Authors: V. K. Black
* * *
Ariana didn’t like the sound of that one bit. Her martial arts skills consisted of watching
The Karate Kid
. That hollow, tingling feeling between her thighs she’d been experiencing all night, despite the anger and the insults, was still there. But now she stared at him in horror. If she was going to have sex for the first time tonight she wanted it to be fun, not scary.
She chewed her bottom lip. Changpu? Jason had said he’d overheard Mr Donahue and Mr Fetler talking about some Chinese-sounding guy who was also after the map. Ariana guessed this Mr Changpu was the one. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ she lied, hoping she sounded convincing. Probably not. Sister Beatrice always knew when she wasn’t telling the truth. ‘I…thought you were handsome, that’s all. And map? What are you talking about? What map?’ She glared at him, deciding to brazen this out, daring him to argue.
But he dared. ‘You know, pretty one, I’m afraid I don’t believe you.’ Luke’s eyes mocked her. ‘Do you want to see what all the fuss is about?’ He leant down and picked up his coat from the floor where he’d carelessly dropped it. From the inside pocket, he drew out an old document, cracked and yellowing with age. It stank. ‘This is it, Moonbeam. An old, old map that leads to old, old, and unbelievably valuable — but I think you already know, don’t you?’
Ariana glanced, as if without caring, at the very thing Jason so desperately needed. ‘Fine,’ she snapped. ‘Bully for you, having a smelly old map. I couldn’t care less.’
With a hard smile and matching hard eyes, Luke stood and took a slow step toward her. ‘Have I misjudged you sweetheart? Did you only want sex tonight? And you knew nothing about the map?’
She backed away and gulped. When was that darn drug going to take effect? ‘Um, yes, that’s right, but, um…I’ve changed my mind about the s-s-sex, and…’ She stared longingly at the door. She so wanted to leave. And she really needed to pee. Wiping her clammy hands down her dress, she cursed Jason for what he’d got her into, but she knew she couldn’t leave him to face his fate of becoming…fish food. ‘Maybe we could have a nice little chat, finish this lovely champagne…’ Ariana shot him a hopeful look as her voice dwindled away.
Luke smiled as if he were really amused. Then his eyes hardened again. She gulped.
‘Why have you changed your mind, Moonbeam? You’re a beautiful woman, and I want to make love to you. Let me get you back in the mood.’ He staggered, before grabbing her wrist and sinking back onto the couch, dragging her with him.
Holding back her scream, her voice emerged as a whimper. Her heartbeat pounded inside her chest and she couldn’t breathe. Reaching behind for a weapon, her hand bumped the champagne bottle. She clasped it by the neck and swung it around, holding it out at her side. ‘Let me go,’ she gasped, ‘or I’ll hit you with this.’
Luke burst into laughter. She stared in fascination at the handsome, smiling man below her, who was currently restraining her, and who should be terrifying her. Well, a large part of her was terrified. But a tiny little part? Did she
to lose her virginity to him? Her inner voice answered,
Then Luke drew her back firmly into the present. He threw back his head and laughed even harder. ‘My God, this is a dangerous job I have. First I get knifed by a very pretty lady, and now I’m being threatened by an even prettier one, armed with a bottle of wine.’ With a mocking smile, he hooked his finger into the front of her dress and pulled. She staggered toward him. ‘Do your worst, Moonbeam.’
Then his eyes seemed to glaze over. He rubbed them, and stared at her, nodding slowly. ‘The wine,’ he slurred. ‘Of course.’ He shook his head. His eyes narrowed and gained focus. ‘But you haven’t won yet, Moonbeam.’ He pulled her toward him with frightening strength. Hard, cold determination smouldered from his eyes.
Taking a deep breath, and with every ounce of strength she possessed, she swung the bottle down on his head.
The bottle broke in half. Luke’s eyes widened in surprise. Then he fell back against the couch and lay still.
Aghast, Ariana reached out to his throat, as she’d seen in all the hospital shows on TV. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to find, but she couldn’t see any blood and he seemed to be breathing. Gingerly, she stepped over him. The map had fallen from his hand. She snatched it up and ran out the door.
* * *
‘Jason, Jason, let me in!’
The door swung open and Ariana fell into the room. As she took in her surroundings, her mouth dried. Her breath disappeared from her lungs. Her face grew cold and she staggered. The door closed behind her.
‘Well, well, and who do we have here?’
She stared at the two huge men standing either side of Jason, who was seated, tied to a chair, in the middle of the room. Then her eyes travelled up, up, to rest on the cruel, hard face of the third man standing in front of her. A front tooth was missing. His shaved head was tattooed with an image of a demon. A scarred slash divided a dark, monolithic brow. Her eyes sought Jason’s as she swayed. Above the roaring in her ears, she heard him beg, hoarsely, ‘For the love of God, help her. She’s going to fall.’
Calloused hands grasped her arms and shoved her onto the couch.
‘Could…could you give her some water?’
One of the men standing next to Jason grunted in disgust. Like the other two, he wore black jeans and a black T-shirt, and was heavily tattooed. He sauntered over to the bar and poured a glass of water from the jug, then thrust it into her hand. With her heart swimming with gratitude for Jason’s bravery, she sipped the tepid water and her head cleared. She stared, wide-eyed at the state of the hotel room. All of the linen had been dragged off the two single beds and strewn across the floor. Hotel stationery, the in-house phone and her suitcase and its contents also littered the carpet. A chair and table lay on their sides.
Thick rope bound Jason to his high-backed chair. Blood ran from his nose.
‘Please,’ he gasped, his eyes beseeching the man who had spoken to her. ‘Please don’t hurt her. Let her go. She knows nothing about this.’
There was a general guffaw of scornful laughter from the three men. The one who seemed to be the leader loomed over her. The smell of stale sweat made her want to retch. The tattooed snake crawling away from the corner of his eye drew her horrified gaze.
‘And what might your name be, lovely lady?’
Through dry lips, she whispered, ‘Ariana.’
‘How do you do, Ariana?’ he said, with mock politeness. The other two men sniggered. ‘My name is Earnest. It’s a genuine pleasure to meet you.’ The men joined him in his harsh laughter. ‘My little mate tells me, though it took persuasion—’ Earnest nodded toward the blood now coagulating on Jason’s lips, ‘—that he can lay his hands on some valuable jewels. Priceless is the word he used.’ He paused, staring down at her, his black eyes narrowing to evil slits. ‘Now, I don’t believe young Jason here, about you not knowing anything about those jewels. I think you know all about them. Emeralds, isn’t that right, Ariana?’ He reached down and grabbed her chin, forcing her eyes to meet his.
Jason struggled against the ropes binding him to his chair. ‘Stop! Don’t touch her!’
‘Shut up, fuckhead,’ Earnest snarled, ‘or I’ll cut your nose off, instead of just making it bleed.’ He drew a long, wide, wicked blade from his belt. ‘Start talking, sweetheart.’
‘I have a map,’ she panted, forcing down her nausea. She opened her handbag and drew out the animal skin she’d stolen from Luke Donahue.
Earnest smiled. ‘Well now.’ He placed his knife down on the small table that separated Jason and herself. ‘Tell me more, pretty lady.’ She glanced at Jason.
He sat, slumped in his chair, defeated. ‘I’m so sorry, Ariana,’ he whispered. Then his eyes hardened. Turning his head, he glared around the room at the two other huge, nameless men, and finally, at Earnest. ‘Ariana stole the map from my boss, Luke Donahue, because I begged her to. Everything’s set, I promise you. The emeralds are worth more, lots more, than what I owe you. They’re hidden on Manitia Island, near Sri Lanka. All Mr Donahue’s tickets, the planes, the boat, I’ve cancelled, and booked in my name. I can get to the contact who’s buying them.’ Jason’s pale eyes pleaded with Earnest’s. ‘Let Ariana leave. This is between you and me.’
Earnest rolled his eyes. ‘You’re a fucking hero, aren’t you? You’re not leaving the country to go off on a little treasure hunt and never come back. And she’s not going to the cops. I don’t know where you get off thinking I’m stupid. I’m insulted.’ He smiled at his friends, who chuckled. ‘Besides, it does the customers good to see we mean business. So food for the fishies it is.’ He took a step toward Jason, grabbing up his knife.
‘No!’ Ariana screamed, unable to draw her eyes away from the long, vicious blade. ‘P-please, please,’ she stammered, her teeth chattering. ‘Please, there must be another way. Please don’t hurt Jason.’
do it?’ Jason said suddenly, his eyes desperate. ‘I can rebook everything in your name. Just…just follow the map.’
She nodded fervently. ‘Yes, oh yes. Please, Mr… I mean Earnest, let me go instead.’
Earnest paused. Then sighed. ‘Ah, fuck, I’m always a sucker for a pretty woman. I have to go up north for a couple of business deals. So that means you’ve got…’ He frowned as he worked it out. ‘…two weeks. Don’t be late.’
Ariana shuddered, appalled at how things had gone so wrong, so quickly.
Yet everything had gone so well yesterday. At least, compared with Jason being cut into little pieces and thrown into Sydney Harbour, things had gone well.
In the hotel room, Jason had frantically booked her return flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. He’d always been amazing at planning and organising, even when he was little. They didn’t have boy scouts at the commune, but if they had, Jason would have won all available medals. ‘Be Prepared’ was his motto. He’d dimly foreseen she might need to go in his stead, he told her, as he tapped desperately at the keyboard. He was sorry, so sorry. He honestly hadn’t believed it would be necessary. As if that mattered. She was so thankful he’d thought of it and told her to pack her passport.
While Jason had worked desperately, she’d snatched up a pair of gym shorts and tank top and a pair of old joggers, the first things she could lay her hands on. Her clothes seemed to have been strewn everywhere during the fight when the three men had burst in on Jason. She stuffed them into a plastic bag. Jason shoved a heap of dollars into her handbag for emergencies, but everything — the plane flights, the boat and crew hire — was pre-paid by him. She bitterly regretted spending so much money on her dress, because now she had no money to help Jason. She’d told him this, and he’d paused and studied her, smiling with a strange tenderness, and had told her not to worry.
There had been a mad, solitary rush to Sydney Airport, a long queue to collect her visa, a final dash onto the plane, and a long flight. As soon as she’d landed at Bandaranaike International Airport, she’d realised, from the stares of the local people, that her sexy cocktail dress wasn’t exactly suitable day wear. Nor were the clothes she’d hastily snatched up in Sydney. Guiltily, she’d exchanged one of the notes Jason had given her for rupees, and had bought some loose cotton trousers along with a beautiful silk kurta top in every shade of pink.
Despite her worries about Jason, and despite the incredible heat and humidity that pressed in on her, as if Sri Lanka existed in a sauna, she’d been loving her first trip out of Australia. Her new cool, flowing clothes had suited the climate. The booking for the connecting flight to Arugam Bay on the east coast of Sri Lanka was hours away, so she’d caught a bus into town, and had stared, fascinated at the mix of crazy Asian traffic, charming colonial churches, Buddhist shrines, multicoloured Hindu temples and shiny office buildings. She thought she would remember the heady aromas of spices in the crowded bazaar for the rest of her life.
The rest of her life.
Catching the flight to Arugam Bay had been a walk in the park. And at Arugam Bay, from the inside her of a taxi cab, she’d fallen in love. The beautiful beaches, with their perfect surf, had hit a tender, broken place inside her. When was the last time she’d gone surfing? That had been one of the few good things about the commune. When anyone could afford the petrol, half the commune’s population would throw a few old surfboards into a couple of rusted-out utes and drive down to Byron Bay.
The taxi had driven her straight to Arugam Bay Boat Hire, and the she’d easily found the boat and crew Jason had booked to take her to Manitia Island. The crew members, three men in their thirties, had been so polite. The four-hour boat trip had been easy and the sea calm. It had been many hours since she had hit Luke Donahue over the head with that champagne bottle, but she’d been too keyed up to sleep on the plane. On the boat, however, her body had told her it was exhausted. She’d changed into her shorts and top to snooze on the bunk bed in the cabin.
A tiny part of her had been kind of smug at her current rate of success.
Hadn’t it, Ariana?
Oh shut up.
But her conscience wouldn’t give up.
You liked that little bit of adventure in your dull, boring life, didn’t you, Ariana?
She nodded sadly. Pathetic.
Five minutes earlier, the boat had arrived at Manitia Island, and the adventure had become plain scary. The boatmen had woken her, raided her handbag and stolen every Australian dollar she had. Then they’d pushed her off the boat and onto this dirty jetty where she now sat. They’d thrown her handbag and her shoes at her feet and had zoomed off in a plume of water. Plainly they had no interest in a detour up river to search for emeralds they didn’t believe in.
With numb fingers, she picked up her handbag and examined its contents. Her passport, the map, and a few leftover rupees the crewmen hadn’t bothered to steal.
From the jetty, as she slipped into her shoes, she stared at her surroundings. This was plainly a small port, for there were old boats of all sizes anchored in the semi-sheltered harbour. A river—the one her map said she needed to travel up to get to the emeralds—flowed sluggishly into the harbour, and it, too, had boats anchored everywhere.