Miles Sutherland, Carter (Gil) Gillespie, Lyle Ashley Tate, Aiden Parker, Sandra Pierce, Agent Breslaw and mentions of Flynn Archer
9pm Saturday 22nd January, somewhere in small-town America
Miles stretched out his legs and gloomily surveyed the other occupants of the room. Gil and Lyle had their heads together and were having a deep and meaningful by the looks of it. Pity he couldn’t hear what they were saying. Lyle looked like he’d been sucking lemons, so it probably wasn’t going well between them.
Glancing out the corner of his eye at the young man sitting beside him, Miles noticed that although Aiden seemed relaxed and was stroking the fur on his dog’s head he kept checking the doorway, as if hoping to see Flynn walk in any minute. The dog seemed just as interested in something in the passageway, his mouth open and tongue lolling out.
Roofie lay sprawled at Miles’s feet, nose resting on his forepaws, his tail thumping on the floor every now and then. His silly mutt obviously wasn’t picking up on the tension in the room, more interested in Aiden’s Akita, Dante, than anything.
They’d all been told to meet at Lyle’s place at nine p.m. and been greeted at the door by the agent who’d been part of the clean up team after Vale died. What the fuck was his name again? Breslaw, that’s right. Miles gave a silent chuckle; no doubt Flynn would have been referring to him as Coleslaw if he’d been here.
Miles had been snowed under with work at the local clinic for the last few days and hadn’t heard much about Flynn’s condition except for the odd forlorn comment from Aiden that he still hadn’t regained consciousness. The strange thing was that when Miles finally managed to get time to give the hospital at Asher Bay a call, they said he wasn’t there. “Have you heard from Flynn, Aiden?”
Glancing up from the tiny spot on the floor he had been staring at, fingers still moving in Dante’s fur, Aiden nodded, making a small noise of agreement. “I saw him this morning… he was still unconscious,” he answered softly. “So I guess technically I haven’t heard from him.” He looked up briefly at Miles, then returned his gaze to the interesting spot on the floor.
Gil detected scarcely held in check emotion in Aiden’s voice. “It could be a while yet. Head injuries are funny things; one person can take a while to wake up, another can be awake in minutes. It’s not really predictable, is it, Doc?”
Miles ignored the young paramedic’s question for the moment. The brain did weird things and seeing it was Flynn’s brain under discussion, the chances were even greater than usual, especially given the amount of shit and secrets the young man had locked away in there. But something Aiden said didn’t make sense. “You said you saw him, Aiden? When? Where?”
Aiden paused before replying. “At the hospital before school.” Why was it that big of a deal when he had seen Flynn? Of course he knew where he was; he’d been with him when he was transported to Asher Bay. “I’ve been to visit him every day since.”
Miles blinked at the news. “Strange, when I rang the hospital before I came here tonight, they said he’d been discharged, or at least was no longer there.”
Aiden sat up straight and looked at him, shaking his head. “No, that’s not possible. He couldn’t have been discharged that fast. He wasn’t even awake this morning.”
Gil frowned at Miles. Why was the doc ignoring him now? Fine, if that was how he wanted to play it, he could ignore him too. “Did they misunderstand, Aiden? Mistake the name, maybe?” He turned back to Lyle who was looking distinctly uncomfortable. “You okay?”
“Ask Marshall Breslaw, apparently he makes all my decisions now.” Lyle wished he’d not said that, but it escaped before he could think it down. Being told who to invite to his home and when, without being told why, had him pissed as hell. Lyle felt he’d practically been under house arrest since Flynn Archer had killed his former boss, the town’s mortician, Henry Vale.
Lyle’s original handler, Agent Tyler, had vanished into the woodwork the same night Vale died. It was her negligence, or her deliberate betrayal, that had placed him within Vale’s field of influence to start with; he still wasn’t sure which Tyler was guilty of. He was still missing her, though. Marshall Breslaw, who claimed to be Tyler’s superior, was not Lyle’s ideal flatmate; the big man was graceless as a guest and uncommunicative as a guardian. Breslaw had spoken on the phone to people Lyle had never heard of before more than he had spoken to him since he moved himself in.
Gil resisted the urge to put an arm round Lyle. He figured it wouldn’t be all that welcome right now. He was himself a little unnerved by the summons. “So, anyone know why we’re here? What do we know, apart from the fact that we are, or were, linked by a common enemy?” Nobody said anything. Not a surprise, Gil thought. Something occurred to him. “Flynn wasn’t his real name, was it? Any chance the hospital had him under his real name?”
Miles shuffled his feet on the floor; he’d checked that, too. Would Flynn want the others to know his real name was Errol Ashton and the dismembered hands that had caused all this kerfuffle had belonged to his father? Aiden seemed confused which wasn’t surprising. Given he’d been kidnapped and imprisoned in a tiny room under the mortuary, he probably still thought of Flynn as a knight in shining armor coming to rescue him by slaying the dragon with a fountain pen through the eye. Pity Flynn had nearly killed himself in the process when he’d fallen and hit his head on the edge of a shelf. But Miles was on pretty good terms with his counterparts at Asher Bay, and they wouldn’t give him a bum steer. Flynn definitely hadn’t been in the hospital an hour ago.
Aiden shook his head. “No, he’s listed under Flynn Archer. I was there when they checked him in, and I gave them what I knew.” He hesitated a moment, lightly tugging on Dante’s ear as the dog whined. “I… put myself down as next of kin, just in case something happened. He doesn’t have any other family….”
“That was…kind,” Gil responded quietly. He met Aiden’s gaze briefly and sympathised with what he saw. At that moment the door opened and the now-familiar bulk of Marshall Breslaw blocked the entrance. His gaze swept round the room taking in the sight of the assembled company and he nodded, once, and moved out of the way. As he did so, he revealed another figure behind him, a woman dressed in brown, her blonde hair pulled severely back from her too-thin face. She reminded Gil far too much of one of his teachers at primary school, Mrs Atkinson…He shuddered. Her eyes were such a pale washed-out blue there was hardly any colour in them at all, and her smile, he was disturbed to see, was almost pasted on; it didn’t reach her eyes.
“Gentlemen,” Breslaw said, without hesitation. “This is Ms Sandra Pierce. She has something she would like to discuss with you.” Pierce, Gil thought, how appropriate.
“Gentlemen, hello. It seems you have a problem. Are you all aware Henry Vale, or as he was known to most law enforcement agencies, Heinrich Petrov, was a high ranking member of the Russian mafia?” She smiled blandly.
Shit. Looked like the mentions of Bratva, the Russian mafia, in the bloody diary Flynn found were accurate then. Miles sighed to himself. Given the insincerity of the woman’s smile, getting involved hadn’t been the smartest thing to do, but if they hadn’t done their own sleuthing, Flynn would probably be dead by now. It was only his and Gil’s arrival on the scene that had stopped him bleeding to death, and Aiden had been an emotional wreck if not a physical one.
“As you might imagine, they’re not terribly happy with what’s become of Vale. They’re the kind to hold grudges. We could hand them Archer, he’s nothing, but I don’t think they’d be satisfied with simply him. You’re all involved. You’re all targets.”
Miles winced at the word ‘target’ and her offhand dismissal of his cocky friend, but kept quiet. Who was this bitch? Her accent was almost non-existent. Was she even an American?
“Are we ‘nothing’ also, then?” Gil had gone cold at her reference to Flynn.
“No, clearly you’re something, or we wouldn’t extend this offer to you. We can give you new lives, out of the reach of the Russian mob. We’re the only ones who can.”
“So what are we supposed to do, fall at your feet in grateful thanks?” Anger was forcing itself through Gil’s carefully maintained exterior and he was having a hard time pushing it down. Now was not the time to lose it.
“Hardly. Just be ready to catch our plane out tomorrow. Follow our rules, and I can guarantee you will be safe.”
“Your rules? Do we get to find out what those are before we make the decision?” Gil frowned at her. “And what do you mean, catch your plane tomorrow? What’s the urgency?”
A small cough from the doorway drew their attention back to Agent Breslaw, whose color had heightened somewhat. “I’m sorry, but circumstances have altered since the other night. We have reason to believe Agent Tyler may have been working with Vale for some time and may now have wholly turned to the Russian Mafia. This is why a decision was made to involve Eidolon. They specialise in protecting people and creating good cover stories for their disappearance. We don’t want to alert the Bratva to our suspicions about Tyler, but we do want to get you out of harm’s way. I gave you my word we would keep you safe, remember?”
“We all have jobs, people relying on us,” Gil protested. “People who will ask questions if we simply leave. What can we bring with us? I cannot imagine that Miles or Aiden will want to leave their dogs behind…”
“You’re right. I’m not leaving my dog behind. But what I want to know is if this offer, or whatever it is, extends to Flynn. What do you plan on doing with him? Are you really going to turn him in?” Aiden’s eyes were narrowed at the woman, and he held on tightly to Dante’s collar.
A flick of a well manicured hand indicated that Ms Pierce thought these were only trivial concerns. “Your cover story is that you are joining Eidolon International to assist with rebuilding on Rapatoka Island, which was recently affected by a cyclone. You will be helping them, if that is acceptable to all of you. But you will, in actuality, be staying in the resort village on a nearby island we are calling “Mystery Island”. You can bring dogs, but do be careful. It’s a tropical island, and there’s all sorts of brand new hazards to manage.” She smiled, showing all her perfect white teeth in a canned beauty queen grin.
“Island? Where is this island then? Will we need vaccinations?” Gil was alarmed. These arrangements seemed way too sudden.
“Simply typhoid shots, which we will happily provide. We’re not asking you to join the Peace Corps. We’re all civilized people here. You’re not going to be living in mud huts.”
“I don’t care if I’m living in five star luxury, what do I do about my family?” Gil knew his mother would start to panic if she couldn’t call him. “They’ll worry if they can’t contact me, and I was only here on secondment from the UK for a year. Exactly how long are we going to be working for this Eidolon thing? If it’s longer than a year I might not have a job to go back to…”
“But you would be alive to go back.” Pierce said pointedly. “You will have email accounts that I advise you use exclusively. They randomize IP addresses so you’ll be impossible to trace. I’d also advise you keep your location vague. We are trying to protect you, after all, and if you tell your family precisely where you are, they’re in danger too. Keep it quiet. Make it sound as if you want to go there to aid in the humanitarian effort. We will liase with the agency that brought you here, Mr Gillespie.”
“But you didn’t answer the question, how long do you expect us to be working for Eidolon?”
“Before you answer any other questions, you never answered mine,” Aiden said forcefully. “What about Flynn? What’s going to happen to him?”
“We will bring him with us, if you insist. Although it might make it easier on all of you if you left him behind.”
“Frankly, after the way he’s behaved…” Gil looked at Aiden. “Still, I wouldn’t feel right leaving him to a bunch of wolves…”
“He saved my life. I’m not leaving him anywhere.”
“Let’s be honest, whether he is with us or not, I doubt we could be in more shit than we already are. Aiden, Flynn got you into this in the first place, he got us all into it, but having said that, I’m not even sure he knew how much shit he was in, and he did save you, can’t deny that.” Despite how much I would like to. Gil grimaced at the thought. “None of us is in this by choice. Shit happens, fact of life.”
Aiden gave Gil a blank stare before shaking his head. “Shit happens? No, this is more than that. Way more. Shit happens when you lock yourself out of your car, or when you lose twenty bucks. Shit happens when you’re walking down the street and a bird flies over you and shits on your new jacket. Getting kidnapped and watching your… watching someone die and another person get hurt? You can’t even begin to categorize that unless you place it along the lines of… oh let’s just say Hell. That’s what this is. Hell.”
Gil sighed. In his line of work he saw people die and others get hurt almost every day. Aiden wasn’t inured to it like he was though, and let’s face it, I wasn’t kidnapped and tortured and in fear for my life either. It’s all relative, he thought, looking at the young man’s distress. Aiden hasn’t experienced anything like this before. He hoped Miles had noticed the first signs of PTSD.
Pierce just stood there, smiling, hands clasped in front of her. “So, is this an agreement?”
“What? That Flynn comes with us?” Gil glanced around at the others. “Looks like it, unless anyone else has a comment…”
“Yeah, actually, I do have some comments,” Lyle interjected. “We haven’t actually agreed to go anywhere yet, so whether Flynn is coming with us or not is a bit of a moot point right now. I also understand he’s still comatose, so how would he get the care he’d need? And what if he doesn’t like that he’s been transported to your Mystery Island without his consent? You happy to face a charge of kidnapping, Aiden?… And ‘Eidolon’? What is that for heaven’s sake? Phantoms Incorporated? And “Mystery Island”? Really? This is sounding more like an episode of ‘Scooby Doo’ than a plan, Ms Pierce! Do the dogs get Scooby Snax too?”
Gil smiled despite himself. “Guess that makes us a bunch of meddling kids?” he suggested. Lyle huffed a small laugh.
Pierce had the good grace to look a little affronted, although Lyle had seen statues with more emotion. She swallowed a retort and smiled her professional smile but before she could open her mouth to reply, Lyle was speaking again, this time to his friends.
“And another thing… Do you guys understand what ‘tropical island’ translates as? Rampant homophobia and Victorian ‘Family Values’. Might as well give us Hansen’s disease; we’ll all be about as welcome as lepers on this island of theirs anyway!”
“I can safely say you will be as welcome as any other aid agency operatives. These people have suffered a disaster, they will welcome your help.”
“As long as we conform to your rules, eh?” Gil sighed. “Doesn’t look as if we have much choice.”
”Cake or death,” Lyle muttered under his breath.
“Pardon?” Gil was close enough to have heard him.
“Eddie Izzard.” Lyle explained. Gil smiled in understanding.
“Exactly,” Pierce said, ignoring their muttered comments. “Just tell anyone who asks that you will be away at least six months on a Humanitarian mission.”
Aiden groaned and dropped his head into his palms, muttering to himself. “I’m going to lose my teaching certificate. Shit.”
“We’ll supply you with whatever you need,” Pierce said and added with another dismissive flick of her hand, “including any relevant documents…”
“Are there any decent roads where we’re going? I don’t want to leave my bike behind, but if there are no good roads there’s no point in taking it. I’ll need it shipped home if I can’t take it with me.” Gil glanced across at Miles. He noted that the doctor had been suspiciously quiet for a while. “Miles? Nothing to add?”
“Up to you.” Miles shrugged. “I ain’t going anywhere.”
“You are aware this will get you killed quite quickly?” Pierce asked.
“Miles?” Gil was concerned. He hadn’t foreseen this development.
“You’re making the assumption I care whether I live or not, Ms Pierce.”
“Do you care about your friends? You will most likely be tortured for information.”
“Well, I’m certainly not putting myself in the hands of a couple of people I don’t know from Adam who waltz in here and try to take over my life. If I need to disappear, I’m quite capable of doing that by myself, thank you very much.”
Pierce chuckled mirthlessly. “No, you can’t. You’ve worked overseas, yes? You know how truly corrupt most institutions are. For the right price, anyone is for sale.”
“You’re assuming that when I disappear I’ll keep working as a doctor. Australia is a big place, lots of ways a man can blend into the landscape. I don’t and won’t be going.” Miles stood and pulled at Roofie’s chain.
“Let me get this straight. You’re fine with yourself dying, your friends getting killed, and the natives of Rapatoka Island suffering horribly as well?”
“Spare me the melodramatics, hon. I’m sure once some photos of little kids with bloated stomachs hit the internet, the place will be swarming with volunteers let alone crews from the Red Cross and Medecins sans Frontiers. Been there, done that. I can’t for the life of me see how putting us in that environment will be any more secure than me finding a nice hidie-hole somewhere the back of Bourke and going native. Heck, until I cleaned up recently I looked the part anyway.”
“You will be dead the moment your foot touches Australian soil, presuming you’re lucky enough to survive the flight. As for the natives, no pictures will be hitting the internet. No one knows the island exists; it couldn’t be more off the map. They’ll simply die, unknown by the world. Much like you.”
Gil watched the exchange thoughtfully. He hoped Miles was simply pushing to see how far he could go to get Pierce to react. He hoped. He actually hadn’t thought about any one of them refusing. It worried him more than he was comfortable with that Miles might actually be serious.
Miles snorted. “Since when could three or even four people make that much of a difference? You need a team of people for disaster relief: equipment, money, facilities to treat the injured, materials for rebuilding. The whole thing sounds like a lot of hoo-ha to me.” He shortened Roofie’s lead; the dog’s hackles had risen at his tone of voice. Seemed his mutt was the only other intelligent person in the room. “Plus, given the way you referred to Flynn, why should I have anything to do with you? You certainly don’t come across as a bunch of bleeding hearts. Why would you care what happens to us?”
“You’re that afraid of failure again, Doctor Sutherland?”
“Failure? If you’re referring to the fact I was thrown out of Somalia, that had nothing to do with failure.”
Pierce made a small noise in her throat, which almost sounded amused. “We have money; we simply need medical personnel who are familiar with disaster relief. If you feel you can’t do it, so be it. “
“I’m not ‘medical personnel’, “ Lyle chipped in, “I just bury their mistakes—no offence intended to present company. And I’m not even qualified to do that yet. What the hell use would I be, even if I did believe your fairy tales?” Lyle’s interjection was low and quiet, his eyes fixed directly on the woman.
Pierce and Breslaw exchanged a brief glance and then Breslaw addressed Lyle quietly. “We can discuss your options later, Mr Tate. I’ve already spoken to Ms Pierce concerning your skills.” Lyle glared at Breslaw, his stare openly challenging. He was angry enough to snap the big marshall’s neck, but retreated into silence again. He’d said what he felt the others needed to know, for now anyway.
“As for helping you,” Pierce continued, “we were asked to. Petrov was part of a federal sting that now has to be refocused because of his untimely, rather gruesome death. Now, they’d be happy to reset the sting and watch the mobsters pick each of you off, but they’d have to intervene at some point. They’d rather take down the big bosses, not the street thugs who would be sent after you.”
Miles had had enough of this bullshit. “All this talk of ‘they’ and ‘we’ – people who are too shit scared or too full of themselves to actually say who they are. There is no way you’ve come anywhere near convincing me that they, whoever they are, give a shit about what happens to one simple Aussie doctor. If the mafia want my butt, they’d steamroll me before I was even aware of it, and, quite frankly, Ma’am, I wouldn’t give a damn.”
“They honestly don’t give a damn, also. But we’re doing this as a favor. Perhaps you’d like to ask your friend Mr. Tate about that?”
Fucking Lyle? He was the last person Miles would ever want to ask for anything.
“Miles?” Gil’s voice was quiet, tentative. He glanced back at Lyle but the man was almost lost inside himself. He doubted that what he was about to say would do their budding relationship any good, but Gil couldn’t in all conscience let this be.
“Yes, Gil. Whadda you want?” Miles stopped at the doorway and turned back. Gil’s face had gone white. The young paramedic seemed to be struggling to find something to say. Before Lyle fucking Tate had arrived on the scene, the thought of not seeing Gil again might have actually hurt, which was strange as Miles hadn’t felt anything at all since Darren’s death, but now the thought of being stuck on an island with the two lots of lovebirds made him feel sick inside. Darren was here in the States, even if he was dead and buried. There was no way Miles wanted to go any further away from him.
Gil glanced once more at Lyle and, getting no reaction there, he threw caution to the winds. Crossing the room, he pushed Miles into the corridor and turned him right, guiding him into the kitchen. “Miles, what the fuck was that all about? You can’t…” Gil dug his fingers into Miles’ arm. “How can you think like this? They might not give a damn… but I do!”
Miles swallowed as Gil shoved him back against the wall and stepped right into him. Now their bodies were touching in so many places he lost count. God, the young man was gorgeous; there was some clean smell about him that got every one of Miles’ senses working overtime.
Gil’s heart was thumping too fast, coherent thought had evaporated. He did the only thing he could think of, something he had wanted to do for so damn long, and leaned in, his mouth closing over Miles’, his tongue demanding entry.
The touch of soft lips against his made Miles moan and his knees buckle. Part of him was responding to the kiss, the part that sent blood coursing through his body straight to his groin, the other part was vaguely registering that no-one had kissed him since the last simple chaste one he’d given his late husband shortly before he succumbed to AIDS. Then thought disappeared and he gave into the demanding tongue and let his body melt into the exchange. A soft whimper sounded, was it him or Roofie?
Pierce cleared her throat as she pushed past Gil and Miles. “Well, that’s settled then,” she observed in passing. She hefted up her briefcase, clicked it open, pulled something out and handed pieces of paper to both of them: glossy but seemingly amateurish printed brochures. “We’ll pick you all up at eight a.m. sharp. Dress for warm weather.”