I stumbled over to the gas heater, heaved the gas bottle out and disconnected it. Although empty, it was still a weighty object. I rolled it over to the far wall, lifted it up and whacked it against the panel with all my strength. It made a mighty clang and a bit of a dent, and also dragged me over with it as it bounced off. I smacked down hard on the floor and saw stars for a second.

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For a moment I almost agreed with her. My head was so fuzzy and I felt so weak, it was tempting to give in to despair. But then reality took a grip.

“No, we’re not, Fi,” I said firmly. “We can make some holes in this thing.”

I bashed the cabin wall. It sounded disconcertingly solid.

“What’s it made from?” Fi was pulling herself together too.

“Aidan said he used refrigeration panels. So, some sort of metal coating on each side with a fairly dense foam in between, I imagine. Nothing we can’t handle.” I attempted to give her an optimistic smile. It came out more of a grimace.

“OK. What do we need?”

“Sharp things. Any knives in the cupboard?”

“I didn’t see any earlier,” replied Fi. “I’ll check though.”

While she looked, I did a mental calculation. This cabin was what? Four metres by two, and say, three high? That was near enough. Paul had once been shut in a cupboard by some gay bashers at secondary school, and he’d been convinced he’d nearly suffocated in there. Dad had told him how to calculate how long you’d last.  That meant working out how soon the concentration of carbon dioxide would get to around 3%, roughly the highest safe limit. A few numbers floated around in my head. I remembered that Dad had said a stressed person produces 1.7 cubic feet of carbon dioxide an hour, so ... I frowned hard, trying to convert metres to feet and do some long division in my aching head.  It came out somewhere near ten hours for one person, so five hours for the pair of us. Minus a bit since we’d had the gas heater on.

“How long have we been here Fi?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant about it.

Neither of us had watches. We relied on our phones, which we didn’t have. Mine had been drowned with me, and Fi’s had presumably been in her bag, which Julian still had.

“Hmm. I’d say about three hours. Is that good or bad?” She knew why I was asking.

“Good,” I said firmly. “But the sooner we get some air coming in, the better.”

“No knives, I’m afraid. There’s only plastic cutlery. But there is a corkscrew!” She brandished it triumphantly. “And, whoops.” She purposely dropped a mug on the concrete floor. “Some broken crockery too with nice pointy ends.” She picked up some bits.

“Clever girl!” She came over for a hug. “Now, the seal round the door should be a weak point,” I told her. “How about you try and gouge holes through it, and I’ll attack the walls. Your best bet would be at the bottom of the door.”

“Cool.” Fi lay down and began prodding at the black foamy seal with an implement in each hand. Then she looked up. “Oh, what are you going to use? Do you want the corkscrew?”

“I’ll make my own tools,” I winked. “But I’ll try this first. Not sure it’ll work, but we’ll see.”

I stumbled over to the gas heater, heaved the gas bottle out and disconnected it. Although empty, it was still a weighty object. I rolled it over to the far wall, lifted it up and whacked it against the panel with all my strength. It made a mighty clang and a bit of a dent, and also dragged me over with it as it bounced off. I smacked down hard on the floor and saw stars for a second.

Fi was next to me within seconds. “Jesus, Marcus! Be careful, baby.” She helped me sit up. Now my head really hurt.

“Damn,” I muttered crossly, cursing my current physical weakness.

“Think you should go with Plan B,” Fi advised.

“In a minute. I’ll try a couple more whacks first. I’ll be ready for the ricochet this time. Look, I’ll give the door a few clouts too. Maybe the lock’s not that strong.”

“If you’re sure.” Fi was unconvinced.

I got up slowly and rearmed. I crashed the bottle repeatedly into the door, but the lock held firmly. Damn, but this cabin had been well made. I battered the wall a few more times too, but all I produced were more dents and no real, helpful damage. And I felt totally exhausted but somehow I kept going.

Fi was right. On to Plan B. I dumped the gas bottle and turned the bedchair over. It was a pretty decent make, but even so it didn’t take me that long to rip the metal frame off the canvas. I got the gas bottle again and smashed it down hard on the lightweight alloy tubing. This squashed it down so I had several nice, sharp bends in the tubing now. Some firm working backwards and forwards in a couple of places and the tubing sheared through, leaving me a 50 cm length or so with two satisfyingly jagged ends. I manufactured a couple more and gave one to Fi.

“We’re in business,” I told her.

She paused from her gouging to give me a thumbs-up. Then she picked up her new tool and returned to work with that. I took a few swigs of my cold coffee for a caffeine boost and set to. I dug one corner of the sharpest edge of the tube into the metal panel facing and began to twist it, pushing as hard as I could. It took a few moments, but soon I broke through into the foam layer. Slowly, slowly I enlarged the hole in the metal coating and dug deeper and deeper into the insulation. I kept catching my hands on the jagged edges of the hole I was creating and there was blood everywhere, but I took no notice. There wasn’t time. It was noticeably stuffy in the cabin now. Fi was aware of that too. She turned the lamp down to its lowest setting. I nodded approval but didn’t have the energy to talk.  

We worked on and on. It was taking longer than I’d anticipated, but we were making progress. I just hoped we’d make enough before we passed out. Then Fi gave a shout.

“Hey! I can see moonlight. I’ve got through! And I can feel cold air coming in.”

“Way to go, sweetheart,” I panted. I’d reached the outside metal coating of the panel. A good few grunts and some concentrated probing, and yes. I was through too. I rested my head against the wall and allowed myself a couple of minutes’ recovery time before I worked at enlarging it. Soon I had a five-centimetre wide ventilation shaft. Fi, meanwhile, had been working her way along the length of the door seal. She had a shallow but sizeable opening there.

I started on a second hole. I angled this one downwards. Fi sat back to take a break and watched me.

“Is it more effective when it’s sloping down like that?” she asked, interested.

“No,” I confessed. “This one will double as, um, the toilet. I really need to pee,” I told her.

“Good thinking,” she nodded. “’Cos now you mention it ... “ She fidgeted uncomfortably. Well, it had been a long time since either of us had been to the loo. “I’m guessing I’ll have to use my noodle pot as an intermediary.” Practical as ever. But she had limits. “You’ll have to close your eyes and cover your ears when the time comes,” she warned me.

“OK,” I acknowledged.

We laboured on until the infrastructure was in place for a comfort break. Then we had more coffee. I sat on the floor with my back against the wall and my arm round Fi.

“OK. We have air,” Fi summarised. “We have half a container of water, and two Pot Noodles. How long will we last on that cos I’m really thinking Julian isn’t coming back?”

“Long enough to make a hole big enough to get out of,” I told her firmly.

We were both quiet for a while. I was thinking how we’d been left here to suffocate. Julian hadn’t reckoned on the gas supply running out. If it hadn’t, well, we’d almost certainly have been dead by now. We’d have been happy to snooze on in the warmth and increasing toxicity until it killed us.

“Why did Julian try to kill us?” Fi suddenly burst out. She’d obviously been thinking along exactly the same lines as I had.

“He has to be in with the Hodgkiss brothers,” I shrugged. It didn’t make any sense, though, and I was too tired and hungover to try and fit the pieces of the puzzle together. But that’s what it had to be.

“Marcus. What happens if he does come back, expecting us to be, you know, dead?” was her next question. “Perhaps they’ll all come back.”

That wasn’t such a good thought. I was hardly up to taking on one man, let alone three. And four, if Penny tagged along too. Five if Tony suddenly appeared out of the woodwork. There was still the possibility he’d betrayed me to Frank.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, are we?” she smiled sadly at me. “Why does everyone want us dead?” Then she crumpled. The collapse I’d seen coming all night arrived. She was clinging to me, sobbing her heart out. All I could do was hold her and tell her I loved her.

Suddenly she threw her head up. “Marcus, I thought you were dead at the lake. When I got to you under the water, I was sure you’d drowned. God, I was useless, useless! I saw them throw you in and I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think at first. You could have died. I could have let you die!”

She was hysterical.

“No, Fi, no. You saved me. You were brilliant.”

“Only after I thought about what you would have done in my place. Then I remembered the piping and Daphne and ... and ...”

She was in pieces again. She was doing the drowning now, in her distress and her crazy self-recriminations.

“Sweetheart, sweetheart.” I hugged her and soothed her, hoping her misery would pass soon. “Shh.”

Her grief tortured me, but, bloody hell, it turned me on too. Her body repeatedly convulsing against mine was getting me all stirred up. I felt like shit but I was ready for sex. I pulled her closer to me. Fi climbed onto my lap, straddling my legs, and I pressed my erection against her. Next thing her lips were on mine. I had her head between my hands as I kissed her frantically. We were alive. God, we were still alive when we were both meant to be dead. We had to celebrate that.

“I want you, Fi,” I gasped, surfacing for a moment.

I pushed myself away from the wall, and lay flat on the floor. Fi, still crying, was pulling my trousers down. She half rolled off to undress and then she was back across me.

“Ride me, baby,” I begged her.

And with her face still wet with her tears, she slid onto me. I clamped my hands on her swaying breasts, and from somewhere dredged enough energy to bring us both to a sweating, shuddering, groaning climax. It was so intense it was almost unbearable. This wasn’t just about our love for each other. This was about life and living. About seizing the day.

We both cried afterwards as we lay in a tangle of limbs and clothes on the chilly concrete floor. The horror of what I’d been through in the lake was only now beginning to dawn on me. Being trapped in the cabin seemed as nothing compared to that, but it was still a serious situation. As Fi had said, we weren’t safe yet.

I looked at Fi. She was watching me through her tears. She gave a little smile and wiped my eyes with her finger.

“Come on,” she said, sitting up and getting dressed. “We’ve got an escape tunnel to make.”

“Slavedriver,” I teased. But she was right. I was very keen on getting out of here before anyone unfriendly arrived.

We worked together on the first hole I’d made, enlarging it gouge by gouge. Our hands were covered in blisters and cuts, but we kept going.

“It’s getting light, look,” Fi remarked, eventually. Sure enough, there was daylight out there now. The sun was rising, so it must be about eight o’clock. I had a horrid feeling we might be getting company soon.

“Breakfast,” I announced. We’d need our energy and wits about us.

“Good call,” yawned Fi. “I suggest coffee and a shared Tomato and Beef Pot Noodle. Or would Chicken and Mushroom be more breakfasty?”

“It would,” I confirmed. I was actually looking forward to it. I was hungry and, I realised, feeling slightly more with it. My head was still pounding, but I’d kind of got used to that since it had been going on for so long. But I could describe myself as human again.

Things were looking up, ever so, ever so slightly.

But an hour later I was disheartened again. It was becoming obvious that it was going to take another five or six hours to make a hole big enough for even the slender Fi to slip through. It would be even more work to enlarge it to accommodate my big frame. The problem was dealing with the metal. We had nothing to cut it off with so we were having to squash it down as best we could as we went along. We were both cut to ribbons. My energy levels fluctuated wildly. One moment I felt almost OK and could carry on for ever, the next I was a wreck again, hardly able to struggle on for another minute.

“Coffee,” decided Fi. “And ten minutes of rest.”

I nodded. It must be heading for nine o’clock I reckoned. We’d been trapped in here around ten hours. Even by the most conservative estimate, we should have been well and truly dead by now. But Julian was playing safe and leaving plenty of extra time to make sure.

I slumped down against the wall. There was nothing left to sit on. I’d disassembled both bed chairs and the stools for replacement tubing gougers. They weren’t lasting very long, getting bent or blunted more rapidly than I was happy with. We could be running into trouble soon, but I preferred not to think about that for the time being.

Fi placed a mug of coffee next to me. I smiled and stroked her arm.

“Hey!” she cried. “I’ve got something for you.”

I winked at her. “I like what you’ve got,” I smirked feebly.

“Nah-ah. No time for any more of that,” she smiled. I pulled a sad face. She laughed and ruffled my hair. “I found this thing at Malval, when I was scooting off to get Yann.” She began searching through the pockets of her wet jeans on the floor. “You never said you’d lost your identity bracelet. Is it new? I don’t remember seeing you with it before.”

She turned and saw me looking puzzled. “Isn’t it yours?”

I shook my head. “No, I’ve never been a silver jewellery guy,” I shrugged. It was true. I had a small collection of gold earrings, a gold chain, a gold ring and a shark’s tooth surfer necklace that Paul had given me and a couple of woven leather thong friendship bracelets.

“Some other angler must have dropped it then,” concluded Fi.

“What does say on it?” I enquired.

“Here we are.” She found it at last in her pocket. She squinted at it. “It says: Classy Fishing Expert. That’s why I thought it must be yours. I thought perhaps the lads had given it to you sometime.”

“What? Andy and Derek?” I chuckled, despite everything. “They’d have put Crappy Fishing Eejit, or something like that.”

A thought crossed my mind. Why words starting with C, F and E? That combination of initials sounded familiar. Why? I forced myself to think. Then I groaned. Clive Ellis’s Twitter name had been @ClassyFishingExpert to match his initials. CFE.

“That was Clive’s,” I told Fi. “So he was at Malval before he died. Possibly when he died.”

“Oh God.” She looked up at me, clearly upset. She fingered the bracelet. Then she exclaimed “Ow!” and frowned. “Drat, I’ve cut myself on it. Look. One of the links has been torn open.”

She came over to me with the bracelet so I could inspect it. Sure enough, one of the thick, chunky silver links had been wrenched apart, leaving a sharp edge.

“Now that didn’t happen accidentally,” I observed. “There must have been a fight.”

“Oh God.” Fi went pale.

“It’s looking more and more certain that Frank killed Clive at his lake for the same reason he tried to kill me. We knew too much. At least now we can make that connection and definitely place Clive at Malval, as well as give him a motive for being there. He must have been dumped at that river by Frank. And maybe Aidan.”

“Julian too?” wondered Fi.

“Who knows?” I shrugged.

“What do we do now?” asked Fi.

It was a good question.

 

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