Over the Scorpion Archipelago, November 5th, late p.m.
“Just keep flying. I’ll tell you when to land.”
It had been worth, well, everything really, all the aggravation, just to see their faces. Jim had reached on reflex for his gun at the sound of the voice behind him, but had seen sense and handed it over.
“Do you really think you’re going to get away with this?” asked Dirk through tight lips that suggested he knew the answer.
“Um,” Pete rubbed his chin in faux contemplation of the question, “yes – I think the odds have swung in my favour in the last few minutes. Considering I was up against two muscle-mutts, one deranged ex-lover, a guy I’d knee-capped and left for dead, who was armed and a bit pissed off with me, and a typical whinging convict with a chip on his shoulder against all things Pommie and me in particular, I think I’ve turned things around quite nicely.”
“For God’s sake,” said Jim. “Okay, the two heavies I can understand. But to pitch her out?”
Pete’s smile faded. “And what precisely were you about to do to her? Don’t forget, it was my wife she killed. Not that it bothers me now. After all, Jane was soiled goods.” He enjoyed watching Jim fight to control his anger. “Bet you wish you didn’t have such a prissy conscience now; hadn’t turned your back on me.”
“Told yer we should have just killed him and pitched him out the door,” said Dirk.
“And you were right,” said Pete. He addressed Jim. “But I guess you, like me, had had enough of death. And because of that, I’m not going to kill you – if you do what I say.” He turned the barrel of the gun towards Dirk. “Just bear this in mind; killing the two of you would be my easiest option. I can fly a plane. I could make you bring this down right now, dump your bodies and fly to a new life. But I’m only going to do two of the three.”
“Meaning?” The hostages spoke together.
“You see that little island?” He pointed ahead towards the horizon. “You’re going to take a short holiday there. Start taking her down.”
“Fuck you,” was the pilot’s pithy response.
“If you’re not careful, you’ll be left with only each other to fuck…for a long time. And I doubt there are any doctors or hospitals down there, so don’t make me shoot you in the arm or anything like that. Now I understand you’re a wee bit annoyed, so I’m going to allow you that one moment of bravado.” He pressed the barrel into Dirk’s neck. “Take her down, dirt bag.”
There were calm waters around the island at that moment and no rocks, a far cry from the Scorpion Archipelago. The plane taxied to a halt. Then Pete backed down the plane and beckoned the others to follow. With his gun trained on them at all times, he said: “You’re going to get the chance you never gave me. Pick up those supplies.” The remnants of the expedition camp were still on the plane. “Go on, don’t be shy; help yourselves. Tents, sleeping bags, food, stove, whatever.” They did as they were instructed. “Now inflate that boat and load the stuff.” Pete saw where his blood still stained the side of the inflatable.
When they were done, and Jim and Dirk sat in the boat, Pete stood in the doorway. “I think this makes us quits.” Dirk opened his mouth to speak, but Jim raised his hand to stop him. “In a couple of days, or however long it takes me to feel confident that the dust has settled after my departure, I’ll call the authorities and tell them where you are.”
“Why would you let us live?” asked Jim.
Pete opened his arms and shrugged his shoulders. “That’s the kind of guy I am. But maybe it appeals to the thrill-seeker in me to know that you might come a-hunting for me.”
“Whaddya mean ‘might’?” said Dirk.
“Tell you what though, I’d keep a nice fire going if I were you, just in case I can’t one hundred per cent remember where this place is. I’m not sure it’s got a name. Now enjoy your holiday. Better get paddling; I don’t think I left any juice in it. As for me, the flying doctor has one more house-call to make.”
“You leave the Professor alone,” said Dirk.
“I hope you’ll return me the same courtesy, though I doubt it. But don’t worry, I’m just going to reclaim what’s mine, and then hopefully move on to live a long, healthy life – a long, long, long healthy life. Toodle-oo.”
With that he closed the door and hurried to the cockpit before they had any chance to try something clever with the wing flaps.
As a door opens somewhere in Perth, a piece of paper flaps in the breeze. It stands on a table by a bay window, next to a half-finished cup of coffee, and weighted down with an object that looks like it is made of brass. A thick skin has formed on the coffee.
A hand reaches for and lifts the metal object, which almost glows as it reflects the early, oblique rays of the sun. The fingers curl around it, caress it, before replacing it and picking up the piece of paper. It seems to be a note, but turns out to be a poem, written in a shaky hand and with a name beneath. A voice whispers the words:
Take the kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! Yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep – while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
Edgar Allen Poe