Ed had a bad feeling about this. He stroked his bald head as three men approached across the tarmac apron. Two in uniform and one in prison drabs, with his hands behind his back.
Stroke. Why had he agreed? It wasn’t as though he needed the money. Stroke. Perhaps it had been sheer curiosity – the desire to experience something new. He hoped it wouldn’t kill the cat. Or him.
Close up the prisoner was rat-like, with furtive eyes that never looked in one direction for long. No wonder he’d been nick-named Squinty Jim. Ed met his gaze for a second and got chills. Those eyes. They were dead. No thought, no feeling. A predator’s eyes, intent on his prey. Ed hoped that wasn’t him.
“Strap him in the second seat,” he said to the cops, nodding towards the plane. “You’ll have to un-cuff him, though.”
“You sure that’s wise?” The younger cop scratched the end of his nose. “He’s not doing life for nothing.”
“He’ll need his hands free in case of an emergency. I can’t have a passenger who can’t look after himself.”
“Fair enough. Your funeral.” The cops deposited the guy in the plane, unfastening the cuffs at the last second before hurrying off. “We’ll wait here with the car. Best of luck.”
Ed showed the guy – he refused to think of him as Jim, it personalised him way too much – how to fasten his belt. Then he strapped himself in and went through the standard routine.
“Don’t we get helmets or life jackets?” said the guy.
“In a crate like this? Get real.”
“Yeah? Like the man said, it’s your funeral.”
Ed stroked his head again. If one more person mentioned funerals he was going to change his mind. Favour to the chief constable or not. Stroke. He fired the engine, the clatter of the prop shockingly loud. That should shut the guy up, especially as he hadn’t shown him where the intercom was.
It might have worked, but didn’t. The guy found it anyway, and switched it on. “Do I call you Biggles?”
Ed gritted his teeth. “I may have offered to do this but I don’t have to like it. So sit back, shut up, and let me concentrate. And if you get any lurid ideas about murdering me, let me remind you we don’t have parachutes on board. So it’ll be your funeral too.”
“Whatever.” The guy drew one hand across his throat and grinned.
Ed concentrated on getting into the air. The trundle to the runway, the steady gain of power, the rush and lurch as the wheels left the ground. It never ceased to get to him, in a way little else in this mad world did. He steadied the throttle, checked the coordinates, and settled down to fly.
Ten minutes later they were over the red-hatched area on the map. “Okay, here we are. Do your worst.”
He hoped the guy would cooperate. For the sake of the victim’s family, of course, but also for the guy himself. Ed couldn’t imagine having that weight on your conscience for years. Everyone, even Squinty Jim, deserved a second chance.
The guy peered down, watching the tiny trees and walls, the bronze and purple of the moors. “Dunno,” he said at last. “It all looks the same from up here.”
“I can’t go much lower without getting tangled up in power lines. Isn’t there anything you recognise?”
“Yeah,” said the guy, breathing deep. “I recognise the smell of fear. The way your Adam’s apple bobs. And the tremor in your eye.”
Ed banked the plane and took another pass. “Never mind all that. There’s an old farmhouse down there – does that bring anything back?”
“Only the way she struggled. And the need to do it again.”
Ed had been watching the ground. Too late he switched his gaze, saw the glint of the razor blade in the guy’s clenched fist. “What are you doing? No! You can’t.”
“I can, and I will.” The guy brought his hand crashing down, over Ed’s balding head, across one ear, until the blade bit deep in his neck. “Ah. That’s better.” He dabbled his fingers in the blood.
Ed felt things go cold. He fought to hold the plane, but the throttle slid out of his numbing grasp. “Why?” he breathed. “You’ll die too. Why did you do that?”
“It’s in my nature,” said Squinty Jim, and smiled a cold, dead smile.
Bio: Liverpool lass Tess moved away to work at a tender age. Since then her movements around the country have resembled a game of ‘Pong’, but she’s now settled in the far north of England, where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep.
Although officially a history graduate, Tess has long been a student of the darker side of human nature, and one of her favourite hobbies is watching and listening to the people around her. Many of her stories feature revenge, but she’s never been tempted to get her own back on anyone herself. Except, of course, by writing them into her stories. You can follow her ramblings, both figurative and literal, at her website www.tessmakovesky.com.