Authors: Robert Parker
Tags: #Ben Bracken: Origins - Ben Bracken Books 1-5
‘I will not forget this’ Ben mutters to Masters, who appears surprised by the decision. He takes hasty aim. Ben shuts his eyes, grits his teeth, and waits. He has been shot before, but that time he didn’t expect it, and the impact of it had shocked more than the pain. Now, as he leans back and waits for what can only be insufferable pain, he realizes the waiting is worse.
‘You stupid, stupid prick’ says Masters.
The gunshot is louder than Ben expected, a bright, deafening crack. The shock of the noise almost masks the impact of the bullet, but the pain it brings is absolutely immeasurable. He has been shot just above the knee, in the fleshy plateau at the base of the thigh. Masters clearly isn’t that great a shot. Ben knows he has had a lucky escape in a way - that rifle should have ripped his knee to pieces with a direct hit, so much so that he’d probably be a touch lucky if there was anything left below the knee. That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt. It is an awful searing pain, like a burning icepick has been smashed into his flesh with the point left inside. It is a dizzying, vile, sickly pain, that brings an instant fever to Ben’s brow. He feels his grip on consciousness loosening, and begins to slip into a figurative black abyss. As he slumps onto the table, signing off temporarily, his last thought is one of wondering just what he will wake up to, and what horrors they will do to him while he is out of it.
Ben is awakened by his sense of smell - the first of his senses to return as his body reboots to lucidity. An acrid, musty, moldy, coppery smell is dragging Ben into the present, and he resists. What had forced him into unconsciousness was so awful, so painful, he really doesn’t want to see what faces him when he wakes. But that smell - it’s such an interesting concoction that it demands his attention, and piques his interest.
But, another sense is sharpening and with it comes the pain. Ben remembers. He remembers being shot, he remembers Masters’ smug bastard face, remembers the awful choice he was forced to make. Die now or die later. Great, he thinks. What with the stench and the returning pain, he is forced to question his own prior decision. He senses his left arm feeling a bit funny. A bit numb. He forces his eyes to open, so he can address this godawful situation.
First, off, it’s dark. Not pitch black or anything, but dark enough to be a bit sinister and very disconcerting. Ben sees shafts of turquoise light piercing from above, down onto a wet, puddle-strewn metal floor, and as his eyes adjust, he sees he is in a dank, metal-clad room somewhere. He tries to sit up, but it’s not easy - his balance is off, and his torso feels strange. Stretched, pulled, tight. His range of movement isn’t the same - not painful, just inhibitive. He looks down. His red shirt (that old thing) is ripped to pieces, wide open. His chest and stomach is bare, and slick with blood and that dirty stinking water.
And then he notices his left arm is missing. He panic for a moment, but it’s only for a second as he realizes that it is actually strapped behind his back. His panic subsides, as he examines the binding with his right hand. It feels like a belt around his left wrist attached fast to his own belt. Confusion seeps and he tries to claw at the buckle on his wrist.
‘Behave yourself‘, a voice blares, bouncing off every surfaces, tinnier with every resonance.
Ben snaps round, and there he is - Masters. Brooding in the darkness, dressed exactly as before, but flanked by four burly besuited men that Ben has never seen. His heart sinks, but he knows he shouldn’t have expected a ticker tape parade. His instincts hone for an exit, but he knows its useless and doesn’t even bother. One against five and that’s at the optimistic scale of things. Ripped up by dogs, shot in the leg, one arm tied behind his back... it’s bad whichever way Ben contrives to dress it up. But it’s the purpose of this that Ben is even more nonplussed by. The vindictiveness with which Masters set his pitbulls on Ben, suggests that not much is off the menu as far as what he is willing to do in terms of retribution.
It turns out he doesn’t have long to wait. Masters throws something onto the floor in front of Ben, which tinkles and glints in the aquamarine phosphorescence. A kitchen knife. Somehow, Ben’s heart sinks lower. Masters smiles grimly and folds his arms.
‘Do him’ he orders, cocking his head to Ben’s right. Ben follows the gesture - to see another equally doomed man, his left arm strapped behind him also. He looks largely untouched, but, nevertheless, extremely agitated. He stands, a bit like a scolded child, waiting for instruction. And it hits Ben that indeed this man is a child - Masters own child. His son, the gunman from before. His eyes leak betrayal, and he looks like he may have filled his trousers at Masters’ words. Ben looks back at him, and roots around in his larynx to find his voice.
‘I knew you were a piece of shit, but this...’ he croaks.
Masters tightens his grimace.
‘You’ve disrespected me with your so-called balls of steel all day. I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. I’ve been in my little bubble, you’ve been in yours - co-existing blissfully on our own terms. And your drop out of the sky with an iron-clad problem with me. You’ve decided your going to come into my house and piss on my drapes. You come at me with a fucking wire trying to dupe me into spilling something, so you can make a little name for yourself. Do you think this is the first time I’ve been around the old oak tree?’
Masters reaches in his pocket and pulls out the dictaphone, wires rapped around a central object, and he holds it out. It gives Ben, oddly, the impression of someone having disemboweled a robot, as Master’s flings it loudly to the floor.He continues. ‘I can’t tell you how much this has... offended me in the deepest pit of my stomach. I also can’t tell you what awful things have happened to people who have done so much less than what you have done.’
‘Are we going somewhere with this? It’s been a long-arse day.’ Masters seethes at that, and Ben takes a minuscule bit of heart that he has managed to get right under the scumbag’s skin like that. Masters points a quivering finger at his son.
‘He has let me down unforgivably. That dicking about in that pathetic shirt all over town was bad enough... What it led to was heartbreaking. My own son’s spluttering thickness got me in court - for the first time. Had to buy the judge and jury, I mean it wasn’t a problem, but overall I’d have preferred not to have been dropped in it by my own bloody spawn. But then... that gibbering over pulling the trigger. Untrustworthy. I can’t forgive him. And I can’t forgive you. Hence your current predicament.’
Ben glances again at the knife, and then at Markland, who has risen from his knees and stares imploringly at his father. Ben finds it doubly horrible - on one hand, it’s awful watching this father son relationship crumble and dissolve so sickeningly, and on the other,hand, Ben dreads the prospect of actually having to harm Markland. It would feel like wounding a puppy.
‘I’m telling you, to do him in. There’s a knife there - it should be easy. But I want to make you sing for your supper. Let’s see how much you both want it. How much you both want to survive. I know you’ve got a keen survival instinct - mopping up my fucking dog showed me that - so I’m sure that’s no problem for you. I want to see how much my son wants to survive. And I want you to make it hard for him. Make him go that extra yard to prove he’s got some kind of point. And you get the knife first because I don’t think you want to do it just for shits and giggles, whereas I think my son, the dopey shit, will do whatever he can, bare hands and all.’
And before he’s got his last word out, or before Ben can respond, Markland has sprinted to the knife and clasped it tight. Ben doesn’t move - he genuinely doesn’t feel that much threat from Markland, with or without a knife. He is banking on et notion that nepotism has been Markland’s loyal friend, right the way through his life. He wonders if he ever got his hands dirty at all. Judging by the way he is holding the knife out at Ben, raised so high he might take his own jugular out, Ben guesses ‘not likely’.
‘Well, that’s a good start’ Masters smirks.
Ben rises to his feet but it causes fissures of pain blazing above and below the bullet wound in his leg, and the movement is a grim sickly one which brings jagged sparkles to his eyes.
Markland takes two steps forward, the knife still so high that it annoys the hell out of Ben. ‘What are you going to do with it like that? You look more like Bob Ross than Andy McNab. Holding it more like a sodding paintbrush than something to end someone with. A knife is an intimate tool for an up-close and personal death. Anyone can pull a trigger, but can you push a knife into warm flesh?’ he thinks.
Markland makes a short sharp lunge, that stinks of half-commitment, as he tries to find his range. Ben sidesteps it easily without his pulse even rising one bit. He is desperate to get his hands on Masters, and looks for an opening. If he can get the knife, even for a split second, he might be able to throw it at Masters. That’d make the old bastard blink, he thinks. While he doesn’t recognize the threat from Markland, he certainly doesn’t want to disrespect the knife. The knife doesn’t care whose holding it. If there’s something to pierce, it will. He keeps his eyes between the knife, Markland’s right shoulder, and Markland’s panic-strewn eyes. He’d like to add a fix on Masters to that trifecta, but he can’t just yet.
Markland jabs again, and Ben blocks with his right arm with ease. There was a bit more juice in it this time, and that focusses his attention once more. Ben decides the sooner this is over, the better - and then he can get back on to his relay quarry. He feints left at Markland, drops his head, and sends an uppercut with his right - which misses. Markland, in his livewire state, might have a move or two in him yet. Ben bobs back, but not so far as to show too much respect, but then immediately moves in again at top speed. The torque flexing through his wounded leg as he moves is extremely painful, but he’s had worse. He may face darker battles later if he survives this ordeal, with all this stinking, reeking water sloshing about in his open wounds.
He makes hard contact with Markland - chest to chest. It is a primal move, and one that does little except illustrate warring authorities between scrapping males. The shock of the move gives Ben the opportunity to make a play for Markland’s knife, which he reaches for with gusto. Markland keeps the knife away from Ben as fiercely as possible, like an overzealous child refusing to share candy. Ben keeps pressing against Markland’s chest, forcing him backward while they both scrabble at the knife in Markland’s hand - when Markland trips.
He falls backwards, with Ben falling atop him. A sharp exhalation of breath and a deep thunk tell Ben what has happened without him even needing to look. In the melee, the knife has plunged into Markland’s chest. Ben looks up, and sure enough, the knife is buried in Markland’s sternum, with Markland’s face belying shock, but crucially, no pain. He is frozen in shock, and Ben knows that look a mile off. Markland’s heart has been irreparably punctured. It’s not the gasping wheeze of someone whose lung has been punctured, nor the searing agony and writhing that follows an intestinal piercing. Moreover, its the cold result a fatal tear to the heart. The end for Markland, is extremely close.
Ben didn’t mean it. He had hoped that he wouldn’t have to kill Markland at all - rather that seeing his father getting his just desserts would stop him just as easily. It’s one nasty accident, and one that will result in this dolt losing his life. Ben swings round to where Masters Senior was stood before, but the room is empty. He spins his head left and right, but indeed, nobody is there - the shadows are bare. Ben knows that pulling the knife out won’t make a difference, but he needs it to get free. He reaches down to Markland, and places his knee down in his chest, pressing down to enable freedom of the knife with a sharp upward tug. It works, but the result is horrible. The knife slick with bright crimson, which springs forth geyser-like. Markland just stares at the ceiling, breathing shallowly.
Ben uses the knife to free himself, and suddenly he has use of both arms again. He keeps the knife, in case he can catch up with Masters - who knows what he might need to get the job done if he can reach his prey.
He heads for the shadows, to find an exit, as his eyes adjust to the darkness, but all he finds are metal walls. Before confusion and panic can eke in and take hold, a voice breaks right through the quiet chamber.
When it dawns on Ben where he was, he can’t quite believe it. He wasn’t surprised when the police appeared, even though he wasn’t thrilled. He had been expecting them right from Manchester, through North Wales, and then all the while on through his recent sojourn to the Big Smoke. Finally seeing a copper was almost a relief. He hand’t been surprised when he was cuffed and told that he was under arrest, for a range of crimes including murder. He was holding a knife that he had just pulled from a dying bloke’s chest - not that much of a stretch to join the dots there, even if the police didn’t know the true circumstances.
No - Ben was surprised when the police led him out of the room, via a clanking metal door in the back right corner, and into another putrid, eroded corridor. They escorted him along the corridor, up a flight of stairs, and into another corridor, each turn revealing something just as decayed as the last. A final left turn had brought them out onto the bow of a ship. This had literally caught Ben’s breath. As he walked to the hastily erected exit plank, he saw that he was standing on an abandoned boat moored on the banks of the Thames, with the London Eye itself looming overhead, casting a cascade of halogen on the surreal scene.
Sadness sets in, as he is greeted on the banks of the Thames by tactical support units, ready to take him down on the tiniest instruction. He is abruptly cuffed, while he looks back at the boat. He still can’t shake the surprise, and can’t help but feel akin to the stricken vessel. A piece of great use and worth, strewn to one side and abandoned by those who had promised to care for it, now only fit for dirty work. As he is led into the back of the armored transport, and the ambulance teams run onto the boat to get something out of Markland, Ben is further crestfallen. Masters has disappeared, and Ben’s own capture can only be viewed as his own fault. He had tried to take on a target too big, too powerful, and he was underprepared with a poor plan. His heart had ruled his head, on this occasion and the last few months overall. He only ever tried to do the right thing, but it has resulted in a pretty hefty rap sheet. And it’s a rap sheet that, as he is chained to the inside wall of the van and it’s doors are slammed shut, may ensure he doesn’t see the light of day ever again - and he only has himself to blame.