Under orders, p.29

Under Orders, page 29

 

Under Orders
 


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  He smiled. I began to be more than frightened; I became angry.

  Why, I thought, should this little worm use his father as his excuse for his actions? Yes, his father was an ogre and a bully, but Peter was thirty-two years old and there are limits to how much and for how long you can blame the parents.

  The rage rose inside me as it had done in the hospital. I raged, also, at my predicament. Damn it, I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. I wanted to marry Marina. I especially didn’t want to die like this, trussed up and at the hands of Peter Enstone.

  “I think I’ve talked enough,” he said suddenly, standing up. “I get fed up with all those silly films where the gunman spends so long telling his victim why he’s going to kill him that someone finally arrives to stop it. That’s not going to happen here because I’m going to kill you now, then I’m going to wait and kill your girlfriend when she gets home. She can keep you company in hell.”

  He laughed.

  He leaned forward until his face was just six inches away from mine.

  “Bye, Sid,” he said. “Now, be a good boy and open your mouth.”

  Instead, I hit him.

  I hit him with all the pent-up anger and frustration of the last three weeks.

  I hit him with the stump of my left arm.

  The look on his face was more of surprise than hurt. But I had put every ounce of my considerable strength into that blow and he went backwards fast. The edge of the bathtub caught him behind the knees and he went over it. There was a satisfyingly loud thud as the back of his head hit the far rim of the tub near the taps.

  Thank goodness for old-fashioned values, I thought. This bathtub was not one of the modern, flexible, cheap plastic things; it was solid cast iron and very hard.

  Peter was lying faceup in the bath, but he was half turned, with his chin pushed into his chest. He groaned a little, but he was unconscious. But for how long?

  Now what?

  My left forearm hurt.

  I had been gradually easing it out of its false case for some time and the seal around the elbow had finally separated, as I had cautiously flexed it back and forth without his noticing. Now I looked at the end of my stump. It was sore and bleeding, such had been the force of the blow.

  The task now was to get out of the bathroom before Peter came around and finished off what he’d started.

  I tugged at the handcuffs on my right hand. I twisted and pulled, I jerked and heaved but made no impression whatsoever on the metal, I simply tore and chafed my wrist until I was bleeding on both sides.

  I trod on my arm battery that was lying on the floor. How do I pick that up? I wondered. I kicked off my shoes and used my left big toe to pull the sock off my right foot. I tried to pick up the battery in my toes, but it was too big to grasp.

  Peter groaned again. I was getting desperate now. I bloody refused to be still attached to this bloody towel rack when he came around.

  I went down on my knees and tried to get my mouth down to the battery, but it was too far. I used my toes to pull the battery a little closer and between my right foot and left stump I managed to upend it so that it sat vertically on the floor. I hung down with most of my weight on my sore handcuffed right wrist, but I didn’t care. I stretched my body down and forward as far as I could reach and put my mouth over the end of the battery.

  I could feel a tingling on my tongue as it touched the battery electrodes. I had freshly charged it the previous night.

  Peter groaned again and this time more loudly. I looked at him in alarm. He was throwing up. I could see the vomit as it came down his nose and out of the corner of his mouth. I hoped he’d choke on it.

  I knelt on the floor again and tried to use my mouth to push the battery into its holder in the fiberglass shell that stuck out rigidly sideways from the mechanical hand that was firmly gripping the towel rack. It was simple, really. Place the lower end of the battery under the lugs at the wrist end of the rack and snap the upper end in under the sprung plastic clip. A task I performed day in, day out, hundreds of times a year. But always with my dexterous right hand. It was not so easy with a tingling mouth, and when my life depended on it. Eventually, I positioned the battery at the correct angle under the lugs and used my nose and forehead to push the other end in. It snapped into place. Hallelujah!

  Now I had to get my bruised and bloody stump back into the fiberglass shell before it swelled up too much to fit. I stood up and eased it in. Normally, I used talcum powder to help, as the fit was tight even at the best of times and a little moisture can cause the real me to stick to the plastic, making things impossible. This time, I had no talcum powder available and there was masses of moisture, both blood and sweat.

  I managed it after a fashion although the elbow seal was far from perfect. I sent the impulses, but the thumb refused to budge. Bugger. Maybe there was blood between my skin and the electrodes. I tried again and then again.

  The thumb moved a fraction, but still refused to swing open fully.

  I kept sending the necessary signals and slowly, little by little, the thumb moved enough to allow my hand to unclasp the towel rack.

  But I was still firmly attached on my right-hand side.

  My normally strong mechanical left hand was letting me down. The hand that this morning could have crushed not only eggs and fingers but also apples and tennis balls would have had trouble now with a soap bubble. Nevertheless, I used it to attack the handcuffs. But I had no success. I wished I had a cutting tool on the hand, like that character in the James Bond movie. I would have cut myself out of trouble in no time.

  Peter coughed. Perhaps he was indeed choking on his own vomit.

  I wondered if I should shout for help. But wouldn’t it rouse Peter? And would anyone else hear me, anyway? My building was predominantly occupied by businessmen. Would anyone be in their flats to hear me at one-thirty on a Tuesday afternoon? The porters were safely behind their desk, four floors down. They may as well have been on the moon.

  I looked closely at the handcuffs. The cuff around my wrist was annoyingly tight. Too tight for me to slip my hand through; I’d tried that. The other cuff around the rack bracket was not so tight. I put the thumb of my false hand through the ring and tried to use the arm as a lever to break the lock.

  I couldn’t move it far enough, so I eased my forearm once more out of the shell and used my left elbow to push the prosthetic arm down. I am sure that the boffins at the Roehampton artificial limb center would have loved to know that I was using their highly expensive pride and joy as a crowbar.

  But it worked. The thumb on the hand was stronger than the lock that resisted for a while but finally gave way with a crack. My false arm fell to the floor, but it had done its job. I was free from the towel rack, although I still had the handcuffs dangling around my right wrist.

  I wasted no time. I leaned over Peter in the bathtub and took his gun. I held it in my right hand and pointed it at him. Should I shoot him? I asked myself. Indeed, could I shoot him? I had never been one to shy away from a bit of violence if it were necessary, but shooting someone seemed a bit extreme, even terminal. Especially someone who was unconscious.

  I wasn’t sure that I could bring myself to shoot Peter even if he woke up. Perhaps I would threaten to do so but then not have the resolve to carry it out. If I wasn’t going to use the gun, then no one else was, either. I removed the bullets from the cylinder and put them in my pocket.

  I left Peter where he was and went into the sitting room to call for reinforcements from the police. I put the gun down on the table and dialed 999.

  “Emergency, what service?” asked a female voice.

  “Police,” I said.

  I could hear the voice give my telephone number to the police operator, who then came on the line.

  “Police emergency,” he said.

  “I need help and fast,” I said. “I have a gunman in my flat.”

  He asked for the address. I gave it. He asked if I was in danger. Yes, I
said, I was.

  They were on their way.

  “Tell Superintendent Aldridge that the gunman is Peter Enstone.”

  “Right,” said the police operator, but I wondered if he would.

  I walked into the hallway and used the intercom to call down to the reception desk.

  “Yes, Mr. Halley?” said a voice. It wasn’t Derek. It was one of the new staff.

  “Some policemen will be arriving soon. Please send them straight up.”

  “Certainly, sir,” he said somewhat uncertainly. “Is everything all right?”

  “Yes,” I said. “Everything’s fine.”

  I went back to check on my unwanted guest in the bathroom, but the bathtub was empty.

  Oh my God! Everything was far from fine.

  I should have shot him while I’d had the chance.

  I spun around, but he wasn’t behind me.

  Now what should I do? Should I go get the gun? Should I reload it?

  And where was he? There weren’t many places to hide in this flat. I went back to the kitchen door, picked up the intercom to push the buzzer to summon help from security downstairs.

  I never got the chance.

  Peter came charging out of one of the bedrooms straight at me. His lips were drawn back, revealing his teeth in some evil grin, and there was murder in his eyes. This wasn’t to be the cold-blooded, almost sanitized killing he had planned, this was going to be uncontrolled and furious. He was in a frenzy and a rage. That made two of us.

  He dove at me as I tried to sidestep into the kitchen and he used my own false arm as a club to aim a swing at my head.

  That’s a bit cheeky, I thought. That was usually my game plan.

  I dodged and he caught me only a glancing blow on my shoulder. I shoved him and sent him spinning across the hall on his knees. He was quickly back up on his feet and bunching for a fresh attack. I dropped the intercom receiver and retreated into the kitchen and tried to close the door.

  He stuck his foot in the gap and pushed hard. I leaned on the door to keep him out, but he had the strength of the demented, as well as two good hands.

  I looked around for a weapon. I had a pocket full of bullets but no gun. Too late to discover that I could have gladly shot him dead.

  There was a pine block full of kitchen knives on the counter-top on the far side of the room near the stove, but it would have meant leaving the door to reach them. Did I have a choice? I asked myself. I was slowly losing the battle to keep him out, anyway.

  Again, I asked myself the question. Even if I reached a knife, would I use it? I had once known a particularly nasty villain who had told me that killing with a knife was an experience not to be missed. He had described with relish how he liked to feel the warmth of his victim’s blood on his hand as it spurted out from the wound. It was an image I had often tried to remove from my consciousness without much success. Could I stab Peter and feel the warmth of his blood?

  He heaved at the door and sent me sprawling across the floor.

  I jumped up and went for the knife block.

  He tore at my collar and tossed me away from the block. He stretched for it himself. I grabbed at him and put my right arm around his neck and pulled him backwards.

  But I was losing this fight. Hand-to-hand combat is somewhat tricky when your opponent has twice as many hands and no scruples about using his nails and teeth as well.

  He dug his nails into my already sore wrist and used the still-dangling handcuffs to pull my hand up to his mouth, where he bit it. But I refused to let go and went on hauling him away from the knives. He bit me again, this time using all his might to sink his teeth into my thumb. I thought he would bite it off completely.

  I gave up my neck lock and tore my hand free of him.

  He went for the knives.

  I picked up the only thing I could see. My trusted one-handed cork remover. The spike sat ready for action on a shelf next to the wineglasses.

  I tried to stab it into his back, but I couldn’t get it through his coat.

  He chose a long, wide carving knife from the block and turned around. I knew the edge was sharp. I had honed it myself.

  So it was to be my blood warming his hands.

  He was still smiling the evil grin and, if anything, his lips were even farther back than before. There was something horrific about what such hate can do to a human being.

  He stepped forward and I stepped back. In two strides, I was flat against the wall.

  As he lunged at me, I stabbed him with the cork remover. I drove the spike deep into the soft tissue between the thumb and first finger of his right hand.

  He screamed and dropped the knife. The spike had gone right through. The sharp point was clearly visible, sticking out of his palm. He clutched at it.

  I pushed past him. The front door to my left was no good; it was locked and the key was in Peter’s pocket. I went right and fairly sprinted down the hallway to the bathroom. I locked myself in.

  A moment later, I could hear him walking about.

  “Sid,” he said. He sounded quite calm and also very close. “I have my gun back now, and I’m going to come in there and kill you.”

  Not if I could help it.

  Where were the bloody police?

  I heard the gun go dick. Then click again, and again.

  “Oh, very funny,” he said.

  I hoped to God he hadn’t brought more ammunition with him.

  “Well, Sid, what shall we do now?” he said through the door. “Perhaps I’ll wait here until your girlfriend comes home. Then you’ll come out.”

  •

  I WASN’T SURE whether it dawned on me or Peter first that Marina was not coming home.

  I had been in the bathroom for well over an hour. I wasn’t coming out and Peter hadn’t been able to get in. He’d tried a few times. At first, he had attempted to kick the door down. I had leaned against it and I could feel the blows through the wood. Thankfully, the corridor outside was so narrow that he couldn’t get a run at it and the lock had held easily. Next, he had tried to hack his way through with the carving knife. I know because he’d told me so, but wood doesn’t cut very easily with a knife, even a sharp knife, and I reckoned it would take him all night to get through that way. I was glad I didn’t have a fire ax in the flat.

  The phone had rung several times. I could hear my new answering machine picking up each time after seven rings, just as I’d told it to.

  I’d worked out that the police must be somewhere outside and it was probably them on the phone. They must surely have stopped Marina from coming back. By now, they must have also intercepted the real Charles Rowland.

  I wondered how long they would wait.

  A long time. They would have no desire to walk in on a loaded gun.

  The phone rang again.

  “Answer the phone, Peter,” I called to him through the door.

  There was no sound. He had been quiet for a long time now.

  “Peter,” I shouted, “answer the bloody phone.”

  But the answering machine did it for him, again.

  I wished I had my cell phone. It was on its charging cradle in the sitting room and I had heard it ringing, too.

  I sat on the edge of the bathtub in darkness. The light switch was outside in the corridor and Peter had turned it out long ago. The only light came from the narrow gap under the door. I had several times lain down and tried to look under it, but without much success. Occasionally, I had seen a shadow as Peter had walked past or stood outside the door. But not for a while now.

  What was he doing?

  Was he still there?

  I stood up and put my ear to the door. Nothing.

  The floor was wet. I could feel it on my right foot, the one without the sock.

  What was he up to?

  Was he pouring something flammable under the door? Was he going to burn me out?

  I went down quickly on my knees and put a finger in the liquid. I put it to my nose. It didn’
t smell of petrol. I tasted it.

  I knew that taste. When one was accustomed to eating grass at half a mile a minute it was seemingly always mixed with blood from one’s mouth or nose. And blood is what I could taste now. I found I was paddling in the stuff and it was coming under the door. It had to be Peter’s, but the wound I had inflicted on his hand would not have produced so much.

  Gingerly, I opened the bathroom door and peered out. Peter was seated on the floor a little to the left, leaning up against the magnolia-painted wall.

  His eyes swiveled around and looked at me.

  I was surprised he was still conscious. His blood was all down the wooden-floored corridor and there were splashes of it on the paintwork where surges of it had landed.

  He had used the carving knife, with its finely honed edge.

  He had sliced through his left wrist so deeply I could see the bones. I had seen something like that before.

  I stepped towards him and used my foot to pull the knife away, just to be on the safe side.

  He was trying to say something.

  I went down and put my ear close to his mouth. His voice was so weak I could barely hear him.

  “Go back in the bathroom,” he whispered. “Let me die.”

  EPILOGUE

  * * *

  Three weeks later, Marina and I went to Huw Walker’s funeral outside a rainy Brecon.

  The service took place in a small, gray stone chapel with a gray slate roof and every seat was filled. Evan Walker was there in a starched white shirt with stiff collar and his best Sunday suit. Chief Inspector Carlisle represented the police, and Edward, the managing director, was there on behalf of Cheltenham racetrack.

  Jonny Enstone had sensibly stayed away. The turbulent relationship between father and son had been much reported and dissected by the media, with little credit laid at the good lord’s feet. I wondered if he still worked the dining room at the House.

 
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