Death Island, page 1
Praise for Death Island
“Be prepared for twists and turns—a psychologically complex plot that will keep you guessing what’s going to happen until the very end!”
—Award-winning Romantic Suspense author Mary Buckham
“Death Island is a fast-paced, engaging story with a riveting plot, well-drawn characters, and a premise that is sure to entertain. Ms. Afman has created a fascinating read that will keep you awake at night.”
—Patrice Wilton, author of Replacing Barnie and The Hero Collection
“Joan Afman has taken reality television to the next level, penning an intriguing tale guaranteed to keep readers on the edge.”
—Traci E. Hall, author of Boadicea’s Legacy
“Death Island grabs the reader from the onset, with an innocent man condemned to live out his life on an island for convicted criminals. The pace of the story never lets up, with heart-pounding action and drama, as Danny, an innocent man, faces unbelievable odds just trying to survive. In the meantime, a minister’s wife sets out to prove he is innocent, while unaware that the real murderer is stalking her! The drama builds to an exciting and surprising conclusion. This is one of those rare ‘can’t put it down’ books.”
—Tricia Lee, author of contemporary romances:
A Caribbean Summer, Amorous Ambush and Colorado Destiny
Joan Conning Afman
PO Box 70515
Seattle, WA 98127
For more information go to: www.Camelpress.com
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Cover illustration by Joan Conning Afman
Cover design by Sabrina Sun
Copyright © 2012 by Joan Conning Afman
ISBN: 978-1-60381-849-0 (Trade Paper)
Produced in the United States of America
To Dane, Mindy, Heather and Sarah
(and their significant others: Sandra, Gordy, Jim and Mark)
and their gift of my beautiful grandchildren,
Christopher, Alyssa, Cassidy, Riley, Talan and Holden
Death by Television
Sometime in the spring of 2020, the United States Congress, in response to unrelenting public demand, passed a law to relieve the burgeoning overcrowding and violence rampant in its prison system. Anyone who was convicted of a crime that carried a death sentence—and the standards were revised so that many more offenses were earmarked for final justice—was rewarded with a one-way trip to Death Island.
It didn’t reek of death.
A lush green island floated in the deep blue Pacific, thousands of miles from nowhere. The surf splashed high over jagged black rocks, and the water teemed with sharks, which discouraged the building of rafts to escape.
Many had tried; all had perished.
The condemned men were dropped by parachute. They were bequeathed a small tent, a change of clothing, and a month’s supply of dry rations. Under other circumstances, it might have been Paradise; under these it was Hell.
And … it was televised in real time.
It was America’s favorite show.
“We’re here. Paradise.”
Phil, the taller, leaner and meaner of the two military-garbed officers peered out the helicopter window. He turned back to lob a sadistic grin at Danny Manning, handcuffed to the bars of the steel cage he had been confined to during the flight to Death Island. Danny tightened his grip on the bars, refusing to give Phil the satisfaction of seeing any emotion. He had already figured out that this guy thoroughly enjoyed his job.
“See that mess of green stuff down there? That’s your new home, Assholes.”
Danny craned his neck to look down at the forbidding jungle of dense trees and tangled growth. The copter hovered over a small, open space where he assumed they would be dropped.
His cage-mate, Tom Koranda, shuddered hard enough to rock the cage and let out a long, low moan full of fear.
“Don’t!” Danny hissed at him. Damned if he’d let these sadistic bastards see any fear from him!
“Better than fryin’ or the gas chamber, ain’t it?” Bert, the shorter of the two guards taunted. He had a stubble of red hair and freckles, but his face was hard and pock-marked. “Though I gotta say, Manning, you don’t deserve any mercy after what you did.”
“I didn’t do it!” Danny growled through gritted teeth.
“Don’t they all say that? The cops caught you red-handed with an axe standing over the body of the wife you had just hacked to pieces, but you didn’t do it.” The guard turned to Phil, his voice filled with disgust. “Let’s get these perverts out of here.”
Danny braced himself and flexed his wrists, but Phil reached through the bars and unhitched Tom’s handcuffs.
“This pathetic wimp first,” he growled.
Danny glanced at Tom, who was about fifty years old, he guessed, an apple-shaped man who hadn’t seen a gym in a long time. He probably sat at his computer, making money hand-over-fist, other people’s money, ripping people off. Danny knew the type, but he couldn’t help but feel a stab of sympathy for him. He guessed that Tom wouldn’t last a week down there, or he’d end up some macho guy’s ‘wife,’ with all attendant duties that implied. Tom blubbered noisily, hardly able to stand, as the guards forced him into position.
“Stand up, Pretty Boy,” the guard ordered, giving Tom a rough jab in the ribs, “so I can check your parachute. And,” he added, as Tom groaned in pain, “that ain’t nothing compared to what you’re going to get down there. Though why I should give a shit if scum like you makes it down safely is beyond me.”
“Yeah,” Phil agreed, his mouth screwed to the side. “Up to me, I’d make ’em both shark-lunch and good riddance.”
Bert yanked so hard on the parachute straps that Tom fell back hard against the metal bars.
Bert chuckled at his grunt of pain.
“All set.” He gestured to Phil.
Phil began to recite the required statement, just in case, Danny thought, we don’t know why we’re here.
“You, Thomas Edwin Koranda, and you, Daniel Douglas Manning, having been convicted of capital crimes by the Special Crimes Division of the United States Judicial System, are sentenced to life on Death Island. This edict, enacted by the United States Congress in the year of our Lord, two thousand and twenty, is permanent exile. You will be given one month’s dried provisions and one change of clothing. Whether you live or die is heretofore up to you. The United States revokes your citizenship and all the rights and privileges thereof. May God have mercy on your soul.”
Tom began to whimper. Danny turned a hard face toward him. “Be a man,” he growled. He looked away and stared out the window again. He knew he was visibly more upset than he’d intended to show.
“Open the hatch, Sergeant.”
Bert leaned all his weight on the heavy lever, and the hatch slid open. The sudden rush of frigid air hit all four men like a tidal wave, and they struggled to maintain their footing.
“You first, Baby Face!” Phil yelled. He grasped Tom by the arm and shoved him toward the hatch. Tom resisted, planting his feet, keening in fear like a trapped animal, but in his out-of-shape condition, he was no match for Phil.
“Remember,” the guard shouted in Tom’s ear, “arch your back and spread-eagle your ar
Danny heard Tom’s scream of terror as he fell into space. He let out a breath of relief as he saw the parachute snap open and Tom begin a gentle descent toward the surface.
“You’re killing an innocent man,” Danny said through gritted teeth. “They had to blame it on someone, but it wasn’t me. I never killed anyone.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Bert intoned, sounding bored as hell.
“Let’s give it a minute,” Phil said, peering out to see where Tom had landed.
“We want to give Tom some space. It’s no fun for the audience if Danny drops down right on top of him and finishes him off.”
“Why would I do that?”
Phil shrugged. “His supplies, his food. Everyone down there who sees you goons drop will be there within an hour anyway, and ready to kill you for what’s in your knapsack. It happens more often than not.”
“It’s a sick society, watching this go on like it’s a sport,” Danny said. “No better than the old Romans and their amphitheatre. Tigers tearing human beings apart while the audience cheered.”
Bert grinned. “Best ratings on TV. Bread and circuses, you bet. People love this show. They place bets on who might die this week! Besides, who are you to call anyone sick? You and your axe murders! How many women, five? Including your own pretty little wife.”
Danny gripped the bars of the cage so hard his knuckles turned white. “I didn’t kill any of those women, and I sure as hell didn’t kill my own wife!”
Bert gave him the finger, reached in and unlocked Danny’s cuffs. Before the guard could give him a shove, Danny leapt out into the frigid air.
The total silence and the awful feeling of the ground rushing up at him disoriented Danny until the chute opened and slowed his descent. He had almost expected the guards, who clearly loathed him, to let him fall and crash. He arched his back and extended his arms and legs to the side to give his body stability. He grasped the hand straps and peered around him as he drifted downward. He had jumped before—he had not feared that—but his stomach felt as if it were tied in knots with barbed wire because of what was likely waiting for him below. It flashed through his mind, in a mad spike of irony, that if this were not the prelude to a death sentence, he might actually be enjoying the experience.
A year ago, he reflected—with the bitterness that had become his habitual mindset—when they’d found his beautiful Katie murdered and blamed it on him, he would have welcomed death as a friend. Katie. He had known her since their junior year in high school. It had been love at first sight for both of them, and he had never been out of love with her, not for one damned second. How could anyone have thought he had murdered Katie, let alone hacked her petite, perfect body into bloody chunks with an axe?
* * * *
Danny landed with a thud in a field of high weeds, the monotony relieved here and there by an occasional orange tuft of something he couldn’t identify. Not that he had ever been great about plants. He’d never be able to tell what was okay to eat and what might be poisonous. He’d grown his own vegetables out back, given a few away to the neighbors, but that was about all. He stumbled and almost fell, but managed to scramble to his feet again. Looking around, he checked for signs of movement, but saw nothing except a tawny deer, staring at him from the edge of the woods.
“You’d better be scared or you’ll be dinner,” Danny growled at the deer. It flicked its white tail at him like an echo of the finger Bert had given him and disappeared among the trees.
Danny surveyed his surroundings. The field seemed to go on forever, green and yellow high grass where anything or anyone might be hiding. To the south, it grew thicker, and there was a ring of palm trees and what looked like a pond. Probably full of alligators in this climate. He wheeled around and gazed toward the north. More woods, thicker, and some huge reddish rocks. Anything might be lurking behind them. On the other hand, they could conceal him as well and provide excellent cover. In back of the rocks, where cliffs of the same dusty clay-like color rose, the noonday sun shone directly above them like a beacon. Danny felt its burning heat on his bare arms.
He struggled out of the parachute. He wondered where Tom had landed, and if he had made it down without dying of fright. He was sure the poor bugger had never jumped from a plane just for the thrill of it. Danny had read about this guy in the papers. Too bad he got caught making billions that weren’t his to make. Too bad he hadn’t been smart enough not to try to rip off the federal government. It wasn’t a capital crime, but they had made an exception for him. Off to Death Island for poor Tom.
Danny glanced back toward the south, where the meadow gave way to softly rolling hills and eventually more woods, darker and denser than those to the side of him. He turned back and gave the red rocks and cliffs an appraising look. They seemed to offer the best bet for shelter and protection, at least for his first night on the island.
Would he need the parachute? Possibly. He struggled with it, folding it up the best he could, adjusted the backpack that held his food and the few tools he had been given, and set off toward the rocks. It is odd, he thought, as he walked along, keeping an eye out for any movement or blob of color showing itself among the tall grasses, that there’s no sign of human life. More than three hundred men had been consigned to this island by now—hadn’t anyone seen him and Tom drop?
Twenty minutes later, he approached a dense strand of trees flanked by a row of the giant boulders. The one that blocked his path stood at least twelve feet high. He bent down, picked up a handful of small stones. He threw one at the rock. Ping! A large brown bird flew up from the lush grass at its base, letting out an angry squawk. Danny ducked as one of its wide-spread wings almost flapped in his face. He threw the other pebbles. Nothing. He decided to advance. Searching for a sturdy branch to use as a weapon, if necessary, his eyes lit on a long, stout stick.
“Goddamn!” A hiss and a slither rewarded his first attempt. His heart pounded as he watched the thick black snake escape through the long grass. Tough as he was, Danny could not abide snakes, never had been able to stand them. He nudged another stick with his toe, and after he made sure it was a stick, he picked it up. He noted with approval that it was shaped like a club, one end broader than the other.
He gripped his stick firmly, shrugged his shoulders under his other burdens and began to make his way, his eyes darting from side to side for any sign of movement around him. He had an uneasy feeling of being watched, one that was probably well-founded.
He knew there were tiny, embedded cameras everywhere. They worked off satellites, and no wires or poles were necessary to tip the men off to their location. He guessed that America’s TV audience knew the terrain of Death Island better than it knew its own town parks.
But—being on the island was another breed of cat from watching it on the idiot box. He had not subscribed to the reality show, but he had seen part of it one evening when he had gone next door to the parsonage, the minister’s house. The Reverend Paul Adjavon had not been at home, although his wife, Charlie, said he was due any minute, and would he like to watch Death Island with her and her guests while he waited?
Danny would have preferred to wait in the den for Paul, but she didn’t offer him that option, so he sat down self-consciously in a straight-backed chair to keep them company.
He was a little puzzled that Charlie and her friends watched this show, indeed, that they paid a subscription fee to watch it. He would have guessed that they were too sophisticated, too intellectual to get caught up in this sort of cheap reality thing.
Danny had seen the red cliffs that evening and watched with a sick feeling in his stomach as a man either jumped or was pushed from the top of one of them. A hidden camera caught every bump and jolt from one jagged crag to another until he finally came to rest in a rocky gully. The camera slowly zoomed in on his battered, bloody face.
“Myron Saddles,” Charlie breathed.
Myron had been one of the first murderers sent to Death Island, along about 2016. It was a good solution to the overcrowded and increasingly dangerous and difficult-to-control prison situation. Fly them out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, drop them off, and let them survive by their own wits. Hadn’t Australia been seeded in just this way? Danny hadn’t wasted much thought about it, didn’t object to this final solution. It didn’t concern him.
To his great relief, Paul had arrived within ten minutes, and after planting a fleeting kiss on Charlie’s cheek and greeting her friends, ushered him into his study. But before the study door closed behind him, he was amused and a little flustered to hear one of the women say, “He looks sort of like Matt Damon, don’t you think?”