapdoor, open. If the zombie above saw it, they were doomed, Pete realised.

Carlos didn’t see it. He didn’t enter the kitchen. They heard a scraping noise as the man above them dragged something. Then they heard his footsteps leaving. They didn’t hear the front door close.

James rushed to the ladder, climbed, grabbed the trapdoor, and shut it with a thud. The room fell into deeper darkness again.

Pete felt the talking bit of the radio snatched from his hand. His mother told him to move away.

“Don’t touch it in case the wrong people hear,” she said. “It’s just for the island and we’re the only ones here apart from the bad men.”

He watched her black shape hit a button, and the row of lights on the radio went off.

 

 

 

 

73

They slipped out of the gate, crawling.

In the end, Anna had managed to convince everyone to help. It was their town, so fight to get it back, she had said.

The plan was simple. A lot of the townsfolk were middle-aged or older, and they wouldn’t be much good as part of the attacking force. So for that Anna picked five: two in their late teens who were pumped up and ready, one middle-aged woman who was angry as hell, and two brothers who ran an auto shop and had thick arms and shaved heads.

The six of them, Led by Anna, crawled out of the gate, slipped immediately left and down the bank where it met the causeway, pushing between shrubs and stone. Once in the water, they swam slowly towards the mainland, single-file, keeping as close to the stone bank of the causeway as possible. Everyone else was in the guardhouse, awaiting a signal. They had already been warned to duck out of sight if they heard a vehicle coming.

It took seven minutes to reach the beach. Leading the way, Anna crawled out and ran across the sand, still hugging the wall of the causeway. Halfway across the sloping beach, the causeway’s height had dropped enough that she had to duck to remain out of sight. It dropped to nothing by the time it reached the road. At the beach’s end there was a wooden fence that held the gateway to the causeway. She waited while the others grouped around her. Everyone was soaked and covered in sand, but no one seemed bothered by this, except the teenage girl, who was picking sand out of her fingernails.

Over the low fence they could see the truck. Thankfully, it had been reversed a little after exiting the gateway, maybe so it could block access. The back doors were open, but the rear end was eight feet to their left. So nobody inside could see them. And there were certainly people inside: their laughter and chat was clearly audible. Soldiers hanging around, waiting, shooting the shit. All of them except the two in the cabin.

“We have to take out about twenty men,” Anna said.

“I can take out nine, my bro eight, but what about the others?” said one of the auto men. Anna thought he certainly looked tough enough to handle himself against more than one opponent, but not guys with guns.

“We need a grenade,” said the male teenager. Anna had learned about this kid during her brother’s research into who might cause him a headache. He’d survived some kind of cancer when he was eight. Eight. She decided he could do with a nice, heroic memory. She pointed at him.

“What’s your name?” She already knew.

“Gary. Mum was a Gary Glitter fan before he got arrested. I tell people it’s Gary Barlow from Take That.”

“Well, Gary, I need your help. This is what we do. Nice and simple. No need for grenades.”

She explained, and he nodded his understanding, and then Anna vaulted the fence and ducked and slipped under the trailer of the truck. She emerged on the other side, and they saw her take up a position by the open rear door on the far side. She signalled Gary, and he slipped over the fence and softly stepped up to the other door. Everyone else held their breath. Most of them had said they should shut and lock the doors quickly, before the soldiers had a chance to react. But Anna had said no. They didn’t want the soldiers on alert. So she nodded at Gary, and together they moved forward, pushing the heavy doors, closing them slowly while keeping out of sight.

“Hey, Donny, the light’s still off,” came a shout from inside.

“I’ll sort it,” Gary said, putting on a deep voice. Anna stiffened, expecting all hell to break loose because she knew Donny, the driver, happened to have a high-pitched voice. But hell didn’t break loose. Some soldier in the trailer wolf whistled. Another one said something like “about time.” And then the doors were shut. Anna locked them and both she and Gary stood there, making sure they were out of sight should the driver check the one remaining wing mirror. Gary gave his friends a thumbs up. As planned, the soldiers hadn’t reacted with shock because they were waiting to drive away, and no truck was going to drive away with the rear doors wide open to display a bunch of soldiers. And the soldiers weren’t going to wait long in the dark.

“Next part,” Anna said.

They slipped down the sides of the truck, fast, and dropped to their knees once alongside the tractor unit. They looked at each other under the chassis. Anna mouthed “Go” and together they stood and leaped up onto the first step. Gary poked his head over the bottom of the open window and blew a raspberry. In the cabin, the driver and the guy in the passenger seat, the electronics expert, jerked their heads his way, shocked. But before they could do anything else, Anna was at the other window. She snaked her arms inside, grabbed the passenger around his neck, and stuffed a small, rusty trowel from a garden shed into his neck, hard. He grunted. The driver swivelled his head the other way and saw her.

“Well, shit, you just get everywhere, don’t you?” he said.

“I’ll be in your nightmares for months if you try anything,” Anna responded. “Lift that rifle by the stock and hand it out the window to my good friend there.”

The rifle was leaning against his leg, barrel on the floor. The driver grabbed the end, lifted it. When he could reach, Gary grabbed the weapon and dropped down and opened the door and stood with a grin, aiming the rifle at the driver. As instructed, he went back as far as the fence, so there was a gap big enough that the driver couldn’t rush him.

“Get down, face on the ground, hands behind your head,” Gary shouted.

Anna would have grinned. She hadn’t told Gary to do the face-down bit: that was all him, a product of watching American cops on TV, probably. But she didn’t grin because Gary’s shout had been a little bit too loud, and it had alerted the soldiers in the trailer. Someone shouted, asking what was going on. Then someone else. Then someone tried the locked doors. And then they were all at it, shouting and banging. Gary looked a bit concerned, but Anna winked at him through the cabin, over the knees of the driver.

As the driver did as instructed, Anna ordered the other guy to open the door and get out.

This, she knew, was where it might get tricky, but she had formulated a plan. And it depended on the passenger trying to escape.

Which he did.

When the door started to swing open, he turned to his right and jabbed his feet forward, pushing hard against the driver’s seat. The door swung open wide and fast, and Anna was supposed to be propelled off, into the road, where the passenger would pounce on her. But Anna let her feet be yanked from the step. And kept her hold on the soldier.

They both hung from the door, connected through the window. The soldier’s legs kicked as the weapon was forced harder into his neck because Anna had to squeeze tighter to keep herself aloft. She squeezed until she thought he was close to passing out, then released her grip. They both dropped to the ground. Anna, expecting the fall exactly when it happened, was able to keep her footing, while the surprised soldier crumpled to his knees. In a flash Anna ducked under the door and grabbed him again, same move, same position. Trowel dug into his throat, she dragged him away from the truck, then tossed the trowel and adjusted her hold into a sleeper choke. Carotid blocked, he went limp in just a few seconds and she laid him neatly on the road.

She grabbed the passenger’s rifle from the cab and rushed around the truck to Gary, who was standing over the driver. By this time the other townspeople had worked out that the soldiers were all incapacitated and had hopped the fence. They stood along the side of the truck, waiting.

“Up,” Anna told Gary. He was thin and agile and scaled the cabin in seconds. He ran along the roof of the trailer with a thunderous racket, which got the soldiers inside even more worked up, and stopped near the end. Level with the causeway, so, as instructed, he could peer along it, through the gates, watching.

If someone shot him through the roof, she was going to be very upset. But no shots came. Anna sent some of the townspeople to watch the driver and passenger, then went round to the back. She saw Gary signal the others, and they emerged quickly from the guardhouse. They started running down the causeway, the fitter breaking ahead, the elder lagging behind.

One of the auto brothers cracked the one of the back doors open a jot, and Anna stuck the barrel of her rifle in.

“All stop moving, right now, or I fire,” she hollered through the gap. Slowly, all movement ceased, although the soldiers fired off questions at her.

“Shut up!” she roared, and it worked. “Ever play pinball? If I fire this weapon inside, the bullet will bounce around for a whole minute. I’ve already worked this out. Six of you will lose your balls, three will lose the left eye, four the right, another six your heads, and everyone else’s day will be on a right downer. So you slide those weapons out, right now. Out through the gap.”

There were footsteps thumping about as the soldiers jostled for position, and one by one the rifles came. A scraping sound as each weapon was shoved along the floor of the trailer, and then a rifle would slip out of the wedge-shaped gap between the floor and the open door. As they clattered to the road, the auto brothers scooped them up and handed them out to the townsfolk. A couple of them held the weapons as if they knew what to do with them.

By now the others were arriving from the causeway.

Anna counted the weapons coming out. The number fell short and she barked another warning through the gap. She heard men arguing inside, then some kind of scuffle. Someone clearly didn’t want to give up his weapon.

“There’s one more, dickheads. I counted. I’ll give you three seconds.“On her count of two, another rifle slid out. The final one, she hoped.

The doors swung wide. Inside, the soldiers, clustered in front of the remaining Jeep, looked confused and scared. Anna smiled at them all, her eyes checking for knives on belts, or items in pockets, and for hands she couldn’t see. There was a lot of all three.

“Empty all your pockets, slide everything this way. Lose the belts and the knives, then get your hands in the air. Everyone. You’re all gonna be pissed off at any guy who doesn’t do exactly what I just said in the next five seconds, you understand?”

Phones, cigarettes and lighters, and other items came cascading out the back of the truck. Some of the townsfolk saw things pilfered from their homes, and started to get angry.

“Out, all of you. Across the road, sit in the grass, cross-legged, hands on heads.” Then to the townsfolk: “Someone bring those other two.”

The soldiers filed out slowly, no man wanting to be first because they didn’t know what would happen. What happened was each man was grabbed by one or two people and led across the road. When they were all on the other side, the townsfolk surrounded them. Anna started to throw all the weapons back inside the truck. She noticed the townsfolk getting rowdy, the soldiers getting scared. There were over twenty soldiers, but there were almost forty of their enemy, and listening to that many people rant and rave at you was surely a bit daunting.

She locked the trailer and decided to go and calm the townsfolk down before the soldiers started getting hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

74

His head broke the surface and he took a breath. The water tore at him a dozen different ways, but it had no strength. He started to swim out, away from the island. At one point his head went under again and he felt water forced into his right ear, and that was when he realised he wasn’t exactly moving forward, more like sideways. A glance back at the coast confirmed this. The water was carrying him northeast as he tried to swim west.

He turned to his right and went with the flow. Already he had travelled at least fifty metres out from the island, and the water was calming. He found he could swim quite easily.

He looked back to the coast, where he’d entered the water. Soldiers surrounded the van. Jacobs was there, too. They moved quickly, like ants crawling over a dead beetle. Billy saw a computer box lifted out and passed hand-to-hand up the slope. Then another. The bombing mission was continuing. But Jacobs wasn’t watching his men work; he was scanning the sea, knowing that Billy had escaped into the water. Billy turned away to focus on where he was being taken by the sea.

A few hundred metres ahead he could see something that invigorated him. No way he could get back to the island, but he could probably reach the finger of rock that jutted out into the sea and which terminated at the lighthouse.

His thoughts turned to Dale and Lucinda as he stroked the water, trying not to fear the distance, or whatever biting animals might be in here with him. Trying not to think about what had happened to Miko in this very water. A slow, steady pace towards the finger of land would serve him well. He avoided thinking about what kind of danger his family might be in. Instead he cast his mind back to the month it had all happened for them. Getting the email confirming they had successfully bid for one of the new homes on an island community that had the provisional name of Elysium Heights. Two days of arranging travel details. Telling his boss he would be leaving. The farewell party Dale had thrown for his friends in a function room at the local pub. A mad rush of events and arrangements, as if they were refugees fleeing a warzone rather than a happy family moving across the world. He, like a lot of people in England, had considered Australia to be like one giant holiday resort, because that image was the most common shown on TV. Sun, sand, fun. Lucinda had been a bit more practical and had scoured the Internet for crime rates and other such negative things, while Dale talked non-stop about his plans for the future and Billy looked into work prospects for a skilled electrician.

His mind calmed. The sea carried him. The finger of land loomed. And there wasn’t a bad guy in sight.

He must have drifted off into some kind of semi-sleep, because the next thing he knew, he was shaking his head to clear it, and water was again tugging at him and splashing over him. He cleared his vision by blinking rapidly and saw he was in a great shadow, and looked up to see the giant lighthouse towering over him. The finger of rock was just metres away. Water churned and raged against its sides.

He started to thrash his legs. His feet hit rock. Before he knew it, he was crawling over rough land that was barely submerged. The land steepened the moment it broke the surface and curved straight up six feet to an old iron railing lining the side of the path atop the finger. Billy clambered up and through the railing and lay on his back, rubbing his face. His ears were blocked with water and he rubbed those, too.

He stared up at the lighthouse. Five feet behind his head, the path bloated into a great circle of concrete ringed by the railing. The lighthouse rose out of the centre, easily five metres across. Big sun-bleached stones with old grey grouting.

He tilted his head further back and saw the door, an old wooden thing with an arched top and a knocker, which he found amusing as he imagined a lighthouse keeper traipsing down two hundred steps just to answer the door. Beside the door was a sign nailed to the wall:

HARRIS ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE, 1960. And below, text barely big enough to read from ten feet away. He thought it was the kind of information sign you got on museum exhibits.

He heard a shout from far away and lifted his head, stared along the finger. He saw soldiers. There were two on the finger, racing towards him single file because of the width of the path, and he saw the movement of others around the grassy slope.

Billy got to his feet, panicking. The lighthouse was his only chance. Nowhere else to go. Trapped. But if the door was locked, he was dead. And if the door was open, then he had nowhere to go but up.

But locked or not, he was soon going to hit a dead end, either down here or sixty metres in the sky.

 

 

 

 

75

The door was open, which he thought was going to add two minutes to his life.

Billy slapped the handle down and hit the door with his shoulder, no momentum lost. If the door had held, he was going to end his days on his back, shoulder busted, grinning soldiers standing above him. But the door flew inwards and he fell into darkness.

There were small windows arranged around the walls, climbing in a spiral like the staircase, and these allowed enough light for him to make his way to the foot of the stairs and start climbing.

The stairs were floating metal, curved around the stone wall, rising sharply. There was no support for the steps except for brackets set into the stone and attached to a metal winder; There was a handrail attached to the wall, but on the exposed side there were no balusters or handrail, although Billy could see holes in the steps where balusters had once been. Each section of stairs curved to the opposite side, where there was a landing, again with no handrail. He looked up and counted five landings, rising like steps for a giant.

As Billy pounded up the stairs, the entire construction seemed to shake and reverberate, sending scary grinding noises off the walls and right back at him. He made good speed, but stayed so close to the wall, and away from the open edge, that he scraped his shoulder constantly against brick. By the time he’d made one revolution and reached the second landing, he started to feel the burn in his legs and chest, and in his raw left shoulder.

Below, the first two soldiers entered. Each tried to beat the other through the single doorway and each caught a frame in the shoulder, which threw off their balance. Both men went sprawling on the dusty stone floor, giving Billy an extra two seconds to put distance between hunted and hunters.

He looked up, figured he was a third of the way up, and fresh hope rose in him. He knew he’d beat them to the lantern room, but what then? Even if there was a lock on the door, he’d only keep them out for a short time. They had guns, they had heavy boots. But his only other choice was to give up, to stop here and sit and let them take him easily, and he wasn’t about to do that.

The final curving flight of stairs was harder, because the screws holding the brackets in place were loose. The stairs bounced beneath each step as if he were running on a trampoline. His pace slowed, his paranoia telling him one misjudged step would send him plummeting over the exposed side.

He was just feet from the top landing when he stumbled and dropped to his knees hard on a metal tread. Below, he heard yelling from the two soldiers, and risked a look down.

One of the soldiers was on the lower landing, opposite side to Billy, but he wasn’t moving. His pal was on the next flight, Billy’s flight, but facing the wall, both hands on the handrail. And Billy saw a clear gap between stairs and landing. They had separated. That was what had thrown him to his knees. And the stairs were steeper now, because that entire section was loose. Above him, he saw the top of the flight had come loose from the top landing, too. Three brackets held that section of stairs in place, and every one of them had moved three inches away from the wall, exposing the screws.

Billy got to his feet, took two steps, and dove. He hit the landing hard. It didn’t move. Secure.

A grinding noise. Billy watched as the stairs sank away from him, swinging like a pendulum, outer winder scraping against stone. The guy on the stairs slipped away, lost his grip on the handrail and fell. He hit the lower flight of stairs and immediately started groaning.

The other soldier stared up at Billy from the landing on the opposite side of the lighthouse. He lifted his gun, but Billy laid flat on his front on the metal landing, hidden. When he peeked over the edge, he saw the soldier looking at the dangling curve of stairs, which hung only by its top bracket, and knew the man was thinking about diving for it. There was not much room for movement from the stairs because they were as wide as the lighthouse. The soldier could easily climb up, taking the stairs like a toddler, feet and hands. Billy flipped onto his back and kicked at the top bracket, which was hanging loose. One simple kick and it was free, and he saw the stairs fall away.

He got to his feet, risked a look down. The curving flight of stairs was actually three parts welded together. An adequate joint to carry the weight of people walking on them. But as the stairs fell and hit the set below, weight and momentum bent those joints to snapping point. Three separate pieces fell. The lowest, the one that actually connected with the flight below, stayed where it was, right in front of the injured soldier. The other two pieces crashed and tumbled and scraped their way down to the ground. The noise was almighty, like thunder.

Then came shouting from below. Billy saw two new soldiers poke their heads inside the doorway and look up, cursing. They knew they had been two seconds from getting crushed.

Billy jerked as he heard a gunshot. Heard the bullet zing off at least three pieces of metal like a pinball and didn’t hang around. The door to the lantern room was wooden, old, and the lock gave up under a single kick. As the soldier on the lower landing asked (screamed at) his friends (“bloody lunatics”) to cease firing (“stop fucking shooting”), Billy went through the doorway and into the lantern room, and dropped to his knees and took what he thought might be his first breath in half a minute.

He was safe, finally. Then he caught himself. Yeah, safe atop a stone tower, in a stone room with no other exit. Home free.

He looked around. A big wraparound window to let out the light from the lantern, which was a great metal thing with a big glass lens in the centre of the room. On the north side, for the spectacular view, was a small telescope on a tripod. There was a stepladder against one wall that led to a wooden gallery running right around the circumference of the room, this situated above the wraparound window. Up there he could see a desk, and some kind of electronics console, and a bookcase, and a modern TV, and even a foldaway single bed like the sort used in hospitals. There was a small window, too, so the lighthouse keeper could sit at his desk and enjoy the view. Billy knew the radio was up there. He hoped it worked. He hoped he could call out for help with it.

He noticed the first problem when he got to the bookcase. The entire top row of books leaned forward, universally neat. Billy plucked at one of the books and the whole thing came away.

It was nothing but a rectangle of cardboard with book spines painted on it. He stepped towards the desk and moved the TV. It was light. Empty plastic.

He realised his error. This was a mock-up, for tourists. See how a guy in a lighthouse used to live. He should have known. They were all automated these days, and ships all had radar and such.

He checked the radio just to be sure, but the result was the same. A fake, a toy, a prop. Dusty and old. He figured that the people who owned houses here had no time for guided tours of lighthouses, so the place had been left to rot for the last couple of years. Or it had been left to rot because no one got round to fixing the old stairs. Either way, the place was dead. He wasn’t going to be able to radio out or signal Batman with the lantern.

But wait. Behind the radio was a section of wall with a metal cover. The cover looked pretty new, but around the edge was a faint mark, a paleness to the surrounding brickwork, as if another cover, a slightly bigger one, had once been in place. The new cover was held in place by screws. Billy cast his eyes around for a screwdriver.

Just then a voice called out, shrill and echoey in the tall tower. It drifted up and though the door, and he recognised it instantly.

He climbed down the stepladder and crawled through the doorway slowly, knowing it might be a trick to get him to show flesh someone could blast at. On his belly, he peered over the edge of the landing, showing only his eyes and forehead. He stared down at the gloomy floor, sixty metres below. There were a number of soldiers staring up at him. The two guys who’d chased him all the way up were heading down, slowly, one limping badly.

Someone on the ground raised a rifle, but before Billy could jerk his head away, the guy next to the soldier slapped the gun aside. Billy recognised the dark face before he acknowledged the different uniform, the thick physique.

Captain Jacobs.

“Why don’t you come down, Mackenzie?” he said, shouted but softly spoken, like a man suggesting a rather good idea.

“I would, but the stairs have gone,” Billy shouted back. Jacobs’s easy attitude irritated him even more than being shot at.

Jacobs lifted his radio. “Shall we save each other a sore throat?”

Billy moved away from the doorway and pulled his radio. The digital readout was fine, so it was waterproof. He saw no reason why he should talk to Jacobs, and then he did. The more they talked, the less the man could talk to others on the radio. And he might learn things that could help him. He flicked to channel 5. It immediately squawked at him.

“ – there yet, Mackenzie? How’s the food and water situation up there?”

He lifted the radio to his lips. “All good, Jacobs. Got some of that long life milk up here, and an old pizza the lighthouse keeper didn’t finish. You must know cold pizza works well for days after.”

We’re going to set up a little buffet down here and wait you out. Don’t come too soon, Mackenzie, not until after cheese and biscuits.”

“I’m good for four days with no water,” Billy shot back. He found a screwdriver against the floor and rushed back to the panel with it. “Save some for the refuse collectors and all the other visitors who’ll come in the next few days, won’t you? You know, when no one turns up for work or answers the phone. My wife, for instance. Should have been at work earlier today. I bet her boss is right at the gates this very second, about to call the cops because there’s no word from her and the island looks empty. Or he’s seen all these men in army gear walking around. Think you can just keep us all here quietly for another day or two, do you?”

He moved back to the landing, just to make sure the soldiers weren’t climbing the walls like spiders. They weren’t. Even in the dim light, Billy could see Jacobs’s face was contorted. Annoyance that Billy had shown he knew these intruders couldn’t keep the island under siege for anything close to four days.

“You said you knew I didn’t kill your brother, Jacobs. So why do you want to kill me still?”

Because you’ve been a pain in the arse, Mackenzie. You, your bitch wife and kid. You’re all going to pay. This whole island is going to pay, and I’m going to collect.”

“You know you can’t get away with this. The police will know it was all deliberate.”

Won’t matter, Mackenzie. The houses will be gone. The island will be tainted. No one will want to rebuild. The rich will get the hell out. And then your time is up and Goliath eats you all alive while I retire to an island just like this one. Which I’ll own. Actually, your time is up in less than an hour. Unless you want to come down now and settle this like men?”

Billy ran back to the panel and started to unscrew it. “And what will you do if the rich do decide to rebuild, Jacobs?”

This place is a white elephant, Mackenzie. It was the wrong idea to build a resort within a resort. I looked into this place. There are fifteen houses here, and guess how many are on the market? Thirteen, Mackenzie. Thirteen owners are trying to sell their houses, and the resale price is through the floor because they don’t own the land. As exclusive enclaves go, this place doesn’t match some of the others out there. It’s all a bit gimmicky. It’s no different to some of those crappy bars we have in England that claim to have an Australian theme just because the landlord serves Fosters and tapes a few trinkets on the wall. Nobody who can afford better lives here. This place is never bustling. Even when the owners are here, they dine in Port Macquarie. There’s no convenience shops. There’s a full-sized golf course six and a half miles from this very spot. And who wants to park half a mile from their house and take a bloody golf cart? Half these houses stay empty all year round, and just take a look right now. Empty. All this land, wasted. There’s no Hollywood A-listers here. Paparazzi would be all over it like flies on shit. House prices have dropped every year since day one. Once these houses have gone up in smoke, everyone will forget about the gated community idea. It’s had its time. You just watch.”

He thought about his family, and that knocked the panel out of his mind. He jammed the screwdriver into his pocket and climbed down the ladder. The telescope on the north side. He picked it up and crossed to the south side of the window and put it down. He had planned to use it to search the island for Dale and Lucinda, but instead he stood there glaring out at something else. Something that gave him a bad feeling. The jet that he’d seen flying had landed on the runway, which he’d expected. But there were no soldiers surrounding it, no rich family with their hands in the air and guns aimed at them. It just sat there, silent, as if it belonged.

Still there, Mackenzie?”

Billy flipped to 408.

“Anna, you there?”

“I’m here. I just kicked some ass, Billy. Now I’m waiting for the others to come to me. I saw six or seven soldiers drive into the island. I imagine that was because you’ve been annoying my brother. What’s happening there? Are you okay?”

“I’m good. I’m in the bloody lighthouse. I’m trapped at the top. Most of the bombs have been delivered. But there’s bad news. A plane just landed.”

“I saw. Is it one of the residents?”

“I’m thinking not. I’m thinking it’s your brother’s ride out of here. If he’s going by plane, then that detonator’s going into the sky with him. You won’t get it. What do we do?” Billy now rushed back to the panel. He was aware that he was all over the place, like a headless chicken.

“Shit. I don’t know.”

Jacobs shouted up the shaft: “Mackenzie, you see this?”

“I’ll talk to you in a moment. It would be great if you could have a brilliant plan by then, Anna,” Billy said into the radio, then put it in his pocket so he could use both hands on the screwdriver.

The panel came free. Billy expected to see wiring for the power inside the lighthouse, of which there seemed to be none. But that wasn’t what he was looking at. He was looking at a large circuit board for some kind of device. Not lights. Not for the electricity. The panel was on the wall behind a table screwed into the brickwork, a table where someone had placed the shell of a radio. He thought he might be staring at the innards of a radio built into the wall. He put his head close. It was gloomy inside the hole. What sort of communications system would a lighthouse have? The system looked more modern than the lighthouse. Not some defunct 60s setup, then. He hadn’t seen any distribution transformers outside, or power lines feeding the lighthouse, so the radio would use a carrier current involving the lighthouse’s existing mains electricity. That meant closed-circuit, low power, for use just on the island. An internal thing, Citizens’ Band radio maybe. A means for the lighthouse to communicate with the buildings on the island, and maybe nearby ships that had the same system. The clubhouse had a similar setup for keeping in touch with the homes here, although that was a phone system.

His hopes dropped. The radio, even if he could fix it, would not have the power to allow him to call anyone on the mainland, and there were no boats within range out there. Even the security company that watched the island was based too far away. And he didn’t have the tools or parts to boost the signal.

Jacobs roared again. He wanted to show Billy something.

Billy rushed to the door. He peered out. There was something by Jacobs’s feet, which he was pointing at. Billy pulled his radio again and returned to 5.

“That a pizza for me, Jacobs? No anchovies, please.”

He saw Jacobs smile as he lifted his radio.

“It’s certainly for you, Mackenzie. Triple cheese, with fire and brimstone.”

The item was one of the computer boxes. One of the bombs, right here in the lighthouse. His mind raced.

Jacobs bent and picked up the box. He moved it against the wall, island-side.

“Right here should topple the lighthouse like a tree, you think?” Jacobs shouted up the tower. “That way you’ll fall right into the island, instead of the sea. You’ll watch the ground race up at you. You like that idea?”

Billy, with just his head showing past the edge of the landing, remained silent. Jacobs shouted again, but Billy ignored him. Got to his feet and ran back to the window. He lifted his radio. 408. Down below he could see the soldiers leaving, walking along the causeway. Leaving. Jacobs could be at the plane in five minutes. He could blow the bombs shortly after that.

“There’s a bomb right under me,” he said. “In the lighthouse. He’s going to blow the lighthouse. So now what?”

Dad? Get out, dad, get down.”

“Stairs have gone. I’m trapped up here.”

Anna was next. “You have to get down. I don’t know if there’s time for me to get in and save you. I’m coming in, but if my brother goes straight to the plane, I might not get to him in time. You’re going to have to save yourself, Billy.

 

 

 

76

Anna corralled the townspeople in the road, made sure they were all okay, and told them to go get help. Get away from the island, don’t come back until it’s safe.

“In a few minutes the police are going to come. Lots of them. Helicopters, fire brigade, the whole works.

“Why, what’s going on?” someone said.

Anna took a breath. She felt she had to tell the truth, in case someone tried to go back into the island.

“The bad guys have planted some bombs. It’s not safe.”

They all started yammering. She raised her voice, called for quiet. Again ordered them to go. Someone else asked about the soldiers

They were sitting on the far side of the road, bound with their own cable ties, all nice and quiet. Some bloodied, all disheartened. Leave them for the police, was Anna’s answer. Slowly the people started to move down the road. But Anna didn’t move. And one of the auto guys remained by her side.

“And what are you going to do?” he asked.

Anna looked towards the island. Elysium? No more. Dale and Lucinda were in there, and Billy wasn’t dead yet. Her brother was still on the ground, so wasn’t free yet. Hadn’t won yet.

She heard a vehicle, turned her head to look. A car was coming towards them, just turning off the main highway. The first of the 9-5ers returning from a hard day at work. The how was your day, honey? routine was going to be a little different today.

“I’m going back inside,” she said.

If she expected handshakes and good luck wishes, she was surprised. A bunch of the townsfolk crowded her, at least fifteen, all carrying guns. In their dirty and torn everyday clothing, with their faces bruised, some bloody, they looked like a motley militia from a war-torn country.

One of the auto guys said, “We’re coming with you.”

The logic in her wanted to refuse, to say this was not their problem. But it was. It might not be their houses under explosive threat, but their lives had been given a violent blow from which they might not recover. They had been forced to become defensive and now their natural reaction, their natural progression, was to become offensive. They had guns and will and she needed the help.

She simply gave the auto guy a nod. She turned and ran along the causeway. And they followed her.

 

 

 

 

77

Lucinda paced, faster and faster. Dale watched her with concern on his face. And fear. She realised she had to comfort him. So she went to him and hugged him hard. Brendan watched this with concern on his face.

“What do we do, mum?”

Lucinda pulled away from him and approached Brendan, but then stopped, staring down at the ground by his legs. Her face fell as she turned her face to the woods.

“You threw the gun away,” Brendan said. She glared at him, angry, but her anger was not directed at him. She dropped to her knees, her back to him, staring at her son, who sat just a couple of metres away with his head in his hands.

“What do we do, mum?”

Brendan watched her just shake her head. He had heard the talk on the radio between Billy Mackenzie and the woman called Anna. He felt their despair.

“There is one thing you could try, but you’d have to find it,” he whispered to her, not wanting her son to hear. He lowered his voice even more when speaking his next eight words.

What he said fired something inside her. She straightened up, said, “Stay here, Dale,” and was up and running. Dale called after her, but she didn’t respond. He called again, then again, and her heart went out to him, a teenager caught up in all this, trying to be strong but faltering. But she couldn’t stop, couldn’t go back. She knew she had to keep going.

She ran along the treeline, then stopped.

A Jeep was racing across the grass, loaded with soldiers. The Captain and his dreadlocked henchman were not amongst them, which confirmed what Billy had said on the radio. Jacobs and the other man were not leaving for the truck. They had a plane to carry them to safety.

The Jeep vanished through the ruined gate and Lucinda counted to ten and followed it.

She peeked around a tree, staring into the southern section. The Jeep was racing towards the gate, the soldiers aboard high-fiving and slapping shoulders, happy as hell about their successful mission.

Then the Jeep turned, a skid, the screech loud. It turned off the north road and went left, into the East Wedge. Lucinda saw why.

A group of people carrying guns had appeared at the gate. They swarmed through, rifles in their hands. Someone fired a shot into the air. They were shouting. Lucinda recognised Anna leading them, then her eyes flicked from face to face and her heart lifted. Her friends and neighbours, fighting back. They filed into the East Wedge, giving chase.

As quickly as everyone had appeared, they vanished beyond her line of sight. She couldn’t see a single person, but she could hear the shouts.

Lucinda ran down the sloping north road so fast her ankles hurt and momentum threatened to topple her. She cut across the grass, headed for house number 2. Her eyes stayed fixed on the house, her mind on her plan, and she got there without incident. No shout from an unseen soldier. No thud of pursuing footsteps. Like a ghost town, only this time with a war-film soundtrack playing in the background.

She went around back of the house and across the yard to the shed. Yanked open the door.

And staggered back as the teeth of a rake jabbed out at her, narrowly missing her face. She fell on her ass in the grass and sat there looking up at the person holding the implement.

“Lucinda, what the hell?” Elaine said.

For a moment Lucinda wanted to laugh. Elaine had been in there all this time, just hiding amongst the garden tools. Waiting it out with the spiders.

Instead Lucinda got to her feet, still feeling the rush of time, the panic. She blurted out a question.

Elaine looked at her, puzzled. “What? Why?”

“Please, there’s no time. Where is it?”

Still puzzled, Elaine was shaking her head. He ears perked up at the faint sounds of shouting. “Get away from here before they find us.”

Lucinda grabbed the rake’s head and yanked, pulling Elaine close enough so she could grab the woman’s shoulders. She held them tightly.

“Where is it? Now!”

Elaine saw the despair in her eyes. She blurted the answer.

A moment later, Lucinda released her, turned and ran. Elaine watched her go, and then her attention turned to the noises in the distance. It sounded like her friends and neighbours were fighting back against the terrorists. She reached out and picked up a garden fork.

 

 

 

 

78

Dale sat alone with the soldier called Brendan, but ignored him. He had his back to the soldier, cradling the radio. His dad had just called, asking if he was okay.

“I’m fine, dad. Are you okay?”

“I am, son. I’m good. You holding up?”

“Better when I get that quad bike. Been thinking I deserve it, after all that’s happened today. And we can afford it with my trust fund.”

Billy laughed. “I know you saw that bank statement, Dale, but that money’s for your future.

“If I have one.”

Don’t talk like that, Dale. You’ll have one, a great one. And your mum and me will be there all the way. You know, that fund is yours when you turn twenty-one, and I’ve just decided I’ll double it. I’ll even buy you a car, right out of my own pocket. By then you won’t care about quad bikes, or motorbikes. You’ll have a lovely girlfriend by then, and you can’t take her to restaurants and stuff on a quad bike. Your own car. No cost to you. How’s that sound?”

In the lighthouse, Billy had his head against the wraparound window. He didn’t want to watch the soldiers leaving. Didn’t want to count down the seconds. Instead he had his eyes raised, looking further. Such a great view from up here. He remembered the times he had sat in Dale’s bedroom, at the back of the house, and enjoyed the view. The view from the house, though, was restricted by the hill carrying the highway that curved around the tip of Port Macquarie. Here, no such problem. He could see right past and beyond, all of Port Macquarie laid out before him. Four years they had been here and he’d hardly seen Port Macquarie at all: far too easy to stay in your little gated world when it had the facilities it did. That would all change once this was all over. Once the soldiers were gone. He would make sure of it. He would take Lucinda to a different restaurant every weekend. He would take Dale to every leisure centre, take him surfing, take him all over. He would do that in celebration of life and all it had to offer.

I love you, too, dad,” Dale said, and Billy became aware that he couldn’t remember anything he’d said to his son in the last few seconds. Things meant to make them feel better. His voice had worked without really having his brain record any of it.

“Dale, put your mum on, please. There’s something I need to say to you both.”

His own words blew shock through him. He realised he was giving up. He was planning to make sure he spoke to his wife and son before he died. One last time. Not the actions of a man who thought he was going to survive. But why was he shocked? He knew there was nothing he could do. He had stuck his hands into the innards of the old radio system and done what he could, but to no avail. He had gotten the power on and connected the stolen hand-held radio to it, but all he’d gotten was white noise, massive static. An old Citizens’ Band radio system, connected to nothing because there was probably no similar system anywhere on the island: the world had moved on to mobile phones and the Internet. He had spoken into the radio, giving his location, asking for help, but of course no help was going to come. There was no help. He was speaking to an empty island, and one that no longer spoke the language anyway.

She’s not here, dad. She ran off to try to help you somehow.”

Billy’s heart lurched. They were supposed to stay together, hidden, stay safe. He dropped his eyes, scanning, but couldn’t see her. He used the telescope, flinging it left and right and up and down. He saw Jacobs near the plane, just him and Carlos. The other soldiers had run ahead and taken the Jeep and vanished. He hoped they had run right into an Anna ambush.

But no Lucinda. Had she gone for a phone, since phones worked in this section of the island? He was thinking of other things she might be attempting when he heard a noise over the radio that he had come to recognise very well over the course of today.

A gun chambering a round.

Don’t move a muscle, Dale,” he heard a voice say. Fainter than Dale’s, as if spoken by someone standing a few metres away from his son.

In the treeline, Dale was staring at Brendan, who had retrieved his gun radio and was on his knees in the undergrowth, aiming that rifle right at him. The soldier lifted his own radio and spoke into it. He gave his location, then added:

“Captain Jacobs, I have Mackenzie’s son. Come and get us.”

 

 

 

79

The driver of the Jeep was too busy shouting at his passengers to watch where he was going.

Those right at the back of the vehicle were trying to fight their way to the front because of the townsfolk behind who aimed guns at the Jeep. Men writhed like eels in a jar, and the vehicle swayed like a ship on high seas. The driver had his head almost fully turned around, mouth open in a shout, when the Jeep struck the side of the long building. Everyone got to the front after that, hard and fast. No one was hurt badly.

They scattered like bomb fragments as the townsfolk bore down on the Jeep. One man was left in the back, trampled; he was hauled out and thrown on the ground and beaten, until stockbroker Alan Jacobs stepped forward to end the assault. Nobody minded: there was other prey.

Dave, the guy who had let Elaine and Lucinda flee Elaine’s house earlier, decided to run for the mini-maze. What his plan was, not even he knew. Crawl in on all fours and hope to get lost? He started running down one of the passageways, his entire upper body visible to the three townsfolk chasing. He weaved his way left and right, getting closer to the centre, while his pursuers scrambled over the low hedges. Dave didn’t get this idea himself until he hit a dead end. He waited too long and was tackled as he stood astride the hedge while trying to step over.

The man with the scarred hands had a different plan. He still had the key to the door of the dentist’s shop in his pocket. Shaky hands stabbed it into the lock and shouldered the door open. He managed to slam it with a satisfying crunch into someone’s head. He staggered back and tripped over the body of Mrs Hannigan. He scrambled into a sitting position and stared down at her, at the work he’d done with the knife on her flesh. The blood was around his feet, all over his ass. And his hands.

Fists pounded the door.

The battering noises meant he didn’t hear the feet shuffling towards him. But he felt the hand grab his hair and yank his head back. And he certainly felt the tip of the periodontal probe enter his eye. The last thing that eye saw was the shiny bald dome of the man he’d beaten earlier.

Two other soldiers had the fabulous idea of jumping into the pool, as if they were being chased by lions rather than people. They swam to the centre and there they stayed. One of the residents aimed his gun, while four others slipped into the water and closed on them.

Mrs Toni made the mistake of chasing a lone soldier alone. He ran up the grassy slope and into the trees and hit the fence hidden within. When he turned around to face his chaser, he saw her, just feet away, alone. The tide turned. He stepped forward and she shakily raised her weapon, but could not fire it. He slapped her, knocking her back, but before she could tumble down the slope he grabbed her arm and yanked, spun, threw her against the fence. The shadows of trees shrouded them.

He pressed up against her and fumbled her breasts. She yelled out, but a violent kiss smothered her cries.

A moment later he unleashed a cry of his own. A wail of shock and pain. He dropped to his knees, then his back as Mrs Toni barged past him.

When he looked up, both hands forced under his ass to stem the blood pumping out of his cheeks, he saw a face he recognised. It stared down at him with a righteous grin. The hands held a garden fork whose tips were stained red.

“Please don’t,” the Cockney moaned.

 

 

 

80

Lucinda ran up the slope that headed into the Gilded Sector. Each step hurt her ankles, reminding her that she and exercise were not close friends. Never needed to be, since her metabolism kept her figure trim despite what or how often she ate. But she certainly wished she’d been more sporty now, because a lithe frame meant nothing if the body wasn’t fit, and her chest was staring to burn already.

What she was doing was foolhardy, she knew. But she had to try, for Billy, who was all alone out there and in harm’s way because he tried to save his son. Well, she was bloody determined that a man like that wasn’t going to die, not today, not while she had energy in her legs.

Lucinda went to the gateway. Then she was through and feeling the cool wind coming across the land. She could see the lighthouse, her destination. The top of it, poking up over the trees on the golf course: that was the bit where Billy was holed up. The light room, or whatever that knobby bit on top was called. Then she saw the houses. Three, five, then just about all of them, poking their top floors above the tall trees around the golf course.

When she had escaped from the clubhouse, she and Dale had travelled along the eastern end of the island, so she was only now getting her first proper look at this half of the island. And her impression was one of loneliness. Three quarters of the year the Gilded Sector was empty, like now. Big, handsome houses, unused, and even at the height of summer, she knew it was never bustling here. The rich came and went by plane or boat, unseen, sometimes staying just days. And when they came, it wasn’t to socialise, it was for peace and quiet. A great big section of island, with only a few people home at any one time. Not such a waste if it all went up in flames, in her opinion. She wasn’t sure some company wanting to build here had the authority to turf out her and her neighbours. Or if they’d want to. Maybe the company would focus on this half and ignore the southern half. Maybe the island would be open to them, all of it. Maybe the treeline would be removed, and she could stop feeling like an intruder or a nobody every time she looked north.

If Billy hadn’t been out there, in danger, she would have sat back and watched the fireworks. But he was. So she ran on, harder and faster than she had ever run before.

She was within metres of the golf course running across her path, too close to the first house for comfort. It seemed to lurk in the trees like some animal, peeking over the tops of the trees at her as if waiting to snare her with its bomb. She veered to the right, meaning to go around, while keeping an eye on the house as if expecting it to strike at her like some giant cobra.

But then she thought of the extra distance she would have to cover and her brain warned her she would be too late. If she was late because she took a detour and Billy died when she could have prevented it…

So Lucinda veered again and headed straight for the trees. There was an alley through them that delivered her onto the fairway. She rushed across the vibrant, low-cut grass, staring at the house as if it were the enemy. Another alley cut through the trees on the far aside, and she didn’t take a breath until she was there, the house out of sight, her soles clattering along a wooden path, loud enough to cover the throb of her racing heart. She exited into a wide area that had nothing but grass and a path running ahead. Far off to her left and right were high walls, the boundaries of the gardens belonging to the houses. As she pounded down the path, she kept her eyes on the exit, willing it, drawing it closer. She passed through, chest burning, and stopped.

She was facing a hill running down towards a lake. On the other side the land rose again like a mirror image. At its top she could see, tiny at this distance, a gateway like the one she stood in.

As she pounded down the hill, she looked around and noticed that she could see the backs of all the other houses poking above the high wall that ringed this crater. They were all around her, encircling her, like predators ready to attack.

 

 

 

 

81

Captain Jacobs exited the golf cart. Carlos remained seated. Jacobs stepped into the trees and stood in front of Dale Mackenzie. Brendan was behind him, starting to get to his feet. He could tell that the soldier was injured.

“The Mackenzie family has to be the most annoying set of people this side of Jupiter,” Jacobs said. He saw the laptop laid out on Dale’s legs. “You thieving little shit. How did you get that? Did you miss school the day they taught that you shouldn’t steal?”

“I was at the class where they taught us not to shoot people. Didn’t see you there.”

Behind Jacobs, Carlos laughed. “Look on the bright side, Captain Jacobs,” he said. “We don’t need to go back to the clubhouse to get the laptop now.”

Jacobs held his hand out for the laptop.

“I changed your account details,” Dale said. “So you’ll get no blood money.”

Jacobs didn’t know whether or not to believe that. He’d soon know if it was true or not. At the minute he was more concerned with the kid’s eyes than his claims. He had seen this look on the kid’s face once before. The lack of fear. A look that said there was a plan in action. When Dale threw a glance past him, to the soldier, it all fell into place for Jacobs.

“You’re supposed to be waiting outside the island for my return,” he said to the soldier. But he didn’t want an explanation. Knew one was not coming. The kid had different business here. Jacobs was just buying time. He turned as his hand went to his pistol, ready to draw. He was aware that he had to keep control of this situation. His other hand waved a finger at Carlos, who was now standing outside the golf cart and six feet closer, as if he’d teleported there. Carlos got the message and sauntered back to his seat. Then Jacobs stared at the young soldier, who was up on his feet and levelling his rifle right at his Captain’s chest.

“Afraid I can’t let you blow up these bombs, Jacobs,” the kid said. He leaned against a tree to ease the pressure on his obviously injured leg. “So instead we’ll go see the police.”

More than his trickery, more than his disobedience, more even than his pulling a weapon on his commanding officer, it was the soldier’s refusal to call him Captain Jacobs that fired anger in the man in grey. He went for his pistol.

Jacobs had always planned to shoot the first person to show him disrespect amongst the townsfolk of Elysium Fields. The first person to disobey him, backchat him, give him a funny look. A matter of honour, of showing the people here who was boss. For weeks he had practiced his draw, aiming low for a leg shot. A hundred tin cans wildly missed and eventually blown apart, a hundred rounds spent. He had perfected that shot and he went for it now, certain he might miss if he tried to aim for any other spot on his enemy. The first real test had been the history teacher, his first shot at a live target. This was a bigger test: shooting at someone who could shoot back if his bullet missed the mark.

He missed.

The bullet hit the kid in his bloody thigh, the wrong leg and ten inches higher. Way off, but at least a hit. The kid dropped to the ground, screaming. That was when Jacobs noticed a rent in the bark of the tree the kid leaned against, a wound that hadn’t been there moments before. That was where his bullet had hit.

He turned. Carlos was holding a pistol and aiming it. “Sorry,” the man said. “Taking too long. Left you the kill shot.” The man put his gun away and sat back.

“You fucking animals,” Dale hissed at him.

He needed outrage it if he was going to kill an injured boy who was now unarmed, and one of his own. He got it by thinking about what the boy had been planning. Ruining his future: taking away his ten million dollars, sending him to prison. Jacobs raised his pistol and approached the downed soldier, who was clutching his ruined leg and staring up at him, teeth gritted in agony. Jacobs wondered what he was going to tell the boy’s brother, who was a much better soldier, and still alive because of it.

“I hope you fucking go to prison forever,” Dale snapped. Then he shifted quickly to his knees and swung the computer like a bat. Carlos was walking towards him, but froze when the screen smashed against a tree and the upper half tore free. “You’re getting no money now, arsehole.”

“If he really has changed the password, this could be a problem,” Carlos said.

Jacobs’s anger ballooned, and took him over the edge. He stood over the soldier and aimed the gun right at his head. Tried to tell himself the little bastard had pulled a gun on him, that Jacobs himself would be dead if the kid had had another second to work with. With no further hesitation, Captain Jacobs fired. Brendan’s heart stopped beating even before his blood sprayed the undergrowth red.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

82

He watched the golf cart racing towards the plane, and knew it was time.

Jacobs had gone past the plane earlier, heading south, and Billy had feared that he was going after Dale, because some soldier had caught him in the woods. That was how it had sounded. He stared through the telescope and saw only two people in the cart. Jacobs and his henchman. They had gone to meet the soldier who apparently had Dale, but something had changed. There was no extra soldier, and no Dale. He had tried to contact Dale a number of times, but gotten no answer.

He rushed to the landing with a stool in one hand. His other held the radio.

“Jacobs. You’ve got away, done it, you win, so why kill me?”

He stood at the edge, lifted the stool, and tossed it out.

Because I don’t really win while you’re alive, Mackenzie. You’ve been too much of a pain in the ass.”

Billy heard all but the “pain in the ass” bit, because that was when the stool hit the lower landing on the other side of the lighthouse with a great clang. The stool bounced, fell off, dropped. The landing shook, vibrating loudly. The brackets holding it to the wall wobbled. Brick dust fell from around the screws in the brackets. He had been thinking about jumping. But he was a lot heavier than a stool. Even if he managed to aim right and not bounce off the small metal landing, it might not hold up against the impact. The metal steps leading up to it looked more secure, but he’d seen one set of stairs fall away already. And at this height, trying to land on steps was risking broken legs.

“I beg you, Jacobs, let me live,” Billy said, the words like acid in his mouth. “You win.” He hoped that by acknowledging Jacobs was in control here, the soldier might not feel the need to prove it.

He switched his radio to another channel.

“Anna, any news? Can you help me? Dale, Lucinda, you there? Fucking anyone?”

Anna came back instantly. “Tell me you’re not still in that lighthouse? I’m too far away, Billy, and he has the detonator in that plane. I can’t do anything. I’ll try to find your family, but you need to get out, quick.

He looked down. The bomb was down there. Escaping would mean moving towards the bomb. He began to wonder if it might be safer to risk staying in a collapsing lighthouse. Better than running past a bomb as it goes off right by his ear.

He went back to the window and put his forehead against it. The golf cart was gone. Then he saw part of it poking out from behind the plane. Jacobs had boarded. He watched, unsure of his feelings, as the jet started to move. The enemy was leaving, which was good, but he was leaving with a successful mission behind him, which was bad. Billy tried to focus on the positive, before remembering that Jacobs now had no reason to delay blowing the bombs. He watched the plane accelerate fast down the runway. His eyes followed it until he saw the front landing gear lift off the ground, and then something else caught his eye, something further south.

A little dot, a pixel, a teardrop, a speck, insignificant, hundreds of metres away. But he realised immediately what he was seeing. A tiny fleck, stumbling its way to him, its mission useless but fuelled by love. Lucinda, coming for him. He felt massive love for her in return, for her futile belief that she could somehow save him. But she had to try: he knew she believed that wholeheartedly, regardless of the threat to herself. His wife, his soul mate, doing all she could. That was what soul mates did: all they could do. For a moment he just watched, throat thick with emotion, but then a realisation hit him. Lucinda was rushing towards the bomb, getting ever closer. Billy could do nothing to stop her, because she didn’t have a radio.

Then he realised there was one thing he could do. Just one way he could make sure that the bomb had no chance to hurt Lucinda. The thought sent a chill up his spine, but he knew it was the only way. All he could do.

Watching the jet climb into the sky, Billy put his radio back on channel 5 and said, “I’m bored now, you sack of shit, Jacobs. I don’t think you’ve got the fucking balls to blow that bomb.”

He had to make sure Jacobs detonated the bomb long before Lucinda got anywhere close.

 

 

 

 

83

Carlos was in a seat and all relaxed, while Jacobs had no calm in him to be able to sit and was kneeling at a window, staring at the lighthouse. That threat had been the very last thing on earth he expected from his enemy. It made him a little suspicious. He lifted his radio.

“Gone stir crazy already, Mackenzie? What are you doing?”

Had Jacobs been able to see Billy standing at the lighthouse’s window, staring down at his soul mate with a tear and a smile, he might have understood the next words he heard:

All I can.”

“Mackenzie, I don’t know your game, but tempt me again and I’ll press this button. See if I don’t.”

Across from both men sat a wiry old man in a suit, who had a laptop open on his lap.

“Who are you talking to?” Edwards said.

Jacobs flicked the volume down on the radio so no one would interrupt the next minute or so. “Just someone who’s about to die.”

“Die?” Edwards said. “Who’s going to die? Is someone left in one of the houses?”

Jacobs looked at him. “And if one of the residents was still at home? You want to abort?”

Edwards looked like a man in a quandary. Eventually he said, “Well…we could…”

“Wait?” Jacobs snapped. “Maybe all go home and come back tomorrow?”

Edwards was silent. Jacobs moved away from the window and sat next to Carlos, both men now staring at the old businessman. Jacobs held up a mobile phone.

“Maybe I should give you this, and that way you can blow the houses whenever you like. But transfer my money right now, because my part is done.” He held out the phone, but Edwards didn’t take it. “As I figured. Now, the man who’s going to die is just someone who should have kept out of my business. Forget about him. He’s no one.”

“He’s not no one, arsehole,” screamed the only other occupant of the plane, not including the pilot. Edwards had not questioned why Jacobs had brought a captive on board. He didn’t dare. He just wanted this thing done and all of them off his plane and gone forever. The boy had travelled in the golf cart, stuffed low, down by the feet of his captors. Now he was in a seat across the aisle, cable ties binding his hands and feet.

“He’s my dad,” Dale Mackenzie added.

Jacobs shrugged at Edwards’s horrified look.

“He’s here because he’s the only one who has the password for the account. And he’s going to give it to me or watch his dad die.”

The horrified look didn’t diminish. Jacobs didn’t want to threaten the old man, because he figured there could be a chance for business in the future. Still, he rested his hand on his pistol as he said, “Transfer the money, and then I’ll blow the houses and you can make your bottle of wine.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

84

Lucinda’s pace had dropped to a quick stroll. Her chest was on fire, and she had that pain in her left side that they called the stitch. She didn’t want to push it in case she dropped in agony, because she would be no help to anyone, then. But she was well aware that such a slow pace could make her too late to save Billy, and that would be worse. Because dropping in agony wasn’t a choice, whereas walking instead of running was.

So she picked up the pace.

As she left the golf course behind, she looked up. Overhead, she saw the jet, circling the lighthouse like a predator. And inside was that big, mean soldier they called the Captain, his finger ready to end Billy’s life with a single press of a button. She hoped it was too high, too far away for the signal to work, but she didn’t believe that. Phone signals could travel the world. If the Captain pressed that button, the order to detonate, to murder her husband and father of her child, would fly up into the sky, right into space, bounce off a satellite and come right back down. It might as well be a lightning bolt aimed right at Billy’s heart.

She passed over the runway and threw another look up, fearful that she would stand out against the pale tarmac, that the man in the plane would spot her and blow the lighthouse. Then she was past and continuing.

She passed between two of the big houses along the north coast. Their silence reminded her how lonely it was out here for three quarters of a year, while the rich owners were away making millions somewhere hot. Probably at another such place, where the golf course would be full of men in designer shoes while their wives dined in glorious restaurants.

She was trying to shift her mind off the task ahead, off the pain all over her body, but when she was past the houses and going down the slope, such a trick became impossible. Ahead of her now was nothing but the Pacific Ocean and a small piece of land sticking a hundred or so metres out into it, at the end of which was the old stone lighthouse. She gazed up at the top, hoping to see Billy up at the window. But all she could see was the sky reflected off the glass.

She got to the walkway. It was a thin finger of rock shaved smooth on top, with a useless little railing along each side.

Overhead, the jet roared by, impossibly loud, just two hundred metres high.

She fell.

She had thrown her head back to watch the jet, still running. She hadn’t noticed that the finger curved to her right slightly. She caught the low fence with her left hip and jerked in shock. Her body twisted sideways over the rail just enough to sweep her legs out from under her. She toppled over, a scream leaving her lips.

She twisted in the air and managed to land feet-first, but it was on uneven rocks a few inches below the water. She felt her ankle twist, heard the crack of bone, and screamed again as her body crumpled with a splash and a thud. Pain went everywhere. The thing she carried, the item she had all this distance so carefully held before her like a waiter bearing a tray, thudded next to her with a cracking sound that forced another cry from her, this time in despair.

 

 

 

 

85

Never before had Billy been glad to see his wife trip and hurt herself, but now he was. When she slammed onto the hard rocks, he clenched his fist and uttered a grunt. Something she had carried landed beside her. He didn’t know what it was, didn’t care. Lucinda was injured and still far enough away that the bomb wouldn’t hurt her. She might feel some kind of heat from the shockwave, but that was all. He hoped.

He turned away from the window and rushed towards the door. This time he was going to make a real effort to try to climb down, even though it meant bringing himself closer to the bomb. That was when he saw a ship.

It was far out, maybe too far. Just a dot, same as Lucinda had been when he realised she was coming towards him. This ship was not coming his way, but it didn’t matter. It only mattered if it was close enough to receive his call.

He went to the panel and connected his radio. Instantly he got a blast of static again. He pressed the transmit button and spoke. He stared through the small window at the ship.

“Hello? I’m in the lighthouse on Harris Island. We’re in trouble. We need the police, the fire brigade, everyone. Can you hear me?”

At first, nothing. Then a voice submerged in static, faint, crackly. “Hello? Are you one of the good guys?

“Are you on that ship?” Billy asked. When he released the transmit button, he caught the end of a sentence, as if the speaker hadn’t released his own talk button: “-near Playworld. There’s zombies after us. Hello? Hello?” Then he thought he heard another voice give some kind of warning, the words unintelligible but the tone sharp.

Then the static increased, drowning the voice. Billy spoke again, but received no reply. He tried again. Only static returned. He cursed.

His mind was in turmoil. Had he imagined that exchange? Had the white noise made his brain think it was hearing words? He looked out at the ship, but saw no course change, no flare of emergency lights. Nothing to indicate anyone aboard had any idea that the shit was kicking the fan on the little island a mile to their south. He leaped the eight feet from floor to floor, ignoring the ladder this time, and rushed back to the south side, to the window, the conversation forgotten.

Lucinda was on her feet, hobbling, using the fence for support. She had climbed back up onto the walkway to continue her mission. Coming this way. The item she’d lost was in her hands again. He wondered what it was.

Billy’s eyes rose slowly, moving west, settling upon the adventure playground. Quickly he put his eye to the telescope and ran the lens across the log wall enclosing the area. And there it was, bolted to the wall. A sign that said: PLAYWORLD.

Near Playworld,” the phantom voice had said. The house, the westernmost house on the coast. Shit, the voice had originated from there. Someone with a working radio had heard him and answered. Maybe someone holed up, hiding, someone who’d been trying to call for help all this time. Someone who didn’t know there was a bomb in their house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

86

With the remaining two conscious soldiers tied up with their own cable ties against a metal bench bolted to a patch of concrete, everyone relaxed. Maybe relaxed wasn’t the word. Some of the townsfolk were spent, like unfit people who’d struggled with a heavy piece of furniture. They sat on the grass or another bench or leaned against trees and closed their eyes. Others went to see how their neighbours were holding up. And there were yet others who still coursed with adrenaline, wanting more, their pressure not yet fully released. Anna sought these individuals out and spoke to them, and most relented before her. A few others she had to restrain from going at the incapacitated soldiers. Especially the young girl called Elaine, who Anna had had to tackle to the floor to stop her impaling a soldier with her garden fork. The two soldiers sat huddled together and feared for their lives, their eyes seeing their fallen and knowing they hadn’t yet escaped that fate. And their eyes looked to Anna to keep them safe. It was Anna, a woman they hadn’t wanted on this mission, who they had mocked behind her back, who had intervened and made sure the townsfolk hadn’t caused them serious damage, and they knew it.

Just when it seemed that everyone had calmed down, that the stress was over, her radio squawked.

“Anna?”

She stepped away from everybody so she could talk. “Billy? What’s happening? The soldiers are all taken care of now. Are you safe?”

“I’m still here, still not blown up. Look, one of the houses isn’t empty. It sounded like some kid on the CB. I got the radio working, and…”

He didn’t realise he was talking to air, her radio stuffed in her pocket, Anna already striding towards the crashed Jeep. She didn’t hear the rest. Didn’t hear the townsfolk. They called after her, unsure what they should do now and needing her guidance, but she ignored all of them. They were the ones already safe.

She pushed the Jeep to its top speed. Up the north road and into the Gilded Sector. A direct line north, across the golf course, towards the coast and the house called Apollo.

The first warning was a serious rattling from the engine, which she ignored. Next the machine shivered violently and the steering got light. Too light. As she tore through one of the alleyways in the evergreens around the golf course, she felt a snap jolt the steering column. The Jeep burst out of the other side and aimed at the alleyway on the far side of the fairway. But slightly off. She tried to correct, but there was nothing there. The wheel spun like the helm of a ship, yet the Jeep continued dead ahead. She braced, knowing it was going to be tight. It was too tight. As the Jeep entered the far alley, the farside wheels caught the plastic wall and the vehicle stuck fast.

Anna cursed. She was still hundreds of metres out, much too far a distance to make in the timeframe she had.

She leaped out of the vehicle and sprinted back onto the fairway, tossing her head left and right, seeking a golf cart. She didn’t see one. The effort was pointless anyway, because she knew she could cover a quarter of a mile faster than one of those machines.

Then she spotted something lying in the grass, maybe two hundred metres away, and her hopes rose again.

 

 

 

 

87

“Say it again, Mackenzie, and I’ll press this button. One press, and your world ends.”

Billy held the radio to his face but didn’t speak. He didn’t know what to do. Below him, Lucinda was slowly coming towards him, towards the bomb. He willed her to fall again, to be swept off her feet by a giant wave. Something. But on she came.

“Beg, Mackenzie. Beg for your life and I might just give it to you.”

Injured, hobbling, using the fence for support. But on she came, ceaseless, closing the distance. Doing all she could.

He wanted to scream at Jacobs again. Detonate, detonate, you bastard. But each time he thought the words, his eyes drifted west, to the house called Apollo, where there were people hiding.

He called Lucinda’s name through the glass, but of course she didn’t hear. He slammed his fist into it, but that sound was ripped away by the wind long before it got anywhere, too.

“Anna, where are you? What are you doing?” he yelled into his radio. There was no answer.

Beg for your life or I blow it all up,” Jacobs said.

Billy put his head on the glass, feeling lost. He didn’t even figure his own safety into it. If he antagonised Jacobs any further, the man would blow the bombs and Lucinda would watch the lighthouse topple, watch her husband die, but she would be safe. And the people in the house would die. If he did nothing, if he begged to live, he might delay the detonation long enough for Anna to rescue the people in the house, if indeed she was coming. But Lucinda would continue her journey and reach the lighthouse, and then she would die right alongside him.

Last chance, Mackenzie. I want to hear you beg, and I’ll give you two minutes to say your goodbyes. Otherwise I press this button right now.”

“I’m not picking one, Jacobs. Fuck you.”

Low chuckling. “That sounds like a choice to me, Mackenzie.”

 

 

 

 

88

The dirt bike was restricted to sixty-five, and Anna reached that speed in just four seconds. She bent low over the handlebars, for stability on the grass rather than slipperiness through the air. She was leaning right, curving an arc around Hole 5, eyes left, seeking one of the alleyways in the northern run of trees, and there it was. A dab of brakes, a flick left with the handlebars. The bike bounced as it hit the wooden path, but she kept it steady on landing. The archway that enveloped here was there and gone in a quarter of a second, and then the rest of the island was splayed before her. Another dab left aimed her right at the house on the far left of the six arranged along the coast.

Her radio was on channel 5. She heard her brother -

– “This is real power, Mackenzie, life and death at the touch of a button”-

- and Billy -

– “You’ll be found out, Jacobs, no way you stay out of jail for this”-

- and resisted the urge to join the conversation. In fact, she turned the volume down so the voices wouldn’t distract her. The throttle was as far back as it would go, the bike’s engine screaming far more than it should for such a low speed. Every time she looked at the house, it seemed to barely inch towards her, taking forever. It was only when the runway flicked by under the wheels that she realised her speed was pretty high. She glanced at the lighthouse, and then up at the plane, and when she faced forward again, she had to jam her foot on the rear-brake.

The houses had no fences, no front gardens. The grass went right up to the walls, to the porch that she aimed at. The wide front door was open, as if inviting her in. Not wishing to disappoint, Anna steered the bike over the threshold and killed the engine so she could hear if someone was inside.

She coasted down a wide, short hallway with two closed doors in the walls. At the end was no door. She rolled, standing, into a large living room. There was a spiral staircase on each side, and glass doors that led into other rooms. Ahead, at the far end, twenty metres away, was another doorless arch and a long, thin kitchen beyond. She could see right through both rooms and to a set of French doors at the far end. And through them the garden and the ocean.

The computer tower was on a coffee table in the centre of the living room, the box that had carried it cast aside nearby. Right then if there was a single doubt in her mind, even a tatter hanging by a thread, it vanished. The coffee table didn’t belong right in the centre of the room like that. The computer was far from any wall, trailed no wires. It sat stark and obvious in the room, glorified for the element of destruction that it clearly was.

She stopped the bike. Right next to the bomb. Being a few feet away wasn’t going to matter if it went off. The house was silent. Had she expected the bomb to be ticking?

“Anyone here?” she shouted.

She heard a click from ahead, in the kitchen. Her eyes were drawn to a rug folded over, exposing a trapdoor. She rushed to it, but the trapdoor was locked. From the inside. She must have heard the catch being rammed home. Had her appearance strengthened their determination to stay hidden? Might they have fled the house if she hadn’t turned up? Was everyone going to die because of her?

She banged on it. “Are you in there?” she called through. “You’re in danger.”

No answer. She backed off and pulled her radio, switched up the volume. Her plan had been to call to her brother and beg him to stop this, tell him about the family in the cellar and hope his bloated megalomania hadn’t eaten away the last of his compassion. Maybe there was still time to appeal to him. But as she turned the volume up, she caught Dale’s voice -

“Dad, get out, he’s going to do it!”

- and knew it was too late. Too late for anything.

 

 

 

89

He heard her shout his name. The noise bounced up the shaft and through the door, pulling Billy towards the entrance. He knelt on the landing and stared down, hoping he had imagined that noise, praying that he would look down and see nothing but the dusty floor and that bomb. But there she was, on her knees by the doorway, just feet from the computer. Drenched in sweat, face contorted in pain, but with the ghost of a grin.

“Lucinda, run away, now,” he called down.

She shook her head, opened her mouth to say something. But it wasn’t her voice he heard. His radio squawked -

“Dad, get out, he’s going to do it!”

- and he knew it was too late. Too late for anything.

 

 

 

90

Captain Jacobs turned away, faced the window. He raised the phone.

“Leave my dad alone,” Dale yelled, and launched himself out of the seat. Carlos put out a hand to grab him, like a guy reaching for a drink, but missed. Jacobs turned and stepped back at the same time, and the boy crashed into nothing but a seat.

He slotted his radio away. As Dale was struggling to get to his feet, Jacobs slid an arm around his neck.

Jacobs raised the phone up in front of the boy’s face, using the arm around his neck so his other hand was free.

His free hand grabbed Dale’s bound hands, forced the fingers of one into a fist with the index finger extended.

“No,” Dale said, his voice weak.

“Every kid’s wanted to kill his dad at some point,” Jacobs said. He turned to see his audience. Carlos had a grin on his face, but Edwards retained that horrified expression. Sod the guy. He chose to mix with people like this.

“Radio, Carlos.”

Carlos rose. He held his own radio to Jacobs’s face and pressed the transmit button.

“This is what you get for all the chores and naughty steps and low pocket money, Mackenzie?”

“Dad, get out, he’s going to do it!” Dale shouted, as Captain Jacobs forced his finger into the phone’s redial button.

 

 

 

 

91

Anna heard the phone start to ring. She rushed to the bomb and snatched it up. No time to turn the bike around. No other choice. She hopped onto the bike and set the computer tower on the petrol tank, lodged between her arms. The bike shot forward, through the kitchen. The French doors were closed, maybe locked, but there was no time to open them.

The phone rang once, twice, three times. She ducked her head as the front wheel smashed the glass, felt a sharp slicing pain in her right shoulder. She looked up and saw the garden ahead of her, thirty metres long, clear, plain. So short, and yet so long.

She heard the whir of the computer’s fan starting up.

The next thing she heard was the explosion.

 

 

 

 

92

Billy heard his son’s voice over the radio and his shoulders sank. He had thought Dale was safe in the trees, far from any bombs and far from Captain Jacobs. He was wrong. And then all the tension of the moment slipped away, because there was no more hope to be had. It was over. He stared down at Lucinda’s face and wanted to shout that he loved her.

He didn’t get the chance.

 

 

 

93

Captain Jacobs threw the boy aside and pushed his nose to the window. He stared down. The plane was out over sea, but turning again, coming back. First the west coast slipped into view, growing in the window. The plane continued to bank. The island continued to scroll past. He held his breath. He’d heard the explosions, but had it worked?

At first he thought it hadn’t. The first house that slipped into view was still there. The end of the garden hanging over the sea was a tangled mess of concrete and metal, but the house itself was intact. One of the bombs, it seemed, had failed to explode. Then he stared at the garden again and reassessed that thought. The garden was ruined, as if…

“Holy shit,” he said as the next house slid into view. It was aflame, all ruined and wide at the bottom like a dropped bag that had burst, and almost obscured by the thick black smoke billowing upwards from it. As the shimmering form of the third house moved into view beyond a great cloud of rising smoke, he saw the second one list to one side as the foundations faltered. The roof collapsed like a sinkhole.

Then the plane was facing fully west, and the entire island was displayed for him. As well as the burning houses on the coast, he saw numerous dots of flame and columns of rising smoke from the trees encircling the golf course. The houses had gone up and the flames had jumped into the trees, and nine separate fires were expanding, spreading out, and soon they would converge and a giant ring of flame a kilometre across would burn in the centre of the island. He smacked the window in triumph. Apart from one glitch, easily rectified, it had worked.

The smoke, though, was rising high and blowing north and a second later it enshrouded the plane, cutting all visibility. But just before the wall of wispy blackness washed over the jet, he saw something that sank his heart.

The lighthouse, rising up out of the swirling tendrils of smoke. Untouched, somehow.

He raised his fist to smack the window, this time in anger, then stopped. Up front Carlos was whooping like a kid watching a fireworks show, more emotion than the guy had ever shown in his life. Edwards was at a window, his jaw almost on his chest. Mackenzie’s son was curled up on a seat, unwilling to look out the window. Jacobs calmed himself. It didn’t matter that Mackenzie was alive: the man had suffered enough. He wouldn’t ever forget the name Captain Jacobs, and that was good enough.

He called for Carlos and both men sat before Mr. Edwards, just like before.

“As you see, my part is done.”

Mr Edwards was smiling. He turned the laptop so both men could see it, his finger tapping a portion of the screen. “So is mine, Captain Jacobs. So is mine.”

Both men leaned forward to see. They saw a line detailing a payment of $10,000,000 out of Edwards’s account. Carlos got up and went towards Dale. Jacobs remained in his seat and took the laptop from Mr Edwards.

“I hope you don’t mind if I check the arrival at the other end?”

Mr Edwards seemed not to. Clearly he hadn’t noticed that one of the houses was still standing. Not Jacobs’s problem.

Dale, his face streaked with tears, was slammed into the seat next to Mr. Edwards, who tried to lean away from the grubby boy. Dale’s eyes were glassy, as if he were dazed. Carlos sat again. He took the laptop and started typing.

“Your dad’s not dead,” Jacobs said. “I spared him. If you want to ever see him again, you better tell me the password for the account.”

Dale put his face to the window. They saw him smile as he saw the state of the lighthouse – erect and tall and very much not destroyed. Jacobs reached over and yanked him away from the window and back into his seat.

“I don’t know it,” Dale said. Jacobs started to lean forward, angry, when Carlos put a hand on his forearm.

“He doesn’t know it because it hasn’t changed.”

Jacobs stared at the screen. Carlos was logged in. And there it was: a payment beyond his wildest dreams. He started to laugh.

“I tried, but it wasn’t that easy,” Dale said. “Bloody foreign banking security.”

Jacobs laughed again. “You’re okay, kid.”

“So what happens to me now?”

Carlos and Jacobs looked at each other. Edwards watched them both.

Jacobs pulled his radio. He spoke into it for a few moments, then slotted it away. He saw the horror on Edwards’ face and laughed.

 

 

 

 

94

Billy finally let go of the landing.

He had grabbed it when he heard the thunderous explosions from seemingly right outside. A brick or piece of wood thrown by the blast had struck the one of the small windows in the shaft and smashed it. He had expected the floor to tilt as the lighthouse toppled, and had grabbed onto the metal railing for dear life. But the floor hadn’t tilted. The lighthouse hadn’t toppled.

BILLY!”

He peered down and knew he wasn’t dreaming. Sixty metres below, just inside the doorway, there she still was. Lucinda. No dream then. Everything was fine down there. No smoke, no fire, no damage. He could see the little computer box housing the bomb, sitting there inertly right where Jacobs had left it. It seemed that that bomb had been the only one not to detonate. But why?

As if reading his thoughts, Lucinda said, “It worked, Billy. They hid one in the cinema. I figured if the bombs are blown up by phone, it must call another phone in the bombs.”

That made no sense, but maybe he was still in shock at being, well, alive. “What are you talking about?”

“I got one of the phone jammers, so the bomb didn’t work. It didn’t blow up. Everything else blew up.”

He ran now to the window and stared out.

Thick smoke was rising all around, mostly obscuring the view. But there were patches through which he could see the carnage below. The houses along the north coast were all aflame. Roofs were sunken, windows were blown out, and portions of stonework had fallen away. Flames licked through every hole in the ground floor of each house and some of the upper floors. Some kind of incendiary aspect to the explosives, then. The houses were stone and had survived the blasts to a degree, but he wondered about the foundations. Certainly some of the houses didn’t look steady. He didn’t know if they were beyond repair, but for sure vast surgery would be needed to correct them.

Except the westernmost house. He couldn’t believe it. It was still standing, looked untouched. Anna had done it.

He looked further and saw a number of dots of flame through the smoke. The other houses, the ones arranged around the golf course. They formed a kind of fiery dot-to-dot. But beyond the treeline everything was fine. As Dale had suspected, it was only the houses in the Gilded Sector that the soldiers had been targeting.

There was a passing roar from outside. The jet, whizzing by again. Just after it passed, his radio squawked. It was Captain Jacobs, of course.

Dodged another bullet, Mackenzie, I see. You probably figured I’ve got your kid. How many pieces do you want him in? Here’s the deal. You blew those houses up. Of course, you can’t explain how you got the bombs, or how you got a team of soldiers on board, but you can say you did it and keep quiet after that. What else will the authorities have to go on, eh? So, I see on the news tonight that a local man admitted arranging blow all those houses all up, I’ll let your kid out somewhere in Australia and he can walk home or you can collect him. Nice and safe. I’ll keep him till then. I don’t see that, you don’t see him again.”

Then silence.

“Lucinda,” he called down. “Don’t argue. Get away from the lighthouse and hide. Fast as you can. Go hide somewhere.”

He didn’t wait for a reply. He ran to the window and stared out. The plane was out there, banking, but not for another pass. He watched it straighten out and fire a direct line west, then smoke swirled in front of his vision and the jet was gone. Heading away. Jacobs was leaving. With Dale.

Below, something caught his eye through the smoke swirling all around. Lucinda, hopping along the walkway, using the fence for support and keeping her injured foot aloft. Something in his voice had spurred her to follow his instructions, he thought. Or she knew what lay in his heart right now, like a good soul mate. Either way, she was going, and that was good.

Because this wasn’t over yet. Lucinda still believed Dale was safe where she had left him, but Billy knew better.

 

 

 

 

95

Captain Jacobs was reclining in his seat with a cold beer out of Mr. Edwards’ on-board fridge headed towards him in Carlos’s hand, when he heard his radio go.

The answer’s no, Jacobs. You’re going to prison,” he heard Billy Mackenzie say. Carlos stopped before him and held out the bottle. Jacobs’s hand was about to grab it, just inches away, when the next utterance stopped him. “Because I beat you.”

Hand frozen in the air, Jacobs’s eyes widened.

The police will be here, soon, and I’m going to tell them everything. Your name, where you’re from, and just how fucking ugly you are. And your plan, which won’t work, by the way, because one of the houses didn’t fall down. You fucked it all up, Jacobs.”

His hand slowly lowered into his lap. He had a look of concentration on his face, although he didn’t look at the radio. He was looking at Edwards, who had heard that last part and was at the window, trying to see for himself if there was a single house remaining.

I’m just a lowly electrician, no experience, and you had the drop on us. You had men and guns. But you couldn’t even do that right, could you?

Carlos put the bottle of beer on Jacobs’s armrest and went back to his own seat, saying, “Man’s trapped in a lighthouse, dunt know where his wife is, kid’s been kidnapped, and he thinks he won? Ha!”

You’re getting no chance to spend that money, Jacobs. And all because a simple electrician beat you. You fucked it all up, Jacobs. You failed to blow all the houses, you’re going to prison forever, and you even failed to kill the guy who killed your brother. Ever done anything right in your life, Jacobs?”

Captain Jacobs swept his arm and knocked the bottle right across the aisle and into the far wall. He snatched up his radio.

“Mackenzie, didn’t you hear what I just said about your son? You want me to kill him right now?” He jumped up, ran to where Dale was cowering in a seat, and aimed his pistol right at him. Chambered a round for the radio. “You want me to blow his skull apart right now, live on air, you piece of shit?”

No answer. Jacobs yelled the same last question, but got the same response.

“One of the houses hasn’t been destroyed,” Edwards said, staring at him. “You have to get down there. You have to go and do it.”

Carlos was relaxing in a seat. He laughed. “Sure. We’ll land right on a new runway of police car roofs.”

Jacobs slapped Dale hard across the face and started pacing. He put his radio and gun away. Dale shied away from the big man each time he passed the seat Dale was curled in.

“Captain Jacobs, you have to go back down,” Edwards yelled.

“Be quiet,” Carlos told him. “The foundations will fail, the house will fall. Give it time. The police will be coming, so if we land again, we all get caught. Just relax.”

Jacobs was still pacing. He pulled his radio, put it to his face, then lowered it. Up and down again, wanting to speak, unable to think what to say. Back and forth he went, just as he had in the security room when building the nerve to shoot Mackenzie dead. Now he was considering a course of action not entirely different, and Carlos could see this on his friend’s face. And it bothered him.

“Carter, don’t rise to it. Just words, and words never hurt anyone. Sit down and think about beaches and women. Mackenzie will tell the cops what we want, when everything’s calmed down and he thinks straight. You two are just angry cats peacocking at the minute. Calm down.”

But Jacobs wasn’t calm. He paced and ground his teeth, a boiler over-pressurised, ready to blow.

“Kill the kid and we win, Carter. How can Mackenzie ever think he beat you if you murdered his son?”

Jacobs continued to pace up and down the aisle, faster now.

Carlos seemed to float out of his seat, right into the other man’s path.

“You can’t go back for Mackenzie.”

 

 

 

 

96

The jet stopped, this time facing east along the runway, so Billy was able to see the door come down. Jacobs was out first, with his henchman close behind. Jacobs pointed, his finger moving slowly, tracking something. The telescope followed, and through the smoke Billy’s eyes lit on Lucinda, who had just climbed the slope at the end of the walkway and was heading to one of the burning houses. Her pace had slowed considerably. He knew it was her good leg getting fatigued. She climbed the fence and dropped into the back garden, but by then Jacobs’s henchman was rushing towards her. She had been spotted.

Billy cursed.

He looked back at Jacobs, filling the telescope with his big form. The man had a pistol in one hand and a rifle slung over his shoulder. A man meaning business. Jacobs couldn’t see Billy from that distance, and doubly so because the window would be reflecting the outside light. But the soldier stared up anyway, if only to give the impression he was watching his enemy. Billy watched him put his radio to his lips.

You were free and clear, Mackenzie. You could have left it. But you made a choice, and now it’s going to bite you in the ass.”

Billy knew he had to get Jacobs away from that plane, but even then it might still all rely on Anna, wherever she was. He hoped she had seen the plane land again. He hoped she was running towards it. He hoped she could free Dale.

He hoped she was alive to be able to do all of that.

He pressed the transmit button. “You were free and clear, Jacobs. We’ll see who made the mistake, soon as you get here. Cops will be on their way, so we don’t have long. Hurry up now.”

“Be there shortly.”

Jacobs tossed away his radio, then lifted his rifle and aimed at the lantern room. Billy ducked low, but needn’t have bothered. Jacobs gave a laugh, and tossed his rifle aside, too. Then he showed Billy his pistol, before launching that away. A man saying he didn’t need these things. He plucked a large knife from a sheath on his thigh and held it up as if to say, This is all I need.

He was fast. He bolted across the grass and between the two houses, where his henchman was in the back garden, moving towards the back door, from which smoke emerged. Lucinda wasn’t there. Billy figured she must have gone inside, and fear enveloped him. He didn’t want her to die in a fire.

Then he focussed on Jacobs again as the big man bolted down the walkway. When he vanished from view below the window, Billy ran to the door and crawled out onto the metal landing, staring down. Just seconds later, Jacobs appeared.

The soldier walked in with his eyes down, looking at the bomb as if fearing it. Then he looked up. He showed Billy the knife again. Said nothing.

He started to climb. Big, thunderous steps on the metal stairs. They shook and vibrated and brick dust rained down from loose screws, but Jacobs didn’t seem to care, or care about the lack of a handrail on the exposed side of the stairs. Up and round, and in no time he was on the lower landing, across from Billy, just five metres below. The last time Billy had seen Jacobs this close, it had been in the control room, where Jacobs looked like a professional soldier, not the sweaty madman that he appeared as now. The landing was loose, but it held. The brackets were hanging an inch away from the wall under Jacobs’s weight, the landing angled downwards slightly. Each step he took made the whole thing waver up and down, but the Captain didn’t seem bothered.

“You survived guns and bombs so far, Mackenzie. But good old-fashioned sharp metal will be your end.”

Billy was very scared. His plan was starting to seem like a bad idea. He should have let Jacobs escape and waited for rescue by the emergency services. He should have agreed to Jacobs’s plan and hoped to get Dale back later. But back then it had seemed like a good idea, because Jacobs was in the sky in a plane, headed for a beach somewhere and dragging Dale away from Billy. Righteous anger had fuelled Billy’s decision. Right now it was a bad idea, because the killer soldier was just metres away. Five minutes from now Jacobs could be back on that plane, still holding Dale captive, and he and Lucinda could be dead.

The only thing between Billy and that knife was an open space where part of a spiral staircase had once been. But a few seconds later he knew not even that was going to save him.

Jacobs put away his knife and grabbed the handrail. He swung his legs off the landing and onto the wall, and that was how he continued his upward journey, hand over hand, foot over foot, moving as swiftly as he would have with the stairs present.

 

 

 

 

97

Lucinda hopped towards the big glass doors. They were wide open and she stumbled in and closed them, and ducked behind a curtain so she could peer out. She dropped to her knees, just to give her aching good leg a rest. She had thought the guy running across the grass had seen her, but couldn’t be sure.

Although she didn’t see him, she knew she couldn’t just wait here. So she struggled to her feet and hopped across a sun room laden with plush rattan sofas, stepped over an ottoman using her knee, and headed for the doors at the other end. As she burst through, she heard the doors behind her slide open, and a voice say, “Hello, sweetie.”

She found herself in a corridor filled with smoke, thick and black. It was pouring through a door to her right that had been torn to shreds by the explosion. The wall on the far side of the doorway bulged outwards, with plaster missing and loose bricks showing.

She moved left, using her hands on the wall, which gave her a fragment of extra speed. Past other doors, all the way to a spiral staircase at the end.

“Here I come, sweetie,” said the voice.

She didn’t look back. She climbed the staircase fast, round, up, and found herself in a kind of porch at the top. There was a blank wooden door in front of her, but smoke was seeping through from underneath, and she turned her attention to a set of French doors on her left. They led outside.

“Nearly with you, sweetie.”

The noise of footsteps banging on the metal steps spurned her onward. She threw open the French doors and rushed out onto a balcony. Now her good leg felt as bad as the injured one, and she had no choice but to try walking on both feet. Each step on her broken ankle sent a wave of pain up her entire leg and torso, but she bit down against it. Smoke rose up all around. The balcony turned a corner to the right within three feet of the doors, and travelled the length of the front of the house.

She got ten feet along before noticing a great hole.

Maybe directly above where the bomb had detonated, she thought. A portion of the balcony was missing, and the front of the house in that fifteen feet-wide section, floor to roof, was missing, exposing the interior, as if removed by a giant apple corer. Crackling flames on the ground floor poked up through the hole in the balcony, throwing dense smoke into the sky. Lucinda stopped short of the edge, already feeling the heat, the warmth drying her eyes, the noise of hungry flames assaulting her ears.

“Here I am, sweetie.”

She spun, putting her back to the edge of the balcony, to the flames that created an impenetrable wall.

Before her was the soldier with the blonde dreadlocks, five feet away, just stood there, no rush in him because he knew he had his prey trapped.

 

 

 

 

98

Billy had hoped Jacobs would be thwarted by the gap, but he had prepared himself. Around the edge of the landing were items. Now he plucked up a small, unopened tester paint tin he’d found, one of four, and launched it. The shot was good, but useless. The metal tin bounced off Jacobs’s ass and he barely noticed. Billy got three more shots off, none of which achieved anything, and then Jacobs was right in front of him, just feet to go. Jacobs took a hand off the rail to pluck his knife, in case Billy tried kicking him. Billy saw the knife and put kicking out of his mind. He backed off into the lantern room as Jacobs climbed up onto the landing. Jacobs took a step forward and filled the doorway. He was grinning. He was just three metres away. He raised his knife.

“You know, Mackenzie, majority opinion was right about one thing. My men. Half of them are complete clowns. They never should have been soldiers. But they have arms and legs and I needed that. But now I don’t need them, do I? I don’t need anything other than this piece of metal and the muscles in this arm, do I?”

Billy dropped to his knees. “Please don’t kill me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

It took Jacobs half a second to stride across the room and grab Billy by the hair and yank him up and put his knife into Billy’s throat, aimed upwards. Pressed it in hard enough to draw a drop of blood that ran down the side of the blade, leaving a long red line.

“Please don’t throw me off,” he pleaded. “Anything but that. Cut my throat. But please, I’m sorry, don’t throw me off the edge.”

Jacobs laughed. “You really should watch what you say, Mackenzie.” Jacobs slid his knife back into its sheath. “You just made another bad choice without knowing it. Now let’s see about that hundred miles an hour thing.”

He took a step back, and yanked Billy past him and pushed him hard in the back, like a wrestler launching an opponent across the ring. Billy couldn’t stop himself: he flew through the doorway and off the edge of the landing, and gravity took him from there.

 

 

 

 

99

Anna had one hand on the bumper of the van when the arm reached for her.

She grabbed it and it pulled. She hauled herself up and onto the jetty and lay there, staring at the sky, feeling the pain of heat and the pain of cold. Faces swam before her own, but they were blurred by water on her eyelids. She didn’t blink it away.

The memory returned to her. The bike had hit the fence at the end of the garden, launching her and the bomb over the ocean. She had curled into a ball, knowing the end was right there. But clearly it hadn’t been.

The next memory was of a water world of swirling red, greens, blues. Under the surface, staring up at fire and smoke. The bomb. The bomb, she realised now, hadn’t left the garden. She had dropped it when she jumped off the bike. She had wanted to carry it with her, toss it aside when she was falling. She had an image of giant fan leaves floating in the water. As she lay there and blinked finally and the faces swam into focus, she thought about the other houses and Billy and his wife and Dale and her brother and everything else. And knew there was more to do. But what, but what?

The faces were talking. They resolved into high definition. One woman, two children. They had a surname, but she couldn’t remember it.

They gave her the backs of their heads as they turned. Beyond them, a plane whizzed past, low, preparing to land.

She sat up, looked at the house. The end of the garden was a ragged mess, half of it bent into the water like a slipway for a boat, like a ramp. She could only imagine the damage to her body, had the bomb landed with her in the ocean. Or maybe it wouldn’t have exploded.

“Are you okay?” the woman said. Anna had to read her lips.

“You’re not a zombie, are you?” the smallest child said. Anna thought she must have misread his lips.

“I should be,” Anna said as she got to her feet. “But today luck is on my side.” She saw her clothing. Soaked, with rugged black patches where fire had eaten at her in the moments before she hit the ocean.

They were talking again and now she could hear them. But their voices were like those heard from another room, muted and low. At least it proved her hearing was returning.

“You need an ambulance,” the woman said. “What on earth happened?”

“A bad man happened,” Anna said as she started to run on shaky legs. “And he’s still happening.”

Sometimes in big, open places, focussing on something in the distance ruins your sense of forward movement, but not now. Anna put her vision on the parked plane and didn’t let it wander, and the plane came quickly towards her. The grass seemed to blur by beneath her feet and the flaming, ruined houses on her left zipped past like giant groceries on a conveyor belt. The plane grew and filled her vision. Her muscles filled with blood and strengthened. Her hearing returned with a vengeance and filled her head with the sounds of crackling and burning.

The door was down and she slipped quickly inside. Left, the cockpit door was open, the cockpit empty. Dale was kneeling in the aisle, and the pilot was standing behind him. And he held a knife. But he looked scared. Behind both, in a seat, was an old man that she knew was not a good man, but she couldn’t remember his name.

She took a step closer. She saw a laptop on one of the seats. Not her brother’s. She leaned closer and looked at the screen.

“Stay back. He’ll kill me if I let you take this kid,” the pilot said. She stood tall and faced him. He was big, but didn’t look like he’d be much of a fight.

She figured her brother must have known she would come for the boy. Well she had, and now he was only fifteen feet away, and she was going to get him. She started to walk down the aisle.

“You have to stay away,” the pilot moaned. His fear made the knife shiver in his hand.

She got within six feet of him and stopped.

“Don’t come closer!”

She took a step, closing the distance to four feet. If he still had that knife when it was two feet, he was going to regret getting out of bed that morning.

The pilot dropped the knife and staggered back, tripped on his own feet and fell hard on his ass. He scrambled away to the back of the aisle and sat there, shaking with fear as Anna knelt before Dale.

“Anna. Soldier woman,” he said, smiling at her.

“Dale. Mackenzie boy.”

“What happened to your hair,” he said.

She put her hands up, felt tough patches of tuft and bald patches, and not much else.

“Where’s my dad? The Captain went after my dad.”

She stroked his hair and turned and ran. Outside the plane, she looked at the lighthouse. She started running that way when something to the left caught her eye. One of the houses. Up on a balcony, there was Lucinda. And Carlos, advancing on her. She veered that way, thinking about Carlos’s nose and her promise to herself to smash it.

 

 

 

 

100

The fire was roasting her back, but Lucinda didn’t dare move forward. As Carlos came towards her, she dropped to her knees, but not because of her broken ankle. Because the fight had gone out of her. There was nothing more she could do. She put her head down, bowing to what may come.

She saw his booted feet stop right before her. Felt his hand on her hair, stroking it.

“By the time I’ve finished raping you,” he said, “the real army will be here, and I’ll never get home.”

Her eyes scanned the balcony, seeking a way out of this, a weapon of some sort. But there was nothing, just fragments of glass and stone and tossed there by the explosion.

“If I simply put this knife in your throat and run, I might make it back into the plane in time to leave. But they’ll see the plane leave, and they’ll chase it. And I’ll never get home.”

Now he lifted her head, forcing her to stare into his eyes. He squatted before her, so their eyes were roughly level.

“And I just want to go home. I have to run. But do I have to hide? Even if I get away, there will be a description. Black guy, blonde dreadlocks, escaped terrorist. I’ll never get out of Port Macquarie, never mind back home. If I read about such a description in the papers, I might get angry. I might want to find someone and hurt that someone, and I’ll be trapped right here in this small town. You understand?”

Lucinda shook her head. No, she didn’t understand.

“If I don’t exist,” Carlos said, holding her chin now, making sure she read his eyes, his face, “then I don’t ever exist.”

And now she thought she understood. It sounded just like the kind of Get Out of Jail Free card she’d offered to that young soldier back at Elaine’s house, only with the roles reversed this time. And what Carlos said next made her realise that this guy must have spoken to that guy, must know what had happened back in that house:

“Pinkie promise?”

She nodded at him. Carlos stood up. “I’m sorry about your man. My boy means to make him suffer angst. I kinda hope he gets through it.”

And then Carlos moved. He went for the ruined balcony railing and over. She turned her head to watch.

“Lucinda?” she heard someone shout. Female. It was Anna. Somewhere.

Through the gaps in the railing, looking down at an angle, she saw Carlos fleeing, fast. Not towards the plane, though. Away, towards the coast. She watched for a few seconds, until she heard her name shouted again. Her head flicked back as she sensed movement. Anna emerged onto the balcony from around the corner, running. She stopped when she saw Lucinda, and the fire dancing up through the hole in the balcony. Her look was one of shock, as if she had expected to arrive here and find something…else.

“Are you okay?” Anna said. “Where’s Carlos? Where’s the soldier?”

“What soldier?” Then, a little dazed, her brain having absorbed too much volatile experience for a single day, she said: “Is my Billy suffering angst?”

 

 

 

 

101

Being tossed off a high landing, he knew he’d have a chance. Not so if Jacobs decided to use the knife. But as the big soldier threw Billy out the doorway, he massively regretted his decision. Too late now.

It all depended on his eyes and hands. Out went the left arm, hand grabbing for the doorframe as he was propelled through. His fingers caught the wood and were almost immediately ripped away by the weight of his travelling body, but the fleeting resistance offered was enough. Like a rudder in the water, or an aileron in the sky. He veered left slightly, and went over the edge, and down, propelled across the entire distance of the lighthouse. The lower landing rushed up at him. He hit it hard, felt the jolt right through his body, and let himself slowly collapse. This was where the landing was supposed to wrench free of its screws, or yank those screws right out the wall, and send him plummeting. But it held, vibrating like a drumskin. Billy bounced, reached out, grabbed the edge nearest the wall where there was a gap just big enough for his fingers due to the bracket either end. The metal plate soon steadied itself, listing at more of an angle now, both brackets two inches from the wall, each exposing the barrels of the thick screws holding it in place.

He tried to get to his knees, but the movement of sliding one leg up made brick dust rain down from the holes where the screws were. He stopped.

“Just how many bloody lives have you got, Mackenzie,” said Jacobs from above.

Billy looked down through the slats in the metal grid. It was easily five metres to the next walkway, but they alternated sides. The one directly below him was ten metres.

The stairs were to his left. He reached out a hand and grabbed the top one. But when he tried to drag himself there, the screws shifted again and he froze. He turned his head and looked up at Jacobs.

He was on the upper landing, right on the edge, staring down. With that big knife in his hands.

“I’m going to have to do this the old fashioned way,” he said. He put one foot behind the other, ready to jump, Billy realised.

Billy quickly got to his knees, shivering the landing again. He saw Jacobs leap off, meaning to land right on top of him, or right by his side, and gut him with the knife.

Jacobs leaped.

Billy pushed off with his knees, sending his whole body into the air. He straightened his legs, and crashed down on the landing flat on his stomach.

Not as much power as his initial jump, of course, but it only took one straw to break a camel’s back.

The screws yanked themselves right out of the wall, all bar one. The stubborn one jammed itself at an angle in the hole that housed it. The metal landing slammed into the brick wall with a clang, swinging like a pendulum from the single screw holding it aloft. And Billy held onto the edge, which became the top.

Jacobs plummeted through the space where the landing had been a half-second earlier. His legs kicked, his arms flailed, but there was nothing to grab. His forward momentum crashed him into the wall two metres below Billy’s swinging feet, which killed any chance he would have had of a decent landing. Six metres later he landed in an untidy heap on the lower landing, right on the edge where the lower stairs began. Billy clearly heard something big snap inside the man, followed by a wail of pain.

Billy hauled himself up and onto the stairs. He lay there, head pointed downwards, knees and feet hanging over the edge, fingers clasped through the diamond holes in the stair his head rested on. He could hear helicopters outside, faint, but coming closer. Through the steps he watched Jacobs, crumpled on the landing far below, expecting the man to rise at any moment and continue his attack, and wondering if the choppers would arrive in time to stop him.

But Captain Jacobs didn’t move.

 

 

 

 

102

Billy stepped past the downed soldier, his eyes warily on the man, not trusting him. Jacobs’s eyes were open but blank. He looked dead. His body lay bent and battered and bloody. Billy felt a moment of guilt. But he hadn’t killed the man. He’d killed himself.

“No hard feelings,” he said without looking back.

The sun was low in the sky when he exited the lighthouse, but helicopters were high. They were far off, though. He saw three of them. He heard sirens, so knew there would be other vehicles out there, too. Delayed by whatever Anna had left for them in the other half of the island, maybe. There would be a lot of explaining to do.

He ran along the walkway because he saw his family at the end of it, sitting in the grass. Anna was running towards him.

He stopped, tensed. He wondered what she would think, do when she discovered her brother was dead.

Anna slowed when close, and stopped. She put a hand on his arm. He put his eyes on the ground. That told her what she needed to know.

She ran past and he ran on. Lucinda started hobbling towards him.

They met in a tight hug. Each held the other as if to let go would be to slip away in an endless fall. They kissed and cried and told each other how much they loved them. Dale waved. He was no longer bound.

Billy scooped her onto his back, much as Lucinda had carried Dale earlier. When they reached the grass, Billy sat her down and knelt before his wife and son.

“What happens now?” Lucinda said. She looked up and saw the first helicopter rising up above the trees around the golf course. There were sirens noises seemingly all around now, but no cars visible yet.

“So are we going to lose the house?” Dale said.

Billy jerked out of his reverie. He stared into the island, at the smoke still rising. “Won’t be for a while yet.”

“Is the Captain dead?” he asked next. He was grinning like a kid with a real superhero for a dad.

Billy didn’t answer that one. He cast his eyes north, to the lighthouse, where the Jacobses were being reunited.

Inside the lighthouse, Anna climbed the stairs and stopped when her head was level with her brother’s. His body was bent unnaturally, his head badly bruised, blood leaking from his nose, but his eyes were open a slit, and she saw his pupils move to take in her face.

He mouthed the word help. She sat before him and put a hand on his hair.

“Don’t move. You’re badly hurt. An ambulance will be here soon. We’ll get you out of here, Carter.”

“Home,” he croaked. “Fancy chicken supreme.” He laughed, but it hurt to do so and he quickly stopped.

“Not home, Carter,” Anna said as she stroked his hair. “Not for you. Not for a long time. Not after today.”

He looked at her with understanding. “Stay?” he said.

“We came in together, so we’ll go out together,” she told him. That made him smile. He closed his eyes, but that smile stayed on his lips until new hands took hold of him. His eyes flicked open and he saw uniformed men around him. Those eyes sought Anna. But Anna was gone.

 

 

 

103

It was nearly four a.m. when he made his move.

He had chosen to hide on top of one of the plastic archways in the trees around the golf course, shrouded in bushes. Hole 2, so he could see the entrance. He lay on his front, still, watching, listening. He had waited for one of the low-flying helicopters to spot him, but they hadn’t. Two had zipped about the island, barely fifty metres above the ground, clearly searching for people. Another had come and performed the same routine around midnight, a spotlight aimed at the ground. At one point it had followed the path of the golf course twice, its bright beam on the trees. One pass per side. He had felt the light wash over him, but nothing had come of it. There had been news helicopters, but those had been kept away. For a long time the man had lay on his back and stared into the sky, waiting. He was okay with long waits, but he had to let his mind play. While the machines moved about through the sky, he watched them, and he painted their shapes different colours with his mind, and played word games with the lettering printed on their sides. And whenever the skies were clear, he rolled onto his belly, because the ground was awash with mechanical activity, too.

He had counted six police cars parked in front of him and reckoned on many more being scattered about. Across the golf course, he had watched men unloaded from a fire engine putting out the fire in the burning mansion. He had seen others racing past. One vehicle per house, he figured. The activity had been immense at first, then it had dwindled. Five hours after the first helicopter arrived, most of the vehicles had gone. The security perimeter was maintained easily by having guys at the gate and probably the marina. The man amused his mind by recalling the specifications of the cars he saw. He pictured them standing on end in a line, like giant dominoes. He bored of this game quickly, but by then he had the human angle to focus on.

People in plain clothes and people in uniforms, everywhere. Those in suits were clearly important investigators, who liked to bark orders and stare at insignificant things for long periods. They had patience, but he had more of it. Those in uniforms were simple police officers, who roamed and searched. They kicked bushes. They infested the garages he could see off to the southwest. They searched the trees around the golf course, and they kicked more bushes, and they stared into the few water hazards on the golf course. Nobody thought to climb up and check on top of the plastic archway where he hid. Understandable, when there were so many buildings and other places where bombs or terrorists or bodies could lay. He could see the strain on the faces of men more used to having much smaller, contained crime scenes.

More police cars had turned up later, and three plain cars bloated with men in suits who just walked around and took notes and photographs. He wasn’t sure if these people were from the police or a company with money at stake in Elysium Fields’ future. The man guessed at the latter, given the fact that they’d turned up so late, after the authorities had determined that there were no secondary explosive devices lurking in wait for new victims. These people later left and he thought nothing more about it.

Close to three a.m., the show had wound down. Police crime scene tape was strung over the exit, like shutting a door after the party was over. It went silent after that. But he didn’t move yet. He knew there were police cars about still. He heard them, and he saw one occasionally drive past on the grass, slowly, a small light playing out of the driver’s window. Still searching, then. The man figured there’d be a police presence most of the night, if not to capture the missing then to dissuade those who’d seen the news from sneaking onto the island for a look around. But the main event was over and the man was sure that those who’d remained would be less vigilant. Cops given night-shift security duty. He wasn’t going to worry about these guys.

Some cop on foot had paused in the alleyway right underneath him and talked on his mobile phone to his wife, or some girlfriend. Right there was some of that muted vigilance. It was perfect. The man had considered jumping down, taking the cop by the throat and shaking the information he wanted out of him, but the cop had saved himself with his big mouth. He told his wife everything, and the man hiding above him heard it all. There were still soldiers missing. The number that had arrived in the truck could not be verified yet, but some of the townsfolk had claimed up to forty. They had twenty-three of them. Two were dead. Many were injured, including the guy they suspected was the leader. They were all in custody, as were six of the townsfolk, who had half-killed some of the soldiers in retaliation. Soldiers and townsfolk were in the hospital, some of them in beds side by side, which the cop found funny. Most of the townsfolk were holding up well, some loved the fact that they had a story to tell future grandkids, but a few were going to need sessions on a couch with someone who liked to probe minds. The cop finished by telling the woman that he loved her and he’d prove it later. Then he moved on.

So, the man knew two soldiers were missing and that he was one of them. He had a good idea who the other one was.

Once the man had determined that there were no police cars close to his position, he dropped down to the grass and ran. He ran as fast as he could, taking big, long strides so it almost looked as if he was running on the moon, in slow-motion. He got to the treeline and paused, his breathing slow but his heart racing. He climbed the fence, dropped onto the other side and stared into the southern section.

It was dark but lit by a scattering of streetlamps on the grass areas. The scene was somewhat surreal. There were lights on in a number of the houses, but all downstairs. After the day these people had had, the man wasn’t surprised that nobody could sleep. He was surprised that any of them had elected – or insisted – on staying in their own homes tonight. He had expected to see a police presence here, too, but there wasn’t much of one. He could see part of a police car behind the entrance gate, causeway-side, but knew the occupants couldn’t see him, if they ever looked up from their crossword puzzles. Just seven or eight hours ago bombs had ravaged the land to the north, but here it looked as if nothing had happened.

Mackenzie’s house was dark, as he expected. Man of the hour, Billy Mackenzie would probably be in a police station, talking to the cops. His wife and son would be nearby, maybe also in the station, but maybe staying at a hotel. The police would know that the soldiers had come for Mackenzie, but that didn’t automatically make him a victim. The police would keep him until they were sure that he wasn’t some kind of threat. Twenty-five guys with guns come looking for you, for damn sure the police aren’t going to assume you’re completely innocent.

Or maybe the family was asleep, trying to forget the long day.

The man made his move. Across the grass and the road, into the garden of house number forty-one. Over the perimeter fence, and then a swim to the mainland. The plan had always been to leave by jet, but he had set up an alternative escape plan in case something went wrong. Mr. Edwards was in a jail cell, so something had definitely gone wrong. A short way down the highway was a bar with a car in the car park. That was the man’s destination.

He got as far as the flag-paving road when he heard the shout.

“Carlos,” said the voice.

He turned. There, striding down the slope from the treeline, was the other missing soldier. Exactly who he had suspected it was.

“I was right about you all along,” Carlos said. He was lit by streetlamps along the road, but the other person was in the gloom.

“Well I’ll admit I never suspected you,” Anna Jacobs said. “I certainly didn’t expect you to be the ringleader.”

She stepped into the light and stopped on the far side of the road. Across a sea of yellow stone, they faced each other like gunslingers.

“I saw a bank statement,” Anna continued. “Ten million dollars into my brother’s account.”

Carlos said nothing.

“But my brother only got four million. He paid six right out of that account to someone else. And in a sixty-forty split, no way the mastermind of the whole thing takes the baby’s share.”

Carlos remained silent.

“It was your plan. You recruited my brother, probably because you knew he’d get off on the team-leading game. He was probably quite happy to be arrested as the mastermind. For his image. That’ll soon change when he’s facing thirty years.”

Now Carlos spoke. “Better jail as the mastermind than some lackey. I hope you don’t think I’m going to tell the police it was all me. The bigger share of the money proves nothing. It was a gift from an old friend. No one can prove otherwise. Your brother will say nothing, at least for long enough for me to get well out of reach of the law.”

“Well, the police have the laptop, and they have the guy paying you. So we’ll see, won’t we?”

“You don’t listen. So they’ll have my name. Won’t matter, Anna. The police can’t touch that money without court orders. By then it will be too late. I’ll be in another country, home free.”

Anna laughed. “The funny thing is, Carlos, you talk about proof and loyalty and it sounds a little bit like you think any of that will matter. Like you think you’re walking out of here tonight.”

He lost his grin. “And here I was starting to suspect that you were angling for a deal. A share of the money and help with fleeing the country. But that’s not why you followed me, is it? You want to kick my ass, don’t you?”

“I didn’t hide out because I dreamt of escape, Carlos. One of your idiots would give me up, or the police would find clues. Wouldn’t work, so escape was never my plan. It was to be the last one caught. That’s why I waited for your to show yourself.”

“So you could take me down? Tie me up and give me to the cops?”

“The police will get a call in five minutes. They’ll come here to find you on the ground and me sitting on your back. The final two, finally caught. And one with a smashed nose.”

Carlos laughed. “I see it differently. They’ll find you here, but the last guy will forever be a ghost to them. Even if they get my name. You know, your brother was big on making people regret their choices. You just made one. Let’s see if it was good or bad.” He started across the road, towards her.

“It’s not about good or bad. It’s about right or wrong,” Anna said, and stepped forward to meet him.

THE END

Intruders – Jason Bickerstaff

 


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Elysium Fields is a luxurious gated community on a tiny island off the coast of Australia. Even in winter it's hot here. Crime is almost non-existent and the most action the residents see is a game of tennis. Until today, when this tranquil haven is invaded by armed men. The intruders are after Billy Mackenzie, a local guy who has no idea why he's been targeted. Billy manages to escape the men kicking in doors and dragging people out of their homes, but the island is locked down like a prison, the residents held hostage, and there's nowhere to run. And then the bad guys play unfairly by capturing his wife and son.

  • ISBN: 9781310046254
  • Author: Peter Ackers
  • Published: 2016-01-12 11:40:13
  • Words: 104458
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