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Black Ice: Chapter 40

...'Don't be scared, cutie, you won't feel a thing.'

He pulled the big Colt out and snapped back the slide, and it slipped contentedly into his pink palm...

Journalist spy Sam Craven looks death in the eye.

The excitement increases in Colin Dunne's brilliant Cold War novel.

To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

With a plummeting heart, I watched the bike come nearer and nearer. He slowed and used his feet to get around the potholes and the craggy chunks of outcrop. There was no hurry. I wasn't going anywhere. Five yards from me he stopped, bracing the bike on either side with his legs. He pushed up the stocking mask. The wide smile on his black face was the smile of a happy man.

'You know, you really are cute,' he said, in tones of some admiration. If I'd had doubts before, that cleared them up: he was bats. 'How'n hell you get so far?'

'I got a lift.'

'A lift?'

As his confidence wavered he began to look around, so I told him: 'From a pony. Called Doris.'

'A pony called Doris. I don't get that. English jokes, huh? One of those wild ponies?'

I nodded. I was lying back on my elbows. The day I thought I'd never see had come to life all around me. Above me the sky was a lively blue, the sea wind was as clean as a razor on my face, and I could see humanity hauling its cameras up the road to see the wonders of nature. I'd fought my way back to within sight and sound of the world, but they weren't going to let me get on board. The sooner he shot me the better.

Then my eyes half-focused on a shape somewhere behind him and I knew I had to keep talking. Whatever happened I had to keep him talking, listening, anything except shooting.

I pushed myself up on one elbow and tried to look like a good listener.

'You know, Oscar, I don't think Solrun was ever serious about that Russian.'

'You don't?' Even he gave me an odd look it wasn't a situation for cocktail-party gossip.

'No, not really. Like she wasn't serious about me. She was having a last fling before she got married to you. That's the way I'd see it.'

I'd always thought that Marje Proops stuff was rubbish. But it certainly didn't come easy off the top of my head in a one-to-one situation with a man who was about to make it a one-to-none.

At least I'd got his interest. He was standing over me and, where his camo-jacket fell open, I could see the big Colt stuck in his belt.

'Once you get her back to the States . . .' As I talked I narrowed my eyes so he wouldn't be able to see where I was looking. My sight was wavering from all I'd been through and at first I thought it might be a mirage. This was no mirage. Bright blue anorak. Vast white floppy hat. Baggy shorts. Striding towards us like some ungainly long-legged knobbly-kneed old bird . . .

Outside an ostrich farm, there was only one other pair of knees like that. Bottger, the Esperanto-speaking German, from the flight out.

'That don't bother me,' Oscar was saying. 'I don't give a fuck about her no more. All I want is the kid.'

Then, even as salvation came nearer, he had my attention. 'Kid? What kid?'

The kid in the photo?

'Mine, who else's? They kept it from me when they ran me out of the country. These friends of mine let me know. That's why I came back.'

'You mean she's had your child?'

'That's what I said. She ain't fit to have no kid of mine. Tell you something, it's strange to find you're a father. Makes you feel part of things.'

He'd dropped down on his haunches now and there was a glow of enthusiasm in his eyes as he spoke. Over his shoulder I could see the tall German lumbering over some rocks.

'It changes everything. The whole idea of it. I mean, you wake up every day thinking there's a little bit of you out there. Makes you think about your own parents, and their parents, and instead of feeling like just one person standing in one place during the whole history of the world, you feel more like a part of a stream, a moving stream.'

I felt sorry for this man who was going to kill me. 'Take the kid and go, Oscar.'

His knowing grin came back. 'I'll do that, don't worry. But I ain't leaving witnesses around to talk about it when I'm gone.' In a kind voice, he added: 'Don't be scared, cutie, you won't feel a thing.'

He pulled the big Colt out and snapped back the slide, and it slipped contentedly into his pink palm.

'Not just yet,' I said. 'I don't think the injection's working.'

'Injection?'

'A thing we used to say at the dentist.' I pushed myself up on to my elbows. He shuffled quickly back on his toes in case I was going to try to jump him. Jump him I couldn't even have leaned him.

'Excuse me a moment, will you? Over here,' I called out, in a feeble shout. 'Over here quickly, please.'

He glanced over his left shoulder and so didn't see Bottger advancing behind his right. 'Don't fool yourself. They can't hear you down there. They won't hear a thing.'

'Ah, my friend from the plane. Why are you shouting?'

When he heard Bottger's voice, Oscar was on his feet in a second, his face wide open with astonishment. Bottger was then about thirty yards away, waving one arm as he called out and using the other to help him slither down a bank. He was so intent on that he didn't notice the gun. By the time he looked up again, it had gone.

'You have had an accident?' He looked from one to the other.

If he's pushed, I thought, Oscar will shoot down both of us. He had the camo-jacket closed over the gun in his belt and his face was lined with concentration as he tried to work out what was happening. I had to give him a way out.

'Broke my leg. This young American here was going to try to get me on his bike, but I was just explaining, I couldn't manage that.'

That was the door. The question was, would he go through it. I saw him look quickly towards the traffic on the road.

He was wondering how many more Bottgers there were and what it would take to bring them all up here.

Bottger, thank God, didn't seem to find anything odd in this lugubrious young black man standing there not speaking. Happily he went on: 'That is out of the question, young man. We must get proper transport. You were lucky this man spoke English.'

'Why?' I didn't care what he said. I only wanted to keep the air filled with normal, unexciting sounds.

'Why? It is obvious, is it not? If you spoke Esperanto you could have shouted for help. Helpu! That is the word if you need it again. Helpu!'

Without speaking, Oscar backed towards his bike, mounted it and kicked it into life.

'Young man.' Oh no. Bottger was actually calling him back. 'Young man, would you ask someone with a Land Rover or similar to come and help us. Thank you.'

We watched him roar and slither away down the track.

'He will not remember,' Bottger said. 'Young people today. No manners. It is the same everywhere.'

'You don't know a Mr Batty by any chance, do you?'

'Please?'

'Forget it. But if a sneezing man offers you a part-time job with history, tell him where he can nudge it.'

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