Out of the hull, it was cloudy and chilly, a wind blew into our faces and it smelt of grain, a good earthy smell. I put out my hand, and the two guards twitched, Vlad inspected it and chose to ignore my gesture, turning to Rixon he spoke, in a high-pitched whisper, “No he’s not, I know Dave Travise, and this is not him.” Beside me I felt Griff tense; as if he had received a static charge, Rixon said nothing.
I retrieved my hand and tried not to look shocked. “Yes I am,” I said, “and I should know, scan me if you want.”
Chenko laughed, his bodyguards joined in. Vlad waved his hand and they stopped, instantly. “If you’re with Rixon and Griff, then Rick has done his stuff, and I’m sure that’s what the chip says. Look, whoever you are, don’t take it personal but we both know the truth. I’m not out to expose you, but don’t act the innocent.” There was silence.
It started to rain, large cold drops of moisture bounced around us. I didn’t know what to do so I just stood there. Even though no one was speaking I could tell that I was unwanted. Everyone ignored me, I felt like the embarrassing relative at a family party.
Vlad spoke to Griff, “Here are the papers.” He unchained the briefcase and handed it over. “When you’ve taken off I’ll send a message to give you the destination.” He went to move away, but before he turned he gave me a knowing smile, a smile which said, ‘I know all about you, and I’ve got the power because of it’. It part scared me and part made me very angry – angry with Vlad for knowing straight away; angry with Rixon for bringing me here and exposing me. And angry because Rixon and Myra were an item. I even began to wonder if I was really in the right place. While all this went round in my head, Vlad left with his two shadows in tow.
“I’m off to get the clearance then,” said Griff. I thought that strange, he could do it over the radio, but maybe he had a bribe to pay or some other purpose. Rixon waved his arm in dismissal. Griff slapped me on the shoulder as he passed and whispered in my ear, “Don’t sweat it, Vlad’s a twisted bastard, he loves to stir it up, and getting us all fighting each other would suit him.”
Rixon started to walk up the ramp, but I had had enough humiliation and wanted some answers, I grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him round. His face was a picture of shock and surprise; he shrank back as I leant in close. To make my point I grabbed a handful of his shirt, my fist under his chin lifted him onto his toes. A loaded lifter roared past.
“I don’t know what your idea was there,” I spoke slowly and with force, my head about an inch from his face, “But in case you think that was clever, try and show me up again, see what happens.” I pushed him away and he sprawled onto the ramp. I walked away from him and was about six feet past when I heard a click. I stopped.
“Got your attention then,” he said, as I turned to see the pistol pointed at me. “I’m sorry, I wanted you to see him because one day I might have to kill him and his psychotic brother and I might need your help to do it. There are things going on here that you don’t know about. Let’s just say that I need you to be angry with him, and not with me.” He actually looked and sounded genuinely apologetic, a tone I had not heard from him before.
“Come on, Dave,” he continued. “Would I give him a lever like that over me, think about it?”
He had a point. “Go on,” I said.
“Look,” he continued, “he just confirmed my suspicions. Surely a bit of humiliation was worth that.”
“Not to me,” I answered curtly, although I guess he was right, in a business like his, any advantage you might have or could get could be crucial. It was all ‘I know that you know what I know’ sort of stuff. I was just so out of my depth here, perhaps I was naive to think life away from the Navy would be all sweetness and light.
“Okay then,” I told him, “if you might need me, put the pistol away and I’ll forget it.”
He returned it to its holster and stretched out his empty hand. “Give me a hand up; I think I’ve twisted my ankle.”
As I leaned over, he whipped his legs round, tripping me up. Before I knew it I was flat on my back and he was astride my chest, my arms pinned down by his lower legs. He drew the pistol again and put it close to my forehead.
His face cracked into a grin and rocking back, he rose to his feet. “I think I won that one,” he said, still laughing. “Didn’t expect you to fall for that. Come on then, let’s get airborne.”
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