John awoke Kelly by bringing her a cup of tea and leaving it on the bedside table. The smell of awoke her with care and she smiled at the gesture. John was cooking a venison steak when she walked through to the kitchen.
John gestured towards the pan but she shook her head. She knew they were going to be going back to the wreckage. She had decided she would do it on an empty stomach. The tea was good, strong and reviving as she sat down.
He put two of them on a plate and brought it over with a small portion of spinach and some cubed sweet potatoes, dusted with cinnamon as he sat down. He ate with a quiet economy, looking up at her with a concerned look in her eyes.
‘Are you sure you want to come?’ he said.
She nodded and picked up her cup of tea, held it between her hands and looked away.
‘Yes, but I can’t eat before I go out. Not with what we’re going to do.’ she said.
John picked up his coffee and took a sip as he looked at her.
‘We’ll bury your friend and cover the plane. What do you want to do with the briefcase, if it’s there?’ he said.
Kelly’s head hurt at the thought of it. She shook her head.
‘We’ll see when we get out there. Can I have a cigarette when you’re done?’ she said.
He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his pouch and tossed it across the table before pulling his lighter from the pocket of his jeans and putting it next to the pouch.
‘Help yourself.’ he said.
She rolled a loose, clumsy cigarette and lit it. The nicotine soothed her nerves, but the smoke tickled the back of her throat. Some part of her wanted to burn for what had happened.
John finished his food and rolled a cigarette himself. They smoked and finished their drinks before John stood up and gave a short nod.
‘Let’s go.’ he said.
He found Kelly a moss green smock which she pulled on over her head, thick gloves, waterproof trousers and a pair of boots with three pairs of socks. He smiled when she was done as he put on his jacket and zipped up. Kelly looked at him with concern but he smiled at her. He had a rucksack with a roll of tarpaulin lashed to one side. He had a black tomahawk in a stitched leather sheath on his right hip.
‘I don’t feel the cold too much.’ he said.
She nodded, in lieu of further questions, and they left the cabin together.
Despite the thaw, it was still bitter outside. Kelly was grateful for John’s brisk pace because it kept her warm. He took care to see she was keeping up, and he did not have to ask her where the largest portion of the wreckage was.
‘Can you smell them?’ she said.
He glanced at her over his shoulder.
‘Yes.’ he said.
Kelly swallowed and looked around her. The trees were close here, and branches snapped beneath her feet as she walked. The walk was longer than she remembered, and realised she had ignored her surroundings for the blind grasping towards survival. John walked with an ease she envied, smooth and questing at the same time.
He knows this place on a level you can’t imagine, Kelly thought as she watched him.
The thought chilled and excited her at the same time.
He raised his hand without looking at her.
‘We’re here.’ he said.
Kelly stopped as John slipped his backpack off, dropping to a crouch as he raised his nose and inhaled.
Kelly took a breath and it was coated with the tang of faded smoke and burnt oils. She coughed and put her hand over her mouth as she stood there. Through the trees, she saw the jagged outline of the fuselage and walked towards it. John waited so he was walking alongside her.
He was looking at the fuselage, wrinkling his nose with distaste as he untied the roll of tarpaulin from the side of the rucksack.
‘What is it?’ Kelly said.
Her heart thumped against her ribs as she watched him tilt his head to one side.
‘There’s a strange smell here.’ he said.
Jenny grimaced and reached out for John.
‘Is it the bodies? I thought the cold would have kept them from, you know -‘ she said.
She did not want to say rotting and John shook his head to spare her from having to acknowledge what had happened.
He took a deep breath and shrugged his shoulders.
‘I don’t think so, but we need to go in and look.’ he said.
They stepped over the trees felled by the plane’s descent and John passed Kelly the roll of oilcloth whilst he pulled the tomahawk off his hip to cut away where the foliage blocked their path
Kelly looked at the fuselage and fought a primordial shudder at the sight of it. John put his hand on her shoulder and asked her if she was okay. She looked up, took a deep breath and gave a quick nod.
‘Yeah, I mean no, this is completely fucked but yeah, I’m ok.’ she said.
John raised an eyebrow and moved ahead of her as he put the tomahawk back in the sheath on his hip and took the oilcloth back from her.
‘Let’s get this over with.’ he said.
They found Tony first, still in two pieces but something had gnawed at the ropes of intestines and the soil was soaked with his blood. Kelly saw his face, carved into a final expression of agonised disbelief, with his eyes staring out at nothing, dark and cold as pebbles. John sucked in a deep breath and moved over to him and squatted down to push him onto his back. He spread out a large piece of oilcloth and moved the upper half of Tony’s body onto it, before he walked over and dragged Tony’s lower half by the legs and moved it on top. He picked up the chunks of intestine on the ground and tossed them onto the oilcloth.
‘I get why you didn’t eat.’ he said.
Kelly turned away. She did not want to think about Tony as some piece of meat to be handled and John carried out his work in silence. He moved up to where Mo was strapped into his seat and undid his safety belt, catching him as he fell forwards. John grunted underneath the load as he brought Mo’s body back and placed it atop Tony’s remains. He ran lengths of cord through the small holes and lashed it together. He had an expression of grim concentration as he worked. Kelly could look at him, but she averted her gaze from Tony or Mo where they were laid.
‘What about Connor and Van Sciver?’ she said.
John looked up and frowned.
‘I’ll get them later, Kelly. I want to make sure your friend is put to rest first.’ he said.
Kelly blinked away tears and told herself it was the wind in her eyes as she nodded and thanked him.
He finished lashing the oilcloth together and dragged it away from the fuselage. Kelly watched the muscles in his arms and shoulders flexing as he pulled away, looking over his shoulder as he disappeared into the trees. Kelly glanced around her.
The briefcase was wedged under Mo’s seat and walked over, bent down and pulled it towards her. She stood up, surprised at how heavy it was and she dragged it along, straining at the weight. John came back through the trees, his face red with effort as his nostrils flared. He had put his rucksack back on his shoulders but his hands were clenched into fists.
‘Kelly, put it down.’ he said.
Kelly stopped and let go of the handle. She stepped backwards, looking at John’s face. His lips were drawn back over his teeth as he walked towards the case.
‘It smells wrong.’ he said.
His voice had lowered and grown rough. It came from the pit of his stomach as he stopped in front of the case. His eyes were dark with emotion as he knelt down in front of it. He looked up at her.
‘Kelly, we can’t leave this here. I won’t have it in the cabin, but I have somewhere we can open it safely.’ he said.
Kelly frowned and thought about the shed behind the cabin. John smiled and shook his head.
‘I’ll show you when we get back.’ he said.
He picked up his briefcase and his upper lip drew back over his teeth. He hissed through his teeth.
‘Can you describe it?’ she said.
‘Ammoniac. But there’s something else there, just on the edge of my senses, but it’s different.’ he said.
Kelly swallowed and nodded. His reaction made her nervous and she stepped back, unsure of whether she was concerned by his reaction or what was in the briefcase.
‘I’ll come back and deal with the rest later.’ he said.
Kelly looked around her, then back at John.
‘Are you sure, I mean, I haven’t helped at all, John, and this is sort of my mess, you know?’ she said.
He shook his head.
‘You didn’t crash the plane, so let’s say it’s our mess. Come on, we need to look at what’s in here.’ he said.
His gruff authority made her relax as they made their way back to the cabin. John kept a brisk pace and Kelly tried to keep up, but she turned her left ankle, crying out as she fell forwards.
He was at her side, his arm wedged under her armpit as he held her up. She caught the warm musk of his skin as she put her arm around him. He looked into her eyes with a gentle concern as he asked her if she was okay. She nodded tightly, embarrassed at having fallen over in front of him but he did not mention it. She tested her left foot, and despite the tenderness, she could walk on it.
‘Thank you, I’m okay.’ she said.
They walked along in silence before Kelly asked him where he had put Mo and Tony.
‘I’ve covered them in foliage and the oil cloth should keep anything getting to them. I’ll take care of them later but I couldn’t leave them out for anyone to come across.’ he said.
Kelly nodded her agreement as she wondered whether their failure to arrive had triggered a reaction at all.
She was torn between the blessed ignorance of the present moment versus a bleak set of circumstances, neither of which could be counted upon to guarantee her safety. The sun had come out, but Kelly shivered like a shadow had fallen upon her.
She hoped it was possible to walk out from underneath its reach.
John walked past the cabin and the shed. He stopped and dropped to his knees, reached into the soil and lifted a hatch up, sending a fine spray of dirt into the air before he turned and looked at her over his shoulder.
‘Are enclosed spaces a problem for you?’ he said.
He had a serious expression and Kelly shrugged her shoulders.
‘I was okay on a plane. Why, do you have an underground lair?’ she said.
She said it in a sing-song voice, grateful for the moment of levity between them. It was better than thinking about Tony and the debt they had incurred through a cruel act of fate. John raised an eyebrow as the corners of his mouth turned up in a small smile.
‘Something like that.’ he said.
He heaved the hatch back and walked down the small set of stairs into the ground. Kelly looked around her, took a deep breath and followed him underground.
There was no black box to lead Jasper to the plane’s last location, on account of the weight involved. The flight plan was simple enough, taking them from the airfield outside Washington straight to LAX but Jasper had paid for access to a news gathering service and found no evidence of a crashed plane at all. He sat in his room and pulled up a map of the route, overlaying it with the scheduled flight.
Something had forced the plane off course, and he scrolled back through the weather reports to see a fat, ugly belt of precipitation which had made itself known at around the same time the plane would have been in the air.
‘Maybe they took a detour, he muttered to himself.
Either way, he had men waiting to go and look, so he split the eight guys into two teams of four. One of them would fly out to Washington and follow the route from that end, whilst the second team would head from Los Angeles.
Jasper had signed for two devices from his employer. They were ovoid, cool and smooth to the touch which activated a top down view and a stream of binary numbers before it set up a location. It had been stressed to him how important the recovery of the briefcase was, and Jasper listened to the electronic voice as it authorised an additional line of credit for transport and stressed an additional caveat to the previous instructions.
Jasper did not even blink. He had been a good thief, because he knew how things could turn on a dime and planned contingencies along those lines for his entire career. He told the team leaders this information and told them to report back when they were on the road. One phone call and they were on the move, instruments of his will who would return with the briefcase and he would deliver it to his employer then disappear. He couriered the devices to each location and dialled the escort service whilst staring at the wall, thinking of nothing beyond the present moment.
Demons whispered to him in electronic voices as his eyelids grew heavy and he thought about the future.