Don't Look Down
by Barbara Scott Emmett
Amazon UK £2
Amazon US $2.99
Free from March 23-25 inclusive.
Read about Barbara's books at http://www.emmettweb.co.uk/bse/index.html
The wodge of blanket parched the moisture from her mouth, the prickly hairs caught in her throat. Lauren coughed and croaked and tried to force it out, pushing it with her tongue. She rolled around, trying to get her arms free, panic rising within her. She couldn’t breathe. She would choke.
The van doors slammed and the vehicle started up and sped across the motel car park. Lauren bounced around in the back as it jounced over the hard snow. She skidded to the right and banged her hip against a wheel-hub as the van presumably turned onto the road. As the speed increased, a wave of anger burned through her. How dare they! How bloody dare they! They must surely know by now she wasn’t the person they wanted.
She struggled over onto her side and managed to unwind herself from the blanket a little. Another roll, and another, and she was more or less free of it. Jerking her arms outward, she threw it off and sat up. Her lip was bleeding again.
Hot from her exertions as well as her rage, she swivelled around to look to the front of the van, expecting to see through a gap or a window into the driver’s cab. What she saw instead made her overheated blood run cold as ice.
A man sat with his back up against the cab wall grinning at her. From his hand poked the greyish barrel of a Luger pistol, which she recognised from films. This was her very first encounter with a gun of any kind, never mind one pointed directly at her.
The man was new, not one of the previous goons – though his tanned skin suggested he was the same nationality as Brains and Muscle – whatever that was. Albanian perhaps, like the cleaner. His shining scalp was naturally bald, not shaven. His yellow eyes flat, dead. Lauren stared at him, transfixed. Had she seen him somewhere before? There was something familiar about him...
Without taking her eyes off him, she reached up and pulled pieces of blanket fibre out of the split in her lip. She spat out blood and lint, watching the gunman all the time, her breathing ragged. He watched her in return, a lazy grin hovering about his mouth. Lauren was overcome with hatred. Hatred of the gunman, hatred of all of them, whoever they were. Bitter seething hatred.
‘I’ve already told the other two clowns I’m not Katti,’ she said. ‘Can’t you get it into your thick skulls? You’ve got the wrong person.’
‘But it is not Katti we want this time,’ said the man. ‘It is you, Lauren. You.’
Shocked that he knew her name, Lauren fell silent. She shivered and briefly considered drawing the blanket around her again. She didn’t have her fleece on, and it was bloody cold. Checking her movement as foolish – she needed to be free of encumbrances in case an opportunity for escape materialised – she glanced around the van.
‘No, no, no, Lauren,’ said her captor. ‘No way out for you this time. This time, the professionals are on the job.’
Lauren was aware of a mad drummer doing paradiddles in her chest. ‘How did you find me? How did you know where I was?’
‘Ways and means, Lauren.’ He lifted the Luger. ‘Ways and means.’
‘Who are you? What do you want?’
‘Lauren, Lauren,’ he said, shaking his head, like an indulgent father who is not prepared to put up with any more nonsense. ‘You are not in a position to ask questions, to demand answers.’
‘I only want to know why you want me. Why me? What have I ever done to you?’
The grin vanished from his face. ‘It is not what you have done, Lauren,’ he said. ‘It is what you know.’
‘But I don’t know anything! What do you imagine I know? I haven’t a clue why you’re doing this. Or who the hell you are.’
‘Nevertheless, you know too much about us. You have seen faces. Faces can be recognised. That is not allowed.’
‘Not allowed?’ Lauren knew her voice trembled and did her best to prevent it. ‘But that’s not my fault. They should have covered their faces. So should you.’
‘You are absolutely right, of course. Nevertheless, you will have to pay for the foolishness of others.’
‘What are you going to do? Erase my memory?’
The man smiled. ‘In a manner of speaking.’ The grin spread across his face; even the dead eyes flickered. ‘We are going to erase all of you. That will include your memory.’
Lauren knelt on the ribbed rubber floor of the van, facing her executioner. She was very much afraid she was about to beg. Beg for her life.
‘Look,’ she said, as calmly as she could manage. ‘I have no idea who you are, who your organisation is, or what all this is about.’ She shrugged, reasonableness itself. ‘I don’t even want to know. It’s nothing to do with me. I’m only here to visit my friends. I’m British, for God’s sake!’
The gun pointed directly at her. The man’s smile no longer reached his eyes. Lauren steadied herself as the van sped on.
‘I just want to go home. Please. I don’t care who you are. I couldn’t care less.’ She knew she was cowardly, but who said she had to be brave? Not her. She never claimed heroism. ‘Why don’t you let me go? Drop me off somewhere. Anywhere will do. And I’ll go home and you’ll never see or hear of me again.’
His smile broadened. He shook his head. A look of genuine regret entered his yellow eyes. ‘If only that were possible, Lauren. If only I could do what you ask.’ A sigh escaped his lips.
‘But you can. You can. You don’t want to shoot me. Think what a mess it’ll make of this nice clean van. And it’ll only be more evidence. These days, you know,
DNA, forensics.’ Lauren heard the desperation in her voice. She knew
she was failing. But she had to keep trying. She owed herself that.
‘Lauren,’ he said, as though to an obtuse child. ‘If it was my intention to shoot you here in this van, do you not think I would have done so by now?’
He shook his head, disappointed in her it seemed: a father studying a bad school report, unable to reconcile it with the bright child he knew.
‘No, Lauren. Not here. Somewhere private, quiet. Somewhere lonely. I know just the place. And Lauren,’ he added, viewing her over the top of his gun. ‘Do not trouble yourself about the mess. It will be very very clean.’