Website Header New8.jpg
Beginning

Beginning

Skylar Murphy was already having a bad night. It was about to get a whole lot worse.
          As the light turned green she stabbed her foot at the accelerator and pushed her bus forward with a jolt. There were grumbles from the seats behind her. She turned her radio up.
          At a bus stop up ahead an old man stuck his arm out signalling for her to stop. She pulled in, brakes squealing, and opened the door just as the car following her overtook with a blast of its horn.
          ‘Goodnight to you too, dipshit!’ She called out the window. The boarding passenger scowled. ‘Not you, old man.’
          He paid and took the seat right at the front.
          Skylar hadn’t even noticed that there was another man behind the first. He was younger, maybe twenty, and he threw his cigarette onto the pavement before getting on the bus. Skylar could kill for a smoke.
          ‘Give me the money in your till.’
          ‘What’s that?’ Skylar turned to him. He had a box cutter, and he was holding it out in front of him with a shaking hand.
          ‘All the money in the tray. Now. Or I’ll stab you with this.’
          ‘You can’t be serious …’
          This had happened to Skylar twice before in her bus driving career. Usually in exactly this situation; late at night, the last route before heading back to the depot, someone tripping out on something. Once it was a gun, the other time a syringe. Both times she’d handed the money over as she’d been trained. It wasn’t her money, why should she care?
          But not today. It had been too shitty a day and this was the last straw. This punk had just gotten on the wrong bus.
          ‘Do I look like I’m joking, lady?’
          ‘I’m no lady.’
          Skylar planted her foot on the accelerator. The bus lurched forward to the exclamation of the other passengers. The punk kid grabbed onto the railing, the bus door still open behind him. There was the blast of a horn as she pushed the bus out from the curb, cutting someone off as she veered into the center lane.
          ‘Stab me now? We’ll crash and you’ll go straight through the windscreen.'
          ‘You’re insane!’
          ‘I’m not the one with the knife. Throw it out the door and I’ll stop the bus!’
          The other the passengers were screaming. All the color had drained from the old man’s face. The bus shot through a red light and the shouting got louder.
          ‘Just give him the money!’ someone yelled, but Skylar was having none of it. She was too tired and too pissed to simply hand money to this kid. This was her bus, dammit.
          The radio was playing Sweet Caroline.
          Then things changed. The man with the knife swung the weapon away from her and held it towards the old guy in the passenger seat.
          ‘Screw you. Stop the bus, or I’ll cut him!’
          Skylar flashed a look across. The old geezer was going to have a heart attack, she thought.
          ‘Pull over! He’ll kill him!’ Someone yelled from behind.
          ‘Crazy bitch!’
          How was it that she was the crazy one? Skylar wondered. She yanked the wheel hard to the left and swerved into oncoming traffic. More screams. She was just a bus driver. She yanked the wheel back, trying to knock the kid off his feet. She wasn’t the one waving a box cutter around.
          ‘I’ll do it!’ The kid yelled. ‘I’ll cut him good!’
          She looked at his wild eyes and his white knuckles, at the sweat on his forehead and the spit on his lip. Would he do it? How was this going to end?
          Skylar swerved again. More screams.
          ‘Just give him whatever he wants!’
          In amongst the yelling, no one had been listening to the radio. Neil Diamond, however, had been interrupted and it was at that moment, at 11:35pm on 1 May, 2011 that the president’s voice cut through.
          ‘Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of …’
          Skylar straightened the steering wheel. The people paused their yelling.
          The punk kid looked at the passengers, trying to work out what was going on.
          They got him, Skylar thought. They’d finally got him.
          And the old man leant forward and punched the punk kid in the face.
          The boy swore. The bus slowed. But, before the young man could swing back, another passenger had leapt forward and pushed him against the windscreen. And then another reached out and grabbed his arm. Someone else ran forward and grabbed the knife, then threw it out the door.
          Skylar pulled the bus to a stop in the middle of the street and sat silently as a swarm of passengers drove the young man out onto the road.
          And nobody blasted their horn.

Vertigo

Vertigo

Casey walked out onto the rooftop for the fourth time that week. A smoko. A sanity-break. Whatever you wanted to call it. She was escaping the prison of her supermarket checkout for five minutes. Sometimes it turned into ten.
          But something caused her thumb to fumble on the lighter.
          Across the flat roof, staring five stories down to the pavement below, was a man.
          A soldier.
          In full US Army uniform.
          In a wheelchair.
          About to roll himself off the edge.
          ‘STOP!’
          Casey hadn’t even thought about it. Her voice had simply barrelled up from within her and charged out her mouth and across the roof. She moved towards him as the man turned his head in fright.
          ‘Oh, no. Go away! Get back. Wherever you came from, go back there!’ All his words tumbled over each other like a box of books falling down the stairs.
          Casey shook her head, her cigarette still unlit between her fingers.
          ‘I can’t. No way.’
          ‘Yes, you can,’ the man said. His name was Anderson. She could see it printed on his uniform.
          ‘I’m here now, I can’t go.’
          ‘Pretend you saw nothing! I just wanted five minutes of silence before I …’
          ‘Don’t say it.’
          ‘Shit!’ And he turned his head, readied his arms on the tops of the wheels and …
          ‘PLEASE!’
          And for a moment they were frozen in time. Nothing moved. His shoulders were tense, his triceps taut beneath his sleeves, everything hanging in the balance. Casey forgot to breathe.
          ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Anderson asked through clenched teeth. ‘Do you know how hard it is to summon the will ...?’
          Actually, she did.
          ‘Don’t do it, man,’ Casey said. Should she offer him the cigarette? His arms were so tense she could see them beginning to tremble. ‘Do you want to … I dunno … talk about it or something?’
          She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Should she grab the back of the wheelchair? Casey was too nervous to move.
          He was still looking over the edge. She didn’t have to follow his gaze. She was more than familiar with the view.
          ‘What do you think will happen to my body when I land?’ He asked.
          ‘It won’t be good.’ She slowly moved over until she was level with him at the edge.
          ‘I might even hit someone.’
          Casey looked down at the pedestrians walking along, oblivious to what was transpiring above them.
          ‘You might not even die.’
          He thought about that for a moment, and then said: ‘Could end up in a … wheelchair?’
          In any other situation that might have been a joke worth laughing at. She looked at him. He was still fixated on the ground. Would he do it? Would he come back tomorrow? Would he just find another way?
          Casey knew all about that. About the obsession.
          ‘I should tell you something,’ she said as they kept their eyes on the street. ‘I came up here because I was thinking about … jumping. About doing the same thing. In fact, I’ve come up here every day this week … trying to “summon the will” as you put it.’
          ‘For real?’
          ‘Who knows? If you hadn’t been here, doing this, maybe today would have been my day.’
          Anderson looked at her curiously. ‘Maybe we should both …’
          That made Casey feel sick. She shook her head madly. But then she saw a way through.
          ‘No, no. I think the opposite. I tell you what, I’ll make you a deal. You don’t do it, and I won’t do it. But if you do roll yourself off here, I’ll be right behind you.’
          ‘That’s ridiculous. You’re so young. I’m a crippled Iraq veteran with nowhere to go. Don’t tie your fate to mine.’
          ‘No, I’m serious. Both of us or neither of us.’
          ‘That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard. I reckon I could come up with ten reasons why you shouldn’t do it.’ Anderson said.
          Casey thought for a moment. ‘Then you should. And we’ll meet. In one week. In that coffee shop down there. You and me.’
          Anderson looked where she was pointing. A small cafe with tables out the front.
Somewhere to have a conversation.
          ‘This is ridiculous.’
          ‘You have to be there.’
          After a moment: ‘It does appear to be wheelchair friendly.
 

*****

 

They went back down together, via the Goods Lift that he’d ridden all the way to the roof. They exchanged numbers and decided on a time for their coffee shop meeting. Casey went back to work without ever having lit her cigarette.
          Anderson wheeled himself around the corner and smiled. Then he stood up.
          He was an Iraq veteran, that had been true. He was plagued by nightmares and he did have nowhere to live. That was why he’d been staying with his brother in an apartment down the street.
          It was from that apartment window that he had watched Casey for the last three days, standing on the rooftop and willing herself to jump.
          So he’d borrowed his brother’s wheelchair and decided to try something.
          And maybe, just maybe, it might have worked.

Fugitive

Fugitive

There were three reasons Peter Tombs was sweating.
       Firstly, because in his carry-on luggage there was an encrypted hard drive. Saved to that drive were just fewer than twelve-hundred documents stolen from his employer. MTP Inc was a private military, engineering and construction firm formerly owned by Halliburton. It had contracts in Kosovo, Cuba and Afghanistan.
       The second reason Peter was sweating? He wasn’t the only employee of MTP who’d been on that plane. He was being followed. He was being hunted.
       The third reason was that he’d just landed in Kampala, Uganda and it was bloody hot. Peter scanned the lines of people behind him. In a moment he was going to be clear of the Entebbe Airport armed guards. They didn’t know it, but they were keeping Peter alive with their very presence. He looked at his watch. 11:51am. He could well be dead by the time those two hands lined up.
       He had one person he could lean on for help. Their name was 461GX, they worked for Wikileaks and the only way he ever spoke to them was through an encrypted messaging app on his phone.
       PETER: I’m here. But someone’s followed me.
       461GX: How do you know?

       He ignored that. There wasn’t time.
       PETER: You need to help me get to somewhere I can upload.
       Once through security, Peter jogged to the cafeteria. Stay in view of the security cameras, he told himself.
       461GX: I’m getting a blue print of the terminal and I’ve called you a cab. Give me a minute and I’ll be able to direct you so you won’t have to use the main entrance. 
       The cafeteria was full of people waiting to depart. Peter caught the eye of a young waitress who was watching him. A man at the baggage carousel was looking his way.
       PETER: You need to hurry or this hard drive will be gone.
       He met the man’s eyes.
       ‘Excuse me, sir? Are you ok?’ Peter turned. It was the waitress. ‘You look lost.’
       He looked back down at his phone. Nothing from 461GX. The man at baggage claim was starting to walk in his direction.
       ‘I am lost, actually, yes.’ He said. She wasn’t looking at his eyes. She was looking at the perspiration on his forehead.
       ‘Where do you need to go?’
       ‘I actually need to get out of the terminal, but not by the main entrance. Someone’s following me. Can you help me?’
       461GX: There’s a taxi waiting for you around the side. I’ve almost got the blueprints.
       She looked surprised. ‘Who’s following you?’
       Peter nodded in the direction of the approaching man and the waitress followed his gaze.
       ‘OK, I can help you,’ she said. ‘Follow me.’
       PETER: Don’t worry about it. Someone is helping me.
       461GX: Who?
       PETER: Waitress.

       He followed her away from the cafeteria and down the main hallways towards a sign for the bathrooms. She glanced over her shoulder as though to check he was right with her.
       461GX: Careful.
       PETER: She’s fine.
       461GX: How do you know?

       They moved down a corridor that was signed to the bathrooms, but instead of turning left towards the amenities, he followed her right, away from the public areas.
       461GX: I have the blueprints. You want to head north beyond the baggage claim and then there’s a fire exit.
       PETER: We’re going in the opposite direction, by the bathrooms.
       461GX: Why? Are there any cameras?

       He glanced at the ceiling. There were not cameras. They walked passed a janitors storeroom.
       461GX: Did you approach her? Or did she approach you?
       Peter looked at the back of the young Ugandan woman. She looked so innocent. Surely she wasn’t leading him into a trap. He held his satchel tighter against his side.
       461GX was right. The woman had approached him. That was odd, wasn’t it?
       ‘I think I’ll go back,’ he said.
       She stopped. ‘Why? It’s just through …’
       The waitress was pointing at the double doors.
       Could MTP really have gotten to cafeteria staff at Entebbe airport?
       What was beyond those doors? He started to back away.
       ‘Sir, it’s just through there,’ she protested.
       He looked down at his phone.
       461GX: The taxi I’ve organized is outside. Get the hell out of there.
       Peter turned and ran.
       ‘Hey!’ He heard the woman call out from behind him. The blood was pounding in his ears, his shoes screeching on the polished floor. He flew by the bathrooms, back out into the main terminal. Peter searched the large room for the man from the baggage claim. He was gone. It had been her all along!
       He fired a look back over his shoulder as he ran by the baggage carousel in the northerly direction given to him by 461GX. Beyond a hire car vendor he saw a small glass door leading to outside. Peter threw himself through the doorway and out into the fresh African air.
       And right there, as promised, was a taxi.
       He dove into the back seat and slammed the door. The driver, obviously under instruction, tore away from the curb before Peter could even get his balance.
       Finally, he could breathe.
       He looked at the driver. A young African, but not a Ugandan, Peter thought. He looked at the front passenger seat. An open laptop was sitting there. Unusual. 
       They were moving along the main street at high speed when the driver suddenly turned and looked at Peter. Or rather, he looked at the satchel.
       ‘I believe that belongs to me.’
       And suddenly everything clicked. The laptop. The driver was 461GX.
       The vehicle pulled to a rapid stop on the side of the highway.
       Peter was sweating again, squeezing the satchel as though he was hanging on to life itself. The driver pulled a gun from his lap.
       461GX wasn’t from Wikileaks at all. He was from MTP Inc.
       The sound of the gunshot was not unusual on this stretch of road.
       No one even slowed down.

Siege

Siege

The gates came down and the mob breached the walls of the US Special Mission, Benghazi, Libya. The year was 2012. 
       Anderson looked out a second floor window, an MP5 submachine gun in his hands. Where was the Ambassador?
        A few hours earlier protestors had also stormed the US embassy in Cairo, in response to an offensive YouTube video that was circulating back home.
        ‘Didn’t we just liberate them from Gaddafi? What are they attacking us for?'
        Anderson looked beside him. It was one of his MTP Inc colleagues - civilian contractors, most of them ex-military, now working private security around the world. Anderson knew the answer to his question, but now was hardly the time to explain it. To say the Libyan situation was complicated would be an understatement. Yes, the revolution had overthrown a dictator, but scores of tribal militias were now vying for control of the country and the newly established National Transitional Council had an insurmountable task ahead of them.
        Anyway, that was not his problem. His job was the Deputy Ambassador and the fact that they needed to get her out of here. His unit commander, Cooke, appeared in the doorway.
        'There's a Pave-Hawk chopper on the way. We're moving her to the roof.'
        'What about the Ambassador?'
        Cooke gestured towards the window. 'They're looking for him. He's somewhere out there in his car.'
        Suddenly, a crash. Windows were being smashed downstairs.
        The Deputy Ambassador appeared in the doorway, her eyes wide.
        'OK let's move.'
        They filed out of the room and moved swiftly down a long corridor, Anderson bringing up the rear.
        Through one doorway, by a conference room and into a corridor on the other side. The whole building reverberated with the rhythmic thump of the front doors being smashed in.
        They went passed the kitchen and Anderson didn't see him at first. He would have missed him all together except he heard a faint cry. He stopped and doubled back to the kitchen doorway.
        A small boy was huddled behind a chair in the corner. He must only have been four or five.
        'Anderson! Get up here.' It was Cooke from further along the hallway.
        The child was looking at him with big dark eyes. What should he do? He didn't recognise this boy, but he could hear the voices of the protesters echoing on the ground floor. He couldn't leave the boy to the mob, could he?
        'Anderson! That's an order!'
        The soldier shook his head. He would never have done it when he was part of the US Army, but a lot had changed for him since his Baghdad days. He could hear the mob coming. He would not leave the boy alone.
        Gripping his MP5 he charged into the kitchen towards the boy.
        But the boy started screaming.
        This took Anderson by surprise. He was already separated from his unit. He'd expected to just run in, grab the boy and keep moving. But the boy looked terrified of him and he was screaming as loudly as his little lungs could manage.
        The mob were moving up the stairs from down below. Anderson dropped to his knees so he was on the boy's level.
        'I know you're frightened,' he said. 'But if you come with me, I can keep you safe.'
        He extended a hand but the boy recoiled, shifting his body further behind the chair. Shit. Anderson didn't have children of his own. He didn't even have nieces and nephews. What do you say?
        'I'm not going to hurt you.' He put the gun down and extended his second hand as well. They didn't have time for this. The protesters were in the hallway now. The boy looked at Anderson's two open hands and shifted ever so slightly towards him.
        That was going to have to be enough.
        Before the boy knew what was happening, Anderson scooped him up into his left hand, grabbed his MP5 with his right and ran out of the room after the rest of his unit.
        Suddenly the building went dark. Someone had killed the power.
        He stole a look over his shoulder and saw six men in the moonlight, all carrying bits of rod and pipe. They had seen him too, and they were coming after him.
        Whoosh! Another source of light. Fire. They were going to burn the place to the ground.
        Around a corner he found the stairs to the roof. He could hear the rotors of the chopper creating a hurricane above. As he took the stairs two at a time he could feel the boy’s fingers digging into his neck.
        Sure enough, on the roof the helicopter had arrived. The Deputy Ambassador and her three aides were being loaded in.
        'Get on the bird!' Cooke barked. Anderson ran towards the helicopter, the boy practically slung over his shoulder now.
        'What about the Ambassador?'
        Cooke shook his head. 'Dead.'
        This was bad, Anderson thought. Really bad. He began to lift the boy onto the helicopter. It was the Deputy Ambassador who stopped him.
        'You can't bring the child!' She said, holding out her arm.
        'We have to, ma'am,' he responded, but she was shaking her head emphatically.
        'He's a Libyan boy. His mother works in the consulate. In the kitchen or something. She'll be here. You can't just take him!'
        Anderson looked from the ambassador to Cooke.
        'We can't leave him for the mob,’ he protested. 'They're going to burn the building to the ground.’
        'Not your problem, Anderson. We’re here to get the Deputy Ambassador out safely. And we’re going now. Leave the kid!'
        Anderson looked at the boy. He looked at the chopper. Then he glanced back at the doorway he had come through. What option did he have?
        'I'm staying,’ he said.
        'What?'
        ‘I'm staying with the child. We’ll find his mother.’
        Cooke climbed aboard, glaring back at the Iraq veteran. 'Consider yourself unemployed, Anderson. This is not the army remember. I'm not coming back for you.'
        He turned and yelled something at the pilot. The Pave-Hawke helicopter lifted off the roof and Anderson shielded the boy's eyes from the wind.
        Then he moved his finger onto the trigger of his MP5 and turned to face the doorway.
        ‘It's just you and me now, kid.' Anderson said. ‘Let’s find your Mom.’

Jetlag

Jetlag

Tokyo. A hotel room that seemed closer to the stars than the street.
            Chelsea sipped her tea and continued tapping away at her iPad keyboard. She was an American here chasing a story about commercial whaling. In the next room, lying on the bed, was a Japanese man she had met six hours earlier in the hotel bar. It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
            Now, here she was in the early hours of the morning, the faint sounds of sirens and rain on the windows, using her Jetlag for productive means while her one-night-stand slept off the three bottles of Pinot.
            CRASH! 
            Chelsea felt that cold zap of electricity in her veins that is always immediately followed by the feeling that you jumped before you even heard the sound.
            It had come from the other room. Dumbass must have fallen out of bed.
            'You all right in there?' She called, not really wanting to step away from the screen. She was on a roll.
            No answer. Odd. Surely he couldn't have slept through a fall like that. Not one that made that much noise.
            'Seriously? You ok?'
            Not a sound.
            Without her permission, her mind began to run a series of hypotheticals: he'd had a cardiac arrest and was dead on the floor, she'd have to call the ambulance and the cops, she'd be hauled in for questioning, she would sound suspicious because she wouldn't even be able to tell them his name, they wouldn't let her go and instead find some exotic drug in his system, she'd be charged with murder and suddenly she realised how little information she had on the Japanese prison system.
            She'd better check on him.
            When she got to the door of the bedroom, the mattress was empty.
            Chelsea walked to the end of the bed, expecting to see him on the floor.
            Nothing.
            Vanished.
            Gone.
            She spun around, suddenly afraid.
            The glass door to the balcony was firmly shut as she'd left it. There was no sign of him in the ensuite. And then she saw what had made the sound. The large television in the corner had smashed onto the floor. The power cord was pulled out from the wall.
            What the hell...?
            Chelsea no longer felt safe.
            She turned back to the balcony. It was the only way he could have gone out ... And the only way someone could have come in.
            She opened the door and stepped out into the cold night air. It was silent except for the wind, which whistled through the high-rise with an eery whine, chilled by the light rain.
            He wasn't on the balcony, which surely only left one option didn't it?
            Shit.
            She was only here to write an article on whales! He'd smelt nice when they'd met in the bar, that was all. What had she suddenly become caught up in? Was she about to look over the edge and see a body on the sidewalk hundreds of meters below?
            Police cars. Flashing lights. People. She couldn't see a body from this height, but he must have jumped. Shit shit shit! This couldn't be happening. A work trip, a one-night stand in an exotic city - these were normal things, right? But, no, not this. Your lover was not supposed to throw themselves from a high-rise balcony in the middle of the night.
            I guess everyone says it's a surprise after someone kills themselves, she thought. But he really hadn't seemed like the type. The sex hadn't even been bad. He hadn't seemed depressed in the bar. And what about the TV?
            'I've got to get out of here,' she actually said out loud. Then she mumbled curses under her breath in a pulsing rhythm. The night felt too dark.
            She was going to be last the person who had seen him alive.
            Chelsea went back into the main room straight from the balcony, grabbed her iPad and her satchel from the sofa and gave the room one last scan. Nothing seemed out of place, did it? Those wine glasses were where they had left them on the coffee table. The bag of crisps from the mini bar. His jacket, exactly where they'd taken it off.
            Nothing was ...
            The door.
Chelsea spun around. The glass door from this room to the balcony. It had been open. She'd just walked in through an open door. Only it hadn't been open earlier, when she'd been sitting here typing up her notes. It was too cold. She'd had it closed.
            Which meant ...
            The pennies dropped. He hadn't been depressed. But he had gone over the edge. He hadn't committed suicide, because someone had opened the door afterwards. There was someone else in this apartment. Someone who had grabbed him from his bed, knocked over the TV and thrown him over the edge.
            And while she had been in the bedroom trying to solve the mystery, the killer had come back in through the other door, which meant he could still be here.
            Chelsea ran in the direction of the front door.
            Down the corridor. Around the corner.
            She grabbed the door handle. She twisted.
            It didn't move.
            Locked. Stuck. Who knew? What she did know was that she couldn't open it.
            She couldn't get out of the apartment.
            Clutching her bag to her chest she wondered only one thing. Was the killer still in here?
            BANG!
            For someone already highly on edge, the massive sound forced a scream from her lungs. The whole front door shook.
            BANG! Again.
            Someone was trying to break down the door. She could see it splintering near the lock. Surely it would only take one more ...
            CRASH!
            Chelsea fell back against the wall as the front door was smashed through by some sort of battering ram. Her head struck the plaster and stunned her.
            As she looked up she found herself looking at five armed Japanese police officers.
            'Is he in here?' They demanded in English.
            'I don't know,' she stammered and they charged by her and into the apartment. As soon as the feet were gone, she clambered across the floor and out into the hotel hallway.
            'Clear!' she heard them yell in Japanese.
 
 
In the street below, Tengo, fugitive assassin, looked back up at the balcony hundreds of meters above. He had enjoyed his evening with the American woman.
            But it had all changed when he'd woken in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens. Somehow, the police had found him and he needed to get out. He'd pulled the TV over to create a diversion, snuck out onto the balcony and then back in again when she'd gone to investigate. The locked door, well all of it really, had just been to buy him more time. The last thing he'd needed was the woman calling security to say he was on his way down.
            Tengo lit a cigarette in the light rain. Must have scared the hell out of her, he thought with a smile and went on his way.

Wolf: Part One

Wolf: Part One

His name was Dmitry and he knew something was wrong.
          He couldn’t explain it. He couldn’t explain many things. He was only ten. Holding his pencil between his thumb and index finger, rolling his thumb back and forth so that the pencil appeared to undulate in the space in front of his nose, he felt a draught of cool air catch the fine hairs on the back of his neck.
          It was oddly calm in the classroom today. They had a substitute teacher and her face reminded him of the weathered concrete walls that his own apartment building was made from. Pitted and cracked and historic.
          Something was definitely not right.
          Dmitry watched the pencil swim up and down in the air like a slow fish. His normal teacher would sometimes play Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev in the background while the children worked. He felt like he could hear it then, even though there was no way it was playing. An orchestra of strings and woodwind swelling within his mind.
          Did the other children think there was something wrong? From where he sat, head lying on his arm which was resting on the desk, he could see some of their faces. Everyone was diligently working it seemed, except for him. Maybe none of them knew what was happening outside. He couldn’t take his eyes away from his dancing pencil. He didn’t know what was outside either. But something.
          The door to the classroom was closed. Outside it was a corridor.
          He had felt this feeling before, the day his father left. He had woken up with it and it seemed to correlate with the fact that he could remember every second of that day in minute detail. Would this day be the same?
          The teacher had heard something. Dmitry hadn’t heard it, despite his hyper-alertness, but he watched the sound pass across her face as quickly as a moving shadow. Her eyes flicked in the direction of the door. That door that opened onto the corridor. The corridor that led outside. He knew the school intimately.
          Which reminded him to look around the room and find the good hiding spots again. The cupboard, the curtains, the changing room. He always made a point to find the best hiding places, no matter where he was.
          Why were her eyes flicking? His pencil was still now.
          Dmitry’s favourite character in Peter and the Wolf was the duck, represented with an oboe by the composer. The duck followed Peter out the gate and into the meadow, getting into an argument with the bird. The bird was making fun of the duck because it couldn’t fly. The duck argued back that the bird could not swim.
          He liked to escape here. In his dreaming there was Peter, standing there in the meadow, watching the duck and the bird arguing while the cat circled around. And somewhere, the wolf.
          There was a bang somewhere outside the classroom. Dmitry sat up straight. The others had heard it to, but they just looked at each other and decided it was a garbage bin falling over or a door slamming in the wind.
          Dmitry knew better. He didn’t know why. He just had instincts about these things.
          Peter alerted the bird to the presence of a cat and if flew safely into the tree. But the cat was not the looming danger. That was when, in the story, Peter’s grandfather would always come storming out and drag him back behind the wall and out of the meadow. It was not safe, he would say, but Peter would always reply that boys like him were not afraid of wolves.
          Dmitry was not a boy like Peter. He was afraid of wolves. That’s why he preferred the oboe and the duck. He wasn’t like Peter. He couldn’t be.
          Someone was yelling outside. The teacher stood up, casting looks at the door as though a wolf might come through at any moment. She didn’t say anything, but Dmitry could see how her fingers were trembling lightly on the desk like they might have on the violin strings that represented Peter.
          There was a very loud crack then. The teacher jumped. One of the girls in the class screamed with surprise. No one was thinking about their history lesson any more.
          Another crack, this time louder, closer. Screaming outside. And yelling. A man.
          Dmitry was gripping his pencil very tightly. How had he known something was about to happen? How had he known about the wolf?
          Suddenly the door of their classroom was slammed open and a grey man walked in with a gun. The children screamed. The cat climbed the tree. The teacher jumped. The bird flew to a higher branch. Dmitry and the duck ran.
          He fled from his seat, skidding across the floor and slid straight into the closest of his hiding places – the storage cupboard. He pulled the door closed behind him and sat on the ground in the dark, holding his arms around his legs and wondering if he had been seen.
          Why did he feel such a connection with the duck? Why was the duck, the bird who could not fly, his favourite character? After all, in the story of Peter and the Wolf, the duck gets eaten.
          Slowly someone opened the cupboard door. Dmitry looked up into the face of the teacher. She was extending a hand to him. Why had she uncovered his hiding spot? Why was she asking him to come out to face the wolf? Wasn’t she supposed to keep him safe?
          And then, as she led him back out into the room, Dmitry realised why she had known something was wrong before everyone else had.
          She was friends with the wolf.
          She led him back through the desks and the other children until they were standing in front of the grey man with the gun. When the wolf ate the duck, he ate the duck so quickly that the duck survived. When Peter caught the wolf at the end of the story you could hear the duck still quacking in its belly. Maybe that’s what would happen to him?
          He looked up at the tall man in front of him, past the big gun and the grey coat to the scraggly beard, the dirty face and a pair of blue eyes. The teacher was still holding Dmitry’s hand when the wolf spoke.
          ‘I’m not going to hurt you, Dmitry.’ He said. ‘I’ve come for you. You’re my son.’
 
To be continued …

Wolf: Part Two

Wolf: Part Two

Marina watched the school children run across the playground into the arms of more than fifty police officers. The negotiators had done their job. They’d convinced the gunman to release the children from the school.
            All of the children, except for one.
            Dmitry. Her son.
            Marina was not about to sit around and listen to the police strategising while her only child was being held at gunpoint by none other than her ex-husband.
            That was her son in there.
            She was going to get him.
            The first thing was to slip away from the police command that had been set up at the school gate. She had been there for the last two hours while they had thrown her question after question about the man she had once been married to, Sergei Klovoc. Was he sane? Was he normally violent? What did she think he wanted? Stupid questions.
            Marina slipped away from the trucks and the flashing lights and ran through the parking lot, passed the caretaker’s shed, by the oval to the tennis courts where she knew a gate would be unlocked.
            Dmitry was a beautiful boy – delicate and deeply introverted. He’d now been trapped in the classroom for close to three hours. What was Sergei doing to him? What was he telling him?
            Marina ran across the tennis court to the back of the main school block. Bags and books were scattered everywhere, dropped by terrified children as they’d run out of the school. These students were being held by their parents right now, comforted by those who loved them.
            Not her son. He was still inside.
            As she moved into the locker room she reminded herself of the things she knew from her conversations with the police. She knew he was in Dmitry’s classroom, and still there because Sergei had stayed on the classroom telephone to them nearly the whole time. She knew he had an accomplice, the substitute teacher and Sergei’s new girlfriend. She knew they were armed, knew they had Dmitry in there alone, knew there was no one else in the school and she knew that now the police were aware she was inside. The back entrance may have been open, but police snipers were watching it in case Sergei decided to make a run for it.
            It was dark inside the school corridors, the power having been shut off by the police. With her shoes off to avoid making a sound she ran down the corridors and up a set of stairs.
            And now here she was, looking down the hallway at his classroom door. Her son was just inside.
            The door opened.
            Marina panicked and pulled herself back behind a set of lockers.
            It was the woman. She was carrying a weapon – some type of handgun – and she was checking the corridor for signs of life.
            Here we go.
            Marina took a school bag that was discarded on the ground, pulled a pencil case from inside and retrieved two pens and a pair of scissors. In a second school bag she found a bag of marbles. Perfect.
            The first marble rolled through the shadows, making a sharp chink against the tin of a locker door. Marina watched the woman’s head turn sharply. She waited a moment and then sent another marble rolling down the corridor. As long as they stayed in the shadows the teacher would hear them but not know where they were coming from.
            She began to walk Marina’s way, gun held out in front. Dmitry’s mother pulled herself tight against the wall, hardly daring to breathe. She could no longer see the armed woman approaching, only hear her.
            The teacher’s footsteps got closer.
            Stopped.
            Another step.
            Should she wait any longer?  Marina decided she didn’t have an option. It was now or not at all.
            She lobbed one last marble up over her head, over the lockers, back up the corridor the way the teacher had come. It sailed silently through the air until it hit the lino hard about five metres back up the hallway.
            Marina was relying on the fact that the woman would turn sharply towards the sound, and away from Marina.
            Dmitry’s mother charged out of her hiding place, leapt on the teacher from behind and plunged the pair of scissors straight into her neck.
            The two of them crashed to the ground, the gun clattering across the floor, blood bursting from the woman’s throat. The sound was so shocking in the silence of the hallway that Marina was propelled forward. Despite having her eyes sprayed with blood she clambered to the gun, picked it up and ran towards the classroom door.
            Sergei would know someone was coming now.
            He wasn’t expecting Marina.
            She saw it all across his face as she entered the room, her handgun held out in front of her.
            ‘Dmitry,’ she said the moment she saw her son. Her boy was there, his estranged father behind him with a large rifle pointed into his back. He hadn’t been crying, she observed. What had gone on in this room the last three hours?
            ‘Stop there, Marina. Drop the gun or I’ll kill your boy.’
            She looked at the man she had once called her husband.
            ‘He’s your boy too.’
            ‘You’ve killed Anna?’
            ‘I don’t know,’ Marina replied. ‘I think so. Let him go, Sergei. You can’t kill your own son.’
            ‘I was never going to, Marina. I was going to take him away. Away from you. Away to be with me … and with Anna. But now …’
            ‘You were trying to hurt me? But now … what?’
            ‘Now that you've killed Anna, well there’s only one way …’
            Marina felt her stomach tighten.
            ‘We must both die. He and I must go and be with Anna.’
            Dmitry may not have been crying before, but he was now.
            ‘What are you talking about, Sergei?’
            The madman smiled.
            ‘I will shoot Dmitry … and then you will shoot me.’
            Marina took a sharp breath in and held it.
            Sergei grinned and levelled the gun at the back of her child’s head.
            ‘It’s the perfect end, Marina. Not murder-suicide. Murder-murder. I win.’
            The panic roared into her brain. Think QUICK!
            ‘Dmitry! In Peter and the Wolf, what should the duck have done instead of running?’
            They’d shared this story so many times and she watched the answer flick into her child’s eyes. Dive into the pond! 
            ‘Do it!’
            Her son obeyed her exactly, launching himself forward towards the floor.
            And the moment he moved, while Sergei tried to compute a reference he didn’t understand, she squeezed the trigger.
            Once.
            Twice.
            The wolf was dead.

Drowning

Drowning

The pair of headlights came flying around a bend in the country road, disregarded the center line and smashed head-on into Phil Harvey's utility.
            It was a rainy night and as steel and water, glass and leather, rubber and asphalt collided, twisting and morphing together, the two cars careered off the unlit road and down a muddy embankment. Somehow the vehicles had become locked to each other; Phil's car upright, the Land Rover on a dislocated angle, and they slid and scraped and dropped down the slope and into a fast  flowing, icy cold river.
            Phil was unconscious to begin with, a deep red gash on his forehead. But then the frigid fluid of the river found the cracks and the openings in his ute and eventually his skin. He shivered his way to lucidity through a maze of memories and images: the branding of his handyman business on the side of his truck; his wife receiving her literary prize at a highfalutin function of canapés and wankers; the list of twenty-six to-dos she'd stuck to the fridge for him, written on one of his own work quotes; and finally the emails to Jason, her publisher and also her lover, suggesting he join her at her country home where she was working on her new novel, away from the monotony of Phil.
            He wiped blood from his cheek. The water was coming in fast, through the worn seals on the doors. He unbuckled his belt. His driver's window was open and the car hadn't yet sunk enough for the rapids to come cascading into the cabin. It wouldn't be long. He'd had the window open to keep the cool air fresh in his face as he'd psyched himself up for the confrontation with his wife. He'd told her he was coming and that he knew about Jason.
            The Land Rover was in a worse situation. Not because of damage from the accident but because it had rolled onto its side, meaning half its cabin was already under water. The weight was dragging both cars deeper.
            Phil moved fast. There was no one else around, it was a deserted country road, and the flooded river was moving quickly. One, or both of them, was likely to be swept away at any moment. His legs responded. There was a sharp pain in his left arm and a nausea inducing grind in his rib cage. Probably cracked from the seat belt, he thought.
            As he climbed up on the seat and pulled himself up out of the window he glimpsed the damage to his vehicle and in this case, his trade. Sure, she was rich enough to replace his truck, the prize winning writer, but she dismissed his work as menial and miserable and hardly worth doing. She would enjoy footing the bill for a new truck because of everything it said, and so he would refuse the money, and that's how things generally went. She would sneer at him like he was a child and look every one of her ten years his senior. However, maybe after the verbal blast he had been about to unleash, she wouldn't offer this time.
            The water had some serious pace and he clambered across the damp and deformed steel towards the smashed window of the Land Rover. It was as he got closer that he heard it.
            'Phil! Phil!'
            It was a voice he knew. From dinner parties and publishing functions, book launches and editorial meetings in their home. It was coming from the cabin of the Land Rover. Phil's eyes widened.
            It was Jason.
            He got to the window and looked down into the car. Sure enough, his wife's lover was down there, bloody and wet and with a look of terror on his face.
            'Help me!'
            Phil looked at him. He'd managed to get out of his seat belt despite being almost completely submerged. Looking back at the river, Phil heard the cars beneath him groan and slide. He knew there was a part of him that wanted to leave the bastard, walk away and let him drown. But he didn't have to look down again to know he could never do it.
            Jason reached up with his hand. He needed to be pulled out. The hand that had been all over Phil's wife. He clenched his teeth, reached down and took it.
            But as he felt the man's fingers lock around his arm, and some of his weight begin to pull on Phil's shoulder, something suddenly felt wrong. What was it? Obviously Jason had been driving away from their country house as Phil had been driving towards it. They were only a mile away from the property. But something wasn't right, something more twisted than a husband helping the man his wife was cheating with out of a drowning car.
            Jason had called Phil by name.
            Before he had seen him, before he had seen who the other driver was, he had called Phil by name. That had to mean, in the split second when the Land Rover had come screeching around the dark corner and into Phil's ute, Jason had known exactly who he was hitting.
            Phil looked into his eyes.
            Because he had meant to hit him.
            Jason was halfway out of the cabin then, halfway to safety, and Phil suddenly wanted to push him into the river. They had known he was coming, they had known he was close, and so Jason had come out in his fuel-guzzling excuse for a car, to stop him from ever arriving!
            Only the plan hadn't worked and as Jason climbed out and, with Phil's help, stood, the handyman felt a rage rise up inside him roaring louder than the river. He had never felt the pull of violence so ferociously as he did in that moment. Every minute of frustration from the last five years of misery morphed into a targeted maelstrom in his gut.
            He wanted to kill this man.
            He was entitled to kill this man!
            Phil had spent the last 24 hours preparing for a face off with his wife. He'd withdrawn his whole personal savings account and put the cash in his work safe, along with his documents and passport, just so she didn't try to take anything else from him as leverage. He'd changed the combination. He'd contacted a lawyer. He'd thanked the Lord they didn't have children and he'd yelled his fury to himself all the way here, practicing the profanity he would hurl when he saw her.
            But instead he was here. So now Jason was the target for five years of pent up aggression, and that was when Phil realised he wouldn't do it. While he desperately wanted to see Jason beneath the waves, Jason wasn't the one he wanted. Jason was irrelevant.
            Over the publisher's shoulder Phil saw a car pull to a stop on the road above them. Just as well I didn't do it, he thought with a sigh of relief. He would have been seen by the person on the road.
            But then, out of nowhere, Jason grabbed him but the collar, snarled and threw Phil backwards off the car roof and down into the thrashing waves of the flooded river. The icy, roaring water enveloped him.
            Phil was gone.
 
 
Somewhere down around the bend in the waterway, Phil Harvey pulled himself onto the bank by grasping a tree root with his right hand. He lay back in the mud and slowly smiled. The smile grew bigger.
            Then he laughed.
            Down there, in the dark turmoil of the water, it had suddenly come together for him. The person on the road had just seen Jason kill a man. He would spend the next ten years in a cell for that. His punishment was coming to him after all. Maybe, if Phil was lucky, so would his wife.
            In the meantime, he had a whole pile of cash in a safe, more than enough to get himself across the country. More than enough to buy himself some new tools, pay a months rent and start doing the things he loved in some small country town - fixing houses and making furniture.
            He could change his name. He could fall in love. He could finally make things simple.
            He could begin again.
            Jason, the bastard, had just set him free. 

Stolen

Stolen

They had said they were the Nigerian Army – they were wearing the uniform – but as the truck hurtled along the dirt road and the gunmen waved their weapons in the air and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ at the night sky, Simi knew they had lied.
            She was in the back of one truck with fifty other girls, descending into the jungle and going who-knew-where. And this was just one truck. Back at the school, when they’d all been brought out of their dorms and loaded into vehicles, she had counted at least four.
            Simi may have only been twelve but she was smart enough to work out what was happening.

            The students of Chibok Girl’s School had been stolen.

            And these men, with their guns and sticks, scrappy beards and elastic grins, had to be Boko Haram – the jungle militia responsible for thousands of deaths in northern Nigeria over the last decade.

            Simi looked over the edge of the back of the truck, down at the dirt track beneath them. It was revealed in flashes of moonlight through the tree canopy above them. They had been woken from their sleep. Would anyone know they were gone? Would anyone be coming for them?
            She thought of her older brother, Leke, then. She loved him more than anyone else in the world. He would come looking for her. But as she looked at the jungle they were moving through she couldn’t imagine how he would ever find her. And if they kept going all night they might end up in the jungles of Cameroon or Chad, and then he’d never find her.
Simi had to escape.
            She became aware then that someone was holding her leg. It was the smaller girl sitting next to Simi at the back of the truck. Her little body shook with every bump and ditch in the road. Her name was Wina. The whites of her eyes were like lights in the night, darting back and forth, and finally resting on Simi’s.

“Where are they taking us?’

            Of course Simi didn’t know. She had heard the stories though. Wives. Slaves. The end of her education. The further they went into the jungle, the less chance there was of ever coming out again.
         She had to escape and she was going to have to take Wina with her.
         Simi was realistic. She knew they probably would not survive an escape, but as she looked around at the frantic faces of the other girls and the angular silhouettes of the men moving around them, she knew there was no guarantee of surviving where they were going either. Or even if she’d want to.
            What she wanted was to be with her brother.
            So Simi grabbed Wina by the arm, pulled the girl with her, and they fell off the back of the moving truck!
           
 
The ground hit her in the arm, the knee and the side of her head all at once.

            Simi didn’t have time to think about the flash of pain.
            Where was Wina?
            She had let her go when they landed.

            There was dirt in her eyes. Blood on her hand.

            She frantically scanned the darkness.
            Where was the little girl?
            She could hear yelling. Yelling!
            Simi had been hoping that because they were the last truck in the convoy, and because there was so much movement in the back of the truck, then perhaps they wouldn’t have been seen.
            But the others were calling out.
            There was screaming.
            Then a gun shot.
            ‘Wina!’ Simi yelled.
            She didn’t know if it was a shot in the air or a shot in their direction, but she had to get off the road.
            ‘Here!’ It was only a small voice, but it was enough for Simi to find the young girl in the darkness, off in a ditch on the side of the road.

            Simi was on her feet and running to her, pain flashing up through her leg.

            ‘We have to run!’ She said, grabbing the girl’s arm again. There was no time to check if she was hurt. If they didn’t move, they would die.
            ‘Stop!’
            It was a man’s voice, bellowing from the truck.
            She pushed Wina roughly off the road and into the scrub.
            A gunshot. This time she heard the whistle and the impact of the bullet against a tree.
            ‘Run!’
            They ran into the bush, Simi holding the younger girls arm, dragging her through branches and leaves and sticks and vines. The ground crackled and shifted under their bare feet. They felt every scratch.
            This was a mistake, Simi thought. It hadn’t been the right time. She had panicked.

            Now the truck had stopped and the men with guns were coming looking for them. They would make an example of them in front of the others.

            Simi desperately longed for her brother.
 
 

Behind them, heavy feet crushed the undergrowth. The men were yelling – at each other and at the girls.
            Maybe, just maybe, they might be able to get away, Simi thinks. As they continue pushing their way through the foliage, getting further and further away from the road, she thought about how dark it was. And how small they were. Perhaps they could find somewhere to hide.
            ‘Come,’ she whispered to Wina.
            She pulled her behind a fallen tree trunk and they moved quickly, finding some hollowed ground just beneath the wood. Simi pushed Wina in. It would be tight down there, but if they could both squash down into the small space in the undergrowth then perhaps the men wouldn’t find them.
            Simi pushed her way in on top of the little girl.

            ‘We just have to be quiet. And wait.’
            Their breathing was ragged and heavy, but slowly, as she hugged the young girl tightly, their inhales and exhales began to sync together.
            Until Simi heard something that caused her to stop breathing all together.

            The bark of a dog in the distance.
            They had a dog! It must have been in the other truck!
And they had unleashed it to find the girls! Hiding in the shadows was useless against a dog.

‘Quick!’ She cried out.
Simi leapt up, out of the hole beneath the tree. The dog would find them because of their scent, and they would be completely trapped.
She yanked Wina up by the T-shirt.
They could hear the bark and the snarling of the dog getting closer and closer.
Simi’s whole body tensed with fear. What could they do? Where could they go? The dog would be fast, and it would find them easily, leading the men straight to them!

            A tree. The girls ran to a tree nearby with low branches. Simi stood on the rocks at the bottom and boosted the younger girl up onto the lowest branch.

            ‘Climb!’
            She looked up. She didn’t know if Wina could make it, but the snapping and growling of the dog was enough to propel them up, from one branch to another, around the trunk, reaching for the next limb.
Wina was in front, above Simi when the dog found them.

It leapt at the bottom of the tree and its teeth locked on the bottom of Simi’s nightdress. She felt the weight of it jerk on her clothing, pulling her. She wrapped her arms desperately around the branch, holding it close into her chest. Don't let go, she told herself. Whatever happens, don't let go.

Above her, Wina kept moving, scurrying up the tree.

Simi realised this might just be it. Wina might make it, but she would probably not see her beloved big brother again. Maybe the men wouldn't come, but the dog would kill her.
Then the branch she was clinging to snapped.

She fell.
The dog fell.
Simi felt its breath and its fur, its warmth and it’s bones.

And she heard its head thump against the rock beneath her body as they landed.
She rolled, and as she turned realised that the dog was stunned, lying awake but silent on the hard stones. Simi was a quick thinker. She grabbed one of the smaller rocks nearby and cracked it down onto the canine’s head. Then she did it again. 
 
 
Four days later, the search party found them, wandering back in the scrub by the road hand in hand. They were sick and hurt and desperately thirsty, but they were alive.
            Simi felt Leke’s arms wrap around her but even then, enveloped in the arms of her brother, she refused to let go of Wina’s hand.

 
 

 
This 5-min thriller is unique because it’s the first one inspired by a true story.

Only 2 weeks ago, more than 200 girls were stolen from their school in northeast Nigeria by the group Boko Haram. Some of the girls were able to escape, but the vast majority of them are still missing, taken into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.
 
If you wish, you can read more of the infuriating true story that inspired this fictional one at the links below. If you're the praying kind, then now would be a good time to pray for their safe return.

 
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2014/04/nigerias-stolen-girls.html
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/30/nigerian-abductions-the-stolen-daughters
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yvonna-russell/bring-back-our-girls_b_5223397.html

Takeoff

Takeoff

It was oddly calm as the sun touched the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport first thing that morning. For the fourth busiest airport in Asia stillness is rare, and as the air traffic control tower (the tallest ATC tower in the world) caught the golden morning light it felt like any ordinary day.
            Except it wasn't.
            A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was stationed at the Satellite terminal, where most of the international flights operated from. This was flight MH437 to Beijing, due to depart at 0905, and it looked like any ordinary passenger aircraft.
            Only it wasn't ordinary either.
            This plane was about to become the most famous aircraft in the world.
 
 
Casey woke up and for a moment couldn't work out where she was. It was hot. Muggy. There was  sweat on her forehead. Light coming in the window.
            A hotel ... Malaysia.
            No sooner had that realisation landed than panic followed - she'd overslept!
            She leaped from the bed, pulled on her pants and threw the other clothes that were strewn across the floor into her backpack. Her ticket was non-refundable and she was doing this trip on the cheap - she had to make that flight!
            Casey bolted out of the door into the corridor, turned a corner and flew down the stairs three at a time. She'd already fixed up her bill the night before so it was straight out into the chaos of the street. She'd spent her two weeks in Malaysia using the monorail and the buses - well this morning it was going to be forking out for a taxi. She flagged one without too much trouble.
            'The airport! As fast as you can!'
            All part of the adventure, she thought, although she really didn't want to miss that plane. The past year had brought with it the lowest points in her life, but with the help of a friend she'd managed to save enough money to quit her supermarket job and go travelling - and so far it was the best thing she had ever done. The smells, the stories, the sights - she was seeing the world. As the Malaysian streets flew by for the final time, she smiled. If she could make it to that plane then it was off to China and the next part of the adventure.
            She looked at the clock on the dash. It was a big if.
 
 
Phoebe Caslon stood at Gate 23, sipping a coffee, waiting to board MH437. She had a small carry-on bag and a coat. The coat wasn't necessary in the morning heat, and she felt a little out of place as the other passengers began to gather, but then she wasn't wearing it to keep out the cold. It was to hide the handgun tucked into the back of her belt.
            Phoebe was a US Air Marshall. Malaysian Airlines don't use sky marshals, at least not yet, but after a spate of low-level security issues, Phoebe had been brought in to consult and prepare some recommendations.
            She watched the passengers gather - many Asian business men, some Indian students, a handful of Australian tourists - waiting for the announcement to board the aircraft. Phoebe had never been in a live hostage situation before, never had to draw her weapon during a flight.
            Surveying the crowd, she didn't anticipate too much trouble from this lot today.
 
 
Just down the hall, in the men's bathroom, a man was being strangled to death by one of the most wanted men in Asia.
            Tengo was the name his mother had given him, but he hadn't gone by it in fifteen years. He had many passports, many names, many disguises. Today he was wearing an Armani suit and glasses because he liked the feeling of expensive fabric and because the insurance broker he was eliminating would never have been suspicious of someone so finely dressed.
            Only, as he was strangling him in the cubicle, the man's plump red face was dribbling onto his sleeve. Tengo was disgusted.
            Once the wriggling had stopped, Tengo propped the body up on the toilet and climbed over the door, leaving the cubicle locked behind him. Then he washed his sleeve.
            Assassinations in airports we're becoming somewhat of a trademark for Tengo. When he'd done it in Johannesburg recently, by the time they'd found the body, decided it wasn't a heart attack, fought about jurisdiction and come looking for the killer, he'd travelled through three countries and changed identities twice.
            Tengo straightened his tie. Time to fly to Beijing.
 
 
Casey cleared security and ran through the terminal, clutching her boarding pass. On the screens she could see the words FINAL CALL flashing next to MH437.
            Gate 23.
            The nineteen year old counted as she ran by various departure lounges, her breathing pounding in her ears. There! 23!
            They were closing the glass doors!
            'Hey!' Casey called. 'Wait! Please!'
            The Malaysian Airlines staff member turned and looked at the teenager waving her boarding pass. For a moment she considered not letting her on, that this was the way you learn to be on time, but the desperate expression on Casey's face caused her to reconsider.
            Once on the aircraft Casey took her seat next to a man in a very expensive suit and closed her eyes. She didn't notice that the man next to her had trembling hands.
 
 
The doors were closed. Loose baggage was secured in the overhead lockers. The safety briefing was given and then right on 0905 the Boeing 777 reached the end of the runway and lifted into the sky.
 
 
Forty minutes later, after breakfast had been served, Phoebe stood up from her seat and began to wander around the cabin. She checked for unusual behaviours, odd bags and excessive clothing. Once she reached the front of the plane she showed the steward her ID and he ushered her through into the cockpit.
            Phoebe closed the door behind her.
            And flicked the deadbolt.
            When the pilot turned around to look at her he found himself staring down the barrel of her gun. With her other hand she had a finger pressed to her lips. Shhh.
 
 
In the cabin Chelsea was watching a movie. She had no idea that as the plane left the Malaysian peninsula and headed across the ocean to Vietnam that it would enter a radar black spot and disappear from the view of air traffic control.
            There was no way that anyone in the cabin could tell that as they did that Phoebe had the pilots shut down the three communications systems - ADS-B, ACARS and the transponder.
            The flight attendants were oblivious to the fact that behind the cockpit door the pilots were using the computer that sat between them to enter a new course into the flight management system, setting a new 5-letter coded waypoint to override the previous flight plan.
            Tengo however, wired from the murder still fresh on his skin, noticed that the plane began to bank to the west. He looked out the window and it was difficult to find a point of reference out above the ocean, but he was fairly certain they had begun to descend.
 
 
It entirely normal for commercial aircraft to disappear into radar black holes. In a Vietnamese air traffic control center a young man watched his radar screen. He had the flight plan for MH437 programmed in and he waited for the aircraft to reappear on the dotted line as it came into range of his radar.
            Only it didn't reappear.
            He spent ten minutes double checking all his numbers.
            He gave it a little longer.
            A colleague joined him to talk the problem through.
            Their expressions transitioned from curiosity to concern to panic.
            The young man picked up the phone.
            'Sir? Flight MH437. It's gone. It's completely disappeared.'
 
 
No struggle. No raised voices. No disturbance for the black box to capture.
            The passengers had no idea that they had just vanished.