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DIAMONDS CAN KILL
By Barrie James.
Above the roar of the Cessna aircraft the pilot bawled, "OK ladies?" The clatter of the engine and noise of rushing wind through the open doorway drowned their replies. The women, poised for flight in the opening, nodded and gave the the man a thumb and forefinger circle as a sign that they were ready. The pilot's brown, capable hand eased the throttle back, the engine note mumbled to low revs then with lowered flaps, the machine wallowed, nose high, just above stalling speed.
"Ok girls, this is as slow as she'll go. Have a great time."
Two miles above the Gulf Coast of Florida the air was crystal clear and the shoreline below was sharply traced as turquoise seas kissed pure white sandy beaches. From this height palm trees could be seen adding their final touch to this travel-brochure image of perfection. Small islands punctuated the vast expanse of blue like precious stones and to the south, the sun glittered blindingly from a burnished sea. The two women, dressed in colourful jump suits crouched in the open doorway waiting for the pilot's final signal. The plane was now positioned over an outlying small triangular island. The pilot, with fluttering hair, smiled reassuringly and called, "Go, go". With thudding hearts and without hesitation the pair dived through the open doorway. The machine rose slightly with the loss of its load the pilot opened the throttle, raised the flaps and re-trimmed for normal flight. Entering a steep left bank turn he thoughtfully watched the dwindling figures falling until, at about five thousand feet, twin canopies popped open and the pair steered their parachutes for the isolated island. The pilot's tanned handsome features twisted in a sneer of satisfaction, he breathed, "Yes my little darlings, gotcha".
Looking out to sea from St Petes beach, Conch Island was just over the horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. The waters surrounding it were shallow and the sandbanks changed frequently making charting impractical, many vessels had become stranded there and the little island was seldom visited by cruising yachtsmen. The area was privately owned, marine charts still proclaimed this fact, further discouraging 'Sunday' sailors from exploring the area.
Many years earlier, a Florida businessman, anxious to escape the stress of his lifestyle, had built a bungalow on the island. Now, long since abandoned, the house had fallen into disrepair and stood forlornly in lonesome isolation. A snowy egret stood in motionless sentinel duty by the half open front door looking out over a wilderness of flourishing sub-tropical vines and shrubs. A few palm trees stood languidly near the beach. Green parakeets perched in their upper fronds preening themselves with scimitar beaks whilst alert bright eyes followed the final descent and landing of the two parachutists.
Sarah, with adrenalin charged blood and a grin of excited anticipation, watched the pilot closely until the signal was given and then together with her companion, dived from the aircraft. At once she adopted the skydivers 'stable' position, and her vertical fall to about 120 mph began. Looking around, she soon located her companion, Miriam, who was about fifty feet away and tracking across the sky towards her. The atmosphere felt like a cool resilient sponge beneath her open fingers, her nose was fattened by the uprush of air and her heart was filled with the joy and freedom of flight. At thirty three years, Sarah had discovered the wonder of skydiving and in a short time had mastered the sport and was now one of her clubs more enthusiastic members. With glee, she extended her arms and legs, and accelerated forward like an arrow, her forward speed almost matched her descent velocity. Looking back she found Miriam, now nearby, had matched her moves. The two tracked across the sky wheeling together until they reached their agreed release altitude, then simultaneously pulled their rip-cords. With a rustling crack, colourful canopies flowered and their earthward dash ended. A brief silence followed and conversation was easy,
Miriam laughed then passionately opined, "Oh God, do I love this sport or what? Then uncharacteristically said, "This is positively the most fun you can have with your knickers on"!
Girlish laughter rang through the still air and at two thousand feet they were joined by a lone buzzard. The bird circled them with unwinking eye. Glider-like, his extended wings were unmoving as he surfed the invisible thermal of rising hot air created by the sun's heat on the tiny island beneath.
Miriam whispered, We've entered it's territory, I think we're being warned off."
Sara laughed, "No, he's welcoming us, anyway it's time to concentrate on landing". Pulling on one toggle, then the other, the women steered their canopies towards the island that appeared to grow in size as they approached.
In practised unison they headed for a wide strip of beach and glided parallel to the shore. Finally turning into wind and heaving on both toggles they landed softly on the pure white virgin sand.
With faces aglow and hearts brimming with joy the women gathered their parachutes and bundling them to their bodies, started towards the tree line.
Suddenly Sara stopped, "Listen... shush", she turned her head towards the trees.
Miriam came to a standstill and raised an enquiring eyebrow, "I can't hear anything" she whispered.
"Exactly darling, there simply isn't a sound, it's so peaceful, did you ever see a place so beautiful?" The women stood, fascinated and looked at the quiet splendour of the place, except for their own footprints the beach was untouched, pure white unblemished sand.
The zephyr had died away and the palms stood motionless and silent in the heat of the day. Even the wild parakeets seemed to be resting.
Sarah asked, "Where is everyone?"
Miriam looked around, "Perhaps we're early, they'll be here soon, you'll see,"
Then impulsively Sara cried, "Let's skinny dip before we find the house",
Miriam chuckled, "What if someone sees"?
Sara laughed, "There seems to be no one here yet, Oh come on let's get out of these jump suits and swim". Without waiting for an answer she dropped her parachute and removed her clothes. Like mischievous schoolgirls, giggling and laughing they rushed into the welcoming sea.
The waters of the Gulf are very warm and for some time the two luxuriated in the clear refreshing liquid. Finally they climbed onto the sugary sand and lay in the sun to allow their bodies to dry. With closed eyes Miriam felt the warm embrace of the sun on her bronzed naked body. Reverie merged into fantasy, and her hands absently strayed to the golden mass of curls at the base of her stomach her mind drifting into the etherial state between sleep and consciousness. Unaccountably, sexual arousal was near and feeling slightly embarrassed she pushed the thoughts away and concentrated on more prosaic images then to enter a deep untroubled sleep.
Sara viewed the unconscious woman sleeping on the sand beside her, it wasn't surprising that her husband had found Miriam so attractive. With a figure nearing perfection, she had been graced with classic good looks and a personality of simple good nature and lack of guile. Sara had eventually, somewhat begrudgingly, befriended her. At first when she discovered that Thompson had a mistress she was shocked and hurt, then pain gave way to anger. She loved her man and had been faithful to him. Thompson still loved her but with the arrival of Miriam things started to change. Sara wondered just how many affairs Thompson had had. Her thoughts focused inevitably on the other woman. What was she like? Was she old? Young? Fair or dark like herself? did they practice safe sex? A thousand questions gnawed at her mind until one day she confronted her husband with her knowledge.
Thompson had reacted with a gentleness that surprised her. Taking her hand he led her to the sofa then explained, "Darling, before I met you I had many relationships. A rich man has many women pursuing him. When I met you, it was as though a door had been opened and I felt the miracle of real love for the first time. My heart nearly burst with the absolute joy, love and happiness your existence brought me", his hand tightened on hers, "You brought me a wealth of happiness that far exceeds anything I own, I would give up everything rather than lose you."
Tears trickled down Sara's face as she said, "Then give up Miriam."
Thompson continued as though she had not spoken, "The years we have been married have been the best of my life, I love you Sara, I always will. I have been faithful to you all these years until I met Miriam, God help me, I feel the same way about her, I cannot give her up, she is a wonderful person and I love her". There were tears in both their eyes as the words tore at Sara's heart and her emotions ran riot. Thompson held her close and in a broken whisper continued, "I was determined that you should not find out, I did not want you to be hurt, in other cultures two wives are acceptable, the women get on together..."
Sara cut in, choking her sobs, then with surprising firmness, "We are not in another culture Thompson, we are British and American, we do not have two wives. Christians are monogamous". Turning her head she broke away from her husband's hold and willed the nausea she now felt to go away.
As the months passed their marriage was severely strained. Dinner was a stiffly polite affair with each maintaining a civilised facade before the servants. After the meal Thompson would retire to his study whilst Sara would sit morosely and watch television or try to read a book. It was useless, she could not concentrate. Oh God, she still loved him, she hated to see him so miserable. Thompson would try to enter their room at night, only to find the door locked. At first he was angry and threatened to break the door down, then defeated, would retire to the guest room. She had expected an increase in his absences, but to her surprise he had spent more time with her than usual. He had been attentive, loving and kind. Blast him, how could he do this thing?
Eventually the misery subsided, the tide of pain receded leaving a dull, but persistent ache, she felt so helpless. What could she do? Was this what life was to be like for the rest of her life?
Sitting in her morning room she absently watched the early sun sparkling on the diamonds of dew that glittered on the well groomed lawns. Finally she came to a decision, she would seek out this woman, confront her and fight for her man. She would do it this very day. Decisively she dressed extra smartly choosing her clothes with care. Standing befire a mirror she voiced her thoughts out loud, "The whore, the fucking bitch, the cow, hussy, tart" Sara searched the cellar of her mind for every expletive and adjective that she would use when she met this woman. Satisfied that she had, at last, arrived at a course of action, she left the house.
Miriam Scott sat at her desk in the open plan offices of Bennett's Federal Bank of America. From a high window near the vaulted bank ceiling a shaft of sunlight lanced down and highlighted the young woman's hair, lending an aura, almost a halo to her perfect features. Looking up from her computer terminal she met the cool, slightly hostile gaze of Mrs Sara Sinclair. The woman was dressed in a lightweight suit that must have been the product of a Paris fashion house. Her accoutrements were in matching good taste and her hair perfectly styled. Sara wore an arched, disdainful expression and was ready for battle.
Miriam indicated a chair and said, "Please take a seat and how can I help you?" she smiled and waited. The dark haired woman seemed unaware of the question, then appeared uncertain, she needed time to think. Sara lowered herself into the chair and thought how very young her adversary was. Even in this brief meeting she recognised that the girl was not offering the fixed glassy smile of the professional bank person, but exuded a sincere warmth that unsettled her. Unsure how to proceed she abandoned her pre-planned gambit. Then in a firm upper class British accent said, "I was going to open an account, but that was just an excuse...really... I need to talk to you, I'm Sara Sinclair".
Miriam raised an enquiring eyebrow then, shocked as realisation dawned, raised a hand to her mouth.
Sara went on with whispered intensity, "Yes, Thompson is my husband, do you hear me? my husband. We need to talk".
There was a moments silence then Miriam flushed and faltered, "Oh... Mrs Sinclair, We can't talk here, I take lunch very shortly, can I meet you in, say... Zenny's restaurant?"
Sara nodded curtly, and without another word turned and walked to the exit. Miriam's face was on fire and her eyes anxiously followed the retreating woman and wondered what on earth she was going to say to the person whose husband she had fallen in love with.
Sara had ordered mineral water and sipped it slowly as she waited for her rival to arrive. Brushing her dark hair to one side she saw her the girl enter the restaurant. "Not bad" she thought grudgingly, "The bastard has good taste". She followed the girls movements noting the hesitancy in her search. "Probably hoping I don't turn up", nevertheless it was she, the innocent party, who was nervous. Was there going to be a scene? Sara saw the light of recognition in the girl's eyes as she threaded her way to the table. In spite of her inner rage, the proprieties dominated as she asked what the girl would like to drink. When the waitress had left Sara plunged in, "You are having an affair with my husband". It wasn't a question, Miriam flushed and looked directly at the woman opposite.
With a hunted expression the girl whispered simply, "We love each other". She lowered her eyes and waited for the onslaught.
"For God's sake, you cannot be serious, you hardly know him" Then louder, "Leave my husband alone".
Heads turned with interest.
Sara response was instantaneous, "I can't do that."
For thirty embarrassing minutes the two discussed their feelings for Thompson. They achieved nothing. Impasse.
Sara looked at the miserable girl opposite and with a feeling of helplessness realised that this was no predatory bimbo but a seemingly sincere girl who under other circumstances she might have befriended. That the girl was in love there could be no doubt. The situation was worse than she had realised. In despair she considered life without Thompson and feeling tears of frustration approaching rose to her feet and without another word made her way to the exit.
Miriam watched the retreating elegant back with confused feelings. She placed herself in Sara's position and realised the hurt she was causing. But the imagined grief paled alongside her pain of losing Thompson. She would not, indeed could not give him up. Surely whatever God steered her though life would not have given her such happiness only to take it away again. With a start the girl realised the waitress's presence and noting the time hurredly paid the check and made her way back to the bank.
The weeks passed in uneasy tension. Thompson spending an equal amount of time with his two loves. He was convinced that given time, the two would accept each other. He had stopped agonizing over his infidelity to his wife, his love for Miriam was unlike the relationship that normally exists between a man and his mistress. Thompson's love for the girl was as pure as it was for Sara. He worshipped and loved her with a passion that caused an ache in his chest whenever he thought about her. In Thompson's eyes the very perfection of their relationship made it proper. He felt in his innermost consciousness that his affair was ordained. His love for Sara was no less intense, he failed to see why he should give one up or the other, he also failed to see why he should have a grubby undercover romance with Miriam. He was proud of her and wanted the world to see her , that he may proclaim, "This is Miriam, she loves me, we are desperately happy together, she is part of me." Thus whenever Thompson appeared in public with his new love, he openly held her hand for all to see and by degrees his friends accepted the unusual situation and soon it was no longer the current gossip and busy tongues turned to other matters.
It was inevitable that sooner or later the women should meet again. It was to be at a charity dinner, Sara had received a phone call from one of the organisers, his wife was ill and he desperately need a companion for the evening. Sara had protested knowing that Thompson was taking Miriam, but her sense of duty to her friend overrode her good sense and she agreed to go. It was probably the best thing that could have happened. The overt presence of the extroadinaary menage e trois titillated those present, glances were exchanged, looks askance and words were whispered. Miriam and Sara appeared not to notice, they did not wish to embarrass Thompson, and spoke animatedly to each other as though they had been friends for years. This added to the onlookers confusion and to some extent, defused the situation. Soon interst waned as acid tongues and waspish women found other topics to discuss. The evening passed pleasantly without further event.
The following morning Sara called Miriam, "I'd just like to say thankyou for helping out in that awful situation last night. I really had to attend, poor George's wife was ill and I couldn't let him dine alone, after all, it was his show." Miriam gracefully thanked Sara for the call and after a few murmured cliches the connection ended, following which each regarded the silent telephone thoughtfully and realised that the impossible was happening, a friendship was forming. It was inconceivable, the women ought to be scratching each others eyes out, yet each felt a growing respect for the other.
Thompson H Sinclair, President of Sinclair Associates sat in the office of his beach penthouse. The apartment faced west and overlooked the warm blue waters of the Mexican Gulf. Pushing his coffee cup away he looked out over the sea watching a group of dolphins leaping high into the air then crashing back into the water, the sound reaching him through the open window. Why did they do that, were they herding fish or simply having fun? Stretching, Thompson sighed with contentment and reached for his mornings faxes and mail. Just then his secretary arrived, "Good morning Mr Sinclair", "Good morning Janet, I think we'll work in here this morning". The woman seated herself and with shorthand pad in hand prepared to take notes. She secretly worshipped her employer, although she had never allowed this to show in any way. A little older than Sinclair, she was the perfect secretary and personal assistant. Within the organisation she carried a great deal of influence. She was more that the sum of her official titles, she made executive decisions which Sinclair would always back up. She was totally dedicated to the well being of the company, her employer and the many employees throughout the organisation. Pragmatic and dedicated, Thompson knew he had a jewel of a lieutenant and rewarded her accordingly. Their relationship was completely professional. Janet was divorced and lived alone in a top floor condominium near Indian Shores Beyond that Sinclair never probed. She would accompany him on his overseas tours and, except for his vacations, was constantly nearby.
Thompson regarded the elegant woman before him, she always reminded him of Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films, he fantasized that their relationship was similar. She had made no comment of the situation regarding his personal life, although he suspected disapproval. He knew little of her private life and never enquired, he had no wish to lose or change the perfect business relationship they enjoyed.
The morning light lent a glow to Janet's freckled cheeks, her natural red hair bounced with a spring when she moved her head, and her intelligent blue eyes waited, with friendly patience for her employers instructions. Thompson, not anxious to start the day's work, again absently gazed out of the open window. A pelican glided silently past, with outstretched wings and beak extended reminding the watcher of pterodactyls flying the primordial winds of times prehistoric. Suddenly, the bird folded and plummeted into the sea in an untidy heap of angles and feathers looking like a gents broken black umbrella floating on the surface. Raising its head from the water, the creature triumphantly held a struggling fish for all to see.
The organisation was growing significantly, it was based on firm foundations. Sinclair believed in the stepping stone principle, the new stone you are about to put your weight on may be shaky, test it first before leaving the solid stone behind. Unlike many large enterprises, Sinclair Associates was in the black. At the end of trading each day, funds were wired to Japan where it was invested short term, until the following morning when it was wired back again with interest that was surprisingly high considering the short period involved. The company was earning a sound reputation world wide, Thompson had only to be seen showing an interest in a corporation for their shares to rise like rocket.
At thirty years of age, Leslie Marquand was a splendid example of Homo Sapiens. He was tall, well built with casually well groomed hair and a golden tan that accentuated his natural good looks. His manner, that women found so irresistible, was both charming and sincere. He loved the opposite sex and lived for the chase, once he had secured his prey he would eventually tire of them and seek romance elsewhere.
The women he discarded remained his slaves, they bore no animosity or resentment, he would remain friends with them for years after their affair was over. They loved him in a special way, almost grateful that they had been allowed such a divine and unforgettable relationship with this man who so resembled a Greek God. During each affair, their happiness was sublime, Leslie was the perfect lover. Kind and attentive, he worshipped his partners with a sincerity that most men could not, would not, be bothered with. His courtship was one of tender love and romance, with lovers made to feel special, like queens or goddesses, each basking in her own self esteem. The women's feelings were gradually transformed from one of gentle loving overtures to that of charged passion and heightened sexuality that carried his quarry to unimaginable heights of rapture and exaltation. Each knew in her innermost thoughts that this elevated state could not last. Each knew that she had been privileged to experience the ultimate in happiness and love.
Born in Torquay, England, young Marquand left school with no particular qualification other than a love of life and an easy relaxed manner. Already he had impregnated two schoolgirls only to totally deny responsibility when confronted by anxious parents. Leaving home he travelled to London, his work had ranged from car washing, supermarket shelf stacking, to casual work in shops.
Gradually his eyes turned with longing towards the privileged. Like a street urchin with his nose pressed against the glass of a colourful shop window he watched the wealthy at work and play. He envied them their life styles. Expensive cars, overseas homes, private aircraft, but most of all, their women. Dressed in expensive casual elegance, speaking with a practised educated drawl they generally seemed to regard the world as their own personal plaything. Although he had romantically succeeded with a few of this type, most regarded him as a little below their station and remained, with regret, well clear of his charms.
For a long time Leslie tried to enter the closed circle of the wealthy. It was not to be. A few of the older women welcomed his company, but younger women regarded him as a 'bit of rough', without a doubt exciting, but dangerous and not worth the risk. Leslie's frustration grew until he realised that the only way to enter this select club was to become wealthy. This prospect intrigued and excited him, occupying his thoughts continuously until eventually he decided that he could start by becoming a London taxi driver buying his own vehicle with his savings. Over the next few weeks he worked extra hard at the car wash, smiled ingratiatingly at the drivers, receiving gratuities far larger than his colleagues and, except for his basic food, spent very little.
One day a silver Bentley T series car, with personalised number plate slid into the valeting bay, a well groomed man in his fifties climbed out, smiled and said, "Keys inside, Ok? 'bout five o'clock then," without waiting for an answer he strode away leaving Leslie admiring the car so casually parked. With a feeling of despair the young man realised that it would take him about fifteen years on his present salary to buy a car like this, what possible hope had he? He was then jerked out of his reverie by his foreman's voice. "Well Marquand, don't stand there gaping at it all day, are we going to make a start or not?" Leslie moved forward and washed the vehicle first, then hand waxed the gleaming paintwork. It was when he started work on the interior that he made a discovery that was to change his life forever. Under the rear seat he found a pair of sparkling earrings. Like binary stars, they shone their beckoning light. Salvation, the way forward. With a speed that astonished himself Leslie slipped the earrings into his pocket and with pounding heart completed his labours. With hands still shaking he realised that he could be in serious trouble if caught for not handing over his find. Leslie mused, "Its fate, that's what it is, it's fate. This was meant to be, he'll be insured, he can afford it, this is opportunity knocking on my door." Marquand parked the car and anxiously awaited the return of the owner. Promptly at five o'clock the man returned, casually examined his car, smiled at Leslie and gave him a substantial tip. With pounding heart he received the offering and with a feeling of guilt watched the car drive away into the evening traffic.
That night when Leslie returned home, he took out the earrings and examined them more closely. They looked very expensive. Each shaped of simple gold curves with a claw fitting that held the most magnificent diamond he had ever seen. Even to his inexperienced eyes there could be no doubt, these were the real thing. They had an inner fire that sparkled and shone like a living flame with all the colours of the rainbow cascading and jostling for attention. It was awesome. Hypnotised, Leslie realised that he held in his hand gems of great worth. Tomorrow he would get the stones valued and hoped that they had not yet been missed. As he restlessly lay in his bed that night, Leslie wondered who the Bentley owner had been entertaining in the rear of his car. Perhaps not his wife, perhaps a young woman who was afraid to report their loss, perhaps they hadn't missed them yet, Perhaps...perhaps.
Leslie knew that he would have to avoid the better London jewellers, with such fine stones, the earrings were probably known and he could be caught trying to sell, what really was stolen property. He had to find a receiver, a fence. He was baffled, where to start? wryly he thought, Yellow pages perhaps...During working hours he casually brought up the subject of fences but his colleagues were no help at all. Then inspired, he sought the advice of Mickey Morgan, the local, unlicensed, money lender, if anyone would know about these things, he would.
As the 'Heavy' chewed gum, his open mouth displayed crooked yellow teeth, eyeing Leslie he snarled "who wants 'im then?" "Tell him it's Les from the carwash he knows me... " The brutal face examined Leslie from head to foot and grunted, "face the wall". Leslie complied , expert hands impersonally checked for hidden weapons. Satisfied, the minder opened the door of the inner office. After a few moments of muffled conversation Leslie was ushered into the smoke hazed room. Without rising, the fat Welshman sitting behind a littered desk, tapped the ash off his fat cigar and muttered, "hello Les, wot is it then boyo? need a little brass do we?"
It had been difficult to get the information he needed without arousing the interest of the fat man opposite, but eventually he convinced the Celt that he had carried out a small job, and needed to dispose of goods that were hot. When the Welshman realised that the sums involved were petty he supplied a couple of names that might be able to help and lost further interest.
Leslie called at the local reference library and learnt a little about diamonds, in dealing with jewellers it would be essential to appear to know something about the topic. The subject was fascinating, the value seemed to depend on their colour, (body colour) weight in carats, inclusions, (flaws) and the type of cut.
The following day found Leslie in mild disguise entering the portals of a jewellers in north London. Unaccustomed to wearing spectacles he repeatedly pushed them up his nose as though this mannerism was a long established habit. The proprietor examined the baubles through his loupe, there was a stillness in his manner then he simply stopped breathing. After an eternity he finally exhaled and regarded the young man in front of him. "Have you had these long"? "They're family heirlooms," he lied unconvincingly. The man continued to stare silently at him. "Look if you don't want them, that's Ok I'll find someone to buy 'em". The man remained silent and unmoving. Again he screwed the loupe into his eye and re examined one of the stones. "I wont kid you...these are nice stones and worth a great deal of money..." he looked assessing at the young man before him who said, "How much?" The man tilted his head on one side and half closed his eyes, he knew the true value of the stones, but was sure that the seller did not. There was also every likelihood that the items were stolen, he would have to be very careful, even so, they were large enough to be re-set and still provide a handsome profit. "If I buy them, I have to add on V.A.T. it isn't all profit you know". "How much?" Marquand persisted, again the man hesitated, he knew he could get six figures for a matched pair of this quality and weight. "Well one's flawed, you probably knew that, they've been cut in an old fashioned style that is not popular right now, also there's the colour," he shook his head and pursed his lips". Marquand was street-wise, if without esoteric knowledge A natural wheeler-dealer, he knew he was being set up for a low price, he instinctively knew that the man wanted these stones, he waited, finally the man handed him back the jewels. Leslie recognised this symbolic act. The jeweller was giving the impression he didn't want the item. Leslie waited, "Well I could go to five thousand, but that's about it". Triumph blossomed in Leslie's heart. He now knew the stones were worth a great deal more. Drawing on his newly acquired limited knowledge, "Look, we both know that all diamonds carry inclusions, their own unique fingerprint, the inclusions in neither is visible to the naked eye, the cut is classical European of a style that is coming back into fashion, this last was pure guesswork, "and God know how many carats, Christ man look at the size, and look at the body colour, and so very well matched..." With a knowledgable smile he replaced the gleaming works of art in his pocket, thanked the man and turned to go, before he reached the door the man said, "Well I suppose I could go to six." "I don't think so," said Leslie, "We both know that they are worth a great deal more than that." Defeated the man muttered, "Ok, Ok come back in and I'll make a few calls, we may still be able to do business. Coffee?"
The business took over one hour, finally, with leaping heart Leslie Marquand left the shop with eight hundred, fifty pound notes in his pocket, forty thousand beautiful, wonderful, used, untraceable pictures of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second. He walked along the footpath with joy in his heart a spring in his step and impulsively hugged a large coloured lady standing at a bus stop. "'ere wot you doing' man?..." _____________
The next few days were cold, dismal and very, very wet. With collar up and hands thrust deep into his pockets, Leslie walked past a well lit travel agents window until a sign caught his attention. Special offers for Florida, the Sunshine State, a Fly-drive holiday, just what he needed. Impulsively he walked in and booked to fly out of Gatwick the following morning. His own taxi business could wait until his return.
Alighting from the aircraft in Orlando Leslie was totally unprepared for the assault on his senses. Eighty degrees in November! The bustle, the accents, it was just like he had seen it on the television. Within a short time he was through immigration and stood, in happy anticipation by a shiny new Le Baron Convertible, with two weeks ahead of him and a great deal of money in his pocket.
The next few day were an exhausting whirl of experiences that overwhelmed his pleasure senses and brought encounters that hitherto he had not dreamt of. He visited, Disneyworld, Epcot, Sea-World, Universal Studios and many other attractions.
The days raced by and Leslie soon realised, as so many British before him had, that this would be a wonderful place to live and work. Why return to England? If he was going to be a taxi driver, why not here in a State that promised permanent sunshine. On a more pragmatic note, he was getting just over two dollars for every pound sterling. Petrol, cars and houses were incredibly cheap.
The first hurdle to citizenship seemed to revolve around a green card from the immigration service. He needed to prove that his work could not be carried out by an American citizen. This was difficult as there are thousands of local taxi drivers, two more days passed before the solution came to him. He was driving to his Motel one evening when he passed a luxury car lot. In the centre position a superb Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit in very nice order. Leslie looked at the vehicle and wondered if there would be a market here in Florida for luxury Rolls-Royce hire driven by a real English liveried chauffeur. That evening he put the idea to the motel owner he had befriended to gauge reaction, "Gee man, I don't know, not round here I guess, too many tourists, the real money is on the Gulf Coast, boy, there's real rich critters out there, you go to Clearwater or St Petes and wow, there's houses out there with servants and all that stuff, I guess you'd be Ok there".
The following morning found the Le-Baron, top down humming west along Interstate 4 with the early morning sun warming the back of his neck. After a brief breakfast half way through his journey, he was making his way back to his hire car when two girls hitch hikers raised their hands with thumb extended pointing west. There had been little time for romance on his vacation, suddenly the immediate future looked very rosy. The girls were about nineteen years, wearing incredibly brief shorts showing long brown legs. Their sun-tops were tiny scraps of material barely covering ample breasts that bounced as the girls skipped the few paces to the waiting car. Throwing their scant luggage into the rear seat both climbed into the front with the handsome, tanned driver and gazed at him with open admiration, "Hi, I'm Susie, this is Kate". "Pleased to meet you, I'm Leslie, where you going?" "Gee your accent's real cute, you're English aren't you?" The man nodded. Kate replied that they were going to St Petes to visit her folks for Thanksgiving and enjoy a few days holiday on the beach. Looking down, Leslie could see the light catch the almost invisible, golden hair on Kate's long tanned legs, following his gaze she shifted, ever so slightly in her seat, her legs straightened out a little, and her long fingers slid just behind knees that parted fractionally. To one of Leslie heightened awareness the message was unmistakeable. He met her challenging, frank blue gaze and was quite unable to control the monumental, aching erection that threatened to burst through his shorts at any moment. Seeing his discomfort the girls giggled and laughed together. Leslie, pulling the gear selector into Drive, looked briefly to the clouds and spoke silently, "Thank you God for women", then treading on the gas pedal he sent the car shooting down the re-joining ramp to continued its journey ,carrying its sexually explosive trio, westwards to the Gulf coast.
The explosion wasn't long in coming, soon the nearest girl, Kate when turning on the radio, accidentally caught the man's leg, he quivered but did not move away, soon Kate's slim hand rested casually on his knee and stroked upward towards his inner thigh. Emboldened after a few miles she cupped her hand over the fat, imprisoned stalagmite behind the thin layer of material. Leslie was almost losing control, having to keep his hands on the wheel, it was a form of bondage, an act he had not yet experienced. With parted lips and hair rippling in the wind Kate slid open the bulging zip, and her soft hand crept inside his shorts to touch the massive, painfully enlarged member. Without warning, his penis suddenly sprang free, Kate gasped and snuggled closer, "Gee, you're a big fellow and no mistake". Leslie swerved unintentionally as the girl started to massage his member, slowly, lightly, her hands barely making contact. The tension was unbearable, above all he needed release, urgently, now. Mercifully there was an feeder road leading off the main highway. At a full sixty miles per hour Leslie took the ramp, swung through a ninety degree curve and into a little used country track.
Leslie had never made love to two women before, well not at the same time. The girls hauled him out of the car and he stumbled onto the warm dry grass, ripe young lips explored his, busy hands caressed him then slowly removed his clothing while the hot, morning Floridian sun smiled down on the busy trio. Leslie Marquand, surrendered, lay back and allowed the two to share as they wished his bountiful gift and thereafter followed the most incredible sexual experiences that he had ever encountered.
Tired, they climbed back into the vehicle, laughing as they tugged on their scant clothing, knowing that very shortly, with the resilience of youth, the whole business would inevitably start again.
In all the years Leslie was to live in Florida and all the times he was to undertake this same journey, he never forgot this first trip, a ninety minute drive extended to nineteen hours. Love was made in two motels, four excursions into woods with trees hanging with spanish moss and once in his car. The three arrived in St Petes blissfully happy, grubby and exhausted, knowing each others bodies intimately, but not knowing each others surnames. Kissing him lovingly goodbye they left him with a telephone number and a last snatch of retreating conversation. "Did you practice safe sex in the car?" Kate responded, "I guess its safe if the parking brakes on!" The howls of laughter rang in Leslie ears as he watched their tight little bottoms disappear from his sight.
Several years later Leslie Marquand had become well established in Florida with his Rolls-Royce service. There was enough work available to give him a good living, a comfortable home and a life-style that suited his needs. He was always conscious that he had failed to enter the upper classes he so envied, now, more than ever he was treated as a servant by those who used his services. Thus the seed of dissatisfaction was growing in his mind, a despair merging into a hatred for those who came by wealth so easily and took it for granted.
Two years previously Leslie had met and seduced a twenty-five years old woman who owned and ran a small flying school operating out of the local airfield. The affair raged it's initial course then settled down to a warm relationship that lasted longer than usual. Diana Scott was a typical hard nosed business woman. She ran her flying school with ruthless efficiency, paying her instructors as little as she could get away with and charging her student pilots as much as the market would tolerate. She was attractive and well used to passes being made by other pilots and students alike, and practised in repelling their unwanted overtures without offending. Until she met Leslie -
"Sheeeit", slowly breathed the girl receptionist in Diane's front office looking out of the window, as a magnificent Roll-Royce glided regally to a standstill and climbing from it, a tall handsome man of about thirty with a deep tan and easy manner. The man walked with elegant grace and athleticism, there was something deeply sensual in his movements. Diane's heart skipped a beat, like a schoolgirl, she brushed her short blonde hair self-consciously to one side.
Outside, Leslie glanced at the sign, Diane Scott Flying School, "probably some sexless middle aged woman," he thought as he made his way towards the doorway. There was a sudden roar as a blue Cessna started it's engine, and he turned to watch with fascination as another aeroplane came in to land on the runway behind.
Apart from the flight from Gatwick some years earlier, Leslie had never flown, knew nothing of sport aviation or the pleasure that light aircraft could give to their owners. To him, private flying was something way outside of his league and therefore never considered.
Entering the club he was met at the reception desk by a freckled faced young woman who blushed at his warm intimate smile. Already she was touched by the Marquand magic. "May I see the proprietor please?" The girl stammered, "I'll get her for you," stumbling in her embarrassment the girl made her way to the inner office where Diane was ostensibly working on papers but intensely conscious of all that was taking place. Entering the reception area, Diane, trying hard to maintain a businesslike expression, asked, "How can I help you?" Leslie smiled and explained that shortly he had to collect a client who would be arriving at the airfield in his private aircraft after normal hours and he had been asked to arrange safe hangerage for his client's machine before taking him to his hotel. Diane took down these details and assured the man before her that she would personally arrange everything for him. Not wishing the interview to end quite so quickly, Leslie, with his best English accent, expressed surprise that one so young should own and run her own school of flying. The woman accepted the compliment gracefully yet found, to her intense irritation, that she was blushing like a schoolgirl. She stammered, "Do you fly Mr Marquand?" "Leslie, please call me Leslie. No, except for one transatlantic flight I've never been off the ground". "Perhaps you would permit me to take you on a familiarization flight". "I'd like that. You won`t loop the loop will you?. Diane sighed inwardly, why did first-timers always imagine that one was going to carry out acrobatics. Why did they always call it, 'loop the loop?' It was one of Diane's pet hates. None of her thoughts showed through though. She smiled, displaying small, even, white teeth, "I promise not, perhaps this evening - the sunset flight is particularly beautiful". Leslie nodded his thanks and rose to his feet, "about five thirty then, I'll look forward to it".
Returning to her office and knowing she was unobserved, Diane looked out, watching the retreating broad back with longing and feelings of excited anticipation she had not felt for many years. Punching high in the air she exclaimed, "Yeeaah", then realising she may have been heard in the outer office, hastily sat down. The door opened and the young receptionist entered with wide open eyes, "Jeez, Diane... who was that?"
Later that day Leslie walked with his lady pilot towards the little red Cessna 152. The low evening sun bathed everything with a soft golden light. The man watched, as the woman walked around the machine, checking a wire here, a latch there. Finally she opened a valve under the wing and allowed a small amount of fuel to drain into a little glass jar, examining it, and evidently satisfied she tipped it onto the grass where stains showed the same ritual had been performed many times before. Out of habit, Marquand thoughtfully studied the woman's movements, his expert eye noted the firmness of her modest breasts, the neat boyish figure and the youthfulness of her features. Above all he noted the flush that crept up Diane's neck whenever their eyes met. As she moved around the plane ,he realised that he was genuinely interested in what the girl was doing, he found himself asking questions regarding the machine itself. Inspection over, they climbed aboard the little machine only to start another series of checks, this time from a list kept on the craft. Strapping himself in, the man watched closely as the machine was started and the engine burst into life, soon to settle down to a steady beat. The pilot reached for a microphone and spoke to the control tower obtaining permission to taxi the machine. They travelled along the perimeter track to the end of the runway where the pilot applied the brakes and ran the engine up to full power. Diane carried out many checks, pressing switches and levers until, satisfied, she asked the tower for permission to take off. Always the professional pilot, impersonally she checked the doors and Leslie's seat belt. Taking one final look at the sky on approach to the runway, she opened the throttle fully, the machine accelerated forward. Leslie's heart beat faster with the rising speed of the machine, then suddenly they were airborne. The man was fascinated. Through the smooth evening air the craft climbed towards the already blushing clouds and the forthcoming sunset.
Looking down through his side window, he saw the tiny mortals, gathered on the railings of St Petes pier to watch the nightly aerial sunset spectacular. He felt superior, almost God-like in his high perch seated next to this amazing woman for who he was developing an intriguing respect and interest.
At two thousand feet the pilot throttled back and trimmed the machine for level flight. They were travelling northwards parallel to the beach. To their right was a panorama of the intercoastal waterways and neat roads running at right angles to each other, to their left was the Gulf of Mexico, now on fire with the vivid reflections of the setting sun. There was an amazing kaleidoscope of riotous colour in the clouds whilst the sea mirrored the spectacle in a faithful inverted image. Open mouthed with wonder, Leslie, all thoughts of intrigue and sex pushed aside, was spellbound in the wonder and beauty that planet Earth could provide. At one point he felt the tears starting in his eyes in sublime wonder at the scene he was privileged to witness. "It's awesome" he whispered. He looked at his companion who turned her head to him inquiringly, she could not hear his words above the note of the engine, but there was no mistaking the joy and reverence in the man's manner, although she had seen the sight a hundred times before she still found the experience moving. Suddenly along the entire western horizon there was a green flash of light. Astonished, she remembered, the green flash' of course, she had heard of this phenomena. Just once in a lifetime, a person, if they are very lucky, witnesses this rare, remarkable meteorological event. It is so brief that no one has ever managed to photograph it. Almost without blinking they watched, fascinated, as the sun finally dipped into the sea, this in itself causing the entire scene to change colour, the mountains and valleys of the clouds adopting subtle hues of deep indigo and purple through to fiery red.
Leslie was quiet after they had landed, even Diane had been impressed with the unearthly aerial furnace that they had been privileged to witness. They tied the machine down for the night and walked together to the clubhouse, Leslie still wrapped in his thoughts and emotionally drained. He thanked Diane for the flight as they sat and drank coffee from a vending machine. "I'm still overwhelmed" he said simply,
After a while, Leslie replaced the shield that had slipped for moment, revealing his vulnerability, embarrassed, he muttered his thanks and with an incongruous gesture shook the girls hand. They parted, with him promising to call her soon. Inevitably, Leslie, fascinated by the unforgettable sunset flight, enrolled as a student pilot. Diane, whilst madly in love with him was professional enough to insist on a proper student-teacher relationship. She absolutely would not condone any familiarity in the air. On one flight, when Leslie's hands had reached for her, she stated that unless Leslie behaved himself, she would delegate him to another instructor.
The weeks passed and Leslie's flying hours built up, he was a competent if not outstanding pupil and soon completed the practical part of the course and travelled to Orlando airport to take the various examinations that stood between him and his new pilots licence.
When his results came through, all passes, Leslie was now able to apply for his American Private Pilots Licence, (PPL) enabling him to take people flying, but not for monetary gain, he could not even charge passengers for fuel without breaking the law.
Gradually Leslie's affair with Diane cooled but they remained good friends. After a few months flying, Leslie enrolled at Bergers Sea Plane Flying School near Lakeland and spent a happy three days adding sea-plane experience onto his new licence.
One day while flying over the Gulf, he discovered Conch island, over ten miles offshore, it was marked on the chart, but he had never flown over it before. Dropping to five hundred feet Leslie examined the island carefully. From the air it was easy to see the reefs and sandbanks that would make a waterborne approach a nightmare. The island showed no sign of recent habitation. He could see the remains of a house but even that appeared to be crumbling through disuse and overgrown with vegetation. Thoughtfully Leslie circled the island again with his engine burbling at low revs, and looking towards the coastline revealed only the tiniest smudge on the horizon. From the island, there would be no sign of land in any direction.
In that moment an idea was born. Leslie decided to land his seaplane, checking the size and frequency of the waves he noted a sharks fin, and decided to land on the west side of the island. He descended gently towards the island. A few feet above the water surface the pilot shut the throttle completely, and started the flare, easing back, little by little, on the control column until the speed bled off and finally, with a hiss, water contact was made. He pulled a cord causing two miniatures rudders to enter the water at the rear of each float, and opening the throttle a little, he water-taxied towards the deserted beach. Stepping ashore with his mooring line the pilot secured the craft and his inspection of the island began. "Perfect, absolutely bloody perfect" the man spoke out loud. It was a seed of a plan that was to occupy a corner of the pilots mind until circumstances were right.
Leslie's Rolls-Royce had now covered over 200 thousand miles, and although well maintained could not be expected to go on for ever. His initial ill-gained stake had diminished with his flying adventures and he needed another injection of capital if he was to continue his present standard of living. Whilst finding the jewels had been a lucky break, it was after all, pure luck. This next adventure was a different matter entirely, If this failed he would almost certainly find himself incarcerated in one of Florida's State prisons for a very long time indeed.
It has been estimated that fifty per cent of Florida home-owners keep a gun. Most citizens, when asked by fascinated English visitors react with surprise, and often counter, "do you have smoke detectors in your home?"
Marquand needed a gun, it need not be too large, occasionally his rich customers in the rear seat of his car would ask if he were armed. Perhaps it was time to keep one in the glove locker of his car. Purchasing a hand gun in Florida was as easy as buying candy. Leslie chose a Smith & Wesson .38 Airweight revolver and a box of ammunition. When the man took his money he opined, "Now son, remember, in Florida you can keep a handgun in your home, your place of work or in your car, you cannot carry it on your person...Ok? for that you need a 'permit to carry' you have to take a proper course on the use of deadly force and get yourself a permit...Ok?" Leslie thanked the man.
That evening he went to the local pistol club, practising with the weapon until he felt familiar with it. Later that night Leslie Marquand climbed into bed, the owner of a pilots licence, a diminishing bank balance, a revolver and latent crime in his heart.
The basic driving test had been no problem to Leslie and the road safety questions, easy to answer. In the downtown driving licence office, the flashgun on top of the fixed counter camera illuminated Leslie's face for a millionth of a second, then he was asked to take a seat for a few minutes. Shortly after, he left the building clutching his new drivers licence. The photograph was clear and the name Wain Summers was printed in capital letters. The address shown was that of a poor black widow in downtown St Petes. Smiling, Leslie pocketed the laminated card. So far, so good, 'step one' completed in establishing a new identity. Next he was to apply for a credit card, using his new licence and postal address. Within a few days, Leslie, wearing mild disguise, visited the coloured woman and told her that she might receive some mail in the name of Wain Summers, would she please hold it for him? The woman hesitated, then quickly agreed when he proffered a fifty dollar bill.
A few days later Leslie collected his new credit cards and thus had consolidated his new persona and established a source of credit. When the time was right he would destroy all Marquand's identity documents, change his appearance and a new millionaire would emerge discreetly in some distant place.
Miriam was lonely. At Thompson's request she had given up her job and was now the mistress of her new home, Rivendell. It was a gorgeous house, with four bedrooms, a family room, two studies and a library. Sitting on the edge of the water near the up-market Tierra Verde it faced west with a private boat dock behind the property.
It had taken some time to get the house as she wanted it. There had been no shortage of money, Thompson was generous and wanted her be happy. She was gradually losing the feeling of being a kept woman and enjoyed the days and nights, that her lover stayed there. The previous evening had been a tearful one. Thompson was leaving for two weeks in Europe. "Two weeks", she'd exploded, "why can't I come with you?" Thompson went on to explain that as he would be moving quickly from place to place, he would only be taking Janet, his secretary. "Well good for her", she'd remarked sarcastically. Thompson had done his best to reassure her that he would call every day, that he loved her and if his business calls went well, he would be home earlier. Placated, they made slow tender love, but when she woke this morning he was gone. On her pillow was a simple note, Didn't want to wake you, you looked so lovely, I love you for ever.'T, There followed a series of XXXs.
Later that day she received a telephone call from Sara, it wasn't the first time they'd spoken. By degrees an unusual relationship was developing. "Isn't he an absolute sod? you'd think he would at least have taken one of us, but no, he's taking bloody Janet with him, do you think they're having it off?" Miriam laughed at the Englishwoman's turn of phrase and warmed to her, "I'm sure they're not". "You know she loves him don't you? have you seen the way she looks at him when she thinks no ones watching...I tell you dearie, she'll bear watching...anyway what are you doing for the rest of the week?" Miriam didn't quite know how to respond, she realised she was at a crossroads. Should she accept the offer and become friends with this woman? why not? It really looked as though they were all involved together and for many years to come, yet sharing a man went completely against her beliefs. Yet it was she that was the intruder into the marriage, she who had caused the situation she found herself in. In her innermost thoughts she knew she should back out of the relationship, even the idea caused her great pain, the mere thought of losing Thompson was more than she could bear. Pushing reason to one side she considered. "Well, what do you say"? Sara persisted. "Ok, Lunch would be a great idea."
So began a friendship that was to consolidate into a lasting sincere relationship that was probably unique in most Christian society. A tight little menage a trois in which all the parties loved and cared for one another. Outsiders wouldn't approve or understand of course. Sara's parents didn't approve,but after a time and seeing how happy their daughter was, they began to accept the situation. In the rarefied social circles that Thompson moved in, the situation was starting to lose its novelty. Gossip writers felt the alliance was stale news, Ok, so Thompson had two women, so did many other men, they of course, hid the second woman, kept her in the closet so to speak. Soon public opinion applauded Thompson's courage in not hiding his love for Miriam. It wasn't as though Thompson was running for office, that would have been a different ball game altogether, he was his own man with no one to impress or bow down to.
So it was, that which had occupied the social gossip columns faded into history and the trio were able to continue their lives without the constant curiosity of the society press.
Sara hadn't realised how fond she had become of Miriam. Together they shopped, sought new experiences and generally enjoyed each others company. Occasionally when making love to Thompson Sara thought of the other girl with a twinge of jealousy, but in the main, she was very fond of Thompson's mistress and their own relationship.
As the months passed, they played golf, learned to fly sailplanes, went to aerobics classes, hired speed boats, rented Catamarans, and even learned to shoot at the local pistol club. This latter at Thompson's request. He wanted them to carry a small weapon, especially when he was away on business.
What was to have ben a duty, turned out to be a great deal of fun. The women listened earnestly to the ex-police sergeant's talk on 'the use of deadly force' with reference to hand guns. Then they were taken to the air conditioned range and taught how to load and unload the various weapons they would be using. During a break for coffee, Sara commented, "You know what, this is kinda fun, I could take to this as a hobby." Miriam nodded, to her mind, guns were wicked, dangerous objects that should be banned, nevertheless, later she admitted to a certain thrill when their instructor congratulated her on her first group of shots.
The women generally found the .45 too heavy and the recoil vicious. Each settled for a .38 Smith & Wesson double action revolver which was light, simple to understand and small enough to go into a lady's purse. The recoil was not excessive and both women were getting quite small groups on the targets at fifteen yards distance.
One day, driving back from the gunclub in Sara's car, they spotted a tall, sun-tanned man walking along Gulf Boulevard with a very pretty girl holding his arm. Sara commented, "That's the famous, or should I say infamous, Leslie Marquand, have you met him?" Miriam shook her head, "Well you can steer well clear of that man, he owns a Rolls-Royce car and ferries people about, Thompson uses him from time to time... but I don't like him, he's just too good looking, and for some reason I can't put my finger on, I just don't trust him... He's creepy." Miriam studied the man as he walked along. "He looks Ok to me, but I hear what you say, I'll watch out for him".
Although they had parked a good fifty feet away, it was as though Leslie had heard every word. He turned his gaze in their direction and the two felt as though they were being closely scrutinised, then his face lit up as he steered his companion towards them. "Oh shit and double shit", breathed Sara through lips that still smiled, "I do believe the bastard is coming over". Leslie beamed effusively, "My dear Mrs Sinclair, how very nice to meet you, you look as wonderful as ever," He bowed slightly, then his eyes switched to Miriam," I don't believe we've met," As if he didn't know who she was, thought Sara, then out loud, "May I present Ms Miriam Scott, Miriam this is Mr Marquand who drives Thompson around some times." She deliberately pigeon-holed Leslie in the taxi driver category whilst still maintaining a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. In spite of herself, Miriam found the man's frank gaze intriguing. His companion was introduced then Sara reached for the ignition key to terminate the meeting before it became too chummy. Farewells were expressed and Sara trod on the gas and her open topped Mercedes with whispering exhaust and slight tyre squeal joined the main boulevard and Marquand was soon lost to sight. Sara looked sideways at Miriam, "Pretty impressive isn't he, forget him kid, he's screwed more women in Florida than you'd ever imagine. Before Thompson used his service, he had him thoroughly checked out, believe me, the report read like something you've never seen before. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't have H.I.V.,gonorrhoea, clap and every other nasty disease you could think of." If Miriam had been secretly impressed with the man, these remarks of Sara's killed stone dead any thoughts she may have had of a fairy tale romance with the hired help.
South Lakes was typical of many small North American airfields. The grass runway was happily shared by light aircraft, microlights, gliders and skydivers. For most of the week the place was deserted, then late on Friday nights or early on Saturday mornings the enthusiasts arrived with hampers of food, camper vehicles, tents and barbecues all ready to partake their favourite aerial pastimes during the weekend. Sara and Miriam had becoming skilled gliders pilots. Some summer weekends, instead of rushing back to St Petes only to return the following Sunday morning, the pair had hired a giant Winnibago camper and those evenings had sat around the hangar eating giant steaks cooked over mesquite chippings, drinking Bud and listening to aviation stories from some of the older members of the sailplane club. As the evening drew on, some of the weary skydivers drifted over to the hangar and someone swithed on some music. It was a great atmosphere and one which the women would never forget. Like giggling schoolgirls the two collapsed laughing at some of the tales that were obviously outrageous lies. The Budweiser beer was taking effect and Miriam was about as happy as she could ever remember.
As they were about to totter off to their camper, a slim quiet woman asked if they had ever considered a skydive. "No bloody fear", said Sara emphatically, Miriam, with slightly un focused eyes, gazed at the woman who had asked the question. "I know you, you're one of the skydiving team, I've seen you practising on the ground". "Dirt dives". the woman said quietly. "Pardon me?" The woman went on, "We call them 'dirt dives' we practice on the ground the formations we carry out in the air, it's only for very experienced skydivers". There was a silence as the two took in this information and seriously considered whether to actually carry out a skydive. Sara, although slightly drunk, was convinced she could not possibly jump out of an aircraft, "I may be tight, but I could never, never I tell you, jump out of a perfectly good airplane". With that she turned to complete her journey back to the camper.
"I'm Natalie" the slim quietly spoken woman said as she offered her hand to Miriam. "I own the jump club and believe me, we need new members. I sold my house, my car and took out a loan to start this business, I'm hanging on by the skin of my teeth. Oh it's fun, believe me it's fun, I've been skydiving for years, I live for the sport, but costs are high, I have to pay for the aircraft, the hangar rent, my camper, state tax you name it...but I wouldn't change my life for any other". Together they strolled past the barbecue, the smell of chargrilled chicken was in the air. "Isn't it terribly dangerous?" asked Miriam warming to the woman. "Well...it sure aint the safest sport, but the rewards are fantastic, when you vacate the machine and hit the stable position you are flying, really flying, you can travel across the sky, dive vertically, join hands with others. Somehow you're not conscious that you're falling, its a rush, a real blast I'm telling you".
For the next hour Miriam listened intently to the woman, learning that you had to pack your own main chute, the reserve had to be packed by an approved State packer. She also learned that the first few skyjumps took place with an instructor strapped to the students back. A specially large parachute was needed for this and nearly always the student was overwhelmed with the sheer excitement of the jump and many took up the sport.
Miriam retired that night knowing that she would not rest until she had tried, what was known as, the ultimate blast. She had dreams of floating through the skies like Peter Pan or Superman.
The following morning both women were reprimanded for not obeying the twenty-four-hour-rule, they had been confronted by the Chief Flying Instructor, "I'm sorry ladies, you cannot fly today, last night you consumed alcohol, it's as simple as that," Sara protested, "but we only drank Bud." "I'm sorry, that's the rules," Miriam looked at Sara, shrugged, then with good humour, "I guess he's right, we'll just have to watch today".
The pair watched the gliders being towed into the air for a while, critically observing the landings, then wandered over to watch the skydivers carrying out a 'dirt' dive. There were eleven persons plus the senior instructor, Natalie, who Miriam had met the night before. The group had formed themselves into a circle, then broke away to make two smaller circles, finally splitting off in all directions before simulating opening their 'chutes.
Soon all twelve climbed aboard the large blue and silver twin engined aeroplane, whose seats had been removed and sat together on the empty floor. Glancing across, the girls noted there were no doors to the machine, then with a roar the engines were started and the craft lumbered away to the end of the grass runway. Sara, whose hand had been shielding her eyes turned to look at Miriam, "My God, I think if I lived to be one hundred I could never do what they are about to do". There was a distant roar and the pair watched the machine accelerate towards them. As it drew level it started to leave the ground, there was a flash of colour and smiling faces through the hatch opening, then a change in engine sound due to the doppler effect. The two exchanged glances of admiration tinged with awe and returned to their little aluminium chairs outside the Winnebago to watch the drop.
Higher and higher climbed the blue twin aeroplane with its human cargo. Later, one of the club members walked over to them carrying a hand transceiver saying, "If you watch carefully, they'll jump any second, the pilot has just been in contact". Straining her eyes against the bright sky,Miriam suddenly saw a number of dots appear behind the distant machine, so small they could be motes on the retina, soon the dots reorganised themselves into a circle, followed by two smaller circles, after a while the circles broke up and dispersed into different directions. It was hard to believe that each dot was a real, living person. By now the dots were getting larger, taking elongated human form, soon square canopies blossomed and like windblown confetti they weaved intricate patterns downwards through the sky. Almost without breathing the pair watch as the aerial group headed for the landing zone, a gravel circle of about two metres across. One by one the skydivers landed, the crunch of their feet bearing a testimony to the accuracy of their steering. The air was filled with joyful whoops and cries of the jumpers, "Wow, she's lookin' good...Yahoo, Wheee," The women looked at one another, there was no doubt, these people were just having the time of their lives. There was an unspoken question between them, "Sara turned her head away and looked at the ground, "I know what you're thinking Mir, It's no good... I just couldn't do it, Jesus I even get dizzy up a small ladder." The jumpers swigged their cans of coke and chatted animatedly while they repacked their parachutes. The Florida sun blazed down, the temperature climbed into the low nineties and the windsock hung limply on its tall mast. Wiltingly, the two climbed aboard the Winnebago and with relief turned on the air conditioning. Hardly a word was spoken on the journey back to St Petes. Each was filled with the remembered vision of the skydivers. They felt excluded. Here was a group of people carrying out a very exciting sport, there was a real sense of family. Without fully realising it, each wanted to join that family. There was only one way in, to jump.
The women did not meet for the next few days. Thompson had returned and spent his time at each of theirxxx homes. From their chattering gossip he had learned of the burgeoning friendship that was developing between his ladies, this brought him enormous pleasure and joy until he learned with some alarm their sudden interest with skydiving. Miriam had told him that eventually, when she had plucked up the courage she would just try one jump, with an instructor of course. Sara, when the subject was brought up admitted that she could never jump. Thompson however, knew his wife better than she knew herself, if Miriam jumped then so would Sara, or she would be unable to live with herself.
It was like toothache, a constantly nagging ache that would allow no peace. Miriam sat in her morning room with heart pounding and a slight feeling of breathlessness. With a sick feeling she picked up the telephone and dialled the sky-dive club. It rang out, but before anyone had a chance to answer with a grimace,she hung up the phone and squeezed her knees together in frustrated uncertainty. Part of her wanted to try a skydive, but the fear of dying was overwhelming and this inhibited her. Logic told her that the hobby was fairly safe, yet the thought of leaving this wonderful life and all it had to offer was daunting. The debate raged in her thoughts and she knew herself well enough to know that eventually she would jump, if she did not, then she would be haunted for years with a badgering feelings of uncertainty. Pressing her hands together momentarily and closing her eyes, she whispered, "Please God give me guidance".
It was at the Mall the following morning that guidance was forthcoming. Coming towards her was a Afro-American youth, wearing a Walkman cassette player, his shoulders and hips swaying to the beat of his personal music. It was the writing on the front of his T shirt that so seized Miriam's attention. "Just do it". That was all there was to the message. "Just do it". Miriam could barely take her eyes off this simple recommendation. Wow...this was surely the answer to her prayer. In other words, stop vacillating, no more hesitation, just do it. Silently she again repeated the message...Just do it. The youth noting the rich bitch in front of him seemingly transfixed at the sight of his great body, smiled... Could this be his lucky day? Miriam breaking out of her reverie, instantly realised what he must be thinking, in her most haughty voice, "I beg your pardon," she stepped around the grinning youth and walked purposefully away.
"Just do it" the words tumbled around her head. There was no doubt in her mind that this was the answer to her prayer. This very day she would call the airfield and arrange a first jump.
With nerves screwed up to screaming pitch Miriam reached for the telephone and with great resolve she dialled the number. It rang out but again before anyone could answer she hung up. "Oh bugger this," she chastised herself, and with determination dialled again and waited until the phone was picked up. Miriam, recognising Natalie's voice introduced herself, "If you've been getting silent telephone calls just lately, I may be the culprit. The number of times I've tried to pluck courage to..." "Don't you say another word Miss Scott, we get this all the time, it takes a while to get up courage Uhh?" The appointment was made for the following morning and that evening Miriam watched the weather forecast carefully, almost praying for bad weather so that the jump would be called off. Perhaps the car would break down,or perhaps she would get lost on the way there. None of these things happened and at eleven o'clock the following day, Miriam could be found, lying face down on the floor of the briefing room with back arched, arms and legs in the recommended position practising the stable flying attitude. The student skydiver wore a comfortably fitting jump suit, helmet, a pair of training shoes and an anxious expression. Natalie seeing the latter smiled, "Lighten up honey, you're doing just great. Now listen up. The modern parachute bears little resemblance to the old round type that was so widely used in World War II. On those the landing speed was much higher and they were almost un steerable. Sometimes people were injured on landing, an unlikely occurrence with the modern rig. You'll love these, the modern sport parachute is more like a flying wing, because as it moves forward through the air, it creates lift, Ok? It is known as a ram-air canopy, it's highly manoeuvrable and you can steer by pulling on one of the two toggles attached to the main lines. Simply pull down on the left toggle, and the whole affair turns to the left, pull down on the right toggle and you'll turn to the right. The beauty of this system is just before the ground is reached, you pull both toggles down to your full reach, the angle of attack on the canopy increases, the chute flares, and you just step onto the earth. Honest honey, it's as simple as that. Ok, any questions?" Miriam, with mild embarrassment asked if she could go to the bathroom just once more, God knows how many pees she`d had since entering this place.
At last with Miriam all kitted up, they made their way towards the aircraft and climbed aboard. Natalie demonstrated how, when they were given the signal, they would move on their bottoms to the open doorway, "Get your buttocks onto the edge, keep looking at the wing tip. Elmer here will be attached to you, he'll call out, one, two three. On the `three` you vacate the aircraft and just you concentrate on getting into the stable position...Ok?"
Miriam nodded dumbly, she was beginning to wish she'd never seen South `bloody` Lakes Field with all its crazy pastimes. Now she was being attached to an ancient American called Elmer, Christ if the bloody parachute didn't open would she be joined to poor bloody Elmer for all eternity?
As the pilot started the starboard engine, it whined its objection to being woken yet again, then burst into willing song. With a puff of blue smoke the port engine followed and soon they were taxiing over the bumpy grass towards the end of the runway. "Please God let the bloody thing break down". The machine turned into wind, "Please God let him run out of petrol or something?" The machine's engines rose to a bellowing roar, the level of sound was tremendous through the open doorway. "Please dear God let it be a safe landing, I love Thompson and my parents..." suddenly they were airborne. There were other skydivers in the machine, all eyes seemed to be on her. Determined not to show fear she examined her nails and even pressed back the cuticle on one. When eyes met hers, she only saw encouragement and understanding.
Seemingly hours later and still climbing, Jesus H Christ, how much higher were they going to go? Finally the machine throttled back and the aircraft slowed. There was a general exodus towards the open door. Although she was prepared for it, the spectacle of seeing her fellow passengers disappear though the open door was awesome. Suddenly except for herself, Elmer and Natalie, the machine was empty. Miriam stared at the noisy, gaping open doorway, a maw that Miriam knew would eventually devour her. The woman felt a push at her back, it was time to go. Together, walking along on their buttocks she and Elmer made their way towards the doorway. Still looking at the wing tip she inched her bottom onto the ledge and with wrists crossed in front of her as she'd been instructed, stole a forbidden glance into the two mile space below. Astonishingly, Miriam suddenly felt a great calmness wash over her, an acceptance of the future whatever it held. Then the rocking started, Elmer pressed into her back and called, "one, two, threeeee." His words were torn away in a wail of fast moving wind as they launched into roaring, open space. Within seconds the air was forced into her open mouth as they plunged earthward. Remembering her training she adopted the stable position. As though by magic the pair became secure and for the first time Miriam relaxed a little. They were dropping at a little over 120 miles per hour. A special small drogue chute compensated for the extra, two person weight and as they flew, the girl could feel the spongy, warm air beneath her hands. The sensation was fantastic. Suddenly Natalie came into sight, she literally flew towards the pair, then stabilised a few feet in front of her. The instructor was smiling and gave Miriam a thumb and forefinger circle, the signal that asked, "are you alright", Miriam gave the signal back and together the trio fell towards the airfield. With a final wave, Natalie flew a few hundred feet away then she appeared to shoot upward as her parachute opened.
Miriam was in a dream like state. Everything was fine, it wasn't so bad after all. She liked skydiving. Her daydreaming came to an abrupt end when there was a rubbery jerk, the straps between her legs tightened, a rush of silk and they were stationary, or so it seemed. The violent jerk had alarmed Miriam and awakened all her earlier fears. Then Elmer's quiet voice above her asked how she felt, reassured she felt a warm affection for this gentle old man who had safely and unassumingly helped the girl through her first dive. She longed to fill her lungs with the sweet clear air of life, it was not to be, her harness straps were quite tight and prevented full lung ventilation.
The ground was coming up nicely now, Elmer called softly, "Ok Missy, you done good...just remember your landing training and we're nearly there... A few feet from the ground they both hauled on twin toggles, the canopy above almost stopped flying, stalled in mid air and the two landed as soft as thistledown.
Miriam was so weak she could not, at first rise to her feet. Soon, willing hands helped her out of the harness, arms were placed around her shoulders, kisses rained on her rosy cheeks, and a camera clicked. With a heart filled with joy, she was congratulated by the other members of the flight and led back to the hangar for a de-briefing. Miriam knew, that if she lived to be one hundred she would never, never experience anything quite like that again. The world would never be the same again. She was a skydiver. This was to be her new pastime, her passion. she couldn't wait to tell Sara.
"You've done what? you crafty, devious, miserable, despicable bitch. I simply do not believe what I am hearing, how could you?" Sara ranted down the telephone. Miriam held the receiver well away from her ear and suppressed the glee she knew had crept into her voice, knowing there was no real malice intended. Then in a voice tinged with awe and admiration Sara said, "You'd better come to dinner tonight and tell me all about it".
So it was, that during the course of the next few days Sara also took the plunge, literally. Like Miriam, she too was captivated by the sport and in a very short time, the number of jumps they had undertaken was in three figures. They spent so much time at South Lakes that Thompson was getting quite fed up with solitary Saturday evenings whilst his lovers were stayed overnight at the field.
Although he complained loudly, secretly he was delighted that his ladies were getting on so well together. One weekend he joined them at the field, even flew up to ten thousand feet with them, but then seeing the two persons he loved more than anyone else in the world, leap out of the plane, frightened him beyond words. It was a silent, sober Thompson who landed in the empty blue and silver machine that day.
He tried to persuade them to take up safer pastimes, to no avail, sailing, parascending, yachting, all paled beside the rush of adrenalin that skydiving provided. The women would not, perhaps could not give up the sport. It was like a drug, a narcotic.
Leslie Marquand had regarded the Sinclair women as his targets, eventually as his hostages and with Sinclair to be the person he would demand ransom from. Gradually he had wormed his way into the tycoon's favour. He gave very good value with his Rolls-Royce service. Punctual, always smart and ever the perfect servant. From time to time he had chauffeured the women, mostly separately but sometimes together. He seldom spoke, unless addressed, but was always listening and watching, thus he learned a great deal of the women's habits, pastimes and currently, their skydiving activities. The plan was coming together. The following week Leslie would put the final touches to the scheme that should make him rich, independent with no need to ferry these rich bastards around. Sometimes he felt like a bloody rickshaw owner.
Hiring the small sea plane he again visited Conch Island, this time with a small cargo. He ran the floats up onto the beach and carried the anchor well past the high water mark. Satisfied, he ferried a number of jerry-cans of water up to the house. This ransom business could become protracted. It was unlikely he'd be caught, but if he was, the last thing he wanted, was to be brought up on a charge of murder if they had died of thirst in the meanwhile. A few more trips from the plane up onto the beach and a couple of little jobs in the bungalow and he was finished. A last thoughtful look around the island. Now all he had to do was to arrange his own apparent demise, and disappear from sight with the ransom. The plan had to be flexible, there were many variables. The main thing was to isolate the women into an environment where they could come to no harm but have no chance of escape. Too many kidnap situations had gone wrong because the hostages had been harmed trying to escape.
His next task was to persuade the ladies to allow him to drop them over the island with their full cooperation. Suddenly he knew how. Click. Another piece of the jigsaw dropped into place.
Sara called Miriam early one morning, "Have you heard, Thompson's arranging a special party for us on a mystery island. We are not supposed to know anything about it. It seems he's found this absolutely darling place, miles from anywhere and we are to drop in and all spend a few days al fresco. Oh it'll be such fun". Miriam was curious but not suspicious, it was the sort of thing that Thompson would do, "Who else is coming?" "I'm not sure... still it will be fun, literally dropping in like that. Where did you learn all this?" "From Marquand, it seems he's going to pick us up at very shortly and arrange our flight." Strange that he uses that man so much. It isn't that he hasn't a full time driver. Like most Americans, he really goes for all the English chauffeur crap, if you don't mind my saying so." "No offence intended". "Well I'd better get my stuff together if we are jumping this morning, by the way I hope he's invited Nat..."
Twenty minutes later saw the arrival outside Miriam's front door of Marquand's Rolls-Royce. The driver alighted and opened the trunk to accept her sport bag. "Good morning madam" Leslie's smile was as charming as ever, and Miriam recalled the ailments Sara said he'd probably caught and barely suppressed a shudder. "Good morning Marquand, I understand this is a surprise party?" "Yes madam, we have to hurry I have to collect Mrs Sinclair very shortly."
As they sat together in the car, the women spoke in excited subtones as the driver steered the old thoroughbred through downtown St Petes, passing the inverted pyramid pierhead building and entered the private gates of Albert Whitted airfield. The vehicle came to rest outside a remote hangar on the far side of the field with a Cessna 170 standing ready, with it's rear door removed. The women changed into their jump suits and strapped the altimeters onto their wrists. Each checked the others equipment. Main chute, emergency chute, altimeter set to correct pressure, harnesses, all straps and buckles secure...the list went on. In the meantime Leslie was carrying out external checks on the Cessna. Seeing this Sara stopped and stared, "Who is flying this machine Marquand?" "I have that privilege madam". The man looked humbled and slightly hurt. "I didn't know you had a licence," "Yes madam. I fly regularly, if however you feel..." he left the question hanging in the air, "Sara went on, "well I suppose its alright if Mr Sinclair arranged it...tell me, when did he contact you about all this?" "Early this morning madam, my instructions were quite clear, I was to collect..." "Yes, yes I know all that,I just can't understand why he didn't say something last night when he called." "Perhaps that was the surprise madam". The man looked defenceless and uncertain. Sara felt as though she were kicking a helpless dog. "Well, you'd better carry on then". The women started their safety checks all over again as they had been interrupted. Leslie was getting more and more worried, this bloody checking business was taking altogether too long. Sooner or later someone was going to become curious and wonder why a Rolls-Royce had been parked in such an unusual part of the field. At last the women finished and climbed into the rear of the plane. Thankfully, the pilot climbed into the left hand seat and without hesitation quickly ran through his pre take-off checks. Obtaining takeoff permission from the tower, they were soon rushing down the runway, then free of the ground turning to face the expanse that was the Gulf of Mexico.
Having dropped his precious female cargo, Marquand flew east returning to Albert Whitted airfield. It was vital he now arrange his apparent demise as soon as possible.
Running parallel to the coast of Florida was a strip of waterway, known as the intercoastal. It was ideal for use by vacationing sailors and fishermen, without the risks associated with the open sea. There were vast stretches of calm water heaving with fish, leaping dolphins and happy holidaymakers. There were natural openings to the ocean every five miles or so and both sides of the waterway were built with luxury homes, many with their own private boat dock.
Near Janet's home the intercoastal narrowed to about one half a mile wide. There were always plenty of retired people sitting in their windows and balconies watching life pass by on the water. Changing into his bathing costume and fins, Leslie left his clothes neatly folded near a wooden deck. A young woman, sitting reluctantly with her parents, had watched the man undress. She looked longingly at his bronzed body and idly daydreamed. As the man waded into the warm water, holding his mask, he waved back to her, the girl flushed. Spitting into his face mask Leslie rubbed the saliva over the glass then flooded it with seawater to prevent it fogging, then he placed it over his head. Taking the snorkel tube between his lips the man, face down, started to fin away from the dock towards the centre of the waterway. Periodically he dived under the water, as though in search of fish, then re-surfaced. Now a considerable distance off shore he looked around to ensure that there were still people on the dock watching him. Satisfied, he checked his position by using a transit bearing, carefully lining up a tall conifer on the far shore with a block of Condos on the horizon. As long as he kept to this line he would be able to locate that which he sought. The one factor he had not considered was the small tide running. This constantly pushed him off course and he had to fin diagonally in order to remain on his chosen track. Now it was time for his cross bearing, looking to his left he knew he had to line up Condo's on the Passe-a-Grille peninsula with the swing bridge at Isla del Sol. Soon this was achieved and taking a good lungful of air, he dived. Bingo, there it was, first go. With a feeling of satisfaction, Leslie examined both the sub aqua air bottle and delivery valve (DV) he had carefully sank there the previous evening. It was almost covered with sand,he was lucky it had not been totally submerged. Returning to the surface he looked around. There were still people on lawns, windows and loungers with eyes in his direction, it was time for his disappearance. As luck would have it, a family of dolphins broke the surface near to where Leslie was treading water. Perfect, people on shore always watched out for these lovely animals, Leslie could be clearly seen amongst them, what a great time to go. It would be assumed that the smiling creatures had something to do with his demise. Pushing his fins high into the air, Marquand dived again for the sea bed, it wasn't very deep. Locating his air bottle again he reached for the DV and turned on the valve. He was rewarded with bubbles from the mouthpiece which he took greedily between his lips. Cool clean air entered his lungs and he shrugged his shoulders into the harness that was part of the equipment. All Sub Aqua divers under training have to carry out the exercise that Leslie had just undertaken. It was not difficult. In training it must be carried out with a blacked- out mask, simulating total darkness. As he was not wearing a wet suit, there had been no need for a weight belt. Looking up, he saw the dolphin school travelling along the waterway. It had been too easy. It bode well for the rest of the operation. Keeping a few feet above the sea bottom Leslie finned along a southerly route, guided by the sun he could see through the surface. Any bubbles he left behind would not be visible due to the slight wind on the surface and the passage of the dolphins.
After several minutes, anxious witnesses rose to their feet, some calling to each other, some telephoning 911, others were scanning the water with binoculars.
With surprising speed the rescue services were in the area. Leslie, now about a mile away could hear the sound of numerous propellers vibrating through the water. He finned doggedly on. The tidal flow that was such an inconvenience earlier in his swim was now helping him, pushing him towards the Peninsula where he would land. With arms near to his sides the man continued to head for his destination. Now about half way, he would soon be able to surface and check his position. He dare not do this yet, as he may still be spotted by an observer with a telescope.
The finning seemed to go on forever. The diver swam along on autopilot, his mind barely concentrating on the task. He listened to the passage of bubbles past his head and the hypnotic click of the one way air valve in the DV. He was getting cold, reaching for his air contents guage he noted that there was still enough air to complete his journey. Fortunately, swimming just below the surface used less air than had he been at a greater depth. Glancing at his watch, Marquand believed he was probably now far enough away to risk surfacing. He must check his position soon. No, hold on, why risk everything for the sake of a few minutes more... He finned on... God it was getting cold, he should have worn a wet suit top... Suddenly, over the noise of his air bubbles he heard a new sound, for a few moments he stopped breathing, yes, there it was again, the deep thudding of a very large propeller. This wasn't the typical whine or buzz of the usual sports boat, what could it be? Surely there couldn't be a large vessel in the intercoastal, there simply wasn't enough depth. Leslie held his breath again. The noise was louder, there was a clanking of heavy machinery and the rhythmic thrash of large screws that were getting louder by the minute. Alarmed now, Leslie realised that the safest place was on the very bottom. Finning downward he tried to press his body into the soft dark ooze but without a weight belt he kept floating up. He tried gripping the sparse sea weed, but this would not tolerate his buoyancy and broke uselessly in his hands. There was also the ever present effect of the tide that, now he was attempting station-holding, made things more difficult than ever. The machine sounds were now getting very loud. Suddenly it went dark as a great iron mass passed between the diver and the sun. Marquand forced his hands into the soft sand to prevent his rising. It wasn't enough, taking off his fins he forced his bare feet into the sand and spread-eagled managed to hold position as the underwater cacophony of sound assaulted his ears. The thunder seemed to go on for ever, as the dredger, for that is what it was, hauled its 140 feet of length over the motionless diver clinging with pounding heart to the sea bed. There was barely six feet between the barnacle covered rusting hull and the man's vulnerable soft body. Without warning, an excruciating pain seared up the mans leg, A crab?, a large fish? something had bitten into the small toe. Leslie tore his foot out of the ooze and writhed with unaccustomed pain. His hands came free of the sand and again his body started to float upward. swimming violently forward he held position near the bottom in a panic of pain and terror. Suddenly the giant bronze screws were overhead. Leslie body was picked up and turned over in the maelstrom of turbulence that carried him inches from death. Then, the vessel was past. Sunlight once more bathed the underwater spectacle but the visibility was nil. The massive screws had whipped the water into a soup of air, sand, mud and water. Of his fins there was no sign. This was serious because they gave the swimmer a great propulsion for little effort, without them he would make slow progress. The pain in his foot was agonizing. He wondered what it was, perhaps there had been rusted steel under the sand, but no, it had felt as though some creature had bitten him.
Very gradually the sand returned to the seabed, the air to the surface and visibility was restored to the water. At this moment the bottle gave up the last of its air. Leslie sucked hard on an empty DV. Releasing the equipment and jettisoning it to the sea bed he rose to the surface. With horror he realised he was long past the Passe-a-Grille peninsula, the tide must have been much stronger than he realised. He was in the open sea with the tide pulling him ever further out into the Gulf of Mexico. Without fins he had almost no hope of making it back to the shore, he was too small to be seen by the distant fishermen. With rising despair he trod water, again there was a numbing shock to his foot, looking down, he saw with horror, the water stained red around him. Almost crying with terror, he beat off the fish that had been attracted by the allure of blood. Christ, what a way to go... Feeling colder as he lost more blood Leslie Marquand kept treading water as he waited for darkness to fall.
'The Bleeding Time' is the interval the human body allows a wound to express blood before the vessels close and permit no further escape of the precious liquid, providing it isn't arterial bleeding. Slowly Leslie's wound stopped bleeding as did the interest of the fish surrounding him. Light headed and barely conscious the man hovered at the surface that was still travelling inexorably towards Mexico.
Leslie knew he was going to die. His arms and legs would barely function. Every muscle screamed out as the lactic acid built up. His muscles were depleted of energy and soon would not work at all.
In spite of the coast guard alert there was almost no chance of him being picked up at this hour, or was there? Coastguards would know the currents and tides, perhaps they would search for him out here. Turning his head to the east he saw the distant glow in the sky that was St Petes. To the north the Pole star, Polaris, and then he saw a shooting star, as a meteor scored its diagonal path towards the earth, Leslie made his wish. In the last hours of his consciousness he contemplated his situation, He wanted his death to appear authentic, well he'd achieved that... He never did make it to the wealthy classes, well he'd come bloody close, and the crumpet, well, when it came to women he had no peers...
Now he was lower in the water, a wave, a little larger than usual broke across his face, his mouth had been open at that moment, salt water entered his throat. Some invaded his digestive tract, some the trachea and as he had been inspiring at the time, a considerablethe amount of water entered his lungs. This was soon followed by more seawater as the doomed man was unable control his respiratory function. He struggled, gasping and gulping, more of the ocean entering the man's searing lungs, his arms flailed in a last desperate effort, but the movements were un-coordinated and feeble. The diaphram worked correctly to ventilate the lungs, but as water was much heavier than air, failed to get the liquid out. First red then grey colours passed through the dying man's mind, the colours grey dim... there was a roaring... then final blackness. Within four minutes brain activity ceased and the body that had belonged to Leslie Marquand slid beneath the dark waves almost without a ripple...
A few miles to the west of Leslie's sub-marine remains were two very frightened and dispirited women. It was dark and unusually cold, they were crouched over a small fire they had lit in the crumbling hearth. "Something's very wrong", said Sara, face red in the flickering light of the flames, Miriam nodded, "Do you think Leslie made it all up for some reason? - Thompson would never leave us here after dark, if it was a joke it's gone too far. I don't think there was ever going to be a party". Sara agreed and the pair discussed their immediate future.
After waking up on the beach, the pair had found and explored the old bungalow. It was alive with bugs of every description, crunching underfoot as they walked through the derelict rooms, dropping from the ceiling and now seemingly attracted to the firelight. The women had found the water and matches someone had left for them but no food or bedding. After a hungry evening spent discussing their strange situation ,the two had gathered some wood and lit a fire, this had bought some comfort but both now realised that something was very, very wrong. Sara, voicing her thoughts said, "I think we've been kidnapped, just look at the facts. We take Leslie's word for it and allow him to drop us here on this bloody island miles from anywhere. What do we know about the wretched man, other than he's a rake and a glorified taxi driver. For all we know he could be the only person to know where we are. Miriam nodded and pointed, "Have you seen the amount of water someone's left, there is enough there for quite a few days." Sara sighed, "We can't get in touch with anyone, we daren't attempt to swim and we have not seen a boat anywhere on the island. I think he's going to hold us for ransom. - Shit." Sara spit out the last word and took an angry wild swipe at something large that had landed on her neck.
Miriam had wrapped her parachute around her body, this had protected her from some of the insects and although the night air was cold she was perspiring freely. Her misery had been compounded when earlier, she had gone outside to relieve herself and whilst crouched near the ground, some small creature had moved underneath her, causing her to leap away with fright. She had accidentally wet her pants and hands. A distant part of her mind saw the funny side of the incident, but at the moment she did not feel like laughing.
The following morning, after a long night of hunger and discomfort the two entered the sea to wash. They were desperately hungry. "We have to eat", said Miriam, "I have my little gun, we'll have to try and shoot something." Sara was feeling bloody minded and echoed, "Shoot something, well for Christ's sake, what are you going to shoot round here?" "I don't know," the other said miserably, "but we have to try... Perhaps pelican?" Again Sara echoed, "Pelican... we can't eat fucking Pelican," then collapsing on the beach, with head in hands all anger left her and she sobbed silently while Miriam placed a protective arm around her heaving shoulders.
Later, Sara apologised for her behaviour and the two decided that if they were to survive they would have to live on their wits and hunt for some food.
The small hand gun was not ideally suited to hunting Pelican. Miriam realised she was going to have to get very close indeed. Back at St Petes she'd noticed how the birds always stood near shore-fishermen, patiently waiting for an offering of any surplus fishy morsel. Inspired, she broke off a long slender branch, stripped off the leaves and stood near the waters edge. Placing the branch in the water from time to time she watched askance as the birds edged clumsily closer, soon one was about fifteen feet from her. Making reassuring cooing sounds as she slowly raising the hand gun Miriam aimed steadily at the harmless, trusting creature's head, then fired. The bang had been unexpectedly loud. Birds flew off in all directions except the one Miriam had aimed at. The unfortunate bird simply fell over, its head cleanly drilled by the woman's bullet. At the sound of the shot, Sara came running from the house. Miriam was shocked at her achievement and unable to move. Both stood surveying the untidy remains on the sand... in a hushed voice Sara said, "I've never dressed a bird before, its already packaged when you buy chickens from Publix." Miriam, now recovered, "Well you can start with this one." Together they dragged the carcase to the waters edge and started to tear out its feathers. Without a knife they had to hack the head off with a sharp stone. It took ages. "We've got to get the insides out, you do know that, don't you?" "Of course I know, I'm not that bloody dim"...
It took over an hour, using bare hands, sticks and stones until the bird was finally gutted and ready to cook. Both women had vomited during their unsavoury task and neither felt like eating the bird at this time. Carefully they wrapped the hapless creature in palm fronds and buried it in the sand until later when they would light the fire.
The rest of the day was spent collecting anything that would burn, driftwood, dry palmfronds and seaweed. They carried armfuls of fuel up to their temporary shelter and tried to evict some of the insect population. It was a hopeless task. Sweating, Miriam stated. "My father used to keep bees", "Yeah?" murmured Sara inquiringly, "He used smoke, that would quieten the bees and he could work with them." "What are you saying? we start keeping bees?" Sara asked cynically. "No, but it might discourage the bugs". So saying she tried lighting a small fire away from the old fireplace, they soon discovered it was dried seaweed that worked the best. Burning it without allowing it to burst into flame, just allowing it to smoulder, they found it gave off clouds of pungent smoke that soon filled the room and had the couple diving for the door. Quickly shutting all the openings as best they could, they left the stinking smoke to carry out its work.
Later that day, before sunset the two returned to the house. Opening all the doors but leaving the tattered remains of the old screens in place. A welcome light breeze had sprung up and soon the foul air was driven from the rooms. The women lit a fresh woodfire in the hearth and in it's crackling warm light the pair looked around noting that there wasn't a live insect to be seen. Sara smiled and made a vertical downward stroke with her fore finger, commenting, "Round one to the dynamic duo... but God I'm so bloody hungry." "I'll get the pelican", said Sara, you keep the fire going, Ok." Keeping the flames to a minimum the women fanned the red hot ashes, the bird turned and roasted on the home made spit and the smell was delicious. It was starting to look like a regular bird instead of a goose fleshed corpse. The starving women took it in turns to rotate the creature until they decided it was cooked. Without knives the bird had to be dissected by hand, it was so well cooked that the flesh came apart in their hands. Sara, experimentally tasted a morsel, it was delicious, a little fishy but delicious. Miriam needed no further encouragement, soon great pieces of meat were being consumed with grease running down the women's chins. Finally, satiated the two built up the fire, pulled the parachutes around their shoulders and gazed thoughtfully into the leaping, dancing flames.
After a while Miriam commented, "Well at least we wont starve," she hesitated, "I think we should make plans to send a signal or something." Sara agreed, "We should build a fire on the beach, perhaps we had better make it our first job tomorrow. After you've shot another pelican, that is!"
Originally it had been planned that the women should only be on the island for a few days at most but with the unexpected real demise of Leslie their future was looking very bleak.
Thompson was in New York when Janet phoned him with the shock news. With stunned disbelief, he listened to the woman's level voice reading the ransom note that had arrived for him. Then he nervously waited for the punch line, the tease, the admission that it was all an elaborate joke, but as Janet's cool voice continued he realised that it was not a prank. "To Thompson Sinclair, your ladies have been temporarily abducted. They are safe, for the moment. Please gather a package of small and medium diamonds to the value of £5 million sterling, no large or conspicuous stones. Further instructions will follow shortly. Positively, no police." Sinclair, still clutching the receiver, subsided into a chair. The blood drained from his face and for a moment he thought he was going to faint. "Mr Sinclair, are you still there sir?" The man's voice whispered, "Have you tried calling them?" "Yes sir, there is no answer from either number". In a stronger tone Thompson went on, "Do exactly as the note says until I get back, Do not call the police at this time, arrange for the stones to be assembled by that discreet Israeli firm, - I can't remember their name right now, anyway they have an office in Tampa. Pay them from the executive account at Nations Bank with a draft for the five million. I will not do anything to further endanger their lives. There was no answer when I tried to call Sara last night, I just figured they were at the skydiving club." Janet made sympathetic platitudes which were brushed aside by the man, "Yes, yes thankyou Janet, now please do as I ask, I have much to arrange, I will be back with you as soon as I can."
Thompson broke the connection and called his pilot at a nearby hotel, "I want the Lear ready, fuelled with a flight plan filed as quickly as you can make it. We have a real emergency, I have to get back to St Petes as soon as possible, I am leaving for the airfield right now, tell Air Traffic control that your employer has a real life and death emergency and you want priority clearance for take off as soon as possible. Got all that?" The pilot assured his understanding into the phone, then hung up, within minutes he had checked out of the hotel and was in a taxi heading for JFK International Airport.
In spite of every effort it was almost two hours later before the Lear left the runway. Thompson had stormed aboard as soon as could and immediately started using the telephone. He called Janet and checked that his instructions were being carried out. There was nothing new. He called the girls respective homes, and listened with anguish to his loved ones recorded voices. With frustration he slammed the instrument down and made his way forward onto the flight deck and sat in the empty co-pilot's seat. The pilot had reached cruise altitude and was now at their authorised flight level. "Can you land at Albert Whitted?" "No sir, they are not licensed for jet aircraft and the main runway is only 3000 feet long, we could make it, but it would be tight. We must land at Tampa." Thompson snorted, "That's another forty-five minute drive to St Petes and Christ knows how much time wasted buggering about getting out of the area by car... How about if you declared an emergency near St Petes? they'd have to let you land at Whitted then wouldn't they?" "Yes sir... but it would have to be a very convincing story, they'd check it out of course, I could lose my licence." Sinclair regarded the man's frank blue gaze, Ok, Ok Just think about it eh? I need to save every minute I can. The pilot set the heading on the autopilot, checked and re-checked his instruments then turned to his employer, "We could declare a fuel shortage emergency sir, I did not take on fuel at JFK, In view of the time factor I figured we had sufficient with the tail wind and all to get to Tampa without the usual reserve, In the light of events I guess there wouldn't be a full investigation, possibly a light reprimand." His voice tailed off.
Thompson smiled grimly, "Good man, get to it."
The unusual events that had been taking place at Albert Whitted airfield had not gone unnoticed. Chuck Wilde, an amateur pilot and semi retired freelance reporter, had been working on his much loved little aircraft when he noticed something unusal. He had discovered a Rolls-Royce parked on wasteland behind his hangar on this remote part of the field. The club's Cessna 170 was next to it minus a door, and now, for the first time in the history of the field Chuck heard the unusual whine of a Jet plane making a final approach to land. Looking up, he saw a smart private Lear Jet making a well judged 'short landing' approach. It touched down on the 'piano keys' at the threshold of the runway and slowed near the end before taxying towards the tower.
Abandoning his labour of love, the newsman left his beloved machine and raced across the tarmac towards the now stationary Jet. The engines were still spooling down as a solitary figure hurriedly left the machine, climbed into the waiting Limo and was briskly driven away from the area. Chuck's nose for news pointed him towards a story, his gut feeling had never failed him. Here was news, big news, the sort of story that made big bucks. Chuck always carried two essential trade tools, a notebook and a compact camera. Quickly he photographed the elegant machine then made his way to the hatch of the Lear Jet from which the pilot was emerging.
"Hi, want to tell me what's going on?" The pilot donned a hunted look, recognising a news man. The aviator was well used to these sharks, always interested in the rich and famous, he knew well how the most innocent remark could be twisted into a sensational news story. "Absolutely no comment." The reporter was undaunted, "Isn't this the Sinclair Corporation Jet?" The pilot ignored the man and continued securing his machine, finally locking the cabin door and making his way to the tower entrance followed closely by the persistant newsman.
Thompson eschewed the elevator and took the steps two at a time to the top floor, Janet was already waiting for him, omitting the usual pleasantries, she rose and in a level voice immediately gave her report.
"There has been no further contact from the kidnappers, the diamonds will be with you by special delivery tomorrow at six p.m. I have authorised a cashiers cheque as you instructed, but the bank insist upon your witnessed signature. As the overnight interest is considerable they have held it over until you are ready to complete." Thompson nodded, Janet went on, "I have taken the liberty of calling Ned Lampkin who is in the outer office. We have also received repeated calls from a freelance reporter called Chuck Wilde."
Thompson stooped and carefully read the ransom note himself. Straightening, he said, "This is a computer printout" it wasn't a question. The woman answered, "Yes sir, it came in with our E Mail. I have stored in on the hard drive of your personal computer and I thought a printout would be of assistance to the police... or whoever." Her voice tailed off. Thompson walked to the window and looked blindly out,not seeing the beautiful view beyond. His mind racing.
Lieutenant Nathanial Ed Lampkin, a retired New York police officer, now living in Sarasota, Florida, highly respected by his peers and colleagues alike, was a legend in his own lifetime. Losing his wife shortly after his retirement, had left him embittered for a while and brought into question his belief in a loving God. Angry and hurt, he had spent hours each day, moody and unshaven sitting in the window of his retirement bungalow that he and his wife planned to spend the autumn of their lives in. Alas, she had passed on within a few weeks of moving down here, leaving Ned grief stricken and disoriented. Catching sight of himself in a mirror one day, Ned saw a man indulging in self pity, he smelled God-awful and had lost weight. At that moment he received a telephone call from an ex-buddy who needed help. That had been the turning point. From that moment life seemed to have regained a purpose, somebody needed him. Now his expertise was often sought by local police considering themselves lucky to have such a famous detective living in their midst. Ned had made many contacts throughout his long career and now found the occasional police work very interesting besides taking his mind off his solitary lifestyle. He had been a talented and tenacious officer with an uncanny knack of seeing through smoke screens, and piecing together seemingly disconnected facts. The 'Luck of Lampkin' was due to hard work, an insatiable appetite for seeking the truth, attention to detail and a strange ability to persuade those he questioned to tell the truth. Those that did not, were left with a feeling that their interrogator knew exactly what they were hiding. Amongst ordinary policemen and women, Ned's name was regarded almost as supernatural,because once a case had been delegated to him, it usually resulted in an arrest.
Whilst Ned was no longer a serving police officer, he carried a special warrant card and held a consultative position with the St Petes and Sarasota Police departments who unashamedly used his talents when faced with seemingly unsolvable crimes. He also carried out civil investigative work. In recent months he had been 'checking out' certain individuals who wished to have dealings with the Sinclair organisation. His work had been thorough and fruitful, saving the Sinclair Group a great deal of embarrassment and money.
Ned's soft brown eyes surveyed the intercoastal waters as he waited to be called into Thompsons office. There was soft music playing, a gentle relaxing piece which he recognised, 'The River' a movement from the Florida Suite by Delius, who Ned recalled had been an orange grower in Florida in the 1930s. Thoughts of his wife brought a tear, then the door opened and the prim, Janet invited him into the inner sanctum and into the presence of the great man.
Ned listened, without interruption to all that Thompson and Janet had to say, both had been succinct. Thompson was adamant that the police should not be called in yet and Lampkin had no alternative but to go along with his wishes. He would be supplied with Sinclair's private mobile number, he was to call at any time of the day or night to report any new developments. Lampkin started each case with an empty, cleared mind, not unlike the spinning hard-drive of a computer. As each fact was learnt ,it would be placed in his memory in an unclassified position, later when further facts emerged they would be compared with information already stored. If there was a link, no matter how tenuous, the facts would be moved, re-organised into clusters of new, connected data. This skill, coupled with the ability to remember long names and numbers had been a tremendous asset in his chosen profession.
There was little to go on. A ransom note via computer 'E' mail of unknown origin, no indication as to where the women were held and one very curious reporter. He would be Lampkin's starting point.
Following a brief telephone call, Chuck Wilde agreed to meet the detective at the airfield. When Lampkin arrived, he found the newsman cleaning the engine of a small, low wing yellow monoplane. "Hi," the man welcomed Lampkin, "Wilde, Chuck Wilde, How ya doin?" After wiping his freckled hands on a piece of rag he offered one to Ned. After the pleasantries, Ned looked at the gleaming little machine, following his gaze, the newsman went on, "Purdy little thing, aint she? This here's a Rollison Condor, British made, constructed from wood, and see here...a genuine Rolls-Royce engine. She's a joy to fly I can tell you, economical, quiet and the controls, why they're so sensitive an all." Ned saw pride of ownership in the man's eyes and then watched as the light flicked off to be replaced by the pragmatic expression of an experienced news man.
Chuck stated, "I know of you, you're a famous detective. You wouldn't be here if something wasn't very, very important, Ok, now are you gonna help me with a few questions?" Ned smiled and shook his head sadly, "Nothing I can share with you at this time," then changing tack, "just wondered why you got in touch with Sinclair's office recently?" The reporter looked at the detective and decided that he might as well help, he might be able to find something out. Placing his rag down on the cowl of the Condor, he beckoned, "Come with me," he led his visitor to the rear of the hangar explaining his find. Ned's eyebrows rose fractionally, "you haven't touched anything here have you?" The reporter shook his head. Ned went on, "I have to make a call, just give me a moment huh?" With that the detective walked out of earshot and called Sinclair. "Mr Sinclair? I have some news, I have discovered an abandoned Rolls-Royce car and a small aircraft, they may or may not be associated with the abduction, anyhow, I need to get proper forensic people down here, now I can't do that unless you properly report your ladies missing and notify the St Petes Police of the ransom note. Ok? This is too big for me to handle alone, I need the assistance and cooperation of the police department...You still there Mr Sinclair?" there was a long silence, Thompson was weighing the man's words. "You saw the note, 'No Police'." "I'm sorry Mr Sinclair, but you should know the police are expert in this kind of demand, they handle it with great success. This is mainly why the kidnapper doesn't want them involved. If you just pay up, there is a real possibility that you will never see your ladies alive again." It had been a brutal statement, but it did the trick, Thompson relented, "Ok, Ok, do what you have to."
Miriam was the first to hear the plane. She sprang to her feet and rushed towards the pile of leaves and brushwood they had prepared on the beach. With shaking hands, spilling many of the matches to the sand, she managed to strike one and apply it to the leaves. Soon the fire caught and the flames leapt hungrily upward.Sara eyeing the approaching machine jumped up and down waving her arms furiously. Miriam joined her in their frantic dance for recognition.
The machine was flying at about 1000 feet and heading directly towards them from the mainland. Once overhead it turned and flew back on a reciprical compassxxx. The burning fire was mostly flame, Sara, in an agony of despair shouted, "For Christ's sake, where's the smoke?" The craft was now far away from them and the women's cries faded in despair. There were tears in Miriam's eyes and Sara, angrily cursed the unobservant pilot and his doubtful parentage.
Later, the women analyzed the event. "The bloody machine was probably on a navigation exercise." Sara, calmer now went on, "You remember what it's like, your so bloody obsessed with making an accurate nav fix, you don' actually examine the landmark just log it on the chart and head on to the next one. Remember when we learnt to glide how difficult it was to see immediately under the plane? and how about the fire? some bloody fire, Jesus, it burnt Ok, but where was the goddamed smoke? Tomorrow we are going to have to find damp material to burn, we can't let this happen again."
Miriam, normally the optimist, was still upset at the incident, and in a voice filled with despair, murmured, "Even if a local aircraft saw the smoke, they'd just think we were having a barbecue, Oh God Sara, how much longer are we gong to be stuck here?" The older woman took the girl's hand in sympathy then suddenly tensed, an excited light shone from her eyes, "The beach... we'll put a message on the beach. First thing tomorrow we gather dark stones, blackened sticks from the bonfire anything. They'll see that alright." Then with an arm around the younger woman's slumped shoulders the two sank into a restless sleep.
Lampkin stood in Sinclair's office and introduced his new companion to Janet and Thompson. "I'd like you to meet Ed Oliver, Lieutenant Ed Oliver of St Petes Police special assignment department." Thompson shook the man's hand and bade them all sit down. There was nothing special about the man's appearance. He was quiet, slim, with a conservative suit, no bulges of barely concealed weapons, not at all Sinclair's idea of a police detective. Oliver listened without interruption to all that was said. He made few notes and asked fewer questions. When, about thirty minutes later, the detectives stood up to leave, he commented in a soft voice, "Not much to go on I guess, but we will be in touch as soon as we have something." Hands were shaken, platitudes muttered as Janet, registering concern showed the visitors to the door. Thompson turned unseeing eyes to the window, his normally ordered thoughts tangled and in disarray. For the first time in many years he felt helpless and insecure. He tried to envisage life without his beloved ladies and felt tears prickling his eyes. Janet, sensing his pain, wanted to put an arm around his shoulders, cradle his head on her breast and murmur the soft sounds that mothers make. None of this showed on her face, the professional mask was in place. She was, as always, the perfect personal secretary.
"There's no doubt whatsoever, Marquand's your man, Everything seems to point to him." It hadn't taken the police long to discover the facts. They had returned to Sinclair's office to make their report. "There are a number of eye witnesses - the way we put it together, the ladies were seen in Marquand's Rolls-Royce quite early that morning. This is confirmed and their dabs are all over the car as are Leslie Marquands. They have, all three, been in the Cessna aircraft, although the womens fingerprints are only in the rear section. This together with the missing door suggests that they made a parachute descent, although why they should be so obliging to their abductor is not clear at this time." Janet and Thompson hung onto every word. Ed Oliver took up the story, "We checked this guy out, I mean really checked. At his home we found two driving licences with his photograph yet one of them showing a false name and address. We called and the woman living there recognised our man. There were new credit cards, again in the same false name, all these items were recently dated. We are convinced this man was building a new identity, ready to switch to when he received the ransom. By the way, have you had further instructions?" Sinclair shook his head without speaking, the detective continued. "There's another thing, in order that Certificates of Airworthiness inspections are carried out at the proper intervals there is a 'engine-hours' counter, fitted to all aircraft, even quite small airplanes. We checked the machine's engine log. Pilots should always fill this in before each flight, there is an entry made by the previous pilot, but no entry for Marquand's flight, yet there is another thirty eight minutes flying time on the clock! We know he was the last to fly because his dabs are 'top layer' on all the controls." He paused and picked up a glass of water, Lampkin took over, "We asked the chief flying instructor just how far a pilot could fly in this amount of time, he explained that it all depended on height, wind and the speed the pilot flew at. When he learned that there may have been skydivers aboard he said that in all probability the machine would have climbed to ten thousand feet, in which case the machine could not have flown far. On the other hand, if the pilot stayed low he could have travelled seventy five miles on a round trip. Ok, here's a map. We draw a circle around Albert Whitted field. We make the radius forty-five miles, to play safe, now... excluding the Gulf itself we have a hell of a lot of Florida real estate." Janet and Thompson leaned forward and studied the half circle. Reaching for a desk calculator he was interrupted by the soft eyed Lieutenant, "We've already done the math sir, on the half circle it comes to just over 3000 square miles." There was silence. Dismay hung in the air like a rotten smell. Sinclair turned his back on his guests and walking to the refrigerator, poured himself an orange juice.
Ed Oliver spoke, "We are circulating all the information we have to all ports, airports and other Government agencies. The new alias is alongside the outgoing data, it is here we expect the best results. He shouldn't know that we have been through his home, the search was, well, shall we say, unorthodox." Glances were exchanged between the two. "I know how you feel sir, but believe me, we are doing everything we possibly can, just let us carry on doing our job." The brown eyes flickered thoughtfully from Thompson to Janet.
"Why would he leave his alternative ID papers where we could find them in his home? It doesn't make sense". Eyes turned towards Lampkin. No one could offer a reason. Ned continued, "Guess he'd remove all his belongings before the abduction, that way we'd never know who the new persona was. He must realise that we would know that it was he who had seen the women last... No there's something we're missing here..." His voice tailed off as he was, for the moment lost in thought. There's another thing, the 'E' mail, where was the source, why Mr Sinclair's personal computer? who knew the Modem number? Janet moved, "I'll try to help you there, 'E' mail is a type of communication between two or more computers provided each is equipped with a Modem. This clever little device connects the computer to an ordinary telephone line, and then each operator can sent data to the other. This information exchange can be in the form of print, voice or even music. The exchange is virtually instantaneous, 'E' or Electronic mail is used all over the world for rapid data exchange." Ned interrupted, "Who would have known Mr Sinclair's private 'E' mail number?" That's hard to say, it's not exactly a closely guarded secret, I suppose, even the office cleaner could find out the number if they had some experience in computers." Ned pressed, "Does Mr Sinclair get much correspondance this way?" Janet continued, "Mr Sinclair's computer is running twenty four hours a day, I check his inner office from time to time to see if there is any mail for my attention, often Mr Sinclair, when away from the office will send me instructions via his portable lap top computer by means of this method." There was silence as the detectives digested this information. This time it was Ed Oliver who broke the silence, "If ordinary telephone calls can be traced, why not those coming into a computer?" Janet looked uncomfortable, "I hadn't thought of that, I will get onto the phone company right away." The detective broke in, "No need Miss Hughes, we'll see to that, just you try to think of anything else you can to help us. You have our number." He rose, and reached for Thompson's hand, "Well sir, rest assured everything possible is being done," He smiled sympathetically and the meeting ended. As they left the building Lampkin asked, "You have got Marquand's place under surveillance, of course?" The policeman turned sad eyes onto the other, after a silence that in itself answered the question, he said with a tired voice, "I wish you hadn't asked that."
Under the whispering palms that fringed the waters edge, a young couple were approaching orgasm. They were totally naked, their ebony skins beaded with sweat and particles of sand. The young man was over the woman, and judging from the length of his stroke, very well endowed. At twenty four years he was an experienced and practised lover. Unlike many gauche young men of his age, he had raised his lovemaking to an art form. He never neglected the romantic aspect of courtship. Women often complained that their lovers just 'hopped on the job' then turned their attention to the T.V. Leroy courted his ladies properly, then the affair would escalate to the carnal. His control was superb, he was able to bring his partners to the very edge of climax, then hold this state of ecstasy driving his mates to a frenzy of yearning and urgency. Enslaved and enraptured, the young woman beneath him was almost out of control, her back was arched as her hips strove to increase the tempo and bring the final spasm of sublime bliss, her legs, fully apart, alternately reached upwards then pressed down on her lover's back in an endeavour to receive the last centimetre of his magnificence. Her head was thrown back and her mouth uttered little whimpering cries of joy and lust.
This was the second time they had travelled to De-Soto's deserted beach, on the outskirts of St Petersburg it was designated a National Park. There were about fourteen miles of unspoilt sands occupied only by pelicans and egrets. For hours the couple had made love in this peaceful setting. The young man's powers of recuperation were astonishing. After each event they would sleep naked under the smiling sun, wash themselves in the surf and after a small meal, start making love once more.
Leroy knew he couldn't hold off much longer, the girl beneath him was highly charged and had orgasmed yet again. Her arms were wrapped tightly around him and her thighs held him
locked in a demanding, shuddering writhing embrace that in itself added to his euphoria. His enlarged member was fully embraced and finally the man surrendered to the inevitable. The woman's internal grip eliminated the last vestige of resistance and the man plunged onward, now out of control, a driverless locomotive lunging down an incline... the pace increased, then a last few frantic strokes that climaxed in a rushing, pulsating series of sensations that brought a bewildering range of feelings to the young couple's already blissfully saturated minds.
Spent and gasping, the man collapsed onto the young woman. Their bodies were bathed in sweat. Gradually their breathing slowed and as the lovers drifted into slumber, the sun dipped below the fiery horizon and Venus brightened in evening sky.
It was almost dark when Lucille awoke. there was a warm balmy zephyr that had dried her perspiration and the moon was riding high. In it's silvery light, the girl turned and looked at the slumbering god-like man beside her. He was so handsome. Oh Lordy he was so pretty. The other girls on the checkout at the Supermarket had envied her when she told them she was going out with him.
Lucille sighed with utter contentment, she didn't even have to touch Leroy to feel romantic, the mere thought of him gave her goosebumps, even on the hottest day. Rising she strolled to the waters edge and carried out, what had become a ritualistic washing. The moon reflected an avenue of silver across the ocean. Allowing her fingers to cleanse and stroke her bruised vagina, she was astonished to find that yet again she was ready for love. Lying back on the still-warm, white sand she held her hard breasts and again drifted into a semi-slumber.
As, gradually, the evening breeze turned onshore, the unspeakable thing that had been floating for days, mindlessly obeying the laws of physics and moving downwind. The water shoaled, tiny wavelets broke and the voracious pin fish abandoned their meaty harvest. The sea offered unto the land that which belonged ashore.
Under the influence of the sun and moon's gravitational influence, the tide slowly rose, to lightly touch, then kiss, the sleeping girl's feet. The water was warm and stole still higher, almost to discover the woman's secret place. Lucille luxuriated in the warm caress and stretched her arms out wide. In reverie, "Oh Lordy, this sure is a wonderful life." Again she dozed. The 'thing' slowly floated from the sea, as though the ocean was glad to be rid of such an obscene object. It caught on the beach, close to the sleeping girl's face, and held fast. With a sigh of relief the sea retreated, leaving it's detritus behind.
Lucille's outstretched hand touched the cold bloated object. At first nothing registered, then out of curiosity she opened her eyes. Frozen with horror and disbelief she stared into the empty eye sockets of that, which had been a human face. The corpse was so close, she could see where his nose had been, just the cartilage of the septum remaining. Parts of the cheeks had been chewed away, the eye sockets were pink and empty, the lips were almost gone and a persistent small crab reluctantly released his meal of human tongue and dropped to the sand, to scuttle back into the sea. Lucille sprang to her feet, screamed with sheer terror and ran as fast as she could along the beach and away from the hideous monster that had visited her from the deep. Leslie Marquand's last contact with the opposite sex.
12 months earlier
The woman's long slim fingers were beautifully manicured, they were tanned light gold and contrasted subtly with the dark cream coloured penis they were holding. Remaining still for a moment she enjoyed the pulsing and expanding of the living object her ministrations were causing. Slowly and sensuously her hand moved the outer skin up and down. The man, head thrown back with eyes closed, moaned softly, he desperately wanted her hand to move faster, but, sensing his need, the woman continued her tantalisingly slow caress. The penis was now fully erect. The head, an expanding ball of purple frustration. The foreskin was fully back and the head so enlarged that the skin was unable to return to its normal protective position.
A tiny globule of lubricant appeared at the tip of the member. Changing tactics, the woman used the tip of her forefinger, spreading the natural oil around the glans in tiny circles, with an incredibly light touch, causing the slippery substance to cover the entire surface. Again the man groaned, the woman now felt her own moisture start and pressed her thighs together to control the need she felt in her most private place. The man slid his hand under her skirt feeling her thighs part slightly in welcome. His fingers explored beyond her light panties to find warm moistness. His emotions almost overcame his common sense, he desperately needed to enter this woman now. The woman's vagina lips were swelling and hungrily parting to the man's caress. Her breasts were aching, involuntarily she squeezed his penis, the man gasped, and could wait no longer. Frantically half closing his zip they both left their seats, rushing down the aircraft isle, uncaring for the curious and knowing glances of the other passengers, some were censorious, others envious, all were astonished. Two stewardesses exchanged neutral glances, then shrugged and went about their business. The couple rushed into the aircraft's tiny rest room, slamming the door closed, the man urgently reached under her skirt and tore away the filmy panties. The woman was breathing heavily and with half closed eyes, raised her leg to allow the flimsy to fall, his hand explored her waiting sex. Panting, she reached for his trouser fastening and then his bulging zip. Opening it she plunged her hand into his under-shorts and found the impatient, massive, hungry penis throbbing with anticipation, a lion waiting to pounce. It took but a moment to remove his shorts and the instrument of rapture sprang unfettered upwards, seeking its destiny. For a moment each regarded the others sex, then their lips met in a frenzy of hunger and lust. With tongues intertwined and hard heaving breasts thrust forward, the woman's legs parted as she reached for the huge, up-curving member that she wanted more than life itself. Oh God, it had been such a long time. The man placed his serpent at the threshold and without hesitation slid his member up into the welcoming dark heaven that seemed too small to accommodate this living, blissful creature. She gasped, it was almost too much to bear. The pain merged into a pleasure sensation, it was like nothing she had ever experienced before. For a few moments the man remained still, savouring the ecstatic sensation that assailed him, then slowly he moved to and fro, the stroke increasing in length, then the tempo increasing. The man moaned as he clutched the tight buttocks of his lover, drawing her ever closer.
Beyond the bulkhead, a few inches away, air rushed past at five hundred miles per hour. There were a few bumps as the machine rode disturbances in the air, all went unnoticed except the steady, urgent thrust of the man's hard penis. The woman gasped, she felt her climax approaching, Oh God, Oh God, then with a few final full thrusts it was over, they both climaxed. She over and over in a torrent of ecstasy and sublime joy welcoming the pulsating seeds that entered her body in a series of rushes. Holding his entire length in her body, she locked her ankles behind the man's back, his arms were like bands of steel around her as she clung to this man who had caused such unbelievable sensations.
Slowly the fires died, embers glowed as muscles relaxed leaving a warm happy joy, tears of contentment rolled down her cheeks as she held her lover, never, ever wanting this moment to end. "I don't even know your name" the woman whispered, "It's Marquand, Leslie Marquand, and you are...?" With a throaty croak, she answered, giving her real name," My name's Janet Hughes."
The romance had been the best kept secret in St Petes society. Janet, on vacation was a very different person from Janet, the secretary. Over the years, with iron self control she would deprive herself of the comforts and companionship of men. She had adored her boss, and envied his wife, but when he took a mistress, so openly, her hidden love soured, to be replaced by envy and a need to get even, thus a tiny seed was created in the woman's mind, waiting for warmth and moisture to incubate into a monstrous. poisonous hatred
Janet believed in self control, self denial, she took a masochistic, perverse pleasure in depriving herself sexual satisfaction. Often at night, when other women, without the comforts of a male, might masturbate, Janet would not, she would save herself for her special unaccompanied vacations. Three times a year she would take a vacation in distant lands and then her fantasies would turn into reality. Last year it had been Kenya. Here there were many strong, poor black youths only too willing to pleasure the rich American woman who payed them outrageous amounts of money to carry out the most extraordinary sexual acts. It was a side of her that her employer would never have believed.
Her regular vacations were not confined to sexual adventures, they were usually accompanied by learning some new craft or skill. In previous holidays she had learned to fly sailplanes, and on another occasion taken regular flying lessons. One year she had learned sub-aqua skills at Eilat in Israel.
Janet had an alternate, fully documented identity as complete as the persona she adopted on vacation. Initially she had taken the name of a deceased woman from the local hall of records, then opened accounts at various banks, taken a second driving test and even used the alias on her pilot's and gliding licences.
Following each eventful vacation Janet would return to work, to metamorphose into the perfect secretary and cloak herself in privacy.
Normally, Janet would not take the slightest risk of her adventures reaching St Petes, but on this flight she had found herself sitting next to a man of astonishing good looks and charisma. They had talked a little, but there was a mutual attraction more powerful than she had experienced before. Janet felt a warm flush creeping up her neck, a sign that was not lost on her fellow traveller. A mature woman, she ordinarily maintained a superiority over those she chose to be her lovers. They were selected for her pleasure, then to be cast aside when she tired of them. This man was different, he exuded confidence, charm and an animal magnetism that brought moistness and dark thoughts. She longed to touch him. Her feelings were reciprocated, and soon, when passing a drink their fingers touched. It was as though a circuit had been completed. The result was electrifying, the woman reacted as though she had received an electric shock, a pulse of high voltage jolted and ignited fires that threatened to get out of control...
Leslie has visited Janet's apartment regularly, he seldom stayed overnight, she was emphatic, anxious that no-one should discover her secret lover, This was all a mystery to Leslie who argued, "Jesus Janet, we're both single, what the hell, are you ashamed of me?" Janet refused a proper answer, but he had no alternative but to go along, Ok she was getting on a bit, but she was one hell of a screw and had a great body. It always astonished Leslie how her working clothes transformed her. She was Jekyll and Hyde. During the daytime she was a haughty business woman without an ounce of sexuality, and in the evening, a seductress of outstanding skill and experience. Leslie studied the lovely features, a curving generous mouth that tilted smilingly at the corners, intelligent dark blue eyes and a small nose.
Leslie still marvelled at, what he referred to as, the Boeing experience, it was one of the highlights of his career of special erotic events, plus it qualified them both to membership of the exclusive 'mile high club,' those who had made love one mile or more above the earth's surface. The man was also conscious that she had contacts in very high places. A portal perhaps, an entre to the circles he longed to move in. Leslie played her game patiently, gently, whilst she had very definite plans for him.
The seed deep in Janet's mind started to germinate, it started it's first green shoots of hatred one day when the two women had arrived together at the office, that they were now firm friends, there could be no doubt. They were going skydiving, Thompson kissed each of them in turn and turning to Janet asked that the car be brought round. For the first time Janet felt a stab of jealousy, she was the servant, an outsider. Thompson could have had her at any time in their relationship, but he never, ever gave the slightest indication that he was interested. Plans and schemes that had touched her inner consciousness in idle moments took on new significance. She would lower her guard and discuss the possibilities with Leslie. She would safeguard her position by making it idle speculation, certainly the rewards would be enormous, the Company was worth millions and she would never be suspected.
Leslie's reaction to the proposed scheme was encouraging. He had tried, and failed, to enter the rarefied world of the very rich. All pretence aside, they started plans for an abduction of, not one, but both of Thompson's women.
That night, Janet could not sleep, that the scheme would work, she was in no doubt. The weak link was Leslie, he would be the only person who could point the finger at her as the co-conspirator. After the event he would have to die. The thought did not shock her, as in business she sought a means, a method and decided on a course of action.
The Englishwoman pressed the control button and watched the target move the full length of the range, a group of males watched with undisguised interest as she picked up a black Colt .357 magnum revolver, it seemed huge in her slim, well manicured hands, one by one she slid the rounds into the waiting cylinder, lascivious eyes followed, she made it an erotic action, the gathering remained silent watching, the sighing of the air conditioning unit dominating. The woman wore safety goggles and ear-defenders. Observers admired the swell of her hips accentuated by the narrowness of her waist, brushing aside an errant curl of hair she took aim and fired six shots, these crashed out in accord with the rhythmic smooth rise and fall of the weapon, six bullets went through the same hole in the exact centre of the remote bullseye. There were sighs of wonder and disbelief, "Jesus H... excuse me maam, I 'aint never seen shooting like this," the speaker was the steward at the Florida and St Petersburg Pistol and rifle club, over years he had seen many marksmen, some were very good, but this young woman was in a class of her own, awesome, the bullets always went precisely where she chose to place them. The woman, smiling, opened the weapon and spilled the empty cartridges into the side bin. He remembered when she had first entered the club a few weeks ago, alone and obviously British she had asked if it would be possible for her to learn to fire her pistol, The woman was a real beauty, a mature woman with dark hair and liquid eyes, she had a steady gaze and an air of mystery. There had been no shortage of volunteers to teach her, within moments of training it had been evident she had a natural and gifted talent and had astonished her teachers and aroused an admiration unequalled in the history of the club.
Typical of her thoroughness, over the weeks, Janet took a great interest in all types of handguns, she handled revolvers from .22s to the massive.45s, she tried automatics from the new compact Glock to the infamous Walther PPK. Finally she chose a hammerless Smith & Wesson. This was a stainless alloy model, a 642 Airweight Centennial .38 revolver. This classic weapon is a small framed revolver which had one great advantage, if a dud round failed to fire, the shooter just kept on pulling the trigger to align the next round. This against the automatic weapon which, if faced with a faulty round, would need re-cocking manually, valuable time lost in a critical situation.
Many ladies carry small .25 lightweight automatics in their purses, unfortunately these little weapons are prone to jamming and have poor stopping power, an attacker could still get through, even after receiving a bullet. The .38 was different animal altogether. It carried a man sized punch and, with the right ammunition could end a confrontation quickly. The Airweight was both light and small. With no hammer to catch on clothing for a quick draw, it was perfect for Janet's needs. Weighing only fifteen ounces it was hardly noticeable in her purse. The woman practised with the Airweight until she could load, unload and fire without looking at the weapon. Her groups were about two inches at twenty-five yards, an extraordinary achievement considering the weapon.
It was at the gun club she met Jake. A rangy man who obviously took his pastime very seriously. Like others at the club, he knew Janet by her alias, Corey Montgomery. Jake was a gun fanatic, an armaments zealot a walking arsenal. America had many such people. Most were responsible people who treated their pastime and weapons with the respect and whilst they might secretly desire to emulate Rambo or some mercenary in a far away land, most were no danger to themselves or the public in general. They simply liked weapons and upheld 'the 'right to bear arms' as good U.S. citizens. Jake turned up at the club each week and practised with his guns, discussed with other members the latest in warfare technology, drank root beer, then went home to a patient wife who listened with dutiful interest to his evening's events. Usually he wore camouflage a jacket and trousers, various ammunition pouches, carried the latest subcompact Glock 27, for personal defence, a massive .44 Magnum and a beautifully crafted combat knife made by Smith and Wesson. He had a number of flat, black, throwing knives which he kept it a bandolier across his chest. These knives were very sharp and carefully balanced. When Janet expressed an interest, Jake was delighted to demonstrate his skills. Suddenly his hand was blur as he unsheathed and threw three knives with astonishing accuracy at the far wooden wall of the clubhouse. The knives plunged deep into the timber and formed a small triangle about one inch across. The woman was fascinated, this was to be another skill to conquer.
Many would regard Janet as unbalanced, insane even. While most people have fantasies, Janet had made hers come true. The most loving family wife, whilst loving her husband with all her heart occasionally fantasises of erotic events in bizarre situations with unbelievably handsome men. Hence the elevated sales of romantic novels. The difference was, most mortals know where the boundaries between illusions and reality lie, whilst Janet had the ability to cloud those boundaries and make her dreams come true.
Janet was about to play out her latest and greatest fantasy. She and Leslie had planned the abduction and ransom of Sinclair's women. When it was all over she would continue in Thompson's employment for a few months, she would empathise, perhaps console him, he would never know it was she who had arranged everything. The perfect crime, carried out under their very noses... Janet's eyes stared into the distance, she wore a slight smile, then the mask slid back into place as she waited impatiently for Leslie's call.
"If I have to eat anymore pelican meat, I think I'll puke." Sara spat out a piece of half cooked gristle. She looked with helpless eyes at Miriam who, trancelike and with shoulders slumped, held a piece of meat and gazed at the empty horizon. Although only days had passed since they had landed on the island, it seemed like weeks. The fire was smelling and there was a stench of burnt fish and decay together with an air of despair. Miriam, did not answer at once, then in a violent outburst she rose to her feet and hurled her meal into the fireplace, there was a sizzling sound which was soon overwhelmed by the furious tirade from the frustrated woman. "Jesus Christ, I hate this fucking island, I hate the food, the smells and Oh dear God, what I give just to have one cup of tea." The woman stormed around the tattered room kicking the sticks of furniture cursing and dredging up from her memory, every expletive her sheltered life had encountered. Finally, she ran out of swear words and collapsed on to the old settee and buried her head in her hands. Soon, tears coursed her cheeks and her shoulders rose and fell with sobs of total misery. Sara wiped grease from her mouth and moved over to the unhappy girl. Placing an arm around her shoulders she made gentle cooing sounds as a mother consoling a child. Gradually the sobs died away, Miriam's breathing returned to normal, and her head dropped to Sara's breast where eventually she slept.
From her place on the settee, Sara watched the sun's lower limb kiss the ocean. Gradually the sky darkened and one by one the stars emerged from their daytime slumber. Miriam was still sleeping and Sara looked down at the dirt streaked face, God she was so young, gently she stroked a strand of hair away from the girls eyes, then shivered slightly as the cooler evening air crept into the open windows. The fire had died down and the room was becoming much darker. Soon she would have to move the sleeping girl in order to carry out the simple domestic tasks that their survival depended on. Their water rations were getting much lower and the Pelicans weren't stupid, there were less of them and those that remained now flew away at their approach. This last one had been ambushed by Miriam who spent most of the day in a hide of palm leaves until the hapless bird was within range. The limited strange diet had caused both of the women severe stomach upsets, diarrhoea and vomiting had left them weak and dispirited.
Sara was lost in thought, her eyes watched the dying embers of the fire and this evoked memories of happier years, Christmas as a child, watching the flames dancing around the crackling log fires which had fiery caverns, green miniature flames as some strange element in the burning wood gave off the unusual light... Startled, her reverie was interrupted by voices, coming from the beach. Placing a hand over the girl's mouth, she woke Miriam who, quickly took in the situation and ran for her pistol, checking the weapon complained in a whisper, "there's only one bullet left." The women moved out of the house and hid in the nearby undergrowth. The voices grew louder and Sara was able to recognise the Spanish tongue, soon they could make out a number of seemingly exhausted figures silhouetted and struggling to haul a primitive raft up onto the beach.
Miriam found great comfort in the weapon she was holding, and quietly cocked the gun and held it, shaking slightly and pointing towards the visitors. They continued to watch as three men and two girls stood looking at the house. One of the men called towards the house, "Hola, XXX Hola Casa etc" the shout made Miriam jump slightly, involuntarily she tightened her grip on the weapon which caused the gun to fire. The bang was astonishingly loud. Because the shot was unintentional, the gun recoiled savagely in the girl's light grip. There was a muzzle flash followed by the characteristic whine of a bullet ricochetting off some rocky area near the visitors who flung themselves to the ground crying out more Spanish phrases which were too fast for the women to understand. Their meaning was unmistakeable, terrified and cowering the five searched helplessly around for a sign of their attacker.
Seizing the initiative, Sara took the now-empty weapon from Miriam's unresisting fingers and walked calmly down the beach towards the five prone figures. Holding the gun before her in two handed grip and in a commanding voice demanded, "Who are you? what do you want?" One of the men raised his head and in halting English, "Senora, we come to your country... habla no gun... Ok? Senora, La-Esperanza, No good. La Habana no good...Cuba, no good... many bad men... Senora, please, we come your America, work hard... no gun.Ok?" Sara listened impassively and was soon joined by Miriam. "Who are they?" "I think they're Cuban refugees and I don't think we have much to be afraid of, just look at them, they are exhausted, they seem to think this is the mainland.
It seemed that the five had attempted the hundred mile sea crossing from a small village west of Havana to Key West in Florida. The voyage had taken many days and their rations were running low. They had waited patiently for a southerly breeze, this eventually was forthcoming and they had set a primitive sail on their raft for Florida and a better life. Their course should have been slightly east of north, unfortunately half way through the journey, the wind had backed to just east of south and as their primitive craft had no keel, they had no choice but to go exactly downwind, thus they completely missed Key West and travelled up the west coast of Florida now coming ashore on the outlying Conch Island that was the women's enforced home.
Sara kept the gun tucked conspicuously in her belt, but as time passed, realised that there was little to fear from the Cubans. Miriam rubbed pelican grease into the cracked lips of one of the girls. Without shelter the sun had done it's worst to the five. They fed them with what little food remained and shared the diminishing water stocks. "By my reckoning, the've travelled over two hundred miles" said Sara, then with a light of hope in her eye, "and I've been to see that little raft of theirs, I reckon there is room for two more."
Janet was becoming concerned, she was starting to feel that she was losing control over the situation. Leslie was late contacting her, it was unlike him to deviate from their plan, had everything gone smoothly? were the women still on the island? Ought she to abandon the plan and notify the authorities of their whereabouts? Should she to carry out the next part of their operation? Janet's reasoning was deteriorating, perhaps she should not have allowed this particular fantasy to be shared or realised. Because of Leslie she had broken her own rules. Now things were going wrong. Or were they? All that had really happened was that Leslie had not contacted her. Ok, so perhaps something had happened to him, but what of the women, were they on the island? or were they all dead? In the absence of any answers she decided to go ahead and stick to the schedule. Insofar as she could tell, she was under no suspicion and the diamonds were still in the office awaiting delivery.
The semi-retired Ned Lampkin, now without the strictures imposed by regular police work was able to explore avenues denied to other detectives. That day he made his way alone to Janet's home. The woman was not under suspicion, but the man liked to 'touch all bases.' Getting onto the complex, through the gate security had been no problem, his special badge had impressed the gate-man. The key to the condo had been another matter. Once a month in Florida, most homes are visited by a pest control person who lets himself into the apartment and sprays a chemical along the skirting boards to dissuade bugs from setting up home. Lampkin sought out the man, showed him his special police card and swore him to absolute secrecy. The man was cooperative, Ned had pointed out that he was on a case of National importance and it was imperative that he keep his mouth closed. He even allowed the man to enter the condo with him while he made his search.
It was essential that this unauthorised search be made without the owner suspecting, accordingly Ned was very careful with everything he touched. As he expected the apartment was neat, tastefully furnished and in keeping with Janet's executive image. He replaced all items exactly where he found them, mindful that any evidence found would not be admitted in court as the entry was illegal. If he found anything of significance, he would seek out a Judge and ask for a regular warrant to search.
It did not take long for the detective to discover another side to Janet Hughes. In the master bedroom were a number of photo albums, each marked with a year. There were photographs of Janet engaged in sexual acts with young African males some pictures with more than one person at a time, there was no mistake, the businesslike Janet was undoubtably the person in the pictures. Other albums shown photographs of a more innocent nature, standing near a sailplane, wearing subaqua equipment, alighting from an airliner and walking down the steps usually used by airports that had no covered access gantries. Ned was about to put the picture to one side when his eye caught sight of a familiar face. A man behind Janet looked similar to a photograph he had been shown of Leslie Marquand. Warning sounds rumbled through the detective's mind. A connection was made, an unexpected connection. The man may not have been Marquand, there was nothing to indicate in the photograph that they were together, except perhaps the expression on an air hostesses face, a gaze frozen for all time, regarded her erstwhile passengers with slightly raised eyebrows as they passed by. Another tenuous link.
There was a safe in the condo. It was secured to the floor in the main closet. Dropping to his knees Lampkin studied the safe, it had a combination lock and from previous experience the man knew it would be fruitless to try to open it. Still, he was well satisfied with his mission and would now carefully note the woman's reaction to certain questions he had ready for her. Ned thanked the bug man for his help and reiterated that he must not breath a word, not even to his wife, if he did, then he could be found in breach of the official Federal State Secrets laws and hauled before the local judge. With a last look around the pair left the apartment and parted company at the elevator.
There had been another ransom note on the computer. Janet said she had tried locate the sender, but the connection had been severed. Again addressed to Thompson Sinclair, the message read, "Your ladies are still alive, notwithstanding your calling in the police. Be ready to deliver the diamonds, put them into a cardboard box and await further instructions. Signed , Leslie Marquand.
"Notwithstanding? notwithstanding," the Lieutenant muttered what kind of word is that to use in a ransom note? Jeez." With raised eyebrows the detective looked at Ned. The latter had his own ideas and another factoid clicked into place.
Addressing Thompson and Janet Ned Lampkin explained that he had been in touch with the telephone company and they had supplied him with an itemised list of all telephone calls to the Modem number in Thompson's computer. There had not been many. None fitted the times that the ransom 'E' mail had arrived. Just then Ed Oliver's cellular telephone demanded his attention. The man excused himself and sauntered away to take the call in private, those present stopped talking, and although the policeman was on the far side of the room, they could clearly hear his side of the call. "You don't say... Yeah, well I guess that really puts a new complexion on things... Yeh, Ok take a statement, get their addresses an' all, thank them for their public spirited action etc, let them go, Ok..." The man listened, then continued, "Ok, I guess that's understandable, see if she need counselling, must have been one hell of a fright, I'll be over very shortly, thanks." The man turned and re-joined the others. Turning to Janet and Thompson said, "I need to have a few words with my colleague here, will you excuse us please. Thompson, feeling out of his depth, nodded and turned to his desk, barely seeing the papers before him. Over the last few days he seemed to have shrunk, he had hardly eaten and for the first time in his life seem to have lost the ability to make decisions. Janet watched the two men leave the room, there were warning bells ringing in her head, something was happening. She felt a wild sense of adventure, to her twisted mind, she was involved in a hunt, an adventure, her wits pitted against the men of law and order. The beauty of it was, she in a privileged position, right in the middle and able to monitor events as they developed, she was omnipotent, invincible, and shortly she would walk away with five million dollars worth of diamonds, the perfect crime!
Standing near the elevator Oliver looked around, then at Lampkin who waited patiently for the news, "Guess what? a couple of hours ago a body was washed up on Fort De-Soto beach. A young couple found it, frightened the shit out of the girl, evidently it washed up alongside her when she was asleep on the beach, looks as though it's been in the water for quite a while, officers at the city morgue referred to 'missing persons,' no luck there but from the description I'm pretty damn sure that the body is that of our friend Marquand!" he stopped for effect. Lampkin looked hard at his companion, these new facts would have a significant effect on this case which was now coming together very nicely. Ed continued, "The point is, preliminary post mortem indicated that the man has been dead for some days, that being so, who's been sending the fucking ransom notes?" The two regarded each other for some time, then Ned broke the silence, "well it seems that Marquand had a partner, a very silent partner, and I have a pretty good idea who it is". Ned nodded and admitted that he had made certain preliminary unorthodox investigations and suggested that the time seemed to be ripe for a Judge to be approached to take out a warrant to search the premises of Ms Janet Hughes.
The detectives returned to the office and continued their discussion with Janet and Thompson, Ned looked at the woman and asked casually, "Did you know Marquand very well?" The question was casually put, but Janet realised the significance of the query, "No... not really" she hesitated, then went on, "I've spoken to him on the telephone of course, when arranging for his Rolls-Royce to collect Mr Sinclair, but other than that..." her voice tailed away. Lampkin noted the answer and the manner in which it was fielded, This was a direct lie. In the apartment was photographic evidence of their relationship. The man pondered, with Marquand dead, and the women still missing, Janet probably knew where they were. He would have to tread softly.
The policemen conferred again and Lampkin spoke in an authorative tone, "I have to tell you that our prime suspect, Mr Leslie Marquand is believe to be dead, a body is at the city morgue at this time, yet to be identified, and now we have to search elsewhere, we believe he had a partner and further believe that Ms Hughes here can assist us." Janet started, paled then sat down, her mind racing, suddenly she was faced with the news that Leslie was dead, and a split second later, accused of being his partner. She needed time to think, the mask was firmly in position. She regarded the two men and was conscious of Thompson's enquiring gaze. Ok.. if Leslie was dead that saved her from carrying out the task, there was still nothing to connect her with the chauffeur or the abduction. before she could assemble her thoughts further the soft brown eyes were in front of her again, probing, "You see Ms Hughes, we have a problem, it now seems that Marquand could not have sent the 'E' mail messages you received, he was dead, corpses cannot operate computers, so unless we have a phantom computer operator... someone else must have sent them.
Janet struggled for an explanation, then cooly, "Mr Lampkin, it is quite possible to pre-program a computer to send a message at a later time, or even later date, Fax machines, which are primitive by comparison, do this every day. This is a useful feature, it allows a number of faxes to be sent, at night, when offices are closed and take advantage of the cheaper tariffs." Lampkin nodded, then moved over to Janet's machine that sat quietly humming on her desk. "May I?" Janet nodded, "Of course, perhaps I can help you." The woman explained that at the moment the gently moving stars on display, were a screen saver. Lampkin nodded, "When I stop using the computer for a while, this display comes on to prevent the screen being burnt out by a stationery pattern, in addition there is a security aspect, those passing one's desk cannot see what one is working on, notwithstanding that ..." Ned started, another factoid clicked into place,notwithstanding, there was that word again, the lecture continued, "now I am switching applications to communications mode," so saying the screen changed to a 'word processor' type display, and a request for the Modem to dial out flashed impatiently. "All I do is type out the message here, then allow the dialler to connect me to the person I wish to contact, he will then see the message and we can communicate for as long as the phone connection is made."
Ed Oliver asked, "Do you share a modem with Mr Sinclair's machine?" The question startled the secretary, this was an astute question, the man could know a lot more about computers than he had implied. "Janet decided that ignorance was her best plan... "I really don't know, I simply use the equipment and am not sure quite how it is connected." The answer sounded lame even to her ears. The detective pressed on, "What I'm really trying to establish Maam, is, are the computers in this building configured as a network or are they each independent machines?" Janet floundered, but still kept the mask in place, her voice still steady responded, "Oh I see, no they are all connected, so that information is available simultaneously to all staff, some in many different parts of the world." She smiled. Thompson sat quietly in the corner totally absorbed at the path events were taking. Oliver pressed on, "So anyone in the building can see all information, even privileged information intended for Mr Sinclair's eyes only?" There was a pause as the woman marshalled her thoughts, "No of course not, executive information is held secure and may only be seen by Mr Sinclair after he has entered his own private pass word," The detective nodded, and asked casually, "Do you know that password Ms Hughes?" Janet shook her head and was aware of certain physiological changes that were taking places within her body. She was conscious how hot it was in the office, she was starting to perspire under her arms, her face felt flushed, her breathing was becoming shallow and she repeatedly needed to take deep breaths. Worst of all, her heart-rate was high, she felt as though every person in the room could hear it. She felt trapped, cornered, gradually her persona metamorphosed, from the secretary with a secret, to a madwoman with a mission. A cunning light entered the woman's eye, this was not lost on the detectives who had great experience in interrogation and instinctively knew the different reactions between the innocent and the guilty.
Lampkin thought, "Guilty as hell" and decided the time was right for a little pressure. "Maam... you stated you hardly knew the deceased Leslie Marquand, how do you explain photographs that have come into our possession showing you taking a vacation with him?" The woman was stunned, a bombshell burst, how could they possibly know? Janet floundered then blustered, "What the hell do you mean, what photographs?" Even to her own ears the answer lacked conviction, her hands started to shake, at first with shock, then anger, who was this 'jumped up', petty official that was tormenting her, how dare he. Suddenly her anger exploded, she stormed around the office denying any association with Marquand, she accused the detectives of harassing her and finally sat down at her desk and started to cry. This last was a desperate attempt to delay further questions and give her much needed time, time to create plausible answers. Things had happened too fast, there was no time to think.
Except for the woman's sobbing the room was silent, Thompson was confused and at the same time fascinated. Nobody placed a comforting arm around her shoulders, no one spoke, slowly the sobs stopped and the woman dabbed red eyes with a small handkerchief. Realising that none were convinced, Janet's tears dried up and once more the mask slipped into place. Calmer now she faced the men. "You realise that you are building a case against me based on a circumstantial hypothesis and not facts?" There was no reply, I can't believe what you suspect me of, I have been with Mr Sinclair for many years, I love my work and have always been loyal to him and the company... I can't believe what I am hearing." Lieutenant Ed Oliver decided that the time was ripe for the woman to be asked a few more questions, she should then break and the case would be over. More harshly he demanded, "Where are the women?... Where are they held?" The woman remained silent, then in a kinder tone, "You realise that if you tell us now, this will be in your favour, in court, it will be thought that the plan was Marquand's and you were an unwilling co-conspirator." Then in a more kindly, almost avuncular manner, "Did Marquand force you into this?" It almost worked, Janet needed a friend, then recognised the trap and shook her head. The questions continued, sometimes the same ones, God she was tired, why wouldn't they listen? Why wouldn't Thompson help her, stupid man, he should have had her instead of that bitch Miriam.
Slowly, the woman felt a mantle of despair settle over her shoulders, she felt that she was being pushed more and more into a corner from which escape would be impossible. Trapped and realising the hopelessness of her position she looked to Sinclair for assistance. Thompson turned his head away, and avoided eye contact with her, this to Janet was the last straw, something gave way, her reason slipped into insanity and in a moment she was transformed. She sobbed and reached for a handkerchief in her purse. The detectives exchanged glances and a nod from Lampkin was the signal to read the woman her Miranda rights. Straightening up, the Lieutenant read from a card, "Ms Janet Hughes, you are being arrested in connection with the abduction of Mrs Sara Sinclair and Miss Miriam Scott. You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorn..." the rest was cut short as the woman reached into her purse, she stepped quickly backwards, and with a blur the satin silver of the .38 flashed in her hand, there was no delay, a tremendous bang and simultaneously a small red circle appeared in the officer's forehead. The Miranda died on his lips. Taking another pace backwards she fanned the room with a smoking gun. Thompson had leapt to his feet whilst Lampkin was frozen hand on the way to his pocket. Janet, now enjoying her new power smiled wolfishly, "Yes... go on... go for it". She hissed, Lampkin slowly raised his hands and silently cursed himself for not being able to predict this. Ed had crumpled quietly to the floor and Ned knew that there would be no recovery from that kind of wound. In all the time he had spent on the force, this was, without a doubt the most horrific, cold blooded killing he had ever witnessed. Ned looked down at his friend and felt a terrible ache in his chest, Christ he should have expected something like this. Jesus but she had been fast, Lampkin stood quite still knowing he was in great danger. The intercom buzzed and without taking her eyes off him, the woman pressed he connect button, "No, nothing is wrong, thank you for calling, just get back to your work." Janet shifted gear, Ok you two, over there," she nodded to the inner office, the men made their way slowly into Thompson's room as Janet, with a rock steady grip held the weapon unwaveringly on the detectives. Turning to Thompson she commanded, "The diamonds, get the diamonds." Thompson glanced at the detective who nodded his approval, "Just do as the lady says sir," Thompson opened the safe and handed the soft chamois bag to the woman. Janet, without taking her eyes off her prisoners accepted the bag, hefted it once or twice, then dropped it into her purse. Lampkin watched the gun, the round black hole was centred between his eyes and looking up saw the wild challenging light of madness in eyes that seemed to penetrate his inner thoughts. "The woman smiled, and reached for the fastening that held her hair in a tight bun, shaking her head, hair cascaded down framing her face, softening but failing to extinguish the light of madness in her eyes. "You'll never make it, you'll be dead well before you can fire, forget it and live. - Now, very slowly, take the gun out, thumb and forefinger, good, now place it slowly on the table, excellent, now step back." Ned had followed the instructions precisely. Janet reached for the weapon and without looking down, expertly slid out the magazine, moving to the window she hurled the clip out into the blue water. Once more she pointed the Smith & Wesson at the two men, within minutes both men were face down on the carpet handcuffed.
Thompson was confused and in shock at the terrible sight of seeing a fellow human being's life so casually snuffed out, whilst Lampkin was inwardly cursing at his own shortcomings. Janet had lost all contact with reality, she was playing out a fantasy, unfortunately she had the skill and weapons to live out that fantasy. Theatrically, the woman affected a pose, a ballerina, holding her purse in one hand and her gun in the other she whispered, "Ok gentlemen, remember this, I am the only person on this earth who knows where your women are, kill me and you'll never know, without me they will soon die." Reaching for the telephone cord she tugged it savagely, unlike the movies, it failed to break, cursing she pulled again, again the cord resisted, finally with frightening speed she replaced the gun in her bag, there was a blur and a small flat knife lanced the air to cut the telephone cord neatly, then turning to the detective on the floor she hurled another knife towards him, Ned closed his eyes, and felt the thud as the weapon pinned the cuff of his jacket to the floor, then with a smile and a bizarre pirouette, the woman left the room.
The little red and white airplane sat forlornly and patiently at the furthest most end of the flying school's parking area. It was the least used of the club's machines and certainly the most charismatic. Of 1930's design the Citabria was an aerobatic machine which was more expensive to fly and a certainly more difficult. Most impecunious student pilots gained their wings on more prosaic aircraft such as Cherokees or ubiquitous Cessnas, these were 'nose-wheel' machines and generally easier to fly.
The Citabria was a thoroughbred, a tailwheel aircraft, a monoplane with the top of the wing painted red with white stripes radiating from the leading edge. It had a narrow fuselage and the pilots sat tandem. Its most endearing feature, to traditional pilots, was its stick. Unlike most modern aircraft that sported airline type control columns with a half wheel, the Citabria had a proper, simple stick rising from the floor. Anything else would have been quite inappropriate. It was a machine of yesteryear. It evoked memories of world war one, it smelled good, it looked good, and as most experienced pilots will testify, 'If it looks good, it usually flies good'. The Citabria was a dinosaur, in an age where aviation authorities frowned on aerobatics the machine was out of its time frame. It belonged to the barnstorming days of yesteryear, where looping and barrel rolls were an everyday part of sport flying.
Like most tail wheel machines the visibility forward, when taxiing was abysmal, the nose section obscured the way ahead. Thus taxiing safely was a series of zig-zags. The ground handling characteristics were poor, unless the rudder was used properly, and in good time the machine would ground loop. Those who courted and understood the idiosyncrasies of this temperamental lady were well rewarded. Once aloft the she was a joy to fly and invariably lasting and faithful romance followed.
Janet had learned to fly the Citabria years before. It was characteristic of her to choose the most difficult of the club's machines to learn to fly. Over the years she had kept her hours up on the type and although she had flown the club,s regular craft, had found them boring and tedious to fly, soggy, uninspiring and unrewarding. The Citabria was a true pilot's airplane, it responded instantly to the pilots wishes with a joyful willingness that made one feel that the machine itself was having fun.
The Florida sun boiled down onto the aging craft's fabric, the gloss had gone, there was light, superfluous corrosion on some of the exposed metal parts and the club's committee were considering selling the craft and replacing it with another Cessna 170. There was much demand for this four seater machine, especially on Sundays, it looked as though the Citabria's days were numbered.
Janet drove quickly to the airfield, her alter persona totally in charge. She felt happy, carefree, euphoric and completely in charge of herself and the situation. She would happily shoot anyone who got in her way and rejoice whilst doing so. She was playing a part, a game, with deadly consequences for any unfortunate who obstructed her. Her Le-Baron convertible had the top down and the music of Johann Strauss filled the air with the immortal lilt of the Blue Danube waltz. Intoxicated with the excess of adrenalin still in her bloodstream the woman ignored the clubhouse and drove directly to the waiting Citabria. With a spring in her step and a wild look in her eye she skipped around the machine undoing the tie-down cords. The Blue Danube had ended and the car's tape moved on to the Radetzky March, its stirring beat fitted perfectly with the woman's mood of battle. At first no one in the club house had realised she was untying the machine, it was the music that brought an enquiring desk clerk to her, wearing a warm smile the woman beamed at the man, raised her gun then shot him between the eyes, the march pounded on. Disbelieving eyes from the clubhouse were astounded at the scene they had witnessed, 911 was dialled and the woman, with unhurried movements climbed into the craft.
Experienced hands carried out familiar pre-engine start checks, then, as her fingers energised the starter, there was a whir, a protesting whine as the piston overcame the compression, there was a small detonation and the engine joyfully sprang into life. Those in the club window saw a puff of blue smoke from the muffler that was quickly whipped away in the airstream from the spinning propeller. Still with The Radetzky March ringing in her ears Janet released the brakes and, without even turning the radio on, ignored the tower and headed for the main runway.
The Air Traffic Controller in Albert Whitted tower lowered his binoculars, switched to transmit and called, "Citabria, November two niner, November two niner, this is Albert Whitted Tower, please cease your taxi and hold for permission, over." there was no response and the Citabria continued it's illegal zig-zag along the perimeter track and towards the end of the active runway. The controller repeated his message and again received no response. There was another aircraft, a Pitts Special in the circuit and some danger of collision. "Goddammit" the controller muttered, then seizing a Very Pistol loaded it with a red flare, making his way onto the balcony of the control tower, the man fired the flair high into the air in the direction of the monoplane. The pilot must have seen it. Dashing back to his transceiver the controller called the Pitts, November Three six, this is Albert Whitted control, We have a radio blind red Citabria taxiing towards the active runway please continue your crosswind leg, do not turn finals, repeat do not turn finals, climb to two thousand feet and remain on the dead side of the pattern. over." "Roger" came the voice of the Pitts pilot who, surprised opened the throttle of the little biplane and continued his course and observed the red and white machine below turning onto the runway.
The Pitts Special is every pilots dream airplane. A few are owned by airline pilots for relaxation but many are home- constructed and loved passionately by their owners. The Pitts is a small, highly manoeuvred biplane. One of the most aerobatic machines in the world they are extremely fast with a very large engine. Their climb rate is phenomenal and their landing speed high. They are known to be a real handful on the ground and are held in awe by most everyday pilots.
Brad Turner was flying was the latest version of Pitts with flaps on upper and lower wings, this gave the machine a tremendous agility in the rolling plane, the elevators and rudder were well balanced and the machine was both responsive and fast. It was stressed for manoeuvres in ordinary and inverted flight and the huge engine caused wicked torque effect and was so powerful that the machine could climb almost vertically. All in all it was a breathtaking craft that needs highly skilled pilots to handle safely.
Brad reached two thousand feet and watched with interest the wayward pilot start his take off run. There was slight cross wind component and once off the ground the machine still continued to track above the runway, a sign of a good flyer.
As Janet, still wearing a smile, taxied towards the main runway she glanced at the gauges, all were in the green, oil temperature and pressure Ok, strobe on, transponder off, sod them all, they would know soon enough who she was, radios on, fuel Ok, Carb heat Ok, bugger the 'run-up' she'd do that on her take off run...Ok left onto the runway, nothing on finals, she listened with a smile to the strained voice of the controller, then saw the red flare, ignoring it she opened the throttle fully, the engine bellowed a healthy note and the craft rushed forward, then swung with engine torque, "Oh no you don't" sang the woman correcting with rudder. Obediently the machine gathered pace, a little forward pressure on the sick, super, up comes the tail... Oh it's great to be back, The Blue Danube re-asserted itself in the woman's dual mind, and just then the craft rose gracefully from the ground, there was a slight crosswind and automatically the pilot corrected.
"Pitts aircraft November three six-this is Albert Whitted- copy over?" Brad responded, "go ahead- over." "Three six, we have a message from St Petersburg Police, they are anxious to interview the Citabria pilot just taking off, we will track by radar but she may attempt to fly below our coverage, do you have sufficient fuel to follow and report her position? Over?" "This is November three six, Roger that, Albert Whitted, what's the pilot done?" Over. There was silence for a few moments then, evading an answer continued, "Three six, from Albert Whitted, This frequency must continue to be used for Air Traffic Control, there is other traffic in the area requiring our direction, please switch to one two fife decimal niner megahertz, I repeat one two fife decimal niner Megahertz and thank you for you assistance, Out. Brad reached for the channel selector then froze as he heard the next message, Attention all aircraft approaching Albert Whitted Field, we have an emergency all craft are diverted to St Petersburg airfield, please tune to their frequency, One two zero for Air Traffic control. "Wow" thought Brad, something really big, then he re-tuned to the new frequency to be greeted by St Petes special operation branch who asked that the call sign of 'Eyeball one' be used. Looking down Brad saw the Citabria climbing away then noticed a number of police cars assembling bear the flying school, their blue lights still strobing. Brad altered course very slightly and thumbed the mike, "This is Eyeball one, how can I help? Over." The man that answered and explained that the pilot, a woman, was wanted in connection with a number of recent murders, it was imperative that Brad keep her in sight until the police could scramble the security services aircraft. The Police helicopter should be in the area shortly and the coastguard would keep a watch out. The main problem was if she chose to fly below radar coverage they would lose her. Janet had heard all this with wry amusement and searched, unsuccessfully, for the Pitts that was supposed to be monitoring her position. That was a nuisance, but nothing she could not take care of. She would soon dispose of the Pitts and set course for Freeport, Grand Bahama. This would be tracked on radar then she would drop down to a few hundred feet and double back, undetected, for Fort Lauderdale near Miami. Private aircraft skimming the sea were a common sight in Florida, no one would attach any importance to her. She would then slip into the Everglades area and land somewhere quiet and simply disappear. It was all so easy. She had plenty of fuel, plenty of time and a pocketful of diamonds. The sun streamed through the canopy and Janet loosened the neck of the leather bag and watched with wonder the thousands of flashes of light that emanated from the jewels. With a maniacal chuckle she stuffed the bag into her jacket pocket and checked the sky again for her pursuer.
Brad felt his pulse rising, he was an experienced flyer and had recent extensive hours in aerial combat in Xambia, Africa, this was an exciting diversion.
The Citabria was still climbing, and the pilot had set a course just south of east and Brad wanted to place his machine in the sun, this was difficult due to their course, instead he climbed and positioned his craft in his quarry's blind spot. The high wing of the Citabria obscured the view above.
At two thousand feet the woman levelled out, still holding the same course. Brad reported her position and advised that shortly they could be entering controlled air space. He was advised at once that he was to continue his pursuit and that all air traffic controllers would be advised of the situation. Janet smiled and again looked around for her pursuer, mystified she suddenly realised where he would be, rolling the machine slightly she saw the little Pitts high above and slightly aft. "Gotcha" she breathed, her pulse rose and, astonished, she felt a warm flush in her sex, God, what a time to feel horny. With lips slightly parted and intense concentration she opened the throttle fully, and turned the machine through a 360 degrees, this placed her behind and below the shadowing craft. Easing the nose up she climbed towards the little craft.
He had a nice voice, she wondered what he looked like, there were a few bumps as the machine crossed the thermals rising from a small town below, still she climbed. Over his shoulder, Brad watched the approaching craft, so, she had found him, no doubt she had heard everything on the radio, what to do? He could climb away, but discarded that plan. If the woman had killed as the police said, then she should be forced down. Stubbornly Brad held height and course. He refused to be intimidated by the woman. Gradually the Citabria reached his altitude, the pilot slowly edged her machine alongside, she formated slightly above and on Brad's starboard side. Like many pilots Brad disliked formation flying. It was fraught with danger and the man noted the skill with which the woman closed. He watched her craft for the slightest sign of collision. If she was suicidal then he certainly didn't want to go with her. Reassured, he knew that his agile machine could roll out of danger in a flash if necessary. He looked into the cockpit and met the smiling attractive eyes of the pilot, her lips were parted slightly and the man felt her sexuality hit him like a steam train. Christ she was pretty. For a moment he wondered if the police had got it wrong, then he saw the small port side window slide open and knew they hadn't, a small silver gun appeared and silently jerked as the still-smiling woman fired towards his machine. Instantly a hole appeared in his canopy, Brad, rammed the controls left and rolled the machine out of range. Staggered he looked at the other side of the perspex bubble, there it was, an exit hole, Jesus, the bullet must have travelled within a few inches of his face. The vicious, murderous bitch, Jesus H. Christ! Levelling up the pilot watched the Citabria turning to renew the attack, "I just do not believe this." The Citabria was now behind and closing, Now over his initial shock, Brad felt confident, There was no way she was going to get close enough again to get another shot in, Brad rolled the Pitts onto its back then dived steeply, the woman followed his manoeuvre but the Pitts had made a smaller, tighter turn and was now well ahead on a reciprocal course. He called into his Mike and reported that he had been fired on. The response was broken, and Brad realised that he was moving out of VHF range with St Petes, he was now on his own, there had been no time to find a new frequency, it was all happening too fast.
To Janet's crazed mind it was all a huge joke, she was a real fighter pilot, the man in the Pitts was no match for her, she was invincible, gradually she overhauled the fleeing machine, Brad watched, carefully timing his moment, then he nosed over into a bunt, the airspeed climbed, then back with the stick, the valiant little machine climbed vertically, the Citabria followed, then just as the speed was dying away he applied full rudder. The Pitts cart-wheeled in a perfect stall turn, he was now on a reciprocal course, a descending rapid dive towards the climbing, vulnerable craft. Had he had gun s he could have raked the belly of the monoplane, for the first time the woman was unsure, her craft was climbing and losing speed, suddenly the Pitts appeared from ahead diving on her, dragging the stick right back she attempted to avoid the attack by pulling a half loop then rolling off the top, it was not to be, her machine had insufficient airspeed to complete the manoeuvre and the craft gave a vicious power stall, The Citabria rotated, fell then stalled onto it's back, this exerted more than the approved negative G force and there was a groan from the main spars. Even through her euphoria the woman was shaken, recovering she assumed straight and level flight and once more sought the course that would take her to the Bahamas and freedom, she could see the eastern coast of Florida ahead, once over the water she would lose height and double back, the whole plan was being ruined by this bloody idiot in the Pitts, Shit, who was he?
Brad, now icy calm, approached the Citabria from behind, he brought his machine above the fleeing craft and gradually bore down on the woman beneath, Brad reasoned, she surely will not fire at me through the roof of her canopy, there were fuel lines, electrics and anyway, the canopy might shatter, pulling ahead a little further and craning his neck over the side, Brad eased the sick forward, the man could see the woman's face beneath, she was peering upwards, no smile this time, the teeth were on display once more, but this time in a mask of hatred, Brad saw slim hands reach forward in preparation, then suddenly, suicidally she hauled back on the controls. The Citabria soared skyward and Brad's machine sprang away in alarm, "Jesus Sheeeit" within a half second the Citabria had occupied the Pitts airspace. Shaken Brad Turner climbed away from the killer and muttered, "Jesus H Fucking Christ, this woman is totally bleeding crazy." When his pulse rate slowed he settled down once more behind the insane pilot ahead. What to do? It was like trying to pick up an angry prickly hedgehog.
A few years ago Brad had been involved in aerial combat over Xambia in Africa, there a number of British subjects had been held to ransom, the flying had been dangerous and memorable, but this woman. Jeez... Today he had only wheeled his machine out of the hangar for a few happy minutes in the clouds, and now he was embroiled in aerial combat!
They were now over the sea and clearly this fruit cake was in the same league as the Japanese Kami-Kazi pilots of world war two.
Janet decided she'd had enough of this bloody red Pitts that had caused her so much trouble, that the pilot was a skilful aviator there could be no doubt, but she, Janet Hughes, no she must try to remember her new name, Corey Montgomery had right on her side. She would conquer, she would carry the fight to him. The woman lowered the nose, Brad stayed with her, the airspeed rose, the wind shrieked through the struts, at almost the machine's maximum permitted speed she hauled back on the controls, the machine soared upwards, Brad followed trying to anticipate her next move and failed, suddenly the woman pushed the controls forward, the machine regained horizontal flight, then she applied full aileron and rolled over into a ninety degree bank turn, full stick back, the wing roots groaned under the excessive 'G' she was pulling, the machine whipped around into a vertical split-arsed turn, the blood was forced from her face and for a moment she thought she was going to blackout, then, suddenly he was ahead of her, she the hunted had become the hunter, ramming the throttle fully open, the engine coughed a momentary objection, then roared it's defiance and gave the woman full power. Now face to face with the Pitts she held course, either this bastard would break away or they would die, calling upon her considerable powers of self control and resolution she held the growing machine in her windscreen dead ahead, and with teeth bared, waited...
Brad's blood was up, he had pussyfooted around this bitch for altogether too long, now the bloody woman was attacking him! Amazing, Jesus but she was some opponent. Ok, Ok if that's the way she wants it, fuck it, then that's the way she can have it. Look at her, she had levelled off and was now closing on him, Brad screamed, "Ok bitch... now you've really bitten off more than you can chew," with boiling blood and snarling mouth, Brad pushed the Pitts throttle fully open, the engine wailed and the wind rose to screaming pitch as the air tore through the rigging wires, for the moment he was insane, a madman bent on self destruction, hunching in his seat, Brad held the throttle fully open and aimed the screaming propeller disc at the growing focus of his hatred...
The little raft with rapturously happy crew, plodded onwards towards St Petes sun-kissed beach. The tattered grubby sail ballooned forward from the warm southerly breeze and those aboard eagerly scanned the white shore ahead. There was excited Spanish chatter from the original five Cubans who by now accepted the fact that they might be deported back to Cuba. Sara had explained that her husband was a very important man and there was a possibility that he would use his powers to help them acquire work permits or visas. Figures could now be made out on the beach and a parascending figure towed by speedboat. Miriam's eyes were filled with tears as she gazed at the familiar pink hotel, the famous Don-Cesar. Soon she would be home, Oh God, to be in Thompson's arms again.
The raft was suddenly joined by a school of dolphins, they criss-crossed ahead of the clumsy vessel like motor cycle outriders escorting the group homeward. Their gleaming rubbery bodies were arching and revealed smiling mouths that added to the excited atmosphere aboard. Sara was lost in thought and wished she had a cell phone to call Thompson, it would have been lovely if he could have met them. The woman realised that if they'd had a cell phone they could have called from the island and been quickly rescued. She sighed inwardly, so easy to be wise after the event. Soon a they saw the white and orange striped hull of a coastguard vessel approaching, for them the ordeal was over. Miriam relaxed, safe in the knowledge that their ordeal was over.
At a closing speed of over three hundred miles per hour, the duelling aircraft were meeting at nearly 450 feet per second, Janet had decided to ram the bastard out of the sky, in the last few seconds she steeled her grip and urged her aerial charger onward.
Brad, in the heat of battle and determination to win, held the little Pitts on course, suddenly he realised what he was really doing, he was about to give his life for an empty gesture, very noble, with a flash of insight, he saw tomorrow's headlines,'PILOT GIVES HIS LIFE TO APPREHEND MURDERER'. Shit, what was he thinking. the murderer will be caught in any event, all he had to do was keep his cool and tail the bitch, then just keep on reporting in her position, he had been caught up in the frenzy and agony of combat, it wasn't his fight, staring ahead the woman's face grew rapidly, she wore a look of pure hatred, at the last moment Brad stood the little Pitts on its wing and sheered off to starboard. With a shout of triumph, Janet watched the Pitts veer away and turned to follow. But Brad was not playing any more, he coaxed his craft into a rate of climb that he knew the old Citabria couldn't match and sought sanctuary in height. At ten thousand feet he levelled off, Janet, all thoughts of the Bahamas now driven from her crazed mind, doggedly climbed after him. It was a long and tedious climb. Brad discovered that at this great height he could again speak with St Petes police. He gave them a report and was assured that help was on its way.
It the calm after the battle, Janet idled away the time in this boring climb, Oh how she wished she had more power, In an endeavour to get more speed she leaned off the mixture but it made little difference. Looking down she realised they were over the coast, the air was much bumpier here, idly she reached for the diamonds in her bag, soon she would sell them... she would live in another country... she would enslave men, it was time, there had been problems just lately, Thompson didn't really understand. Holding the stick with one hand she reached into her purse and removed the soft chamois bag, the machine laboured onward and upward, inserting two fingers into the neck of the bag she spread them and gazed at the stones within. It had been worth it, they were beautiful, again she daydreamed in her semi-mad state until a particularly strong thermal caught the starboard wing and tilted the machine sharply. Caught unawares, Janet lost control of the chamois bag. At once the stones fell to the cabin floor where they spread out and sparkled in a thousand colours. Cursing, the woman tried to gather them, only to be brought up short by the Citabria's full seat harness, cursing again the woman turned the central release button on her chest and all four straps jumped away. Just then there was another clatter as the Smith & Wesson fell from her lap, in a typical aviators snowball effect, the machine encountered another updraught, this time more powerful than the first, the diamonds spread themselves in every corner of the cabin floor. Throughout this calamity, the woman had been flying automatically with one hand, but now she became aware that something was very wrong, the stick wouldn't move backwards. Little by little the airspeed was rising, the nose was down and the stick would not come back to correct it, experimentally, Janet eased the stick forwards, Ok it went forward without resistance, the angle of descent increased still further, but then it would not come back again. It was as though the bloody thing was on a ratchet, The airspeed continued to climb, and Janet hauled with all her strength on the stick, chopping the throttle made little difference. gravity was taking a very real hand in this affair, soon the air speed indicator registered over 140 knots, if she went much faster the pilot knew the wings would part company from the fuselage. Janet applied full rear elevator trim, it helped a little but the problem remained. Now Janet knew terror, as quickly as it had come, so her madness retreated, and with it the euphoria. The dive continued. already she had lost three thousand feet, looking down she saw something glitter at the base of the stick. It was a diamond, it had lodged in between the stick base hinge and its 'U' mount. No wonder the bloody thing wouldn't move. Inspired she did the only thing left, she rolled the machine onto its back and now, the limited forward movement on the stick promised to ease her out of the inverted dive, but again the stick jammed, the stone had wedged itself firmly into the hinge. Many times harder that steel, the pilot had no chance of crushing or dislodging it.
Janet had completely forgotten that she was not strapped in, now in full inverted flight, she fell out of the seat and her head crashed painfully into the canopy. Soon the air was full of debris, particles of grit, scores of diamonds and a Smith & Wesson fell into her face and open mouth. There was a terrible pain in her neck as the full weight of her body twisted it sideways, her feet had long since parted company with the rudder pedals and the stick remained jammed in the position she had last left it in.
As the machine fell out of the sky, one wing experienced a little more lift than the other, this started an inverted spiral dive, the valiant, abused old Citabria achieved speeds never dreamt of by its designer, the frenzied pilot saw the beach then the sea spinning and growing, suddenly there was a splintering wrench as the starboard wing tore itself from its anchorage, the port wing tried to follow but clung to the fuselage for a few moments by the strut, soon this twisted off and the crippled craft with tail section still attached weather-cocked and increased its velocity still further with the propeller still racing.
It was a miracle that the venerable old craft chose a quiet part of the beach to end its final journey. It hit the sand at a terrible speed about thirty feet above high water mark. There was no fire, moments later two twisted wings fluttered to the ground, one landed in the sea oats nearby whilst the other came to rest in shallow water. Most of the wreckage was unrecognisable except perhaps for a steel tube about thirty inches long with a rubber grip at one end and a diamond jammed into the hinge at the other.