Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Tuesday Tease - Exit Strategy by L. F. Falconer

In this week's Tuesday Tease we have chapter 11 from L. F. Falconer's novel 'Exit Strategy', have a read below and see if it tickles your fancy:


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Exit Strategy
by L.F. Falconer

Chapter 11


My face is warm.  Beads of sweat gather but do not cool.  My eyes creep painfully open, setting off a chain of explosions in my head.  The full light of day pours through the cabin porthole, shining in radiance over my naked body like a spotlight. 

I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.  Every muscle in my body aches as I roll over on the bed and it’s all I can do to sit upright on the edge.  It is my bed.  It never turned to lava, and neither did I.  Thank God for small miracles.

I groan beneath the jackhammer in my head.  “Son of a bitch.” 

Gabriel was right.  Isabel blew my fucking mind.  What a trip.  But not one I ever want to take again.  What the hell did she give me? 

My stomach starts to cramp, performs some somersaults, and I break into a cold sweat.  I’m going to puke.  Despite the pain, I push myself off the bed and force my feet to shuffle out of the cabin for the head and almost make it.  Falling to my knees, I begin puking onto the hallway floor, my skull splitting open with every gut-wrenching heave.  When I’m done, I close my eyes to the agony, crawl back to my bed, and try in vain to die.

Gabriel comes into my room and sits on the edge of the bed.  He sets a steaming cup upon the nightstand.  “I tried to say no, and that was more for your sake than hers.  As angry as she was with you, I’m surprised you’re up and moving around so soon.  Here, I brought you a cup of tea.  And don’t worry, it’s only tea.  When you feel up to it, it’ll do you good.”

My hands clasp onto my head to keep it in one piece, and I mumble through the foul drool being absorbed by my pillow, “What did she fucking give me?”

“Isabel,” he states as he stands up.  “Pure, unadulterated Isabel.”  He begins to chuckle.  “You’re lucky.  You should thank me for being there to referee.  Most mortals don’t live to tell the tale.  Their hearts burst.  But we’re not through with you yet, so I had to keep you alive.”

He probably doesn’t hear my whisper as he leaves the cabin.  “Fucking psycho.”  They’re never going to stop.  They’ll continue to torment me until I fucking die.  If I ever see Bartholomew Woodward III again, I won’t be able to control myself.  I will kill him.  The son of a bitch is going to wish he’d never heard of Jonas Dumar.  I will play back every moment of this torture onto him tenfold and see how he fucking likes it.

Every little movement brings me tears of anguish and I hold as still as a corpse, just breathing, praying for an end.  But it doesn’t end.  It merely subsides until I dare to move.  Once again, I am inundated with the pain.  I hold still until the agony subsides and try to move once more.  The pain attacks.  I retreat.  This repetitious Herculean task I keep performing over and over again until after several hours, I finally manage to sit up and drink the tea Gabriel brought, now long cold.  Then I shuffle to the dresser, grab a clean pair of sweats and stagger down to the shower. 

As the water rains down, I realize someone cleaned up my mess in the hall.  Probably Sam.  (Where is Sam?)  He wasn’t in my room.  Where did he go?  Oh, shit!  If she drugged my hamburger, I shared that crap with Sam!  I hurry out of the shower I had planned on lingering in, toss my sweats upon a too-damp body, which merely impedes the effort, ignore combing my hair or brushing my teeth and rush out to the hall.  “Sam!”  I give a whistle.  I wait.  No Sam.  There’s a small flutter of panic in my heart.  “Sam!” I call again with another whistle.  Still no Sam.  God damn it!  He always comes when I whistle.  Where the hell is he?  My heart is in a race with my feet as I speed topside.  I shoot through the door onto the aft deck, nearly falling to my knees as I come to a dead halt.

Gabriel is in the wheelhouse and Isabel lounges in my chaise, sipping a glass of Chablis.  Sam is curled up on her lap.

“There you are.”  Relief gushes from my throat.

“He’s fine,” Isabel reassures me, petting him as I surge across the deck.  “I take good care of him for you.”

“Get the fuck away from my dog.”

“He is in no danger.  Pull your head from your ass or you will hurt yourself.”

“Fuck you.”

She shoots me a smile that sends a chill through my dick.  “You are ready for more?”

“Fuck you.”  I’m actually trembling now.  Control it, Jonas.  Don’t let her see you sweat.  “Come here, Sam.”  I snap my fingers and he scampers from her lap, greeting me with his usual enthusiasm. 

“Good boy.”  I kneel down and rub his head.

Isabel laughs and takes a sip of wine.  “So tell me, Jonas, was I everything you dreamed me to be?”
“Leave me alone, you psycho, fucking bitch.”

“Oh, that is not nice,” she clucks with a shake of her head.  “Such opprobrious language.  You are being very naughty boy, Jonas.  You had better come and take your punishment.”  She spreads her legs apart.

I have broken into a cold sweat, my stomach a tangle of knots.  An echo from the past: you like it when I hurt you.  Where the hell is Billy now?  Bigger than life, the monster is back.  It’s fucking Godzilla, and this time it’s in the North Atlantic instead of the North Pacific. 

Gabriel pokes his head out the wheelhouse door.  “That’s enough, Izzy.  Give it a rest.”

Now here’s Mr. I’m your friend again.  “Fuck you, too, Gabriel.”  I pick up Sam and head for the steps of the wheelhouse.  “Get out.  I’m the captain here.  This is my fucking boat and I’ve had enough of your shit.  We’ll be putting into Iceland in a day or two and when we do, both of you are getting off and you’re not getting back on!”

Gabriel steps out of the bridge.  “Very well.  But you should be aware that Iceland is behind us.”
“What?”  I know my face is locked in that damned blank stare of total incomprehension.  I set Sam down and he gives Gabriel a passing growl as he scurries inside the bridge.  My feet blindly follow his path.

Gabriel steps back through the bridge door as I make my way for the console.  “Iceland is behind us.  I assumed you’d rather get straight to the Shetlands instead of wasting any more time.”

Something is breaking inside me.  I can feel it.  Snap.  Crackle.  Boom.  I think it’s what’s left of my sanity.  How does he know?  How does he know these things?

“You were asleep for two days, Jonas.  I made some minor adjustments to our course.  If you wish to turn around, we can get back to Iceland in a day—two if you wish to reach the port of your choice, where there is likely to be no lawmen present.”

A quick glance at the electronic calendar assures me he’s not lying.  I’ve just lost two full days of my life, though certainly not to a fugue state this time.  Utterly defeated, I sink into the skipper’s chair.  They have beaten me.  I cannot escape their torments.  Their mind games.  Their drugs.  No matter what I do, they stay two steps ahead of me.

In desperation, I grasp for one last straw.  “I wasn’t going to the Shetlands, asshole.  I’m going to Ireland.”

Gabriel shakes his head.  “No.  Danny’s not in Ireland.  You know that.”

I didn’t know my shoulders could droop any lower, but they do.  He knows about Danny, too?  What did they do?  Give me some kind of fucking truth serum and grill me?  Give me some roofies afterwards to make me forget?  They had two days to do whatever they wanted.  God only knows what went on.

“Get off my bridge.”  It’s a low growl, like Sam’s, but it’s one that he heeds.  Isabel joins him as they descend below. 

Before me, the sea stretches out in her endless emptiness and the engines of the Second Wind rumble in the background.  I can’t remember the last time I cried, but I do now, for now it is today.

My life is so totally fucked, it’s hopeless.  I’ve fallen into a pit of quicksand, and every move I make brings me that much closer to that gruesome, suffocating end.  Everyone has their own definition of hell.  I think I have found mine, and I see no way out.  Woodward must have researched every tiny nuance of my existence, using every bit of ammunition my life provides against me. 

I wonder how old Gabriel and Isabel really are, for they’re far too experienced to be as young as they seem.  Professional annihilators.  They’ve got to receive some kind of sick pleasure from their work as well as what monetary reward they earn.  No one should enjoy their work so damned much.

I’m still crying when Gabriel comes back up with a can of pork and beans, a can opener, a spoon, and a can of soda.  He sets them on the console before me and I keep my face turned away.  I don’t want him to see me crying as I attempt to pretend I still have a little pride.

All he says is, “I thought you might be hungry.”  Then he’s gone.  Sometimes I could almost believe he’s really not as bad as he’s paid to be.  All too often there is an undeniable sincerity to his words, but how can you trust a psychopath?  It’s these occasional bouts of amiability that make him so dangerous.  He gets the guard down, then pounces. 

Fuck him!  I’m not going to lay down and just take this ascendancy up the ass!

I wipe my face dry and deliberately turn the Second Wind around.  Then I open the can of beans.  I only get five bites down before Gabriel returns.  He leans against the door frame behind me.  James Dean cool.

“What are you doing, Jonas?”

“I’m going back to Iceland.  When we get there, you and Isabel are going to get off my boat and you’re going to tell Woodward you did your job and we can all go our separate ways and be happy.”
“That’s not going to happen, Jonas.  You’re a fugitive, wanted for three murders.  What makes you think your secret will remain a secret if you force us off our boat?”

Our boat?

“My boat!”

“Ours, Jonas.  We’re a team here.”

“You and Isabel are a team.  And you keep tag-teaming me, taking turns playing good cop/bad cop.  Or should I say good angel/bad angel.  And I don’t fucking like it and I’m not going to put up with it anymore.  Now get the hell off my bridge and go back down to that psycho bitch girlfriend of yours and quit with the fucking mind games.”

“The only one playing games with your mind is you.  And if you go to Iceland, you will end up spending the rest of your life in prison.  I assure you of that.  I can appreciate your anger and I admire the fact that you’re standing up for yourself, but this is pure foolishness.  Believe it or not, Izzy and I are here to help you.  We just have some obstacles to work through first.  And if we go to Iceland, that’s not going to happen because you will just end up going to jail.”

“You must think I’m the biggest fool on the face of the earth.  Don’t be trying to feed me that crap.  Get the hell off my bridge!”

“You are making a mistake.  One you’ll regret for the rest of your life.  Think about that when you are looking out from behind the bars.  The choice is yours.”  The door slams shut.

 I smack my hands full force against the wheel. “Jesus Christ!” 

Five minutes later I turn the boat back around.  Hard, with a ruthless madman’s laugh.  I know I can’t call his bluff because he’s holding all the cards, but I hope I just knocked them both on their asses.

-----

Other than my occasional propensity toward somnambulism, I’ve probably had more actual dreams and nightmares in the past ten days than I’ve had in the entire previous 38 years of my life.  I know they’re somehow spawned by Isabel and Gabriel, and I don’t know how much control they actually have over the content of those dreams.  I don’t know what kind of terrible journey I’ll be led into tonight, because why would I expect this night to be any different from those of the past?  But this night is.

Billy and I are playing pirate.  We’re sailing upon the dark sea on our two-masted brigantine—a pair of marauding corsairs cruising upon the high seas in search of booty.  Billy is the dread Captain Redbeard and I, his first mate.  Captain Redbeard raises his cutlass high as he lowers the spyglass, the wide brim of his hat flapping with the wind that keeps our sails billowed.  “Avast, matey.”  His voice is a gravelly growl.  “There be booty aboard yonder ship.”

I take the spyglass from his hand and peer out across the briny sea.  Lo.  There she is—a fine, blue and white fishing trawler riding the silvery waves, fit and ripe for plundering.  “You’d be right, Captain,” I tell him.  “Booty is on board.”

“Hove to, me mateys!” Billy Redbeard shouts and the invisible crew brings our ship around as we begin to bear down upon the helpless little boat we are about to raid.  She’s a sturdy little craft, but she’s no match for the crew of Captain Redbeard.  I raise the Jolly Roger and grab my blunderbuss.
Redbeard’s ship sweeps up beside the sleepy little boat rocking gently on the waves.  The ghostly bridge and deck are deserted.  “They must be down below,” I say.

“I think you’re right.  We’ll catch them while they’re sleeping.” 

Redbeard’s ship comes to a halt, dwarfing the fishing boat in a shadow of doom.   Captain Billy looks back at me with a glint in his eye.  “Let’s get radical on their asses, Jonas.”  Then he leaps to the deck, black motorcycle boots pounding across the planks in a swagger.  His cutlass is drawn, waistcoat flapping in the wind.  I follow close behind, a long dagger clenched between my teeth, my trusty blunderbuss primed and ready to fire. 

My heart is pounding as hard as Redbeard’s boots.  When we reach the opening to the stairwell, Redbeard gives the signal to silence and we steal like a pair of wraiths down to the lower deck.  Coming to the cabin door, we share a nod of conspiracy, burst through the door, and roust our sleepy prisoners from their bed.  One man.  One woman.  The man prepares to fight for his boat, rising up with a shout and I blast him in the chest with the blunderbuss.  Bang!  He keels to the floor, staining it with his blood.  The woman falls to her knees at his side, pleading, “Please, have mercy.”

Billy Redbeard grabs onto the woman’s hair, forcing her to look up at him.  “There’s no mercy in this world, woman.  You are nothing but a scourge to be wiped out.”  I am afraid for her, but he is my captain and I dare not interfere.

“What are we going to do now?” I ask.

“What do pirates do, Jonas?” he returns.  “We rape and plunder.  So I will rape while you plunder.”
I turn my back to the woman’s wails and the deeds of Captain Billy Redbeard and begin to tear the room apart, filling my bag with their gold and jewels until Redbeard has taken all he wants from the woman.  Then, before the point of our swords, we march the wounded man and woman up to the high foredeck, their hands bound securely behind their backs, and we proceed to make them walk the plank.

“I regret that I have but one life to live!” the man says, taking the plunge, and the woman shrieks, “Long live rock and roll!” as she follows him into the icy deep.

Captain Redbeard laughs heartily.  “Yo ho ho and down they go, to feed the little fishes, sweep the seashells from the floor, and see to Neptune’s dishes.”  His eyes gleam.  “That was totally fucking awesome.”

It doesn’t seem like much of a nightmare until I awaken.  I sit up in my bed and wipe the sleep from my eyes.  It’s just past sunrise.  The first thing I notice upon awakening is the letter lying atop the pillow beside mine.  As soon as I pick it up, my hands begin to quake.  It’s the letter I left for Darla.  What the fuck?  I turn it over slowly in my hands.  It’s never been opened.  Of course not.  She never lived long enough to read it.  Her fucking assassins are right here on this boat with me, tormenting me now with this proof of their involvement.  Sneaking into my room while I’m sleeping to leave this damning proof upon my bed!  Rubbing my face in it!  How much more are they going to throw at me?

Where the hell is Sam?  That bitch better not have him again.  “Sam!”  I give a whistle.  I hear scuffles beneath my bed before he shimmies out of the crawl space, shaking like a leaf.

“Sammy?”  I bound from the bed and go to him.  “Sam, what’s wrong?”  I try to pick him up, but he shies away.  I kneel and whisper, “It’s all right, boy.  It’s me.”  The second time I reach for him, he allows me to pick him up, and I cradle him gently.  He’s absolutely terrified, quivering and whining and panting, and as I attempt to soothe him with my voice and my touch, eventually he begins to calm, but it takes nearly half an hour to reach a decent state of relaxation.  (Can a dog suffer from a panic attack?)  A swell of pure rage surges inside.  What did they do to my dog?  It’s one thing to terrorize me, but lay off the dog.  He never hurt anybody.

I am ready to kick some ass now. (And that doesn’t happen to me very often.  I’ve never been scrappy.)  I toss on my jeans and pull a Henley tee over my head, then shove the letter into my pants pocket and shut Sam safely inside my cabin.  I wheel around and pound my fist on the door of the guest cabin.  “Gabriel, open this fucking door!”

I get no response.

Pound again.  “Open the God damned door!”

Still no response.

I grab the knob, give it a hard turn and a shove, and the door flies open, nearly taking me to the floor.  The room is vacant.  Fuck.  I speed for the galley.  The galley is empty.  Shit.  I run up the stairs, two at a time.  No one is on deck.  The wheelhouse is deserted.  Where the hell are they?  I head back down.  Down.  All the way to the hold.  I flick on the lights.  Other than a few supplies, the hold is empty.  Back up the steps.  I check the head.  The shower.  The galley.  Their cabin.  My cabin.  Sam is lying on the bed and looks up expectantly.  “God damn it, where’d they go?” I ask him.  He doesn’t tell.  I run back up the steps, head for the bridge, and my bare feet slip on the moist deck.  My knee rams hard against the metal steps to the bridge.

“Motherfuck!”  Bone-grinding pain explodes and screams down the foot and up the groin, doubling me over in agony.  I clutch onto the kneecap in a tear-wrenching grimace, as if to rock the pain away with no success.  A deep throb moves in below the fleshless scrape, swelling fast, but I don’t have time to indulge my agony.   I grit my teeth and scrabble back up to continue my fruitless search, hobbling now like a lame mule instead of a thoroughbred.  The wheelhouse and deck are still empty and as I stand upon the deck, staring in a blank daze at the surrounding sea, my knee continuing to swell, something flutters by my foot.  I look down and catch a glimpse of the white feather before it’s completely caught by the breeze and carried out to sea.

A shiver shimmies up my spine.  “We’ll make the scallywags walk the plank.”  (Redbeard) 

“Aye, Captain.”  (First Mate)  “Let them get acquainted with Davey Jones.” 

(Redbeard)  “Yo ho ho and down they go to feed the little fishes…”

I limp back down below and fling open their cabin door.  “Gabriel!  Isabel!”  Dead silence.  (Except for the thunder of my heart.)  “Don’t play these God damned games with me now!  I concede.  Come on out.  Please.”

The pall of deathly silence is my only reply.  The room is devoid of any sign that would suggest they were ever here at all.  Devoid of everything except a single, large white feather lying beside the pristinely made bed.  I force my hand to pick it up.  It’s much too big to belong to a sea gull.  A smudge of blood stains the left side.

I sink onto the edge of the bed.  The bloody feather trembles in my hand.  My pulse throbs against my pants above my wounded knee.

“What did we do, Billy?”  The whisper feels like a scream.  “What in God’s name did we do?”

Click here to purchase Exit Strategy from Amazon
Author Bio:

L.F. Falconer is an independent writer from the heart of the American west where she enjoys exploring the little-known back roads and ghost towns. An early journalistic pursuit was soon overshadowed by her love of fiction. Many of her works often tend to dip into the realm of dark fantasy with a focus on abuse and its effects of the lives it touches. To date, she has published two, historical/fantasy, coming-of-age novels, and one dark, adult psychological horror/thriller. A collection of her macabre short stories is slated to be published in the spring of 2014. For more information visit: http://www.lffalconer.com

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