Monday, December 19, 2005

Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Nick backed the car along the track at high speed, the spinning tyres churning up mud, the engine screaming. He burst onto the main road and slewed the car round in the direction of the cottage. The engine stalled. He clenched his teeth and shut his eyes. He knew that if he panicked now he was lost. He forced himself to calm down. He counted to three and turned the ignition and the engine burst into life. He heaved a sigh of relief. He drove off at his normal, safe speed. Fortunately the road was empty. So far so good. His heart was pounding so hard he thought he might have a heart attack at any moment. His head was splitting too, one of the worst headaches he'd ever had, so bad it made his eyes water. He found it difficult to think straight any more. He was utterly exhausted, dangerously close to giving up if anything else went wrong. His mental and physical fitness for the task was something he hadn’t considered, and, as it had turned out, it was one of the first things to go wrong. Typically, he had packed no medical supplies of any kind, not even aspirin. He hadn't planned for such contingencies when he’d been dreaming up his Hollywood-style version of the kidnap.

The simple task of driving the car to the turnoff for the ruined cottage proved to be extraordinarily difficult. The harder he concentrated on driving normally, the more mistakes he seemed to make. He took one perfectly ordinary bend so fast he nearly drove off the road. His left leg was shaking so much that whenever he tried to change gear he couldn't depress the clutch properly. Several times in quick succession he selected the wrong gear, just like a learner driver. Every time an oncoming car approached he was sure the driver was staring across at him as if he was piloting a vehicle from outer space. Which in a way he was now. All those other people in their nice new cars, nice ordinary people leading nice ordinary lives. He could never be one of them now. Murderers are not nice ordinary people.

He had been driving for ten minutes when he passed the site of the ancient Peel Ring, the twelfth century motte he often walked to from his house. As he drew level with the signpost pointing to the ancient monument a car pulled up behind him and tailgated him for several minutes along the narrow winding road. It loomed large in his rear view mirror even after he slowed down to let it overtake. He almost fainted with fright, certain that he was being followed. To his immense relief the vehicle pulled out and overtook him as soon as they reached the straight stretch of road that bordered the marshes at Drem. He slowed right down to let it pass easily, but his relief was short-lived when he saw the driver shoot him a curious backwards look in his mirror as he pulled away. A few miles further on he overtook a tractor whose ancient driver gave him a cheery way and, a little later, two cyclists both wearing bright yellow crash helmets. As he breasted the brow of a hill a woman weeding in her garden looked up as he drove past. They were all witnesses who might later recall seeing his car. Despite his best endeavours his behaviour was attracting attention. He bit his lip. He reckoned he still had another fifteen miles or so to go before he reached the safety of the turn off into the woods.
He turned right at the T junction at Logie Coldhouse and the narrow road immediately emptied of vehicles. Driving on automatic he began to reflect on what he had done.

He kept seeing the old man flying through the air over his head and hearing the splash he made when he crumpled head first onto the footpath. The sickening sound he had made as his neck broke. Jesus. He bit his lip. Jesus what had he done? Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Oh God. Oh God. What had he done? What had he done?

Then there was the poor woman in the boot. Jesus Christ, what was he going to do with her? She knew everything. She knew exactly what he had done. She could condemn him to life imprisonment. Despite the threat she represented his heart went out to her. She was simply an innocent victim. At that very moment she was rolling around in the dark terrified at what was happening to her. She probably thought she was going to die, just like the ghillie. Christ, he thought miserably, she must be absolutely petrified. He put his foot down on the accelerator as far as he dared. He had to get her to the cottage as quickly as possible and release her from her tiny prison before she died of fright. Whatever happened next he had to try and minimise the trauma to which he was subjecting her. He had an obligation to try and comfort and reassure her, to minimise her pain. As soon as they got to the cottage he would try and convince her that he hadn't meant to hurt the old ghillie. He would explain how he had panicked. Above all he would try and make her understand the desperate circumstances that had driven him to embark upon this lunatic scheme. Finally, he would implore her forgiveness.

He was so preoccupied with what he was going to say to her - how do you explain away a murder to someone you are abducting - that he missed the turn off into the woods where he had planned to hide the car. He drove on for another half hour vaguely aware that something had gone wrong. At first he thought that somehow time had slowed down. He wondered if maybe once you've killed somebody the physical laws of time and place that you've known since childhood no longer hold true, that the world was changed forever in ways you couldn’t hope to understand. When he eventually realised that he had driven miles past the turning he cursed his stupidity. He pulled over at the first opportunity and reversed into a farm track and turned the car round and drove back as fast as he dared. He was furious with himself for his ineptitude. The last thing he wanted in the present circumstances was to be seen driving round aimlessly in the car, drawing even more attention to himself. To make matters worse he began to imagine that the woman in the boot might be dead by now, quite possibly suffocated to death, a truly horrible way to die. He considered stopping to check but the thought of what he might find was too frightening. He should have checked the boot beforehand to make sure that it wasn’t airtight. That was something else he hadn’t thought about in advance. He squeezed the steering wheel until his knuckles went white. “What a fucking idiot,” he muttered out loud, appalled at his stupidity. If she was dead he vowed he would take his own life too, exacting upon himself some sort of retribution for his criminal fecklessness. Even as he contemplated the idea of suicide another dreadful thought struck him. Although he had long proclaimed himself an agnostic his thinking was still tainted by the ingrained shibboleths and oppressive rituals of his Catholic upbringing. The concept of the afterlife was a powerful one that still haunted him. It was easy to imagine the possibility that he would be confronted by his victims in the hereafter.
As their paths crossed briefly in purgatory he would be haunted by their ghosts. A brief interlude before he was cast down into eternal damnation. That was inevitable now. You couldn't kill someone and go to heaven. He was sure about that. He was damned for all eternity. There was no way back, no absolution for the crime he had committed. Tears began to well up his eyes. How had this happened? How had he been so stupid as to get himself into this ghastly mess?

At the second attempt he found the turn off into the woods. The lane was more deeply rutted and pitted with potholes than it had been on his visit the previous day when everything had been blanketed in snow. The car bounced and rolled so much it was difficult to steer. He tried not to think about the way the woman in the boot must be being thrown around. He drove as carefully as he could but he couldn't avoid all the potholes. This was one more of the many things he hadn't thought about, one of the unfathomable ways the world had changed since he had first contemplated his terrible crime.

At last he reached the natural layby where he planned to hide the car, buried within a dense thicket of rhododendrons. He manoeuvred the vehicle into the bushes until it was completely obscured from sight to anyone passing along the farm track. He switched off the ignition and sat and held his breath while he listened for any sign of life from the boot. The only sound was the regular ticking noise from the engine as it slowly cooled. He sat for several minutes and prayed that he would hear some signs of life. Anything. A sob, a sigh, even a scream would have been welcome. As the rays of the overhead sun filtered down through the treeless branches it grew warmer inside the car. Beads of sweat started trickling down his forehead, stinging his eyes. To make matters worse it was becoming increasingly airless inside the car but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to wind down the windows, preferring instead to seal himself off hermetically from the horrors of the outside world. As the silence lengthened he began to grow increasingly afraid of what he was going to find when eventually he was forced to open the boot. The possibility of seeing a second dead body within the space of an hour filled him with dread. Two people whose lives had been ended through his stupidity. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have been so deluded as to come up with a scheme like this? If only he had done the sensible thing and taken a menial job and worked for the rest of his life to pay off his debts like any sane person would have done. Accepted his living penance here on earth instead of choosing a course of action so evil that it was bound to result in his eternal damnation. It was yet another example of his failure to do the right thing in life. Yet another disaster of his own making. He shook his head. Why had the good Lord put him on this earth and then forsaken him so completely? Why? God moves in mysterious ways but this wilful neglect on the part of his Creator defied all explanation.

And then the car moved.

A muffled groan came from the boot. She was still alive! Thank God! Thank God! He was so relieved he immediately began to offer up a prayer of thanks. It didn’t work. No matter how hard he tried he found he couldn't remember the words to even the simplest prayer. Whenever he closed his eyes to pray his mind was immediately filled with a jumble of crazy kaleidoscopic images, randomly bouncing around inside his head, as if he was on LSD or something. First his dead father’s face leering at him, huge, misshapen, drooling, like something out of a childhood nightmare. Shaken, he blinked and tried again but this time Maureen was screaming at him, hammering on the inside of his skull with her fists, the noise she made was deafening. He tried even harder to concentrate, screwing up his face with the effort, desperately trying to clear his head. This time in his mind’s eye he saw his local parish priest, a man who had been dead for years, kneeling down in front of the same altar Nick had served at as a boy, his arms outstretched as he tore up the Eucharist and scattered the pieces into the air like confetti. Perched in the pulpit at the side of the altar Bob Dylan was wailing about the hard rain that was going to fall as he smashed his guitar over the head of a nun. Nick covered his eyes with his hands and lurched forward in the seat, his forehead banging upon the steering wheel. The face of the woman he now held captive in the boot leapt into his mind, young and pretty, smiling at him with laughing eyes as she sat up and tossed back her long blond tresses, her arms still bound behind her back.

The vision, he realised with a start, was entirely naked.

He opened his eyes and the vision vanished. He stared out through the windscreen at the dense screen of rhododendron branches. He was alone in the forest with a beautiful woman completely in his power. His swallowed hard but his mouth was dry. He had never been in a situation like this before, not even in his wildest fantasies. At that moment the car shivered perceptibly as the woman in the boot moved. A few seconds later he heard her groan and the car swayed more violently. She was struggling to get free.

He closed his eyes once more and her naked image once again drifted into focus. Her head was bent, her long blond hair cascading over her shoulders. Her breasts were round and firm, her nipples erect. She was smiling demurely. She was the kind of woman he had dreamt about all his life.

He opened his eyes and for the first time he began to consider the true consequences of what he had done. He was no longer daydreaming. He really did have a beautiful woman captive and alive in the boot of his car. He felt his pulse beginning to quicken. He pictured her lying back there in the boot, bound and gagged in the darkness. She was totally in his power in a way no other woman had ever been. She was his to do with as he wished. Having already committed the worst mortal sin he was freed from the constraints of normal behaviour. Compared to murder nothing else mattered. He had fallen so far from grace that nothing he did now could make matters worse. In a funny sort of way he was free. For the first time in his life he was so far beyond the pale that there were no longer any rules or moral sanctions to constrain him. Not only was she completely at his mercy, maybe she was also his reward. Some sort of compensation for his headlong fall from grace. He was free to do what he liked with her. As his exhilaration grew at his new-found sense of power he was surprised to feel himself developing an erection, his first for weeks, months maybe. His breathing quickened, his pulse raced faster, he began to feel light-headed with excitement. He was shocked by this carnal reaction. Up until that moment his motives for kidnapping the woman had been totally pure within the boundaries of his own twisted logic. What he was contemplating now totally debased the moral justification for his actions. Yet it was hard to ignore the reality of his present situation and the temptation it presented. Try as he might he could not expunge the impure thoughts erupting out of his brain. The image of her naked body triggered his imagination into feverish activity, a billion synapses popping in the darkest recesses of his brain like a firework display. It was wrong but…everything he did from now on was wrong. There was no justification whatsoever for what he was thinking of doing but when your soul is already as black as it can be what difference did one more mortal sin make? The thought of total domination over another human being was so intoxicating, driving every other thought from his mind. Alone out here in this isolated stretch of woodland he could do anything he wanted. She was completely in his power. He could do things to her he'd only read about in dirty books, stared at on the internet. He could perpetrate acts he wouldn't dare think about doing to Maureen. Anything was possible, even torture. Jesus, he had absolute power over her, just like the Nazis had over their prisoners. He recalled a catalogue of half-forgotten scenes from the dirty books he had read when he was at university and the pornographic films he had watched as a young man before he got married. A slideshow of perverted and unspeakable acts that had once shocked him to the core. By now his imagination was ablaze. The thought of her lying helpless made him ache, really ache. He was consumed by the desire to do something dirty to her, something unspeakably filthy. The desire was so bad it actually hurt.

He could wait no longer.

He climbed out of the car and staggered round to the boot. He was dizzy with excitement, weak with desire. Feverishly he tugged open the boot. He stared down at his prostrate captive. The bound and gagged figure lifted her head and stared up at him. Her fear-wide eyes blinked in the sunlight. Her face was grotesquely bruised and swollen. Her long blonde hair was matted with mud. Tears streaked her face. Hastily he opened his fly and pulled out his cock and began to masturbate as he leant forward over her, his knees pressed against the bumper for support, holding onto the boot lid with his raised right hand. He came almost immediately, within seconds, groaning loudly as he ejaculated onto the writhing, moaning figure in the boot.
He leaned against the car, gasping for breath, eyes closed, his brain pounding.

"Oh Jesus," he gasped, “What have I done?” His cock instantly grew limp in his hand. “Oh God forgive me.” Now at last he knew that there were no depths to which he would not sink, there was no sin he would not commit.

He slammed the boot shut and staggered back from the car. He sunk to his knees on the wet ground and lowered his head into his hands and began to pray in a low moaning voice. Again and again and again, the tears streaming down his ashen face, he pleaded for forgiveness from the God he had forsaken so many years before. Eventually, after several minutes had passed, his self-abasement drew to an end, all energy spent. Slowly he hauled himself to his feet, a forlorn, abandoned figure in the empty forest.

At that moment he realised that in his frenzy he had defiled his victim while he was bare-headed, without disguise. The balaclava that had previously protected his identity lay where he had left it on the passenger’s seat. The implication of this oversight immediately struck him. The woman now knew exactly what he looked like. His face would be indelibly imprinted on her memory. The tables were turned. As long as she remained alive and could identify him he was completely in her power.