SILHOUETTES - Fifteenth instalment - Chapter thirty and thirty-one. For more information on this novel, click Here. Next instalment coming soon.
The alarm was disconcerting when it woke him because it was a new sound to his ears. Ben couldn't remember the last time he had actually used an alarm to wake him in the morning. He was feeling alright though, not hung-over, at least not yet, and he had a positive feeling about going out to start a new job.
He sauntered through to the living room, saw the row of keys and detected Debbie was home. He had fallen asleep before she returned so she still hadn't received his good news, and he wondered if it would be wise to pop in to her room or not.
Coffee first. He was on his second cup and was just preparing to leave when her room door opened. She came out looking dishevelled and lovely, and bruised.
'Debbie,' he cried, 'what happened?'
She rubbed at the bruising on her arm, must've happened when she fell, she thought. Then she felt the tangled knot of hair at the back of her head where dried blood had matted it together.
'I was kind of attacked,' she said, staring over, surprise on her face registering at him being apparently up and dressed and ready to go out the door at the crack of dawn almost.
'Who? where?' cried Ben. He came over and held her, and hugged her, and then he felt her shaking and her tears, and he felt miserable.
'I'm sorry,' he said quietly.
'Sorry, what for, it's not your fault.'
'For being an asshole, for not treating you nice, for drinking too much, for...'
'Look, we can talk about that later,' she interrupted. 'Jo and I witnessed a mugging and the mugger threw me to the ground making his escape, so I'm a bit bruised, but ok.'
'Did you tell the police?'
She nodded. 'One of the reasons we were late back last night.'
'Did they catch him?'
'Not sure, but his photo was on the news last night, so hopefully he'll be caught soon if not. Check the webcast of the news on the internet and you'll see.'
'Well, can't, not just now,' beamed Ben, he had been worried that the next time he spoke to Debbie would be their splitting of the ways, but confidence was growing that it may not be the case.
'I've got a job,' he said, looking at the clock, 'start in around forty minutes.'
'Nothing spectacular, security, in an office, but still, a start.'
She looked pleased. 'Yes, a start,' she said.
'Got to go though, can't be late on my first day. Have you made an appointment?' he asked.
'With the doctor?' she realised he meant. 'No, no need, just cuts and scratches, I'm fine.'
'Ok then, see you tonight,' he kissed her on the mouth, she felt moist and tasted of stale alcohol, probably much like himself, he thought.
'Ok,' she replied as he grabbed his bag and walked out the door.
After what had seemed like hours, a marathon of swimming and resting, swimming and resting, at times wondering if he was closing the gap to the shore, or if in fact he was taking nautical strides equivalent of two steps forward, three steps back, he finally began to make headway. The wind had changed in his favour now, the drag on his feet under the surface seemed more of a pushing through water rather than a wading through treacle. At last he began to make progress he could see as well as feel. Eventually he could pick an exact point on the shore to aim for, the shore was deserted, no sign of movement, or civilisation in either direction. Finally he could touch the bottom with his feet and begin to walk rather than swim to shore. He made for a small sandy scrap made secluded by some aged trees of which he thought were sycamores, but whatever they were, they were shelter, and a source of fuel for a fire to get back to warmth and normality. He only wore his vest and underpants, and one of a pair of sneakers, the other had been lost at some point on the swim to shore. He also, he nearly cried with out with joy, when he opened his clenched hand, had a Swiss army knife. He thanked God for the benevolence of the US aircrew.
Although he had been trained on survival techniques, it still took an interminably long time to get a fire going; so easy watching experts rub a few sticks or spark a piece of stone to have a raging inferno of heat going in minutes, but in reality, it must have taken him over an hour to get a whisper of a flame going, and another hour on top enticing it to something worthy of the name fire.
He made a rudimentary frame from some of the firewood he had collected from under the nearby trees and stripped off and draped his clothing, such as it was, to dry off. He sat naked as close to the flames as he could, occasionally boosting the fire with another few broken up twigs and sticks.
It was almost noon by this time, he thought. There was warmth in the air now and the chill of the water had faded as he dried himself by the fire. First thing he had to do was secure some decent clothing and find out exactly where he was. From there he could decide on the best way to his destination, and the easiest way to get the $10,000 he was required to return with.
He had no idea exactly where he was. The helicopter trip was mainly due west going by the position of the rising sun during the flight, the time of the flight was perhaps two hours, so estimating a speed of around two-hundred miles-per-hour, he could be as far west as Danville on the state border, or if he had crossed from Virginia to North Carolina, could be near Durham, or even Greensboro.
There was nothing for it though but to get dressed in what little he had and choose a direction, and walk. As his ultimate destination was Cincinnati, which was north, this was the direction he took.
1372 Ridge Street was the address given to him with the rest of his instructions on the helicopter. No doubt it was some agency safe house, but nevertheless, he had three days to get there.
After tramping through thick wood for a mile or so, he came across a track running left to right, not a road, just a dirt track, but tracks led to destinations, he decided to follow it to the left. After a few minutes of tearing the sole of his foot without the sneaker, he ripped one of the sleeves from his t-shirt and tied as best he could about the foot. Around a mile along, with his foot aching, and blood smattering the makeshift sock, the track came to a road, a small road, but one lined with tar macadam and edged with telegraph poles which meant some kind of civilisation, probably a farmhouse or hunting cabin, would not be too far away. Taking the right, he found himself heading north-east, the wood had thinned out and tended fields began to appear, and within an hour, he spied a farmhouse on the cusp of a slope.
He found some bushes at the edge of a field about a quarter of a mile from the farmhouse, it was a modest two storey building with a barn to the right, a small-holding, or perhaps a satellite lodge of the main farmhouse wherever that was situated. No dogs were apparent, and no one seemed to be around though there was the front end of a truck sticking out of the barn. He skirted around to the east, keeping a good distance away, stopping every now and then to watch and listen. When he had circumvented 180° and still hadn't seen a soul, or heard any animals that may give warning of his approach, he began to close in, bit by bit, using the long grass at the back of the house for cover. Time was crucial, and he could not afford to wait till nightfall and make an entrance, neither could he, in his present state of dress, overtly walk up and knock on the door and hope for any kind of a welcome.
There was a rickety plank fence skirting the back yard, he was just climbing over on his final approach when a door at the side of the building opened and a stout middle aged woman walked out carrying a basket full of laundry. He ducked back down and watched through the slats on the fence as she began to industriously hang the washing to dry, noting some of the clothes were men's, and may even fit himself. She busied herself till the basket was empty and went back indoors. He had heard no voices, saw no one else, but it was too incautious to presume yet that she was definitely on her own. Perhaps the man who belonged to the clothes was inside, though hopefully he was either out in the fields somewhere, or if employed elsewhere, was detained there.
A deep breath and he vaulted over the fence and sprinted for the back of the house, he reached the wall, heard no sign of being discovered, so edged to the window looking over the back yard. He chanced a peek inside, the woman had her back to him, tending over a pot on the stove, he got a scent of beef stew and remembered he had eaten nothing today. A door to her right led out to the back yard, another door to her left led to the interior of the house. There was a magnetic rail along from the stove with an array of large kitchen knives, nothing else of much interest. He decided he had to make a move, he crept round to the door to the back, gently eased the handle and the door released, he swung it inward, a gust of a draught from the outside disturbed a wind chime hanging from the ceiling just inside the door, the sound was like a riot of breaking glass, before he could do anything the woman was at the door from the kitchen, no choice now he flung the back door wide and ran in to grab her. In alarm, she began to turn but he had her, a hand around her neck he pulled her back, tightened his grip.
'Quiet,' he whispered in her ear. 'I won't hurt you if you're quiet.'
He could feel her fear, sense her indecision, he tightened his grip around her neck a bit more.
'Be sensible,' he urged, 'I don't want to hurt you.'
She tried to nod her head, he relaxed his grip a bit, he pushed her forward back into the kitchen, keeping her in the neck lock. When he got near to the rack of kitchen knives, he threw her forward and grabbed a medium sized chopping knife from the rack.
'Sit,' he ordered, and waved the new weapon in front of her.
She complied, she was terrified, and he felt uncomfortable about doing this, but it was necessary.
'I promise, I won't hurt you,' he stated again. She said nothing, just looked at him with big fearful eyes.
She was willing to be cooperative though, and within a few minutes, he knew she was alone, her husband was a charge hand on an adjacent farm and wouldn't be back till late afternoon, she had two teenage children, both at school, not due to return till mid afternoon, the pick-up in the barn her man's, and fully operational, her husband was collected each morning though, and driven home in the evening by one of the farmhands, so it was unused for his work. There was no money in the house but $30, they didn't use much cash, most things were ordered on account and paid by the bank. He wasn't sure he believed her about this, probably a few thousand under the mattress, he thought, but money wasn't the issue, clothes, food, and transport were what was crucial at the moment.
Although she was being compliant, he never the less tied her arms behind her back before having her guide him through the house. In the matrimonial bedroom he ransacked her husband's wardrobe for some clothes and shoes, the shoes on the large side, but his feet were so sore and bruised, that he cushioned them with an extra pair of socks.
Back in the kitchen he found two plastic carriers, stuffed the clothes he had changed out of in one, filled the other with some bread and cheese, and some apples. He took the thirty dollars she had put on the table along with the pick-up keys. Sitting her down again, he retied her arms around the side of the kitchen chair, and tied her feet around the legs, this with twine he had found in a drawer. Just to be safe, he then tied the chair legs round the legs of the heavy kitchen table. Happy she would be unable to release herself, he left her alone. Outside he found the phone line into the house and cut it with the kitchen knife, then went to the barn and the pick-up truck. He had asked her for directions to South Carolina, but when he struck the highway, he headed north, keeping just below the speed limit. He reckoned he would have an hour, two at the most, to get some distance, before he would have to find a change of vehicle. Along the way he passed a road sign that informed Interstate 81 was 15 miles away. He leafed through a local map that was in the glove box of the truck, apparently the lake he had been dumped in was South Holston lake, he was driving along the Green Spring Road. He would hit the Interstate at Abingdon, and this is where he would change vehicles.
Next instalment coming soon...
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