Jane reached out to him from a distance. He tried desperately to reach her, to no avail, nor could he attract her attention. He tried to call her; in his anguish he could utter no sound. Someone was chasing him, and his legs would not move. There was a strong light; it was so close to him he felt its heat on his face. He turned away, trying to locate its source. His eyes were shut and he tried to open them, they would not open.
He was wakening from a deep sleep and a vivid dream. He eventually managed to open his eyes. He was lying in the grass, the sun baking down on him, the drone of road traffic nearby. He had no idea how long he had been lying there. He looked up. The newspaper was waving in the breeze a short distance away. He retrieved it quickly, clutching at it guiltily, wondering whether anyone had passed by and seen him, or recognised him from the photo.
It was the Sunday paper. Fortunately, Sunday mornings were quiet. On a weekday there would have been many passers-by on their way to work. He looked at the time: almost seven o’ clock – more traffic would certainly pass through soon. I have to move.
He became aware of voices in the distance and dragged himself to his feet looking for somewhere to hide. He moved further into the bush, seeking cover in low dense undergrowth. Some youngsters walked close to him, joking and laughing, evidently a group heading to work nearby.
Anthony remained in hiding until the sound of their voices no longer reached him. He listened closely for any more voices, but heard only the sound of the passing traffic. He expected more passers-by soon and, unwillingly, got to his feet again. If they get me now, Jane will have died for nothing. I will always be classified as a murderer while the real ones will go free. I must do something – at least I must try.
He started along the path, not moving fast enough to catch up with the group ahead. He listened intently for any sound, continuously looking over his shoulder to ensure no one was coming up from behind.
Eventually he reached a busy road. Everybody driving by seemed to be staring at him. What if someone recognises me? He rapidly crossed the road to the safe cover of the trees on the other side. While crossing the road, he noticed that the group he had followed earlier had turned left and were making their way along the road to the spot where he had been hiding. I may come across more people from here on, I need to be careful.
Whenever someone came from ahead, he attempted to hide his face by turning his back, making as though he was looking at something in the bush, or bending down to tie a shoe lace.
Soon the path became too busy and Anthony decided to take cover and wait for the traffic to ease off. He was hungry. He had not eaten since all this started – his mind too busy to think about food. Still clutching the newspaper in his hand and thinking about the article, a burst of emotion overtook him again and he sank onto the ground at the base of a tree, so tired he wished to sleep forever.
He must have fallen asleep again, as it was ten past three in the afternoon when he looked at his watch, and all was quiet around him. He staggered to his feet like an old man, tired and unsteady. He walked a few paces back towards the path and sat down aimlessly on a fallen tree trunk. A strange feeling came over him, almost though the whole nightmare was a movie, not really happening to him: like a play being acted out around him. The events of the past two days careered through his mind. He suddenly looked up. Where did I leave the paper? It was lying a short distance away, the pages lazily flapping in the breeze. It does not matter anymore, I deserted Jane. She's gone, nothing matters any more.
In the army he would have given his life for a buddy. Yet Jane, his dearly beloved wife, the one he loved so deeply, and he’d deserted her without even putting up a fight . . .
Voices nearby made him instinctively duck behind the stump. Two men walked by. Why did I do that? I have no reason to hide anymore. It is only a matter of time. Where will I go? Time, and life, had no more meaning for him, though Jane's last cry ‘You will not get away with this’, kept ringing in his head. What did that mean? I have to know, at least try to find out, he thought as he got back to his feet. He had already deserted her once. The only way to live with myself is if I ensure that those responsible pay for what they did to her. I cannot give up.
Another hour had gone since he’d left his earlier hiding spot. From the increased noise of traffic up ahead, he judged he was near the market, and felt hunger pangs again. He looked at the time: twenty to five. At the stalls I must be able to find something to eat. I’d better, I don’t know when the next opportunity might be. To be safe I will wait a while. Sunset was more than an hour away, in the dimming light chances were better of not being recognised. The stalls got pretty busy on a Sunday afternoon as lots of traffic passed by. It was a convenient stop for getting basic necessities after a day out, or weekend away.
The path led him to the edge of the trees, not far from the stalls lining both sides of the road. The traffic was mostly from the west – they are probably people returning to the city after spending the weekend at Sun City, he thought. The road stalls were bustling and there were quite a number of cars around. I will wait a bit longer, he thought, better to wait for dusk. He could not risk the luxury of a warm meal; the safest would be one of the fruit stalls. He did not want to take a chance by strolling around the stalls and, from his safe vantage point, decided on a stall on the opposite side of the road. When it looks safe and quiet, I’ll head over and buy a few items and move out as soon as possible.
Once the area seemed clear he moved closer, but someone else beat him to the counter. He kept his head down, making as though he was looking at the display of fruit. He selected an assortment, included some nuts, and, as soon as the attendant was free to help him, moved to the counter. The attendant quickly passed him his packet and change, at the same time he gazed past Anthony at the next customer.
‘Good evening, sir. May I help?’
‘Yes. A small bag of tomatoes, please.’
Anthony's knees went weak as he recognised the voice from behind him.
It took all the control he could muster not to run.
Mumbling his thanks, he turned away; moving out as quickly as possible and keeping his face turned away from the man behind him.
The voice belonged to Jonathan Payne, who lived down the road from him. Anthony knew he was a doctor, though they didn’t know each other well. Their level of interaction was to greet while passing by and the odd brief conversation if they bumped into each other. Once safely back in the shadows, Anthony risked looking around and saw him leave the stall. That was close, too close. Anthony turned around, walking away at a brisk pace. An idea came to him. The man is a doctor; I should be able to trust him. He backed into the shadows and combed the stalls to try to see him again. He did not want to risk moving amongst the crowd, would rather try to approach him somewhere on the side. If things did go wrong, he could still escape.
At last Anthony spotted him browsing the stalls with his wife and a teenage son. He knew he had another son and then saw him jogging towards his family, handing something to his father. Tracking the direction the boy had come from he recognised their car; it was the Land Cruiser towing their ski boat, and was parked on the road. They must have been out for the day and stopped off here on their way home. I'll wait for him near the car.
But, while making his way to the Cruiser, Anthony thought about Jenny; about what had happened when he’d asked her for help. Am I doing the right thing? Surely the Hiltons and their accomplices would not dare . . . but then why not? They would only pin everything on him. If Jonathan had been alone, not with his family . . . I can’t take the chance of the whole family getting murdered because of me. He turned around abruptly and set off along the road, but almost immediately stopped in his tracks . . .
The family need not know. If I hide on the boat, I can get into the estate. He turned and went back to the Cruiser. The security at the gate might search the boat and detect him, though it was unlikely. This could be his only chance of entering. While walking, he kept an eye on the family as they moved between the stalls. He had to hurry before they finished browsing. Luckily, they had parked in a poorly lit location. It was a large boat with a deep hull – there must be somewhere for me to hide in it. Another car had parked behind the boat and, as he got nearer, Anthony saw a woman and kids sitting in it. The father must be across the road buying something . . . now there is no way for me to get in undetected. He moved deeper into the shadows; anxiously glancing between the Paynes and car parked behind their boat.
Jonathan Payne was heading in the direction of the Cruiser . . . is it too late for me? Here comes the driver of the other car. For a moment Anthony was shielded by the boat, but it would take less than a minute for Jonathan to reach his car. As Jonathan crossed the road, the other man hurriedly got into his vehicle and drove off. By then, Jonathan had unlocked the Cruiser and was only a few paces away from Anthony: it was too late. My chance gone, he thought, and moved even deeper into the shadows. The rest of the family was still browsing and Anthony spotted them inspecting something at one of the stalls. Mrs Payne beckoned Jonathan, but he waved her off. Then one of the sons ran across to his father and, after some discussion and seemingly reluctantly, Jonathan Payne got out and Anthony watched them cross the road together. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Again, Anthony scrutinised the surroundings, making sure it was safe and no one was watching before he sidled up to the boat. He was still frantically untying the knot that secured the boat’s cover when he heard the Paynes’ excited chatter as they approached. He swiftly crawled under the tarpaulin – no time to secure the rope – so he pulled it tight and tucked the loose end away. He prayed nobody would decide to inspect the cover that he lay under, he was too afraid to move. He heard their voices approaching, the sound dampened by the cover, and breathed a sigh of relief as the boat’s gentle rocking signalled their getting into the vehicle, and then the click of closing doors. It should take about five to ten minutes to reach the estate. He needed to find a more secure nook in the boat as a hideout before then. At last he felt the vehicle move, and waited a few more seconds before he started sensing his way around. It was pitch dark in there – he could not see his hand before his face as he crawled towards the centre of the boat. It was a bumpy ride and he made slow, difficult progress until, at last, he found what he hoped for: a hatch in the deck leading to the hold below. If I manage to crawl in there I shouldn’t be discovered. Raising the hatch, he reached inside and felt another canvas cover, but couldn’t reach in far enough to feel anything beyond it, only space. He turned around and slid in, feet first. Anthony trampled the canvas to make space for himself; the stench of old fish engulfed him and he popped his head back up through the opening for fresh air. He decided to wait till they got to the estate before crawling back inside.
He sensed the vehicle slow down and turn into what would be the entrance to the estate. As they came to a halt at the gate, Anthony ducked below and pulled the hatch into position. It sealed tight. I wonder how long I could survive with the amount of oxygen down here. He waited, trapped in the dark and cut off from what was happening outside. It seemed like ages before he felt them slowly move again, and he raised the hatch once more and gasped the fresh air. It would only take a few minutes before they reached the Paynes’ home, and he had no idea how long it would be before he could attempt to leave the boat in safety. The thought of jumping off the boat while still moving momentarily crossed his mind. The vehicle would have to slow down at the speed humps, but these were also pedestrian crossings and well lit. At this time of the evening, there could be a number of people on the roads having an evening stroll. He discarded the idea, the risk was too great. Due to the estate’s security, the properties were not fenced and Anthony remembered seeing the boat parked under an open carport. Once the family had unpacked and gone inside, he should be able to extricate himself.
The car stopped and Anthony lowered the hatch, holding it just fractionally open so he could listen to their conversation.
The boat rocked noticeably as the family got out of the car.
‘All right boys, you can unhitch the boat and unpack for us.’
‘Dad, please help us push it under the carport.’
Anthony felt the movement as the boat was rolled to the carport.
‘Okay, there you are. Now make sure you unpack everything and be sure to tie the tarpaulin down securely when you are done.’
‘But Dad can't we first . . . ?’
‘You remember the agreement this morning? Please, don't let’s talk about this again.’
Once Jonathan left, his sons grumbled about missing their favourite Sunday evening program if they did not hurry up. When they noticed the untied corner, they argued about who’d forgotten to tie it down properly. Anthony lowered the hatch and could hear no more. The boat rocked as one of them got onto the deck, probably to offload equipment.
Anthony crawled deeper into the hold, trying to get behind the cover just in case they needed to remove it. He was just in time. The hatch opened and one of the boys tugged at the cover. Luckily for Antony, the light shining in through the opening did not reach him, but then, with a panic, he realised he was lying on a part of the cover and it held fast underneath him.
‘Please bring me the torch, this cover is stuck and I can't see in here?’ one boy called to the other.
Anthony carefully raised his body to release it, and almost cried out as with another sharp tug it gave way and a heavy piece of metal struck his face. With a sigh of relief, he sank back into the hold as the tarpaulin was replaced and the hatch closed.
For a while after the boat had stopped rocking, Anthony lay motionless. He was too afraid to move. Finally, he chanced lifting the hatch just slightly to see if he could detect any sound or movement, but there was none. Satisfied it was safe, he slowly opened the hatch fully, alert to any sign of life or movement, before he slipped onto the deck and replaced the hatch. Anthony battled underneath the main tarpaulin to reach one of the knots holding it down on the outside. He became quite desperate. If I don’t manage to get out soon, I’ll have to find a tool to cut my way out of here. He lay back for a moment to relax his muscles. He’d got cramp from his awkward position while trying to reach outside to the knots. He was perspiring from the effort, and very anxious. I must sit back and relax, calm and straighten my mind.
He decided to make a final attempt. I will trace the tie rope by hand as far as possible, and if I don’t reach a knot, I must find something to cut the rope. Instinctively, he looked at his wristwatch but, in the dark, he could not see the time. How much time have I wasted? And I am still trapped here.
Anthony heaved a sigh of relief when the rope suddenly gave, but his relief was short-lived as it had not released sufficiently for him to get through the gap. He raised the flap as far as possible and could see through the sliver that it was dark outside; there was not a sign of light. He was able to stretch his arms through the narrow gap and, at last, felt a knot. But he couldn’t undo it, and finally decided to look for something sharp to cut the rope. Groping his way around in the darkness he discovered a number of lockers, some with life jackets, some empty. He was losing heart until he found one with what felt like a toolbox in it. He scratched through the tools until he touched one with a blade, it felt like a carpet knife and he was able to use it to slice through the fastening rope.
Anthony popped his head out from beneath the cover and surveyed the surrounding area. All was quiet. The boat was parked under the carport on the far side of the garage. He was shielded from the house, and he climbed down thankful to be on solid ground at last. Peering around the corner, he could see lights burning inside and the sound of a TV, but no movement. In the darkness, Anthony decided to go back to the boat and try his best to cover up evidence of the damage he had done. He knotted the rope where he had cut it and rearranged it to lie inside the tarpaulin sleeve, and then tied the cover securely before he slipped away from the house and headed towards the golf course. It will be safer to approach my house from that side, he reasoned. I must move with care, the last thing I want now is to bump into one of the security patrols.
Not far to go now, he thought, following the fifth fairway. A short distance ahead he could see the putting green in the moonlight. Although it was not a full moon, the night was clear. He stuck close to trees along the edge of the fairway, keeping in their dark shadows as he crept towards the tee just below his home.
Near the tee, under cover of the surrounding shrubbery, he had a clear view of his house. All seemed quiet. The curtains were drawn and there was no sign of life. Who would have drawn the curtains? Someone must have been, or still is, in the house. Or did the cleaners draw them? He had not washed or changed his clothing for three days, and thought longingly of a hot shower and clean clothes.
He stood motionless for some time, observing the house without detecting any sign of life.
Moving closer, he circled the property. He saw no vehicle parked nearby. Maybe it’s in the garage. Only, unless they took Jane's keys, they won’t have access to the garage. He got near the living area. A crack of light was visible through an opening in the curtain. He approached stealthily, and now could hear the muffled sound of voices. How many are here?
There was a storeroom leading off the garage. It was unlikely they would have a key to it as it was muddled up with all their spare keys and only he and Jane knew which it was. If he could get inside there, he would be safe – for a while, at least. Among the old stuff stored there perhaps I’ll find a change of clothing. I would love a shower, but that’s out of the question for now. I must be starting to smell.
He had his car keys on him and would be able to get into the house through the garage – except when it was quiet the door motor could be heard inside. I must get into the house somehow to fetch the key to the storeroom. Entering it from the garage may be risky as I don’t know where the people inside are. That leaves the front or back doors, or a window.
The bedroom window had a faulty latch which he had intended to fix. That seemed the best option, provided nobody was in the bedroom and, of course, there was the problem of getting onto the balcony. The only way, without a stepladder from the garage, was to negotiate the thorn tree that had a conveniently overhanging branch.
In the dim glow of a garden light, he checked his watch: it was twenty-five to ten.
He slipped around the house – moving as silently as a phantom – to the main bedroom and, from the shadows, studied the windows for any sign of movement. Once he was convinced it was safe, he made his way to the tree and, climbing with care to avoid the thorns, he reached the height of the balcony. He managed to evade the thorns on its trunk and larger branches; however amongst the smaller branches it became more difficult. He paused for a while and studied the house and the bedroom for signs of life and also to plan his advance. He had to climb up a further two branches to reach the one overhanging the balcony. From there he could jump down onto the balcony. Unfortunately his passage would be through some smaller thorny branches, which was going to be a painful experience. He decided to remove his shoes for the jump, as his bare feet would not make as much noise when he landed. He hesitated, considering another option. No, it’s taken me too long to get this far. I can’t afford to waste any more time and must go now while the bedroom’s in darkness. If someone’s using it they could arrive at any moment.
Anthony removed his shoes and, aiming at a dark spot where they would not be visible from inside, he threw one shoe. He froze as he listened for any reaction from the bedroom: nothing happened. He aimed again and threw the second shoe: still no reaction. He had an option to decide on. Though the shortest drop would be from where he was holding on, he would fall between the thorniest branches. He opted rather to jump from a higher branch which should be less painful, albeit noisier. He would curl and roll to the shadows in the corner.
He gasped in pain as the thorns tore through his flesh, and the crash as he landed sounded much louder than he had anticipated. Half expecting someone to burst through the door, he lay on the floor like a coiled cat, ready to leap over the balcony railing.
He waited for a few moments that felt like an age. Nothing happened.
He finally gathered himself together. He picked up and put on his shoes before crawling to the window. He fiddled with the broken latch, and it opened. The room was dark, no sign or sound of life. He climbed through the window as silently as possible. He first selected the storeroom key from the small safe hidden in the bedroom before he inched his way to the open door. The reflection from a light somewhere below lit up the walls and, as he edged his way downstairs, he realised that the reflections were flashes from the TV in the living room dancing along the walls. Near the bottom of the staircase, the sound of the TV became audible. Those must be the voices I heard earlier from outside. The TV’s volume was low and, as he got closer to the bottom of the stairs, he heard gentle snoring. Someone must be sleeping in the living room. How many are there? At the bottom of the stairs, Anthony froze, listening intently for any sound before he slid into the foyer. He peeked around the corner into the living room. There was no sign of anyone except a man asleep on the couch. I could easily overpower him while he’s asleep, but that is not the right thing to do at this stage. There may be others. It will be safest to hide in the storeroom and assess the situation before I make my next move.
Anthony lingered for a few moments, watching the intruder sleeping peacefully on his couch, wondering what his next move should be. He went back to the bedroom and collected some clean clothes before returning downstairs. Upon reaching the door leading from the foyer to the garage, a cough sounded from the living room. His heart pounded wildly in his chest and he tensed up and quickly retreated. If the guy on the couch had looked in his direction, he would have seen him. Anthony was like a wound-up spring as he listened for any sound from the living room. He prepared for the outcome should the intruder suddenly appear around the corner. He stood frozen . . . no sound . . . he waited some time before he glanced around the corner. The man lay there fast asleep.
Anthony let himself into the garage and quietly shut the door. Dim light filtered in through the window from a nearby street lamp. The garage was built for four cars with one space always clear. His car was in its usual spot, but the spaces where his pickup and Jane's car usually parked were empty. He went across the garage and unlocked the storeroom door, then went in. He had the only keys to this door on him. He did not dare switch on a light, as it would be visible from outside through the small window. He knew the layout well, and felt his way around the room carefully so as to not make a noise and give away his presence. From one of the cupboards he quickly retrieved a fold-up camper bed, taking some time before finding a sleeping bag in a storage container. He set the bed up where he would not be visible should someone look through the window. I may as well make myself comfortable and catch some sleep. I could be stuck here for some time.
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