11. Up and Out

June 2008

Jay awoke and groaned. He went to rub his throbbing head, but his hands were tied behind his back. He opened his eyes and looked around.

No interrogation cell, this. It was a big, open room, glass spanning three sides and stretching around onto a fourth as it disappeared behind a column to his left. He looked out through the great windows at the hills beyond, and the slice of blue water he could see at the bottom of the window. To his right he could see the bridge from the road disappearing under the window ledge.

The room itself was sparsely furnished; a desk and a couple of chairs did little to fill the large space, and the low ceilings heightened the impression of distance. A thick cream-coloured carpet covered the floor.

He winced, then remembered why his head hurt. He looked around for Melissa, but couldn't see her; with any luck she'd got away okay. Hopefully, too, she was smart enough to go get help, and not hang around waiting for him.

“Your girl got away. Although I wish you hadn't felt the need for violence. We would have let her go anyway.” Karl stepped out from behind the column, followed by the large man whose nose Jay had broken earlier. “I really would have preferred not to hit you like that.”

“I'm sure he would have preferred that too.” The large man snickered.

“Now, Jay, tell us – why the doors? Melissa, sure, I can see how you'd want her back, she seems like a keeper, but the doors?” Karl stopped, and frowned. “Oh, no, you didn't go down there, did you? Please don't tell me that – I shall have to be very angry at some of my employees, if that's the case.”

Jay didn't say anything.

“Oh, Jay, that's no good.” Karl turned to the large man. “Todd, can you find the two who were on that guard station, get them up here. And see if you can't pull up the camera footage, too.”

“Sure thing.” Todd wandered over to the desk and picked up the phone, speaking quietly into it for a few moments before hanging it up. He sat down and start poking at the laptop sitting on the desk.

“Now, Jay, I need to confirm a few things. You went through those doors, didn't you? When you escaped after beaning poor Todd there” – he nodded towards the desk – “you took the right instead of the left?”

Jay nodded mutely.

“I really thought you'd believed me too, about the directions – I wasn't lying, you know.” Karl shook his head sadly.

“I –” Jay's voice was a croak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I took the bloody left. You didn't tell me it was the second left, Mister oh-so-honourable.”

Karl laughed. “I guess you're right at that. My mistake then. Allow me to offer my heartfelt apology.”

“But” – Karl's face went deadly serious – “it remains that you've been down there. I'm not sure how you're still alive, or how in fact you got back into my building, but I would dearly love to know.”

Two men rounded the corner of the column – Jay guessed the lift was in behind there. He saw the way they scowled at him, and realised that they were the guards from the station at the bottom.

Karl turned to them. “Do you recognise this man?” he said, gesturing at Jay. The men nodded, suddenly pale.

“Perhaps,” Karl continued, voice suddenly raised a little, face flushed, “you would like to explain again to me what happened when this man” – he pointed again at Jay – “dropped by your guard station.”

The men shared a glance full of fear. They stayed tight-lipped and silent.

“Here we go,” Todd called from the desk. “Take a look at this.” He pushed a button, and nodded towards a large screen Jay hadn't noticed.

The screen showed a corridor, looking down from one end. Jay could see a door and a window just before the corridor heading off from the left. He saw, on the screen, a hand reach around the corner at waist level and swipe a card. He saw himself, a moment later – and a dreadful mess – dash around the corner, shoving open the door and darting in. There was no sound, but an arm flailed past the window, then Jay's digital past self re-appeared and ran towards and under the camera. The screen went blank; Jay looked back to Todd, who had shut the lid of the laptop, and was looking speculatively at the two guards.

“That,” Todd said quietly, “is a little different to your story. Anything you wish to say?”

“We… we figured he was good as dead,” one of the guards said in a shaking voice.

“Is that any reason not to tell us? We had men searching the building for hours? Do you have any idea what that cost us in lost productivity?”

The other guard spoke up. “We thought we'd left the door unlocked, and we'd be in trouble, and, well, I need this job. I have a family who need the money.”

“We figured, no harm no foul,” the first guard said.

“That's the problem, really, isn't it?” said Karl. “No harm generally means that, you know, I don't get taken hostage by the man in question a day later. That comes under my definition of ‘harm.’”

“Yeah, but no-one's ever come back before,” the guard practically wailed. “How were we supposed to know?”

“You weren't supposed to know anything,” Karl shouted. “You were supposed to tell me what the hell actually happened.” He stopped as Todd, who had wandered over behind him, placed a hand on his shoulder. “You deal with them Todd,” he said. “I'm fed up with them.”

“Okay, I'll handle it.” said Todd. “You two are being re-assigned. We'd fire you, but we need all the hands we can get. So, you two are on garbage removal shifts for the next six months. Night shifts.”

The two guards nodded meekly, doing their best to look grateful.

“Right, piss off you two.” Todd waved them towards the lift. They scuttled away.

“Now,” Todd continued, “I think it's time, Jay, that we had a little chat.”

“Karl tells me that you didn't tell this girl anything important. That's fortunate. It would have been a shame to have to kill her. Anyway, as it stands, we no longer know where she is, and we don't care. She's on the other side of that bridge” – Todd pointed out and down – “and she's away from here.”

“You,” he sighed, “on the other hand. You have caused rather a lot of trouble, and I'm not sure how much you know, but it's bound to be too much at this point. You've been through the tunnel, which as far as we're concerned made you a dead man anyway. The fact that you've made it back has done little to change this; if anything, it's even more important that you die.”

“On the other hand, your girlfriend now knows you're here, which limits our ability to do anything too hasty.” Todd stopped talking and paced a little, back and forth by the window. He paused and looked out the window.

“Karl,” he said, “can you pull up a map of the area for me?”

“Sure,” said Karl, crossing to the desk and opening the laptop. “Looking for anything in particular?”

“I'm wondering just how un-populated the area beyond the pass is. Do you see any signs of people or farms or whatever up there?”

“Hmm…” Karl clicked around a little. “Just the other side isn't so good – there seems to be a little community fifty kay or so down the road. But, just a moment…” He scratched his chin, clicked around a little more.

“Okay, up into the hills a bit further, if we go a bit south, I make out about, oh, a good hundred kay or so square with nothing I can see by way of buildings or people. Mountains on three sides, too.”

He paused, looked at Jay. “You reckon he's got it in him to walk a hundred kilometres with no food or water?”

“Not without shoes or a jacket,” Todd said. “And a mild concussion obtained during his escape attempt isn't going to help much, either. It wasn't his smartest decision, running off into the high country like that.” He pulled out a phone, dialled a number, listened. “Hey Rhodes… got a moment? … sure, I'll wait.”

He tapped his foot, looking idly out the window with his phone to his ear. “… hey, good. Look, you got a vehicle handy? We need a drop-off up in the country. Four-wheel-drive, I think. … yuh– … yeah, no, that sounds like it'd do the trick. Can you send that down here with a driver and, let's make it two guards. Pick a couple of your good ones. Alright? Cheers Rhodes – later.” He closed his phone.

“Hour or so, he says,” Todd said to Karl.

“Cool. Hey, I gotta check up on that leak down in level 6 – you okay to handle our man here?”

“Sure thing. He's not going anywhere.”

“And none of your mistake nobility this time, alright?” Karl raised his eyebrows in question.

“Yeah, he's had his one, remember?” Todd rubbed his nose, and shot a dirty look at Jay. Jay tried not to smirk. Karl left by the elevator.

“Now, I have a bit of paperwork to do, so I need a bit of quiet,” Todd said, walking behind Jay. Jay twisted his head to follow, and caught the blackjack on his eyebrow. There were ringing spots in his vision, then everything faded into black again.

He awoke muzzy-headed, a horrible, throbbing pain above his eye complementing the now dull ache on top of his head. Todd's blackjack, Karl's gun – he tried to think back. Oh, the cargo net. The crate that nearly broke his ribs. His ankle from the landing. He couldn't think of anything else, not that he needed anything else.

He struggled to focus his vision, trying to blink the blurry shapes in sharp relief. He had just managed to make out the large figure of Todd in front of him when Todd began shaking him.

“Come on buddy, time to wake up. On your feet.” Jay realised his feet were untied, although his hands were still strapped behind his back. He staggered to his feet on shaky legs, and was barely upright when Karl gave him a push from behind. “Time to go, buddy.”

He was hustled towards the elevator, down a level, out across the top of the ramp, through the double doors, and shoved unceremoniously into the back of a big-wheeled army-style truck. He was tied against the back of the cab, facing out the rear of the truck, and a couple of guards sat in the opposite corners with guns trained on him. No hired day-jobbers these ones, they looked ex-military, and they didn't look like they had much by way of sense of humour either.

Jay closed his eyes and tried to ignore the aching and buzzing in his head. He felt the doors to the truck's cab slam shut, then the thing shuddered into life and pulled away from the building. Jay dropped his head down and tried to forget about the world for a while; there was nothing else he could do.

He was woken again with a wince and a groan as the truck left the road and pulled onto a rough rutted track, rattling his head against the back of the cab. The truck at least slowed a little for the rough terrain, but the ride was still bone-shakingly hard.

They pulled up steep rises, dropped down sharp inclines and pushed their way through rocky riverbeds. They wound along the track that was little more than two parallel goat-paths a truck-width apart, bouncing in and out of potholes and over rocks embedded in the dusty yellow clay. Jay tried to lean forward a little, off the bars of the cab behind him, but he was tied too tightly, forced to rub and bounce and jar with every motion of the truck.

Occasionally the jostling got too much for him; a couple of times he fainted, only to be woken by the next pothole or river crossing or climb up a bank.

After what seemed a couple of hours – at least, as far as his addled brain was able to tell – the truck pulled to a halt. The truck shuddered to a halt, the only noise the ‘tink tink’ of the cooling engine. Doors opened and closed, and the tailgate of the truck was dropped open. Todd jumped up made his way up to Jay.

“Now,” he said, “I'm going to have to take a few things, I'm afraid.” He bent down and pulled Jay's boots and socks off. He unstrapped Jay from the chassis, holding him upright as Jay discovered he didn't even have the strength left to sit up. Todd worked Jay's jacket off his shoulders, then pulled it out over his head, Jay limp as a rag doll.

Todd let Jay collapse into a pile on the truck bed as he went through the pockets. He pulled out the metal whisky flask and the message tube, still there after all this time.

“I'll let you have these, I think,” Todd said. “With any luck you'll start with the whisky and finish yourself off right away.” He jammed the items into Jay's trouser pockets, one each side. Then he grabbed Jay's arm, dragged him down the length of the truck, and dumped him unceremoniously off the end and into the dirt. Jay grunted, but had nothing more to give. He heard the truck's engine starting as he blacked out again.

Michael commented:

Typo! 'He unstrapped Jay from the, holding him upright as Jay discovered he didn’t even have the strength left to sit up.'