I don’t know if I resisted or not as he wrestled me over the side of the boat. I was trying to fight him, but I don’t think that took a physical form. It was just my addled brain sending futile messages to my non-responsive body. But as I fell into the cold water, the action shocked a bit of reaction and sense into me, at least temporarily. I started to wriggle, but my arms wouldn’t come free. I battled to get my head above the water for a last lungful of air. I gulped it down. I had the sudden hope that I could somehow thrash my way through the water like a dolphin and get to the bank. Bodies floated, right?
This was so not good. I decided to act cool, but that took a lot of effort. I was severely rattled.
“I don’t know. Should you?” I took a bigger sip of whiskey. I needed it for my nerves now.
“I believe so,” said Frank carefully, looking at me steadily. “That’s what a little bird told me. What’s this all about then?”
I was fuming inside. Damn and blast Tony. The shit had split on me after all. He’d broken his worthless fucking word.
“As in?” I prevaricated, having another drink.
“As in pretending to be Radley the moron.”
I laughed, and had another sip. Thank God I finally thought of what to say.
“OK. Yes, I’m Marcus Summers. I want fish for my fishery. I’ve done it the above-board, old fashioned way all these years and spent a fortune while other fisheries buy in cheaper stock and have much better profit margins. Your mate Frobisher has made that a popular trend. I’m getting sick of always losing out. But since I’m known for being an uptight bastard with high standards, it seemed a better idea to pretend to be a rookie lake owner. I also thought you might not deal with me if you knew who I was, and that I wrote for a magazine. You might have thought it was a sting.”
Frank shrugged. Then he nodded. “Yes, I can see that. And don’t worry. We’ll deal with you, all right.”
He smiled. I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t look like a nice smile. I couldn’t tell because my head suddenly began to swim a little. I also felt my heart racing. Jeez, that concentrated caffeine shot had packed a punch. I could normally drink espressos all day and still sleep like a baby. I had a high tolerance for caffeine, but not this time.
I drained my whiskey glass, under the inverse logic that since coffee counteracted the effects of alcohol, then surely alcohol would damp down the effects of too much coffee.
But it didn’t. My head felt worse. I blinked hard a few times.
“Are you OK?” asked Frank, apparently full of concern.
“Dunno.” God, suddenly I was having trouble getting words out. “Norreally.”
“Must be the coffee. I told you it was bad at making it. Here, have another drink.” He filled my glass.
“Nosshure thassa goodideer,” I protested, feebly it had to be said.
“Oh, but I think it is,” insisted Frank. “Drink up.”
I frowned. I was finding it hard to think. I was also finding it hard to remember exactly what I was doing here. Having a drink with these guys? Yeah, that was it. So I should be sociable. I gulped half of the whiskey refill down. Momentarily I felt brighter.
“So. Let’s talk fish,” said Frank.
I nodded, grateful for the reminder. That’s what this meeting was about. How could I have forgotten that? I was Radley, or was it Bradley, someone, wanting to buy fish. I had to remember that.
“Fisssh,” I agreed slurrily.
Frank began to talk, and I began to listen, but within seconds I was woozy. I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. I couldn’t even look at him. The room was spinning and I felt sick. I clutched the edge of the table, trying to keep myself upright.
At that moment, my mobile rang. The familiar, rousing ring tone cut through my confusion. It was a snatch from Linkin Park’s ‘Bleed it out’. I had a burst of lucidity. I was Marcus, and my companions knew I was Marcus, which they weren’t meant to. I was drugged and I was in trouble. Big trouble. I had to get the hell out of here while I still could. I suddenly thought about Clive Ellis, the drowned fisherman, the guy who had contacted me, saying he might have a really big story soon about carp from France. I realised, with dread, that he must have been onto the same thing that Julian and I were. God yes! Clive had mentioned brothers. How could I have forgotten that? Hodgkiss’s heavies had killed him. And now they were going to kill me.
The hell they were.
I leapt to my feet and with all my strength tipped the table and hurled it to the right, to take Heavy One out of the picture. I saw Frank leap back. Heavy Two came for me. I grabbed his arms as he lunged towards me and did a textbook Osoto Guruma which thunked him down onto his back. Heavy One was still struggling up. I squared up to face him but the sudden outburst of physical energy sent the whatever it was they’d given me coursing round my system again. I felt faint. I desperately tried to keep myself upright but my legs began to give way beneath me. I staggered forwards, then a terrific blow from behind sent me sprawling. Frank had broken a chair across my back and neck. As I hit the floor, something heavy fell across me and thumped me hard in the face.
“Stop it!” yelled Frank. “No obvious marks, remember.”
Whatthefuck? I was losing it big time now, but I made one last attempt to get up. I had nearly raised myself to my knees, despite someone battling me, but then all my strength seemed to vanish. I slumped back down heavily. Then I was rolled onto my back.
“Thirsty?” sneered Frank, a few inches above my face.
I tried but I couldn’t say anything. I summoned up some saliva to spit at him, but before I could, one of the big guys had raised my head and clamped my jaws open. Something was poured into my mouth. Whiskey. I tried to spit it out but that didn’t seem to work. In a panic I swallowed some down, rather than choke on it. I tried to fight again, to roll and kicking, but nothing seemed to work. My body wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. The tremendous weight on top of me was too much. I was a helpless as a kitten. More whiskey went down, and then some more I think, and then everything went fuzzy and grey. One last clear thought snapped across my brain. Fiona. Thank God she wasn’t here. Then it went black.
I crashed down onto something hard. I opened my eyes. I was in the bottom of the rowing boat. Weird. Everything was spinning and kind of wavery, but I could suss out where I was, and work out that I was tightly trussed up. Both the big guys were in the boat with me. We must have been riding low in the water. We were all around the hundred kilo mark. It was a bit like I was in a dream. It didn’t feel like it was me that things were happening to, but unfortunately it was. However, I was completely powerless. I couldn’t move at all. I could only watch and breathe, but that was becoming a bit of struggle. My chest was heaving but I couldn’t seem to get enough air. I’d have panicked if I’d had the energy too.
“You know what to do, don’t you lads?” came a voice. Frank’s. “You had your trial run with that other interfering git. Drop him in. You’ve attached the marker float, yeah? Ok. Give it half an hour while you clean up the cabin, then drag him to the bank. Get the chain and block off, and then leave him floating for his girlfriend to find. Then you know where to contact me. Ya me despido.”
The boat began to move. It was dark now, apart from a bright, full moon. I could see a few stars twinkling blurrily above me, not giving a damn about what was happening down here. I mulled over what I’d just heard in my spinning brain. It confirmed everything. They had done this before. ‘Interfering git’ had to mean poor Clive. It hadn’t been an unfortunate accident, after all then. And the same was about to happen to me. And I couldn’t do a damn fucking thing about it. It’s like I was paralysed. My panic tightened my chest. My breath was rasping in and out now.
“Better breathe air while you still can, arsehole,” leered one of my companions.
“Yeah, pity you ain’t got gills like the stupid fish you catch,” added his pal.
Come on, do something, I told myself. But uselessly. I had no control over myself. Shit.
Then there was a sharp crack, and a splash.
“What the …” began one of my travelling companions.
There was another one, this one followed by a splintering sound rather than a splash.
“Fuck, someone’s shooting at us!” the other guy realised.
“Then shoot back!” snapped the first man.
“But I can’t see anything,” whined the second.
“They’re shooting fucking holes in the boat, you moron!” roared first guy. “Just shoot, fuck it, to cover me while I get this bastard into the water. Then we’ll get the fuck out of here.”
I don’t know if I resisted or not as he wrestled me over the side of the boat. I was trying to fight him, but I don’t think that took a physical form. It was just my addled brain sending futile messages to my non-responsive body. But as I fell into the cold water, the action shocked a bit of reaction and sense into me, at least temporarily. I started to wriggle, but my arms wouldn’t come free. I battled to get my head above the water for a last lungful of air. I gulped it down. I had the sudden hope that I could somehow thrash my way through the water like a dolphin and get to the bank. Bodies floated, right? But then there was a second loud splash, and with a jerk I was suddenly dragged downwards. Oh hell. That lump of concrete and chain I’d noticed and thought must be for mooring a second rowing boat. It had been waiting for me. Like it had waited for Clive maybe? I vaguely remembered that his body had been found on a river not so far away from here.
Crap. So this was it. I was about to die. Damn it. Just when I’d finally found the woman of my dreams, and was looking forward to spending the rest of my life with her, this shit had to happen. It wasn’t fair. Couldn’t I have had a few months of the domestic bliss I was so late finding?
How much longer did I have, I wondered. Probably not long, given the trouble with breathing I’d been having. I’d be out of oxygen very soon. So what should I do? Say a prayer? No. I’d never believed in God and I wasn’t going to start now. Tell Paul I loved him. Yeah. We had our one-way telepathic twin thing. I sent him a mental message telling him he was a really great brother. I decided to spend the rest of my time thinking about Fi. Fi smiling. Fi naked. Fi smiling and naked. Yeah, that was a good image. That was a nice thought to go out on.
All this time I’d been struggling, just in case I miraculously managed to slip my ropes or lose the chain that was round my ankles. Waste of bloody time. I was screwed.
Then something brushed against me. Were there fish in the lake after all? But no, this wasn’t a fish. It was much larger. Visibility was practically nil in the water, but some light was trickling down from the bright moon. I gazed at the thing, which was right in front of me now. There were pale patches and darker patches, and it was almost as big as me. It was a person. Oh God, not another body, surely. How many poor buggers had this crowd shoved into lakes? But then this one touched my face and brushed its lips against mine. Holy shit! It was Fiona.
I wasn’t going to die alone. She’d come to be with me. That was brave. And that was love. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I didn’t want to die, no way, but I didn’t mind it so much now Fi would be there. However, I was roused from my maudlin meanderings by Fi shoving something hard into my mouth. I explored it with my tongue. It felt round, hollow. A tube. It was the tubing from the jeep. My girl was going to save me! Fi was holding the tube. She nodded at me. But I hesitated to take a breath. What if it didn’t work and I breathed in water, sooner than I needed to? I was good for another minute or so I reckoned, and I wanted to live for that minute. I wanted to spend it with Fi.
She stroked my face, still nodding. Go for it, Marcus, I told myself. You know can trust Fi. So I finally allowed myself to expel the breath I’d been holding and then sucked air in. A very little water came into my mouth. I almost panicked but clamped my lips tighter round the tube. It worked. Holy shit. It worked! I was going to live. It was hard going, though. I was getting dopey again. I’d livened up since I’d been in the water, but my head was heavy and thinking was an effort. My mind was drifting in a drug and whiskey induced haze.
Fi stroked my cheek again and then swam round behind me. I felt her tugging at my hands behind my back. I guessed she must be trying to cut through the rope. Then she stopped. I wriggled my arms but they were still tied. I realised Fi had gone up to the surface to breathe. I could see her feet just above my head. The water wasn’t very deep, but deep enough to die in.
She came down and carried on working on the rope. Then suddenly I felt the pressure round my wrists lighten. A few more seconds and Fi pulled one of my hands free. I immediately brought it round to hold my breathing tube firmly in place. I felt safer like that. Then the other was free too. Fi slipped her hand into it and swam round in front of me. Then she lifted my hand to her mouth and kissed it. I could only peer at her through the dark, murky water. I could barely see her now. She’d stirred up a lot of silt.
Then she was gone again, this time swimming underwater away from me, not up to the surface. I stared after her, longing for her to come back. In the meantime I fought to stay conscious. I was feeling drowsy and drunk and breathing was hard. Where was Fi? What was happening? I tried swimming with my one free arm, but I didn’t have much strength, and it was a hopeless thing to do anyway. I couldn’t make myself budge.
And then she was back. She touched my hand again. I clung to hers for a precious second. Then she opened my hand and laid something in it. It was a piece of rope. Was I to hold it? I gripped it. But no, Fi tugged it gently away and pulled herself down my legs towards the chain. I felt some slight jerking as she did something. She was tying the rope onto the chain. Then she floated up, kissed my cheek, and shot up to the surface for more air.
When she came back down, she put my other hand onto my breathing tube. I wondered why, but only for a second, because then I began to move as the chain and block that anchored me to the lake bottom started to creep sideways. A great cloud of silt rose up around me, matching the confusion that was enveloping me mentally. I clung onto my tube and let it all happen. I was too far gone to work out who must be helping Fi. Who cared anyway, just so long as they got me out of here? Slowly, slowly I was dragged along. Very gradually it got a little lighter as we moved into shallower water, closer to the bank. Fi popped up and down between me and the surface. She put her arm behind me as I moved along to help support me.
I don’t know how long it took – it might have been minutes or hours. I focussed on keeping my lungs working and hanging onto that precious tube. And then suddenly the top of my head felt colder as it broke the surface of the water. A few more tugs and my eyes were above it too. I blinked hard and stared around me in the moonlight. Fi’s face bobbed up just in front of me. She was smiling happily but looked tired and strained. I looked to the right and could see someone hauling a rope, which had been looped around a tree to act as a pulley. It was Yannick. Looking the other way, I saw my air tube lying on the surface. At the far end, it was attached to something. I’d have smiled if I could have managed it, despite my predicament. The tube had been lashed onto Daphne to keep that end out of the water. Good old duck. The best fifteen quid I’d spent for a long time.
“Encore un peu, Yann!” Fi called.
I watched as Yann heaved hard. Fi pushed me at the same time, and at last my whole head was above the lake surface. I pulled the tube out and gulped in oxygen in the open air again. But it wasn’t any easier than breathing through the tube. There was something wrong with my chest. I couldn’t speak as I battled for breath. But I managed to hold out my arms. Fi swam into them. I pulled her close to me briefly and managed a quick kiss before I felt myself sinking. I was feeling overwhelmingly tired now. I let go of Fi and began to tread water feebly with my arms. Fi put an arm firmly around my chest from behind, and helped hold me up as Yann carried on pulling. They must both have been exhausted but they kept going.
Then Yann stopped.
“Julian, j’espère,” Fi called back.
I hoped so too.
But Yann wasn’t taking chances. He quickly lashed the long end of the rope around another tree to keep the tension. Then he picked something up. His gun. So it had been him shooting at the thugs as they’d rowed out to drown me. He slipped into the line of trees.
Fi probably held her breath as the vehicle came closer, but I couldn’t. I rasped and rattled, with increasing urgency. But I still felt permanently short of oxygen. Fi tightened her hold on me. She pulled the breathing tube up close to us, in case I had to go underwater again.
The vehicle swept the lake with its headlights as it pulled in by the cabin. A door opened. A voice called.
“Fiona? Marcus? It’s me, Julian!”
“Thank God! We’re here,” yelled Fi, waving one arm with all her might.
Julian saw her in the lights. He jumped back into the car and bumped along the lakeside path up to us. Yann had come out from his hiding place, and began to drag me in again. Julian leapt out and helped him and I began hurtling towards the bank, relatively speaking. Fi kept a tight hold on me. I was starting to lose it again. My head was feeling heavy and I could hardly hold it up. I lost control and lolled forward, and my face splashed into the water. Fi’s hands were under my chin straight away, pulling it up, but she couldn’t have had her feet on the lake bed yet so she was doing all this treading water, and it was too much.
I heard her shout in panic. I was tugged even faster, but then there was also a loud splash, followed by smaller ones of someone swimming, and then Yann had his arms round me. I rested on his shoulder, gasping for oxygen and fighting the greyness that was trying to smother me. Fi’s terrified, exhausted face was white and taut in the moonlight. I kept my eyes on her as my rescuer dragged me to the lake edge. Fi held me as best she could while Julian jumped in to help Yann heave the block onto the bank. Then they dragged me out. And then I was laying on the grass, sobbing, retching and asphyxiating, all at the same time. I locked my eyes onto Fiona’s. I took a few deep breaths to try and speak a couple of times, but I couldn’t stop my chest from heaving convulsively. I couldn’t get a word out.
Julian looked at me in horror. Penny was hovering behind him.
“Christ, I’m so sorry, Marcus,” he said quietly. He looked haggard in the flickering light.
It was a good job I couldn’t move or I’d have floored him. I was so fucking mad with him, but I didn’t have the energy to express it. I turned my head away.
“We have to get out of here,” announced Fi. “And bloody fast. Those guys could come back.”
Julian just sat there. I think he was in shock.
“We need to get Marcus and the block into your car, Julian, and head for hospital,” Fi told him firmly. “Now! I’ll grab our personal stuff while you and Yann get him in, OK? OK?” She added the second one extra loud.
But it was me rolling over and vomiting noisily over Julian’s shoes that shook him into action. He sprang up swearing.
“Bloody hell. God, yes, of course.”
I watched Fi shoot off along the bank as the two blokes helped me up. It was only then Julian noticed I was chained to the large concrete block.
“We’re not putting that bloody thing in the car,” he muttered angrily. “How’s it attached?”
He left me leaning against Yannick and the bonnet of the jeep while he squatted down to inspect it.
“Eet eez lock?” Yann peered down too.
Julian gave the chain a hard tug and rattle. Damn, but it hurt my sore ankles.
“Ow,” I grumbled woozily.
Julian ignored me and tugged some more. Then he grinned up at me.
“It’s just been tied on, not padlocked or anything. Should get it off easily enough.”
He was a touch over optimistic. It took a good five minutes of swearing and battling to untie the tight knot in the chain. It was a painful five minutes too. I could feel myself gradually slumping down. Yannick did his best to hold me up, but I was a lot bigger than he was, plus I was pretty much a dead weight with no self-control.
Finally Julian got me freed up. As soon as the tension went off the chain, the block, which had been teetering rather precariously on the bank, slipped back into the water with a splash, the chain following. Good bloody riddance. Then Jules and Yann manhandled me into the car somehow. Poor bastards. I was heavy and unable to help. I sort of crumpled along the back seat. Fi was back by now. She spoke to Yann quickly and hugged him. I heard her thanking him and promising him we’d keep his name out of things. He wouldn’t get into trouble for shooting. Then she clambered in next to me and hoisted my head up onto her lap.
“Drive as fast as you can, Julian.”
We set off. The car lurched every which way. I felt ghastly. My head throbbed, my vision swam, I felt incredibly sick again.
I looked up at Fi. She was crying. The night’s events were catching up with her. I felt tears on my cheeks too. She leant forward and kissed my forehead.
“I love you,” she smiled.
I couldn’t manage a smile. But I kept my eyes locked onto hers. I began to shiver, and it wasn’t just from the cold. Plus I had the world’s worst headache. But thanks to my incredible girlfriend, I was still alive. If only Clive had had someone like her, he’d still be here too. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. He’d sounded a pleasant, regular guy on the phone. Not that different from me.
Shit. I was crying again. What a wally. But what did it matter? Only Fi could see me, and why shouldn’t someone should cry for Clive?