Yi-Ting takes a deep breath through her nose and realises there’s more to Gabriel’s success as an artist than merely the skill of painting refined over years of training, experimentation and hard work.
She relishes the heady scent clearly intended to seduce visitors. To her it is the sexiest perfume a man can use – but it needs to be in the air around him: not on his skin.
She has worked her way from the cheapest over-priced work and approaches the outrageously expensive. “Linseed oil in the air and yet there is not a wet painting here.”
Gabriel shrugs. “I make my stand oils in the adjoining rooms and on windowsills.”
“You could make them anywhere. You could buy them.”
“Yes. How do you know so much?”
“Me? A mere assassin?”
“I didn’t say that … or even intend you to infer it.”
“Good.” She points. “That one.”
“Please, no? I hate that family. Hate. If I have to paint them again I will have to say this was damaged and do it all again. I’ll let you have that one if you stitch their mouths closed first.”
“I like happy families. They may only exist in stories but I like the stories.”
Gabriel notes the implication and chooses not to pursue it. “They are not a happy family. My job was to make them look happy.”
“You did well. Let me show you the two I want most.” Yi-Ting heads for another room.
Gabriel calls, “No, not in there! All that is my private collection.”
Yi-Ting stops by a glass jar, lifts and sniffs it, her silk blouse stretching over thin shoulders. “Not stand oil. Tinted with burnt umber and burnt sienna? But still fresh enough to perfume the place.”
“With a little Indian red. How come you know so much?”
She nods towards the private collection. “I like the one of the children playing on the beach best.”
“No! Please, stop this. What do you really want?”
She turns and stares at him, her pencil-thin eyegrows raised. “Clever… One painting. Me and Gianina together. It will be your best and I am your friend for life.”
“If it’s not my best?”
“It will be your best.”
“Is there a nice side to you?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
A lorry pulls up at the front of the gallery and Gabriel pushes through the glass doors to direct the driver to the back of the building.
Yi-Ting settles in a chair and draws recent purchases from her bag. With needle-nose pliers she snaps razor blades and arranges the shards in a neat line on the counter beside her.
Out of her bag she draws a bull shark jaw and glues the shards to the teeth. Without looking up she says, “You will never make an assassin. You sound like a drunken elephant dancing on beer cans and glass.”
Gabriel emerges through the doorway. “You could really hear me?”
“You entered the lobby about forty seconds ago, paused in the centre of the room and made your way to the sunlight and lace painting, waited about four seconds and… What were you going to do – leap out and shout ‘Boo!’?”
Gabriel’s huge shoulders shake with mirth. “Not in front of you of all people. No, I’m built to be a shock trooper not a ninja.” He jerks his head towards the back of the gallery. “Everything is there I think. My contacts have reported to hotels, tourism agencies and the police numerous sightings of a monster bull shark between Fallen Jerusalem and Round Rock islands.”
“I will spend the night on the rocks just north of Round Rock Island. You will spend the whole of tomorrow being seen by as many people as possible. You do not mention the area, sharks or Makusa to anyone.”
He points one of his broad fingers at the jaw. “Tell me.”
She shrugs. “Just a detail … backup if Makusa gets into an inflatable.”
“He never has in all the trips I’ve escorted him. I’m worried…”
“It’s illegal but he uses chum – everyone does.”
She tilts her head and studies him, her dark eyes wide, long black hair hanging like curtains. “Worried about me? Why?”
He looks away. “Something you said earlier. Don’t ask. I also think we would make a good team. We balance each other’s skills.”
She stands and lays the jaw on the counter. “We’re joining Vogel – well at least I am. Dispose of the waste so it can’t be found. I’m going to check my equipment. By the time I’m finished it will be dark. Drive me to the shore and help me launch. I’ll need food for tonight and tomorrow.”
“Everything else is ready. Marcus will have his fishing boat moored by Dustry Point.”
“Bright yellow. Your clothes etcetera will be there.”
Yi-Ting leaves the gallery and walks into bright sunlight. She climbs into the lorry’s cab, fires the engine, climbs out and lowers the ramp. A cloud of diesel fumes drifts past her. Checking the crane and capstan work, she pulls back the tarpaulin Gabriel loosened around a three-metre-long object.
He joins her – clumping up the ramp with no attempt at stealth. The flat-bed shakes. “Tell me.”
“Super Protei eleven. Carries twelve cylinders and can run for fourteen hours. I don’t want to lose it. I’ll mark it and come back another time.”
Gabriel pats grills. “Don’t tell me it has radiators.”
“No. They dissolve air into the water and reduce the risk of bubbles giving my position away. Cost two arms and a leg. They’re not perfect but better than nothing.”
He points and opens his mouth but Yi-Ting speaks first. “Storage. You want to see my toys?”
She jerks a sliding panel back and draws out a dry suit and other diving gear. Reaching further in she tugs at straps and pulls a belt of pouches. “This is why you shouldn’t worry. CS2 powder in a compound that slowly dissolves. No shark will follow me for long. That covers my six – and this,” she draws an assault rifle out, “will cover everything else. ASM-DT rifle. Fires equally well above and below water. The sights adjust for reffraction.” She winks. “Reasons for why I’m so expensive.”
“Be under the boat. He’ll lean out at some point then it’s a quick shot straight up and get out. I do have alternatives of course.”
“They’ll pursue you.”
“If I fire from deep enough they won’t hear anything. He’ll have a steel spike through his head, not a bullet. That could confuse people. They may pursue but not for long.”
“Diamond encrusted wire around the prop shafts, tensioned with bungees and secured to the hull will take one to two minutes.”
“I’m so glad I’m on your side.”
“Make sure you keep it that way.”
“It’s going to be a lifelong ambition. I’ll get food ready for you.”
Yi-Ting double checks everything and tops up the Protei’s batteries. The carriage is lifted by jacks and she attaches four large buoys as wheels. She’s just finishing when Gabriel rejoins her.
He says, “The Elysius just left harbour with Makusa on board.”
“Maybe he’s after nurse sharks tonight. Change of plan…” She purses her lips. “Makes it all easier for me.”
One and a half hours ago Yi-Ting left the thin strip of rocky shoreline next to the airport runway. The Elysius has roamed at low throttle among the islands. About forty metres long and with a high superstructure, the luxurious craft was custom-built and has a unique silhouette.
Slowing at a point directly between Fallen Jerusalem Island and Round Rock Island, its engines are killed and an anchor dropped.
Using suction, Yi-Ting attaches the protei upside down to the hull of the ship, dons cylinders and swims to the stern. She works fast. If the propellers start turning now she’ll be smashed to pieces. Saws secure, she races back to the Protei again, reattaches to its air supply and moves everything to the stern from which fishing will take place.
The sea fills with light. Two nacelles have emerged from the hull each with eight searchlights. Rotating, they illuminate everything.
Yi-Ting reconsiders. She’ll leave a shadow that everyone can see. There is no safe place.
With no hesitation she abandons the plan and decides to return in daylight.
Diving fast for the seabed, Yi-Ting darts under the bows from which she hopes fewer people will be looking.
Nearing the first set of rocks she’s back in darkness and surfaces to get a good look at the Elysius and determine whether people saw her.
Through binoculars she sees no worrying activity. She anchors the protei and swims to the shore – taking food plus a battery to warm her dry suit.
Gabriel informed her that Makusa only ever fished alone but tonight his cabins are full.
Yi-Ting adjusts an infrared beam to fire every minute, points it at the Elysius and sets the alarm. Making herself comfortable she dozes.
She wakes but doesn’t know why. The alarm didn’t go off. A huge flash lights up the Elysius and illuminates people in the water. Beams stab out and hit them one by one. An inflatable dangles by one sheet.
Yi-Ting steadies her binoculars. Beside the Elysius a long dark craft hangs in the air. A small person dressed in red hauls a corpse up a ramp and adds it to a pile already there. The person wears a helmet and carries a type of weapon Yi-Ting has not seen before.
It takes her a moment to realise she’s looking at an alien and one of their craft. The alien turns and looks straight at her. Yi-Ting is almost completely hidden behind rocks and nearly a kilometre away. Spooked, she grabs her rifle, switches to conventional ammunition and fires again and again until the alien staggers and falls into the sea.
Realising there may be more aliens present and that they also may be able to detect her, she races back into the sea, kicks the protei to life and heads for the deepest water she can find. A vast flash from the direction of the Elysius lights up the seabed, nurse sharks and nocturnal eels. Wreckage sinks and another flash boils the sea in that area.
Yi-Ting waits twenty minutes deep underwater. Rising again she scans for the alien craft but nothing is to be seen except flotsam. Moving through it at low speed there’s little to find but burned material, a few bodies – most of them incinerated – and a floating alien.
Hitching it to the protei, Yi-Ting switches her radio on. “Gabriel, get yourself back to the airport. See you in an hour. Make sure you have Champagne.”
©Gary & Christy Bonn: 2015