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TROUBLESHOOTER

 

by Malcolm Ferrier

 

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CHAPTER SIX

 

“McCallum told me you were coming.  I’m happy to see you came alone.”

Richards motioned toward the plastic lawn chair with his rifle.  He was keeping his distance from Jack, staying out of reach.  Jack had no opportunity to move against him, so he took a seat in the chair.

“I’m not alone,” said Jack.  “You’ll see shortly.”

“I’m afraid I don’t believe you.  If you had backup, tactical procedure would require you to sweep this place with a partner.  You haven’t got a partner, so you haven’t got backup.”

Jack looked at Richards.  He was dressed in a fleece jacket and khaki pants.  He held the rifle loosely, with a practiced hand.  It was his eyes that held Jack’s attention, though.  They were hard, but haunted.  This man was a killer, but he didn’t kill lightly.

“I’m just recon,” replied Jack.  “If I don’t report soon you’re going to find yourself in a world of hurt.”

“I still don’t believe you.  I am curious, however, why you’re alone.”

Still holding the rifle on Jack, Richards reached behind and picked up something from the tool bench.  He tossed it at Jack.  A heavy-duty plastic garbage bag tie landed in his lap.

“Strap your right wrist to the chair arm.”

Lacking alternatives, Jack did as he was told.

“Now lay your left arm on the armrest.”

After Jack complied, Richards crossed the room to where Jack was seated and placed the rifle barrel on Jack's temple.

“Don’t move,” said Richards.  He quickly strapped Jack’s left wrist to the chair arm with another tie.  He checked that both ties were secure and then strapped both of Jack’s ankles to the chair legs.  He stepped back.

Jack tested the straps.  He would not be able to break them.

“Let’s have a chat,” said Richards.

“I’d be happy to,” said Jack.  “It won’t be long until we have more company, however.”

“That’s your story and you’re sticking to it, eh?”

“That’s right.  Since we're getting to know each other, I'd like to know a few things about you.”

“Like Hannibal Lecter says, quid pro quo.  Ask away.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Why does anybody do anything?”

“That’s not an answer.”

Richards face became serious.  “I’m not obligated to tell you anything.”

“You lost your wife and child recently.  Did you…”

Crack!  Jack’s head jerked violently to the side as Richards' fist connected with his jaw.  Jack spit some blood onto the floor.  “I guess that answers my question.”

Richards' eyes burned with fury but his voice was calm, almost robotic.  “You don’t have the right to ask me about that.”

“I’m sorry.  What happened to you?”

Richards looked at Jack.  He seemed to make an internal decision.  He began to talk in the same soft, robotic voice.

“Joelle, Chris, and I were coming back from the interior.  We just passed Hope and were driving into the Lower Mainland when it happened.  A tanker truck changed lanes and forced us off the road into a tree.  The bastard didn’t even stop.  I woke up lying in a pool of my own blood on a stretcher in a hospital hallway.  My wife was on another stretcher nearby.  I crawled over to her but she was dead.  My wife of fifteen years was dead in a filthy hospital hallway.  I managed to walk to the ER where my baby Chris was waiting to go into the operating room.  Waiting!  I tried to get someone to help but they were all too busy.  I watched my baby die in front of me while the hospital staff tried to deal with too many patients.  Then I passed out from blood loss.  I’m surprised I didn’t die myself.  When I came to, I knew someone would have to pay.”

“So you killed the Minister of Health.  How is Maxwell Stevens involved?”

Richards looked surprised.  “So you know Stevens is part of this?  I’m afraid that fact can't leave this room.”

“What’s the next part of the plan?”

“This isn’t a James Bond movie.  I’m done talking.  It’s your turn now.  Who do you work for?”

“I’m a cop.”

“No, you’re not.  Cops don’t work alone.”

“I already told you, I’m not alone.”

“And here I had bared my soul to you.  This is getting us nowhere.  I need to know what to expect and to know this I need some honesty from you.  We’re going to have to take a different tack.”

Richards crossed to the workbench.  He pulled a toolbox from a shelf underneath and set it on the bench.

“Back in the day, during the Spanish Inquisition, they used to have five stages of torture.  Stage one was threatening the prisoner with torture.”  Richards turned to look at Jack.  “I’m threatening you with torture.”

Jack could feel sweat forming on his skin.  “I told you, I’m a cop.”

Richards continued to look at Jack.  “The next stage was conveying the prisoner to the place of torture, and stage three was binding the prisoner for torture.  We’ll have to take those as accomplished.”

“Look,” said Jack, “you don’t seem like a crazy person.  I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, but I can help you sort this out.”

Richards continued, not seeming to hear.  “Stage four was hoisting the prisoner onto the torture rack.  Stage five was the torture.  They did the whole thing in stages so that the prisoner would have time to imagine what was going to happen to him." 

Richards turned back and opened the toolbox.  He pulled out a hammer and laid it on the bench.  A saw followed; then a screwdriver; then a pair of pliers.

“Because we’ve had to abbreviate the process, I'll leave you with some time to think.  Be seeing you.”  Richards walked out of the shed and closed the door.

Jack let out a long breath.  He was in a jam, that was for certain.  He is relieved the torture didn’t start right away, but he still couldn’t move, couldn’t reach the tools, and couldn’t break the straps.

Like most kids, Jack had had heroes.  Indiana Jones, Doc Savage, Luke Skywalker.  But not all of his idols had been fictional.  One of his real-life heroes had been Houdini.

Jack could remember reading a biography of the famous escape artist late at night under his bedcovers with a flashlight.  It had told the story of the wily Scottish jailer who had stumped Houdini for hours by not locking his cell door.  He only realized what the old Scot had done when he leaned up against the door in defeat and it had swung open.  The book also recounted some of the tricks Houdini used to escape from various predicaments.  He had developed the ability to hold lock picks in his throat and regurgitate them later.  He could also dislocate his shoulder to escape from a straitjacket and hold his breath for over three minutes.  However, it was one of his simpler techniques that Jack remembered now.

When his wrists were being tied together, Houdini would tense his wrist muscles so that when he relaxed slack would form in the ropes and he could pull free.  This technique worked because Houdini was in outstanding condition and his wrist muscles made a significant size difference when tensed.

Jack had well-developed wrist muscles as well.  Because Aikido required strong wrists, long-time practitioners ended up with large wrist muscles.  When Richards had strapped him to the chair, Jack had tensed his wrist muscles.  Now he’d find out if it was enough.

He relaxed the muscles in his right arm and tried to pull his hand out of the strap.  It wouldn’t fit.  Fighting panic, he tried the same thing with his left arm.  No luck.

Jack forced himself to relax.  Taking deep breaths, he concentrated on the still point at his center.  Once he had mastered his anxiety, he tried again. 

This time, his left hand was able to get halfway out of the strap.  After more deep breathing, he was able to pull his left arm free.

He was not out yet, though.  The ties were self-locking, and he was unable to undo or break them with his free hand.  He looked around.  He couldn’t reach the tools on the bench, but there were additional tools on the bottom shelf of the workbench.  There was only one thing to do.  Jack tipped over his chair and landed with a crash on his side.  Richards must have heard!  He had to work fast.

He reached over to the bottom shelf and groped around.  His hand fell upon a small hand saw.  Perfect.  He grabbed it and within seconds was free.  He stood, massaging his wrists, and crossed to the door.  Opening it a crack, he saw Richards crossing the yard towards him, holding his rifle.

 

Richards was inside the house, preparing to leave, when he heard a crash from the shed.  What the hell was going on?  Richards regretted that he was going to have to make the man talk, but he wasn’t going to put up with any trouble.

He grabbed his rifle and headed out the door.  Crossing to the shed, he kicked open the door.

“You’re just looking for…”  He stopped.  The lawn chair was on its side with the slashed ties lying around it.  He was gone.  Richards looked around the room and then ran back to the house.  He was going to have to hunt the man down.

 

Jack watched from a rafter near the ceiling as Richards left the shed.  He had swung himself up after seeing Richards on the lawn and had been counting on the fact that people almost never look up.  Thankfully, Richards had not.

Jack quietly lowered himself down and landed soundlessly on the floor.  He had to get out of here, now.

He looked out of the shed door and saw Richards through the living room window.  He was filling a backpack with gear.  There was no way Jack could get past him and out the main gate, so he headed towards the tunnel at the end of the garden. 

“Freeze!”  It was Richards!  Jack threw himself to the ground and squirmed through the hole as a bullet crashed into the fence above his head.  He was through.  He jumped to his feet and took off at a run.

Richards wouldn’t be able to fit through the tunnel with his pack and would have to take the gate, but he wouldn’t be far behind.  He also knew the terrain much better than Jack and was an expert tracker.  Jack would have to move fast.

He headed north.  This part of the island wasn’t heavily populated, but there was a First Nations reservation on the northwest tip.  He decided to make for it.

He looked behind as he ran.  He could see a light a few hundred feet back.  Richards' headlamp.  He'd also have the rifle, and possibly a night-vision scope.  It had rained recently, so Jack’s trail would be obvious.  All he could do was run.

It was fairly easy to make good progress through the woods as the brush was not dense, but he needed to pace himself.  It was several miles to the reservation and he couldn’t exhaust or injure himself.

He continued for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only twenty minutes.  He was covered in sweat and when he looked back he could see Richards' headlamp following relentlessly.  The gap between them had narrowed.  If Richards got a clear shot, Jack would be dead.

He picked up his speed.  He needed to get farther ahead.  The brush he was running through was getting thicker, however.  Branches whipped at his face as he tried to maintain his pace.  Suddenly, the ground gave way beneath his feet and he tumbled crazily downhill.  His arm slammed hard into a rock as he came to a stop at the bottom of the slope.

His arm throbbed.  He wasn’t sure it was broken, but it hurt badly.  He had to get up.  Richards was right behind.  As he pushed himself to his feet, he realized he had been lying on asphalt.  He was on a highway!

It came to him with a crushing realization that he was nowhere near where he thought he was.  In the darkness in the woods he had actually been heading northeast instead of straight north.  He was on the highway that dead-ended at Dionisio Marine Park.  The highway was closed because of property disputes and the park would be deserted at this time of year.  There would be no one to help him.

He had no choice.  The park entrance was a few hundred feet away and he had to cover that distance before Richards emerged from the woods.  Jack sprinted down the road.  His arm was hurting badly but he could move much faster on the road surface.  As he reached the park gate he heard crashing from behind. It was Richards emerging from the brush.  Jack ducked into the trees as a bullet whizzed past.

He sprinted through the trees and made his way down to the water.  He had been to this park before and knew there was a small island joined to the shore by a small strip of beach.  He wasn’t sure what he'd do once he got to the island but there was nowhere else to run.

He ran across the beach and scrambled up the trail onto the little island.  It was only a few hundred meters long and there were few places to hide.

Looking out from behind a rock Jack saw Richards in the moonlight, rifle raised, heading towards his position.  He also saw that Richards had a night-vision scope and was scanning the length of the island.

Jack leaned back against the rock.  What the hell was he going to do?  He looked around desperately.  On the other side of the island he saw a gray bulge.  On a hunch, he crawled slowly over the ridge and saw that the bulge was a domed tent in the middle of a small campsite.  The campfire was long dead and there was no movement inside the tent.  There was also a double sea kayak beached on the shore.

This was his way out.  He scrambled down to the beach, nursing his injured arm, and saw two double ended oars leaning against the kayak.  As quickly and quietly as possible he grabbed an oar and pushed the kayak into the water.  It was icy cold.  He swam out beside the kayak and placed it between himself and the shore.  The tide started to pull him away from the beach.

Jack peered around the kayak at the shore.  He saw Richards come over the ridge, halt after seeing the tent, and scan the shoreline with the night-vision scope.  Finding nothing, he lowered the rifle and looked out over the water.

Jack pulled his head back behind the kayak.  By this time he was a considerable distance from the shore.  Richards wouldn’t have a shot, and if he did fire he’d have to deal with the tent’s occupants.  Jack was safe.

This duel was a draw, but he knew the next would be their last.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2006 Malcolm Ferrier

 

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